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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Accused of racial profiling, Lowe’s ends policy of checking customer receipts as they leave

In this Feb. 23, 2018 photo a passer-by walks near an entrance to a Lowe's retail home improvement and appliance store, in Framingham, Mass. (Steven Senne / Associated Press)
By Rachel Siegel Washington Post

Memorial Day weekend was supposed to bring three productive days of home improvement for Will Mega, a dean at a North Philadelphia charter school.

He’d go to two Lowe’s locations near his home in Philadelphia’s Wynnefield neighborhood for a grill and other items for a contracting job. But when Mega, who is black, found that only certain stores made customers show their receipts before leaving the store, he began to feel that the company’s policy was a way of profiling and harassing some of its customers. He raised the issue with a store manager.

Lowe’s has since ended its receipt-checking policy in all stores. But Mega, 45, said he has yet to have any conversations with company officials about how the practice discriminates against minorities or shoppers in lower-income or higher-crime areas.

The story was reported earlier by WHYY.

On May 26, Mega went to Lowe’s to buy up a grill. As he checked out, he was in clear view of another employee at the exit who was reviewing customer receipts, and soon asked to see his.

Mega said he’d had a frustrating customer service experience overall and decided to file a complaint with the manager, whom he asked about the store’s policy checking receipts.

“And he said, ‘you know, we don’t do this at every store,’ ” Mega told The Post.

The next day, Mega went to pick up some pre-paid items at the same Lowe’s location. He signed a form confirming he’d collected the items and also had a general receipt. At the exit, he was asked again to show proof of purchase.

That’s when he started filming.

In a cellphone video taken at the store’s exit, Mega asks why an employee asked him for a receipt when he had just paid for his items. A store manager then comes up to Mega, and Mega asks him to explain the store’s policy.

“Don’t take it personal,” the store manager says. “It’s nothing that you’re doing or anything on that. We have to make sure that what you have in the cart, that you paid for. That’s all that is.”

Mega then says that the policy isn’t applied at every Lowe’s and asks why it is in place at that location.

“We have to do it,” the manager says.

“Why this store?” Mega insists. He then turns the camera to another female Lowe’s employee who says it’s because the location is an “inner-city store.”

“If you’re not in the inner-city it doesn’t happen?” Mega asks her. She shakes her head “no.”

Mega then demands that the manager show him the policy that explains why receipts are checked at only inner-city locations.

The male employee then says the location is a “class six,” or a high-theft, store.

“So I’m being treated like a criminal because somebody else committed a crime?” Mega says. “You’re treating me, a customer who paid for my goods, like a criminal, because somebody else committed a crime.”

“You ask me for a receipt, show me a policy,” Mega says.

The manager seems unsure of whether he can find the policy, before the video cuts off.

Ashley Glasser, a spokesperson for Lowe’s, said that “class six stores” refers to locations with the “highest level of inventory loss based on our internal data.”

On the third day, Mega went to a different Lowe’s to buy a few items – and to test the receipt-checking policy. At check out, Mega asked the cashier if he needed to show his receipt before leaving.

“She says, ‘oh no, you don’t have to do that with me. We don’t do that here. This is the white ‘hood,’ ” Mega said. “I said, excuse me? Did you just say ‘we don’t do that here, this is the white ‘hood?’ ”

Glasser said Mega’s experience “has compelled us to review how we verify customer purchases and evaluate similar practices across the retail industry.”

“It is always our intent to make everyone feel welcome while shopping at Lowe’s,” Glasser said in an email. “We have personally reached out to Mr. Mega to understand more about his experience and continue the dialogue.”

Mega said that after he posted his video on his Facebook page, he got a message from a Lowe’s employee asking to learn more about his experience. But Mega said that was the extent of any conversation or communication between himself and the company.

“They need to start a dialogue in order to continue a dialogue,” Mega said. “If this is any indication of what incoming chief executive Marvin Ellison’s leadership is like for black people, we should not be patronizing Lowe’s.”

Lowe’s re-evaluation of its receipt-checking policy comes as other businesses are being scrutinized for incidents of racial profiling in commercial spaces.

After the arrests of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks in April, the company changed its policies to allow customers to use the bathrooms and sit in cafes without making a purchase. Starbucks closed 8,000 stores for an afternoon last month to administer racial-bias training to 175,000 employees, and announced new guidelines for when workers should call 911.

Last month, Nordstrom Rack apologized after an employee in St. Louis called the police on three black teenagers who were accused of stealing while shopping for prom. In April, an LA Fitness in New Jersey called 911 after wrongly accused two black men of not paying to use the gym. And a golf course in Pennsylvania called the police on a group of black women they accused of playing too slowly.

Mega said he hasn’t been back to any Lowe’s locations since Memorial Day Weekend.

“But I have been to Home Depot,” he said, “and no one asked me for my receipts there.”