Believe it or not, this is a serious question. You see, not to long ago I read an article titled Deep Thinkers and came away amazed by how intelligent dolphins appear to be.

Smart Dolphins

Allow me to quote the first three paragraphs of that story to provide some background for this unusual comparison.

First off, we learn that some dolphins have been trained to keep their pool clean by removing litter in exchange for fish:

At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.

But Kelly has demonstrated that she's figured out the system much as a clever child would:

Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on. This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans.

Not bad, huh?

It gets better. She realized that it was possible to move even farther up the food chain, so to speak...

Her cunning has not stopped there. One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins.


Contrast this with my experience at Costco on Sunday. Costco, like Sam's Club, is a "warehouse" store that specializes in selling bulk items at a discount. You pay a membership fee for the privilege of shopping there and presumably make up for it by spending less for the goods over the course of the year.

After you go through the checkout line, you have to stop at the exit so that someone can take your receipt, look at it, look at your cart, and then mark it with a marker. (Fry's electronics does this sort of thing to, but I generally don't bother to stop on my way out.)

This time the door check person took at bit longer than I'm used to and she became visibly concerned. Something wasn't adding up. She moved me and my cart off to the side to investigate without blocking traffic.

I asked what the problem appeared to be, since I had no idea. She said something like "well, there are 9 items in your cart but only 8 on the receipt." At that moment I realized two things:

  1. Counting is apparently the first line of defense for these people. It makes sense as an initial sanity check. I suppose that you'd also want to look for unusually high or low total dollar amounts too. Either could be a red flag.
  2. There's an obvious solution to finding the unaccounted for item. It may not be the most scalable algorithm, but we're talking about nine items here. It's a very small hay stack.

The next 5 minutes provided a lesson in pure comedy and a testament to our failing education system.

The checker, clearly frustrated, spent a few minutes looking at my cart and the list of items I purchased. She was unable to figure it out and refused my offer of help. Eventually she gave up, reached for a clipboard, and began looking for something. Was it a standard form? A procedure to follow in response to such an unthinkable event? I have no idea.

So then I opened my mouth and said something like "you have a list with 8 items on it and I have 9 items. This shouldn't be rocket surgery." She put the clipboard down and I started to think she realized how crazy this all was. But what happened next only served to amaze me even more!

She called a co-worker over to help.

On the one hand, this was quite funny and sad. On the other hand, I was relieved that someone else was going to come over and show her how to resolve this apparently insurmountable crisis so that I could be on my way home with at least 8 of the 9 things I thought I had purchased.

The two of them, working together, managed to crack the puzzle and devise an algorithm that identified the big box of oatmeal as the "missing item." Amusingly, I had figured that out several minutes earlier while looking over her shoulder, but I kept quiet to see how long it would take.

I surrendered the oatmeal and headed out to my car, shaking my head and laughing to myself. On the drive home I remembered the dolphin story and wondered how many fish you could buy instead of paying the useless door clerks at Costco.

I leave the "winning" search algorithm as an exercise to the reader. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at September 18, 2006 05:20 PM

Reader Comments
# Sergio G. said:

How come the oatmeal box was in your car?
They forgot to scan the item?

on September 18, 2006 05:56 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Yeah, apparently the checkout guy thought he scanned it but didn't. It's not like I was trying to make off with a $6 box of oatmeal and not get caught. :-)

on September 18, 2006 05:59 PM
# Jacob Kaplan-Moss said:

Note that those receipt checks are, by law, strictly voluntary regardless of what they try to tell you.

That stuff in your cart? It's *yours* -- you just bought it -- and you're no more obligated to show it off to some store employee than you are to show them the contents of your pockets.

Nor can they legally stop you from leaving if you just walk out. Unless they have a good-faith belief that you're a thief, preventing you from leaving the store is *kidnapping* (well, unlawful detention, actually, but that's splitting legal hairs). That's right, kids -- a felony.

If the checkout clerk forgot to charge you for something, that's his or her problem, not yours.

There was actually a store manager at Best Buy who got charged with kidnapping and assault after he followed someone out of the store and physically dragged him back in.

So now most receipt checkers are educated about the law and won't really try to stop you. I usually just saw "no thanks" and walk out the door. Amusingly enough, it's nearly always other customers and not store employees who try to get me to stop. If I'm feeling particularly ornery I'll give them a version of the above rant... *that* the store employees usually don't like :)

on September 18, 2006 06:12 PM
# Nick Davis said:

I had a similar experience at a grocery store a couple years ago. When we got the total, it was extremely high. The culprit was some nonsense item on the receipt that rang for $90. So what did the brilliant clerk do to solve this with my 120 items?

She compared the receipt to the items, rather than the opposite. Of course she found everything on the receipt, except the $90 item.

Alternatively, there is a much better solution, as you alluded to with Fry's. Just skip the line. They have NO right to detain you. The line is for their protection. After you have checked out, the items belong to you. Would you let them search your wallet?

When leaving the store, they have two options:

1) Detain you for shoplifting
2) Let you go

If they do #1 without cause, they are liable to be sued for false imprisonment. Without definitive proof that you took an item, no store will do this. They have to let you go.

That being said, if the line is no inconvenience I will let them check my stuff. But around Christmas you can just walk out. Or if you were one of the unlucky souls behind you at Costco, just leave. When they ask for your receipt, politely say "No thank you."

This is flexing your rights:

on September 18, 2006 06:35 PM
# nongrumpyY said:

So, hey, I don't get it - you've paid for your items, you're on your way out of the store and they check your bags/cart/whatever against your receipt? Shouldn't the person who scans your items already have checked that you've paid for everything?

Maybe it's because I don't live in the US, but I've never encountered anything like this.

It would drive me utterly insane (and I would say no, and just shop somewhere else). Instead of four people checking everyone, just fire those guys, and hire one decent store detective in their place? That way, you don't make the majority of people feel like they've done something wrong -just the criminals. That would make for a much better shopping experience, surely?

And, anyhow, if you're a regular shopper, does it matter if you walk out with a $6 box of oatmeal by mistake once in a while?

on September 18, 2006 07:31 PM
# Joseph Scott said:

I remember a trip to Costco where they forgot to ring an item up, a pack of batteries that had been buried under everything else. The checker missed because he didn't move the large package on top of it. The folks checking my receipt didn't catch it either (again, buried under everything else). It wasn't until we were loading our items into the car that I saw the pack of batteries (which my wife and I had forgotten about).

We went back into Costco with the batteries and the receipt and explained that they had missed this when we checked out. It took them a few minutes and a call to a manager before they just rang up the pack of batteries so that we could pay for them. They acted like this had never happened before.

I then made sure we went to the same receipt checker at the door and explained that their current approach wasn't that great if it allowed me to walk out the door with out paying for an item.

on September 18, 2006 09:51 PM
# Joseph Essas said:

Hey Jeremy - brainless or not, they actually stopped you from taking unpaid item from the store.

I guess this system is working to some extent.

on September 18, 2006 10:25 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Yea they did.

A+ for counting skils. D- for comparing skills.

on September 18, 2006 10:44 PM
# James said:

The laughed-so-hard-coffee-came-out-of-my-nose moment in that story was "Rocket Surgery".

on September 18, 2006 11:06 PM
# Jens-Christian Fischer said:

@Joseph: Maybe they did stop Jeremy from taking something - but at what cost? Even though I guess that the check-out clerking is low paid, it probably cost a lot more to employ those two people to handle the $6 oatmeal non-payment.

on September 18, 2006 11:46 PM
# Mike Woodhouse said:

I guess that intelligence follows a roughly Normal distribution in both humans and dolphins. Given the CostCo vs Kelly comparison I'd say there was some overlap.

I'm with the other foreigner in my astonishment, btw - I have never experienced anything like this receipt-checking business and I'm pretty sure I never want to. I suppose it's a way of finding employment for those to the left of the human curve... I certainly wouldn't ask a dolphin to do it.

on September 19, 2006 02:15 AM
# Jack said:

Your first mistake was going to Costco. What kind of store won't give you a bag to put your purchases in? To me, that in itself speaks volumes.

on September 19, 2006 02:33 AM
# Ken C. said:

Costco treats its employees much better than WalMart, and has good prices, so if it has what you want, it's a good place to shop, in every way.

It sounds to me like this person was just trying to do her job, and wasn't treating you badly. I don't think she deserves the kind of sneering contempt displayed here.

on September 19, 2006 04:49 AM
# said:

you found the problem and then let the employees keep working? that's the nonsense part-- not only did you show that you were interested in walking out with unpaid merchandise, but you wasted the employees' time, which -you- pay for!

The one incident doesn't matter at all, but if we let your story tell us anything about costco at large, it's that costco customers choose to let employees entertain them with their incompetence, raising prices for everyone.

on September 19, 2006 04:58 AM
# joe said:

Think of it from their point of view.

The system worked. You had nine items in the cart, you only paid for eight. One of their employees noticed the problem and stopped you from walking out the door without paying for something.

So it took a few minutes, who cares. It's a win for them.

I know you were not really expecting the people working the door to be l33t right? They just have to do this one simple thing for which they get paid shit. They did their job, they got their shit pay, they go home. Just like the rest of us (not the l33t of course).

on September 19, 2006 06:10 AM
# Ryan said:

Jeremey, that's nothing. In high school I worked security at a local best buy. We did the same type of thing. If you think the people checking reciepts are bad, you should have seen the stuff the cashiers would do.

Stuff like, scan a computer but not the monitor...then apply the discount for buying a monitor with the computer.

or remove the security case from some RAM but not scan it.

The average best buy door person stopped about $25/hour worth of stuff from going out on one of his shifts... Not bad since they paid them between $7 and $10 / hour to do it.

on September 19, 2006 06:15 AM
# Frank Spammer said:

I'm with Ken C. Sneering at "dumb people" is not cool.

on September 19, 2006 06:38 AM
# Adi said:

hilarious i think dumb people are cute wld have dne the same thing

on September 19, 2006 07:49 AM
# Carrie said:

Actually - just HAVING a person at the door deters a large amount of shoplifting. Although inconvenient and sometimes thoroughly annoying - the door checkers (in my experience) are quite nice people and generally older folks working a bit for something to do.

It's possible this person was flustered by your interruption and incredulity - or was just having a bad day....maybe she has dyslexia and it takes longer to process some information correctly.

Dont jump to conclusions that people are dumb, some day you might be retired and checking carts full of purchases at CostCo and a guy might be annoyed it takes you longer to read their receipt through your cataracts! ;)


on September 19, 2006 09:33 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I find it amusing that people are saying that I shouldn't be so fast to judge "dumb people." I never called anyone dumb. That word first appeared in the comments here.

But since I was the one there, I happen to think that I'm in a pretty good position to judge how effectively this person was doing her job.

Anyway, I'm still impressed at how smart those dolphins are. :-)

on September 19, 2006 09:47 AM
# Steve said:

Here in Israel they have that EVERYWHERE. I can't stand going through the stupdity at grocery stores. They have no way to check all of the items in my 8-10 closed bags of groceries to make sure that they're really on the receipt, so as far as I'm concerned this guy's job is beyond useless.

On those grounds, I object to paying welfare to people through higher grocery store prices when I pay taxes for welfare anyway.

However, since I can't stop it, I choose to have fun with it and at least get some cheap amusement for my dollar. To show how stupid these people really are, the following cases actually confuse them:

1) Don't accept the receipt from the cashier. Tell this to the receipt-checker. He can't compute it and has no cluse what to do.

2) For some reason, there is usually a trash can by the exit where they stand. Throw the receipt out in front of them. Once again, they get confused.

3) Give them the receipt, but don't stop. By the time they mark it, you're usually far away. If not, politely decline it when they offer it back to you. They usually then give a deer caught in headlights look of confusion.

on September 19, 2006 09:49 AM
# Yaron said:

Yes, it's not a US only thing, and certainly very popular in most large supermarket chains in Israel as well.

Though from experience they:
A. Don't bother looking at you if you only carry a few items.
B. Don't bother really checking the list if you have many items.

So it's usually either a complete pass, or having that guard (usually they do something intelligent like making it a double duty for the security guards, yes) take a quick look at the receipt and your shopping cart and then wave you on.

I never did see what good it does them. Maybe they treat potential thieves like potential terrorists, showing a guard glancing at what you pass and hoping it will deter you from trying on the small off-chance of getting caught.

on September 19, 2006 10:14 AM
# Remind Me said:

1) Yep, they screwed up. But, here's the funny part -- I'll bet they don't screw up like this every time it happens, every day. We've _all_ had stupid brain farts, at our job, wherever. Comparing dolphins with people? That's YOUR brain fart.

2) I believe Costco has you sign a contract that indicates you're fine with them tallying your purchases at the exit door. It's ridiculous, they can't possibly go through all of the groceries, everyone SUPER-shops there, we're all MEGA consumers now. But everywhere else, yeah, just blow through.

on September 19, 2006 10:19 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Brain fart?

Nah. It's just funny. You're taking it way too seriously, it seems.

on September 19, 2006 10:24 AM
# Ben said:

Costco can legally check receipts on exit because they're a private, member-only establishment and you've agreed to it when becoming a member. Don't want to have your receipt checked? Ok. But you'll probably lose your membership.

on September 19, 2006 10:40 AM
# Travis said:

My local CostCo has a sign about how checking the receipt is a service provided for customers so you don't mistakenly leave without something that you'd purchased.

Most of us would think, (sarcastically) "yeah right," but as I think about it now, with honest customers, that might be an as-likely scenario. I recall leaving a supermarket once mistakenly without paying for an item. Probably two times in my life, I've left a last bag of groceries behind. However, this event is so rare, that their service is clearly not-worth-it for me.

Their "it's for you" explanations aside, it's probably set up to be a deterrent against intentional shop-lifting.

The sign is along the lines of making their corp. desires palatable for customers, like with "if you don't get handed a receipt, your purchase is free" policies. ("Aligning Interest with Capability"

Very cool about those dolphins!

on September 19, 2006 10:42 AM
# pmp said:

I went to a sandwich shop with my wife and 2 kids the other day. Our purchase came to $18.74. I handed her a $20 bill. She figured out the $1 part easy enough. Heck, she got 2 quarters out, but from there, things rapidly spiralled downwards.

She reached for the 3rd quarter, but then put it back. Then fumbled with some dimes, put them back. Reached back for the quarter, hesistated, put it back and went back to the dimes and nickels solution.

After a good 20 seconds of counting out 76 cents in change, she replied, and I quote, "I'm sorry. I'm not good at math."

I then thought (as most parents of young children do), my 22 month old daughter could count that out quicker.

The dolphins sure as shit could!

on September 19, 2006 11:32 AM
# grumpY! said:

similar story here. we as a family went to costco one night and purchased, among other things, some strawberries. at checkout we were told we would have to see "the manager" over "loss control". apparently since i brought kids to the store and we had purchased an open box of berries, my kids must have been stealing, since of course they were eating the raisins that we carry everywhere in my wife's purse. the "manager" told me he would have to review "videotape", presuming of course that this would trigger a stream of tearful apologies from me. okay, i told him, review. then he told me he could not locate the tape. i asked him if he wanted some help. he said no. i asked him if he could not find the tape because he was too short. he looked at me and said no. i asked him if he had ever heard the of the phrase "napoleon complex". he said no and told us we could leave. i insisted we stay to review these "tapes". then he got upset and walked away.

on September 19, 2006 11:48 AM
# Anon said:

Well, if the person is being paid $12/hour and finds 2 boxes of oatmeal an hour, then they're paying for themselves. Seems to make sense, as long as there isn't a line.

on September 19, 2006 01:43 PM
# Mike Macgirvin said:

I just wrote to Costco recently, so this is rather amusing. In my case I was writing an open letter to the board of directors suggesting that same-store sales were hitting saturation - all because they insisted on forcing everybody to use those xx-large shopping carts. My experience was at the Sunnyvale store a couple weeks ago, curious if you were at the same place. On the weekends, it is complete gridlock and there is no reason why it should be. If you replaced the xx-large shopping carts with normal sized ones or merely offered normal sized carts as an alternative, you could fit three times as many people in the store and process them quicker - which would create more open parking spaces, etc. and ultimately increase profits. After reading your article, I would suggest starting the comparison to dolphin intelligence at the top of the org chart instead of the bottom.

on September 19, 2006 01:59 PM
# Mike Macgirvin said:

Oh yeah - the algorithm. For you, I'd suggest that the so-called binary search may have been the tool of choice. For the two employees - my guess is that the most efficient algorithm which didn't require much explaining would be the dual-processor linear search (you start at the top, and I'll start at the bottom).

on September 19, 2006 02:33 PM
# Dan Isaacs said:

FYI, in regards to their right to check your stuff as you leave, there is a quirk in that they are a private club, and while they can't really arrest you, they CAN revoke your membership. So as long as you're willing to risk losing your membership, go ahead and ignore them.

on September 19, 2006 04:30 PM
# Elliott Back said:

Clearly stochastic search was what happened. Employee chooses an item on the list at random and an item from the cart and random, and sees if they match, until she's marked all the items in the cart!

Dolphins rock, btw.

on September 19, 2006 05:57 PM
# Ben Metcalfe said:

Sorry if this is getting a litte OT:

As a foreigner now experiencing the many delights of living in the US I can only agree with the bizzare-ness of being asked to show my bag/receipt on the way out of big stores. It's not something that happens in the UK.

But last Saturday I walked out of CompUSA in Market St, San Francisco without buying anything (having found they didn't have what I wanted -- I wasn't stealing!) and was asked to open up my bags --- my personal bags!

To be honest I've found it to be a bit of an evasion of privacy, but reading through the comment I take the commenter's point about it keeping the price of the goods down IF they catch and deter more than whatever their job costs per hour (which they probably do).

What I don't understand is why they don't have those anti-theft detectors that set an alarm off if you walk out with unpurchased merchandise. That's a standard thing in all UK stores, but they don't seem very common in the US.

I agree they should get Dolphins to do this item counting job on the door. Hey, we can pay 'em fish! Sure, they would have difficulty opening the bags with their flippers but surely it would be discrimantory not to employ someone just because they have reduced motor abilities?

on September 20, 2006 05:52 AM
# Dj Looker said:

This is standard practice at Costco in the UK also.
I believe it is to counter the problem of checkout operators Ďforgettingí to price items when their friends and family shop.
I was in a Tesco store recently when a checkout operator called the manager over because her son was in the checkout line. Apparently the staff are not allowed to serve family members.

on September 20, 2006 07:25 AM
# Ryan said:

oh the algorithm? You're way off..

First, I'd sort the reciept AND the shopping cart stuff... because sorting makes every problem simpler. I'd probably use bubble sort.. It's good at that stuff.

Then, I'd convert everything to a string.. because that's fun and useful too.

Then I'd push each items into corresponding stacks... then write a multi threaded process that pops one item from each stack and compares them..... and mix in some AJAX somehow.

Sorry... I was just asking a fellow employee why he was sorting an array of unkown length when all he cared about was the Max of the array... and remembered this post.

on September 20, 2006 08:38 AM
# Joseph Hunkins said:

It's a *great* question.

We tend to overrate human intelligence vis a vis other animals due to our use of technologies that make us seem smarter than we "naturally" would be in the absence of the many technologies and historical habits most of us use daily.

When you consider things like kinesthetic intelligence or interpretation of olfactory data many animals are far beyond humans, though obviously part of our evolutionary path was to develop forms of analytical thought and communication that seem to surpass all other animals.

So, will your dolphins work for $10 an hour?

on September 20, 2006 10:39 AM
# hrwhatnot said:

Getting stopped at the door with an item you didn't pay for is embarrassing, but insulting the employee that caught the mistake is a cheap shot. When dolphins can be taught to stand at the door doing a monotonous job while being treated with hostility by many shoppers and insulted and belittled by more than a few and still do their job correctly, then your story will be more interesting. Right now, it is just an insult to hard working employees doing their stressful jobs correctly. But neat story about the dolphins.

on September 20, 2006 11:00 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

You crack me up.

on September 20, 2006 11:24 AM
# hrwhatnot said:

Glad to entertain. I wrote more on this topic here:

your thoughts?

on September 20, 2006 11:32 AM
# Flipper said:

Maybe next time you'll be able to catch the fact that your oatmeal wasn't rung up in advance.

I'm wondering why you didn't figure out yourself that you weren't charged for something. There were only nine items, adding up their approximate totals and comparing them to what you paid isn't exactly quantum physics.

on September 20, 2006 02:53 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

It was thinking about what I was going to do next in my run of errands.

Silly me.

on September 20, 2006 04:00 PM
# Jeremy Leader said:

By an odd coincidence, the next thing I read after this was "There is considerable overlap between the intelligence of the smartest bears and the dumbest tourists."

on September 20, 2006 04:01 PM
# greg said:

Rocket surgery??

on September 20, 2006 05:33 PM
# Scott said:

Speaking of receipts and the whys and what not...

Check out this great article by Bruce Schneier called "Aligning Interest with Capability". I read it a long time ago but I think you'll get a kick out of it.

"Have you ever been to a retail store and seen this sign on the register: "Your purchase free if you don't get a receipt"? You almost certainly didn't see it in an expensive or high-end store. You saw it in a convenience store, or a fast-food restaurant. Or maybe a liquor store. That sign is a security device, and a clever one at that. And it illustrates a very important rule about security: it works best when you align interests with capability..."

on September 22, 2006 04:36 PM
# Scott said:
on September 22, 2006 04:37 PM
# tom said:

think about this....
you rush out the door...
the exit door checker checks your receipt and finds that you were overcharged because the cashier rang up more than one of an item....
are you gonna complain and belittle the door person now?
I think not...

on September 23, 2006 04:55 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

It depends how long it takes. My time is worth something to me.

on September 23, 2006 05:19 PM
# David said:

I guess the Europeans think things are so much better there. Apparently they've never been stopped by the Guardia di Finanza (Financial Police) in Italy and had everything checked against their receipt. Threw the receipt away? Thats too bad, pay the taxes again.

on September 25, 2006 11:46 AM
# Amusing said:

I have worked at Costco for the last ten years and find your comparison and the comments made on the comparison interesting. In knowing the numbers (amounts of money) of "shrink" (what it is called when items are not accounted for in inventory) and the departments that the items missing are my building 36,000 alone in soda, toilet paper, paper towels, water ect most of which are on the bottom of the baskets as they go out the door...the receipt checking works both ways. In favor of the member as well as not, but all Costco wants is accuracy. If there is such a problem with receipt checking why not check your receipt before they do so you are sure of what you paid for or did not? It is Costco's policy about checking receipts and they do offer satisfaction guarentee so there is the option of refunding your membership if you are dissatisfied with your service. I am a supervisor so I am the person called when there is something wrong whether it is an unpaid item, a double scanned item, a wrong item belonging to someone else, ect. May I remind you that people are human and do make mistakes and that is why it is wise to double check? Whether it is the cashier who is having a bad day or was distracted, ect. OR even the door person. Reguardless your comparison to dolphins really does not make any sense except that you wanted to tell the story of research studies done while pulling attention to get people to read it in using "Dolphins Vs Costco employees" as a title. People are human and Dolphins are mammals. Not really a need for comparison. I am pretty sure that not every dolphin is like Kelly and not every Costco employee is like the one you encountered so how can your comparison be any where near valid? You need to title your article more realistic "A dolphin named Kelly vs one bad experience with one Costco employee." Sorry you had a bad experience at Costco, but in reality what is your point in knocking a Company (with 477 locations nationwide employing more than 113,000 people at wages that are higher than most) in comparison with some dolphins even though they have learned how to get more food? Why not compare the dolphins with theives in that they learn better ways to get more of what they are after?

on September 30, 2006 02:05 AM
# k said:

well... what if it were your company losing the 6 dollar box of oat meal?

on September 30, 2006 07:22 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


My "point" was to be funny, but clearly you read right past that.

on October 1, 2006 08:54 AM
# Yaron said:

> People are human and Dolphins are mammals. Not really a need for comparison.

I like that.
Dolphins, Catacea. Definitely mammals, yes.
Humans, Primates. Definitely... mammals.
Yep, no need for comparison.

on October 4, 2006 06:39 AM
# KT said:

Although I agree with those defenders of the receipt checker in that bad jobs and bad days can make you really stupid, I find it incredibly funny that it took that long for the employees to identify the ninth item. You did offer to help her after all.

BTW, did anyone else notice that the Costco supervisor kept writing ect instead of etc? And of course believing that humans are not mammals is great. Nice try at a defense, though. They must have been having a bad day when they posted their reply.

on October 4, 2006 10:33 AM
# A.G. said:

I am not a currant member of costco because of the fact that they ILLEGALLY DETAIN YOU...but, actually when you signup for a costco card, you agree to be detained and searched.
So, after 6 months from my expiration date, I will signup again, but will line out the lines in the agreement that pertain to the search and photo copy it and see if it flies.
BUT the real problem is that your rights are being violated!
I was at a grocery store and after paying, left trough the entry door...because it was very close to were I parked.
The rent a cop asked for my receipt and I asked him if he was accusing me of theft...he said that I was leaving through the wrong door and said he wanted to see my receipt and I told him, if he wanted to call the police I would gladly wait...otherwise I as leaving. There was no response from him, so I went to my truck, pulled out and started to leave. The rent a cop and another want to be came out. The guard stood in front of my truck...stopping my from leaving...UNLAWFUL DETENTION... and the other moron quickly flashed a badge. I was unable to see it properly and asked him to re produce was a security guard badge! we had words and finally...pissed off, I though the receipt at him and told the other moron to move. As I started to pull away, he through the receipt back at me.
By this time I was fuming. I called the police and explained the situation as was told that I would have to go to the police station more than 6-7 miles away) to file a compliant!
I wrote to the stores main office and never received a reply or at some point I am going o file a complaint.
Americans are going to have to start standing up for the rights before it's 1984...and all of are rifgts are gone!

on October 22, 2006 04:58 PM
# Jim said:

Your funny...

"Jeremy Zawodny said:
It depends how long it takes. My time is worth something to me."

And yet...

"Amusingly, I had figured that out several minutes earlier while looking over her shoulder, but I kept quiet to see how long it would take."

I would have thought it was not "rocket surgery" to aks, "hey did you get that Box of Oatmeal that I did not have the time to take out of the houmongus basket"

Is there a blog somewhere about, "Are Dolphins Smarter than Jeremy Zawodny?"

~Jim :)

on October 27, 2006 10:58 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


Do you think that I'm somehow unable to judge what I am willing to spend my own time on?

And what makes you think I left the oatmeal in the basket? I didn't.

on October 27, 2006 12:56 PM
# Mishka said:

First-off I do not understand the growing trend of placing seemingly random quotations around words, I believe this is supposed to substitute for wit. Secondly, every single person with a valid Costco membership has already waived their right to refuse having their receipt checked against the items in their cart. If any of the consumers who fancy themselves so knowledgeable on the bill of rights, bothered to read what they agreed to when signing up they would realize this. Costco is a private club and when you become a member you enter into a contract with them. It is not Costco's fault if you do not bother to read their policies; after all you are probably too busy looking for loopholes in the constitution to read those.

The tired argument that members can only have their things checked if it is voluntary does not work when you have already waived your rights. The membership is private, after you have checked out you are still on private property until you drive off of it, and most likely while going out to your car you are still using a cart that Costco owns.

Some employees placed at the door are poorly trained, new hires or just plain worn out. They may not immediately realize what item is missing it is much easier for the member who has gone there for specific items, picked them out, probably noted the price listed, and traveled through the store to the check-out stand before preceding to the door, to more easily glance at the receipt and notice what it is. But that depends, because many items descriptions are vague or just plain strange, sometimes the name that appears on the receipt is changed in the system and becomes more indicative of what was purchased or increasingly equivocal. If a common item such as paper towels or water (Items most likely to be overlooked.) has always been listed under one name and then it is changed then it can take a small amount of time to adapt. Once you have learned what to look for and it is then changed there is often a problem with retroactive memory interference, hindering the newly acquired information from taking hold.

When checking receipts my aim is to reduce shrinkage by catching and then correcting mistakes. It is not to catch shoplifters, I donít view the member in front of me as a shoplifter Iím about to catch red-handed. Most shoplifters are caught in the store by undercover security personnel or at the registers. I view the cart and the receipts as an opportunity to make certain that the other employees are doing their job as well as I try to do my own. When I fill out a door audit which is a designated form used to collect information from the receipt when there is a problem with what is in the cart, I list the cashierís name on it. Later on the cashier will have to sign off on that and if a trend is noticed with a cashier consistently missing items then they will have additional training to try to prevent that in the future. Cashiers much like every other employee at Costco are only human and prone to all the imperfections that come with the package. These employees have bad days, nights without sleep, allergies, illnesses, families, or a complete lack of, pets, bills, responsibilities, school and all the homework that comes with it, good times and bad times, depression and loss and of course stress.

There should never be an expectation of perfection in anyone, anymore then there should be an expectation of privacy in regards to your lettuce, milk, and bottled water not being checked over when you have already consented to have that done and the consent continues until you cancel your membership. Costco will refund you the full price of your membership if you are dissatisfied with it. I know that the stress of having your receipt checked or you being stopped for a moment longer then you can stand must be unbearable so perhaps you can use the membership refund to get some much needed counseling. Or, even better you could use it to start a campaign to demand that the constitution be amended so as to expressly state that no ones receipt may be checked for any reason regardless of whether the offending store or warehouse is public or private and that private stores can not ask you to voluntarily consent to have your receipt checked against your items with the purchase of a private membership. At the moment people are taking a loose reading of the sorely abused forth amendment to justify their outrage, while Costcoís policies are unequivocal if only one took a moment to read them. Hasnít anyone ever told these people not to sign or agree to anything until they have read the fine print and know without a doubt what they are consenting to? Those that do not bother have only themselves to blame.

In a world where you do not have to look far to see the worst of humanity, it saddens me that this is such a hot debate, that I even have to take time away from my studies because I feel compelled to respond. I truly envy people whose lives have been filled with so little tragedy that this is the biggest thorn in their paw. This injustice of a company enforcing policies that the members already agreed to, oh the inhumanity of it all! Retail employees are widely mistreated by consumers who think the customer is always right. This increasing and nauseating trend I see of customers thinking that they have the right to treat employees like they are little more then indentured servants is what really worries me in regards to retail. These members leave their trash in the carts when they leave, including full soft drink cups and used diapers. They spill things all over the place and donít bother to clean it up or even tell us what happened. Their kids destroy merchandise and they leave cold products to spoil in the wrong section because they are too lazy to go take them back. They throw fits because the carts are wet when it is pouring outside oh and that they canít park in the fire lane. They return merchandise such as empty food containers because they didnít like the way it tasted, so much so that they ate all of it. Their children scream at me to draw pictures for them, oh and they all throw temper tantrums all through out the store because they are spoiled monsters. My cat has better manners then 50% of the members and 80% of their children.

Iíve been cursed and yelled at for doing my job. A member who had been throwing a fit demanded to speak to a manger after I politely informed him that he did not have the right to speak to me as he had been. For some reason people think they have the right to touch me, they do not. Iíve been sexually harassed and physically assaulted on more then one occasion by a member or their child. Iíve gotten into an argument with a manager because I told him I had no problem drawing pictures for memberís children on the receipts in fact I actually enjoy it, but if the child was abusive towards me it wouldnít happen because I wasnít raised to reward bad behavior. That is part of what is wrong with our society.

Iím really really nice to people, the kind members which there are thankfully enough of to keep my sanity intact, often comment on how nice I am and how Iím always smiling and cheery. I probably catch more mistakes then anyone else in my department and Iíve been thanked by members for that. Most decent people donít want to accidentally take unpurchased items with them. But besides the items not charged for I also catch items double-charged, items they were charged for that are not in the basket for some reason, and missed coupons. Today I sent 2 people back for a total of three sets of stamps at almost $40.00 a pop, because they did not realize they had not received their stamps. I do my job well and get paid $11.25 and hour with medical benefits, sick pay, and vacation so I can pay my bills and finish school with the hope that someday I can work in a job where I am well paid and am not treated like dirt beneath someoneís shoe. Other members are more likely to lash out at someone who mistreats me then I am, because I am paid well in order to assure that I will put up with as much abuse as possible without losing my cool.

But by all means walk out the door without stopping to have your receipt checked the next time youíre in Costco; youíre really making a statement without saying a word. Though I do have a word for it, my Mother always said that if you canít say anything nice then donít say anything at all. I really must admire the gall of people who do such things, their bravery in fighting against oppression, something akin to the overthrow of communism seen in other countries or the civil rights movement. Youíre right up there, so close. Though while youíre sticking it to the man, perhaps on your march of freedom out the door why not show them true rebellion by stopping by the membership desk before you exit and having your account cancelled. Then you can expand your protest by moving it to another private membership club.

on November 4, 2006 10:22 PM
# uncletoon said:

First of all, I work at CostCo. That being said, I have to regrettably admit that there are more than a few, shall we say, intellectually challenged individuals? Unfortunately, I have found this to be true with all retail Venues I have worked with.

In this particular case, I do find a lot of humor in what happened. I personally don't understand what's so hard about checking the receipts at the door. I have done it countless times and have rarely had any sort of a problem with it. However, let's face it, a long day, a late night, too much stress, and any other multitude of things could have caused such a disaster.

I must protest however, to using this one incident as a blanket for all CostCo employees. I hate to say it, but the employees are far from stupid as a whole. Look at the cashiers. Many of them are making $50,000 a year just checking items out in the same manner as someone who works down the road at a Kroger for minimum wage. Stupid? Not entirely at least.

As far as stores checking your receipts... Use a little common sense people. When you go into a store, and I mean ANY store, the people have a legal right to check your receipt, your purchases, and your person until you make it into the parking lot because you are on private property. Whoever told you otherwise is a moron that should meet whoever was working the door that caused this blog. In the case of CostCo, even if you make it onto the parking lot, you can still be checked because CostCo buys the land as well making it Private Property. So technically, if they really wanted to, they could check your cars. It even says on the front door that by shopping their, you grant them the right to search your bags, purses, briefcases, and backpacks.

And in all fairness Jeremy, if you are truly unsatisfied with your trips to CostCo, you have the right at any time to go to the membership counter and cancel your membership. If you do, you'll even get a FULL REFUND on the price of the membership. lol.

I'm not upset at the article so much as I am at the idiots claiming that you can legally refuse to have your receipt checked. Refuse, and you will be arrested because you're on PRIVATE PROPERTY!!!

on November 7, 2006 12:21 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

"I must protest however, to using this one incident as a blanket for all CostCo employees."

Who are you protesting against, then? I'm certainly not assuming that *all* Costco employees are that dumb.

Surely the smiley at the end of the post clarified my seriousness a bit.

on November 7, 2006 06:53 AM
# uncletoon said:

All i have to say is "meh"

Beware Jeremy Zawodny, we CostCo employees are a proud race.


on November 7, 2006 11:56 PM
# said:

Why did I read this? This was totally rude. You are generalizing that this one door checker is the like of all of them. Have you never had an experience where you've been slightly under pressure and couldn't perform as well as you would have hoped. Who are you? Why are you cutting this person up? Why did I read this horribly presumptuous and arrogant posting? I say good job on the checker for catching the mistake and bad on you for not paying attention to your receipt yourself. They hire those checkers to save you money(on top of decreasing the amount of inventory irregularities) as it is easier for a cashier to double scan, than miss and item. Give me and the checker a break.

on January 9, 2007 05:15 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

I have no idea why you read it. And if it was such a waste of your time, I have no idea why you spent the time and effort leaving a comment.

Apparently you missed the humor entirely and decided to focus on the negative. That says something.

on January 9, 2007 05:46 PM
# Wade V. said:

I have to admit that I did not read all the comments, so I don't know if this has been covered already. However I would like to put the shoe on the other foot for a moment. Suppose you had gotten to the door and the employee had found that you had been charged twice for something? Wouldn't you be happy that they had taken the time to check? Would it have hurt you, when you looked over the employee's shoulder to say " Could it be the oatmeal? I don't see it on the receipt" Yes, dolphins are very smart. We all watch the discovery channel. But dolphins don't have to worry about shoplifters. They are not concerned with people trying to push past them without showing a receipt. Or rude people, or thieves, or lost children, or any of the dozen or so other things they have to deal with on a hourly basis. Dolphins swim, and eat, and play, and make baby dolphins. I'd like to see a dolphin tell the difference between eight items on a receipt and nine items in the cart, and do it 150 times an hour, for eight hours a day. So please do not think badly of those people who might take a little longer to see the oatmeal is not on the receipt. On the other hand, when I die, maybe I can come back as a dolphin. Swim, eat, play, etc. It might not be to bad, as long as I stay out of the Tuna nets....

on February 1, 2007 12:59 AM
# James said:

I've worked at Costco for almost a year now and I have to say that a good majority of the members treat us like crap, by belittling us, talking down to us or trying to show us how to do our job. OR when members think they are more important than others and will pull right up to the doorway and park in the fire lane, blocking pedestrian traffic and the cart crew trying to bring carts to the door for members. We've actually had incidents where other members and employees have been hit or run over by people trying to drive the cars under the overhang or through the fire lane. These incidents were serious enough to send people to the hospital. And the sad thing is the injuries happened as the result of people failing to follow the rules and failing to realize they are just like every body else, so stop trying to cut, and wait your turn in line!

on February 26, 2007 10:07 PM
# Gary said:

A.G. should have been shot by the guard as the reciept was thrown at him. Why would your first reaction be to throw something at someone that was doing his job in a place you elected to be? Does not make sense. Im sure A.G. will be taught a lesson in life by society. He/she will run into the wrong person (or right person)some day.

on March 27, 2007 10:41 PM
# mike said:

I just wanted to say that while the girl at the door went about it the wrong way, her job is extremely useful, and you would be surprised to know that the girl at the door makes $18.05 a hour. So she is a well paid fuck up.

on October 7, 2008 08:26 PM
# said:

Interesting note... dolphins are rapists. Look it up, it's true.

I bet those guys checking receipts aren't rapists.

on January 20, 2009 11:16 PM
# Eric said:

You sir are a douche bag!

on January 25, 2009 01:57 PM
# Greg said:

What's the big deal you ask? It is my RIGHT to continue about my business without being hassled. I paid your fat markup, now leave me alone!

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

on March 12, 2009 08:31 AM
# Retail Slave said:

To all the Costco employees who keep saying that the customers treat them like crap:

That's retail for ya! Some people are easy to get along with and pleasant, while others are little bastards or annoying old ladies who have a million coupons and make you hold up everything because they forgot to grab some tissues.

I found the original post to be amusing, but as someone working in retail, I sympathize with the receipt checker. Maybe she was new and couldn't make out the codes of the items on the receipt, sometimes they're not so crystal clear.

Perhaps its from working for years in retail, but I just wouldn't poke fun at someone for doing something stupid unless they were an asshole on top of it. But overall, it was a good read along with the comments to kill 10 minutes for me :P

on April 16, 2009 06:51 PM
# said:

You poor man. You need to get a life if this is what upsets you. Why not just get your membership refunded and spend your money somewhere else? Everyone knows you will find a problem with the next place also.

on May 3, 2009 10:55 AM
# JD said:

I don't know why everyone is flaring on this topic with those long comments. i don't bother reading it. One thing I learned is that Dolphins are fast learners.

on June 18, 2009 08:01 AM
# Kevin said:

Ok, I've worked at Costco for quite some time so I can help with this discussion.

For one, the reason the receipts are checked is because of 2 things... 1)There are no "activated security devices" in the items to prevent inconvenience of people setting off the door alarms, etc. and 2) It's easy for someone to steal something between the register and the door, especially if they have someone with them. Honestly, the reason we check the receipts is to make sure that we don't OVER charge you or cause a loss for our products which causes trouble not only during inventory but also with our merchant partners that accommodate those low prices people enjoy. As for the particular employee you encountered, she handled the process all wrong. I've worked at the door several times and with large full baskets, you are only supposed to scan for the easily missed or over-charged items like alcohol, small products, and things hidden on the bottom of the basket. Her over-thinking wasn't entirely in vane however, because if she had been wrong, it would've gotten her and the cashier "at fault" in unnecessary trouble. Besides, marking the receipt helps prevent people from coming through again with the same items, as I'm sure you know.

I also agree with whoever said the receipt codes are hard to decipher. I've looked over plenty of receipts and for example, Cinnamon Toast Crunch with Fiber, rings up as CTC WFBR. When you are trying to hurry and scan a large receipt, it's not the easiest thing to spot.

on November 19, 2009 01:58 PM
# said:

I enjoyed the article of the Kelley the dolphin but your vist at Costco shows how challenged you are in that you would allow yourself to have your time wasted by not acknowledging the extra item. In my experience with criminals, it seems that YOU were pulling a fast one trying to get away with petty theft by being ignorant of the count.

on April 7, 2010 05:20 PM
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