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Customer Searches Are Humiliating

It has become the norm these days for stores’ to insist on searching you purchase and to check the items against the till slip. What impact does this have on your dignity and civil rights and how does it impact on your risk of contracting COVID 19? This is of major importance to shoppers that are at high risk if contracting COVID 19?

Search On Entry

Nobody disputes the fact that the business has the right to protect itself and its employees from any form of danger so it is reasonable to expect to be checked going into premises. The problem is that very few stores’ even search for weapons or explosive or incendiary devices. They do, however, take your temp and insist that you use their hand sanitiser because it is now mandatory.Shopping trolley

So, safety does not appear to be of major concern at the point of entry. Of course, it would cost them money for more personnel and infrastructure.

Does this apply when you exit? Definitely not. They have a number of personnel and facilities to search every customer.

Packing Goods In Trolley

Before you pack one thing into your trolley, it has had to be unpacked from the boxes and then placed on the shelves and there are a number of packers doing this in each store.

As you walk down the aisles, selecting goods, especially in supermarkets, you often need to move items so that you can remove an item to place it in your trolley. Now you have handled two items to be able to load one.

How many people have handled your goods before you picked each one up to load it into your trolley?

Handled At Till

So now you are at the till, you unpack every item again and it is scanned, item by item. The item is then packed into plastic bags, that you pay for, by a packer that then loads them into a separate trolley. From the teller, in most stores’, you then walk directly to the exit, without access to the aisles and goods again! For example, Makro, Game, Checkers to name but a few.

So my question…No, my two questions are:

  • who do these goods now belong to, after all, You paid for them!
  • Where can you pick up any more goods to pack in your trolley after paying? You are not even using the same trolley as the packer used another trolley for your goods. You could not have left anything in the trolley and not paid for it.

Checked At Door

So now, You have paid for the goods. They are now yours? You walk to the door to walk out and you are accosted by a security official who now wants to go through your goods to check them against your receipt.going to the exit

Now I don’t know about you but, I object to being searched as a rule, on exiting the store. Why? well:-

  1. I own the goods, as I paid for them.
  2. I have not been anywhere near the other side of the store to have access to their goods, not since paying, so I could not have stolen anything from them
  3. Searching all customers at the exit, as a rule, proves that they do not have reasonable grounds to search you.

In Pieterse v Clicks Group Ltd t/a Clicks Stores and Another (A3102/2011) [2015] ZAGPJHC 113; 2015 (5) SA 317 (GJ) (10 June 2015)

32. The respondents bear the onus to demonstrate the basis for the reasonable suspicion.

In other words, the store has to have reasonable grounds to suspect that you might have stolen something before they can search you.

Is bag searching at retail stores’ unlawful?

I find searching at the exit points offensive! I have a number of reasons for saying this:

  1. Having paid for the goods and not having had access to “pick up” any extras on the way, what is the reason for them wanting to check my goods?
  2. The delay at the exit can be long when it’s payday, 15th, 25th, SASA pension payout etc. This, I really find to be unacceptable.
  3. Do I really want an extra pair of hands that have been in how many other bags that have been handled by dozens of other people, in my bags and touching my receipt?

Consumer rights writer Wendy Knowler said the signing of receipts was “apparently” done mainly in an attempt to thwart corrupt cashiers from failing to scan certain products put through the tills by friends or family members.


In Pieterse v Clicks Group Ltd t/a Clicks Stores and Another (A3102/2011) [2015] ZAGPJHC 113; 2015 (5) SA 317 (GJ) (10 June 2015)

32. The respondents bear the onus to demonstrate the basis for the reasonable suspicion.

In other words, the store has to have reasonable grounds to suspect that you might have stolen something before they can search you.

Paying at till

If you look at the entire situation, it looks like the reason for the search is to stop their staff from under-rining or not ringing items up for their family and friends, in which case they should install cameras as some of the Spar Group, and Checkers have done.

Attorney Michael Abraham said retail stores’ should have camera systems and CCTV in place in order to avoid the inconvenience.

Trying to prevent Staff theft is not grounds to search me and I will resist at every turn!

Arrest And Search

There are a number of different opinions and I have elected to consider those of attorneys and relevant officials who work with these issues.

Ouma Ramaru from the office of the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman said ” in terms of section 42(1) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, if the suspect commits an offence a security guard may intervene, however, security guards do not possess any special legal powers — they are considered to be the same as ordinary members of the public”.

This means that he has no special powers of arrest. It does not mean that he cannot arrest under certain circumstances but it must be legal and he, the store and his employer could be liable to a civil suit if the arrested person is found not guilty.

“They can either persuade persons they suspect of shoplifting to cooperate with their inquiries voluntarily or make an arrest in terms of section 42(1) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977.” Ouma Ramaru added.

He further said “A supplier or an agent of the supplier must not use physical force against a consumer, coercion, undue influence, pressure, duress or harassment or unfair tactics.

“They (the public) are entitled to be protected from unfair, unreasonable, unjust or otherwise improper trade practices,” Ramaru said.

A person suspected of shoplifting is usually approached by the store detective or some other member of staff and asked to go to the manager’s office. The question is now, is the suspect arrested as their freedom is curtailed.

“A shopper who is arrested by a store detective and acquitted may have grounds to sue for malicious arrest or malicious institution of criminal proceedings. If the detective used force, even though the shopper did not resist, the shopper could sue for damages for assault. However, in order to succeed in the action, the shopper will have to prove that a charge was laid without reasonable cause”.

So how do the searches impact on your chances of COVID 19?

Let’s start at the beginning, walking into a store. Currently, there is very little risk at this stage as nobody touches you or your belongings so no transmission is likely. However, this is where it gets interesting and, I am only going to deal with what happens in the store.

Shelf Packers

The shelf packers have to collect from the storeroom and pack onto shelves. There is possibly a risk but one we probably choose to ignore. The alternative is to stay home and grow your own foods and make your own soaps etc to avoid touching anything that someone else has touched so, the store cannot help but use shelf packers.

Even though they are checked, they could be asymptomatic but contagious.

Loading your Trolley

When you walk up and down aisles to load goods into your basket, how often do you have to move goods so that you can pick up an item, read a label or return it to the shelf because you have changed your mind? So if you do, how many others do it? Another of those risks that one cannot avoid.

At The Till

Now I must admit that I have always noticed how the counter at the till is always wiped down and the tellers disinfect their hands, so I am easy at this point.At the Till

Once it is scanned another packer then picks it up and packs it into bags. I have yet to see these packers disinfect their hands. Once the bag is packed, they place it into an empty trolley that has not been disinfected and you have to push that trolley out.

At this point, you are usually out of the shopping area and now you move to the exit. Here you are confronted by someone who now wants to handle your receipt and your goods! Have I done anything to give grounds to suspect that I have stolen anything? Besides, I have never been out of their sight nor have I passed any goods that I could steal. So what is the motive for searching me?

I can only think that it is to prevent stock loss through their staff under ringing or not ringing goods up for friends and family. If this is true, they have no right to ignore my constitutional right to dignity or to break the law to save money.

By installing camera system above the teller, as Spar and other stores’ do, and having the guards viewing the tapes for suspicious behaviour, they opt for the cheaper option, of detaining you at the exit until a guard can check your cash slip against the goods, which can take several minutes on busy days. This I find immoral, insulting and upsetting.

How Searches And Stamping Increase COVID 19 Risks

Most people do not consider all the above factors but to people who have Comorbidities, contracting COVID 19 is of serious concern. If you have 3 or 4 of the Comorbidities, COVID could certainly be deadly and you would consider the risks very seriously.

If you consider how many extra layers of risk are added just from the til onward, it puts the searching in a new category. At some shops, like hardware stores’, there can be up to 3 additional layers of people handling your paperwork alone. Any unnecessary handling of my goods and/or documentation is of concern to me with multiple Comorbidities.

In Conclusion

Security guards do not have special powers of arrest or search. They have no more powers than you as an average citizen so they cannot search you without your agreement. Searching at the exit of a store is also illegal unless they have ground to suspect that you have stolen something.

Is it not time that we stop this illegal, embarrassing and annoying practice. Why should we suffer this indignity to save the stores’ money? Saving money is no grounds for infringing on my rights or breaking the law.

I am sure that you have an opinion on this matter. Please leave your comments and opinions in the comments section below.

Your opinion in comments


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