Bottom of Basket “Shoplifting” Assignments

There are several different Bottom Of Basket (BOB) scenarios for grocery stores. The one that we are concerned with in this article is where you have a single, large item, not to exceed a given dollar amount, usually $5. If the cashier does not catch the item, then you are to walk out of the store with it. This raises the question, are you a shoplifter?

Although no shopper who completed this scenario, successfully or unsuccessfully, has ever reported being charged with shoplifting, the possibility has caused some shoppers concern. To gain some legal clarification and insight, I made some time on a recent route shopping trip in North Carolina for a consultation with an attorney in the Charlotte area.

The attorney was not familiar with what mystery shopping was, so after giving him a description of some of the jobs I do, I got down to the nitty gritty. Is the bottom of the basket shop shoplifting? Again, this is the shop where we are specifically told to place an item not exceeding $X on the bottom of the basket and walk out, without paying for it, if the cashier does not catch it.

Although the details of shoplifting law vary from state to state, i.e. some states require concealment of the item, others the act of passing the last possible point to pay for the item qualifies as shoplifting, one of the key components is “No person, with purpose to deprive the owner of property or services, shall knowingly obtain or exert control over either the property or services in any of the following ways:

“(1) Without the consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent; (2) Beyond the scope of the express or implied consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent; (3) By deception; (4) By threat.”

In other words, as long as a person is authorized to give you permission to leave without paying for the item, which the scheduler is authorized to do by benefit of the contract the MSC has with the client, then you are not guilty of shoplifting.

At the same time, the attorney did strongly suggest that you have a copy of the shop instructions on you, should someone decide to get law enforcement involved. He also advised to stay calm, be polite, and assuming the manager on duty was not familiar with the secret shop program, that you insist that the store manager, district manager, or regional manager be called to verify the program.

What I perhaps found most interesting is that, in spite of all the concern over the possibility of being arrested, no one ever said they had been arrested, or that law enforcement had ever been called.

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