I was speaking to a group of high school students last week about marketplace fraud when one asked a question about a specific experience he had while shopping.
Can a store make me give them my phone number? He went on to tell me that a store clerk had said that he couldn’t process the sale transaction with out it. We have to have it, the student was told. He knew it didn’t sound right, but he didn’t argue with the clerk. He felt uncomfortable and just wanted to get out of there, he said.
Several other students nodded their heads in agreement as we spoke. I let them know I have also had similar experiences. Sales clerks have said things to me like, and now I need your phone number which makes it sound like the customer doesn’t have a choice.
But as I told the students that day, you are not required to give this information to a store in order to make a purchase. So why do they want it? the student inquired.
The answer depends upon the store in which you’re shopping. Some retailers will make it easy for you by posting a sign at checkout detailing how they plan to use any personal information they request at the point of sale. For instance, they may simply be researching store placement by tracking how far customers travel to shop at a particular location. In some instances your personal information is for their internal use only so they can send you special offers and coupons.
In other cases, however, stores may obtain your mailing address via your phone number and sell mailing lists created in this way to other retail or market research companies. You may, then, receive phone calls and/or mailings as a result.
So what is a shopper to do?
- If you are interested in receiving future correspondence from the store, your BBB encourages you to ask:
- Why do you need this information?
- How do you use it?
- If you are planning to send special offers to me, how can I opt out?
- Do you have any of this available in writing?
- If you know you are not interested in hearing from them in the future, you can always decline by saying no thank you at the point of sale. If a sales clerk insists, ask to speak with a manager who should be able to answer all the questions above. (Chances are not all sales clerks will have this information and have simply been instructed to ask customers for this.)
And remember, as a customer you have every right to ask questions and to protect your personal information.