Borders Forces Customer To Take Plastic Bag, Claims It Is "Proof Of Purchase"

A Borders cashier wouldn’t give Allison her copy of Harry Potter without a plastic bag. A mindful environmentalist, Allison refused, even after the cashier stated that the bag would serve as Allison’s proof of purchase. When Allison pointed out the absurdity of using a bag as proof of purchase when she had a receipt, the cashier:

…rolled her eyes and said that if I didn’t want the bag, I could throw it away as soon as I left the store. I exclaimed that that was certainly the least environmentally friendly thing anyone could do, and she just pushed my book, a bag, a poster and my receipt at me and said, “Next.”

Allison’s letter to Borders, and their response, after the jump.

Date: Fri, 20 Jul 2007 23:44:03 -0700 (PDT)
From: Allison
Subject: Disappointed in Service at Borders

I am a longtime Borders customer with a Borders Rewards card who is reconsidering her book-shopping values after an incident this evening. I’m hoping that you can help me understand what happened.

Like millions of people, I pre-ordered “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” earlier this year and planned to pick it up at the Creve Coeur, Mo., location at midnight Saturday, July 21. I obtained a line ticket July 20 and found the activities and atmosphere pleasurable. I was impressed by the staff’s energy and ability to keep everyone happy. That is, until I made it to the cashier’s bar.

As soon as I approached, the cashier began to pull out a plastic Borders shopping bag. I explained that I didn’t need a bag, as I was only purchasing one book. She gave me an odd look and curtly said that everyone needed to have a bag. I responded that that was not environmentally friendly, especially in light of Scholastic boasting 65% certified ancient forest-friendly pulp pages in the American version of the book (Raincoast Books in Canada, however, used 100% recycled paper). The cashier again looked at me askew and said that it was policy and proof of purchase. I said that my receipt should be proof of purchase, especially since the one book I was buying was being held behind the counter and not available elsewhere in the store. She rolled her eyes and said that if I didn’t want the bag, I could throw it away as soon as I left the store. I exclaimed that that was certainly the least environmentally friendly thing anyone could do, and she just pushed my book, a bag, a poster and my receipt at me and said, “Next.”

I find it doubtful that Borders, Inc., had set a policy stating that each person MUST take a plastic bag with them when purchasing books, especially since I had purchased books previously (including during previous “Harry Potter” release events) without taking a bag. I also find it disturbing that this cashier brushed off my concerns with eye rolls and a short tone. I understand that the store was packed, but I was not trying to hold up the line — I simply wanted to buy the book without a plastic bag. There was no one at the door checking for bags or receipts, and most of the customers I saw only had one copy with no use for a bag.

In an age when people are finally beginning to understand the global consequences of their actions, corporations are taking measures to behave in the most environmentally way possible, and consumers are taking small but firm steps to lighten their environmental impact, I find this cashier’s reaction to my baglass request and her brusque attitude in general appalling. I certainly hope that her attitude is not indicative of Borders as a whole, but I would appreciate clarification from your front office within one week. Specifically, I would like to know if taking a useless plastic bag for one item was “policy,” and if it was, why? Why have a policy like that when potentially 12 million American readers may only purchase one book, which would mean potentially 12 million useless plastic bags littering the country?

I also will be sending my concerns to and, two massively popular websites that review the behavior of corporations.

For the record, my receipt shows the following information:
Store: 0113; Reg: 05/03; Tran#: 2201; Sale 07/21/2007; Emp: 00158; 07/21/2007 00:42 AM

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from your corporate office within one week.


Allison received an email from Borders over the weekend:

Date: Sat, 21 Jul 2007 09:16:53 -0500 (CDT)
Dear Allison,

Thank you for contacting Borders Customer Care and making us aware of your concern. I would like to apologize for your experience at our Creve Coeur store.

I am forwarding your comments to the General Manager for the store and the District Manager for the area. I am sure the GM and DM for this store will be grateful to receive your feedback so that they can rectify the situation.

Again, thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to our attention. If there is anything else we can do for you, please let us know.

Borders Customer Care

The store manager did get in touch with Allison:

This weekend, the store manager (I think his name was Brian), called me. He was super-nice and very apologetic, though I still don’t feel completely satisfied. He said that he appreciated my positive comments on the staff and activities of Harry Potter night and agreed that most everything went well. He said that one of his cashiers approached him before going home, saying that she had a customer who didn’t want a bag, and she (the cashier) didn’t handle it very well. After hearing that and then receiving my email from customer service, he realized that both referenced the same incident. He apologized for his employee’s behavior and said that while corporate had handed down a general mandate that all books be in bags (to speed things along and deter stealing), employees are always free to serve the customer as they see fit. This employee, he said, tried to stay a little too true to the policy and ended up offending me, the customer.

Obviously, I was miffed at being forced to take a bag when I clearly stated that I didn’t want one and would be happy to show my receipt as I went out the door that was ten feet away (though no one was stationed there checking bags or receipts). That wasn’t my biggest problem, though. I was more concerned with what was apparently a policy from corporate that all purchases be put into bags, even when customers were only buying one item. He said that on normal (non-Potter) days, employees ask customers if they need a bag (I’ve had this happen) and most customers decline if they only have an item or two. Because of Pottermania, however, the company decided that automatically putting the books into bags would easily show employees that people had purchased the book. I’m still aghast that Borders didn’t take into consideration what an extra 12 million plastic bags could do to the environment and that they thought they needed them in the first place, since, again, no one was checking receipts/bags, and all Potter books were well behind the counter of approximately eight cashiers. I related all of this to the manager, and while he was sympathetic, he couldn’t shed any more light on the subject.

It all just seems careless on Borders’ part, though I’m sure they’re not the only bookstore to do this. I think it’s a bit hypocritical to put canvas bags with the Borders logo up for sale in an effort to reduce plastic bag use among customers (and show off the Borders brand) and still automatically hand out plastic bags for one of the biggest bookselling events in history. This could have been a great opportunity for Borders to lead the bagless way, and it was squandered.

We understand Borders’ desire to keep order on one of the busiest days of the year, but that doesn’t excuse ignoring the wishes of an individual customer wanting to do her part to clean up our environment.

What do you think? Was Borders’ response sufficient? Tell us in the comments.

(Photo: s2art)

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