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Giving Your ZIP Code to Cashiers

This article was written by in Consumer. 36 comments.


One of my first jobs as a teenager, twenty-some years ago, was a salesperson at Radio Shack. Our point-of-sale system functioned on phone numbers for some reason, so whenever a customer wanted to purchase something, we asked the customer for his or her phone number. Even if the customer was buying a pack of AA batteries with cash, we were required to follow this procedure. If they weren’t in the system, which from what I remember wasn’t networked with other stores, we would ask for their mailing address.

This process annoyed customers every day. Most customers entered the store because they needed something quick, like the battery I needed for my car’s keyless remote the other day. There is no need to spend extra time in the store, but most people’s objection was to the unnecessary personal nature of the questions. The process served one primary purpose. The store wants customers’ addresses to send them ads, and the phone number is an easy unique identifier. When I visited Radio Shack the other day for the battery, I noticed the process had changed. Rather than practically requiring a phone number (which was the method of operation in the store where I worked decades ago, unless the customer stringently protested), the cashier asked if I would like to provide my email address to receive coupons. I politely declined, paid for my batteries, and left.

One reason we often gave, as Radio Shack salespeople, for collecting people’s addresses is so the corporation could determine where to set up new storefronts. If many customers were coming to one store from a town and ZIP Code twenty miles away, Radio Shack would supposedly look into opening a store closer to that location. I have no proof that this ever happened, but the theory seems relatively sound.

These days, with the increased popularity of credit and debit card transactions, this information should already be available. Still, some retailers ask for your ZIP Code with every purchase. I’ve noticed this when shopping in Bed Bath and Beyond. This isn’t to verify your credit card information, though ZIP Code is one of the allowed authentication checks for credit card merchant agreements. In California, asking for a ZIP Code at time of purchase is now against consumer privacy law, now that courts recently determined that a ZIP Code is considered personal identification information. This sparked lawsuits against Bed Bath and Beyond and Crate and Barrel, a store that apparently follows the same procedure.

Customers apparently believed they were compelled to provide the requested information at the time of sale. I usually don’t have any problem sharing my ZIP Code with cashiers who ask. It hasn’t made me uncomfortable, but I could understand that some shoppers might feel pressured to provide the information. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your personal information, don’t. Stores will let you complete your purchase as long as you don’t give them reason to believe you’re shoplifting, committing fraud, or using someone else’s method of payment. The best retailers won’t give you a hard time for not providing the information.

If you feel uncomfortable sharing personal information, just say no. Have you ever had an experience with a cashier who gave you a hard time for not providing your ZIP Code, phone number, or address?

Los Angeles Times

Published or updated February 22, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar TakeitEZ ♦549 (Dime)

I never had a cashier give me a hard time for refusing to give my email or zip code. They will sometimes reiterate to me that it is for my benefit as well (coupons) but once I state that I have no interest they usually move on with the purchase.

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avatar Sandy @ yesiamcheap

Just yesterday I was at Payless and the cashier asked me for my phone number. I told her that if it was not required to complete a sale I did not want to provide it. No problem! We went ahead with the sale. Nine West practically demanded my phone number last year and made a big stink about it when I would not provide it to them. The guy had to ask a manager how to complete the sale without it. When I had to return the shoe it was jumping through hoops to complete the return because they didn’t have my number. I had to provide my license, etc to return a $50 shoe!

Why do I refuse to give me number now? About 2 years ago, another store, which shall remain nameless, said that they needed the number to complete a sale. I have them my mom’s home number since I only have a cell number and didn’t want random calls to my cell phone. Sorry mom. Anyway, it pulled up my brother’s information including e-mail address and shopping history so now he gets coupons and phone calls. When I told him about it he realized that he had shopped with a store that had bought this current chain and they shared information. He hadn’t even shopped with the parent chain in the previous 2 years.

Since then I have been known to walk out of stores that say they require my number. Retailers, please don’t make it hard for people to shop and stop stalking your customers.

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avatar greggory caine

I work for a major retail import business and am required to ask for phone number, email,and also try to push the credit card. This is embarassing to me and very offensive to most customers. I can’t believe we have to do this with all of the privacy issues in place. Hope this policy will diappear soon.

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avatar krantcents

Not so funny story with a zip code! I was in a gas station in New York (Calif. resident) and the attendant asked me for my zip code. I gave it to him, but he entered incorrectly three times. My credit card company locked the card because they thought it was fraud. It was good I had another card. This is where incompetence meets a zip code!

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

that sounds horrible. next time i am looking for a reason not to give out the data, i will think of your story.

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avatar tbork84 ♦1,867 (Half-Dollar)

All the credit card company wanted to do was protect you by requiring the zip code. Sometimes a little less protection is in order.

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avatar Kyle

I think it’s more likely they want to protect themselves. With most cards these days, you aren’t liable for fraudulent charges anyway. The “for your protection” line is just a smokescreen to get you to consent to an inconvenience for their sake.

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avatar David M

Kyle,

You are ABSOLUTELY CORRECT!

Citibank Fraud Department calls me “for my protection” numerous times each year – ussually it is for a store that I have frequented numerous times in the past. Drop the “for your protection” and check my sales against prior sales, prior to calling me Citibank – Thank You.

Once Citibank froze my account because I made a $5 purchase in Singapore, I learned this when I was trying to purchase a plane ticket. Luckily I could use skype and call them at the 800 number listed on my credit card.

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avatar Brandon

I have not had a problem with this, though I occasionally have been known to lie about what my zip code or phone number is.

What annoys me is when retailers insist on either minimum purchases to run a credit card or require a photo ID. Both things are against their merchant agreements. I’ve noticed that the Gatlinburg area is notorious for this. I wonder if ID thefts really like to buy cruft from outlet malls… :)

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

i suppose i do not have a problem giving out my zip code, amongst some other data, i suppose, but to be honest, i do not think i have ever been asked my zip code before. i prefer not to give out my phone number, e-mail or anything like that when asked in retail stores, although i suppose it makes no sense, as i give out most of that data each time i make a transaction online.

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avatar Jenna

I usually decline when sales people are asking for my information. But I strongly dislike the looks they give after you decline. It’s really annoying.

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avatar Ridwan ♦295 (Nickel)

Exactly. This is why it’s laughable when companies say there is no pressure to actually give your ZIP code up. When you’re in a fast-paced situation like a checkout counter, cashiers act like you’re a bad guy if you don’t go along with them.

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avatar Ridwan ♦295 (Nickel)

I usually just give a fake ZIP code, the one from my old address. Sometimes I just give the ZIP code of my neighboring town.

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avatar Ellen

I just say my zip is “00000″ –this is what they enter when you decline to give one.

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avatar AJC @ 7million7years

At Radio Shack in Australia (called Tandy Electronics here) 30+ years ago, we were measured on our success in collecting name/address info (for the catalog mailing list) … we were even trained in the ‘sales techniques’ necessary to collect them.

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avatar Evan

I always give my phone and zip…in the end what’s the difference? The Zip I don’t get why anyone would care. Phone number maybe but I have never had best buy call me?

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avatar jim

I’m continuously baffled that Radio Shack is still in business. How do they survive? I just don’t get it.

I was annoyed when they would ask for my phone # when I tried to buy whatever adapter or battery that I bought there several years ago. I probably shouldn’t been so annoyed since my credit card has my name on it and my name is in the phone book. Next time I’ll just tell em my phone # is 777-3456.

I don’t mind at all if someone asks my ZIP code. What harm is there if a company knows which general region of a city that I live in?? Theres about 40k people living in my zip code. How is that ‘private information’??

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avatar Little House

I live in California and I’m constantly being asked for my zip code when I check out at retail stores. I don’t really mind, but I’m guessing most retail cashiers don’t know it’s against the law now. Is this a new law?

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avatar Dave

I usually tell them that my zip is 90210. I just laugh when the clerk actually enters that.

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avatar eric ♦1,549 (Half-Dollar)

I don’t mind the zip code but I decline on numbers and emails.

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avatar cubiclegeoff ♦896 (Dime)

I usually decline, or if I’m too annoyed or busy I just give one from an old address or something. Same reason why I use my grocery store customer card that is connected to an address I haven’t lived at for over 4 years.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

I don’t mind giving out my zip code; if they ask for my phone number I give them my Magic Jack number that I seldom use for anything. If they ask for an email I decline.

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

I’ve always given the zip but now I’m rethinking that. They want TMI!

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avatar gotr31 ♦224 (Cent)

I used to work in a retail store that asked for phone numbers as well. I hated it and some customers would give you a hard time about it. I was never pushy or rude but the customers sure were. Somehow they forgot that it wasn’t me asking for the information, it was the store’s system and I was just following procedure. And if I remember right you could skip the phone number but if you did it too often you got written up for it. Now, I don’t mind being asked for a zip but I very politely decline to give the phone number. If they are crabby about it I just try and let it slide, its hard to know what it’s like on their side of the register.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

I hate having to enter my zip code at the gas station.

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avatar squirrelers

I’ll enter a zip code at the gas station – as this seems standard when paying outside these days. Otherwise, I don’t provide it when the retailer asks. I just say “sorry, I’d rather not” to them, and there’s really no problem. On one occasion a place was excessively persistent and practically required that I provide information otherwise I might not be able to purchase. I would have walked away and that was clear, so the transaction did happen. But aside from that outlier experience, I don’t get pushback when I turn them down. I’m not here to provide marketing data for them to mine:)

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avatar ralph

Why do we accept that this is standard? In any other situation we can decline to give our zip code, but if you want the gas you need to fork it over. This is a case of huge corporations thinking they are being benevolent toward their customers. How are they protecting us from fraud? What is the potential damage? $50-80 bucks? What are the odds of fraud actually occurring? Slim. If they are going to ask for personal information, are they going to provide better screens so that the request is readable? The nastiest part about this “requirement” is that it now mean I need to use my glasses to pump gas.

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avatar Car Negotiation Coach

Flexo, I absolutely hate to give out personal information when checking out. I also hate having to decline store credit card offers (and cringe when I see someone in line actually accept).

Anyhoo, I was actually at RadioShack last night and had a very pleasant experience. The sales clerk helped me big time and actually saved me a couple hundred bucks that I might have spent had we not talked! I ended up getting what I needed for $40 instead of $240 because of his honesty and detailed explanation.

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avatar faithfueledbennetts ♦264 (Nickel)

I always figured I was asked this to gather demographic consumer info. Sometimes I say no when in a hurry but never had a problem with it. I think some people are just very touchy and make too big a deal of too small a thing!

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

I will give my zip code since I feel that is no big deal. But I refuse to give my phone number and/or email address. I If they want to push I will tell them nicely that I do not give out my information and if it is required then I can get the item at another store. I just HATE to give out the zipcode at the gas station. Not because of personal information but because it makes another hoop to jump through. I want to pay for my items and get out of the store.

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avatar Bucksome Boomer ♦236 (Cent)

I don’t feel my zip code is a big deal as there are a lot of households in my zip code. Phone number is more intrusive and I won’t give it unless I want to be called back about something.

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avatar dawgette ♦199 (Cent)

I do mind the zip but the others I do mind being asked.

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avatar 4hendricks ♦248 (Cent)

My AMEX card requires I give the zip code attached to the credit card at Walmart before a purchase goes through. Any other time if I am asked for info such as zip, phone etc I just give a fake one.

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avatar Shelia

Just reverse the last tow numbers on the phone #. Mine is unlisted so I don’t give it out at all, zip code is the one at my last residence or the one at my office. None of their business and I htae being asked for it.

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avatar Nunya

I see so many people freely give their zip code and then pay by credit card and yet, in this thread, alone, it is stressed that a zip code is one identifier that is used to help prevent fraud. I have only had to give my zip code when I use my credit card at the gas pump. I do not give out any information as it is none of their business what part of town I live in. I pay with cash when possible, but I’m not as good about that as I’d like to be. Things purchased with credit is invented money. It is estimated that only 4% of the money in the US is in actual paper/coin form – the rest is digital. The banks “invent” this money it is called fractional reserve banking and it’s one of the biggest frauds perpetrated on the American public.

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avatar N

Today I tried to make an $8 cash purchase at Goodwill in Dublin, CA. The clerk asked me for my zip code and I politely declined. She persisted and I told her there is not law that requires me to provide it, in fact I believed she might be breaking the law. She called her Manager, who said the law only applies to credit card purchases, I must provide the zip code for a cash purchased. I asked why – ‘demographics’. They proceeded to tell me the cash register would not allow them to proceed with the transaction unless they entered a zip code – so I gave them 12345 and asked if they understand that’s a lie. They said ‘yes’ thank you. I wished them luck with their demographics. Very maddening.

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