Just Say “NO”

“May I have your zip code?”


The adolescent at the checkout counter stopped in mid gum chew. She probably thought I had not heard her or had not understood her.

“May I have your zip code, please.” she said louder.

“No,” I said.

She seemingly had never heard that word used in this context before.

There was a period of silence. Faint stirrings and murmurings arose from the sheep in the line behind me. “He said No” was whispered.

Incredulous at the answer, the female adolescent nearly stopped breathing as she stared at me, her world forever changed.

“We have to have your zip code,” she said.

“No you don’t I said.”

She seemed unable to speak further, so I compassionately explained that neither she nor her employer needed my zip code in order to sell me the widget that had an advertised price on the shelf of $6.66. I had it in hand with me at the counter and, after showing it to her, had tendered a $10.00 bill. This I explained was a completed contract, all of the lawful elements, of offer, acceptance, and consideration having been fulfilled in textbook fashion. The sign on the widget was the offer; my bringing it to the counter was the acceptance; my tender of the $10.00 was the consideration. All that remained was for the adolescent to give me my change, after subtracting the offered price and any applicable sales tax. I could, I told her, then lawfully leave with my widget.

Someone in the line said in a loud stage voice that I was holding up the line.

“No,” I said, “The store is holding up the line by trying to enforce this absurd policy.”

The store manager was called. A similar dialogue followed with him. His show stopper was, “We have to have your zip code to sell you the widget.”

I produced a pad of paper and pencil and asked him his name. “Why do you want that?” he asked.

To put on the lawsuit I will be filing tomorrow morning against you and your company for breach of contract.

They let me leave with the contracted for widget and with my change.

Without obtaining my zip code.

I guess my daddy the preacher was right when he opined that I am just a natural born troublemaker.


Edwin Kagin © 2012.


  1. julian says

    Ha! Sweet. So gonna try this. I’ve just been giving random zip codes from North Carolina and Pennsylvania but this sounds way more fun.

    • herewegoagain says

      LOL. I do the same thing and I don’t use those “so-called” discounted cards (e.g, Duane Reade, Pathmark, etc.) which are just gathering information on you for marketing (or worse) purposes.

  2. EmbraceYourInnerCrone says

    Nope, not a troublemaker, someone has to speak up. I too find it disturbing that increasingly, random retail establishments want my information: zip code, phone number, email address….

    Just, no. If its a voluntary program, like getting a store discount card (that’s going to track what you buy and send you coupons based on your purchase history) you at least are getting a choice to join or not. But why do you need my phone number for me to buy 5 dollars worth of ballpoint pens at an office supply store?

  3. says

    Why are they asking for a zip code? I’ve literally never had that happen to me.

    Except once – the gas pump asked. I didn’t know why, but I complied.

      • Randomfactor says

        Typically it’s to confirm the effectiveness of bulk-mailed advertising, yes.

        I personally don’t have a problem giving my zip code–several thousand people live there, and if paying by cash there’s nothing to tie my name to the code (although it might tie my picture in the security cam to the zip…)

    • gworroll says

      Sometimes it is to confirm a credit card. Where I work, we don’t routinely need it, but occasionally the system will flag a transaction for extra verification. I have no idea what criteria it uses to flag transactions. I’m a lowly retail drone though, I don’t need to know that to do my job, and for privacy reasons they really shouldn’t tell me why a transaction got flagged.

      Some places ask it of every customer regardless of payment method though. I’ve never had a problem with refusal, but it doesn’t surprise me that some people do.

  4. SherryH says

    I hate that with a passion. I used to give random zip codes from different states, but I’d chicken out if it was for credit card verification because I didn’t want the card cancelled or deactivated by my credit union.

    Usually, though, if I refused to give a zip code, they’d just punch in the local one and be done. I can’t recall ever having a cashier hold up the line to get it. I imagine stores get a lot of complaints about the zip code requirement.

    Of course, now I have a store card for the place that used to do it, and they get that information and more every time they scan it. *sigh*

  5. John Horstman says

    Heh, I’ve done this, though I’ve never been given any trouble by the store. Alternately, false advertising if the price was advertised as “$6.66” and not “$6.66 + zip code” and the zip code truly was required to make the purchase, no?

  6. procrastinator will get an avatar real soon now says

    I’ve often said no but never had it stop the transaction. Didn’t realize I could have been elevated to Holding Up The Line status.

  7. fastlane says

    I do the same, but have never gotten any pushback yet. Wonder what made that person think it was such a big deal.

  8. SueSomeone says

    I love it. I think I will do what I do when they ask for my phone #, tell them it is unlisted.

  9. aporeticus says

    I always thought it was a demographics thing. I.e., how far you are driving to get to the store, should they open/close stores in particular areas, etc.

  10. says

    “Typically it’s to confirm the effectiveness of bulk-mailed advertising, yes.”

    It’s also to judge the effectiveness of newspaper insert advertising.

    Please just give your zip code, would you? In the marketing business it’s important both for me and my clients to know if we are doing the right advertising for them. The only thing you achieve by doing this is creating a mess in our effectiveness statistics.

    Also, the deal wasn’t completed yet, they clearly wished to have more information from you before doing business with you.

      • says

        Usually just ZIP code, since that is about as targeted as a non-internet ad can really get and we can get the information automatically from people on-line.

        The more targeted ads can be, the less needs to be spent on advertising and the less people have to deal with lots and lots of advertisements.

      • says

        So then, you like being bombarded by shotgun ads since the statistics are all messed up and we can’t find a way to effectively tell only the people who want the product about it?

        • janeymack says

          If I “want” the product, I don’t need you to tell me about it. Your job is not to provide “information” to people who need it, your job is to make me think I need something whether I really do or not.

          I hate advertising, and I hate “targeted” advertising most of all, because it does require an invasion of my privacy. I don’t care if I make your job harder; I would like to make your job impossible!

          I used to say “no” when asked for my Zip code; the last time I asked about it they did say they were using it for credit card verification–although I was using a debit, not credit, card. Now I usually just recite it. What irks me, though, is at Safeway–where I do have a card; the little discounts add up–when I go to the in-store Starbucks, they have gotten very pushy about asking me to run the Safeway card, and I have been refusing to do it. Safeway doesn’t f*cking need to know if I am patronizing Starbucks or not. If it was going to give me a Starbucks discount, I might consider it! But it doesn’t.

    • sosw says

      I don’t care one bit about your job, in fact your attitude is why I loathe marketers and refuse such information as a matter of principle.

      Not that I need to do that often, as I live in a country where this kind of thing doesn’t happen.

      When traveling and shopping in the US or Canada (which are the only places where I’ve been asked for a zip code) I can honestly say that I don’t have one (and I usually don’t remember the zip code of the place I’m staying at).

      In any case, I don’t have any store discount cards. I care about my privacy more than about a miniscule discount.

    • Quixote says

      Just to underline the point others have made: You’ve basically asked everyone to do a bunch of work that they feel is, at best, pointless. Work which provides zero benefit to the person doing it, only to random strangers.

      Which reminds me, could you come over to my house and take out the garbage? It makes an awful smell when it just sits there.

      • says

        It does, in fact, provide benefit to you, in that it helps marketers in only contacting you about what you want information on, rather than a constant bombardment of random ads.

    • interrobang says

      As an anticorporate activist of long standing (15 years or so, obligatory hipster “before it was cool” reference here), I make sure to say “No” to all of those requests because I consider it my mission in life to fuck up your data so you can’t effectively do your job. I live in the eternal hope that maybe you’ll start to get the idea that people really don’t like to have commercial messages pushed in front of their eyes 24/7/365.

      How long is it going to take the marketing industry to viscerally understand the significance of its axiom about wasted money, anyway?

      I recently had to go to the US on business, and I’m appalled at how intrusive ads are here. Even the bannisters on the escalators had some kind of shrink-wrapped ads on them. I don’t remember for what; I’ve programmed my brain to dump that shit to /dev/null as quickly as possible.

      And I always refuse to give my e-mail, phone number, or postal code. (In Canada, they wouldn’t ask for your social insurance number, because we have privacy laws about stuff like that; people are not just randomly allowed to ask.)

      • says

        *sigh* These advertisements exist because we can’t market effectively. If we can’t simply reach out to the people who want the widget, we have to reach out to as many people we can.

        If you want advertisements to become less intrusive and more relevant to what you actually want (rather than just junk you ignore), then there is a point at which you, the consumer, needs to assist the sales and marketing people in figuring out who wants the product.

        • silomowbray says

          Speaking as a marketer myself James, telling customers to “just give us your zip code” doesn’t strike me as wise. Few things irritate a customer more than an overtly telegraphed sense of entitlement from Corporateland. We aren’t entitled to their data, even in aggregate. While you and I could argue that data helps the average consumer by reducing the amount of spray-and-pray advertising, I think we both know it has more to do with reducing our promotion costs so that we can increase our EBIT.

          • says

            Heck yeah! Reducing spray and pray advertising is insanely profitable and targeted advertising is easily the future. If it weren’t, nobody would be getting paid to do it. Just because something is /good/ doesn’t mean that you can’t make oodles of money doing it.

            However, while we are /not/ entitled to people’s data, the least people can do is admit that every person has things they want to buy, things they want to think about, and things they don’t want at all. Then, they could admit that bashing on sales and marketing is like bashing on all politicians or all lawyers.

            Yes, there are dishonest, crappy people everywhere, but that doesn’t mean that when we ask people for information it’s to try and hurt them.

          • satanaugustine says

            I’m responding to this very late so he may not read this, but just in case he does:

            Can you possibly be any more clueless, James? You’ve had a fellow marketer try to clue you in – in addition to all the others here who have tried and, obviously, failed – and you still don’t get it. I personally hate advertising. It doesn’t matter if it’s targeted or scatter-shot. I try to avoid it as much as possible (I mute the TV during commercials and read until they’re over). Like another commenter stated, I know what I want so I don’t need advertising.

            Also, enthusiastically wearing greed on your sleeve, ala “Heck yeah! Reducing spray and pray advertising is insanely profitable,” isn’t going to endear or convince those of us (most people) who are already resistant to this sort of thing. In fact, it’s had the opposite effect on me.

  11. Anonymouse says

    Not long ago I dropped into a chain restaurant while running errands on a Saturday afternoon, asked for an order of $2.49 cheesy breadsticks, and handed them exact change. They demanded to have my telephone number. Really? Do they suppose I’m laundering counterfeit $1 bills, $2 at a time?!?

    I refused, they refused to sell them to me without a phone number, so I gave them theirs. I don’t think the cashier noticed it was their number.

  12. says

    An appliance store once pressed me for an address and a phone number to sell me some blank media they had on sale. Rather than argue with their repeated ask, I picked up a nearby flyer and read them their own store’s address and phone number. The checkout clerk entered it, satisfied that protocol had been followed.

  13. Robert B. says

    At my store we actually have an unofficial policy for this situation. The POS computer (pun intended) won’t run a credit card transaction without a zip code, but doesn’t actually check it with the bank, so if the customer doesn’t want to give theirs, we enter the store’s zip.

  14. Rod says

    Canadian postal codes are a mix of six letters and numbers. Was asked in the US for my zipcode, gave them mine, system wouldn’t accept it.
    Conclusion: US retailers have never heard of Canada.

  15. glenmorangie10 says

    I don’t know if I want to be that guy, but technically an item on a public store’s shelf is not an offer, but an “invitation to treat”. When you bring it to the cashier you make the offer to purchase, and the cashier can accept or not. So there was no completed contract at the time the cashier requested your zip code.

    That said, I find these requests infuriating. James Davis @ 13, I don’t give a damn about making your job easier or more effective. Why not have retailers provide a comprehensive survey requesting info on income, household budget, long term savings plans, travel habits, recreational drinking, and medical needs? I’m sure that would help you and your clients a great deal in learning how to advertise and market as effectively as possible. And it would help me decide which stores to never enter. You say “it’s important both for me and my clients to know if we are doing the right advertising for them”. It’s not important for me. At all.

    I haven’t got this request for a few years. I also used to be the one saying “no” and causing teenaged cashiers to break into nervous sweats. Generally they accepted it, but if they tried to insist I made one up. And I told them I was making it up. My favourite was H0H 0H0, the postal code for children’s letters to Santa Claus.

      • glenmorangie10 says

        “You do realize that the more a salesman/marketer knows about you the less they have to bother you about things you don’t want, yes?”

        No, I don’t realize this, in as much as I don’t believe it is true. I don’t believe it is true because I don’t believe that salesmen/marketers are all that interested in what I actually need and wish to buy, but are very interested indeed in what they wish to sell to me. The more information a marketer has, the more his or her efforts will be aimed directly at me. I find this more intrusive and more obnoxious than ads created for mass distribution. If marketers want to know exactly which products they should advertise directly to me, they can ask and I will be happy to tell them: none. Make information available, and when I want I will seek it out.

        Frankly, I am not particularly “bothered” by general advertisements because I block them from my experience when I can and ignore them when I can’t. They are not nearly as bothersome as attempts to wheedle my personal information.

        • says

          Actually, sales and marketing are not about ‘selling’ as you imagine it, but more about creating an environment where you are able to buy and get what you want so that you are happy and come back to do more business.

          However, I’m aware that people love to hate us, so go ahead and continue doing it, I doubt I’d change your mind anyway.

  16. CT says

    That’s weird, I say no all the time and never have a problem. the cashier just puts in what I assume is their own zip code. Bass Pro Shop cashier asked me “why did you just say no” and I said “because I have oppositional disorder”, she sighed, smacked her gum and put in just whatever.

    I once went to Kohls and used my debit card and the machine asked for my *SSN*. I was all “what the hell” and the cashier said it was a new policy, so I put my $200 worth of clothes down and walked out. I’m a developer, the last thing I trust is a POS register to keep my SSN safe. I barely trust them to keep my debit card info safe.

  17. timberwoof says

    Social security number? No!

    When I got my driver’s license, the clerk really wanted me to let her put my SSN on the license. I said, no. She insisted some more, so I asked why. She said that that way, store clerks can write it down on my checks more easily. I smiled and said, “Oh, that makes sense. No, thank you. If a store clerk wants my social security number, I can refuse it to them myself.” She accepted that… 

    At Fry’s Electronics, a chain of huge stores where you can buy anything from resistors to kitchen appliances, they have the infamous Final Insult, where some goon at the exit demands to see the receipt. They do this at other places including Target. I am not a shoplifter. I paid for my goods and now I want to leave. No, thank you, you may not check my receipt. I generally get away with it … maybe because I’m a white male.

    Occasionally there are stories of store cops calling the police who then arrest the shoppers for resisting arrest or something equally stupid.

    It reminds me of those insulting no-skip warnings at the beginnings of DVDs. I bought the fucking DVD! Don’t tell me not to pirate!

  18. says

    I never thought of that combination; postal code + store video camera. (Comment 4)

    In Canada, at least in cities, the postal code narrows your space down to even less than a block, sometimes down to a single building. Add a photo into the mix, and anyone with access can track you down with a minimum of effort. No thanks!

    Among my regular vendors, the only one that usually asks for the code is IKEA. And since they already have it in their files, with my address and e-mail, and I’m mostly paying with plastic, I don’t care.

    And about checking bags and receipts (Comment 21); if a store doesn’t trust me even that far, I don’t trust them, and I don’t shop there, ever. Put a “greeter” at the door, and as soon as I see her, I leave.

  19. James says

    I used to live in Oklahoma. Disabled veterans are given a perk there: a disabled veteran does not pay state sales tax. To this end the state issues a tax-exemption card. Every store manager is required to go through the state sales tax course and train their employees, and the disabled vet card is specifically discussed. (My wife’s ex-hub, who owns a store, explained this to me, which is how I got the card in the first place.)

    I went into a “big-box” store to purchase some minor things, and offered up my card.

    The clerk demanded my telephone number to complete the transaction. I pointed out the state does not require a disabled veteran to have a telephone, nor even a physical address to obtain the card.

    He wouldn’t budge. I pointed out there is a $500 fine for not accepting the card, assessed to both the clerk and the store manager. The clerk called the manager.

    The manager would not budge. So I put down the items on the counter and left the store, and wrote down their names outside (love nametags).

    I wrote the tax commission, and the home office of the store chain (in another state) explaining the problem I’d had.

    I do not know if the store was fined, but I received a letter from the CEO, profusely apologizing, including a $100 gift card for the store chain. I returned it pointing out I could not be bought. I have not shopped at that chain again.

    Where I live now we have no chain stores of any sort, and everyone knows everyone else. (Even less privacy there.)

  20. says

    Very nice! I usually give 12345 (which I recently found out turns out to be Schenectady, New York). They know I’m lying and they can’t say anything about it. Love the dirty looks.

  21. Timberwoof says

    James, good for you!

    Thank you for your service. It makes me sad that we keep making more disabled veterans.

  22. tle says

    This annoys the heck out of my husband and I. We started out giving fake zip codes, then started saying no (most cashiers just put in zeroes), but our favorite answer now is “just use yours.” I’m guessing they put in the zeroes (although some of the teenagers probably do put in their own).

    As to targeted advertising: just because I go into a home improvement store and purchase a tall kitchen trash can DOES NOT MEAN that I am interested in being targeted with ads for trash cans. It is probably the only trash can I will purchase for ten years. Actually, I prefer random ads, because I’m exposed to products I might not know were on the market, or didn’t realize would make my life easier. My e-mail account has decided that I am a wrinkled middle aged woman, need to lose weight, and am looking for gay male companionship in a city 60 miles away. Targeted ads that will “help” me make purchases to deal with my needs appear every time I check my e-mail. If you don’t think this is a major PITA, you might want to think again. I can’t really tell you who the advertising companies are, because after seeing the irritating pictures yet again, I completely turn off.


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