Ask for My Phone Number and You’ll Get ZIP


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This week I have an unusual motivation for wanting to go out and buy something ­– I want to see if the cashier asks me for my ZIP code.

Last week, the California Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that it is illegal for employees to ask for a shopper’s ZIP code. This is because the ZIP is considered part of the consumer’s address, which in California is protected by a state privacy law that forbids retailers from requiring addresses for credit card purchases. A series of lawsuits have since been filed against national retailers, including Walmart, Macy’s and Target, according to the Associated Press.

Retailers are expected to argue in their defense that the requests are made voluntarily by employees, and that the answer is actually not required – consumers can decline. Also unanswered is how the ZIP request is viewed in a cash transaction – legal or not?

Either way, we’ll see how these arguments shift and shape the law. In the meantime, I wonder if shoppers will see a drop of the practice in other states as a precautionary measure.

Personally, I could care less if a retailer wants my ZIP code, and in some cases I prefer it. The location information reveals from where their shoppers are traveling, helping them to tailor their marketing and selections based on the household data of that community. I in fact would really like for the supermarket where I shop to know that I drive 25 miles, round trip, to its store weekly because I prefer it to the several others I pass en route. I’d like its rival supermarkets to know that, too.

All that said, there is a similar practice I do hope the California ruling stifles, and that is the repeated requests for my phone number. Maybe 70 percent of the retailers I shop ask for my phone number, and I never give it. The reason isn’t so much that I don’t want the marketing calls; it’s because a complete stranger is asking for my phone number, in front of a bunch of other complete strangers, and not offering an explanation why.

So let’s see what happens. I can’t recall the last time a retailer, other than a gas station, asked for my ZIP code anyway (gas stations are exempt in California, by the way). But since the law affects many national chains, I suspect there will be some kind of national reaction.

And if there is not, I won’t mind sharing: 41071.

Lisa Biank Fasig
Lisa leads the creation of editorials and feature stories for COLLOQUY and oversees the work of contributing editors and writers. With 18 years of reporting experience, most in business and specifically consumer behavior, she is highly skilled at researching data and teasing out the trends. A background in graphic design enables her to see ideas in three dimensions and tell the story visually.


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