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When I went to a supermarket in the USA, I was amused by the exotic vegetables, so I took a photo of the vegetable shelf. Soon, a worker came and told me angrily "You are not allowed to take photos in here!". I was surprised, since I haven't pictured anything personal or private - only the shelf which is visible to anyone entering the supermarket.

Is it usually forbidden to take photos in supermarkets, in the USA or elsewhere?

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    This seems atypical (although my experience is in Canada, not the US). I would have just ignored the worker, and asked to speak to their manager if they persisted. – Carcigenicate Jan 2 '16 at 22:52
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    I've had the same experience in Kazakhstan. – Joe Jan 3 '16 at 3:35
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    Just curious, which exotic vegetables were you taking photos of? (I've taken photos in US supermarkets with no problem, but I don't even remember finding vegetables, what caught my eye was the abuses of the word "cheese") – user56reinstatemonica8 Jan 3 '16 at 19:47
  • Trader Joe's (in the US) explicitly don't allow photos. They even have signs that say this. See, e.g. reddit.com/r/traderjoes/comments/2j03rm/… – Jeremy Miles Jan 6 '17 at 4:30
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In general, in the US it is legal to take photographs in any "public" property (eg, streets, parks, etc), unless it is somewhere that there would be an expectation of privacy (eg, toilets or changing rooms, etc).

However shops and shopping centers are not "public" property, they are private property that is opened to the public and the rules are thus a little different.

In general it's still OK to take photos in a private place open to the public, unless you have have been told not to. That might include a sign at the entrance or within the shop saying no photographs, but also includes a representative of the store asking you not to take photos. Legally if you refuse to comply with the conditions of entry - including not taking photos if requested - then you are trespassing and can be asked to leave, or if you refuse the police can be called to remove you from the property.

Supermarkets in particular are normally fairly touchy on the subject of photographs as they have historically been used by competitors, especially for price matching.

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    I suspected it is somehow related to price competition. But, I thought that in the USA, where free competition is such an important issue, they would not put obstacles on its way. – Erel Segal-Halevi Jan 2 '16 at 21:42
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    Sounds exactly like in Canada. Once I went to the supermarket with my 6 year old daughter who just got a tiny camera for her birthday. She took a photo of some colorful apples and someone right away came and told us we were not allowed unless had previous permission from the manager. For a 6 year old, that was not a pleasant experience! – Itai Jan 3 '16 at 1:46
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    @Erel Segal-Halevi: In the US, supermarkets run special sale pricing to attract customers. If their competitors match those prices, the sale isn't as effective at bringing in customers. Free pricing means that individual companies are free to set their own prices; however, each business wants to keep the others from knowing what they are doing. – poke Jan 3 '16 at 2:30
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    @poke: And those special offers are not publicly announced on the supermarket's website, as well as on printed weekly info booklets distributed to all households within a few kilometres around the supermarket, anyway? – O. R. Mapper Jan 3 '16 at 14:33
  • @O. R. Mapper: The stores here in the US also run a lot of unadvertised specials (aka "Manager's specials"). Presumably the no-photos policy would be targeted towards these types of sales and prices. For the advertised sales, the competitors can just use the printed ads to get the pricing. I've actually seen supermarkets post competitors ads in their own buildings. – poke Jan 3 '16 at 19:37
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It's private property so they have the right to not allow you to take pictures. If the management/clerk says no then you must comply. However, you could always ask the clerk/manager if you could take pictures.

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    At least in Germany, I have witnessed instances where telling the clerk it's for shopping reasons would usually make it ok, despite a "No Photography" sign. And that was quite a few years ago, when smartphones were just about to become omnipresent. Nowadays, I rarely go grocery shopping without taking some photos and asking my wife what exactly it is she wants. Ultimately, it boils down to one of those customer-is-the-king situations, and I am not ashamed to tell the clerk "Either I take photos or I buy elsewhere." – O. R. Mapper Jan 2 '16 at 19:53
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    Yeah, in the old days taking pictures cost money, snaps were for competitive reasons. Now, with cameras everywhere that cost basically zero to operate there's an awful lot more convenience picture-taking. I've taken many a snap in the store and have never been challenged. Usually it's a matter of asking my wife if she wants the deal pictured, on occasion we have done it for comparison reasons like when we were replacing the kitchen faucet. – Loren Pechtel Jan 3 '16 at 4:06
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    In Russia (of all countries) it is illegal to ban photography on business premises accessible to the general public, including supermarkets. Similar laws exist in other European states. – JonathanReez Jan 3 '16 at 14:50
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Hello I have worked as a mystery shopper in the past and was asked to leave stores for taking photos of products on the shelf. Obviously stores don't want you taking photos of prices or creative displays for competitors' benefit or maybe spilled milk on the floor that would give them a bad reputation (even though it just occurred). Their "no pictures policy" makes sense. Best to ask first and say specifically what you are taking a photo of, why, and where you are posting the photo.

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If in doubt: just ask politely! "This looks wonderful, would it be okay if I take a photo?". I found that to work exceedingly well in pretty much every country I go to (including the US, Germany Canada, New Zealand, China, Thailand, etc.)

It's mainly psychological: someone taking a photo without permission or covertly is often perceived as a threat: could be a competitor, could be management, could be the government or regulatory agency etc. Being open, polite and appreciative really changes the mood around this.

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    On the other hand, if you ask, it can be likely that you'll be denied, for the reasons (reasonable or not) outlined in the other answers. If you don't ask, it's well possible no-one will bother to step in. – O. R. Mapper Jan 3 '16 at 16:33
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    However, there are some situations where it's better to ask permission than forgiveness, and (as an American who's been to my share of grocery stores) I agree with Hilmar on this one. – Urbana Jan 4 '16 at 0:25

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