We’ve all been there. Waiting in line at a convenience store or supermarket while someone ahead of us is making a purchase using a credit or debit card, which is supposed to be a smooth transaction.
But, oh, there’s a problem with the card. Maybe the person has exceeded the daily spending limit for his or her card or perhaps the payment is larger than the maximum allowed. Who knows, maybe the users are just people who think flashing a piece of plastic here and there makes them appear more like geniuses. (It doesn’t.)
At any rate, everyone else standing in line is held hostage by a technical glitch, or glitcher.
Such scenes are becoming more prevalent in the retail setting, reflecting an overall trend toward digital dependency that’s encroaching on every aspect of our daily lives.
One of the problems I have with increased use of debit/credit cards, for even the most minor of business transactions, is that by its very definition an innovation should be an improvement over conventional ways of doing things, better results with less work. In this case, that means the use of green paper stuff I’m sure everyone has seen at some point during their lifetime: money, cash, dollars, legal tender, dough, etc.
In no way whatsoever is the use of cards faster than the “old-fashioned” method to which I subscribe. You hand the clerk your money and that person immediately gives back the change. No waiting for a card to be approved or any of the other things that can delay electronic transactions.
Now while I’m strictly a cash man — although I have more than my share of plastic, thank you very much — I don’t mind at all if someone opts to use a card. One of the drawbacks is that this is not as painful as forking over money, which encourages shopping addicts to spend more. Yet for others the fact electronic transactions are recorded helps them keep better track of their finances.
The thing which really bothers me is that there appears to be a growing bias against the cash crowd.
For example, at a local grocery store I frequent, my informal polling indicates that about 70 percent of customers use cards. Which is OK, except for those aforementioned glitches that always seem to be tolerated by the checkout personnel.
For example, I once saw a cashier patiently wait for what seemed an eternity for a man to place a cell-phone call to a processing center trying to get his card to work. On another occasion, a woman seeking to make a purchase using part-cash and part-card had to keep inserting the card because her balance wasn’t high enough, before finally learning that only $3 remained.
Meanwhile, the other customers were expected to stand by quietly, because after all, the Almighty Card was involved.
Then one time I had the unmitigated audacity, at that same supermarket, to leave a $20 bill in the car I was going to use for my purchase. Of course, I didn’t realize this until everything had been rung up, then apologized while making a mad dash to the car and returning with the twenty.
Although my sprint speed rivaled that of Olympian Usain Bolt, do you think that old checkout gal waited for me? No, she canceled out my transaction. But rather than go to the end of the line as typical sheep consumers are expected to do, I raised so much hell the manager was prompted to open the customer service desk just to process my purchase.
And that’s not all. I’ve noticed recently that most of the eight or so automated checkout stations at one local retailer no longer accept money or pay cash back.
Again, I don’t mind that card users are being overly accommodated in the marketplace, but this shouldn’t work to the detriment of those preferring to use cash, for whatever the reason. The last time I checked, no law had been passed banning paper transactions.
And here again, it’s not as if credit/debit cards represent some kind of consumer Nirvana. They are full of pitfalls.
If someone tries to steal your wallet, at least there’s an opportunity to engage the thief directly and kick his (or her) head off his or her shoulders before that person escapes.
You hear all the time about cards or numbers getting stolen and misused, and unlike being able to confront criminals directly and smash all the fingers on their thieving hands, the consumer might not learn of fraudulent activity until well after the fact.
Here lately, another threat has loomed locally that I — as a person who monitors all Mount Airy police reports — have never encountered before: the detected use of a “skimmer” to steal card numbers for fuel purchases at a convenience store.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.