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Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

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"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

One-Handed Receipt and Change -- The Anti-Customer Service

I'll admit it: I'm in a pissy mood, and I have been for the past week or so. But this is something that has irked me for about 20 years now, and I was just wondering whether anyone else shared my annoyance.

It used to be that you'd go to a store, pay the cashier, and he or she would give you your change. You'd put the change in your wallet, and the cashier would hand you your receipt.

But then something changed. Somebody came up with the idea -- and I don't know, maybe it was to save time, or something; maybe out of concern for repetitive stress of some sort -- that the cashier should take the change out of the register, then grab the receipt with the same hand, and hand you the whole bundle.

So there you are, standing there, with your wallet in one hand, taking your change+receipt with the other, and you have no way to conveniently deal with any of it. You have to put everything down first to sort it out. Or else stuff everything into your wallet, indescriminately, and deal with fixing it later.

This morning, I stopped at the CVS near my work. The cashier actually started to hand me my money, bills and coins, and then remembered, and went to grab the receipt with the same hand. I put my hand out, and as she dumped the wad into my hand, caught the coins and let the bills and receipt drop to the counter. While I put the coins in the coin part of my wallet, she picked up the bills and receipt, and again handed them to me together.

I took the bills and let the receipt drop to the counter, and said, "Do they tell you to do that?"

"Hah?" she grunted.

"I'm holding my wallet, right?" I tried to explain as she held out the receipt again while both of my hands were involved with putting the bills into the wallet, closing it up, and returning my wallet to my purse. I held the bag open so that she could put the receipt in it, and continued, "So what am I supposed to do with a handful of bills, coins, and a receipt?"

She sort of dropped the receipt near the opening of my bag, but seemed confused. And looked past me and called, "Next person in line!"

I know that cashier isn't a job that calls for rocket scientists, but I wonder whether it's even the fault of the cashiers. Are they instructed to do this to customers by their bosses? How did this ridiculous custom spread in the first place?

Inquiring minds want to know.


Blogger Joshua W. Burton said...

Especially in small non-chain stores, you will often see a sign telling you your transaction is free if you don't get a receipt. The point is that there is what the economists call an agency problem at the cash register: a non-alignment of natural incentives between the owner and the cashier.

The reason the cash register exists in the first place (instead of a mere lockbox) is to create an indelible record of the transaction, so that the cashier can't just steal a dollar here and there. Over a hundred years, we've gone from a simple bell (letting the owner in back know a transaction has been rung) to a paper tape to a tamper-proof digital record, but the whole enforcement mechanism only works if the cashier rings up the sale. And it can't be cost-effective for the owner to hover, because if she could afford to do that she'd be at the register herself being polite to customers. Instead, she hires cheap help, and relies on blind machinery to keep them honest.

Until machinery gets smart enough to outwit humans (at which point may haShem help us all), the owner needs a human assist. You (the customer) have no natural incentive to provide that assist; you don't really care whether the cashier is robbing the owner or not. (Well, you do, eventually, because if the store goes under you -- and the cashier! -- will be worse off, but in the spontaneous moment your sympathy may very well be with the human being in front of you, rather than the taskmaster in the back room.

So the owner's problem is to turn you into his stoolie, and make sure the cash register gets rung. Making the receipt a fetish item (as important as your change) is social engineering to that end. Sometimes it's blatant, as with the "no receipt and it's free" ploy; sometimes it's a subtle line-item in the employee training manual; and sometimes, it's been internalized by the cashier himself at some previous job where they were sticklers about it. The net effect is a pervasive culture of making really really sure that you get the stupid receipt, and that you feel cheated if you don't get it.

There's an evolutionary component, in that places that don't push receipts on you as efficiently will lose money to pilferage, and in low-margin high-turnover retail sales there is a harsh Darwinian selector. Mix well, repeat daily for a ten or twelve decades, and here we are.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Yes, I know EXACTLY what you're talking about. This has bugged me for the longest time, so I finally searched the Internet to see if anyone else felt the same way. It happens almost everywhere you go nowadays. It's just poor customer service. In addition to the hand in the wallet thing, it's easy for the coins to spill out from the receipt as well.

I always want to say something to the cashier, but I know they'd just stare at me with a blank look on their face...as if I just asked them the square root of something.

2:23 PM  

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