Cashless Convenience

Yesterday evening the wife and I had to run over to the neighborhood grocery store for some necessities. I found myself low on cash, so I thought about paying with plastic instead of running across the street to withdraw from the ATM.

By plastic, I don’t mean credit cards. I detest those things as they only make me spend and spend well beyond my means (I’m an economist and I don’t get why governments have to spend on a deficit, either). Or at least I had a bad experience with consumer debt–but that’s another story.

For me, plastic is either paying with debit cards or thru points-of-sale that accept transactions via ATM cards. This means I pay with money I actually do have, but currently floating as bits and bytes in the bank’s database somewhere.

So that’s just what I tried do this evening, but not without some inconveniences. You see, at our local grocery store, the card-swiping business is centralized to the customer service table, which has all the card terminals. Cashiers can only print out the sales invoices–this means they have to manually key in some card details as they don’t have the swiping thingamajigs on their own PoS machines.

Blame it on inadequate personnel training, burnout, or just plain confusion, but the cashier at my lane this evening didn’t seem to be able to make heads nor tails out of how she should process my card. It took her ages to input the card info–something that was usually a 30-second affair, yes, even in this very same grocery store where I shop the same way two to three times a week.

It took her a minute to stare at my card to figure out how to process the transaction. Hello? Are you looking for the Visa logo or something, I wondered (I earlier asked her if her lane accepted ATM payments, and she said yes). She flipped the card over a few times to look for the bank name, which was still conveniently printed on the front side, thankfully. She then proceeded to type it on her terminal, which gave out a handy list of suggested establishments, narrowed down with each new letter typed.

“M-E-T-R-O-B …”

My bank is Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co., by the way, but the card only said “Metrobank.” I noticed that her PoS terminal used the long listing, so by the time she was on “B” the suggestion list had become blank.

The cashier was more befuddled than ever. Her eyes seemed to scream “Help!”

The guy next in line to me, probably in a hurry and probably also annoyed at the inconvenience, politely told the cashier that “Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co.” was the correct entry corresponding to “Metrobank,” only that she had to delete the last character in order to get it right. I would’ve normally asked such people to mind their own business but I was already annoyed myself by the fact that something supposedly simple and convenient had been taking so much time.

The lady deleted the entire line (holy crap!) and went on to type again,

“M-T-R-O …”

The guy next-in-line and I, in almost perfectly coordinated chorus, warned the cashier of the mistake. She deleted the whole thing again, and then keyed in,

“[space]-M-E-T-R-O …”

Now why the heck she keyed in a space before the bank name escapes me, but we again mentioned the mistake, just as she was wondering where all the suggested bank names went. This went on a couple of times more, by virtue of an accidental tab-press (which made the cursor leave the bank name field without registering the suggested bank name–try doing that on your Web browser with incompletely-typed addresses in history) and subsequently, further misspellings, but then lady luck finally smiled upon us and the cashier got it right.

“M-E-T-R-O …”

[She presses the return key.]

“Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co.”

Wow! That probably felt like turning water into wine. She then proceeded to key in the card number.

“5-4-0-9 …”

Okay, you don’t expect me to just publish my card number for the whole world to see, do you?

At any rate, the transaction went on smoothly after the casher had finally printed out the sales invoice and then led me to the customer service desk. By this time, I was already in too much of a hurry to complain about the inconvenience.

My recent post on designing with stupidity in mind as a usability check was in echoing inside me all this time. I should probably cut the cashier some slack, as obviously the set-up they have at the store was very user-unfriendly, even to the trained staffer. I mean, one single mis-type of a name or card number could have the customer running from the service desk back to the cashier to have the card details keyed in again, or probably even have his/her items scanned once more. Guess how long that would take!

These things should just be as simple as swipe-and-press (or sign, as the case may be for debit and credit cards). That makes it easier for the store staff, and quicker for the customer. This way, everyone’s happy.

So much for shopping with “cashless convenience.” From now on, I’ll stick to the idea that the most convenient way to shop is by paying cash. That way I won’t have to face card validation-related nightmares, and yes, there would be no paper trail in case I buy something naughty (or illegal)!

Cashless convenience? No, thank you! Suddenly the prospect of being cashless is becoming fearsome to me. I’d rather have cash–lots of it!

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