Sunday, September 17, 2006

Dial 202-456-1414 and ask for George

“Enter your phone number first!”

The customer punched in her phone number and then swiped her debit card. The next customer moved forward and the clerk said “Enter your phone number” and the customer complied and used a debit card.

Why is a phone number required? As I stepped forward holding seven one dollar bills, I asked the clerk why customers were being asked to provide phone numbers to use debit cards. “Oh”, she replied “they are thinking about building another store in town and they want to know if there are enough customers.” I looked at the display on the credit/debit machine and it instructed “Enter Phone Number”. Noticing the cash in my hand, she said the magic words. “You're supposed to enter a phone number even if you pay with cash.”

“On a cold day in hell”, I thought. This doesn’t make sense. This place is automated. They know how many customers come in and when. Each receipt has a timestamp printed on it.

Julie was with me and I think I saw her get a little tense. She’s a constant reminder to be pleasant to clerks – or else. Or else we’ll have ‘The Discussion’ when we get in the car. I always agree with her – “No, they don’t make the rules; yes, they’re just trying to make a living”. But, dammit, who can I complain to? The CEO of this place is probably thousands of miles away. If I can’t speak out then my only choice is to say “Thanks, but I’ll take my business elsewhere.”

Fortunately, as I was pondering how to respond, the clerk added the words that gave me an easy way out. “But, you don’t have to give your phone number if you don’t want to.” I said no, paid and left.

Americans mystify me. Why would anyone want to give a corporation their phone number so they can determine where they live, how much they earn, how they spend their money – all with the intent of selling consumers more, more and more. It makes about as much sense as buying a shirt with a corporate logo imprinted on it. Why would a customer pay to advertise for a business? The business should pay us to wear the shirt with their advertisement.

Most (all?) grocery stores in town have a “club”. Present your “membership” card for a discounted price. Yep, that “membership” card contains enough information to draw a big bull’s eye around my wallet, debit card, check book and credit card.

I thought this was the good old USA. Go into a store with cash, make a choice, pay, say “thank you” and leave. I’m getting the feeling that we’re no longer considered citizens but consumers.

The real issue for me is how to live in this world while protecting my independence, treating clerks with courtesy and respect and maintaining a healthy blood pressure.

I’m ready for the next time someone asks for a phone number. I’m going to give them a smile, a pleasant tone and say “202-456-1414”.

In case you’re wondering, that’s the number for the White House. Let them talk with George.

Oh, and by the way, all of my grocery “membership” cards are fake. They don’t contain my name. When the clerk says “thank you Mr. Nelson” I just smile and get a small sense of satisfaction.

6 Comments:

Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I know what you mean. The lowly clerk is the only one to complain to.

9/18/2006 07:02:00 AM  
Blogger Gaye said...

How clever... never thought to give a false name on my grocery card. I can definitely see the satisfaction each time they call you Mr. Nelson. LOL!

9/18/2006 07:11:00 AM  
Blogger Buffalo said...

The last time I was asked for my zip code I said it was 90210. When asked for my phone number I generally tell them it is unlisted - make one up if you need it to open the register. Like your suggestion better.

Started to get a grocery card last winter. The bagger, a fellow of about my age, told me the only reason they had the cards was to help the government track me better. In case you're interested, I didn't get one.

9/18/2006 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Round Belly said...

great post! Now that I've moved to a small town, I shop at stores who staff know my name and I can pay with a check with out them even asking for a driver's licence.

I gernerally only buy from the stores that are big enough for card/clubs when I can't find it local.

9/18/2006 07:49:00 PM  
Blogger whitesnake said...

I tried the number but the operator said try again the number is not working or disconnected.

Maybe I should have tried the international operator

9/19/2006 04:02:00 AM  
Blogger The Michael said...

Damn, Paul, I come back to check up and you've been posting like crazy! However, I sure had some great reads to catch up on. I see you've noticed this irritant to. I have a liquer store card and when the clerk asks me, do you have a card, I ask, do I save anything? If she says no, I say no card.

I get this feeling there's a database somewhere that has me listed as a wino.

9/24/2006 08:33:00 AM  

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