Customer service truly is a dying art. In some places, it’s dead and being beaten.
My nine-year-old son and I ventured to our city’s historic downtown district on Sunday afternoon. Our goals were simple: enjoy the 80-degree weather in December and find something for him at the Star Wars toy store. For five dollars.
On the drive there he and I grabbed some fast food, because our cupboard had been bare, and buying food downtown was not in our budget. For that I used all but one dollar of the cash I had brought with me. The boy had the cash he needed, and I didn’t intend to buy anything, so I wasn’t concerned.
As we walked around the first corner onto the historic square I noticed a chalkboard sidewalk sign announcing a sale on rare and specialty guns. More than the sign itself, I noticed that the arrow drawn on the sign pointed to a basement-level space that had been vacant for a couple years. Intrigued, I directed my son to follow me down the stairs.
Two waist-level glass cases ran along adjacent walls, making an “L” shape. Under the longer case’s glass sat weapons of various technological eras in mostly excellent condition. Handguns ruled this space, but on a shelf below and in front of the case sat a pump shotgun and a double-barrelled, break-action shotgun. On the wall hung assault rifles in both black and jungle camouflage.
“So, how long have you been here?” I asked a skinny man standing behind the gun case.
I smiled and nodded. “I thought you were new.”
The price tags were well above what I could pay, even if I were interested. My folks and a local friend are quite the enthusiasts, however, so I made a mental note of the place. I told the skinny man the same, and he seemed glad for it.
“Hey, Daddy,” my son said.
“What is it?”
“Come over here and look at these.” He pointed at a row of merchandise inside the case along the short wall.
I approached and saw that, among several unadorned leather holsters, a few Old West Christmas ornaments were on display. The $4.50 price tag looked pretty good to me, and we usually let the boy pick out a small present or two for his grandparents. Two of the ornaments would be perfect, he said, so we asked the skinny man behind the gun case to get them for us.
On the way to the register, I asked, “So, do you take credit and debit cards?”
“Yes, we sure do,” said Skinny Man.
He set the ornaments on the counter in front of the register. I pulled out my debit card, expecting to swipe it or hand it to him.
“Hold on a minute,” he said, and turned to face a large man who had wandered out from a back room. “Um, he needs to use a card.”
The large man lumbered across the store. He looked at what I was buying. “You don’t have cash?”
“Not enough to cover this.”
Large Man looked again at the ornaments and then at me, somewhat exasperated. “It’s nine bucks.”
“Right, but I spent what was left of my cash on fast food on the way downtown.”
“There’s an ATM just down that way,” Large Man said and pointed in a generally western direction. “That really would be cheaper on us and on you.”
I thought to myself that an ATM withdrawal surcharge would make this meager purchase considerably more expensive for me, but I stood quietly, almost dumbfounded that he was about to send me out of his fledgling store. My son, however, had picked out his perfect gift for my parents. I was going to hate it, but I was going to go get cash and come back and buy those ornaments.
I sighed. “I’ll go get some cash.”
“I’ll hold these for you,” said Skinny Man.
The boy following close behind, I grumbled aloud as we ascended the stairs to the sidewalk. “That’s bad business.”
“What is, Daddy?”
“If they’re going to take cards, then they should take them. Otherwise, they should just say ‘cash only.’”
The ATM charged me $2.50, and I don’t know yet what my bank might have charged (if anything). By the time we returned from the ATM, I had cooled off a bit. Having recently looked into all the options for accepting credit cards, I understood how much it costs someone who doesn’t pay a monthly fee for transaction processing. I was just guessing, but being brand new these guys probably were trying to avoid monthly fees as much as possible. That puts a higher percentage per transaction into the coffers of the processor.
Even so, that means my purchase of $9.00 would have cost the seller a maximum of 25 cents had I used a credit card. Instead, I paid at least 10 times that amount for the privilege of taking extra time out of my day to get cash. I hope my displeasure was worth that store’s quarter.
Back inside the store, Skinny Man’s face looked apologetic, but he managed only to say, “I won’t charge you any tax on that.”
Whoa. I better not spend all of that 74 cents in one place. With the “no tax” comment, he hadn’t given me much besides a clearer picture on why Large Man insisted on cash.