Wednesday, March 14, 2007

You don't know what it's like

Of all the types of tender (ways to pay) out there, those freaking AmEx and Visa gift cards are absolutely the single most difficult things in the world to use.

Why? Because AmEx and Visa trumpet to customers "It's just like a credit card" and DON'T tell them that if you have a balance remaining it is a gigantic pain in the keister to figure out how to use the balance.

Suburban white women and children inevitably get these -- either as Christmas gifts or as office "thank you" type gifts.

So when this white woman with a daughter-clone bounces up Sunday with a handful of the frelling things, I know I'm in trouble. (I say daughter-clone because they were both short, fat, rotund and dressed in identical khakis with Winnie the Pooh pullovers. They also had identical haircuts and cases of acne. And the personalities were identically bitchy)

I can hear the Mom-Clone screaming at someone out near Register 8, although I can't see it. But as she get's closer, I can hear hear complaining to Daughter-Clone "Don't tell me. She's the one that doesn't know how to run a cash register." And I see a supervisor running in that direction and a minute later drops something off at my register. It is a suspended transaction slip.

And I look up and there is Mom-Clone and Daughter-Clone, both glaring at me even though they are two people ahead of them. Um, okay. Might want to work on that mean look. You know your face may freeze in that position.

So they get up to the counter and immediately launch into a protest of the girl on #8 and how she's so stupid she can't even ring them out and how they hate shopping at Wal-Mart and how every time they come here they have a problem and how this has just ruined her day. (Really, if it is such a hassle, please don't come back. Then, the shopping experience may improve for all of us!)

So she give me a spread of three AmEx gift cards. I tell her "Ma'am, I have to know exactly how much is on each one of those before you can use them."

Mom-Clone: "Well this is ridiculous. I've got good money sitting here and I want to pay. Don't you know how to use these?"
Me: "Ma'am. Those ARE NOT credit cards. You can only use up to the amount of the balance. Have you used any of them before?"
Daughter-Clone: "Momma, didn't we use that one for dinner?"
And I hold up all three and go "Which one? I need to know if you have a balance?"
Mom-Clone: "They're all good."
Me: "I understand that. But I'm asking you how much money you have on them. You can't take off more than you have available. You owe me $78.26. You've got three gift cards -- one for $50 and two for $25, but you say you've used two of them. I need to know the balances on the cards."
Mom-Clone: "Just run them through. They're good."
Me: "Ma'am, it doesn't work that way. If you've got $10 left on one card, I can take $1o off the total. But I can't tell it to just take "whatever is left" off the total."
Daughter-Clone: "Grandma said I could use them anywhere. Why can't I get my games?"
Mom-Clone: "Why is this such a problem?"
Me: "Ma'am, I need you to figure out which cards you have used before. Have you used the $50 card?"
Mom-Clone: "Umm. Maybe not."
Me: "Let's try that then." And I hit 50.00 CREDIT CARD and run it through. It's good. the balance is down to $28.26.
Me: "All right, you still owe $28.26. How much do you have left on these cards?"
Mom-Clone: "I don't know."
Me: "Ma'am, you can't use them unless you know how much money you have left."
Mom-Clone: "Why not?"
Me: "I have to tell it to take a certain amount off the card. It is not going to take off more than you have available."
Mom-Clone: "Can you take off a dollar at a time?"
Me: "No ma'am. If I do that 25 times we will be here for a half-hour."
Mom-Clone: "Oh."
Daughter-Clone: "Momma, remember, last night you said we had $7.82 on that card Grandma sent."
Me: "Let's try that then." 7.82 CREDIT CARD and it's good.
Me: "Ma'am, you still owe $20.44. Do you know how much is on that card?"
Mom-Clone: "No. I'll just pay with my credit card. But how do I find out how much is on the gift card?"
Me: "There's a 1800 number on the back of the card."
Mom-Clone: "Oh. I'll do that next time."
Me: "Or just tell the grandparents to send Wal-Mart gift cards."


just tip me said...

Oh i hate those cards they are a pain. I won't take them as payment at the restaurant where I work. The credit card terminal doesn't reconize them. It's a pain to the guest and to us. I feel bad but I was once stuck with 2 $25 ones. I used them to buy things offline. That's what they are good for. Hackers can't use the number after its been used.

Alex Burr said...

I work in retail, in a video/music store, and get those cards a lot. Fortunately I tend to get customers that haven't used them yet, so they're fresh, but typically I hand them a Sharpie along with the receipt so that they can write the amount of the transaction on the back of the card.

team gingerbread said...

@alex - yeah that's a good idea. We got a lot of mall gift cards at my work, but they can check the balances at the mall kiosks (good luck finding one that's open when you need it, but that's another story)

I just don't understand why you wouldn't bother to check the balance if you knew you were planning on using it. it takes less than a minutes, you know?

Anonymous said...

If you start with what the customers can do, rather than end with it, you'll find that they go away much faster.

The conversation should have begun with the 800 number, not ended with it.

Love, PD

FARfetched said...

I have a Visa gift card, and one on the way (that's how Cingular & other companies do rebates nowadays). The cards have a toll-free number and a website where you can check the balance.

Actually, I'm glad you posted this today, BBC, because I had meant to check the balance (I've been using it to buy lunch this week) but forgot. It took about 2 minutes to check it on the web, including the time to dig the card out of my wallet.

I agree with PD, show them the toll-free number on the back of the card first. Then hand them a pen and scrap paper, and ask them to let you serve the next person while they're getting the balance(s).

Jim Lippard said...

The flaw here is that the cards are poorly designed. The process SHOULD allow you to apply any balance left on the card towards the purchase without having to check it.

Anonymous said...

The problem with allowing people to apply "whatever's left" is that they won't know how much cash/credit they'll have to fork over after they've done that. That scheme works fine when you're just using up the card and have another way of paying for something, but if you really don't know how much you have left, you don't want to run it thru and have $2.35 applied to your total of $72.35 unless you know ahead of time that you have to fork over $70.

Then... you'll have a whole new set of upset customers who want you to put the $2.35 *back* on their debit card because they don't have $70.....

you'dneverguess said...

That is so aggrevating! I honestly don't know how you do it.
I was in Wal Mart yesterday and thought of you and your blog. It made me want to go to the customer service desk and tell whoever was working that they're doing a great job and to have an excellent day.
Maybe next time.

Mel Gibson said...

How did I miss this party, sugart*ts?

grundes said...

Jim Lippard
>The process SHOULD allow you to apply any balance left on the card towards the purchase without having to check it.

I guess it is the limitation of the terminal, not the card -- with a "regular" card you probably can't get the remaining balance, so you can't do it for these, since they are "just as regular cards".

I have 2 explanations why there's not way to get the balance:

1) security, so that thieves won't see how much you've got and adjust the amount of their take accordingly (e.g. if you have a $30K limit, you're less likely to notice an extra $345 charge, unlike someone with a $500 limit)

2) if checking the balance was possible, you'd never get over the credit limit, and the bank wouldn't get the hefty overlimit fees.

I think #2 is the real reason ;)

Anonymous said...

And guess what happens when the customer tells you they're brand new and full.....then starts handing them to you one at a time.....and then when he hands you the 6th one.....(yuck yuck yuck)

j-yo said...

Those cards are a major pain the ass and I refuse to buy them as gifts unless the recipient is a known shopoholic and knows EXACTLY how they work.

Just the thought of those awful cards combined with the dangerously low I.Q. of a Wal-Mart shopper is enough to make me want to hide under my bed....

Anonymous said...

we just go online and check, but it is irritating when they have 3 or 4 of them...i can see how at a lot of stores where you can't go online @ your register it would be a problem

terranwannabe said...

Plus, the Fair Credit Reporting Act prevents retail stores from finding out any details of a person's credit - like if your check has been declined by Certegy, they only give the store a score and can't provide them details of how the score was obtained for that reason. Since no credit card will ever be able to provide credit limits or outstanding balances to a terminal because of FCRA, they have no ability to display that information.

I agree about how much of a PITA those damn cards are to process. I was working at Office Depot when AmEx first introduced them and had to figure out by process of elimination that you can charge a specific amount on them (thankfully, they knew the balance). Customers were always quite understanding - but OD customers were always above par. I have great respect for anyone who has to deal with Wal-Mart customers.

Anonymous said...

I also work in retail, and have noticed as of late certain Visa GC actually do take off "only what is left"... now if only AMEX gets the hint. Also, since it is a GC, the signature line on the back is worthless, so I often suggest writing the remaining balance in that space, since a regular pen can write there fine. But why waste all that time fighting with them over which cards were used?? The automated systems aren't that difficult to navagate and get an answer (except those motherf-ing cingular ones), and you could call and get the balance faster than fighting with them and guessing what's left. They do call it "customer service" not "customer belittleing"...

Anonymous said...

I figured this out the last time I had to deal with an AmEx giftcard. Here's what you do instead:

1) Receive gift card
2) Determine your online or bricks and mortar retailer of choice
3) Buy a gift card from them of the full amount of your AmEx/Visa gift card
4) Never deal with that BS again.

My experience with the giftcards was that it's nearly impossible to use a "remaining balance" in an online purchase, there's no way to enter in multiple "credit card" numbers. Instead, I determined the balance from AmEx's website ( and then bought an giftcard for that remaining amount. The Amazon giftcards are much easier to deal with at then any Amex or Visa card.

Anonymous said...

you easily could have run the cards for a couple dollars a swipe. the time spent arguing was time wasted that you could have been swiping. you power tripping loser, you work a cash register ffs! try serving the customer not pretending you are smarter because you can press some buttons

Anonymous said...

The real reason why they make it so hard to get the "remainder" off the card is that most if not all of those cards expire. Once they have expired, guess who gets the $$? The bank. Or in the case of those pain in the ass rebate cards from Cingular, Cingular gets the money. Think about it. You issue 100,000 rebate cards of $50 each. Each person leaves on average, $1-$5 per card cuz they can't get it off. You have just earned back between $100-$500K. Even if what is left is less than a dollar, you are still making a bundle back. With a rebate check, you get hit for the entire amount of the rebate. And this is based on whether or not people even bother with the rebate. I think the response rate for rebates is something in the region of 25% or less. That means that approximately 75% will pay full price. Of the 25% that get the rebate, 90%+ will leave money on the gift card. Its all a scam. Just another way to part a fool from his money. Which is why I always buy stuff more expensive than the gift card and pay the difference in cash.

Shannon said...

If it is such a big problem, then why don't you, the cashier, call the 800 for the customer. I am sure it would be a lot easier and you would have a happier customer for taking the time to help them. There is still a thing, I think, called customer service, although I am not sure.

And, yes I am a regular gift card user, Visa, Amex, you name it.

Crunchie said...

I like using them as I'm having trouble getting a bank account. Of course, I made sure to read the HUGE sheet of paper that came with it explaining all the rules and how it works. If more people would just read, there wouldn't be these kinds of problems. - Also, I hate the things because they aren't re-loadable. That, and depending on where they come from, there's a fee of $3 something to $10 something for the things.

Another thing, generally a person can go to the websites for these things and register them to keep up with their balance. There is no excuse for someone not to know their balance.

Anonymous said...

RECOGNIZE! Your racism is showing, again. CHECK IT!

Just because you're an Indo/Paki Du, doesn't give you the right to disrespect other races.

Anonymous said...

You're all missing the point.

BB is not interested in improving customer service. In fact, she is more interested in pissing off customers so as to have something to write in her web log. I mean, face it: no pissed off customers, no web log.

It's amazing she still has a job.

Anonymous said...

Mom-Clone: "Can you take off a dollar at a time?"
Me: "No ma'am. If I do that 25 times we will be here for a half-hour."


You could have done this in three minutes TOPS! Just think if you would have tried it in two-dollar increments. Uh-huh: a minute-and-a-half.


Martyr said...

Folks are being a bit brutal to BB here...the issue is with the card and the mess it entails at checkout. The issuer needs to fix this...period. Allow the register to do a balance inquiry and there'd be no problem. If they swipe it 10 times...that's a 10x transaction fee and eats up any profit. This is not a BB issue...every retailer experiences the same thing. There's one post that says they're able to accept for the remaining I'd suspect all registers should do it...I'm a big fan of BB...thanks for highlighting this area!