There was a time, some 40 years ago, when writing a check or paying in cash was the way of my world. For the purpose of paying rent and buying gas and groceries, a check or cash did nicely. But gradually, having a credit card became the way and the means until currently that’s how I purchase almost everything. So wouldn’t ya think by now I’d be a real pro at sliding that piece of plastic in and out of any machine any store could throw at me? This, unfortunately, is not the case. My inadequacies have, however, annoyed many a cashier to the point where they’d probably love to throw the machine at me.
I find it totally frustrating that there are so many variations on how you swipe, which buttons you should press and where you sign. Like fingerprints, no two credit card machines are alike. In all cases, I find myself staring at the little box, credit card in my right hand, eyes darting from top to bottom and left to right. I’m desperately searching for the slot.
There’s the “sideswipe” which, of course, is conveniently located on the side of the machine. And then there’s the “top slot” which always confuses me because the last 3 stores I was in had the slide on the side. And I don’t have a clue as to why, but whenever the slit is across the top, it never fails that I’ve inserted the magnetic bar facing the wrong way. Next comes the “hole-in-one” or “bottom feeder” where you literally feed the card into the hungry mouth of the device. These are generally found near the bottom of the unit but not always. I regularly screw that transaction up the first go round because I shove and pull too quickly and the sale doesn’t register. I suppose I’m so quick on the draw because I think the card will be digested if I don’t get it out in time. No matter where the slot is located there’s always the risk of inserting too soon. Sometimes it’s okay to slide while the checker is scanning. Other times you must wait until they’ve finished with the last item. And I can even recall a couple of places where I couldn’t pull the card out of the bottom feeder until the machine released it.
I’ve gotten smarter over the years, though. I never put my card back in my wallet until I get the nod from the person checking me out. More often than not I have to swipe it a second or third time. And on some occasions the checker has just taken the card away from me and made the pass themselves. I now view this as a relief rather than an embarrassment as it was the first few times it happened…after all; even a caveman could do it.
The button game is even more challenging. First I get my choice of languages. Can you guess which two they are? Then I’m asked about Credit or Debit. “Press okay if you accept the amount being charged.” Then it says, “Please wait for the cashier.” Then the cashier says, “Press okay. No, no. The other okay, the one that says credit; the green one.” (Thank goodness they’re color-coded or I’d be at a total loss.) Each machine has its own flavor of instructions as to what to do. Some appear on the monitor and you use the little pen thing to tap on the correct response. But I’ve also seen equipment where the customer uses their finger to press the screen. So when one doesn’t work, I try the other. And what’s the deal where these little processors are right in front of you on the counter ~ yet the clerk takes your card and swipes it in some secret place you can’t see from where you’re standing?!
Sometimes I’m asked to sign my name, sometimes not. “No ma’am, we don’t require your signature unless the purchase amount is over $25.00. It’s store policy.” So if I buy $26.00 worth they do want my John Hancock? Silly as that seems, anytime you charge an item over the phone…well when was the last time you signed for that? Go figure.
I’ve been handed a receipt to sign and I’ve been given one that I signed for on the machine. This brings me to my biggest gripe which is the sign
ature line. Why in the world do so many of these devices place it directly above the buttons? This requires holding your wrist in some wacky awkward manner so as not to rest it on the keys below. If you aren’t extremely careful you wind up accidentally pressing on keys that screw up the process and you have to swipe your card again. And your signature bears no resemblance at all to your name…rather, it looks more like hieroglyphics. No one can read it, not even you. This is compounded by the sign line being so worn from use that the attached pen hardly writes on the screen at all. Are they so cost prohibitive that the store can’t afford to replace them? Actually, I did have one guy tell me just that. I was complaining (if you can imagine) about the scratched screen. He happened to be the manager and said he had put in a request to headquarters several months ago for new ones. But headquarters told him they weren’t in this year’s budget. That’s funny because chances are that what I’m buying isn’t in my budget either, but it doesn’t stop me.
For all my moaning and groaning about using my credit card, I do realize I could go back to cash or check. But I wouldn’t get much of a charge out of that now would I? So instead I just carry a grudge along with my Visa card and don’t leave home without it.
Originally published in the September 2010 edition of The Cross Timbers Gazette.