We were somewhat more busy than expected at my clothing and outdoor goods store today, and I was running around greeting customers, helping them find items, and ringing out transactions. My store is in a ski resort area, and many people came up from out of state for the long weekend to have one "last blast" before the ski season ends. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate. As a result, our mall had lots of bored browsers who came to shop today because there's nothing else to do in a small ski town in March, when it's raining. Due to the weird weather, we were slightly understaffed, and trying hard to provide service to everyone, but we could barely keep up.
During my running around, I'm pretty sure that I interacted with the customer I'll soon tell you about while I was on the sales floor, but we were really busy. Nothing about any prior interaction I may have had with her stuck out to me as unusual.
So this customer approaches the cash wrap, and I run over to ring her out. She was alone, dressed in a ski parka and denim, pretty normal for our clientele. She was about 50, reasonably well-spoken and nice, and I engaged her in some small talk while I rung up her purchases.
Our POS system has an annoying quirk, as many do. We have to verbally give the total when the total screen pops up, but the customer can't just use their card at the moment that I announce the total. We have to hit a button for credit/debit, gift card, or cash. But once we hit that tender button, the total amount due disappears. So I've developed the habit of saying something like, "OK, so your total is $146.14 will that be on a card or cash?"
M: So your total is $146.14 will that be on a card or cash?
C: On a card.
M: OK, you can run your card right through the reader there (pointing). (I begin bagging her items, looking away for a moment)
C: Oh, um, is this for credit or debit?
M: It's for either one. (I set it up generally as a card purchase, and once you run it through, we can choose credit or debit, if you're using a debit card).
C: I'm not sure, what are these? Credit? Debit? (Pulling three cards out of her wallet, one of which was a debit card from the bank I use, another from a local bank that many of my customers use, and a generic looking silver card with a Visa logo that I've never seen before. As she's opening her wallet, I notice that it's stuffed with other credit or bank cards).
M: Those two are definitely debit cards (gesturing). That one (pointing) I've never seen before. It might be a credit card. But it could be debit if you have a checking account with that bank. Debit cards usually have DEBIT printed on them, though. Either way, I could run any of those cards through as credit, since they all have a Visa logo. Or we could try debit, if you know your PIN.
C: I've always been confused by that. Why do my cards have a credit card symbol on them if they're not a credit card?
M: (Thinking, OK, I have three kinds of customers. Eighty-five percent of my customers just want to pay for their items. Five percent think that I must be the dumbest sort of dolt for working in retail, and want to impress their superiority upon me. That leaves 10% that feel that I would be a great person to solve the mysteries of life for them. That seems like a large percentage, but I include those who come up to me with a pair of denim jeans and ask what tops could go with them. Uggh. This one is a ten-percenter). Oh, well, remember when you could only use ATM cards at the ATM?
M: Well, maybe about 20 years ago or so (trying to think back to my first debit card that wasn't just for the ATM), they started allowing debit with a PIN number at some stores, to make transactions easier for customers. Then they started putting Visa and MasterCard logos on the cards, so you could use them anywhere those cards were accepted!
C: But that just makes it confusing for me. So, if I choose credit on my debit card, what happens?
M: So your debit cards that you showed me run through the Visa network. If you choose debit or credit, the money will still pull through your bank account. Some of my customers' banks will charge a fee if they choose credit versus debit, or vice versa, so I always give them a choice. Which way would you like to pay today?
C: I don't know. I just don't understand.
M: Well, simply, if you use your debit card, as debit or credit, it's going to pull your actual money from an account to pay for your purchase today. If you use a credit card, as long as you have enough of a credit line available, they will extend you the credit for the purchase, then you'll pay them back.
C: No! I don't want anyone taking my actual money!! Credit only!
M: I totally understand (smile). Myself, I put all of my transactions on my Amex card, then I look it over, and pay my bill for the month. I get where you're coming from. That's a smart way to do it! (Big understanding smile)
C: So how many credit cards do I have?
M: (I must have blinked 10 times and tried not to look incredulous). Ma'am, I have no way of knowing how many credit cards you have.
C: I meant out out of the cards I showed you. You know, I work in Financial Services. That's my background. This is so confusing to me, I'm sure it's confusing to you, too.
M: Out of those three cards, two are definitely debit. One I'm not sure. How would you like to pay today?
C: How much was it again? Oh, who cares. I'll just do this one (swiping card).