Thursday, July 21, 2011

The irksome problem of growing receipts!

The world was a much simpler place back in the dark ages when I worked as a sales clerk at my father’s Pawn Shop. If I managed to sell a shotgun or knife, piece of luggage or accordion, I’d ring up the purchase on an ancient cash register, bag the merchandise and hand it over to the customer.

I have some hazy recollection that occasionally I might scribble a receipt on a lined pad that included what had been bought and the cost. At some point in the mid-60s, I think my father made a leap into the, ah, 20th Century and purchased a newer register. The new-fangled device would spit out a small piece of white paper following each transaction that included the name of the store, date and price.

The receipt didn’t include what had been purchased, how much the customer handed over in payment or the amount of change returned. In fact, one of the very first lessons I had to master was the ability to figure out in my noggin the give and take of cash, then correctly count back the change to the customer.

To this day I generally know how much money I should be receiving after a purchase well before the hi-tech register runs through a series of calculations, then flashes or prints out the magic number for the sales clerk handling the transaction. As often as not, especially if the clerk is under 40, they’ll simply ball up the cash and hand it over without first checking that they’ve grabbed the right amount.

There’s also this trick that apparently all clerks now must learn that involves scrunching up the money and receipt together, sort of a final offering to the gods of commerce. It makes for an awkward transfer, especially when the receipts today are often a foot long – and that’s no exaggeration and the real point of this posting.

After zipping into Sears earlier this week and buying a pair of pants on sale – Lands End, $40 reduced to $7.50 – I checked out and was handed my purchase, a stack of change and a receipt that was 17 inches long. In recent years, retailers have been hunting for creative ways to market themselves – display advertising, TV spots, the web and ginormous receipts! Go figure.

I generally ignore the ad campaign that comes with the stuff I buy, but took the time recently to scan the receipt from Sears. About two inches focused on the actual transaction, the rest detailed upcoming sales, a website I could check out to learn more about Sears – right, that’s gonna happen when hell freezes over – details about an online survey I could take – again, not gonna happen – and yet additional info about an upcoming promotional campaign.

My first reaction was to toss the receipt as I left the store. But then I grew paranoid that somewhere buried among the details about websites, promotional gimmicks and sales were all those important names and numbers that define my life – social security and credit card numbers, date of birth, home address and my favorite flavor of ice cream!

So the receipt is now buried with several hundred others in my things-to-be-shredded box. In a world moving at warp speed and filled with scamsters, you can’t be too careful. BTW, just in case you’re wondering, it’s strawberry!

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