One of the things I look back on with nostalgia is having my purchases rung up by a cashier on an old-fashioned cash register. You know, the ones that weighed 1700 pounds and had a marble writing surface, fancy brass decorations, and little numbered signs that popped up in the window when the keys were pushed, and which made a loud and satisfying ka-ching! when the sale was verified by pulling a lever or pushing the "Sale" button. One like this, perhaps...
That was back when you got a bit of a show for your money, as opposed to just a bunch of beeps and squeaks as bored cashiers draw your purchase across a laser window, and rows of lighted, inflated numbers march across a cold, blue screen. There's no adventure and entertainment value in checking out any more.
Or is there?
My beloved Agnes is a wonderful lady, but is suspicious by nature. Her going-in assumption when dealing with stores and salespeople of all sorts is that they are going to try to cheat her somehow, and she must be ever-vigilant to prevent this. One example is our typical trip to the Costco warehouse store, where we typically buy a large cartload of items. Each individual item may be low-priced, but in the aggregate, the cart will usually total out to something approaching the GNP of a typical third-world country. Agnes is usually convinced that an error has been made by the cashier, and will carefully review the receipt line-by-line, trying to translate the truncated description of each item (what's a LG BX HND GRNDS?) before muttering to herself that it's usually correct.
Except when it isn't.
Yesterday, we visited a local store. I had run out of my favorite vanilla syrup, and Agnes picked up a small bag of chocolate and a bag of chips. The cashier dragged each item across the laser window, the system beeped accusingly, and a total sale of $14.27 magically appeared in glowing yellow numbers on the screen. While I paid the bill, Agnes disappeared back into the store, reappearing a few minutes later to tell me that the chocolate - which had rung up at $4.49 - was posted on the shelf at $3.99. She wanted to confront the cashier and demand the extra 50 cents back, but I was tired of shopping and in a hurry to move on, and so we did.
Agnes believes (and I tend to agree) that stores nowadays probably make a modest killing on the difference between the price marked on the store shelves and the price carried in the computer that the laser scanner matches with the product. After all, you almost never see a price tag actually stuck on an item any more, particularly in a big supermarket...you see the price on the shelf tag, but the item itself usually only has a bar code...
If you have a cart full of things that the cashier is whipping across the scanner at the speed of light, and if you don't remember the shelf-indicated price of each item, you may be overcharged without realizing it.
Agnes has accumulated a store of anecdotal evidence to support her contention that stores are gouging us on this difference. She notes 5-6 recent incidents at various stores in which she has caught items scanning at prices in excess of their labeled cost...usually by a small amount (25-50 cents) which she interprets as the threshold below which the stores probably figure a customer won't think it's worth the time and trouble to come back and complain.
Being one who will generally give the benefit of the doubt, I tend to interpret this phenomenon a little less Machiavellianly (new word alert, Scholastic Scribe!) than Agnes does. I imagine that it's fairly easy to have things slip through the cracks between programming the sales computer and coordinating those prices with the labels on the shelves. Nevertheless, the economy being what it is, I wouldn't put it past some unscrupulous merchants to use this as an underhanded scheme to rip off unwary customers.
Things used to be a lot easier, for the customer, anyhow. When the cashier had to punch several keys to raise flags in a cash register window ($2.49 = $2.00 + $0.40 + $0.09), then push a separate button or crank a lever to "ring up" each sale (we still say that, even though cash registers no longer give that loud and satisfying ka-ching! as the sale is registered), we had time to see what we were being charged, and to compare the price stuck or written on the item with the amount shown on the register.
So, what do you think? Are these innocent errors, or are stores using technology and psychology to rip us off for small amounts they think we'll ignore?
Inquiring minds want to know.
And this inquiring mind wants to go and enjoy the last day of the three-day weekend (for Federal employees and contractors, anyhow) before heading back to the old grindstone. There are leaves to be raked, summer items to be stored, fall and winter items to be brought from storage, and many more honey-do's to be tackled.
Or, if I'm lucky, avoided.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.