I was standing in line behind an older lady at the cash register at Target. She had signed up for one of their Target Red Cards. Having singed up recently, her card hadn't come in the mail yet. Instead, she had the receipt that was printed for her in lieu of a swipe-able card.
When it came time for her to put her PIN number in, it wouldn't accept it. This was tried two or three times.
She instead opted to pay with her Discover card. Despite the fact that the card had an expiration date of May 2013, when she did swipe her Discover card, the transaction was denied on the basis that the card was expired.
The cashier was an older lady too.
Both women were clearly frustrated with this failure of technology to "just work".
The cashier got (what I assume was) a manager to come to her register. He tried to swipe the Discover card to no avail. He finally proclaimed "I saw this happen earlier. The card wouldn't go and wouldn't go through. Then it finally did."
The customer wound up leaving what she had attempted to purchase in her cart.
When the cashier was processing my purchases, she looked at me and said "That's ridiculous."
I wondered two things:
- Why didn't the manager just give the cart to the lady and log it as shrinkage or something? Her total was $24 and change if memory serves correctly. In my opinion, this would have been the best possible outcome because she wanted to pay, but the technology both she and the store wanted to employ to finalize the transaction wouldn't work. It wasn't like not charging her for this buggy of goods was going to put the store out of business.
And I'm not arguing from a bleeding heart here. Giving her the goods makes damned good business sense. It says, "We care more about you than we do about making money off of you, and we're willing to spend some money on you personally to keep a good business relationship with you."
If that is still seen as anti-capitalistic, then what about this: the negative publicity that the store will likely receive from this women over her not being able to walk out with the goods she wanted–and attempted–to legally purchase has a higher probability of costing the store more money in the long run then the cost of the goods in her cart, not just the profit off of said goods in said cart.
- What was causing this failure of technology?
I chalk the PIN number up to user error. Either the issuing cashier didn't properly issue the temp card or the customer entered the wrong PIN at the time she signed up for the card, despite her claim of "It's the PIN number I always use." (Let's not even divulge into the security aspects of that statement.)
See, I'm a technology guy. While I don't understand a lot or even most of technology, (I once met a man that claimed to have multiple advanced degrees. He said, "The more I know, the more I know what I don't know." I concur.) I sure don't understand the point of failure here.
Perhaps Discover encodes their cards differently from everyone else and it's harder to get read the correct expiration date off of the card. But then, wouldn't this be a problem with all Discover cards at this Target, if not corporation wide?
Maybe the register needed to be rebooted; maybe the memory or "logic board" (to appropriate an Apple phrase) was bad in the register. A random hardware failure? Maybe. But the manager took the Discover card to the next register over and it still wouldn't go through.
I understand that we're all human and have limitations. I further understand that humans build technology and as such, technology is flawed. But despite these facts, as a race, a lot of work has went into making our technology more reliable.
What went wrong I'll never know. But for this to have happened to two people who grew up without computers and whiz–bang! technology, I'm saddened that this experience befell them which will likely reinstate their belief that computers are evil and cannot be trusted.
It also has made me stop and reflect on how much we rely on such whiz-bang! technologies every minute of every day and the impressive success rate and uptime of said technologies. And it gives me pause to think what would happen if all of that came crashing down at once.