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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Commentary: Ca$h Sale Declined

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, November 20, 2005

So here’s something for consumers to think about: a Nov. 20 shopping trip to the Sears store at the Berkshire Mall ended quite abruptly when the shopper - me - was not permitted to use cash to pay for a gift registry order.

And I’m talking a pre-paid order, as opposed to a cash-on-delivery purchase.

Here are the details:

My daughter and her husband are expecting their first child in January, and she registered with a Sears gift registry that may be viewed on-line or via a computer at the store.

My plan was to purchase the crib and changing table she’d selected. During the weekend I put $500 cash in my wallet and drove to the mall-based store. Sears does offer the opportunity to purchase gift registry items on-line, I was not interested in an on-line purchase.

Upon arrival at the store, I first investigated whether either of the items was available for purchase directly from the store sales floor. They were not. I approached a sales associate and asked her where one would place an order for the baby furniture. The woman couldn’t seem to understand why I would be trying to order from the store instead of on-line. I explained that I planned to pay cash for the purchase at the time of order, and would therefore need to order from the store. It was at that point that I was first told that it might not be possible to order the furniture and pay in cash.

I was quite stunned. Why would any retail store refuse cash?

The saleswoman guided me to the checkout register located in the baby/children section of the store. She explained the “dilemma” to the young man working at the register. He stated that he believed the only way to order the furniture was to use a credit card – a Sears credit card. There was some back and forth discussion between the sales staff about furniture delivery – I wanted the furniture delivered to an address other than my own – and that made me think that perhaps I hadn’t been clear, perhaps the sales personnel believed that I meant to pay for the furniture at the point of delivery.

I spoke up: “I am not talking about a COD. I will pay for the order here, now, today.”

A third Sears staff member was called to the register and the situation was described to him. He was quite certain that cash could not be used, even if paying at the time of the order. He also believed that only a Sears credit card could be used for the purchase.

No matter how many times I asked, no one at the counter could answer why cash would not be accepted.

The saleswoman used a telephone at the register to contact someone named “Linda.” I do not know why “Linda” was called but I am guessing that she was not present at the store because the saleswoman had to explain to “Linda” that the merchandise I wanted wasn’t offered on the store sales floor and had to be ordered. She did tell “Linda” that I was prepared to pay for the furniture in cash, “right here at the checkout.” I could not hear "Linda's" side of the conversation, but it was clear that my plan to pay in cash was not being immediately accepted.

By this point, I was far removed from anything resembling a “satisfied customer.” I had just driven 30 miles one way to purchase baby furniture selected on a store gift registry and destined for my grandchild. The money for said purchase was ready to be spent, then and there. This seemingly simple transaction had now generated the involvement of three in-store employees and a phone consultation. And what I was being told was that good old United States currency could not be used to make the purchase.

Meanwhile, another customer approached the register with a question. One of the two unoccupied sales associates attempted to assist the customer but encountered some sort of difficulty and needed some guidance; the sales woman who was on the phone with “Linda” suddenly handed the phone to the remaining Sears employee and said “I can’t do two things at once. Take this.”

And that was the final straw. I informed the young man now holding the telephone that I was not going to be forced into acquiring a Sears credit card for a sale that I intended as a cash purchase. I also told him that I would walk on over to the J.C. Penney store and see if they were interested in a cash sale.

I did, and they were.

But some questions linger. What, exactly, was the problem with paying in cash? And why, when personal bankruptcies involving excessive credit card use hit such high numbers that the federal government significantly tightened bankruptcy filing laws, is a retail merchant limiting any type of sale to a credit card? There is no question about why Sears would force the use of their own card –they are not the only corporation guilty of that particular shopper trap- but why would consumers tolerate that behavior, especially if they possess a different card with a lower interest rate?

According to nearly every consumer finance wizard on the planet, paying in full at the time of a purchase is far preferable than repeatedly pulling out the plastic. Cash transactions are straightforward, and there are no associated “fees” or interest rates that manipulate a $428 [with tax, shipping and handling] expenditure into something more.

New crib for new baby: $299. Accompanying mattress: $54. The ability to pay cash at J.C. Penney store: priceless.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.


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