Apropos of Nothing: Men and Shopping
An Editorial by Jamie Beckett

Lately, I find myself feeling nostalgic for the days when shopping was a more straightforward affair. As a guy, I view shopping as a task to be accomplished, not an experience to be savored. I want to get in, get out, and get gone. From my perspective, anything that prolongs the process is an annoyance.

My most recent foray into the retail environment led me to an office supply store for pens. Yep, just pens. No paper, no tape, not a pair of scissors, or a new computer. Just pens. All I needed, all I wanted, was a package of three pens. That’s it.

The plan was simple enough. Drive to the store, walk inside, select the pens, pay for them, drive home, open the package, and deposit them in the coffee cup where I store my writing utensils. In all, that’s seven steps.

Wrong again. There is an eighth step. A pointless, time-consuming, aggravation inducing additional hurdle to the shopping experience that is of absolutely no interest to me. But there it is, a mandatory nuisance inserted right there in between steps three and four. I refer of course to the Rewards Card Shuffle.

You would think that walking up to a cash register manned by an employee wearing store branded attire would begin an entirely predictable chain of events. Placing your intended purchase on the counter while extending a handful of paper money printed by the good folks at the U. S. mint should inform that employee of your intent. But it doesn’t. Not anymore. Because somewhere in the bowels of that company’s corporate headquarters, a highly placed officer has decided they can make oodles of extra income off their customers by collecting a wealth of our personal information before we leave the store.

That’s where the rewards card came from. And for many people, and by many people I mean women who love coupons, and specials, and discounts, and sales, the surrender of personal information in exchange for little to nothing of real value is fun. So they do it. They practically insist on it.

These are the same people who make you wait behind them for ten minutes in the checkout line while they search a pocketbook the size of Montana to find a nickel and three pennies. Who knew exact change was such an important facet of these simple exchanges.

“Can I have the phone number associated with your rewards account?” asked the girl at the register with all the enthusiasm of the guy who stocks embalming fluid at the local funeral home.

“I don’t have a rewards account,” I replied, holding up a handful of cash to illustrate my intent.

“Would you like to open one? I can assist you with the process. It will only take a few minutes,” she countered. I suspect she was daydreaming about lunch, or how good a cigarette would be right then, or who The Bachelor might give a rose to next.

“No, thank you,” I answered, shaking my collection of dollar bills for emphasis. “I have American money.”

“Are you sure?” she parried. “Our rewards card provides blah, blah, blah…”

I’d had about enough. My internal guy meter was buzzing an alarm. I’d been in the store too long. The exit was in sight, but without paying for my purchase I couldn’t legally leave the building with my new pens – and I really, really wanted to leave the store as quickly as possible.

“Can I buy these pens?” I pleaded with the automaton on the other side of the counter. “I’ll give you money. Real money. American money. You can put it in your cash drawer and your boss will be happy to have it. I promise.”

She shrugged and rang up my purchase.

I remember a time, long ago, when the most popular expression in commerce was, ‘Cash is King!’ No more.

I find that curious.

In the future I will take to simply running past the register, holding my few selected items at arms length and throwing a handful of paper money in the general direction of the employee on duty. I would include in that wad of cash, a customer rewards card of my own, of course.

It would read, “You’ve just sold part of your inventory to a satisfied customer. In appreciation for the quick and easy service you’ve provided, said customer has left a collection of coins scattered about your store that equals the fraction of a dollar owed on this purchase. Have a nice day.”

Yeah, that ought to work.