Getting my point across


The other day I was in a supermarket. After having collected my goods, I made my way to the cashier to have my purchases rung up. The total came to SR 149.30. I handed the cashier two SR100 notes, only to receive a SR50 riyal note back along with the receipt, and with no explanation. No chewing gum or a package of facial tissues either.

When I asked about the missing 70 halalas, I was told, rather rudely by the cashier, that the store did not carry any change. This jolted my usually mellow demeanor. A line was forming behind me, and I had a choice: Either to shut up meekly and walk out, or to make a stand in the face of those waiting impatiently behind me. I chose the latter course, as my sense of principles was affronted.

“Now look here, my friend,” I told the cashier rather gruffly. “As far as I know, SAMA has declared the Saudi riyal or portions of it as legal tender. Therefore, when I make a purchase, I expect to pay for the purchase and nothing more. It is not my problem that the store does not carry change. And besides, why should I as a consumer be on the receiving end of your shortcomings. If you run out of change, then I would expect you to round off the figures to the nearest riyal; not to what is more favorable to you or your employers.

“Allow me the courtesy to decide whether I can forego that change or not. Do not make that decision for me. And another thing! I am sick of getting gum or tissue paper in lieu of change. I probably have over a sack full of this pseudo-change lying around in my vehicle. Can I use it to pay my electric bill or fill my car with gas?”

By now the mutterings of the impatient shoppers waiting in line increased, as did the curiosity of the other cashiers who stopped ringing their registers to gaze at the action at our checkout counter. This soon resulted in the store supervisor making his way over to me in a hurry, and after determining the problem asking me to step over to a side counter while he tried to explain to me his difficulties.

The supermarket never really catered for carrying change, as it is relatively meaningless in value, he said. To do that, he would have to employ one individual whose primary task would be to get to a bank daily and get bags full of change. Customers usually never cared about the small change, he added. “And besides, what would you really be able to use the change on,” he asked me.

I explained to him that it was not the change or the value of it that irked me. In fact, the change was a nuisance, for one could really not use it anywhere. It was simply that the store was taking me and other customers for granted by assuming that they did not have to account for the small change that was due us. Or was this just a ploy to pad profits, I wondered.

And if, indeed, having change available in the store on a daily basis was such a major issue, why not simply round off customer purchases to the nearest riyal? At the end of the day, such a routine would balance itself out.

After a few moments of thought, the idea seemed to have fixed itself in his mind. He assured me that he would instruct his cashiers to follow such a procedure after he cleared the issue with the store manager. Talk about an organizational structure! Although he insisted on making amends and giving me a full riyal note, I asked him for a credit voucher of 70 halalas simply to get my point across.

On the drive home, I wondered about consumer laws and consumer rights. Shouldn’t the Chamber of Commerce be looking into such business practices that are widespread across the city and affect us in one way or the other on a daily basis? Or are my 70 halalas too small an amount to bother with?

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