It has become common knowledge that electronic payments at the checkout counter are on average faster than paying by cash and waiting for change.
Such transactions certainly save the merchant money by not having to stock as much change. They save individuals time by their not having to go to the bank or an ATM to get cash.
But the electronic option is not always fast.
I had an experience at a checkout line yesterday that was dramatically slower than a cash payment.
I had no control over it. All I could do was watch, wait and think that my Monday blog was writing itself before my eyes.
A woman ahead of me wanted to pay electronically. She had a choice to make of either credit or debit.
I was not paying much attention at that point as I was looking at the candy bars and other things on display at the checkout counter.
Then I heard the clerk say that the customer would not have to enter a pin number for a credit transaction.
At that point I realized that things were not going along as usual, so I started to pay attention.
I don’t know if the clerk’s comment was informational, or whether the woman accidentally asked for a credit transaction when she intended to pay by debit card.
In any event, that was sorted out.
The clerk then said the debit transaction was rejected.
The customer asked the clerk if it said why.
The clerk said no.
Then the customer said, “That’s funny, I just checked my balance and there was $200 available.”
The transaction was suspended while the customer was working with her smart phone.
After a little while she asked the clerk to try the debit card transaction again as she had transferred $100 from savings to the debit card account.
“Where’s the ATM?” the customer asked. She was told and off she went.
The second transaction had to be suspended.
The clerk turned to me and said, “I’m sorry, I have to wait until she comes back.”
Apparently, a transaction can’t be suspended a second time.
The customer came back eventually.
While she had been away, the person behind me in the line vacated the space to look for better checkout possibilities.
The customer then tendered five $20 bills to pay for her purchases.
She got a little over a buck in change.
While she was tendering her cash payment, she observed that it was funny that the ATM worked but the debit card didn’t.
Yes, it was funny as well as evidence that electronic payments are not always quicker or easier than cash payments.
Perhaps I was just a little too nosy, but I was trapped where I was for more than five minutes. I figured I was in it for the duration and composed this blog in my head as I stood there.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2014 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."