My business has no bearing on your business!

I warn you, this rant will be lame because my brain is just beginning to recover from the assault upon my logic and patience.

I should have known better.

I swore that I was going to do all of my holiday shopping online this year. I didn’t want to deal with all the hassle. I should’ve followed my instincts.

Enter tlw to one of the Brooklyn branches of a large, national office supply chain store, the one whose name rhymes with the plural form of the kind of tree from which one gets syrup.

Why, I’m not sure, because what I went to purchase (a specific brand and size of whiteboard for Mr. tlw’s office, a Christmas present) can be purchased online and shipped and doing so would’ve presented much less of a hassle than making the transaction in person. But I love office supply stores. Putting me in one is like putting a food addict at an all-you-can-eat buffet, or Imelda Marcus in an unguarded shoe warehouse. In fact, while I waited for the lovely guys in shipping to pull the whiteboard out of the great nebulous “back room” and bring it up to the cash register, I made an impulse decision to also buy a fax/scanner/copier/printer. See, addict at a buffet!

I found another salesperson and gave the word to send another order back to the lovely guys in shipping, and went up to the cash register so that I can get out of there before doing any more damage to my bank account.

Fortunately the store wasn’t busy, so I didn’t have to wait in line. The cashier I chose was a bland young woman with a bored expression and a nasty propensity for cracking her chewing gum. She rang up the items I chose, cracking all the way, then turned to me.

Cashier: “Your home :crack: telephone number starting :crack: with area code please.”
Me: “What?”
“I need your :crack: home phone number starting :crack: with area code.”
“Huh?” :crack:
“I’m not giving you my phone number. There’s no reason to.”
“Well, I have to :crack: tell it something.”
“So tell it your number. Tell it the store’s number. Tell it 123-456-7890. I don’t care.”
“Uh, I don’t :crack: know…”
“Look, I’m not giving you my phone number.”
:crack: :blank stare:
“If this is a problem for you, why don’t you call your manager?”
:crack: :picks up phone: “Manager to front, please!”

I respond with an exasperated sigh.

We wait… She cracks the gum almost nonstop.

We wait some more… I wonder why her jaw hasn’t locked.

Finally, nearly eight minutes later, the manager manages to make his way to the cash register.

Cashier: “This lady doesn’t want to give her phone number.” (Note: the gum has gone miraculously silent.)
The manager glares at me. “It’s just a demographic survey, ma’am.”
“That’s not true.”
“What do you mean?”
“If it were just a demographics survey, you’d ask for my zip code. With my home phone number, you can do a cross-directory check, assign a name to this purchase, and then use that information to track my purchases and ‘target’ market to me. I am not interested in helping you to do that.”
The manager responds with a blank stare.
I motion toward the door “If you’d prefer that I take my business elsewhere…”
The manager turns to the cashier. “Just hit enter and it’ll skip the question.”
The cashier blinks and says, blandly, “Oh.”

I reel. It was that easy to skip the whole question all this time, and I’ve had to stand there and wait and argue? And now I’m going to give them a few hundred dollars? I must be turning into a sap in my old age.

The manager stalks off, making sure to look back over his shoulder to shoot some silent visual daggers my way for throwing a spanner in the works and thereby interrupting his nap or whatever he was doing in his little hidey hole in the front corner of the store.

The cashier hits the enter key and another question pops up, this time, the zip code inquiry. She turns to me.

“Will you give :crack: your zip code?”
"But you said… " :crackcrack:

She hits the enter key and finishs entering all of the purchase information. She gives me the total, and I hand her my credit card. I could almost sense that she was trying to memorize my name so that I might be added to the “Do Not Admit To the Store Under Any Circumstances” list. She begins pressing buttons, and a receipt issues forth. She rips it off, and I believe that she’s about to hand it to me to sign. But no, she places it atop her register, and then another question comes up on the register screen. And she turns to me, and she asks.

“Is your purchase :crack: today for business :crack: or personal use?”

It was at this point my head actually burst into flame.

So screw you, oh office supply chain whose name rhymes with maples. Screw you, bland gum cracking factotum with an intellect the size of a gnat. Screw you flatfooted manager who finds actually interacting with customers to be such an imposition on your day. Screw you guys, from now on, I’m staying home. No more impulse purchasing, like the scanner/waffle iron/fax/VCR. Or my Palm Pilot. Or the 8’x8’ corkboard that cost a small fortune. Or the 3-line, two base unit, caller ID enabled cordless phone. You blew it.

And don’t call me. I’ll be applying burn salve.

There’s nother Pit thread already under way about this very issue. While it seems that the cash registers at the particular store you visited will work if the staff just hit “enter” many people who’ve worked at such stores posted in the other thread that registers at their stores were set up in such a way that the purchase coudn’t be rung up unless something was input in the “phone number” field.

I’d make up a number. 555-555-1212.

reprise I’ll have to look for that thread. Thanks for the heads up.

yosemitebabe, I thought about making up a number, but it occured to me that I’d be giving up someone’s number any way I sliced it. This is New York City, unassigned numbers have a 15 day turnover. The chance that I’d given a number at random and have it not belong to someone are astronomically slim. That wouldn’t have been fair.

I’m just astounded that there are people who are willing to give up that information freely, as if Rhymes-With-Maples has some right to know their phone number. People are up in arms about the proposed move by the government to track purchases for law enforcement purposes but they just go along with the tracking of purchases by companies so that the company can be sure that after you buy the computer they can sell your name to AOL or Earthlink or MSN to call you or barrage you with junk mail to get the internet service, and after they sell you the printer, they can send you coupons every quarter for “great sales” on paper. Blah.

555’s don’t belong to anyone. They’re safe.

Yeah. That’s what I mean. 555 numbers belong to no one, which is why you’ll see that all phone numbers on TV or movie plots have the “555” prefix.

Give them an obviously bogus number, and if they raise their eyebrows, get all huffy and say, “What? Are you DOUBTING me?”

Or, memorize their company’s home office number, and give them that.

I always just give ‘em the address and phone of the last place I lived before my current residence, Its right of the top of my head, transaction goes smoothly and the store harasses somebody else.
Not to cool for whoever has my last number, I never actually considered that. I’m sort of, you know, sorry about that. BTW 555 as a prefix will always connect you with directory assistance, any area code in the states does this. Cecile even did a column about it :
Being in another country this doesn’t matter, no one ever asked for my address etc, but when ever I went to Radio snacks, or Circus city or Maples I used to peeve me to NO end, people wonder where those nice telemarketing folks who call at dinner time get their info, Wellll…

tlw, “maples” isn’t doing the asking-for-zip-code-and-personal-or-business-use thing anymore. The company was only doing that for a month, October 22 to November 22. Why they asked for your phone number I have NO IDEA. That’s not corporate policy.

Having to interrogate the customers before we could ring them up pissed the shit out of us cashiers at my store. There was a running joke wherein when we checked out a fellow employee’s purchase we’d ask them “Could I have your zip code? Personal or business use? Home phone number? Social security number? Name and address of closest relative? That person’s relation to you? Credit card number and driver’s license, please?”

And on our computers, we couldn’t get the fucking thing off the screen unless we input SOMETHING. We put a lot of random numbers and letters in to that stupid program just so we wouldn’t have to bother the customers.

Oh… that joke with the social security number thing backfired once, when a coworker had a “brain fart” and actually asked a customer for his ssn! He just looked at her, and she immediately realized her mistake and apologized… she was red as a lobster. He was of good humor, though, and when she explained the slip he laughed.

Better humor than one of the customers I took, who started literally screaming at me about how I would use her ZIP code to track down her address, phone number and other personal information and send her tons of spam and telemarketing; she then threatened to call the police and report me personally for running a scam. Greeaaaaaat.

She didn’t follow through, of course, and I rung out the rest of her transaction without saying a word except “Your total is $X, have a nice day.”

I think this little honey had a thing for you, but you didn’t realize it. She was asking for YOUR PHONE#.

Next time, act pleasantly surprized, and eye her boobs. She will know your intent.

My mother’s been giving out Zip code 99999 since I was a small child. Given that she shopped at that particular store every week, sometimes multiple times, any cashier who worked there for more than a few weeks knew not to look at her twice.

The fun thing was the new ones:)

I have no issue giving out my home address and phone number to those people, however, since A) I’m rarely there and B) I’m very rarely there. When they start asking for my email address, though, … well, that’ll be something else:D

Maybe this store didn’t get the memo. Or maybe it’s part of a special program. Could’ve been part of a little fiddle that the squirrelly little manager was running with some kind of credit card fraud. You get someone’s phone number, you can get their address, and you’ll have their credit card number, that can be enough to make purchases in someone’s name online in some places, maybe that was the deal.

Who knows what goes on Flatbush Avenue, really?

Ahh, you work at “maples”? Well, don’t take it personally, racinchikki. I like you. In fact, I’ll probably buy from “maples” online in the future. But I sure as heck won’t be going back to the store. At least not that one. Especially not before Christmas.

I had this weird dream one night where I had to fill out a customer survey that asked for all this, plus penis or vagina size.

I’m sure it’s coming.

tlw, why don’t you fire off an email to the Maples corporate headquarters (even just by copying and pasting this thread, but make sure to make the references point to the exact store where you were shopping, and noting the date that these events occurred)? I know for a fact that if you bitch to corporate the store manager gets bitched at by corporate, and you might even get some kind of a gift certificate or something that you can use for your online purchases.

I keep spelling it “coprorate,” which makes me think “coprophage,” which is what I think a lot of the managers at these Mapleses are. I lucked out and got a good one, but the one who the current guy replaced was a right bastard.

I’ve been on the other side of the cash register before. Actually, the situation was totally different - I was setting up accounts for people. Since we were setting up a billing relationship, people were usually okay with giving their name and phone number, but hated giving out their social security number. They asked why we needed and we’d say something sheepish like “It’s just one of those rules” and they’d still be reluctant to shout it out.

I don’t blame them. Just because we provide a popular service, we’re going to use our big corporate power to pry open people’s personal lives? Companies with that attitude don’t deserve customers. What legitimate purpose would my company desire the customer’s social security number for?

For collections purposes, of course. As much as it bites, I understand why my company wanted it; lots of people have the same name and the collections people understandably want to avoid hitting up the wrong Ronaldus Horatius Bombastus. Furthermore, some people have the same name and address. Share your dad’s name and you more or less share his credit rating, in way too many cases (dynastic traditions were fine for medieval Europe but I don’t think they had nationwide electronic credit bureaus back then). Social security numbers are a way around that.

My supervisor’s attitude was that we could back down on the social - we wouldn’t lose a sale if someone refused to give their social security. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but, while I saw her point, it still sucked. It just encouraged customers to dispute anything we first implied was a rule “I’ll need your social security number, sir” and then backed down from in the name of profit. We could later on tell them that a certain product was only available for sale, or for rental, and they’d dispute it. How do you tell the customer, “No, this rule is really a rule, it was just the other six rules that turned out to be loose guidelines.”

So then my company changes billing systems and guess what? You have to put in a social security number, and it can’t be 999-99-9999! Arg! So my supervisor’s rule goes out the window. This new sucky-but-understandable rule is designed to encourage the customer service rep to at least ask for the customer’s social. I found a quick way around it: you might have guessed it - the system does accept 888-88-8888. Usually I just took their date of birth and entered it in numeric form in place of their social, and then put a little note on the account saying they had given their DOB in its stead.

The point is, it can really bite to be a CSR, especially when customers seem to want to blame you for rules not only did you not make up, but that you can scarcely remember (try this one on: if the equipment is rent-to-own, we need three months’ payments up front, but if they equipment is straight-leased, we need a single billing cycle - one month if they pay months, six months if they pay semi-annually, etc. - up front; admin fees are included in this but taxes are not; credit approvals are required for new rental accounts, and existing rental account increasing the number of units by more than 20% in one billing period, but not for new purchase accounts … by now you are either asleep or insane, right?).

Few companies blush when they make up arbitrary rules that make customers mad. The customers rarely go to other companies, instead they just chew out their CSR a little. (Naturally, the “rarelys” pile up, and eventually you have no customers left, but you can’t really blame any one rule for that.)

I know this has little bearing on the OP, since that company doesn’t have a very good reason to want your SS#, but I thought I would chime in in defense of the army of clerks who have to enforce rules that no one understands, and who are somehow supposed to adjudicate - with no actual authority - between the big arrogant company they work for and the stream of frustrated, untrusting customers who march in the door.

(By the way, the gum-cracking thing is nasty. I don’t condone that either!)

[I’m just astounded that there are people who are willing to give up that information freely, as if Rhymes-With-Maples has some right to know their phone number. People are up in arms about the proposed move by the government to track purchases for law enforcement purposes but they just go along with the tracking of purchases by companies so that the company can be sure that after you buy the computer they can sell your name to AOL or Earthlink or MSN to call you or barrage you with junk mail to get the internet service, and after they sell you the printer, they can send you coupons every quarter for “great sales” on paper. Blah.

Minor hijack–
The reason that people are up in arms about the government tracking purchases, through personal information (SSN, phone number, address) is that the government can take away your life or liberty. This, IMHO, is far more serious than the irritation of junk mail.
end of minor hijack–

I may never get the coding right…the first paragraph above is part of tlw’s post.


A popular consumer electronics store with a name that sounds somewhat like “Radio Shaft” would ask me for my phone number when I’d make a purchase. I’d simply shoot the clerk the evil eye and tell him “You don’t need my phone number.” And if I’m paying with cash, they didn’t need my name either. And if that was a problem, I’d put my cash back in my pocket and walk out. Hell, I can get batteries and IC chips at other places at better prices too.

You know, when I applied for my pilot’s license and the FAA (Federal agency, you know?) asked for my social security number I dug in my heels and said “Why do you need to know that?”

If I’ll do that to the Big Bad Federal Government, you can imagine I have no hesitation when asked by a corporate functionary to challege their need to know.

Unless I am asking you for money (loan or something) you do not get my social security number!!! That’s a on strictly “need-to-know” basis and most folks just don’t need to know.

I have protested mightily the use of SSN as an ID number on my health insurance, but I’ve finally lost that one.

I do not have it on my driver’s license, although obviously the functionaries at the DMV have been ordered to encourage it. Last time I got the “but everyone is doing it these days” to which my stock reply is “but I’m not “everyone”, I’m me.”

Yes, I’m sure a detective could, in fact, trace my movements, purchases, and yes, politcal beliefs with a little diligence even now. But why in the hell would I make this easier than it already is?

BTW - one of the reasons Radio Shack asks for personal information goes beyond marketing. You can, in fact, assemble a bomb or other terrorist device from parts purchased from Radio Shack and this has been done from time to time. So, if, hypothetically, someone is lighting up “incendiary devices” on mink coats at a fur store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, and subsequent investigation reveals that certain of the parts used in said devices comes from Radio Shack, the police/FBI/whoever will go to Radio Shack and ask a few questions. Radio Shack will then access their customer database and turn over the contact information to the authorities. Subsequent to that, everyone who bought such parts will be visited by said authorities. These visits, by the way, can be uncomfortable, may involve handcuffs, and will definitely leave you rattled even if said gentlemen decide you are innocent of any wrongdoing, unlock the cuffs, wish you good day, then leave.

Yes, we need to give the Authorities the tools to fight crime. On the other hand, it sucks to find yourself under investigation. The trick is to strike a balance here.