Monday, March 10, 2008

Merchant ID's

I’m not usually a cranky customer and I wasn’t that day. But I’d just poured several pounds of money into my gas tank via credit card and, when I punched the “receipt-yes?” button, the paper started down slowly, jammed into a wad, and a terse “out of service” appeared on the screen.

I went inside for a receipt then, which the young man behind the counter cheerfully supplied. A bit frustrated, I said, “You’d think at $3.30 a gallon they could get the receipt machine working properly.” He smiled and then I added, “Please pass that on.”

As I walked back to my car, though, I began to think, Who is ‘they’? Who is that young man supposed to pass “it” along to? It’s a local BP gas station and convenience store, but it occurred to me I had no idea who managed it or who owned it. Knowing something, too, about low-level, poorly-paid employees, I knew my small complaint had gone as far as it would ever go.

Which gave me an idea. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if every business in town were required to post, in a prominent place, the owner’s name of the business and contact information for him or her?

My town is small, but it has a moderately peppy business district I shop from quite often. Yet it occurred to me I had no idea who owned those businesses I supported. It’s not simply a matter of my complaints, because I don’t really have all that many complaints about the places where I shop. I have, however, on occasion had suggestions that I’ve wanted to pass along to someone who could actually act on them if they chose to.

The problem, of course, is that few clerks care to rock the boat of their employers in any fashion – even in the passing along of a nice, constructive suggestion.

How about a town ordinance, I thought? We’ll call it the Merchant ID ordinance and have it simply require the posting of the information I mentioned above. It needn’t cost anything for the merchant other than maybe a standardized plaque or sign they could buy from the city. There would be, too, the potential for great rewards as merchants suddenly found themselves much more aware of what the shopping experience of their customers was truly like. Good things could be strengthened, problems corrected. No need for expensive focus groups or customer surveys, either.

Of course, I had no idea to whom I might direct this ordinance.