Credit or Debit?

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Credit or Debit?

Every four or five days, my car requires a fill-up. No big deal, right? I pass two or three different Circle Ks on the way to the office (depending on which way I go), so it’s pretty convenient to fill up the tank. While they’ve been around for years, those of you born last century can still relate to the convenience of pay-at-the-pump. (As an aside, can you believe that kids born this century will start driving next year?!?)

At first, pay-at-the-pump was awesome. Pull in the car. Swipe the card. Fill the tank. Get back to life. It was great. And then the up-sales and marketing began.

It all started with the automated car wash. Do you remember that at first they were free? Or at least the base option was free. When you were done filling the tank, the question popped on the screen, “Would you like a car wash?” Well, of course. Who wouldn’t want a free car wash? So you press the Yes button. A four-digit code is printed on the receipt, and you drive around to let water jets and spiny cloths purge the dirt away from your car.

After a little bit of time, the free car wash option disappeared. An interesting thing happened at that point. People actually started buying the car wash. “Ah ha,” said the convenience store owners, and now we get to spend 10 minutes punching through a list of options before the first drop of gasoline gets delivered to the tank.

“Would you like credit or debit?” For the life of me, I don’t know why anyone would ever select debit. Yes, technically the credit option can cause a hold on bank funds until the transaction clears. But if you’re that tight on money, you should be using cash anyway. Press credit.

“Enter your zip code.” Okay, I understand the need for security, but be advised that just a name and zip code is all that needed to uniquely identify an individual in a marketing database. If you don’t want your gas purchases to be tracked, use cash. Otherwise, enter the zip code. Or at least do the best you can on the non-touch-sensitive keypad.

“Which reward program would you like?” Please don’t get me started on these reward programs. As the forerunner of online tracking, these programs monitor our shopping habits and scheme ways to persuade us to buy more stuff. I don’t want to be targeted with advertising, and I don’t need cash back or discounts. Also, if I choose this option and steal the discount from my wife… well, let’s just say it’s not in my interest to take this option.

“Which gasoline additive would you like?” Fortunately, these options don’t seem to be around much anymore. I guess the vision of gook building up around your engine’s rings and cylinders doesn’t really provide enough motivation to spend an extra five bucks.

“Would you like a car wash?” Yes, back to the mother of all gas pump inquiries. This question presents a little bit of irony since the car wash at the gas station where I typically fill up hasn’t worked since it opened. True story — at one point, they put signs on all the pumps to please not buy a car wash.

“Would you like a receipt?” Sometimes, this question will be asked prior to filling the tank. Sometimes, the question will be asked at the end. If you’re lucky, you’ll just be told to see the attendant. Unless, of course, you need the receipt to complete an expense report. In which case, bummer.

“Please Select Grade and Start Filling.” Finally. Hopefully, you won’t be at a station that plays audio or video during the fill-up. The A/V was fine when the stations played Fox News or something. Now it’s just five minutes of screaming commercials letting you know that you can get a suitcase of Natty Lite for $10.

At the end of the day, all this targeted marketing hasn’t changed my behavior at all. I still drive up, swipe the card, fill the tank and get back to life. Instead of constantly badgering us to buy, why can’t retailers design a system that provides what we want and responds with gratitude for our patronage. For example, when I drive up and swipe my credit card, why can’t I hear something like…

“Hi, Dr. Baker. Welcome back. It’s great to see you again. I’m sure that you just want to fill up your car. If you need anything else, please press a button or see the attendant. I hope you have a wonderful day and thank you for shopping at Circle K.”

Well, thank you. That was nice. Now that you mention it, I’m a little thirsty. I think I’ll walk inside and get a Coke. No, wait. I think I heard there was a special on Natty Lite.