A few days before New Year’s Eve I made my weekly trip to the local chemist – Pharmacy Select – to pick up what I needed. These are the same products I buy every week, and have done so for the last 4 years or so.
As is the norm at most retail outlets these days, cashiers will announce the total rounded to the nearest 5 cents. In this case, as it is every week, the tally came to $23.03. She asked for $23.05, which is fair enough. Everyone was going smoothly at this stage, but it wasn’t until after I had touched my credit card against the reader that I noticed she had processed the electronic transaction for $23.05. This was not computer error, as the EFTPOS terminal was separate to the computer-based till and sale amounts were entered manually.
At this point you’re probably saying “so what?”.
1 and 2 cent coins were withdrawn from circulation in 1992. This necessitated some changes to the way cash-based transactions were processed. It was generally accepted that where an amount payable was not equal to .00 or .x5 cents, the 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 cent remainders would be rounded downwards and upwards respectively. This policy is in effect across all retailers still, although some automatically round upwards or downwards regardless.
8 years after the withdrawal of these coins, the ACCC released a statement reminding retailers of their obligations. In part, it reads:
“However the Guideline clearly stated that where a consumer elected to pay by way of cheque, credit card or EFTPOS it was unnecessary for businesses to round the total value of the transaction.
It goes on to suggest that retailers who round up electronic transactions may be in breach of the now-superseded Trade Practices Act.
Now that the backstory is out of the way, let’s get back to the chemist.
After I’d realised my card had been processed for $23.05, I queried the staff member as to why this had occurred. This led to her looking at me like I was some kind of idiot; and an expression suggesting “because you round up, duh!”. It was pointed out to her that it’s not necessary to round up electronic transactions, which resulted in the response “Well, that’s the way it is, sorry”.
No. That isn’t the way it is.
As I said, I’d been visiting this pharmacy for 4 years, almost every week. Having never paid cash there, it was quite easy to log on to my internet banking service and filter the purchases made at their store. Roughly 80% of the transactions had been incorrectly rounded up. A couple had even been rounded down. All-in-all, I was down about $3. Which really doesn’t bother me that much, but when you consider this is probably happening to hundreds of other customers each week, it would add up to a tidy profit for the pharmacy.
Now, I’m sure it isn’t an intentional practice on their part. If anything it probably comes down to ignorance and a lack of training. But that isn’t an excuse. A polite – yet firm – letter to the pharmacy manager detailed my concerns, for both the ongoing practice and the attitude of the staff member concerned. Although it took them 3 weeks to respond, I did check my post office box to find this:
While I applaud the pharmacy for doing the right thing here (and thank them for the voucher, a nice gesture), it does make me wonder just how widespread this practice is. I do shoulder some of the blame here, as I probably should have paid more attention to the EFTPOS terminal. But, as far as I see it, ultimately the responsibility lies with the retailer to do the right thing. My advice? Keep an eye on the terminal and make sure your card is being processed correctly.
That’s just my two cents on the matter.