Point of sale shenanigans
July 26, 2008 4:52 PM   Subscribe

Cash back? Why?

Why is the burden of choosing "NO" to the cash back option placed on me every time I use my debit card to purchase something? Am I atypical? Does the rest of the world routinely get cash back?

Why aren't there a few more options on the initial screen- Debit, Credit, Debit w/ Cash Back? Surely there's enough screen real estate.

Is it just a really poor design choice or is there some other reason I'm just not aware of?
posted by zap rowsdower to Work & Money (21 answers total)
False dichotomy, perhaps? Just because you don't typically get cash back AND even if most people don't always get cash back, it may not be a poor design choice. And yes, I often get cash back so I don't have to pay ATM fees.
posted by proj at 4:56 PM on July 26, 2008

Maybe it reduces the establishment's cash-handling requirements? Just a guess.
posted by yort at 5:00 PM on July 26, 2008

How else would you design it? It would make it awful inconvenient for people who do want cash back if they had to hit 'Yes' and then tell how much.
posted by theichibun at 5:00 PM on July 26, 2008

Best answer: I use this option pretty often, so I like that it's available. Fees are $3 at some of the ATMs near me, so it even makes sense sometimes to make a small purchase rather than use an ATM machine.

Also, cash on hand is a liability for any business. After you've got it, it does you no good to have it on premises, it can only be stolen, miscounted, mishandled, etc. Less cash also means less frequent pick-ups by those armored trucks, which I imagine are pretty expensive.

But yeah, not sure why it can't be one of several options presented on screen.
posted by bluejayk at 5:09 PM on July 26, 2008

I've never seen this as an option on the display, if I want cashback I tell the cashier the amount. The only thing the store terminal is used for is checking the amount and entering a pin.
posted by Olli at 5:26 PM on July 26, 2008

Debit, Credit, Debit w/ Cash Back? Surely there's enough screen real estate.

I'm pretty sure I've seen this on some machines.
There are a lot of different EFTPOS machines, with some variance in capability and interface.

Another possible reason might be the interface with the cash register. The EFTPOS machine is a separate accessory, and yet has to be able to talk with the cash register and recipt printer for the transaction to function. Presumably there is some standard format(s) for that communication, this might create drawbacks or restrictions on what the EFTPOS machine can do and in what order.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:27 PM on July 26, 2008

I worked at a grocery store and can authoritatively say that yes, a lot of people routinely get cash back.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:31 PM on July 26, 2008

I think the idea also is (which often happens in my situations), if I'm paying by debit card then it's because I don't have any cash with me. And because ATM fees are ridiculous, probably over half of the times I pay with debit and that screen pops up, I'll pull out a bit extra.

Thanks to the fees it saves me, I see it as a value-adding service.
posted by meowN at 6:23 PM on July 26, 2008

I get cash back about a third of the time. The last trip I took, I didn't use an ATM at all -- cash back on three grocery trips covered that. We were 500+ miles from home, and there were no fee-free ATMs around (and the CU charges to use an out of network ATM), but cash back at the grocery store was free.

It also depends upon which store I'm at. Some the cashier asks, and all I have to do is type in my PIN and accept the total. Others, I tell the cashier debit, and all further interaction is with the terminal. The self-scan lanes are all EFTPOS terminal driven, and that all depends on who wrote it and what the client asked for.

I think it's a matter of usability. People are fairly quick to respond to a two-option screen, and slower when it's a three option screen. The slowest responses I've seen are at the UScan lanes, where the payment option screen has seven options.
posted by jlkr at 6:54 PM on July 26, 2008

I've seen different buttons for "Debit" and "Debit w/Cash Back" before. Maybe at a gas station? I forget...
posted by rhizome at 7:09 PM on July 26, 2008

Best answer: You are atypical, both in your automatic refusal of getting cash without a bank charge, and in your definition of "burden."
posted by sageleaf at 7:21 PM on July 26, 2008

Anytime I've chosen cash-back it has been out of convenience, saved me another trip and the time to go to my bank or find a nearby ATM.

But, I've also noticed that stores are different, sometimes it's an option on the debit device, other times it has to be requested.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 8:31 PM on July 26, 2008

Best answer: Once again, yeah, you're atypical... that's free money. As in, money I don't have to pay $4.50 to withdraw--that's an average $2.50 fee, plus $2.00 by my bank. Or, I guess I could drive six miles to my nearest bank branch. In the wrong direction.

But, I do agree that you could do a Debit w/ CashBack button. But, then, as a programmer, I groan... how'm I going to abbreviate that on the itty bitty button? DBT/CB?
posted by Netzapper at 11:12 PM on July 26, 2008

My mother worked in the cash office of a grocery store for years, and she has told me they would often handle more cash than the bank my grandmother worked at. Having that much cash on hand is, as mentioned above, a liability to the store. Hence, cash back is good for the store, and good for the consumer.
posted by MadamM at 11:58 PM on July 26, 2008

I think there's a few chains where the self-service kiosks offer separate debit/debit+cash back options. Maybe it's mostly to do with the fact that there's a bigger screen, so there's more room for more options. If there was something that desirable (but not technically necessary) in having the cash back option come on the second screen, they'd probably do the same on those big self-service kiosks, too, instead of just on the smaller B+W checkout stand terminals.

And on the latter, usually the payment options are really abbreviated, so I guess Netzapper is right when it comes to the impracticality of making a "debit+cash back" option that'd fit and make sense.

Personally, I never gave the process a second thought. The fact that my local supermarket quickly spits out coin change in an automatic dispenser is good enough for me.

I'm more curious about what the proliferation of touch screens in everyday life will mean to all the germophobes out there...
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:42 AM on July 27, 2008

What are the accounting implications for encouraging customers to use your store as an ATM? I don't know how the bookkeeping is done, but if a customer gets cash back, can the store book that as some kind of profit, then the cash doled out as an expense? That might allow their books to look better, while maintaining some tax advantages.

Typically, a device like that is designed the way it is because a) the developers thought it would work well and b) the customer wants it that way. Why would a store, which is in the business of moving physical goods, want to put that option so prominently as to encourage them to be in the business of moving money?

Pure speculation...
posted by krisak at 10:10 AM on July 27, 2008

Best answer: Krisak - working in retail management for a few years, I can tell you that cash back is NOT recorded as any type of profit. The computer (the cash register) simply notes that there will be less "expected cash" in the till and more debit processed. To the accounting it does not matter if the sale is cash, credit, gift certificate whatever. Also as people mentioned, having customers request $100 cash back is a great way to keep the cash in a till low and reduce the risk of theft. If stores had their way NO ONE would use cash, everyone would use a credit/debit card. Cash is slow, dirty, has to be counted, must be stored securely, can be stolen, change must ordered from the bank and is in general a pain!
posted by saradarlin at 10:53 AM on July 27, 2008

So it sounds like it's a case of the business wanting to get cash off premises, and developers thinking it's a good workflow. From a UI perspective, it's really not that bad.
posted by krisak at 11:10 AM on July 27, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers, especially the ones proving me atypical.
posted by zap rowsdower at 1:00 PM on July 27, 2008

I'll add my littel two cents: When I was using an ATM one day, the card comes out first, then the cash. I was in a daze that day. I got my card, tucked it into my wallet, and walked away.

See what's wrong with this picture?

This is why I use cash back, so that I'm sure to have that cash. It's a great option.
posted by curagea at 5:55 PM on July 27, 2008

The explicit "no" you always have to enter probably provides the store with an audit trail. They need this for those cases where the customer is working in collusion with the checker to claim they didn't receive cash back when they should have. Supermarket cash-register programming presumes that both the customers and the checkers are thieves, so the stores require both sides to affirm or reject the cash-back transaction.
posted by aninom at 8:13 PM on July 27, 2008

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