By Robert Wenzel
I was in Macy's yesterday attempting to buy a pair of $228.00 Cole Haan Bedford loafers. I was not successful.
I had a single of the style I wanted, picked off a shelf. All I needed was a pair in my size.
The store was very busy and it looked like the best option for me was to wait for the clerk who was ringing up another customer who was buying a pair of shoes that were on sale for $59.00, a pair of Alfani Oxfords. Once he finished ringing up the other customer, he would get me the pair I wanted. I would try them on and, viola, pay for them, an easy sale.
The customer being rung up was Asian as was the sales clerk. I'm guessing they were both Vietnamese but not sure. They started talking in their apparently native language. As the clerk was handling the Alfanis the customer wanted to buy, he seemed to ask the customer a question. There was a little more back and forth and then the customer produced his driver's license.
The clerk took it and seemed to be inputting all the information on the license on the cash register/computer. I could see it on the screen. This, of course, took awhile. I waited.
At one point, it seemed as though the clerk couldn't read something that was on the license, so he turned to the customer showed him the license. They both studied it and debated for awhile and then seemed to agree on something and the clerk returned to the screen to type more in.
This was now taking much more time than I expected.
The clerk then turned to the customer and turned the credit card swipe machine around to face the customer and said something to the customer.
Then on the swipe machine screen it said: Enter date of birth. The customer looked at me.
At this point, I wasn't even pretending I wasn't paying attention. I was standing there a long time. I considered myself part of whatever was going on. If this guy was going to enter his DOB, he was going to have to do it right in front of me.
He was born on May 10. I will protect the year of his birth.
To my amazement and I think the customer's also, next on the screen appeared: Please enter your social security number.
He looked at me again. I wasn't going anywhere or change where I was looking. If this insane thing was going on in front of me at Macy's, while I was trying to buy a pair of shoes, I was going to be a part of it.
It was clear this guy was not born in the US. He had to look up his SS# on his cellphone. This, ahem, took awhile, as he fiddled on his phone to find where he put the number.
He finally found it and entered that and then another screen popped up. It said, Do you rent or own?
The guy was filling out a damn Macy's credit card application in front of me, when the store was packed----and now two customers behind me.
He rented. The next screen asked how much he paid in rent. He put down $300. I have no idea where you can pay $300 rent anywhere in or around SF.
Next up, the screen asked for his annual income. He put down $8,000. I have no idea if this guy was just making this stuff up, didn't understand the question or has somehow missed the Silicon Valley boom in its entirety.
That also seemed to confuse the clerk. They talked a bit, the clerk took out a big desk-style calculator from underneath the desk, punched some numbers said something to the customer but the customer just hit enter with the $8,000 annual income on the screen.
That appeared to be the last question.
The clerk turned back to his large screen. It blinked and flashed. Then something appeared on the screen in print too small for me to read. A little confused, the clerk looked at the license again. Then looked at the screen again. Then turned to the customer with license in hand. He showed the customer the license once again and then both seemed to be looking at the address on the license and talking back and forth. They seemed to be debating a letter on the address on the license.
At that point, I didn't know if the man's application process was ever going to end. I had enough of this 21st century Dali act. I left. Though I do wonder what kind of a credit line Macy's is going to give to a guy who claims to make only $8,000 a year. I went down the street to Nordstrom's and bought two pairs of shoes.
New shoes in hand, I am still thinking: Is Macy's insane? Do they seriously think customers are going to stand in line while other customers fill out credit applications? Second, the size of the print on these credit card machines is very large and very easy to read. I can imagine a bad actor ripping the info off very easily and using it!
If it is so important to get customers to open credit cards with Macy's why not have floating credit card girls with iPads who get this information filled out on the side?
I really don't think people are going to want to wait in Macy's lines once they become aware that you are playing customer roulette, where the customer in front of you may decide to apply for credit right before your eyes. The inputting of the info on the driver's licence takes long enough, never mind the hesitancy when the customer applying for a credit card is asked all kinds of private information with a line of people around him----and the fact that a lot of people, I guess, don't know off the top of their heads what their income is on an annual basis. Imagine these financial geniuses trying to figure out in their heads how to convert their weekly pay into an annual number.
Janet Yellen is probably the one, ultimately, to blame for this. Would Macy's really be trying to stick its customers' with new debt burdens, at the checkout counter, if money wasn't freely available from the Fed?
And, oh yeah, Macy's wasn't playing Christmas music either.
Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher at EconomicPolicyJournal.com and at Target Liberty. He is also author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics