By William J. Furney
The Bali Times
It all looked so promising. The made-up lady at the department store checkout asked me to turn an egg timer to see if she could serve me by time the grains had trickled through. What unexpected optimism!
Twenty minutes after the sands had made their way southwards, I was still at the checkout, in the first of two near-futile purchases of the day. The machine she was repeatedly swiping my debit card though was repeatedly “busy.” And so it necessitated a trip outside the store to the nearest operating ATM to make a withdrawal – where a trio of Indonesians were holding court and appeared to be typing theses on the machine – and return and pay in cash.
I point to the long-since turned-over egg timer. It has a note under it saying that for tardy service, customers will be rewarded with a gift voucher. So where was mine? “It doesn’t include swipe machines. Sorry, ya.”
Minutes later I am downstairs attempting to pay for items I have selected from the store’s supermarket, and it’s the same sorry tale. Even though I have cash, I refuse to give it, or another card, and insist the severely indifferent checkout girl use the debit. Wrong PIN, she says. No, I reply. And we try again. Wrong PIN, she repeats with a look of distain. It is not, I say again. And on it went, until a manager appeared and swiped the card and pressed some buttons – and shazam! – bank approval and a sliver of white paper shot out with the transaction details.
I’d had a weekend of this, and I now believe what friends have been telling me for some time: that stores in Bali do all they can to avoid plastic because of the bank charges they carry. It’s a façade of commerce: the swipe machines are in place but only for show. And should you proffer plastic, an ersatz attempt is made at swiping, before you get a string of “busy,” “declined” or “not working.”
For an island that for a large part draws a sophisticated tourism set from around the world – it’s not cheap to travel here, after all – it’s a shambles on the part of the unctuous retailers. How nice to have a cash-only business!
There’s also the widespread practice of placing a surcharge on your bill if you opt to use a credit card, which I find particularly distasteful, as these outfits are charging the customer for the cost of doing business. A few years back in Jakarta, I phoned Visa HQ in the capital and was told that under the terms of agreement with retailers, the retailer must absorb the charge for using cards, not the customer. This is the norm elsewhere in the world.
Yet when I inform avaricious stores of this tenet, they give an eye-roll and generally couldn’t care less. It’s just another bule whining about rules and regulations – shops seem to think that as long as they get what we want, that’s just fine by them, and it’s all the better if they don’t have to pay for being in business.
The retail rip-off extends to pricing on what are considered to be staple goods, including baked beans. I call it the Baked Bean Index (BBI) and have noted with revulsion over recent months that one particular brand has risen in price by more than 100 percent, and others have followed suit. There’s no logical reason for such a meteoric price hike, other than retailers deeming that if bules will buy it, they’re going to fleece them. But at the equivalent of US$4 for a can of basic beans, they’re yanking our chain. Anywhere else and they would have gone bust a long time ago, propelled by customers who gave them the boot.
Can someone open an online grocery store in Bali, with speedy deliveries and without swindling prices? It would be so helpful. Log on, choose, pay with card and soon thereafter a van (or bike) turns up on your doorstep. This business model has been tried before, in other countries, and has largely failed, owing to people’s desire to see and feel what they are purchasing, and for some items I can see their point, especially when buying clothing. But for everyday supermarket products – cans and jars and tins of things – there’s no need for an inspection as long as they’re not past their sell-by date.
Think of how much easier that would make our lives in paradise. We do like an easy life.
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