On Saturday morning, armed with some sale coupons, I went to Macy's and found some nice oxford shirts for a great price. Hooray. The store had just opened, so the two sales associates were free to talk with me and goof around and make the whole shopping thing a pleasant one. But then it came time to pay.
I asked if I could pay with a regular Visa card, but they started to say there might be an issue getting one of my discounts so I said that's fine, I have a Macy's card as well which I haven't used for a while -- I stopped using more than one credit card a while ago, and I prefer to use my debit card at that.
Here's the first problem I ran into: My card didn't go through. So the sales associate had to call for "approval". The person on the other end of the phone passed him off to another person, or actually just tried to but instead hung up on him. So then the sales associate called back and got the same "I'll have to pass you off" line and had to say (for the first of two times that morning) "Don't hang up on me!". Eventually the credit company gave him incorrect information about what to enter and hung up. So he had to call back and this time they told him that they couldn't approve the transaction because my last purchase was nearly two years ago so the account had been closed.
The Macy's card seems to be a Visa card as well (it has the Visa logo on it), and my guess here is that with the recent credit crunch credit companies have been canceling inactive accounts. But an inactive general purpose credit card, to my mind, should not be the same thing as an inactive department store account. I guess to keep a Macy's card you have to buy things at Macy's on a monthly basis. The sales associate said I'd have to open a new account -- but then I'd get an extra 15% discount. Ah, but when he tried to open this account he learned that he could only do that if my account had been inactive for three years. But since it had only been two I had to open a new account but didn't get the new account discount. Because that's the definition of customer service: Close your account and make you open a new one but don't consider the new account an actual new account. (It's not as if I closed the account myself with the intention of getting a new account discount -- they took it on themselves to close the account for me without letting me know, although they sure still fill my mailbox with coupons and flyers.)
Never mind, I said -- I had no intention of committing myself to buying things at Macy's on a monthly basis just to keep the card -- can I pay with a check? Sure, he said. But he had to call for approval -- and didn't know that you call a different number for check approval. Neither did the guy at the credit company, who said, "Gee, I've never had to approve a check before." After a long runaround they figured out the second number to call.
So the sales associate entered all the information on my check and called the second number for approval. After a bit of delay and runaround, they denied my check and hung up immediately without explanation. This is the point that I started to get upset. There is a huge absurd amount of money in my checking account just now -- I have recently exercised some stock options and that money is sitting there. I went into a panic, about the missing money. I said, "Did my bank deny this, or did Macy's? Because if it's my bank I'm out of here now to go there. This is serious." He said he didn't know why the check was denied, did I want him to call back? I sure as hell do, I said.
So he called back and I don't know what they told him but that's when he had to say -- with actual desperation and pleading -- "Don't hang up on me again!" He had to *argue* with the check approval company, who said it is not their policy to say why a check is not approved. But he managed to convince them to tell him anyway. What they said was that the info he entered did not match my profile. It seems -- unbeknownst to me -- that my driver's license number changed when I last renewed my license, so the number on the check did not match it.
Fair enough, but all they have to do is say so and we'd get the number direct from my license. I mean, I was right there with my license and several other forms of ID. If the sales associate had mistyped a digit there would have been the same problem But nope, it's the policy of the check approval place just to see if the license number on the check matches the records at the motor vehicle department or something and then to hang up immediately and not give you a reason. That's their POLICY! (Well, I think that their actual policy is to encourage their phone representatives to spend as little time on the phone as possible and that they don't really have a written policy to rudely hang up on people who are standing around trying to pay for some merchandise, but that's the inevitable effect.)
So we started over with the correct license number and this time it was fine, but I was still pretty upset about the (quite public, I should note) disapproval of my check. I have a lifetime of perfect credit. I pride myself on this. To have a check denied without explanation -- with an actual REFUSAL to give an explanation -- was probably a lot more upsetting than is strictly logical, but it was upsetting nonetheless. And to fear that something has happened to all of the money in my checking account -- which I think was a rational fear in the circumstances -- that took me a very long time to calm down about internally. I didn't have a public tantrum or anything, but this was extremely distressing to me.
As I say, the sales associate was as fine and friendly as his impossible situation allowed. And the shirts are nice and were a great price. But I know that simply walking into Macy's will be upsetting to me for quite a while. That's how these things work.
Doesn't Macy's know this?