You won’t sell to me?

The other day I went to a medicine shop and asked for a medicine from a prescription. The pack of 10 costs four-fifty. I open the wallet and find that the smallest paper currency I have is a fifty. The second smallest? Five hundred! And the loose change all totalled up to two rupees fifty.

I gave an apologetic sigh and offered the shopkeeper the fifty hoping that he’d give me change. With a stern look the shopkeeper took back the medicines from my hand, gave me a hand signal denoting refusal and put the medicine back in the shelf, without saying a word. I asked him why. And he says “We won’t entertain this”. That’s all.

I walk over to the next shop, which was like two blocks away, enter it. The guy looks friendly. I thought let’s take a chance. So I asked him for the medicine, and while he’s taking it out of the shelf, I casually ask “You have change for fifty, don’t you?”. He looks back at me, and politely says “No”, keeping the medicine back in the shelf.

So I ask him, “You are a shop. How come you don’t have change?” to which his response is “If you can’t produce change for 4.50, how do you expect us to keep change for 45.50?”

So is having a bigger note worthless if you’re buying a small item? I know that if you offer a pan-wallah a thousand rupee note for a five rupee cigarette it’s absurd, but this is not a difference of 995 we’re talking about or a small pan-wallah. Both shops were decent-sized medicine shops, which I’ve grown up seeing and buying from. What is the reason for their refusal? Is short change really short in the market? Is day-to-day liquidity so low that people are clinging on to any short change they have and are refusing business? Or is it just a stand they have taken that they will not entertain business which makes them do this ‘heavy work’ of counting and returning change?

What use is a bigger currency note if I cannot buy small things with it? I had over a thousand rupees with me right then, but I could not buy medicines worth less than ten rupees.

If there is a liquidity problem, then it is worrying. But if the problem is in the mindsets of the store owners, then it is ridiculous. If they are facing a real short change problem, I think they should offer other channels of payment. Accept credit/debit/charge cards, accept cheques.

Why lose business over this issue, and why dishonour a customer even when he has more money than needed for the transaction?

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