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?

4 thoughts on “You won’t sell to me?

  1. Very Seth Godin like. The issue is that each business is very comfortable in their skin. They don’t have an upper slab to aim to. Also, in India, Jaan-pehchaan works. If you’d be their customer for long, they might have done what’s needed.

    Serve. With love.

  2. That is a very nice point you have brought up here !

    This is a fact and thats how it has been for a very very long time…

    I also wonder why they cannot use debit cards etc for transactions but I guess the overheads of keeping one are more than the transactions these shops will do.

    Surprisingly I have never seen change as a problem in my stay in US or UK… you pay a $50 for a item that costs 20 cents… you will get your $49.80 back.. no questions no face expressions !

  3. It has got to do with the value of purchase you are making. May be he thought giving away a change of 45.50 was too much as he might need the change to return to a customer who might buy high value goods. They were not disrespecting you, but probably the consumer value you brought it. For them, 4.50 is a small amount to treat you nicely. Its wrong… but not surprising 🙂

  4. Yes I get that.

    The surprising logic was that if I can’t produce 4.50 how can they give me 45.50. Even though they are a business, and will be doing transactions like this day in and day out and their liquidity levels should be way way above the levels of a one-time buyer who just changed into jeans and put on slippers and walked out of his house without even checking how much change his wallet has.

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