Part One: Initial Observation
I observed credit card usage for stage one of this project. Stage 1 actually had two phases for me - part one was during my four hour shift at Starbucks. I worked a cash register for a little over two hours, and I counted 37 swipes of credit cards at my register. This occured between 10am and 2pm this morning. This probably accounted for about half of the transactions, which doesn't seem like as much as I would have expected, but I also have to keep in mind that most of these purchases were for under $5 or $10. Several were for under $1. Later in the day I counted my credit card uses and relevant info. I used my credit card five times - three times at Duane Reade and twice at Famiglia (I got a salad and then decided I also wanted a piece of pizza). All of my purcahses were under $10 and were for either food or household/personal items.
Part Two: In-depth Examination of Credit Cards
The most interesting interaction occured when a woman used a mini-credit card on her keychain to pay for her $3.36 latte. I thought about the swiping technology that has now become such a popular way to pay for things, ranging from a $0.54 coffee refill to my tuition to automatic monthly car payments. Why have credit cards become the only method of payment so many people (including myself) use? I'm so ticked when I buy something at a small deli or store and they either don't take credit cards or there's a minimum purchase amount. One issue is safety/insurance. If you loose your cash, it's gone forever, but if you loose your credit card, you can cancel it and are probably not responsible for fradulent purchases made on your account. Probably the biggest reason I use my credit card is because I earn frequent flier miles with every purchase, so I feel like even though I'm spending money, I'm getting something back. True, it will take me a reaaaaaaally long time to earn enough miles to get a plane ticket when most of my purchases are under $20, but I tell myself that even small purchases add up over time. It's also a matter of convenience - I don't get my work paycheck in cash, and it doesn't magically appear in my wallet, so I actually have to go to the ATM if I want cash, and who has time for that when you can just use a credit card?
On the flip side, credit cards cause confusion more often than cash. It was awkward when this woman handed me her entire keyring instead of just her card, and I had never personally used a mini-credit card before and wasn't sure if it would work in the Starbucks machine. Of course it did - I don't know why I wasn't sure - I mean, what would be the point if you couldn't use it anywhere you can use a credit card? But still, in the moment, I hesistated. There's also confusion regarding signing receipts/entering your zip code / pressing "okay" on the screen to approve the purchase, etc. Four people asked me if they needed to sign the receipts this morning, to which I reply that no, you don't have to sign unless the purchase is over $25. So they were standing there waiting for their receipts, unsure about how to proceed with the interaction. In addition, sometimes credit cards (or credit card machines) don't work, which causes a problem unlike that posed with dealing with cash. This morning one person's credit card wouldn't swipe successfully (which is actually fairly low for a whole morning) and had to be entered by hand. Occasionally, the connection dies and credit cards can't be approved at all. Sometimes they're declined, which then results in a potentially embarassing situation when you have to tell the person that his or her credit card was declined. Where am I going with this? Oh yes - credit cards generate a whole new spectrum of social interactions around paying for a product/service.