In which anonymous shopping costs me more

Posted on 2012-03-16 13:50

Luckily I really haven't had to go shopping since I got married many years ago. I hate it, and usually avoid stores, malls, etc. at all costs. Needless to say I'm a very happy Amazon customer and a big fan of UPS. Today I had a few extra minutes after hitting the bank and I knew that the company candy machine had run out of gum (that could be a blog post all its own btw) so I decided to swing into a local CVS and pick some up. After what seemed like 10 minutes, though am sure was far less I finally found the correct aisle, only to discover that they only had a couple kinds and only in packs of three. A big yellow tag on the Trident I wanted announced "2 for $4", while the single pack price was $3 and change. I decided to get two and headed for checkout. I hand the packs to the lady at the desk and this exchange follows:

"I think these are supposed to be 2 for 4 bucks?" I ask. "Do you have a CVS card?" she replies as she starts to ring me up. "No." I said. "Phone number?" "No." "No?" "Yeah, you don't need my phone number." "OK, then it'll be $6.40. That special is only if you have a CVS card." "Oh, OK - I'll just take one pack then." She kinda snorts like I put her out and walks around the desk. She returns (now theres a line behind me) with some colored papers and grabs a pen and starts to write. "Your last name?" "No thanks. I really just want to buy a pack of gum!" Now she's really put out. "OK, its $6.40 then." "I said I'll just take one pack!"

I realize I'm getting old, but when I was a kid you could reasonably expect to be able to walk into a store and hand somebody some cash for a pack of gum without giving them your phone number or your street address. Besides, while I realize the clerk was probably just trying to be helpful by getting me a card so I could pay less she apparently couldn't grasp that anyone might not wish to hand out personal information in exchange for $1.50.

Also, why are stores allowed to give special low prices to people that identify themselves, and a higher price to anonymous customers? Sure I realize the value to the store of being able to market more effectively, but doesn't this amount to discrimination against people who choose to remain anonymous? You can't sell things at a different price based on race or gender. I can understand charging more for items when the method of payment is credit (because there are fees associated with processing that), but paying more because you don't know who I am? I know shopping centers have been doing this for a long time, but I think its a crock. You might argue that the special was only available to "CVS card holding members" but CVS (and regular shopping centers) aren't exclusive clubs - by law, anyone can go in there. Does anyone know if the legality of these schemes has been tested in court? I'd be interested in the legal case for it.

I know as an Amazon customer I can expect no anonymity. They know everything I've bought in scrupulous detail and can even provide a handy reference of it all on demand, but I don't think its very much different from any merchant who keeps (excellent electronic) notes on what their customers buy. However, I do not consider myself a customer of this CVS in the same sense. I don't buy prescriptions from them or regularly go in there. I've bought some advil once, some easter candy, and now some gum and I always pay cash.

And I won't even go here.