A Field Report from London

by Russ Jones on October 9, 2007

in Russ Jones, Writings

by Russ Jones

I’m in London this week for meetings with clients. Here’s an “up close and personal” field report on my first real London shopping experience – payment card in hand – at Harrods.

Background… before leaving I called up my card issuer, told them I was going to Europe and told them I didn’t want any problems. They told me there would be no problems, I should just be aware that they were going to charge 3% on each purchase. Fees? Currency conversion? Currency conversion with a big fat margin? They didn’t say, and my plane was boarding, so I didn’t ask.

Resume story… after arriving overnight on Sunday, I headed – blurry-eyed – into the city and checked into my hotel. In an attempt to clear my head I went out for a walk and came across the world-famous Harrods department store. What a treat. But that’s a different story, and one that has to deal with esthetics, decadence, and luxury.


After browsing Harrods wonderful book department – remember when department stores actually used to carry books? – I stumbled into their music department nearbby. I found some Europe-only CDs that I wanted to buy, and took them to the checkout counter. (This was a real treat; ever since my beloved iTunes drove my beloved local Tower Records out of business, I haven’t been able to physically inspect the music and hold these things in my hands for a while.)

I gave the clerk my Visa card. He quickly swiped it and then asked whether I wanted pay in Pounds or Dollars.

Huh? There were two prices on the pole display, one in each currency.

I starting thinking exchange rate stuff and it wasn’t pretty. Should I pay in pounds and let my issuer dictate the exchange rate? Or should I pay in dollars and let Harrod’s dictate the exchange rate? In fact, what is the exchange rate? I know what it was at the airport, but what are the overnight rates? And is this a good deal or am I being screwed?

Who knows. How were they doing this? Why were they doing this! My mind spun wondering why I had to make such a tough decision in such a different timezone. It felt like springs started coming out the side of my head. I just wanted to buy the CD, not contemplate the global trade imbalance.

Finally, I blurted out that I would pay in dollars. I have no idea what happened or whether or not I made the right choice. I just know I got back to the hotel, stuck my new CD into my MacBook, it worked, and I liked it. I saved the receipts in case I ever have to diagnosis what happened.

I’m sure that Harrods was trying to do me a big favor, but it sure didn’t seem like it at the time – it seemed like it was way too hard to be the consumer.

I was in a frame of mind that said, “Here’s my money, make me happy.” Harrods said, “Not so fast.”

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