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.”