IF YOU SHOP at Robinsons Ilocos Norte–particularly in its supermarket, department store, and hardware—chances are you have experienced this, too.
Cashiers would round off your change to the nearest peso, most of the time to the benefit of the establishment, because they do not have twenty-five-cent coins.
For example, if your change is P12.45, they will give you only P12.00. In some verified instances, the change is short, and purposefully, by as much as 70 cents.
Previously, the cashiers would ask, “Sir, ok lang po ba kung kulang ng (the amount)? Today, though, most of them do not ask anymore, they just hold back the last fraction of your peso, and sans your consent. They assume that you know about their unwritten policy. They assume that it is just ok.
But even if the cashier asks, it is still not ok. At best, the question is rhetorical, for they assume the answer: “Of course it is ok. It must be ok. Anyway, it is just 25 cents.” Moreover, the consumer would feel ashamed to a cause a delay in the cashier’s work, especially when the line is long, and all for 25 cents.
And so this happens every day, to you and me, to everyone else. Some just let it in stride. Others remind themselves to be patient. But patience, dear karikna, can be stretched only to a certain extent. Even the strongest camel’s back, when overloaded, could break at the drop of the lightest straw.
My mom is usually unsupportive of this column either because I write, most of the time in an unflattering light, about the church she so loves, or because she fears for my safety given the sensitivity of some issues I tackle. This time, however, I have her two thumbs up, four including her toes, on this article. “Abusado sila,” my mother, an SSS pensioner, laments.
Uncle Ness, who is based in Bicol, stayed here in Laoag for a few months to supervise the renovation of The Labayog family house, and he complains, too, that it happened to him each time at Handyman, the mall’s hardware store.
Let me share with you my experience during my trip to Robinsons Ilocos Norte Supermarket, Aug. 26. The total amount of the purchase I made was P256.75. I handed a 1,000-peso bill to the cashier who then asked me if I had two pesos. I had none, so the cashier gave me back P743. After giving me my change, the cashier moved on to the customer next in line. It seemed like the cashier did not really have intentions of giving the exact change. She asked for 2 pesos, not 1.75, which was the exact amount she needed to give me 745.
Is it really impossible to provide exact change? Of course, not. At SM Malls, they constantly have twenty five, and even ten and five centavo (the one with a hole in the middle) coins. They do round off change to the nearest five cents, but always in favor of the consumer. If SM can do it, why can’t Robinsons?
I asked the cashiering supervisor, Rosalie Quinajon, about their policy on giving change. Ms. Quinajon, afraid to be quoted by a consumer who happens to be a newspaper columnist, referred me to the assistant manager for cashiering, Irish Rafales, who then referred me again to the manager, Frances Pascual, who was not around they had to call her by phone. They conferred almost endlessly and made me wait for the answer to two simple questions: 1) Why don’t they have coins twenty five cents and lower in their cash registers?, and 2) What is their policy on giving change in the absence of those coins?
Pascual went in circles, was evasive, and talked about protocols on giving statements to the media. She said she wasn’t authorized to speak. I asked her then to simply deal with me as a consumer whose grievance needed to be addressed. I was, by the way, accompanied by two co-workers who have also had the same experience—Fides Bitanga and Kat Aguilar. I was so frustrated with the way Pascual was handling my concern that I asked her, rhetorically of course, if I had to call John Gokongwei, patriarch of the conglomerate, for a proper reply. I was so disappointed that I thought of writing this article’s title, “Dear Mr. Gokongwei.”
Rafales and Quinajon were more helpful and reassuring, charming even. They were apologetic for the blunder, and thankful to us for raising the issue. From what I gathered, the supermarket, department store, and hardware do not really have a supply of coins lower than one peso because Robinsons Bank, which takes care of the stores’ currency requirements, don’t have them. The mall used to deal with another private bank, and so they previously had some of those low-value coins. Today, with their in-house bank in the picture, the stores have none, nada, awan, wala.
Am I making a big fuss about a few centavos? Another complainant, who overheard my conversation with the management, put it perfectly, “haan nga mabukel iti piso no awan binting” (You can’t form a peso without twenty-five cents).
Maybe other establishments are doing the same. BUT, it is particularly appalling that Robinsons is committing this. Shortchanging would be easier to ignore if it happens in a sari-sari store or in a small grocery but not in a big mall which has enough resources to deliver quality service. Through the goods and services they sell, stores already profit from the consumer, why do they need to earn from his/her change as well?
This problem, of course, is not new. Two years ago, then provincial board member Kris Ablan already sponsored a legislative measure to address this issue through Provincial Ordinance No. 015-2008 requiring business establishments to give exact change to consumers.
The whereas clauses of the ordinance read, “the practice of giving insufficient change or giving no change at all to consumers by product sellers or service providers is something that is often taken for granted; this is usually because the change involves only a matter of five, ten, fifteen, or twenty-five centavos, or small bills, which when added up at the end of the day, by reason of the power of geometrical progression, amount to thousands of pesos; and the failure to give the change or the exact change constitutes a trade malpractice that must be stopped.”
By a unanimous vote, the Ilocos Norte Sangguniang Panlalawigan approved in 2008 this ordinance which aims to protect the interests of the consumer against deceptive, unfair, and unconscionable sales acts and practices.
Violators of the ordinance shall, upon conviction by a court of proper jurisdiction, be liable of the following penalties: a fine of P250.00 for the first offense; P500.00 for the second offense; P1,000.00 to P2,500.00 for the third offense; and, for the fourth offense, P2,500.00 to P5,000.00, with cancellation of the business permit.
Sadly though, this ordinance, which is in accordance to Republic Act 7394 (the Consumer Act of the Philippines), is poorly implemented by the agency tasked to carry it out–the Department of Trade and Industry provincial office.
Make no mistake. I still love Robinsons, and I will continue to spend my hard-earned money in its stores. We thank the owners for investing here in Ilocos, and for giving us local folks a taste of the malling culture. In fact, in my own sphere of influence, small and lowly as it may be, I will encourage people to gather their coins and have them exchanged at Robinsons. As of press time, I have so far collected five hundred pesos worth of coins (25, 10, and 5) and will bring them to the mall soon. No one should complain without wishing to be a part of the solution.
Customers like us, dear karikna, are not really difficult to please.
Businessmen only need to be fare. They just have to be just. They just have to be honest. And, above all, they just have to be pro-customer.
Big things do come in small packages, and sometimes they cost only twenty-five cents.