‘Time for change’

A reader wrote: “Why is it that a lot of stores are ok with not giving change? It is rare to get back 10t or 5t change. And most of the time there is no apology or acknowledgement that they have short changed you.

Asking after the change is usually met with shock at why you are fussing over small change. But if you are short by the same amount, they refuse to help you. The amount of money that must be made from short changing hundreds of customers must be quite substantial. This can not be right.”

Someone on our Facebook group wrote: “So this teller didn’t want to give me my 30 thebe. I calmly asked her since when have they been running short of loose change and she said almost the whole day. Then I said ok, how about you give me some extra pieces? She looked puzzled and I said the 10 thebes or 5 thebes customers left during the day will cover for that. She then opened the till and gave me 50 thebe.”

Another member said: “I paid for my items with a P100 note, my change was supposed to be P84.15, the lady proceeded to give P84.10 and couldn’t even be bothered to let me know she doesn’t have 5 thebe coins. Instantly I remembered someone on here complaining about the same treatment, so I asked nicely for my 5 thebe. And there she is looking at me like I’m being unreasonable. And her tone in telling me she doesn’t have 5 thebes only when I demanded it was priceless. Meanwhile the line behind me is from here to Jozi and I’m standing there demanding my 5 thebe. I had my game face on though so she caught on quickly that I meant business. She had to hola at the Cashier next to her for 5 thebe. She’d rather short change me 5 thebe than give me 20 thebe. I value that 5 thebe as much as she does.”  Yet another said: “I did the same today at [a shop] at Riverwalk. My change was P30.10 and she gave me P30. When I asked for the 10 thebe she said she didn’t have any 10 or 5 thebes. I said in that case I’ll take 25 thebe and she gave it to me!”


One even warned a specific store that had repeatedly done the same to her. “PLEASE don’t try your luck with my 5 thebe change, that will NEVER pass. I’ve been robbed enough 5 thebes to make me a millionaire broad daylight. And for you to say you don’t even have 10 thebe is absurd. With a straight face I demanded change and got 25 thebe.”

Small denomination coins seem to be an endangered species in Botswana. The lower their value the harder to find they seem to be. Many people have contacted us in the last few months, all telling the same story. They pay for their goods at the checkout and are short-changed by five or ten thebe. I think almost everyone has had this experience, even if they do not know it. Do we always actually check our change at the checkout?

So why do stores do this?

Maybe it is not their fault? Is it possible that there simply aren’t enough 5t and 10t coins in circulation these days? I find that hard to believe, unless the Bank of Botswana has been withdrawing them from circulation (we will ask them that). Why would they do that?

Perhaps stores are not doing that old-fashioned thing that stores have been doing for generations: cash management. All decently run stores manage their cash very carefully. They give each checkout person a suitable amount of notes and coins at the start of each shift that will allow them to offer customers the right change. They then keep in reserve enough cash to top up each till when particular coins or notes run out. It is a much more complicated business than most of us imagine but it is one of the core skills that store managers have to learn if they want to be able to service their customers properly.

Or is it something more sinister? Is it perhaps the policy of some stores to just keep the money for themselves? But would it be worth it for them to keep customer’s change?  Assume that in a large store a customer enters, on average every 10 seconds over a 10-hour opening period and that the store is open 6½ days per week. Let us then assume that 5% of customers are then short-changed by 5t. How much would that add up to? P9 per day. Just over P3,000 per year.

It is simply not worth it for the stores to have this as a policy. It is certainly not worth the risk. However, there is another group that might benefit from it. The cashiers. The maths in this case suggests that if a cashier serves a customer every minute over an eight-hour shift and short-changes 5% of them each by 5t, the cashier will make a total of P1.20 each day. Again that is a very small amount, but I suspect that it is a lot more important to the cashier than P9 is to the store each day. P9 to the store is nothing, but P1.20 to the cashier helps with the bus fare home.

One of the lessons I havve learned in the last few decades is that the truth is almost always prosaic, not poetic. It is almost always the least complicated explanation that is the best one. I do not think there is any conspiracy to steal our money. It is far more likely that it is slightly incompetent, ill-trained store managers not ordering enough of the right coins.

As always, the solution is also the simplest one. That missing 5t coin might be insignificant to you, but it is YOUR 5t coin, not theirs. Do not leave without it.

If you have any consumer issues please get in touch.  Email us at [email protected], by post to P. Box 403026, Gaborone or by phone on 3904582 or fax on 3911763.  Read the Consumer Watchdog blog at consumerwatchdogbw.blogspot.com and join our Facebook group called “Consumer Watchdog Botswana”.

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