Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fine Print

This is something that has been bothering me for some time...

In my neck of the woods it is the practice of a few gas stations to charge a reasonable price for gas provided you are paying in cash.  If you are using your debit or credit card?  Well, as you can see, there is a dramatic price increase, in this case an increase of $.80 per gallon. 

What's the problem?  On the surface, nothing.  The owner of the gas station can and should be able to set any price that he or she deems fit.  It is the responsibility of the consumer to decide whether or not said price is fair and appropriate.  You know, supply and demand.  Barter 101.  

Gas stations, by necessity, advertise the price of their gas with the use of large signs and billboards that are easily discernible from the road.  What the signs at the gas stations with disparate differences between cash and credit/debit prices don't tell the consumer is the price for a debit/credit purchase.  What is displayed is solely the cash price and the word "cash" somewhere on the same sign.  The word "cash" is generally displayed with letters significantly smaller than the numbers used to display the cash price of the gas.  Essentially, it's the fine print.  Nowhere on the large signs is the debit/credit price mentioned.  Furthermore the cash price for gas at these stations, as with the station from which the above picture was taken, is generally below the average price for a gallon of gas at stations in the area.

So what is going on here?  Well, I'm going to assume that the owners of these gas stations know a few things about the average consumer.  First, I assume that they know that the first thing that will stick out to the average consumer is the displayed price and its lower price relative to other stations.  Second, I assume that they know that a large percentage of consumers use debit and credit cards for a large percentage of purchases.  From the Huffington Post...

 Last year 27 percent of all point-of-sale purchases were made with cash and that number is expected to drop to 23 percent by 2017, according to a report published Wednesday by Javelin Strategy & Research, a market research firm.
Third, I assume that they know that of the 70+% of average consumers, a large portion will either be unaware of the price difference or be too busy/low on gas to find another station. And some consumers just might not even care.

Going back to my opening statement; this has been bothering me for some time.  Why?  It's perfectly legal.  The price displayed on the large sign is advertised as a cash price.  The problem is that somewhere in this process, in this "communication" between the seller and the consumer, there is an attempt by the seller to deceive the consumer, something akin to a "bait and switch" that is specifically designed to lure the consumer in to under somewhat false pretenses.  The customer, now having been drawn in is having his or her situation and purchasing habits being taken advantage of when now confronted with the hefty non-cash price.

And that's capatalism, isn't it?  Taking advantage of a situation for profit.  But what about honesty and fair dealing between members of a community.  What does it say that one neighbor is willing to go to such lengths to deceive and take advantage of another?

Of course, I'm being naive and maybe idealistic.  What I'm railing against isn't shifty practices at gas stations.  What I'm railing against is human nature.  Heck, I'm railing against the very concept theory of evolution.  Obviously we haven't evolved past it.