Sunday, April 18, 2004

Getting digits

Here's a piece in the Washington Post about retailers' common practice of asking for a phone number or zip code when a customer purchases an item. I usually decline to give this information, although I haven't yet come up with an easy, polite way to do this. The only place I have ever had any trouble declining was Radio Shack, who discontinued the practice in 2002:
"At one point in time it was no big deal for most people, but in recent years we had found more and more resistance from people wanting to give that kind of information," said Charles Hodges, a spokesman for the chain. Eventually, Radio Shack found that the quality of the information it was gathering was going down. A customer might say his name was Joe Smith and lived at 123 Main Street, for example.

When the company stopped gathering phone numbers, Hodges said, "we got nothing but praise from our customers and our sales associates, because they're the ones who took the heat."

It's not so much that I resent the privacy implications of giving my phone number, it's just that I don't want to be bothered. I don't really have a problem with using my "club card" at the grocery store, but I don't feel any obligation to keep the information up to date either.

I had a friend who registered his club card using an implausible name, something like "Trung Nguyen." I suspect he didn't like the idea of giving out private information, but he didn't want to be deceitful either, and he probably saw it as a form of civil disobedience. Bemused checkers would look at my friend, (who looks more like Woody Allen than Ho Chi Minh), and say "have a good day Mr....," followed by some attempt at pronouncing "Nguyen."

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