Back in the day, we used to sign up for "mailing lists". If we were interested in a particular product or wanted to be notified when something went on sale, a shopkeeper would take our name and number and file it away until he or she could call us to make a sale.
Then we started getting catalogues. And, if you actually placed a catalog order, it was as if your name address appeared on the lists of every retailer and wholesaler in the world. Catalogs routinely filled mailboxes across the country offering items that marketing professionals determined we might find interesting based on our previous purchases.
Then came Rewards Programs that required us to join a "club" to get better service and pricing discounts. Of course, retailers that use these programs are simply trying to track their customers' spending habits. By revealing personal information we, essentially, consented to being included in their marketing platform.
Before we knew it, we began receiving dozens of unsolicited emails about products and services that we had no interest in receiving. Someone was collecting our information and selling it to the highest bidder.
Soon, cashiers at retail establishments were required to input shoppers' zip codes before each transaction could be completed. We couldn't pay for our purchases without revealing this information. A zip code can be used to track our purchases and send us junk mail. (Interestingly, in early 2011 the California Supreme Court concluded that protections in the state's constitution are in place to protect consumers from this practice.)
Now we encounter cashiers in many retail stores that ask for our telephone numbers. Starting, perhaps, at Radio Shack, the corporate marketing suits have deemed it an acceptable practice to badger each and every customer for a telephone number. Make no mistake, a telephone number is not necessary to complete a cash purchase … all that is required is cash.
Of course, we can refuse to divulge information to cashiers by simply stating "I opt out" or "no thanks". It's important to remember that the cashier has nothing to do with this policy and that they're simply doing their job. Surely, they'd rather not have to ask for the information. We should ask them if they have comment cards or an email address that we can use to express our dislike of the store's policy of collecting phone numbers for telemarketing purposes.
Perhaps we should all provide telephone numbers that belong to the Better Business Bureau or to City Hall. Try creating an email address specifically to give to cashiers ... you might be amazed by what you learn. If we flood the databases with incorrect information their records will become useless and we'll be able to spare future generations from the same nuisance. If they strategy stops working, maybe they'll stop using it.
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