A disaster in the making

We have a local gas station, Floyd Express, where some of the pumps don’t work and unsuspecting motorists can get threatened with arrest by the local sheriff.

UPDATE: you can avoid having this happen to you by insisting that you get a receipt for your credit card purchase of gas. See my latest article on avoiding problems at the gas pump.

Background data: In Virginia if you drive away without paying for gas you could lose your driver’s license and receive a fine of up to $250.

In Floyd Express, at least some of the gas pumps doesn’t work. You put in your card, get authorized, pump the gas…and then you don’t get a receipt.  Some times you get a message to see the cashier.

So what you say, you don’t need a receipt, you paid and got the gas.

What you don’t know is that they may not have recorded the sale and they may call the sheriff and tell him you drove off without paying.

The authorizing message that shows up on the pump was initiated by one of the clerks inside, not by a computer. You have no way of knowing whether they recorded the sale or not.

I have been buying gas there at least twice a month and have received receipts about 50% of the time. Sometimes I have seen the message to see the cashier and have gone inside to find out that the printer was out of paper. Other times I have just ignored the message and went on my way. I did not know how lucky I was.

My wife, Gretchen bought gas there today, swiped the card, got the authorizing message and pumped the gas. She was in the local coffee shop fifteen minutes later when the sheriff’s deputies arrived to arrest her. Her friends in the coffee shop were convulsing with laughter as Gretchen was giving the deputies a piece of her mind and local columnist Tom Ryan was busily making notes for his next Enquirer article. Gretchen was not amused.

She went back to the Floyd Xpress, accompanied by two sheriffs deputies, and summoned the manager after the clerk behind the counter said she had no record of the sale. Things went downhill from there.

The staff finally admitted that all of the pumps allowed people to pump gas without authorization and sometimes the transaction doesn’t go through.

There is no warning that your card has not been approved, other than the fact that you have received no receipt. Since the printers are often out of paper, how can you be sure?

Would you like to gamble that you might lose your license because Floyd Xpress doesn’t record your credit card purchase properly?

Make sure you get a receipt for your gas purchase.

Seems like they should fix the pumps. They know they have a problem but have not fixed it.

UPDATE:

This topic came up at the dinner table last night and someone suggested that Floyd Xpress might be trying to save money by not getting the upgrades necessary to get immediate authorization from the credit card company.

Such is the power of the Internet that a probable answer came with the first comment from Michael Kohne. Read it and decide for yourselves.

UPDATE #2:

I appreciate the effort that people are making to present both sides of how this situation should have been handled, but I do not allow more than one personal attack from a commenter, so if you would like to make a point, try to keep it factual.

Several people felt that the store was in the right and that customers do not have rights. That is their prerogative, but when a gas pump gives misleading information, whose fault is that? The authorizing message on a gas pump, followed by a message to pump gas is universally understood to mean that your card is being charged. The absence of any other message does not give a consumer a clue.

The store should upgrade their software as has been suggested elsewhere or post a sign on the pumps that patrons must come to the cashier to confirm their credit card charges. Then the problem becomes public knowledge.

We customers are not always right, but we are customers and pay money for purchases and for good customer service. If a merchant feels a patron has left without paying and knows who the patron is, it is a simple matter to call the patron and ask them to return and complete the transaction. Calling the Police or the Sheriff’s office instead of the customer is assigning blame to the customer instead of working to find a better solution.

Bottom line: the pump/billing system appears to have been known to be faulty by store personnel for some time and yet no care is being taken to make sure that customers are warned of the problem. False arrest or the threat of arrest is no joke.   In a more litiginous part of the country, the store would have been sued long ago.

When I hear that something has been done about this, I will post all of the information here.

I hope it happens soon.

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0 Responses to A disaster in the making

  1. Michael Kohne says:

    Good gravy – These guys need a clue. I write software for the systems that control gas pumps, and one of the many things the industry figured out many years ago is the right sequence of operations to prevent this sort of thing (It’s called an ‘accidental drive-off’).

    There are no mysteries here, and any equipment bought in the last 10 or so years (probably further back) is capable of being set up correctly. Either these guys have REALLY old gear, or they have not configured everything properly.

    Either way, they’re the ones who are in trouble for several reasons:
    1) They are obviously losing money here and there at the pumps. This is NEVER good.

    2) They are sending the local PD out after customers who think they have paid. This is twice as bad because not only have you made the customer mad, you’ve also wasted the time of the local PD, and they REALLY don’t like their time wasted. At the very least they are going to be slow to respond to future reports of drive offs.

    3) Anyone who actually tries to drive off now has a plausable defence ‘I thought I paid!’. Since accidental drive offs have happened, whose to say this guy wasn’t a mistake? They’ve just made prosecuting an actual offender much harder.

    It boggles my mind how some people put up with stuff like this – that gas station should be screaming at their vendors to get that thing set up right. I’ll tell you, what, let them call the PD a few too many times and the cops will be doing the screaming. Then they’ll listen.

  2. Andy says:

    I get the message about half the time too, and always ignored it, since everywhere else I’ve gotten it the message just means the old ‘out of paper’ thing. For me, the whole point of paying at the pump is to avoid having to go inside (especially with all the cigarette smoke at the counter from the clerks there).

    I guess from now on I’ll just play it safe and go to the other station down the street. Thanks for the heads up. 🙂

  3. .....Dan says:

    The bottom line is that this gas station is guilty of bad customer service. And we all know, as good consumers, what the solution to that is — don’t patronize the place.

    I hope y’all find another place that appreciates your business.

  4. Carol Anderson says:

    Mr. St. Lawrence, I have often restrained myself and avoided responding to your often condescending commentary about life in our area but this attack on Roger Hollandsworth and his family-owned business cannot go unchallenged.

    Allow me to suggest that the “misunderstanding” could have been so easily avoided if your wife had simply followed the instructions at the pump and gone in to see the cashier. I can understand that in your view of the perfect retail world all businesses would be able to afford the latest technology so that you and others would not be inconvenienced by walking a short distance from the pumps and the store to settle a transaction but I imagine that the realities of running a family-owned business is not worthy of your consideration.

    I doubt that Roger and his family will miss your business and I suspect that your urging of a boycott of X-Press Mart will fall on deaf ears here. Longtime residents of Floyd have known the Hollandsworths for many, many years and we are not going to be swayed by an interloper who cannot follow a simple set of directions. Roger is a long-time supporter of the rescue squad and other community activities and his daddy was principal at Floyd County High School and later superintendent of the county school system. You owe he and his family a public apology for this cheap smear of their business.

  5. Ad hominum attacks are no substitute for facts.

    My comments about the state of the equipment at Floyd Xpress and the staff response still stand. There is a clear risk of false arrest for the unwary customer.

    The owner of this gas station and deli is free to do what he wishes. He probably is a a pillar of the community, but he has not dealt with a situation that is costing him money and has caused at least one customer the threat of false arrest.

    I did not suggest a boycott, merely pointed out the risks of buying gas there until the problem is fixed.

    If and when the problem is fixed, I will add that to this article. Let’s hope that it happens soon.

    I would not like to see the sheriffs deputies attempt to arrest anyone else because of a malfunctioning gas pump.

  6. Richard says:

    Hear! Hear!

    Gonna Run a business? Then ALWAYS remember that customer service is priority #1. period.

    Gonna sell gas? Then operate & MAINTAIN the equipment with which you make your living!!!

    Wanna go through life with a half-assed attitude & business practice? Then you get what you deserve.

    I, for one, wouldn’t buy gas there (or anything else) until i was assured that 1. the equipment is operating & maintained properly. 2. I had reason to think that the proprieter gave a crap about his customers.

  7. Sandy McPeak says:

    David:

    I believe you are being a bit thin-skinned here. I did not see Carol’s comments as an ad hominum attack. You do tend to lecture people and some could easily see your approach as condescending. Be that as it may I think you would have been better served to seek out Roger and discuss the situation rather than use a public forum to diss his business.

    My husband and I run a gas station and I can tell you that a great many things can and do go wrong with pump based credit card authorization. The situation is even worse in cold weather. Mechanisms freeze up, paper gets jammed and network errors occur. In Virginia, a sale is not considered closed until a receipt is issued — either at the pump or delivered by hand by a cashier. If the customer chooses to not obtain a receipt by selecting the “no receipt” option, then the sale is considered closed when the screen on the pump issues a closing message most often a thank you notice.

    Like others in this rural area, where trust rules our customer service, we allow customers to pump gas even if the credit card is not authorized and the system then tells the customer to see the cashier. Our customers, as a rule, come see us and settle up. Each time you chose to ignore the “see cashier” notice and drive off you ran the risk of leaving an uncompleted sale. If I read your article correctly your wife’s credit card sale did not go through. Therefore she was, technically, in violation of the law by leaving the station without paying.

    Mistakes and misunderstanding occur but such events are best handled with understanding and not by giving deputy sheriff’s a piece of your mind, engaging in shouting matches or attempting to hold a local business up to public ridicule.

    It is the responsibility of business to provide good customer service but it is also important for consumers to be responsible as well.

  8. If a business would rather call the Sheriff than fix their equipment, that is their choice of course, but it doesn’t make good business sense.

    It doesn’t encourage customer confidence, especially when the staff tries to make the customer wrong.

    An apology from the owner and staff to the customers who have been affected would seem to be in order. It would go a long way to restoring good relations with the buying public.

    When I hear that the problem is fixed and that customer confidence has been restored, I will post that information.

  9. Liska says:

    I’m on David and Gretchen’s side on this. The business knew the so-called perp was a local, knew they had faulty pumps and if the police could so easily find Gretchen at the coffee shop, the business owner could also have made a phone call to her home explaining the problem in a civilized manner. We’ve bought gas there many times on our trips to Floyd. Makes me wonder, is there an outstanding warrant out on me? Will I get arrested on my next trip to Floyd? And how long do you have to live there before you are not called an interloper? We’ve owned property there for 8 years and paid taxes on a piece of dirt with trees to help support the County of Floyd. You have a small community where small problems should not escalate into the humiliation of being publicly arrested when there was an alternative solution. You want to see what major problems look like, come live in New Orleans where we are.

  10. Gretchen says:

    I, as the “perp”, need to weigh in on this discussion because several of you seem to have missed the facts of what occurred at the Floyd Xpress Market.

    I swiped my card, it WAS authorized (by the woman in the store, she now tells me – not a computer) and I was prompted to lift handle and start pumping. When the tank was full, I replaced the handle and NO receipt came out, NO message appeared to see attendant inside. The message reverted to the usual verbiage for the next customer. Receipts are often not provided but no one seems to be concerned about it.

    Why several of you seem to automatically assume that I drove off intentionally not paying is adding insult to an already bad situation. And as for Floyd Xpress, rudeness and bad customer service is never a solution.

  11. Tom King says:

    I had a similar experience some time ago. No receipt came out and no “see cashier” appeared on the screen. I always get a receipt. When I asked for my receipt, I was informed that the sale had not been recorded. It’s a scary feeling when that sinks in. It’s a risk that I would rather not take. I hope your posting of this incident results in some pump repair.

  12. jeffrey king says:

    You want facts? Why would you post Tom King’s anecdote that makes me wonder how that story ended. Did he pay again because he didn’t pay the first time?

    This is not about calling your wife an intentional thief. The problem is casual invisible transactions that aren’t necessary. She got what she needed, apparently that’s all that matters and your mountain of blame is misplaced in her neglect to complete the transaction.

    Finish Tom’s story. How did he get the receipt for something that never happened, according to his words?

    You still owe the store an apology and you should edit or retract the article. I would like to add the information that I have no affiliation with the store, anyone that owns it, or works there, or any axe to grind except for the obvious one regarding people whining about their own screw ups.

    tighten up,
    jeff

  13. Tom King says:

    My apologies, Jeff. The post should have read “no credit sale was recorded.” The cashier swiped my card, the sale was recorded, and I got my receipt.

  14. Rex Card says:

    Thanks for the information. I appreciate the comments, but receipt law is not something I am fluent in. I am however fluent in using these pumps and every single time I have had to see a cashier it have been because of a paper outage. From New York to Florida and out west. So I then assume this is the same thing. If the cops came for me I would be very upset, but they won’t. Because of this blog I will not be stopping by on my fairly frequent trips to Floyd from Christiansburg. A long time ago a friend of mine told me that money is basically a “certificate of service” and by giving my $ to someone I am thanking them for their good service. This is not so with Floyd Express.

  15. I don’t even see this as a “customer service” issue. It seems like common sense to make sure that one’s communications are clear enough to get a message across. This is obviously not clear; the message BEING RECEIVED is not “Your card didn’t go through” it is, “This machine cannot give you a receipt, so go to the cashier if you need one.” A reasonable reaction is, “I don’t need one.” If people are not getting a message, it’s really up to the person CRAFTING the message to give it another try! Cultivating a relationship around town of sending the cops after people is a pretty wasteful way to tell people something that could easily be communicated with a sign on the pump.

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