*

A Solemn Ceremony at Convenience Stores

I am always told by the manager to give it to every customer. But some of them refuse to take it, and some of them tut-tut and some of them even yell at me that they don’t want to receive it. Most of them take it but throw it away immediately in front of me without saying anything or without giving me any glance… What for do I have to do this??

This is what I heard from one of my interviewees, who works at a convenience store in Tokyo. What she complained about is the attitude of customers when they receive a receipt from her.

a receipt from a convenience store Photo by Douglas Sprott *Notice: this
a receipt from a convenience store
Photo by Douglas Sprott
*Very Important Notice: this photo is used just for giving the image of a receipt, and there’s nothing with the content of the article!

 

It was not only her but some other interviewees referred to this matter. I was totally not able to understand why most of the customers don’t mention nicely just that they don’t need a receipt (even I was born and grown up in Japan.) and that interested me so much and I wanted to know why.

 

The Japanese Civil Code says;

(Request for Issuance of Receipt)
Article 486; Any person who made the performance shall be entitled to request the person who received the performance to issue a receipt.
Quoted from http://www.moj.go.jp/content/000056024.pdf

 

This means that in Japan there is no legal obligation to give a receipt, but it is required only when customers ask for. On the other hand, when I was in Italy I was told that I “must” receive a receipt even when I took only a tiny cup of coffee, I mean “un espresso” at a bar. I heard that it was a duty to take a receipt, which Guardia di Finanza (Financial Guard) sometimes controlled it at the door.

 

Photo by Luca Panini
A receipt of an Italian pastry shop, Pintauro, which is famous for sfogliatelle.
Photo by Luca Panini

 

Then, why in Japan, staff of convenience stores are obliged to give a receipt to all the customers even though most of them don’t want to take it?

 

 

Shops have an obligation to give receipts to every customer because they are the proofs of the purchase. If the receipts are not given, it may cause troubles when customers come to return or to exchange what they purchased. A survey was once carried out to check if a receipt is given at every transaction. The result was that a receipt was not given to customers properly in 20% of all the transactions. In early morning when customers tend to be in a hurry, the ratio was highly increased to more than 50%.
Quoted from INSIGHT NOW!

 

This is what Mr. Kiyoshi Kasai, a senior consultant of Funai Consulting Incorporated, told about the necessity of receipts. The decision of the headquarter of this convenience store chain surprised me a lot;

They set a goal that a receipt should be given properly in 100% transactions!

In order to achieve this goal, supervisors made tours of inspection in all the stores to keep every staff informed about this rule on receipts, according to Mr. Kasai.

 

Well, I still don’t agree to the importance of receipts even though I understand their raison d’être. Why did the headquarter of one convenience store chain want to have thorough “receipt supplies” at all costs? Receipts are necessary for the return or the exchange of goods, but it should be customers’ business… No interviewees knew other reasons of their importance, either. They hand a receipt with the change to customers just because they are advised to do so. They said they didn’t know whose demand they should put at the top of priorities list. Taking just the customer service into consideration, the demand of customers should be on top. However, the necessity of receipts depends on customers. Some want, and some don’t, which means that there is no absolute solution. No matter what they do, they would displease somebody, customers who don’t want to receive a receipt, customers who need a receipt, or a manager of a convenience store… I hadn’t imagined that a tiny slip of paper could create such a big problem!

 

Rationally speaking, everybody would be happy if a receipt were issued and given on a request basis. Convenience store staff would never be bothered. Even those who don’t want to spend their few seconds for telling staffs at the cashier, “No, thank you.” will not be disturbed, either.

 

However, this seems NOT to be a Japanese way…

If you have ever been in a convenience store in Japan, I think you have seen a small box like this at the cashier.

 

Can you imagine
The Japanese words say: Insert unnecessary receipts.
Can you imagine how embarrassed I was when I asked to take this pic??

 

This is a box which customers who don’t need a receipt throw it away in. This magic box enables convenience store staff to hand a receipt to every customer without concerning each customer’s demand, which is the rule to follow. It also enables customers who don’t want their purse full with meaningless paper to refuse to receive receipts without saying, “No, thank you.” It would also prevent some ill-mannered customers from throwing receipts on the floor. Moreover, it would also prevent some wicked people from claiming refund with a receipt which they take in a trash box… What an invention!

 

This magic box reminded me of one of the tendencies of Japanese people, which many foreign people find it difficult to understand.

Japanese people don’t say “No”.

To avoid misunderstanding, I would like to express this tendency in other words;

Acts of denying is considered as a breach of manners in Japan.

Moreover, avoiding friction is considered very important. Philosophically speaking, what we should do is to listen carefully to understand what other people’s mind. At this point, self-assertion is considered a taboo. However, this theory doesn’t work unless “other people” start talking their opinions or demands. A man who can enjoy taking risks of breaking a taboo can be a king…
Joking aside, it is highly evaluated to understand other people’s mind or demands without questioning and to try to fully grant them. Words are considered inelegant. To be a good Japanese, telepathy is required. For anyone other than those who can use telepathy or those who can concern what other people’s mind, the easiest way to avoid friction would be not to say “No” as a makeshift. Some people would use their “smile”.

I asked some friends of mine who often take receipts and drop them into the magic box why they do this. Most of them thought that they didn’t want to disturb the staff who wanted to follow their regulation. They said they didn’t want to tell their real feeling that they didn’t want a receipt because it could be rude. I continued with a captious question, “Don’t you think it rude to throw away things in front of the people who give them to you?” They said they had never thought about it. For them it was something very natural to use the magic box which was prepared by stores as one of their services. A kindness should be accepted with pleasure.

I asked what they would do if there were not the magic box at the cashier. Most of them said they would take a receipt and put it in a purse, which would make their purse full of meaningless paper… (Of course there was no one who would throw it away on the floor…)

 

Please don't throw away
Please don’t throw away paper and trash on the floor. (Italian)

 

Even though a receipt is the proof of the purchase and it is necessary for the refund, people are too busy to care. They don’t want to spend time at a convenience store and they want to leave as soon as possible, even just a second sooner after they achieve their needs. But would a receipt be only the proof of the purchase for stores? I guess there is no store which is looking forward to complaints. There should be another reason why the head quarter of convenience stores cling to receipts.

 

 

This is a photo of receipts taken by a blogger who was on a diet and bought a no-calorie Coca Cola at several convenience store chains. At the bottom of some the receipts you will find something printed. They are ads.

Several coupon tickets are printed on this receipt!
Several coupon tickets are printed on this receipt!

 

This must be why!! The headquarters of convenience stores want to sell the space on receipts for advertisement. In convenience stores I’ve found that staff input the classification of sex and age from their appearances. This means that receipts are very effective measures of advertisement in the target marketing. Receipts of convenience stores enable companies to show their ads to very designated people!! I don’t know how much convenience stores ask for ads, but the margin of profit would be far larger than the normal commodity trading…

Then, why the headquarters allow stores to put at the cashier the magic box which let customers throw away receipts easily without giving any glance at the ads printed on? They might not care if customers see the ads or use the coupons printed on receipts. They just care that ads are handed to customers 100%.
I would conclude that the magic box is a box for an expiation. It is a fruit of the twinges of guilt. Headquarters of convenience stores, for their own business, take advantage of a piece of paper which some people would refuse to take. In fact, more people will be happy to take tissue than a receipt…

 

If you walk
If you walk in big cities of Japan, you will find many guys who give you tissue for nothing. They are not any kind of volunteers to make you happy but they just want to distribute flyers of ads.

 

I would define, finally, the magic box is a tool for a ceremony, in which there is no need for rationality but the beauty of sophisticated process would be required.

  • Staff give a receipt concerning the benefit of customers, their needs for accounting and the potential needs for refunding.
  • Customers receive a receipt concerning the needs of staff to follow the regulations without refusing which can displease the staff.
  • Customers drop a receipt into a magic box concerning to keep the store clean.

I would say … headquarters of convenience stores should be ashamed of making use of a ritual…

 

Japanese Tea Ceremony in 1954.  Photo by janwillemsen
Japanese Tea Ceremony in 1954.
Photo by janwillemsen

 

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Comment

  1. Hilary より:

    “To be a good Japanese, telepathy is required.” Rei, this was the best quote of your piece. So true! Interesting article on a topic I hadn’t considered. I track my spending so I’ve never used the “magic box”. I didn’t know receipts weren’t required. A lot of stores in Alberta ask if you want a receipt, presumably to save paper. Other places don’t give you one unless you ask, especially coffee shops. It’s neat to look at different ways of handling something that is relatively minor but still a big part of the everyday.

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