Our first family outing following the initial Israeli lockdown was a trip to buy my son sandals. After living fearfully indoors for over a month, I was nervous to be in a store and aimed to get in and out as quickly as possible. After quickly finding a pair of appropriate sandals, we made a beeline to the checkout counter.
What ensued at the cashier register was a conversation straight out of a “Charlie Brown” episode. As I attempted to pay, the cashier kept repeating questions that I could not begin to decipher. At first, I thought it was because her voice was muffled by a mask. However, even after she exasperatedly slipped down her mask and repeated her questions, I was just as confused.
At a loss, I thrust my American credit card into her gloved hands and explained that we were new olim and did not understand. Could she please just charge us for the shoes?
Months later I can now (probably) piece together the important questions she was asking us. The first question was probably whether we had a mo’adon for the store. A mo’adon is a loyalty card, which provides customers with valuable coupons and cash back on future purchases.
While some mo’adon cards also serve as credit cards, a more basic level is available as well. Depending on the mo’adon, customers pay anywhere from 15-50 shekel to sign up. Generally, this one-time fee is well worth it as you may get an immediate discount on a purchase that same day that exceeds the fee. No wonder the cashier couldn’t understand why we didn’t have one or didn’t want one!
Another difference between loyalty cards in Israel and those in the States is that you sign up using your cell phone number instead of your e-mail address. In order to activate the card, you tell the cashier the pin code that’s texted to you as part of the sign-up process. The upside of this arrangement is that all coupons are also texted to you, which makes them easily accessible. The frustrating part is that you are constantly bombarded with text messages.
The cashier’s second question was probably whether we wanted to pay in tashlumim (installments). Almost all stores in Israel give you the option of paying for your purchase (even one as small as a pair of sandals) over the course of several months – interest free – through your credit card. You simply need to inform the cashier at the time of purchase how many installments you want to make the payment in.
We have generally shied away from utilizing tashlumim as it only further complicates monitoring one’s bank accounts. Israeli credit cards (as I understand them) operate a lot more like American debit cards than American credit cards. In America, each month we received a monthly statement indicating the total amount owed, minimum payment amounts, and a payment due date to avoid interest charges.
In Israel, credit card charges are automatically withdrawn as a single charge by the credit card companies from your bank account on a specific date each month. Unless you carefully track your tashlumim payments, you can easily find yourself in overdraft status. (Israeli banks allow account holders to have a negative monthly balance, but interest will be charged on this amount.)
While these questions are also asked at local makolets and mom-and-pop stores, the checkout experience at these stores is much more personal. When on Erev Rosh Hashanah I popped into a local toy store, Machnisei Sefarim, I left not only with a Lego set, but berachot for the new year and a free date bar for our simanim seder.
The salesladies in our favorite bakery (Ana’s Bakery) always take the time to make funny faces and entertain my daughter while I load up on delicious baked goods. And whenever my son and I visit our favorite nut store, Chamama (fresh nuts have become our favorite Shabbos treats), the cashiers never fail to send us out with free samples to enjoy on our walk home.
Like everything else in Israel, shopping has been a learning experience. As we approach the lifting of our second lockdown, I am eager to get back to the stores. I figure after being locked away for a month, I have some retail therapy lessons I should review.