Petty or Not? Karen’s $2.94 Coinstar Complaint

There’s a very hazy delineation between the principle of the thing and pettiness. Reader Karen I’s complaint about Coinstar — those wonderful machine that magically transforms your sweat socks full of spare coins into hard cash — flosses that line as if it were a thong.

Karen emptied a sock filled with $33.04 in coins down the steel throat of a Coinstar machine. Coinstar allows her to funnel the change into an Amazon gift certificate: this would allow her to convert all of her cash without the usual percentage Coinstar takes from the top.

The only problem? Amazon wasn’t picking up. So Coinstar told Karen she had no choice but exchange her Coinstar receipt with a cashier for currency. Except they took out the service fee, even though Karen had agreed only to exchange her coins in relation to a no-fee Amazon transaction.

Look, we understand that that’s lame. Coinstar should allow you to opt out, or at least inform you that the terms have changed. But it’s two dollars and ninety four cents. Were you really going to scoop all your coins back into that moist sock? We’re professional bloggers — that means our monthly income is comparable to that of a Somali goat farmer. I am missing an eye after an internal squabble over an expired can of beans spiraled out of control. But even we think $2.94 isn’t worth getting upset about.

Of course, we also think Coinstar is second only to the Internet as one of the most brilliant services to emerge in the last decade. So maybe we’re prejudiced. What say you, readers? Karen’s email after the jump.

I just had an unpleasant experience with a coinstar machine and thought I’d drop you a line, since I definitely feel like I got gypped. Having recently found out that Coinstar machines don’t charge a fee if you turn your money into e-certificates for sites like iTunes and Amazon, I excitedly grabbed my jar ‘o’ pocket change and made for the nearest kiosk. After screen-tapping through five or six pages of choices and disclaimers (“This coinstar transaction will be assessed a fee of: $0.00”, whoop-de-doo), I finally convinced the machine to take my money. At this point, the excessive disclaimers I’d just gone through were just a minor annoyance that seemed slightly unnecessary, but hey, whatever, I was going to get me some Amazon money! So I dumped in my coins, guided them through the teeny-tiny slot, and hit “done” on the screen, then waited a few minutes for the counter to catch up. The screen informed me that it was “Processing your transaction, please wait.” The pleasantly old-fashioned sound of a dial-up modem came from the bowels of the machine and I stood back, content that Coinstar and Amazon were firmly in touch. Coinstar said it was still “processing.” I waited five more minutes, wondering if dial-up was REALLY still that slow, and was then mildly horrified to see an error message appear on the screen. I didn’t write it down verbatim, but the gist was that oops, Amazon wasn’t answering the phone, but don’t worry – my money was safe!

Well phew, that was a load off my mind. So I read the message, sighed in annoyance, and hit “ok,” the only button on the screen, wondering if the machine was now going to spit $33.04 in coins back at me. But no; it informed me that it was printing my voucher that I could take to a cashier. “Ok,” I thought, “no Amazon, but I’ll live. There still shouldn’t be a fee, since the machine and I agreed on a 0% fee way back when I ok-ed through those disclaimers, and this failure of transaction is the machine’s fault, not mine, so I’ll take my $33.04 and go grocery shopping.”

“Printing your voucher,” Mr. Coinstar said. “Please wait.” So I waited. “Some coins may have been rejected,” said Mr. Coinstar. “Please check the coin return.” So I checked the coin return and found a good $2 worth of change lying there. This was, of course, after the transaction was completed and I couldn’t run the coins through again (e-certificates need a minimum of $5, and I wasn’t about to pay 9% on $2). So while I was contemplating the fact that I was not, in fact, rid of all my dirty pocket change, the voucher finally printed. I eagerly snatched it up and read it: Yes, Coinstar was happy to tell me that I could get my $30.10 from any cashier in the store as long as I did it today.

Wait, $30.10?

There was a $2.94 service charge, the voucher informed me. Yeah, that 0% service fee I agreed to? Didn’t hold up that way. Ok, I tried to tell myself, fine. After all, that’s the way it works – it gives you a cash voucher and charges the 9% fee. Except I couldn’t help but remember all those ok’s and disclaimers I went through to convince the machine that really, I wanted Amazon and was perfectly willing to pay a 0% fee. At no point after that did it ask me to ok a fee change. In fact, it didn’t even bother to inform me that there would BE a fee change. And there was certainly no option to cancel the transaction after I was told I was SOL with the Amazon e-certificate.

So I’m left with $30.10 in my pocket (still better than nothing) and the vague feeling of having had a handful of dirty pennies shoved down my throat by an evil, modem-driven, cackling green machine.

Is it just me, or is there just something wrong with how the Coinstar ate my $2.94 in “fees”?