The royal order of the coin

While the coin may be eventually in danger of going extinct in the United States, it is still at large and very much in play. And while it is, there is a bad habit that needs to be acknowledged. Cashiers the country-over are guilty of it, and it’s the violation of the coin order.

Let’s agree: there is a right and a very wrong way to receive change from a cashier. Whether you’re standing, sitting, or crouching through a double-paned plexiglass window, if your change involves at least one bill, and one or more coins (a receipt is a variant), there are simple rules. And when they’re broken, the common laws of user-centered courtesy come undone.

Each time I purchase something, I watch the laws come undone a bit more. Cashiers hand patrons coins on top of our bills time after time. The coins-on-top method is awkward and wrong: the coins slide off the bills, onto the counter, pennies (which we didn’t want back in the first place, frankly) roll onto the floor, nickels one way, dimes the other, and we are left standing with a somewhat wrinkled set of bills in hand. Do we pick up the coins? Were they of value? Why couldn’t we have had them in our hand in the first place?

We’ve all seen this happen to the most dignified of folks, and it’s not only painful to watch, but unnecessary.

The royal order

Certain countries use dishes to distribute change in retail shops. Their counterparts in other areas, MUJI for example in the United States, follow this dignified tradition.

Giving change the right way, like any service design process, takes an understanding of the human, and here it’s no different — cashiers are clearly missing what happens when customers receive change. Men throw change in pockets or a tip jar. The end. Bills and receipts get categorized differently depending on their various organizational strategies and attention to detail.

Women tend to carry wallets with change compartments with varying complexities and organizational strategies — zippers, snaps, velcro. Wallet must be retrieved in a larger bag, which itself is a multi-step process. Once retrieved, a woman may deposit the coin(s) in the wallet.

Cases of use

Knowing this coin-deposit process (and any cashier who has encountered at least one man and one woman before has seen these use cases), cashiers should never distribute change bills-first. But they do. This is a design problem.

The cashier, it appears, gives no thought to how the customer puts the money away. If he did, he would simply hand us:

  1. Coins first
  2. Bills second
  3. Receipt third

The coin-first order is a more human-centered way that makes it easy to, well, get on with our day, leaving the store with what we came for: some sort of product, a bit of money left over, and a shred of dignity. Otherwise, we’re just playing a game of point-of-purchase rochambeau each time.