JRoberts

Coffee Dilemma

20 posts in this topic

I had an odd situation happen to me, and I was really interested in how you all would respond to the situation!

At the local grocery store, they have many different Coffee Beans that you can buy...by the bean. By pressing a lever, coffee beans are released into a bag, and then you pay based upon a set price per pound (I'm sure you have all seen this).

I've never used this because I would always go to a place like Starbucks and buy the coffee in a bag. One day, however, I passed by a type of Coffee that caught my eye. I read the description of it and was tempted to try it. I looked at the price on the description sticker (which also included many different numbers, barcodes, etc.) and found the price to be 1.00 per lb. I was amazed! I put some in a bag and took it to the register. The person asked how much it was, and I said $1.00 per pound. I payed and walked out satisfied.

A few days later, I decided to get a larger amount because I loved the coffee. Thus the cycle repeated itself.

But one day, as I was passing by that isle again, I saw on one of the Coffee Bean containers "7.99 per lb". I then started looking at the rest of the containers, and indeed they all said "7.99 per lb", even the one I had been buying from! What really confused me was that in the upper left hand corner (the 7.99 was in the bottom right) was 1.00 per lb, on all of them.

So my dilemma is this: in no way will I continune to purchase coffee at that price (1.00 per lb) as I do not steal. Both times, the clerk at the register charged 1.00 per lb (the price I told them).

What would you do in this situation?

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... What really confused me was that in the upper left hand corner (the 7.99 was in the bottom right) was 1.00 per lb, on all of them.... What would you do in this situation?

I'm confused by the price description. What does the "1.00 per lb" refer to?

If there was a legitimate reason for confusion I would explain to the manager that you never would have bought the coffee at the $7.99 price. I would think that most managers would let the issue go, in the interest of customer satisfaction. But if there was no culpability on their part for your honest error, then I would think you should just offer to pay the difference. In either case, it would be proper to speak to the manager of the store about this, rather than the checkout person. You need someone with a little more authority, as well as a little more smarts. The checkout person should have known better, and the manager should be made aware of this.

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That is what I did: went to the Manager of the store. He explained to me that the 1.00 means that each "unit" of pound is equal to 1, and that this unit is 7.99. I offered to pay the difference, but he said, "That is okay, don't worry about it. You are a good guy. Thanks for telling us!"

Even though he said this, I still feel compelled to pay. I feel like what I did is still wrong, and that the Manager "brushing it aside" is only on his end, not mine.

I will of course follow what I think is right; but am I doing the right thing in paying them, even though he waved it off?

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I offered to pay the difference, but he said, "That is okay, don't worry about it.  You are a good guy.  Thanks for telling us!"

Even though he said this, I still feel compelled to pay.  I feel like what I did is still wrong, and that the Manager "brushing it aside" is only on his end, not mine.

I worked as a cashier in a grocery store in high school, so I may be able to offer an alternative viewpoint. Where I worked, they balanced the "tills" for each cashier when they went on break or at home. They added up the initial money plus all deposits and withdrawals, and compared that to how much money was actually in there. As long as the discrepancy was small enough and didn't happen to you too often, they just took the loss or profits at the end of that day (probably in some "imbalance" column). It simply isn't worth it for them to investigate every small discrepancy, because the time and money they'd spend is much larger than what they might recover.

Now, I surmise you overpaid weeks earlier. In that case, you can't correct the initial discrepancy; all you can do is add another discrepancy, and they aren't set up to expect that kind. (At least, I don't think they have a "customer paid later for being undercharged" column.) That may be why he refused to take the money. Plus, it gives the store a devoted customer, for the cost of 10-20 dollars. That's probably less than they pay on advertising for each new customer. :)

If you're still eager to return the money to the store, you might have more luck buying one item that's comparable in value to what you underpaid, and then coming back and saying they only charged you for one of the two items you got. :)

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You did the right thing by going to the manager and offering to pay! But I think you should let this be finished and here is why:

After you have made the offer to pay, you have no further obligation. Remember that it is fundamentally the store's responsibility to ensure that prices are CLEARLY marked and that their register employees charge the right amount.

It is not your responsibility to do that kind of busywork. Are they paying you to be a stockboy or a register clerk? Those people are paid for a reason, you know!

Your only part in this is to refrain from fraud, and you at no time committed any fraudulent action. Not unless you look at it intrinsically and drop the context of your intentions, their labeling, and their clerk's not noticing.

If anything, in fact, look at it this way: when you discovered the error, you performed a productive act: one that SHOULD have been done by an employee of the store. When the manager told you to keep your money, he was paying you for the work you did for the store.

Does that help any? :)

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I don't think you have any obligation to do anything further.

The way you tell the story, their prices were marked ambiguously. You had every reason to believe that the price was $1.00, and you paid it. Nobody there knew enough to tell you the correct price. You paid the price you thought was correct, and they accepted the $1.00. That's a completely moral trade in my book.

There's no fraud or theft involved; just somebody else's mistake that you happened to innocently benefit from. You've gone far enough in pointing out their mistake, I'd say.

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Even though he said this, I still feel compelled to pay.  I feel like what I did is still wrong, and that the Manager "brushing it aside" is only on his end, not mine.

I will of course follow what I think is right; but am I doing the right thing in paying them, even though he waved it off?

This is a rather odd issue.

First, this whole situation was just an honest mistake, so there's no moral blame to go around. So what do you mean by it feels "wrong?" Mistakes happen. One happened here, you put forward a good effort to correct the mistake, and the manager tells you the situation doesn't matter enough to him to bother with it. He appreciates your honesty and sense of justice, is friendly toward you, and lets it go. What more do you want from him?

Secondly, who decides the price of the coffee? The manager, not the customer. He decided he was willing to part, in this one instance, with his property for less money than usual. (After the fact, yes, but when the situation is explained to him, he doesn't demand more money.) Why not respect his decision?

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I worked in a large supermarket chain once. They have a policy that states - whatever price is stated on the product is what you must sell it for - sometimes staff mislabel, or mis-reduce products and they go for much less. On the basis that you genuinely thought you were paying the correct price, I don't see a moral dilema on your part, though I would say it was thoroughly decent of you to tell the manager. In the event he then asked for the money I would not have paid the difference having bought several packets over a period of time - that would hurt my wallet and I have no responsibility to do so, though had I just done it once and realized straight away I would consider the managers request reasonable.

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DougClayton,

Thanks for the insight! It makes sense. However, if I did what you suggested, would I not add another discrepancy because their system only shows one item purchased?

Inspector,

I agree with you: it is not my responsibility to "work" for them. However, it is my responsibility to be honest (which I was by telling the manager), and just (which is what is bothering me now). The justice that has not been met is: me receiving more than I should by error, and retaining this. I want to find some way of paying them back because I want the mistake to be fixed; above and beyond what the store says. Am I overstepping my boundaries?

Jay P,

You are right in that; in terms of the issue of honesty, I am equal. Also, it appears as if the store (because of my honesty) will 'cover' this situation. However, if you see my response to Inspector, I still feel that I need to be just by compensating. I don't want to compensate a mistake, but I do want to compensate a very good Coffee that I will continue to purchase. Call it me wanting to do justice to the coffee company itself.

Ed,

To your first point: I feel wrong because I do not feel that one of my values is not receiving its proper dues from me. Because I value it and drink the Coffee, I want my value to be known. While a mistake was made, and thus the theft/honesty issue is resolved, the fact that the Coffee Company lost a few bucks has not been resolved. That is what I want to fix.

And as to your second, I said that my prime value is to the coffee above the retail store.

Charles,

Please refer to my answer to everyone else :). Though I would like to add that it wouldn't hurt my wallet by paying what I owe.

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Inspector,

I agree with you: it is not my responsibility to "work" for them.  However, it is my responsibility to be honest (which I was by telling the manager), and just (which is what is bothering me now).  The justice that has not been met is: me receiving more than I should by error, and retaining this.  I want to find some way of paying them back because I want the mistake to be fixed; above and beyond what the store says.  Am I overstepping my boundaries?

Ahhhh, Justice. A personal fave of mine. Think of it this way: there were two mistakes taking place: your not noticing the price and their not charging you it.

Now you have to determine what relative responsibility was not met by each party. As I have already covered, it is PRIMARILY the store's responsibility to do this.

Now, you have already engaged in two forms of restitution: 1) telling them about the error and 2) offering to pay.

So at this point, you should be asking: what has the STORE done in restitution for ITS error? After all, in justice, they should suffer the consequences for their error, shouldn't they? And the error is primarily theirs, isn't it?

The answer of course is that the store manager has paid in full for the error. He must think that it is ENTIRELY the responsibility of the store to charge properly, and from what I see written here about price marking policy, he may be right.

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However, if I did what you suggested, would I not add another discrepancy because their system only shows one item purchased?

Yes you would. :)

I expect that the coffee company has gotten paid the right amount of money, because the store pays them when they buy it. (At any rate, there is no way for you to fix any billing error with the coffee company.) This means the store is out the money. However, there is no way for you to make their books right, either, because they won't go back and do the necessary bookkeeping. You're stuck with your extra money, and the only issue is what else you can do to reward the good. You could buy a lot of that coffee (and other things) from that same store. It won't repay them for the past, but it will generate future profit for them that they would not have otherwise had.

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Next time you buy the coffee and the cashier asks you how much it is, tell them it costs $14.98/lb. :). Do that for as many lbs. you got at the inadvertent discount.

Actually, I would just let it go. The error was not yours, it was theirs. The price of the coffee was obviously ambiguous or the mistake would not have been made and the fault falls completely on the store.

I worked retail for several years while I was in high school and college, and I can not tell you how many thousands of dollars I've given away in discounts because things that were priced wrong, ordered incorrectly, or damaged during shipping/stocking. These things are simply costs of doing business in retail.

Look at your discount on the coffee as your reward for being honest. Think about the hundreds of dollars the store loses through shoplifting each day, and contrast that with the type of customer they have in you. How many other customers would make the effort to correct the mistake as you have done?

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While a mistake was made, and thus the theft/honesty issue is resolved, the fact that the Coffee Company lost a few bucks has not been resolved.  That is what I want to fix.

How did the coffee company lose a few bucks?

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How did the coffee company lose a few bucks?

Yeah, like it was said earlier, the store has already paid the coffee company for the coffee long before you came along.

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Jason,

By your description it seems that you did not knowingly commit a fraud/theft. So I would think that you have taken the corrective action once you were enlightened to the real price. You have also taken it further by bringing it to the attention of the manager. You do not owe them anything further.

If one finds a dollar on the road they are not being immoral by keeping the dollar. Although it comes at a lost to the person that dropped it, it is not the finders moral responsibility to find the person. But, to watch someone drop their money and then wait around until they leave to go and pick it up is immoral. The person knows who the money belongs to and decides to cheat them of their money.

I hope the above example was helpful in allowing you to see that you have already done enough.

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Thank you all for your replies.

I am very glad to know that the supermarket pays the Coffee Company, so that when the Supermarket said "it is okay", then they took on the responsibility (silly me, I used to work at a Supermarket and didn't know this).

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*reads this thread then recalls conversation where JRoberts was praising Abraham Lincoln because he walked five miles in snow to return a few cents*

Trying to upstage him I see :)

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*reads this thread then recalls conversation where JRoberts was praising Abraham Lincoln because he walked five miles in snow to return a few cents*

Trying to upstage him I see  :)

“For the true love of virtue is in all men produced by the love and respect they bear to him that teaches it; and those who praise good men, yet do not love them, may respect their reputation, but do not really admire, and will never imitate their virtue.”

-Plutarch

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I had an odd situation happen to me, and I was really interested in how you all would respond to the situation!

At the local grocery store, they have many different Coffee Beans that you can buy...by the bean.  By pressing a lever, coffee beans are released into a bag, and then you pay based upon a set price per pound (I'm sure you have all seen this).

I've never used this because I would always go to a place like Starbucks and buy the coffee in a bag. One day, however, I passed by a type of Coffee that caught my eye.  I read the description of it and was tempted to try it.  I looked at the price on the description sticker (which also included many different numbers, barcodes, etc.) and found the price to be 1.00 per lb.  I was amazed! I put some in a bag and took it to the register.  The person asked how much it was, and I said $1.00 per pound.  I payed and walked out satisfied.

A few days later, I decided to get a larger amount because I loved the coffee.  Thus the cycle repeated itself.

But one day, as I was passing by that isle again, I saw on one of the Coffee Bean containers "7.99 per lb".  I then started looking at the rest of the containers, and indeed they all said "7.99 per lb", even the one I had been buying from!  What really confused me was that in the upper left hand corner (the 7.99 was in the bottom right) was 1.00 per lb, on all of them.

So my dilemma is this: in no way will I continune to purchase coffee at that price (1.00  per lb) as I do not steal.  Both times, the clerk at the register charged 1.00 per lb (the price I told them). 

What would you do in this situation?

Another way to look at it is not to regard the price as some intrinsic value in relation to the product. The price is a negotiated value that both parties agree to. Even if the listed price is not the actual paid price, if both parties agree to the price, then there is nothing improper about the transaction. Since you were not involved in any type of deception, once the cashier rang up the price, the store has negotiated with you what price to sell their product. It is up to the cashier to know what the price of the product is listed in the store. The store's error is irrelevant to the negotiation. If the error were in your favor, the store undoubtedly would choose to return your money in order to keep you as a customer.

This can be seen when some stores drop their prices on products, such as milk, as they near their expiration date. You originally went into the store prepared to pay, lets say, $4 for a gallon of milk. But because the last date of sale is today, the store may drop it's price to $3. I doubt if you'd go up to the manager and say, I am ready to pay you $4 for the milk!

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This can be seen when some stores drop their prices on products, such as milk, as they near their expiration date.  You originally went into the store prepared to pay, lets say, $4 for a gallon of milk.  But because the last date of sale is today, the store may drop it's price to $3.  I doubt if you'd go up to the manager and say, I am ready to pay you $4 for the milk!

More to the point, there's no moral obligation to pay $4 rather than $3 in your example.

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