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And while I'm creating polls...
Poll #1770023 Take The Money and Run

You are getting in your car after having purchased some items at a store. You glance at the receipt and notice that the clerk failed to ring up two items totaling about $60. You:

Cackle gleefully. It's like shoplifting, but without the risk of getting caught!
Decide that it's the store's fault so it's their problem and continue on your way.
Go back in the store, inform them of their error, and pay for the items.

If someone chose that last option on the first question, would you consider them "aggressively moral"?


Which of the following things would affect your likelihood of returning to the store to pay for the items?

The amount of time that passed before I noticed the error.
My distance from the store when I noticed the error.
The amount of money the items were worth.
The frequency with which I visit that store.
The nature of the items in question.
Whether I felt the store overcharges for things.
Whether the clerk was nice to me.

I prefer to do what's right even if it costs me something, at least in part because I want other people do do what's right even if it costs them something. If I didn't pay for it, it's not mine. If I keep something that's not mine, that's stealing. I wouldn't respect myself if I stole.

(I don't think all moral issues are as black and white as this one, before anyone accuses me of not seeing the gray areas.)

i do admit to hesitating if it *actually* costs me something (i.e. a significant overhead in time, effort or money) - i feel like i'm being made to pay for the store's mistake in that case.

It would depend on the store. If it was a small store with the owner minding the counter and I liked him, I'd go back (or take care of it next visit). In a big store if I thought I might save the clerk from getting in trouble, I'd go back. But really the odds are that calling attention to the mistake would GET the clerk in trouble, so I'd probably just keep quiet.

That is, I'd think about whether some individual was likely to really suffer (clerk) or benefit (me). I wouldn't want to benefit by allowing some other individual to suffer. But if the store's loss were just a tiny fraction of 'stock shrinkage' and wouldn't affect any individual, I'd keep the stuff without paying.

Ideally I suppose I should try to sneak the stuff back into the store, then go through the line again (or a different line) and be sure it got rung up. But that might get me accused of shoplifting if I got caught sneaking it back in: "Do you have a receipt for that!?!" That way sitcom lies, or E. Nesbit or Edward Eager....

This one is actually harder than "the clerk gave you $60 in extra change," because that will come out of her or his pocket, while the items will just be thought to have been stolen and the management will suffer. Which probably means (despite how I answered) that I don't take the trouble to return it to a major corporate chain. But still, I think returning is right.

it depends. as i was telling cathy earlier... the boy and i have "accepted" two things in the last 5 or so years... once we were at costco and three different people made their typical show of checking our cart and/or our receipt (through lines,time, etc).... we realized it later and didn't return it.

the next time we spent 10 minutes in line at babies r us when i was about 8 months pregnant and miserable. we bought some clothes and things and two diaper bags with a gift card my dad had given me for my birthday and were paying the extra ourselves. that store is a mad house. and walking hurt. standing hurt. gestating hurt... after the far too long time with each customer they got to us. the checker went away for 3-5 minutes while the line kept building and we waited to make a show of checking the price that wasn't clear for some reason. when we got back to the car and packed the stuff in i looked at the receipt and realized one of the diaper bags was left off. we did not go back in...

was this right? technically, no. but the hassle of going back to pay for these things that we needed seemed to far outweigh the effort to return it.

(I have returned/pointed out things like this, the two above examples are rare experiences...)

Why do you refer to the Babies'R'Us people as "making a show" of checking the price? In my experience shop staff don't bother checking prices unless it is actually unclear. There's nothing to be gained for them by making people wait and having lines build up.

If I bought something in CA and didn't notice the error until I was back in NYC, I might not fix it because of laziness. But it would be wrong. I could certainly call the store and send them a check, or give them a credit card number.

I once got an employee discount when I think the salesman was supposed to give me a smaller discount (because the item had been on display). I didn't realize it until I got home, and I did not go back. I still don't know whether what I did was wrong, or whether he actually meant to give me the larger discount.

It's actually an effort for me to go back and pay for stuff I got for free, but it's an effort I make. It puts a price tag on my integrity.

If I don't go back and pay for sixty bucks worth of merchandise, it means that my personal integrity, morality, and honor is worth less than sixty dollars. Those things are a vital part of myself, which means that I'm saying that I, personally, am worth less than sixty dollars.

Now, something like eeyore_girl's example of the babies-r-us thing is totally different, though. THAT'S a question of personal physical, mental, and emotional pain, and I think that it'd totally be unfair to expect eeyore_girl to deliberately undergo suffering in order to fix someone else's error -- THAT'S a completely different situation.

If I don't go back and pay for sixty bucks worth of merchandise, it means that my personal integrity, morality, and honor is worth less than sixty dollars.

Hm. See, this sounds totally reasonable, except that I will go to a great deal more trouble to fix the error the more money is involved. Does that mean I can be bought for a quarter but not for $100? That doesn't sound right.

Other: the largest thing that would affect whether I went back is how tight my budget was. Right now, I'd go back, no problem. When my partner and I were both out of work, probably not,

The other factor is whether I think it's likely that the cashier would get in trouble if I didn't. I once went to the post office, sent a package, paid for it, and a few minutes after I left was thinking "he gave me change for a 20, and I paid with a 10." I went back, sorted it out, and the clerk thanked me and confirmed that if his drawer had been short ten dollars at the end of the day, it would have come out of his paycheck.

If it's a trivial sum, I'll take it as balance - I've overpaid or left things in shops. If it's a small sum and I've already driven off, I'll mention it next time I shop there and offer to pay. $60 I would turn back, and pay - it's not a trivial sum, and I would not be able to enjoy the thing without knowing I'd been dishonest.

This is pretty much identical to my reaction. I don't think I've ever been in the situation of noticing an error after the fact, but I have called attention to errors at the cash register or on the receipt in a restaurant (for the latter, I usually find that the server will effectively comp the missing item, since it's a bigger hassle for them to redo the bill).

I've had numerous people (online) say that they wouldn't call attention to an error in their favor even if they're at the freakin' cash register, since it's "the clerk's fault" and "stores overcharge", etc. I just don't understand that.

I prefer not to spend more time/effort than the value, so I'm more likely to correct the error on my next visit (one time, that was a couple of months later).

What does "aggressively moral" even mean? I can make sense of all the parts, but it seems a bizarre thing to say about someone else.

I think it's a fancy way of calling someone a "goody two-shoes".

I do now recall a high-value, after-the-fact case. When we ordered our Tempurpedic mattress, they delivered the next highest model, about a $300 difference. When we got it swapped out, the delivery guys were baffled by the fact that were returning a nicer model for a less-nice one.

I didn't check "other", but I just think of an "other" situation: A mitigating factor for me is often if there have been errors in the store's favour in the past. For example, at lunch today I noticed that I got overcharged by 25 cents for part of my meal. It wasn't worth my while to go up and complain, especially since the store was busy. I think if, in future, they made an error of about the same magnitude in the other direction at the same store, I might be inclined to just "call it even". (Note that this only applies if it's happened *at that store* -- I don't count it if it's just a sort of general happening that may have occurred elsewhere.)

Edited at 2011-08-16 08:16 pm (UTC)

Yeah, that. The other day at Whole Foods they gave me two milk bottle refunds ($1.25 each) and I noticed after we left the store. There was at least one time in the past where I brought back a bottle for refund and then lost my deposit slip before I got to the register. So I think I'm about even. (losing the slip was my fault not theirs but the point is monetarily we're even).

For item 1 in the poll, none of the buttons quite apply to me. If I notice at the counter, I correct it, no matter how much the error is. If I notice after leaving the store, I probably don't correct it. In that case I consider myself to be behaving unethically. I avoid certain kinds of effort and that's not right, but I don't try very hard to change it either.

I don't get a pass by saying it's the store's fault. I do think it's ALSO the store's fault. But I think ethical systems work much better if people look out for each other a little, rather than maintaining really rigid barriers between "my responsibility" and "your responsibility."

I don't have a concept of "aggressively moral" that applies to a person's own choices about their behavior. That concept only applies if a person is trying to shame other people.

I don't have a concept of "aggressively moral" that applies to a person's own choices about their behavior. That concept only applies if a person is trying to shame other people.

Tangentially, I have known a lot of people to take statements of the form "I do [not do] X" as a reflection on themselves when I didn't intend them that way. Vegetarianism gets interpreted that way a lot; so does turning down alcoholic beverages.

Partly I think some people notice the effect another's action is having on themselves and assume that that effect is (1) intended and therefore (2) the primary reason the other person has performed the action, which seems like a... perspective which is likely to result in a lot of false positives.

So "That person is [talking about] doing the right thing where I can see it! Now I feel bad that I wouldn't do the right thing if I were in that situation! What a jerk that person is to make me feel that way!" logically follows from those emotional premises. (No, I am not talking about you, dear reader. Yay generalities.) It's not the way I'd interpret things, but I generally figure that very little of what other people do has anything much to do with me unless they're being astoundingly obvious about it. This has its own failure states.

As someone who works in retail...

My answer changes entirely depending on the situation. If it is a matter of being given the wrong change, I would correct that immediately. I know how register drawers work, and being off more than a dollar has been a big deal at every store I've ever worked at. It's not necessarily taken out of your pay, but it's a huge headache. And being consistently off can lead to termination, because your employer assumes you are stealing money and/or making other mistakes that are costing the company money.

In the case of merchandise, however, there is a certain level of "shrink" that is factored into everyday business costs. Grocery stores throw away stuff that doesn't get sold before it goes bad, items get lost or broken or rung up wrong for any number of reasons, and yup, stuff gets stolen. Large companies have already factored this amount of shrink into their prices. So a $60 item - you better believe I'm going back. But a $6 item? That's around the point where I'd say screw it, it's more trouble than it's worth to get the problem corrected. Especially if I've already left the store. If I haven't left yet, I'd point it out.

Thank you for providing examples of things besides theft that result in shrinkage -- I had wondered why the seemingly-euphemistic term was used, and now I know what else it covers!