Monday, January 18

Should you correct others' mistakes?

Here's a question to ponder: If a retail store makes a mistake in your favor, do you correct the cashier, or walk away with the savings?

Today I walked away with $11 more than I should have. I ended up having to return the items I bought on Friday at Walgreen's. That transaction had been so confusing, the manager had a hard time understanding the receipt. So I pointed to each item and explained: full price for this one ($21.99 minus $3 coupon); half off for this ($9.99); and a coupon gave me the refill pack free.

I should have gotten $31.38 back, after sales tax. But I walked away with $42.20. The manager refunded me the cost of the refill pack, plus the full $21.99. I guess he didn't see the coupon that was used further down the receipt.

Point is, I profited off this employee's mistake. But I also purposefully tried to explain the situation to him. He did not ask me to repeat it; and apparently he wasn't listening all that carefully the first time.

Was I wrong to take the money? Should I have attempted to explain the situation again when I heard the wrong amount? Or was the onus on the employee to listen better?

My own conscience is a little troubled on this one. I think, normally, I wouldn't have accepted the extra amount. But I was tired. And annoyed that he hadn't listened to me. (He nodded while I talked, but he did not take his eyes off the receipt.) Still, it probably wasn't right.

What would you guys have done? Are these situations black and white? Or are there shades of gray? In other words, are there conditions when you would say yes and others when you'd say no?

For example, I correct cashiers who give me the wrong change. I don't want the person getting in trouble for the till being off. But when it's a case of the employee ringing up the wrong price (in my favor) I don't say anything.

Why this distinction? I have no idea. I guess I was raised to believe that it's the company's duty to make sure its employees are capable. If it doesn't properly train and supervise its employees, the company has bigger problems than one wrong transaction.

Of course, following that logic, I shouldn't correct the cashier if I am given too much change. It's just another case of an employee mistake. But it's harder to rationalize that because I've been a cashier before, and it completely sucks to be missing money at the end of the day.

I am sure there are plenty of people who will argue that it is never fair to take more than what you are owed. In theory, I agree with this. After all, I always make a fuss when an item rings up higher than it should. So why should I stay quiet when the error is in my favor?

However, theory and practice are two different things. I'm not necessarily proud of my behavior, but I cannot think of a single time I have corrected a cashier about an item being too cheap.

So what's your take on this? When would you be okay getting an error in your favor? When would you speak up?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the title of this should be Should you correct YOUR mistakes? You took money you know does not belong to you..that is stealing.

January 18, 2010 at 6:22 PM

Blogger Abigail said...


I can definitely see this point of view. However, I have trouble considering it stealing when a)it was handed over to me and b)I attempted to explain the situation and he chose not to listen to me or ask me to clarify.

That said, I do think this was a pretty morally dubious move. I'm not sure I would do it again in the future. I was quite literally too tired to argue.

I appreciate your feedback, even if your moral standards are a tad more black and white than mine. Thank you for your honesty.

C'mon folks, let's hear some more opinions -- favorable or not!

January 18, 2010 at 10:30 PM

Blogger Red said...

Honestly, when i was a cashier, i probably gave out the wrong change, positive and negatively.

As a customer, if its negative to the store, BUT the cashier has been a nice person, i will generally give it back, or at least point it out to them. If the cashier was rude to me though, i have to say its a different story.

I know that as a cashier, it would be on me if the register was down, (as it should be), so i do feel a little guilty.

However, in the situation you described, you were talking with a manager, whom should have at least acknowledged you, i think you should be right.

I know that my feelings probably aren't the 'right' thoughts (at least according to anonymous), but i think its all about karma.

January 19, 2010 at 2:14 AM

Anonymous Mrs. Accountability said...

I probably would have tried one more time to clarify. But if I were having a day where I was really exhausted (as I know you often are) I would probably have done the same as you. You can still go back to the store and talk to someone and explain how you feel they gave you too much money back. Or just donate it to the Red Cross in a pay it forward manner. There was a discussion along these lines recently over at Mrs. Money's Ultimate Money Blog

January 19, 2010 at 6:17 AM

Anonymous Elizabeth said...

It depends. The more common way I've benefited is purchasing a ton of items and one of them doesn't get rung up. I inadvertently got a pair of $39.99 shoes free at T.J.Maxx that way...I had spent a few hundred dollars and wasn't sure until I got home. I didn't make a separate trip back. Several times I've questioned the receipt when I thought this happened and everything WAS correctly rung up and the cashier (and long line behind me!) was really annoyed, so it kind of depends on the circumstances.
That said, Walgreens is AWFUL so far as prices are concerned. When purchasing recently, an item with a shelf price of $2.00 rang up as $2.50 and I chose not to say anything because it just wasn't worth the energy. Then ANOTHER item that said .99 rang up as .85, so I guess I didn't get shorted as much... I just paid the total even though I paid more than I should have had to. So I guess there's some minimum amount - in either party's favor - that I'll just let go.
I wouldn't worry too much about your getting the extra $ back, as you explained the receipt in good faith. I'd say, when it works out not in your favor some other day, just try not to be too annoyed, and remember this time when it worked out in your favor.

January 19, 2010 at 6:31 AM

Blogger DINKS said...

Oooh very good question! And controversial at that ;)

It would have totally depended on my mood at the time (and if I was paying attention all the way) but I usually try and get them to correct it once and if it's still messed up then leave it alone.

oddly enough, I had a similar situation the other day at Target. I went to buy this Bocce ball set (my new fave game!) on sale from $40 to $27, but when we got to the register it rang up as "Socks" @ $7.99. Now, obviously they weren't socks, and $7.99 is a fraction of $27.

so as we usually do, we pipe in to get them to correct it, but even after that she stated that it was indeed $7.99. Well, we're not going to sit there and argue ;) we walked off as happy as clams...I still believe she was doing something wrong, but I also don't think she'd get into any trouble over it even if something came about - so I stopped thinking about it 'til today.

In fact, maybe I'll write up something too and link back! Enjoyed this :)

January 19, 2010 at 8:31 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because I am one to get seriously annoyed when I'm OVERcharged, I do my best to make sure I'm never undercharged either. It makes me feel better when I want to strangle the guy who just can't figure out how to use my coupon correctly, because as Elizabeth said - you win some, you lose some, and it's much harder to be mad when you made $11 off of them the week before.

In your situation I'd probably do the pay it forward thing too, just to keep my karma in check.

Last Christmas there was a huge sale at Safeway with all kinds of promotions mixed in and I somehow ended up getting paid $18 for my groceries. I knew this was off, so I just put a twenty in the salvation army bucket on my way out. Instant retribution.

January 19, 2010 at 8:36 AM

Blogger Theresa said...

Whenever I have to ask myself if I was honest, usually it is because I know that somehow I wasn't. I would have gone back and explained it again.

January 19, 2010 at 11:59 AM

Blogger Abigail said...

Thanks for all of your opinions so far!

I absolutely love the idea about paying it forward. I think perhaps Walgreen's just gave us $11 to give to Haiti. Isn't that kind of them?

January 19, 2010 at 12:44 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, it might be that he intentionally gave you the full purchase price back. I know that at a Long's I used to frequent (before it became CVS), the day manager ALWAYS refunded the amount before coupons were used, because she knew that the store was still getting reimbursed for the amount of the coupon, which usually had long been submitted for processing when the return happened. So she would have handled this transaction in exactly the same way as this manager. I would have asked, but I wouldn't have argued.

Now, if he had *said* the amount would be $27 and he handed me $37, of course I would have given back the extra dough.

January 19, 2010 at 2:35 PM

Blogger Sonya Ann said...

WOW! This is a thinker. I would do the same thing you did. I understand tired and I would have walked out the door and then felt bad after. Isn't that what we do? Second guess ourselves all the time. But I do think that the anonymous tip right above me(1-19 2:35pm) is on to something. They will get their money back from the coupons. So my guess is they aren't out anything. You may have walked away with all of the coupon money.
Stop kicking yourself and don't let anyone that leaves a nasty anonymous tip drag you down. You didn't stuff your pockets full of items and walk out of a store. And you told him about it.
I also give you props for putting this out there. I've written things knowing that I would get stung. But sometimes I just felt I need the feed back. Thank you so much for sharing your story and I'll be back to see what is new in your world.

January 19, 2010 at 5:47 PM

Blogger frugal zeitgeist said...

I only speak up about the error if it happens in an independently owned business. I really don't want a member of the community to get burned. It it happens at a chain store, though, I let it go. That's not really ethical but on this particular issue, that's how I roll.

January 19, 2010 at 7:58 PM

Anonymous Zella said...

I give up if they're not listening to me, so same as you. And I still feel guilty about it, so I definitely understand where you're coming from. I've not been through this with Walgreens, but with a few other places.

January 19, 2010 at 8:34 PM

Anonymous A.B. (Mrs. Modern Tightwad) said...

You should've been tired; incompetence can be very draining. :)

It would be different if it was a cashier, but it honestly sounds like the manager was doing his own calculations in his head and had no interest in what you were saying. There's little you can do in that situation outside of say "thank you."

I try and speak up if I'm both over or undercharged. It's difficult though. I can show an advertised posting if I'm overcharged, but I don't have access to their codes, etc. to know if I should be paying more. If I think I've forgotten to pay for something, I return as soon as possible, and I let the cashier know if they've given me too much change. I even get strange looks for it. But there's only so much we can do. We're only human.

January 19, 2010 at 10:08 PM

Anonymous Aimee said...

The manager was correct in refunding you the amount that he did. The coupon is a form of payment--they will be reimbursed by the issuer for it, plus a handling fee. If you had returned the items right after purchasing them they would have given you back the money you had paid, plus the coupons, since they shouldn't send them in for redemption. But since you came in another day the coupons had probably already been sent in, and the store had no way of returning the coupons to you so they are required to refund the amount to you, since they will be getting the money back from the coupon issuer.

January 21, 2010 at 1:39 PM


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