Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ethical Challenge

Question: What would you do in the following situation?

You have purchased some various sundries at a local hardware store using your credit card. A couple of days later you get an email from the manager of the store stating that you were significantly under-charged, offering to email you the requisite documents, and requesting permission to charge the difference to your card. You check your credit card statement and see that you have been under-charged. You call the store requesting to speak to "the manager" as a way of verifying the legitimacy of the email. It is legitimate. 

At this point do you:
  1. accede to the request, 
  2. simply ignore it,
  3. contact this person directly and say it is their "tough luck", or
  4. pursue some other course of action


Andy said...

What should you do? Did they apologize? Did they threaten? Did they talk about you being a 'good customer?'

I'd want to meet with the store owner/manager in person and have them explain the situation.

Ask them how they would handle this internally. You don't want them to take the difference out on their employee!

GVB said...

In a vacuum the answer is easy: pay full price. No ethical problem at all.

But add all of the modern retail variables to the mix and here's what I come up with:

If it is a local store, with local ownership I would go back and talk to the manager and come to a compromise. It is still their mistake, and you should not be compelled to repair it on your own without some reasonable compensation. The store shouldn't lose money on the transaction (which they obviously did or they wouldn't be contacting you) but your time is worth something too. I would offer to pay up to 90% of the difference. A nice 10% nod to their mistake...

If it is a big box store, screw 'em.

Andy said...

The problem with the "screw 'em" response is that some retailers will use it as a hammer against their employees, deducting it from the paychecks.

Mistakes happen.....

rpd said...

Can we really employ a situational ethic in this case (big box versus small business) without undermining some larger ethical stance that one adopts as a member of society? Is there really a big difference between a "big box" and a "hometown" store aside from economies of scale and distance?

That is, what is in the best interest of both consumers and the system?

ChrisG said...

I choose option 1 - pay full price, once I've received the document. Why? Because if it were the reverse, if I were overcharged and didn't notice it until I got home, I'd want the difference back. And it seems to me that ethically one can't take the benefit of mistakes happening without being willing to concede to them as well.

In a similar exercise, one might ask what should one do when it isn't the manager who notices the mistake, but the consumer. In other words, I notice I've been undercharged. So I go back and offer the difference? Or do I smile at my good fortune? (In this example it goes without saying that if the consumer had been overcharged, the consumer would certainly pursue the refund).

Stephen Spencer said...

I'd pay full price. It's the right thing to do. As chrisg said, if the situation were reversed, I'd want the store to make it right.