Sunday, March 20, 2011

If the diaper fits, pay for it

A reader just outside of Boston and his wife recently became parents for the first time. To help make sure they remain stocked with goods they need for their new baby, the couple has a standing order for diapers with They use the site for a number of other purchases, as well. 

Recently, my reader’s wife ordered a new sheet for their baby’s bed and two sippy cups. A few days later they received two boxes, each with a bedsheet and a two-pack of sippy cups in it. 

“Our initial thought was that my wife had probably double-clicked on her order, but in checking we found that it was probably an Amazon error,” my reader writes. Their credit card was only charged once, and the invoice slip in each box carried the exact same order number. Amazon seems to have filled their order twice, but charged them only once. 

My reader tells me that while he was all for keeping both orders, his wife was more concerned with doing what was right. They agreed that it was probably right to let Amazon know about the mistake and ask for the company to send a mailing label so they could return one of the orders. 

His wife agreed, but she was still upset about an earlier flap they had had with their standing diaper order. Amazon had shipped the wrong size diapers and it took several e-mails to get the issue sorted out. When the correct shipment finally arrived the couple sent back the incorrect shipment. A few weeks later they got an e-mail from Amazon claiming it hadn’t received the returned diapers and was therefore going to re-charge their credit card for the amount. 

Before his wife had time to deal with this charge error, the double order mistake occurred.

 Because the prices of the bed sheet and cups and the shipment of wrong-size diapers were about the same, my reader’s wife wants “to call it a wash.” 

“This seems fair enough to me,” my reader writes, “but I’m guessing that it’s not strictly the right thing to do.” 

The impulse to assume all’s even because the value of the wrongly shipped goods and wrongly charged goods are roughly equal makes sense. But strictly speaking, that doesn’t resolve the issue. 

For one, Amazon still wrongly charged the couple and should know about it. What’s more, the couple received goods for which they didn’t pay and they should let Amazon know that. 

Just as it wouldn’t be kosher to not report income on income tax forms because you hadn’t taken an equivalent amount of deductions, it’s not OK to assume that the two wrongs with Amazon equal out. (Granted, Amazon doesn’t have the foreboding power of the IRS.) 

The right thing would be for my reader or his wife to contact Amazon to let it know of the error and to ask the company if they can just keep the wrong shipped goods to make up for the error, if that’s what the couple would like to do. They could also use this opportunity to let Amazon know that if the error isn’t resolved swiftly that they will consider dropping their standing order with the company. (The little publicized toll-free customer service number at Amazon is 800-201-7575.) 

By doing this, the couple not only does what’s right by acknowledging they received goods for which they didn’t pay, they also put Amazon on notice that if the company can’t get the order and charging straight, it will lose a valued customer. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

© 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.


William Jacobson said...

If you would have contacted them if there had been a similar overage, then yes you should contact them if there is an underage. Let them be gracious and comp it for you should they so choose but don't be expecting it.

Funny how many of these ethical decisions come back to do unto others as you would have them do unto you...

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that we feel we should always "do the right thing" which is never causing a loss for anyone by way of some kind of mistake. However, sometimes reporting the mistake/loss can sometimes cause a greater loss for the company than if it were ignored. If, for example, you had two leather couches delivered by mistake....that should certainly be reported. If, however, it was two sippy cups.....forget it.

Anonymous said...

I find that Amazon has a very highly developed system of making inquiries about orders. The system they use is foolproof if you follow the directions and you always hear back from a person who knows what is going on. Obviously, if you're going to make purchases from an internet store, you have to take the chance of getting mixups. That does not relieve you of doing things ethically. The family in this example seems to disagree over ethical methods. As another poster said, it always comes down to doing the right thing, as Jeffrey Seglin always says.

Charlie Seng

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