Sunday, January 11, 2015
Shopper sticks her neck out to make things right
Several years ago, M.A., a reader from Ohio, was shopping for tops in a women's boutique.
After trying on one of the tops she was considering buying, she left the dressing room to look in the mirror on the sales floor. A sales clerk rushed over and clasped a necklace around M.A.'s neck.
"This would look great with that top," the clerk said.
Then the clerk brought over other tops for M.A. to try on. When she was through and had selected one to purchase, M.A., changed back into the sweater she'd been wearing, made her purchase, and left the store.
Several hours later, M.A. realized she was still wearing the inexpensive necklace.
"I wasn't sure what to do!" she writes. "If I took the necklace back, would I be accused of shoplifting?"
M.A. hadn't even been looking for a necklace; the eager clerk had chosen it and placed it around her neck. But would the boutique staff believe her?
M.A. contemplated what to do. Simply keeping the necklace without having paid for it seemed wrong. She thought about returning to the store and leaving the necklace in a dressing room without saying anything.
After waiting several days, M.A. decided she wanted to keep the necklace, but felt she couldn't bring herself to wear it until the situation was settled.
M.A. was right not to simply keep the necklace. The right thing was to let the store know that she'd mistakenly left without removing the necklace after a clerk had placed it on her. She could call the store, let the staff know what happened and ask how she to rectify the situation. Or she could show up to the store with the necklace, explain what happened and offer to pay for the necklace. In which case, the right thing would be for the store to accept her cash and thank her for her business.
After struggling with what to do, M.A. returned to the store without the necklace, but found another just like it on the jewelry rack. She took it to the cash register, explained what had happened and asked if she could pay now for the same necklace she had at home.
"The clerk laughed and told me to just keep the necklace -- no need to pay for it," writes M.A. "Her simple approach relieved me. After that, I could wear and enjoy the necklace without guilt."
The clerk recognized that M.A. had made an honest mistake. She could have accepted payment for the necklace, but perhaps recognizing that forgiving the cost of an inexpensive necklace might translate into an even more loyal customer, she told M.A. to keep it. As long as the clerk had the authority to make such a decision without consulting the boutique owner, and as long as she told the owner what she'd done, M.A.'s decision to do the right thing not only resulted in setting things right, but also in a small reward to her for doing so.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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