Sunday, October 02, 2022

Why can't customers put things back where they belong?

Shortly after I moved to Boston in 1978, I was introduced to the original Filene’s Basement, an off-price retailer that sat below Filene’s Department Store. Every item in Filene’s Basement was labeled with a discount price and the date it went on sale. Its automatic discount system took another 25% off after 12 days. After 18 days, the price was cut by 50%. Twenty-four days after it went on sale, the price was cut by 75%. If the item hadn’t sold after 30 days it was donated to charity.

The store was a great place to buy name-brand shirts, ties, shoes, suits and other items. There was also a legendary annual sale on bridal gowns. The markdown system resulted in some customers trying to misshelve items in hopes that no one else would buy them before the price was reduced.

The purposeful misshelving came to mind after hearing from a reader who found the incidents of misshelved items at her local grocery store to have markedly increased. “I don’t know if people are lazier than before about putting an item back where they found it if they decide not to buy it,” wrote a reader we’re calling Rochelle, “or if it’s because the store can’t find enough workers to keep the shelves properly stocked.”

Whatever may be causing it, Rochelle wanted to know if it’s wrong for customers not to return items to the appropriate shelf if they decide not to buy them. “I’ve seen people misshelve items right in front of clerks and have yet to see anyone call them on it,” wrote Rochelle. “That’s just wrong, right?”

While there’s nothing illegal in misshelving grocery store items and the action doesn’t rise to the level of world calamity, it can be an additional labor expense for grocery stores and an inconvenience for other shoppers who might not be able to find what they are looking for even if an item is in stock. A computerized inventory system might be useful to identify items in stock, but it’s useless in discovering where an item might have been misshelved.

Some simple reasons to knock it off with the misshelving: If the labor cost for a grocery store rises, it would be unusual for it not to pass the cost onto the consumer. Sometimes customers are really in need of the misshelved item for themselves or a child and they simply can’t find it.

Since human behavior is what it is, grocery stores might consider adding an area near the cash registers where customers can place items they decide they don’t want but are simply too tired to walk 100 yards to return to their rightful place, even when some of them are noticeably wearing step-tracking devices on their wrists.

At the original Filene’s Basement, which shut its doors in September 2007, customers misshelved items to try to get a better price. Rochelle’s fellow customers misshelve mostly because they are in a hurry or lazy. Whether out of being lazy or strategic, neither was right.

If customers don’t want to take the time to put an item back where they found it because it’s the right thing to do, maybe they can embrace it as a self-interested way to get a few more steps in.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Daughter and dad showdown at the Golden Corral

“Dad, which one’s your favorite?” a daughter asks her father as they and her brother are eating chicken in a Golden Corral commercial.

“I’m going to go with Josh,” the dad quickly responds. To which Josh quips, “Yes,” as he pulls down his fist in a signal of victory.

“I’m sorry. What?” the daughters asks. “I was talking about the types of chicken.”

“C’mon, you know I love all my chickens,” the dad responds, apparently putting more thought into the feelings of his chickens than he does his kids. There appears to be at least one more female child at the table who presumably is not the father’s favorite either.

As advertisements go, it’s not the most offensive ad ever run. But it does seem an odd choice for a restaurant that bills itself as having a mission of delivering “a pleasurable dining experience for families across America.” Clearly, the daughter in the ad who, unlike Josh, doesn’t even have a name, may not have found the experience so pleasurable.

Golden Corral offers buffet-style meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I cannot vouch for the quality of the food since I have never eaten in one of its restaurants. The closest one to me is 48.9 miles north of me in a different state, according to the company’s website location finder.

But the company does appear to be community-minded, based on some of its ongoing efforts. It has an annual military appreciation night, where it provides free meals to active and retired members of the military. It sponsors Camp Corral, a free weeklong camp for children of wounded or deceased members of the military. It also has a GC Cares Assistance Fund for its employees who are in need. Eighty-five percent of its employees say Golden Corral is a great place to work, according to the Great Place to Work Institute. None of these things are referenced in the advertisement.

Teasing a child that she might not be as favored as her brother may have struck an advertising firm as gentle ribbing in which many families engage. But making the daughter the brunt of a joke in an advertisement selling endless plates of differently prepared chicken seems callous. Granted, the father does come off as a bit of a jerk. But that too is an odd choice for an ad trying to lure us in to eat as much chicken as humanly possible in one sitting.

There’s no ethical upside in trying to sell more chicken by sending a message that it’s OK to make a child feel bad about herself. The right thing for any company leaders to ask themselves when creating advertisements is: What message are we sending with this ad?

I’m sure the Golden Corral advertisement is meant to be funny. I’m equally confident that some viewers chuckle upon seeing the advertisement for the first time. But in an effort to get a cheap laugh, is Golden Corral truly sending the message it wants to send? Humor can be a funny thing.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

 

(Fourteen years ago, I wrote about another couple of ads (Ikea, Pizza Hut) in which the message was curious. You can find that column and the ads here.)
 

 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Mother and daughter's relationship stalls over auto-fixing partner

A reader we’re calling Carla wrote to ask whether her mother is a hypocrite and behaving unethically. By Carla’s account, she and her mother got along famously until Carla began a relationship with the person who has been her partner for more than two years. She and her mother still get along about most other things, Carla wrote, but when it comes to her partner, their relationship has stalled.

“My mother doesn’t like my partner,” wrote Carla. Carla wrote that her mother has told her on several occasions of her dislike for her partner and that she wished Carla would break off the relationship and find someone new. Carla writes that her mother is not specific about what she doesn’t like, but she makes her dislike clear. What’s more, Carla’s mother refuses to talk directly to Carla’s partner.

But here’s the rub. Carla’s mother loves that Carla’s partner knows how to fix cars that are broken down or in disrepair, especially when those cars belong to someone in Carla’s family. “She will think nothing,” Carla wrote, of asking Carla’s partner to travel sometimes hours away to help one of Carla’s siblings or cousins when they have a car problem. “She once asked them to fly to a different city to help!” wrote Carla.

“My partner always says ‘yes,’” wrote Carla. Without hesitation, they will make time to travel to the relative’s car, assess the situation, pick up some parts at the local auto body shop if needed, and then get the car running again — so far, without fail.

“If she hates my partner so much, isn’t it wrong for her to keep asking for their help?”

As I regularly do when I am faced with a question that seems to fall outside the specific realm of determining the right thing to do, I must state that I am not a relationship counselor. That Carla’s mother can’t accept her choice of a partner when Carla seems safe and happy in her relationship strikes me that there is something going on in the relationship between Carla and her mother that could use some expert help. I am not the guy to give it.

But I will try to help Carla sort of what the right thing might be to do here for both Carla and her mother.

If Carla is upset that her mother asks for her partner’s help when her mother doesn’t have a kind word to say about them, the right thing for Carla to do is to decline the requests, which always get filtered through Carla. If Carla’s mother continues to want the help, then the right thing is for her to contact Carla’s partner directly to ask them. The partner can say yes or no. By talking with Carla’s partner directly, an unintended consequence might be that she grows to appreciate them more.

If Carla’s mother refuses to contact Carla’s partner directly for help because she doesn’t like them and doesn’t want to talk to them, then perhaps the right thing is for her to find someone else she can ask for help when she needs it.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.