Sunday, May 10, 2020

Quibbling over expired coupons not right way to help local business

Last December, a reader we're calling Louisa bought about a half-dozen books from her local independent bookstore as part of the store's efforts to get holiday gifts to children in the community.

"I thought it was a great idea to help encourage kids who wanted books to read," writes Louisa. So in the spirit of the holidays, Louisa chose the names of six children from the list of several hundred who had placed a request.

As a thank-you for purchasing the books, the bookstore offered coupons worth 25% off future purchases through the end of March. Louisa writes that she wasn't expecting anything in return, but she appreciated receiving the six coupons and planned to use them later.

The holidays came and went. Louisa's personal and work life got busy and it wasn't until early March that she remembered she had the coupons. "They were under a magnet on my refrigerator," she writes. "I must have stared at them every day, but I just didn't get around to using them."

Louisa liked the idea of supporting the local bookstore, so she planned to get to the store to make her purchase in mid-March.

"Then things got a little crazy," she writes. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, her office shut down and she started working from home. By the time she was set up, the bookstore was shuttered and only taking online orders. Plus, the end of March had come and gone and her coupons had expired.

Louisa wonders, however, if given the unforeseen circumstances, the bookstore might still be willing to honor her coupons for online purchases. "Would it be wrong of me to ask them to extend the discount?" she writes.

I suppose it never hurts to ask for what you want, but Louisa might want to think about a few things before doing so.

First, because she didn't expect to receive a reward for her gracious gift of books to children, it's not exactly like she is being stripped of something she expected. Granted, the coupons were hers to use and she had every right to use them.

Second, if her true motive is to support the bookstore, which presumably is already facing diminished income as a result of having to close its bricks-and-mortar store, does asking it to honor a coupon beyond its expiration date exude signs of support? Again, she has every right to ask.

Third, Louisa had plenty of time to use the coupons. The store was only shuttered for two weeks at the end of March. Even during that time, it was accepting orders online and Louisa could have used her coupons for online purchases.

The bottom line is that it was always possible for Louisa to use the coupons during the time they were good. That time expired.

Louisa did a good thing by buying books for children. The right thing is for her to acknowledge she missed the deadline for using her coupons. She can save money on her book purchases by buying elsewhere, but if she truly wants to support her local bookstore when it needs it most, she might reconsider the ask. 

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. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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