Saturday, January 3, 2009


WWYD = What would YOU do?

Ethical dilemma #1

I buy my shampoo and conditioner from this online store - Hashem, the guy who cuts my hair (my stylist?) got me hooked on this Italian brand of hair care products - Davines. I know, I know.... you wouldn't look at me and think that I buy fancy-shmancy European shampoo, but I do. Just one of the many contradictions that makes me who I am.

They were having a big sale so I bought a bunch of shampoo and conditioner at once. One of the plastic conditioner bottles cracked and leaked all over the box when they shipped it. I called them and they told me to return the broken bottle. I returned it with the packing list and filled out the information on the back to let them know that it was damaged during shipping. I checked the box on the form that said I wanted a refund instead of an exchange, because I didn't need them to ship me another bottle.

The packing list that I sent back showed a quantity of four, which is the original quantity that I ordered. But I only returned one broken bottle. They have credited my credit card for all four bottles, instead of giving me a credit for just the one that I returned.

Should I call them to let them know that they made a mistake?

I could rationalize that it was the company's error and therefore not my problem. If their employee made a mistake and entered my return incorrectly, that is their issue. Why should I have to expend any energy to correct it? I didn't do anything to actively try to deceive the company, so it isn't stealing, right?

Or I could say that it just isn't right that I got something that I didn't pay for. I have the three other bottles of conditioner and I should pay for them. It won't take that much for me to just call them up and let them know their mistake.

Ethical dilemma #2

I went to Target to try to find something to better organize the top of our desk. I found a wire organizer that I thought would work well. Then I noticed that it was damaged - one of the corners was bent out of shape. It couldn't be fixed, but it was still perfectly usable. I asked an employee if there was a discount on it because it was damaged. He said that you usually get 10% off and they would ring it up at the register.

I brought the organizer to the check-out lane, showed the man at the register the damage and told him that I was told there would be a discount. I deliberately did NOT say that the other employee told me it was a 10% discount. He looked up the price and saw that it normally sells for $19.99. He said he could offer it to me for $9.00. I said sure!

Was it wrong of me not to tell the guy at the register that the other employee had told me 10% off?

The Target employee in the aisle told me that the discount for damage was usually 10%. He did not say that it was always 10%. Obviously the employee at the register is allowed to exercise some discretion about how much he could charge me for the damaged item. Either one of those employees could have been wrong. It was not up to me to speak up so that I get the smallest discount if Target's policies are not clearly defined, even to its own employees.

But should I have said to the employee at the register that the other employee had told me 10%, because that it was I believed to be true when I decided to purchase the item?

Shades of gray

I consider myself an honest and ethical person and I would imagine that most of us feel that way about ourselves. There are certain things that are easy to define as right and wrong.

My pocketbook was once stolen out of our booth at a trade show, while we were all right there in the booth. It made me so angry. How could a person do that and live with himself? The sympathetic, liberal in me was squashed by my inner, right-wing nut job who wanted to exact revenge on this person. I imagined all sorts of horrible outcomes for this loser who had stolen from me. Maybe he'll use my money to get a taxi that will CRASH AND BURN! Maybe he'll buy some gum and CHOKE ON IT!

I once dropped my wallet out of my car as I parked in front of my apartment in San Francisco. Later, it was returned to me by a prostitute. One of the "ladies" who frequented a nearby corner at night actually took the time to ring the buzzer to my apartment to try to find me and return my wallet. ( I miss Lower Nob Hill.)

In these two examples there is clearly someone doing the right thing and someone doing the wrong thing. It is easy to distinguish between right and wrong when confronted with big issues. Don't kill. Don't steal. Don't hurt others. Simple, right? But what about the little things that arise in our daily lives? That is where we get into shades of gray. We all draw the lines in slightly different ways to suit our own ideas about what is honest or what is fair.

I would never steal money from a person, even if they were dropping hundred dollar bills as they walked in front of me. I would also never walk out of a store with something that I hadn't paid for. But in my two dilemmas, will I let myself get away with things, just because I can? Will I let myself off on a technicality?

Discuss amongst yourselves. I'll let you know my decisions on another day.


Bethany said...

I've had similar things, of course.
On the first one, the right thing to do is call and tell them the mistake. It is ethically wrong not to. A phone call takes about 2 seconds. One time at Home Depot, I was buying tons of stuff and the bill was over 100 dollars, but I stupidly checked the receipt as she was bagging my stuff and noticed she did not charge me for the huge shelf I was buying, over 70 bucks. I couldn't really afford the shelf, so it was a nice treat. But I couldn't not say something. Yes it was their mistake, but I noticed it in time to fix it. Honestly, if I had driven all the way home and then noticed it, I would not have felt the need to go back. I do measure how much energy it would take me to go out of my way to remedy the situation if it it's their mistake. I doubt that should be part of the ethical equation, but I only have so much time in my day and I'm not rushing back to Home Depot and standing in line to tell them they didn't charge me for something. Sorry.

The Target situation is fine, 10 percent is not really a good deal for a damaged item. And who's to say the person you asked the first time was the boss of everything? The checking out guy had the final say and it's perfectly fine that you didn't open your mouth. It would've been dumb if you did. Plus that metal thing is not worth more than 10 bucks. what a rip off.

Anonymous said...

I actually had a very simalar thing happen today. I was in Target buying some supplies for Alex (She broke her leg on Sat). I was looking for a small side table to put beside her while sittig on the couch. I found one for $19.99. What a deal!!! I grabbed a few other things for her that I figured would only add up to about $15.00. I was going to get out of Target spending only $35. I was pleased with myself. I never pay much attention to the scanning of my items and absolutely love that Target allows me to actually scan my credit card and sign for it while the items are still being scanned. (I hope this catches on everywhere it saves so much time!!) The casheier says "Your total is $17.65. What did I do????? Grabbed my reciept and walked stait to Starbucks! I can celebrate with a Venti Mocha Latee. I just got a table for free!! I didn't feel bad at all. As I waited for my $14 coffee feeling happy with myself I reviewed my reciept. End table $4.98 I did pay for it afterall. It must have been on sale. Still feeling pleased with my purchase I headed home. At home I took the table out of the box. As I watched John put it together I could her the crumbling of the partical board with each turn of the screw. I am sure the table will be in the garbage by next week. I am sure glad I didn't spent $19.99

Kate said...

Here's how I see it - first example, you should call and tell them about the mistaken credit. Mainly because you know for sure what those items cost and that you should have been charged for them. Good karma to tell them about their mistake, and you never know, they MIGHT say "don't worry about it, our treat." (This happened to me at a restaurant recently when we noticed the waiter had not charged us for our beers. Granted beers don't cost as much as fancy conditioner, but still. Never know.) And forget the Target file holder - my theory on things like that is that the first guy was probably unsure what the damage discount should be, that there's ALL sorts of subjectivenss when it comes to damage, and that they give different discounts all the time. So, you went with the answer that was more favorable to you - that seems ethical to me.

BTW, can't wait to see you and your European-conditioned hair in a couple of weeks!

Bobby said...

One simple word. Karma

The Day after my daughter was born i was in the Hospital shop buying something for Jen and Lorelai. When i went pay i looked down and say a "wad" of $20. Thought for a second....hmmmmm diapers, formula...interesting. I picked up the money and asked the cashier if she had dropped it, or if there was someone there before me. I gave it to her and told he she might want to check her security camera and told her i didn't need that kind of bad Karma. Probably the best tip she ever got.

Susan said...

Kathy "With great power comes great responsibility" Use your spidey-senses and you'll know what to do! Love, Susan