After the breakout of COVID-19, a reader we're calling Olive worked from home for three months and limited any trips to stores to an every-other-week visit to her local supermarket. She would wear a mask into the store, make her purchases, return home, put the groceries away and then wash her hands copiously. Washing her hands copiously throughout the day became routine.
After three months, Olive decided to expand her outside-the-home activities to an occasional pickup of takeout food from a local restaurant or a trip to her favorite garden center. It was planting season, she writes, and if she was going to be cooped up at home she wanted to be able to get outside and work on her modest garden.
"I went to the garden center last week to buy some clay pots," writes Olive. "There was one in particular I liked, but it was one of the few pots on the shelves that didn't have a price tag." Olive writes that she looked at a smaller size version of the pot and noted it had a $5 price tag on it.
She picked up a few other items at the center and made her way to the checkout line, making sure to pay heed to the marks on the floor that indicated six-foot distances checking-out customers should keep from one another as they went to pay the cashier.
"When I got to the cashier, I told her that the pot was the only one like it on the shelf and that it didn't have a price tag." The cashier took out a three-ring binder and began to look up the price for the pot, but was having trouble finding it. Olive then told the cashier that a smaller version of the pot was labeled as costing $5.
"Since you told me that other pot cost $5, I'll charge you $4 for this one," the cashier said.
Olive was a bit taken aback given that in her experience larger pots generally cost more than smaller ones, but there was a long line behind her and she felt foolish about arguing that it should cost more. She paid up, grabbed her purchases, and left the store.
After she unloaded her items and as she was washing her hands, Olive wondered if she did the right thing by not questioning the cashier's decision to charge her less than the pot likely cost.
"Should I have said something when she told me the price?" asks Olive.
Years ago, I wrote about a reader who knew she was undercharged for an item but the cashier had no idea that the item rang up as some other item that cost less. In that case, bringing the discrepancy to the attention of the cashier would have been the right thing to do.
But Olive was concealing nothing here. She did the right thing by pointing out what the smaller version of the item cost. The cashier may have had discretion about how to charge for non-tagged items, but it's more likely that she simply didn't want to take the time to find the right price for it. If the cashier couldn't find the right price for the clay pot, she could have asked an associate or a manager to help her find it. The cashier fell short on doing the right thing. Olive did not.
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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(c) 2020 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.