Selena wrote in with such a great email that I can’t wait to hear the discussion on this one. She is extra pretty for coming up with such good questions!
Dear Pretty One,
I’ve been enjoying your site for about two years now and have learned so much about deal-finding. I love the thrill of a deal, and the idea of having nice things for less money makes me swoon. I’ve had several deal quandaries lately, though, and I’m hoping you can share your thoughts on them. I want to score deals with both your help and a clear conscience!
I’m totally up for this one, because I love a debate.
What’s that? What do I mean, debate? Well, look. I think I’m pretty bright. Some would argue I even think I’m right most of the time. But I’m not egomaniacal enough to believe that I am always right or that my opinion is necessarily fact. I don’t anticipate that everyone will always agree with me, or that my feelings are The Way It Is, Forever And Ever Amen.
Some things in life are black and white. But the overwhelming bulk of the world comes in shades of gray, y’know?
Anyway, let’s move on to Selena’s questions:
1- Before Christmas, I was sent several cards in the mail of the “$10 Off Any Purchase” and “Get a Free Product with Any Purchase” varieties. For the first deal, I went to the mall and got two lip glosses for exactly $10, making them of no cost to me. For the second deal, I chose a small ornament for $1.50 and received the $11 product for free. I was so excited to tell my husband about the deals, but he was horrified and said that this kind of thing is not what the stores had in mind and felt that it was cheating in some way. I thought he should have been proud! I mean, I was in their stores when I normally wouldn’t have been, and maybe I would have purchased other items (had I not been such a smart deal-finder)! Is there ever a time to not take advantage of this kind of offer?
My opinion is that you did nothing wrong. When you’re talking about an in-store deal, the store is free to put whatever restrictions on their special offers they’d like—and most of the time, they do. Most of the time, a buy-1-get-1 offer will clearly state that the cheaper item will be free, and most of the time a $10 off offer will have a purchase minimum.
When they don’t, they can be used however you’d like, and—here’s the important part—if it was somehow a problem, you’re buying from a real live human who can stop you and say, “Hey, wait a minute. No. You can’t do that.” (This is in contrast to online deals where maybe you get a bargain because of a computer glitch; say, a coupon is supposed to have a minimum, but it lets you order without one.)
Those offers are designed to get your body into the store. Period. The reality is that you are in the restrained minority; most of the people who head to the store with one of those offers do exactly what the establishment is hoping they’ll do—they walk in to get their free item and end up spending hundreds on other stuff as well.
Did the store lose money on you? Yes. Do they care? No. Did you ruin their financial viability? No. You are part of the “calculated risk” of such an offer, and don’t think they don’t know people like you exist. They know. It’s okay. For every one of you, there’s dozens more who will spend money.
2- Last week, I ordered a swimming suit online. Knowing this company often has codes out, I waited as long as I could, but ultimately ordered without a code because I need the suit for an upcoming vacation. This morning, I found a free shipping code and called the company hoping they would refund shipping to my credit card. I was told that because the code did not come from that company, rather from a promo codes website, that using it was committing “fraud”. (I think charging me $10.95 to ship a tiny bathing suit to my door in 7-10 business days is fraud, but I kept that to myself)! I was told that using such codes could mean my order is not processed. I’m willing to take that chance, but it got me thinking. I assumed companies leak codes to attract buyers who will hopefully buy when they previously wouldn’t have. I want a great deal, or free stuff added on to my orders, but I don’t want to do it if it truly is wrong.
This one is harder. First of all, I think any company with good customer service will honor such a request, even if only to keep you happy. You weren’t asking to get it for free, you were asking to have your shipping fee waived when clearly that’s something they sometimes do (otherwise there wouldn’t be a code).
Second, I think accusing you of attempted fraud is a bit heavy-handed. Very often companies release coupon codes intended for general use. Sometimes a code makes its way onto the internet which is intended for only a small group of people. How are you, the average casual shopper, supposed to know the difference? The definition of fraud says that it is intentional deception. You were not attempting fraud because you didn’t know you weren’t “supposed” to have that code.
Now, if they don’t want you to use it, they shouldn’t honor it. That’s fine. That’s absolutely a store’s prerogative, and it’s why I never get too upset when a great deal I find ends up with orders being canceled because it wasn’t meant for general consumption. You win some, you lose some. I don’t want to be putting a store out of business, obviously. But I never (and I’m sure you don’t, either) enter into a deal thinking, “Wow, I’m sure I’m not supposed to be doing this but I’ll show them!”
So, Selena, in my humble opinion, you didn’t do anything wrong in either case.
Now here’s where I get all touchy-feely on you: I believe in karma, or something like it. Simply put, I believe that what you put out there comes back to you. And so for me I believe in utilizing great deals as often as possible, but I do tend to skip over the ones that are clearly offered in error. I also think there is a special circle of hell reserved for the people who not only jump on those sorts of deals, but buy 50 or whatever it is and then mark ’em up and sell on eBay. That’s just my opinion, of course.
Furthermore, when a store offers me good customer service I will pay more to shop with them, and come back even when the deals aren’t as good. I want to support them and make sure they stay in business. But if a store treats me badly… well, I won’t defraud them, of course, but that free $10 item or whatever is a lot easier to pocket and not worry about.
I’ve been called out on the site for encouraging pricematching at Zappos and for discussing Walmart’s return policy; in both cases, people felt the need to tell me that I was wrong and doing something bad. Bear in mind that I am all for everyone making their own decisions about what they think is right, and all I can offer is my reasoned opinion on the matter (which I did, in both cases).
Bottom line: Make your own (informed) decisions. You’re the one who has to live with your choices, not me.