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June 25th, 2003

Ethical Question

I have an ethical question. Actually, if someone in the reading audience has a good knowledge of retail and can provide me some facts, it may not be a question of ethics at all.

Say a person, let’s call him Bryan, gets a DVD as a gift from an out-of-town relative that bought it at a CostCo/Price Club-type store. The problem: the DVD is full-screen and greedy Bryan wants widescreen, yet he obviously doesn’t want to trouble the gift giver to make the exchange. Unfortunately, though, Bryan doesn’t belong to the discount club that the gift giver does. So, Bryan makes a decision.

Bryan goes to a retail store, let’s call it Bircuit Bity, and takes the DVD, still shrinkwrapped, to the customer service counter. He says to the clerk, “I got this as a gift, but I want the widescreen version. Can I make an even exchange?” The clerk says, “Let me check to see if this came from our store,” and Bryan replies, “I think it did… I could be wrong, though.” The word “Liar” appears in bright lights above his head, with an arrow pointing directly down.

“OK, go ahead,” the clerk says. So I—er—Bryan walks back and finds a widescreen copy of the same movie, noting that the widescreen version and full-screen version sell for the same price.

The exchange is made and Bryan goes home with a widescreen DVD. Bircuit Bity now has one less copy of the widescreen version, but one more copy of the full-screen version, but at least it’s still shrinkwrapped, so they can just put it on the shelf. It’s a big-name movie, too. Surely they’ll sell the copy.

So, was Bryan wrong in making this type of shady return? Will Bircuit Bity lose money on the deal? Will Bryan burn in Hell for the outright lie he told to the clerk?

And leave any “as a GigantoCorp, they deserved it” arguments at the door… I’m worried about my own karma here.

Posted in Consumer Commentary

DATE: Wednesday June 25, 2003 -- 12:29:03 am
I've had situations fairly identical to this come up for me, and I'm sure other people have too. Me, I am pretty up front about where the item came from. It usually ends with positive results. Many companies have reasonable policies with sealed merchandise not from their stores, especially if they're bigger chains--one will work with you if you're honest.

In this particular example, I don't think there's many social/karma implications. No one is hurt by the trade. I think the only question is whether one feels comfortable with their own personal honesty. If not, changing one's future actions to be consistent with their own core values is the right course; being honest with one's self is more important here since there wasn't any real damage to a second party. It's all good though.

FROM: Dave Walls [E-Mail]
DATE: Wednesday June 25, 2003 -- 12:43:27 am
If you had actually bilked them out of money, then I would have worried. Seriously, that's the sort of thing that a store would chalk up to a misring in inventory (Hrm, 1 less widescreen and 1 more full screen? Fix that for me. *click*). Not condoning the action, but hey, in the end, it's no-harm, no-foul.

If nothing else, it's refreshing that biscuit bity's return policy is so forgiving. A guy I know..let's call him "Rave" received a computer game as a present froma relative from an evil store called "Gest Guy". Anyways, as thoughtful as the gift was, it wasn't something that he cared for, so he took the receipt to "Gest Guy" to get a refund. But Rave discovered that the sticker that seals the box had been slit, and the shrink wrap that seals the jewel case had been removed. More than likely, this game had already been returned. So Rave wasn't able to get a refund. However, he knew someone who owned a shrink wrapping machine. So Rave had the jewel case re-shrinkwrapped, put a new sticker on the box, and took it back, and got a refund. Is that any worse?

FROM: Robert [E-Mail]
DATE: Wednesday June 25, 2003 -- 7:57:51 am
What's Bryan doing with a copy of a big name movie anyway? That doesn't match with what I know of Bryan's tastes! :-D

FROM: Chris
DATE: Wednesday June 25, 2003 -- 8:49:59 am
I'm more worried that Bryan actually entered a big box retail store. The damage to his Indie anti establishment karma could be brutal. Tomorrow he will probably be writing about his new found appreciation of Home Depot.

DATE: Wednesday June 25, 2003 -- 8:56:23 am
I've done this one myself on more than a few occassions.
Been given a DVD/CD as a gift, but had already bought it myself.
There's no branch of the originating store that was convenient to me, so just took the duplicate back to the most convenient outlet and get a replacement / refund (vouchers).
I'm not sure of the exact lagality on this one (US or UK), but as far as social ethics go, it's not a problem.

I don't tend to have this problem with audio anymore anyway... Hurrah for Kazaa!
Now that is a whole different ethical question!

DATE: Wednesday June 25, 2003 -- 8:57:30 am
that'll be 'legality' then, sorry for the typo!

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Wednesday June 25, 2003 -- 9:03:37 am
Robert -- Actually the gift was for... let's call her "Gwen." I just simplified the story a bit. :)

Chris -- As I came out of the store, the Indie Police revoked my "Cooler-Than-You" license.

FROM: Paul
DATE: Wednesday June 25, 2003 -- 9:07:55 am
I agree with the consensus here: everything is okay for Bryan. If he somehow got an extra $150 out of the deal, then I'd be worried.

Ryan, I find it odd how similar your name is to Bryan's. And what a coincidence that he knows a Gwen! Amazing!

FROM: Monica
DATE: Wednesday June 25, 2003 -- 1:48:35 pm
since the two versions of the DVD were the same price, at least it's fair money wise. I wonder how the Costco type place would've treated Bryan, though.
When I got to Dave's reply about a certain "Rave" it all came together... this could be a leak from the next Scooby Doo movie!

FROM: Doren
DATE: Wednesday June 25, 2003 -- 4:04:07 pm
Ok. I've got it all figured out.

Put the movie on Ebay. Take the proceeds, then go buy what you want.

You might not get the full price your friend paid, but in the end your karma is NEVER put in peril. In fact, I submit you'll generate GOOD karma because you're letting the cosmos determine what you should get for it.

Or, you could just jack up the shipping charge to recoup the loss.

Or, take comfort in the knowledge that your buyer won't read your description closely and he'll think HE is buying the widescreen version, too. Then, HE will be making a trip to GEST GUY, BIRCUIT BITY, et al.

Full-screen DVD's = The NEW Xmas Fruit Cakes.

FROM: jk aka Retail Guru
DATE: Wednesday June 25, 2003 -- 4:46:57 pm
In the grand scheme of things, the store could not care less about such a small transaction. Here in Central PA, the Bircuit Bity in my town did $500,000 on Black Friday. For real.

FROM: Dave Walls [E-Mail]
DATE: Wednesday June 25, 2003 -- 10:58:45 pm
I like the comparision with full screen DVD's and Christmas Fruit Cakes. Nice one, Doren.

jk nailed it on the head. If it were 100,000 "B"ryan's doing this all over the country, then maybe someone would blink, but I think you're gonna be ok, now that you got your wide screen edition of "Old School". ;)

FROM: aharris [E-Mail]
DATE: Saturday June 28, 2003 -- 7:59:53 pm
ha! I love it.

I tried a similar tactic at Macy's. i wanted to return some perfume that I got for xmas. The woman behind the counter (obviously noting that I'm not as good a liar as "bryan") was like: we don't accept exchanges if it doesn't have the special macy's sticker on it. She then says "Store policy".

Now...I have a feeling she totally made that up. What special sticker? I've never heard of this. But hey, what could I do? I didn't mean to lie but...I wasn't exactly telling the truth either. It COULD have been bought at Macy's but it was a gift so...of course I couldn't really know for sure :)

Oh was a good try tho...;)

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