Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Short List

We had a girls’ day out yesterday. Our daughter, Rachel, and our daugher-in-law, Sarah, drove with me to Freeport in southern Maine for some outlet shopping. Since that popular area was crowded, we had to park in a distant lot which hadn’t been plowed well (Maine has just had up to 2 feet of snow in places), and we had to walk gingerly on slush and snow and ice up to the main street.

When we were in Gap, almost everything was on sale, so Rachel had her arms full. When she mentally added up the cost of her items, she was somewhat shocked and started to choose items to put back. I suggested to her that I pay for a few and call it part of her Christmas. She agreed, and I ended up with her pair of pants and shirt to add to my three purchases.

Everything went according to plan. We checked out, and then, deciding that we had spent enough for the day, walked back in the slush to the car. Since I had already sustained a bad fall once this week (which injured my tailbone), I tried to walk very carefully in the slippery parking lot. Back inside the car, Rachel asked me what the final price of the pants had been. She knew they had been on sale, but didn’t remember what the final discount was. I retrieved the receipt, intending to check the price of the pants, but was surprised to find that that particular item was not on the list.

“I don’t think they charged us for the pants,” I said. Rachel thought I might have missed it, so she took the receipt and checked it herself. We all agreed that the Gap cashier had put the pants in the bag, but had somehow failed to charge us for them.

A discussion ensued as to the next step. Ed and I have always been diligent when we have eaten out to make sure that the server had not omitted an item from the bill. In several cases, that indeed had happened, and we always called the server’s attention to the discrepancy, an act which always seemed to surprise them. Nobody wants to be ripped off by having to pay more than they should, but it seems fewer people mind ripping off the business. “Oh well, it’s their mistake, too bad for them,” is a common response.

But in this case, there were extenuating circumstances, or so the rationalization went. As we discussed it, we were making two distinct mental columns - should we go back and pay for the pants, or should we just forget it and accept their mistake in our favor?

The column of “Just Forget It” had a few key points.
1) I had already had a bad fall this week and was not enthralled with the idea of walking back out in the slush up the hill to the store. What if I fell again? If I broke a hand or arm, I might be out of work for weeks!
2) The store was extremely busy and I didn’t want to get back in a long line.
3) It was their mistake and not my fault.
4) It was already 1 p.m. and we had to find somewhere to eat lunch and head back before dark.

The second column of “Go back and pay” had only one key point.
1) It was the right thing to do.

Sigh. Sometimes the short list trumps the long list.

So Rachel drove the car back up to the shopping area and parked off the street in a “No Parking” zone, keeping the car running, while I went back into the store. I bypassed the long line and went straight to an employee who was folding clothes at the end of the counter. I explained the situation, showed her the pants, and she charged my credit card for it. She did say, “Thank you for coming back in. Not many people would do that.”

Of course, we didn’t get a reward for coming back. No coupons, no extra discounts - I paid the appropriate price for the pants and that was that.

Oh, wait - we did get a reward. It’s called Intact Integrity with a Clear Conscience. Sometimes it’s the only prize - but it’s the jackpot.

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