moral dilemma - who benefits a sales error
July 9, 2010 5:11 PM   Subscribe

Who benefits from an unexpected advantage of a purchases on behalf of another?

Person X asks person Y, a very good friend, if he needs anything from a big sports store a one-hour drive away. Y says he could use 50 carabiners. They are only €5 in that store and X can bring as many as they have.
After sorting the available carabiners, X finds 15 that meet the requirements. X does his own shopping and pays for the purchases.

Afterwards X finds out that the store clerc has only charged 1 of those carabiners (€5) instead of 15 (€75). X Ponders his available options: explain the error and ask his friend €5 instead of €75 or ask €75 and never mention the error. A friend of X suggests a third option: explain the error, ask €40 and split the "profit". X brings the carabiners to the home of Y. As Y is off climbing, X does not consult Y and sends Y an email explaining the error and asking to transfer €40.

After a reminder Y makes the payment. X visits Y who seems upset. After a slight hesitation, Y explains that he is uncomfortable with the situation. He would have asked €5 and feels like X has €35 of his money.
X mentions that he hás pondered the situation.
Y mentions that it is not about the money but about the principle.

X says that if the error had been disadvantageous, he would have been responsable and would have asked Y only 15x€5, not more. Y disagrees. Y would explain a disadvantageous error and try to recoup his loss when buying on behalf of another.
The issue is not resolved.

What would be the best resolution for this particular situation?
For future reference, who is reponsable for the disadvantages or benefits from the advantages of purchases on behalf of another?
posted by Akeem to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Either charge your friend what you paid, or go back to the store and pay the full amount and charge your friend that.
What you did, I would never do.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:21 PM on July 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


The person who went out of their way to do something nice for a friend gets...to have friends.

They don't benefit from random windfalls at the expense of their friends. Nor do they get to retroactively decide that they should get paid to do a favor that they had offered to do for free.

What X would do in a situation that does not benefit X and has not actually happened is irrelevant.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:21 PM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Completely disregarding the "moral" dilemma of whether or not X should have pointed out the error to the clerk in the first place, I'd say that since X was not going to benefit financially or in the form of goods from the transaction in the first place, that X should not benefit in any way in this case. X should return the €35 and apologize.
posted by mireille at 5:22 PM on July 9, 2010


Sorry, what Y did I would never do.
The final purchaser - X - repays the purchaser exactly what the purchaser paid, whether it is less or more than expected, unless the purchaser has made some big error and massively multiplied the expected price, in which case the best option for long-term friendship is to return the items and let X get them themselves.
If Y wants to throw in a tip or thankyou, it is up to Y, not X. Unless X has arranged any extra costs with Y - gas, for example - only exact repayment is usually expected, with maybe some rounding up as a thank you - but that's Y's choice.

What X did in this case was attempt to profit off of both the store and his friend. Both are kind of crappy behavior imo.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:25 PM on July 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


You can have either friends or customers. Choose one.
posted by benzenedream at 5:27 PM on July 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


Person X offered to do a nice thing for a friend, and then ruined the whole thing over a measly €35. There's a dilemma here? Person X should have made it right before leaving the store. But in any event, it should be pretty obvious that trying to profit in this way doesn't really fall into the category of "very good friend" behavior.
posted by spilon at 5:34 PM on July 9, 2010


Y mentions that it is not about the money but about the principle.

I've posted this before and I'll probably post it again. When someone says it's the principle and not the money, it's the money. It's always the money.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:37 PM on July 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


X says that if the error had been disadvantageous, he would have been responsable and would have asked Y only 15x€5, not more. Y disagrees. Y would explain a disadvantageous error and try to recoup his loss when buying on behalf of another.
If you've been charged for more things than you got then you go back and get a refund.

I think I'm right in saying that X was going to go to the shop anyway? If they'd driven an hour out of their way just as a favour then maybe I could see their point (although if it was a favour, then it should be just that), otherwise I really can't see any argument supporting their behaviour.

Best resolution? Y gives X €5.
posted by muteh at 5:53 PM on July 9, 2010


WTF? So we are disusing, here, who gets to fuck the store and who doesn't. Is that right? We are pretending that a hypothetical where a store cheated either of you out of 75 Pounds, neither of you would be back there screaming your heads of to get the cash back is realistic. Is that what we are doing? You would just eat such an error, C'est le vie.

We're not talking about 5p dropped on the floor, are we?

'K. Do either of you ever want to do business with the other again? Really? Only as long as you're "friends", I guess, (better keep each other close), because after that it's everyone for themselves and screw all.
posted by Some1 at 6:04 PM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


In my opinion there are two interpretations here.
1. X was acting as an agent for Y, authorized to spend up to $75 of Y's money on carabiners.
2. X was acting as a broker, offering to acquire 15 carabiners and sell them to Y for $75. (There is no expected profit since $75 is the retail price)

Y thought X was his agent, but X thinks he is a broker. Hence the debate.

Attention X: in normal transactions for a friend, you are an agent, not a broker. You don't engage in transactions with a friend and turn a profit. You get $5 and that's it.

By the way X should have notified the store of the error right away.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:12 PM on July 9, 2010 [17 favorites]


If X had gone to the store and discovered that there was a massive sale on carabiners, would he have asked for the non-sale amount of money from Y just because Y didn't know about the sale?

Trying to profit from someone's mistake (the clerk's) with a friend's money is just gross. Don't do that.
posted by rtha at 6:29 PM on July 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


To answer your question about what X should do now (rather than what X should have done): apologise profusely to Y along the lines of "what was I thinking, I must have been high off carabiner fumes [I don't actually know what a carabiner is or whether it emits fumes], forget the 35 euros and the next round is on me".

I've posted this before and I'll probably post it again. When someone says it's the principle and not the money, it's the money. It's always the money.

Well, it can be both. In this case I think there's plenty of principle involved.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:56 PM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Me, I'd have returned to the store, explained that they'd erred in ringing up my purchase, and paid the store the correct amount. That way, I'd not have this dilemma, or any guilt that the store clerk might bear the cost either directly or by being suspected of incompetence or thievery.

But had I not done that, had I ended up only paying €5 (or whatever), I'd have passed on that cost to my friend, as our agreement was that I'd purchase the carabiners at cost, without markup or fee for agency.

That was your agreement, yes? That you'd do him the favor of selecting, purchasing, and transporting the carabiners, supplying them to him at (your) cost.

Had the carabineers unexpectedly been €10, you'd have expected him to repay you the full amount you'd paid, yes? You'd not have told him you'd absorb the additional cost as a cost of doing business, as you were not doing business with your friend, you were doing him a favor. A favor where he gets your time and carabineer selecting expertise for free, and he pays the direct cost of the carabineers.

I certainly hope you weren't doing business. Because while I don't know the laws of whatever jurisdiction you're in, if you were doing business, you might or might not have committed something like theft by having knowingly accepted 15 carabineers while only paying for one.
posted by orthogonality at 7:21 PM on July 9, 2010


X is not a reseller of carabiners. X is a friend who is doing a favor. Therefore, the social convention is that X should ask to be repaid the same amount that he himself paid.

If X was a carabiner reseller, and Y was his customer off (say) eBay, then sure. X can charge whatever he wants. Because that is a profit-driven situation, and is therefore driven by the conventions of business economics.

Personally if I were Y, I'd pay the amount X requested, consider it my fee for learning that X is a complete asshole, and never speak to X again. (Let's face it, people pay steeper fees to gain that knowledge.)
posted by ErikaB at 7:26 PM on July 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Had the carabineers unexpectedly been €10, you'd have expected him to repay you the full amount you'd paid, yes?

No.

X says that if the error had been disadvantageous, he would have been responsible and would have asked Y only 15x€5, not more.

X says that if he would have failed to notice that the carabiners were €10 a piece, and the mistake was not worth the effort/gas/time to return to the store, he would have been responsible and would have asked Y only 15x€5, not more.
posted by Akeem at 7:42 PM on July 9, 2010


Where's the dilemma? With friends like these, who lack moral and ethical obligation, no argument can resolve this when you are doing the wrong thing. Go back and pay for the carabiners, then share the tab on a couple of beers at the local pub. Karma, Dude.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 7:56 PM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


X says that if he would have failed to notice that the carabiners were €10 a piece, and the mistake was not worth the effort/gas/time to return to the store, he would have been responsible and would have asked Y only 15x€5, not more.

Well, that's one way to adopt a consistent principle!

But how does Y know that X is sincere about that?

How does X even know that he's not lying to himself about it? How does he know what he'd really do in that situation?

Also, the fact that a different situation might have involved Y being pleased with his savings (if he found out about it) doesn't change what happened in the actual situation, in which Y is upset. Those feelings aren't going to go away just by bringing up a hypothetical situation in which the thing that upset Y didn't happen. You have to deal with the facts as they really are.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:58 PM on July 9, 2010


When doing a favour for someone you're not supposed to profit hugely and be all smug about it. It took less money than expected so you give back the difference and be happy for your friend OR you never ever tell anyone and either fell horribly guilty or think nothing of it and use it for something random or something nice to pass on the good luck. Pick only one and live with it! I'd have been all happy for my friend and gleeful to give them back so much of their money. Or more likely have corrected the error at the store.
posted by meepmeow at 8:01 PM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


You cannot be "ethical" to one party and "not ethical" to another. You can only decide to act ethically towards all parties.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:44 PM on July 9, 2010


I'd have been all happy for my friend and gleeful to give them back so much of their money. Or more likely have corrected the error at the store.
posted by salvia at 10:22 PM on July 9, 2010


Whoops! Hit post by accident! I meant to add:

Yes, me too. But in the friend's shoes, I would have rushed to share the windfall. I can understand being peeved by being billed for it instead of offering it generously, so I still side with the churlish friend. But only partially.
posted by salvia at 10:26 PM on July 9, 2010


I totally screwed up my X's and Y's. But I think the meaning got through.
Look, a unicorn! /runs away
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:43 PM on July 9, 2010


So let me get this right, you're fighting over who gets to STEAL MONEY FROM A STORE? Because yes, if you knowingly take advantage of a clerk's error, you're stealing money. The fact that you're viewing it as a windfall instead of doing the right thing tells me volumes about both of you as people. If I were Y, I wouldn't be upset that X didn't give me the money, I'd be upset that X took the money in the first place under my name. Then I'd either ask them to make it right with the store or do it myself. Then I'd reconsider my friendship with X. This isn't a windfall. Someone will have to reconcile this money, more than likely the clerk. There is still time here for someone to be the bigger person.
posted by Jubey at 5:05 PM on July 12, 2010


« Older I'm looking for a capella/other Christian folk...   |   Ugh, sad and yeasty... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.