Groceries discount if you don't have enough money?
March 8, 2008 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Is it normal to be given a discount off of your groceries at the checkout if you don't have enough money?

I went to a huge chain supermarket in the UK earlier today to buy some groceries. When I got to pay, it came to £27 altogether. I checked my wallet and I had £26.15 and I said to the cashier, 'damned, just short'. As I went to get my debit card to pay, she said 'Never mind' and pressed a button that knocked a £1 off my total bill then accepted the cash for the reduced amount. When I checked my receipt a manufacturers coupon code had been put through for £1.

What I want to know is: was this the kindly act of a good person doing me a favour? Is it company policy at these massive chains to knock off the odd few pence here or there occasionally to engender goodwill? Has this ever happened to anyone else? I have never heard of this happening before to anyone I know and it has certainly never happened to me.

*It's one of the four hugr chains in the UK but I didn't want to name it in case for some bizarre reason the cashier got into trouble: take your pick from ASDA(Wal Mart)/ Morrisons/ Sainsburys/Tesco.
posted by ClanvidHorse to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It is extremely unlikely it is company policy. This is a (possible disciplinary inducing if caught) one off by the cashier.

You were lucky, and they were risking getting in trouble for doing it.
posted by Brockles at 9:40 AM on March 8, 2008

It has happened to me many times in the US, but only in small, independent stores where I was a regular customer.

Are you sure she wasn't hitting on you?
posted by bingo at 9:42 AM on March 8, 2008

I worked at a grocery store for many years (given, a smaller one), and it was never "company policy" to give discounts in the event that you're a little short. If you're a regular customer or really nice to me, I have been known to give you a 5% Senior Citizen discount, though.

This is something that isn't most likely encouraged by the store, but it may be some hush-hush attempt at keeping with a mom-and-pop atmosphere.
posted by booticon at 9:47 AM on March 8, 2008

I typically don't ask too many questions when these sort of generous gifts are bestowed upon me unnecessarily. Maybe the universe loved you in that moment.

People who handle money generally have shortcuts that they know won't be examined too closely by management and may utilize them in a situation where it will benefit all to keep things smooth. A good customer will appreciate these favors quietly and not expect them all the time/ask too many questions.
posted by sarelicar at 9:49 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here in the US, you would likely have to hand over something to the cashier, they would subtract it from the total and then restock it.
posted by jeremias at 9:50 AM on March 8, 2008

It was probably faster for her to use some institutional code or coupon to get you out instead of having to re-ring or delete something and hold up the line.
posted by 45moore45 at 9:50 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

45moore45: "It was probably faster for her to use some institutional code or coupon to get you out instead of having to re-ring or delete something and hold up the line."

Most definitely. Even for a couple of small items, depending on the register interface, it can be a pain in the balls to essentially re-ring those items to return them. Then usually a front-end cashier is assigned to restock.
posted by booticon at 9:54 AM on March 8, 2008

I work in a shop. I have, in the past, given a customer a discount on an item if they were pleasant, and it was a genuine instance of not having enough money. I have no doubt, though, that I'd get into a lot of hot water if I ever get caught.

was this the kindly act of a good person doing me a favour?

Quite probably.

Is it company policy at these massive chains to knock off the odd few pence here or there occasionally to engender goodwill?

I sincerely doubt it, based on my own experience working in large chain stores (not supermarkets, but similar). In a large shop like that, one disgruntled customer is a drop in the ocean. It's not like they're going to convince family and friends to not shop there by complaining they didn't get something they weren't entitled to.

Has this ever happened to anyone else?

It happened to me once, and I really appreciated it, so I tend to do it to other folks now.

It probably doesn't happen much because BigChainSupermarket HQ isn't going to set up a till function whereby the cashier can fiddle the customer - the cashier hits the £1 off button, doesn't tell the customer, and pockets the £1. The customer isn't aware of the discount, and the till is correct because the £1 discrepancy is accounted for. Nobody is any the wiser.
posted by Solomon at 9:55 AM on March 8, 2008

I worked at Wal-Mart as a cashier this summer, and occasionally when a customer who had been very kind to me throughout the checkout process was short a dollar or two, I'd pull a dollar out of my wallet and pay the difference. Did the same with coins, a bit more often. Pays (haha) to be nice to your cashier.
posted by DMan at 10:23 AM on March 8, 2008

Here in the US, you would likely have to hand over something to the cashier, they would subtract it from the total and then restock it.

I have to disagree with this. I live in Southern California and in the past couple months I've had similar situations happen to me with surprising frequency. I've not been short with change, but if my total came out to "$8.07" and I handed the cashier a $10, he would give me $2.00 in return.

I'm pretty sure he's just being lazy and not wanting to count out the $.93 he owes me, but it's happened perhaps four or five times in the past two months that it's made me wonder the same things the poster has asked. The ClanvidHorse's situation could be similar - perhaps it was easier for the cashier to dock a dollar off the price, then to have him decide which item he wants to give up and have to subtract that item from the total, then re-stock it.

I have also been given a lot of free drinks in the past when ordering at fast food places. About a month ago I got an entire free meal for absolutely no apparent reason. I've always wondered how they're able to do this, and what reasons they have for giving a free drink/food to me (I'm not a regular customer as these places, and honestly it rarely seems like it's for flirting purposes) and how often they do this for random customers.
posted by Squee at 10:59 AM on March 8, 2008

No, it's not normal. Now don't screw it up.

The next time you go to the register, do not say 'What about my discount?' Nothing good can possibly come of this, so please don't do it. In all my frontline/retail/customer-service experience, I'm always amazed at how many people don't realize this.
posted by box at 11:13 AM on March 8, 2008

I was at Canadian Tire the other day and had to walk out to my car for one cent (I was returning one item for another).

I caught my reflection in the window and suddenly had a new appreciation for the term "bemused grin".
posted by davey_darling at 11:21 AM on March 8, 2008

I am a regular, supportive customer at the mothership Whole Foods store in Austin, Texas and am customarily given a "don't worry about it" on the few occasions I've gone through the line with either no money, or a bit of a shortfall.

I think it comes down to three things: value of the "comp", you, and how well you're known by the store, and the cashtron.
posted by lometogo at 11:34 AM on March 8, 2008

At some stores, that cashier "owns" that register. They essentially borrow all the money that goes into it at the beginning of the shift, and then pay back what should be in it at the end. If that's the case, the store doesn't care what they do in the meantime, as long as they ring up all the stock that goes out of the store. A dollar and some change short at end-of-shift? Cashier pays it. So you probably got a favor done for you by the cashier, who paid for your shortage personally.

What's more likely, though, is that you also had an item or two that had published coupons you didn't know about. The cashier probably had a bunch of those behind the counter. The cashier rang you up for having the coupon, and at the end of the shift, just tossed in one of her own.

I imagine as the cashier you could make some small amount of money doing that, if you did it every day. Essentially exchanging coupons for cash via the register balancing. All you would need is for customers to buy the items without having the coupon. I've had plenty of cashiers 'remind' me about a coupon I had no idea about, and then put one in for me from behind the counter.
posted by ctmf at 11:49 AM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a cashier in a sandwich shop, I have found that many people will just leave their small change, and so I'll use that money whenever possible to avoid giving out obnoxious amounts of coins to subsequent customers. I also use it if some (nice)(friendly) person is short on their cookie/sandwich/drink, even if I don't recognize them as a repeat customer. I've found that people leave small change fairly frequently, so if I waive the difference for one customer, it'll generally make itself up over my shift.

This shop is also fairly forgiving in the end-of-shift cash drawer count, so that even a couple dollars short or over doesn't make a difference. I don't have to pay a difference at the end of the day if it exists (though I'd be in a lot of trouble if I were $10+ over or under).
posted by andeles at 12:15 PM on March 8, 2008

I've not been short with change, but if my total came out to "$8.07" and I handed the cashier a $10, he would give me $2.00 in return.

A lot of registers will have a small container of pennies, with a few nickels and maybe a dime or two placed in front. I've seen cashiers reach into this when I've paid for something that's $1.04 with a fiver. It makes that transaction faster for them and keeps them from running out of change or taking the time to get more rolls of coins out. Some businesses don't like to keep this sort of thing out on the counter, but still have a little stack of coins for this purpose.
posted by yohko at 12:43 PM on March 8, 2008

I've had this happen, though for a smaller amount than ClanvidHorse is describing. It was at a major chain grocery store here in Canada. I was surprised when it happened but chalked it up to the coupon/small change jar theories.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:00 PM on March 8, 2008

the o.p. wrote that the line item on the receipt was manufacturer coupon.

we used to have a bag of manufacturer's coupons in the office. if one of our cashiers came up short in coupons we would dig a coupon for the appropriate amount out of the bag and put it in the cashier's till. as long as the cashier wasn't off too much it wasn't a hassle to replace the missing coupon. our company was reimbursed because we had sold that item at some point during the week.

the cashier was trying to help you out and probably knew that for an occasional shortage of coupons there would be no complaints from management.
posted by busboy789 at 1:19 PM on March 8, 2008

This one time for work I was given $50 to buy things (nuts, candies, chips, dips, etc) to fill a gift basket. I was a little cart happy and when I got the cashier the total came out to $57.something. I told her that I needed it to be $50, and she said okay. I thought she was going to help me remove some items but instead she put in a code and everything came out to $49.something.

I looked at her and said, "So can I just ask for a lower price when I buy my regular groceries?" She smiled and now I'm a regular there.
posted by 913 at 1:25 PM on March 8, 2008

When I worked at Wal-Hell (2001-2), we had to keep our cash drawers accurate to within $5. If an item rang up incorrectly (or the customer claimed it did), we were allowed to change it to the correct price if it was a discrepancy of less than $0.75. For more than that, we needed a CSM (customer service manager, who is not actually a member of management). Sometimes, we'd have spare change on our register (not sitting in our drawers) from finding change on the floor or a cashier who didn't want her pennies, or what-have-you. I'm sure every store has different policies. It was a rare occasion that I'd risk my job for a customer (if my drawer was off by $5.01 I'd get in big trouble), although I occasionally did have opportunity to throw in a few cents that were just laying around.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:56 PM on March 8, 2008

I've never worked a till at a supermarket, but I've been in line behind people who come up short at the register plenty of times. I give them a couple of bucks and enjoy feeling good about it.

It's no big deal, just another person needing a couple of bucks more than I do. I encourage all within earshot to try it.
posted by SlyBevel at 9:52 PM on March 8, 2008

I worked at Longs for a while. We had a button which would take an arbitrary dollar amount and make the system think it was a coupon for that amount. (actually, I think it capped at a certain amount, not sure). It certainly helped that they didn't account for all the coupons in the drawer versus the amount detailed. And that they had so many pricing errors out of their fliers that it was downright common that something wouldn't ring up right.

So what happened to you was a "coupon" being put into the system to knock a little off.

What some other commenters are mentioning is the teller doing money transactions themselves without telling the register. Things like not counting out all those pennies, and rounding in the customer's favor. I often did that just to make my job smoother. A quarter at the beginning of the shift into the register gave me 25 cents to work with, and since it was a fairly low volume register, it typically lasted for a while. I didn't try to really keep track to the penny, but I had an idea of how close I was.
posted by cschneid at 3:19 PM on March 9, 2008

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