Integrity Test At Harris -Teeter’s

I was doing a quick shopping run this afternoon at the local Harris Teeter’s, and ran into one of those little ethics challenges that eventually define us all.

As I was placing all my items on the conveyor belt, the nice old guy loading my cart—he’s helped me before—pulled the cart ahead so he could start putting in the bags. I had to catch up to to it to rescue the soft-drinks in the lower section of the cart. Eventually all was well and I was checked out— I saved 50 bucks!—and I rolled my bounty into the parking lot where I began loading it all into the trunk. Just as I thought I had finished, I noticed a large pack of paper towels (speaking of Bounty), maybe 15 dollars worth, sitting in the bottom of the cart in the front where I had originally put it. I got a horrible thought: had I left teh store without paying for it? I didn’t recall putting it on the belt. I decided that it must have escaped the old bagger’s attention when he pulled my mostly empty cart past the register.

So I was a paper towel thief. Now what? There was a huge line at all the registers. I could take the package to the customer service counter, but my receipt had the name of the cashier on it, and I worried that I would get her in trouble. I’ve been in these mess-ups before, and usually everyone would rather just avoid the hassle of getting it straight. I even considered driving back to the store tomorrow and just paying the money after explaining what happened. I checked the receipt, and didn’t see the item, but then I didn’t see several things I knew I had purchased. After avoiding several bouts of “Oh, hell, it just paper, why not go home and forget about it?,” I decided to be late coming home and to just get at the end of the line with the paper towels.

A few feet from the entrance, something made me check the receipt one more time, and there it was, the next to last entry. I had paid for it.

I felt so relieved—but not because I didn’t have to go through the grief of checking out the package. I felt relieved because with all the things going through my head, including about 20 rationalizations, I had come to the ethical decision.


That was a close one…

11 thoughts on “Integrity Test At Harris -Teeter’s

  1. “…but then I didn’t see several things I knew I had purchased.”

    Do you mean you just missed them, or they actually weren’t on the receipt, or…?

  2. If you’re worried about it you could always call them. I have had this happen to me with Walmart pick up. They are normally pretty good about it.

  3. That’s happened to me a couple of times in the past few months.

    I go to the grocery store as early as I can to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, this means that there are almost never checkout lanes open and I have to use those awful self-checkout lanes for a full cart of groceries. My local Kroger doesn’t offer conveyer belt self-checkouts. There’s only a small shelf to set items on while checking out. With no place to put the items, they have to stay in the cart most of the time while I’m bagging. Eventually, though, the bags have to go somewhere so I have to put them in the cart in order to continue checking out.

    While I’m pretty good about getting everything, there’s been one or two times in which something got buried under bagged groceries and didn’t get scanned. I’ve found it unbagged at the bottom of the cart, checked the receipt, saw it wasn’t there and had to make the trek back into the store to quickly scan it at the checkout and pay for it.

    These items weren’t consequential things (I think, one time, it was a $2 package of napkins), but they weren’t mine.

    You made the right call. Grocery stores are pains in the neck to visit right now, but that’s no excuse not to pay for something for which you owe.

  4. Regarding your prologue, I have noticed more lights up this year, too. We also had the largest number of trick-or-treaters we’ve had in years turn up on Halloween night.

    My theory is that people are being deprived of so much, they’ve decided to do their celebrating as best they can.

  5. I can top your story. Husband and I were at the Smithsonian Museum in D.C., had just pulled two ice cream bars out of the freezer when we were ordered to evacuate the building before we had a chance to pay. We ate the ice cream, then debated whether to go back and do the right thing when the coast was clear, which was in just a few minutes. We did go in and pay–so excuse me while I put my shoulder out of joint patting myself on the back.

  6. I’ve had trouble getting merchants to accept money due to them. On one occasion, Amazon sent me 10 of an item instead of the 1 that I ordered, and charged me for 1, so about $23.00 instead of $ 230.00. I emailed, and they said, “Just keep them.”
    On another occasion, Walmart emailed their regrets that my grocery pick-up order had to be canceled, and they were refunding my CC payment. I wrote back that I had in fact picked up the order, and gave them the date and approximate time. I did hesitate on that one, thinking the kid who brought the order out to my car might have failed to enter it into the system. Walmart said go ahead and use the stuff or dispose of it, and they did issue a refund.

    • I had the same thing happen twice with Amazon. Both times it seemed they sent me a box of the item rather than a single one (a picking / packing error). Both times their customer support couldn’t understand that I wanted to return excess items I hadn’t ordered. I suspect the “keep it” is pragmatic – it would cost more in employee time to process and restock the return than to just write it off.

      Had this just last week due to processing error (in the process of fixing a previous error). Had I taken advantage of the supplier’s screw up, I could have saved my employer a few thousand dollars.

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