Ethics at the checkout

Here’s another one of those cases that lead me to ask: what would you do?

Home Depot makes a mistake at the checkout and a $199 tool scans for $.01. The sale is completed at $.01 before the store realizes the mistake. By then, the customer says “sorry, the transaction is completed.”

Is it a case of a “deal is a deal”? Or is it more like a clerk that gives you too much change? And what do you do, then?

  • G-man

    This is too easy. Point out the mistake and take the correct amount of change.

  • CK

    If you click the link and read the whole story, I think it makes the case a little more clear.

    First let me point out that being right technically, doesn’t absolve you from being a jerk. In this case I think the customer has the right to keep the product for the price paid. If the circumstances had been slightly different, my judgment would be different. That said here is my argument…


    The item was originally $199 but was on clearance and the clearance price was not marked.

    The manager indicated that once a product is marked down to $.01 it is supposed to be removed from the shelves and thrown away.


    I think the key point here is that the tool was to be thrown away and marked as a $.01 loss to the company for tax purposes.

    The item was priced correctly at $.01. It should not have been on the floor for sale (rather in a dumpster) but that is not the customers fault.

    To say the item has virtually no value until someone wants to buy it, then its value goes from $.01 to $45.00 or $199.00 is absurd. The company decided the item was worthless and they got their asking price. Clearly it was a mistake to leave the item on the shelf, but that does not change the assumed value set on the item.

    Also, if the customer would have given the product back, it would have been thrown away. That is critical to his getting to keep the item. Would you say a dumpster diver owed a restaurant $45 for eating a discarded steak from the trash?

    The larger issue that comes to light from this story, in my mind, is the discarding of perfectly good merchandise. Would it not still be a tax benefit for the company to donate the items to Habitat for Humanity. If the item is going to be thrown away, then hey a penny paid is a penny earned.

    If it were the case that the item rang up wrong, that is, its price was really set at $45 and it came up at $.01, the customer would be wrong. Just the same as if an item that cost $5 rang up at $50 and the customer paid before noticing the error. Of course the story would correct that error no questions asked.

    Here is the lesson: If you are just going to throw something away, you have assigned zero value to something and cannot argue that getting $.01 for it is cheating you out of money. You made $.01. Smile and don’t spend it all in one place.

  • c


    You politely ask the cashier-Hey are you sure it is only 1 cent? And then pay what the price is….I go with the first responder -G-man-this is a no brainer for those with a conscience.


  • CK

    In this case the cashier would have said, “um it appears the item is only $.01” because that is what the markdown price was.

    If a cashier gives you too much change back, of course you hand them the extra dollar back or what-have-you. No argument there. I agree with the gman in that case.

    This is a case of one man gathering what another man spills. The store was going to throw the tool away, not sell it at a profit. That is the relevant fact of this case.

    I agree, if the item was simply mispriced, then of course you point out the error and pay full price. But that is not what happened here.

    This guy paid the right price for the item because it was considered worthless and was garbage. He paid one cent and saved a drill from the rubbish pile.

  • c

    One cent huh-That is all it was worth-Why would Home Depot have something on their shelf TAKING UP SPACE that was worth a penny.

    I would think that at that point-one penny- Home Depot would donate those items to a worthy cause such as Habitat for Humanity.

  • CK

    I agree Home Depot should donate what they consider worthless items to Habitat for Humanity instead of tossing them in the trash. Read my first post, I suggest that very thing.