Updated on 09.18.14

Thoughts on Social Savings Inside the Store

Trent Hamm

A few days ago, Sarah and I were buying shoes for our daughter. She’s graduating to shoes with laces, as she’s developed the finger strength and dexterity to tie them for herself, plus her feet are just getting too big for her old ones.

After checking prices in several different stores, we found the perfect pair in an outlet store. The little girl fell in love with the purple design and the sparkles, I respected the sturdy craftsmanship, and the price was pretty solid, too – around $12.

Content with our purchase, we looked around for other items in the same area. We walked down to another outlet store about a block away and found ourselves browsing a mix of children’s clothing and shoes.

While there, Sarah spied a family of six – two adults and four small girls – trying on shoes. One of the pairs that one of the girls was trying on was virtually identical to the pair we had just bought for our daughter (it might have actually been the same model, but I wasn’t quite close enough to tell – suffice it to say that they were very similar). They then talked about the price of the shoes, and I saw Sarah almost choke when she heard that the family was about to pay $50 for that pair of shoes.

She couldn’t hold it in. She spoke up by tapping the mother on the shoulder and saying that we had found almost the exact same pair of shoes for 80% less at a store down the block. The mother’s eyes lit up, she thanked Sarah several times, and that family practically ran out of that store.

Since then, I’ve been flipping this situation over and over again in my mind.

First of all, is it intrusive to suggest lower prices to other customers? If I know that a person can get a lower price on a particular item elsewhere, do I feel appropriate telling them so? On the flip side, if a person in the store knows I can get an item at a lower price elsewhere, is it appropriate that they tell me?

For some people, the answer to both of these might be “yes;” for others, it’s always a “no.” For me, it’s a “sometimes,” mostly depending on context and often depending on how outgoing I’m feeling in that moment.

On the other hand, does it really make a difference whether I’m standing in a store or not? I’m very much willing to share a deal while sitting at my computer. I often visit blogs that share deals, particularly when I’m trying to find a discount on a particular item. Friends often email me deals on things they know I’m looking for, and I do the same for them.

In both cases, context really matters. I simply wouldn’t do such a thing at my preferred local game store, for example, because I value the continued existence of that business and I know that the multitude of services they provide are subsidized by selling things at MSRP. On the other hand, at a large chain store, I’d find myself much more likely to do it, particularly if the savings is quite large.

In the end, I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with sharing bargains with other customers in a store. Much of it has to do with your own social skills and the approachability of the other person.

This brings me to another interesting situation I found myself in recently. When I was shopping at a local store, I was picking up a container of my youngest son’s favorite fruit juice when I noticed that someone had actually stuffed a coupon for the item down inside the label so that part of the coupon was hanging out of the package. Naturally, I used the coupon.

It left me thinking about the person that did this, though. Most likely, a person clipped the coupon, decided it was still too much even with the discount, and decided to leave the coupon for some other buyer (in this case, me). That seems reasonable.

I often clip a lot of coupons that I don’t use. Should I just attach them all in a similar fashion as this mystery juice shopper did for me? Perhaps I could create a culture of coupon paying-it-forward at my local grocery store.

A week later when I was at the store again, I found myself leaving behind six coupons. I just stuck them inside of labels or left them on top of packages. I’d like to think that six lucky customers found the coupons, saved some money, and then maybe one or two of them decided to help someone else save a buck as well.

I think the notion of paying it forward is really what it all comes down to. If you have a chance to share savings with someone else and feel comfortable doing so, share it. It costs you nothing, but it certainly helps the other customer. Perhaps that person will share a savings tip with another person or two and someday the savings will come back around to you.

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  1. sillygirl says:

    I leave coupons when I can too. One grocery store plays a game – I don’t participate but when the checker asks if I do I say yes – get the play pieces and ask the person behind me if they play – give them to them if they do or find someone else in the store that does. Makes me feel good to surprise someone this way and costs nothing.

  2. Riki says:

    I simply wouldn’t do such a thing at my preferred local game store, for example, because I value the continued existence of that business and I know that the multitude of services they provide are subsidized by selling things at MSRP. On the other hand, at a large chain store, I’d find myself much more likely to do it, particularly if the savings is quite large.

    So, you’ll only do it if you don’t personally value the store you’re in?

    If you were in your favourite gaming store and knew another customer could buy an identical game for $12 somewhere else, rather than the $50 they would pay there . . . you would say nothing? Doesn’t that mean you’re only willing to help people save money if it doesn’t personally impact you?

  3. Poor Student says:

    That is really cool that somebody left a coupon with the product, and that it encouraged you to do the same. We have a lot of coupons, some for items that we simply do not need, so I am going to start leaving them for others now too. Maybe this will become a trend and help lots of people who need the help.

  4. Jules says:

    A while ago, our favorite supermarket had a special coupon-type thingy going on, where you received a sheet of stickers with 10-40% discounts on Brand X items. We don’t buy a lot of the stuff, but coffee is expensive in this corner of the world. Twice that week, I found sticker sheets in the bottom of shopping baskets, for 40% off coffee…I was very happy.

    As for the stickers I didn’t use, I left them in the bottom of the basket. Hopefully someone got a good deal.

  5. Jayme says:

    I’ve done that before at a restraunt. A Chinese buffet that I had 2 coupons for, but could only use one at a time. Saved that couple $5!

  6. Steven says:

    Reminds me of the logic Trent used to take advantage of a chain store making a pricing mistake. At a large retailer he’d grab it and pay for it as fast as possible, but at an independent store, he’d inform them of the error. Oh, the article of morality that was posted the other day…it’s interesting to see how Trent partitions these issues in his mind. What a guy.

  7. Money Beagle says:

    I’ve done both where I’ve left coupons and where I’ve told someone of a better deal. One time I was buying cat supplies and I had a boatload of coupons. I got some stuff that I had a coupon that was also on sale, negating the need for the other stuff, so I left them and hoped that other customers got something out of it.

  8. Andrew says:

    Google now lists this site as “The Simple Dollar: Coupons and Financial Advice”.

    Coupon ads all over the page and now coupon anecdotes. Just peachy.

  9. Ruby Leigh says:

    I love the leaving coupon idea! fun.

    Also, I think you did the right thing to inform the family of the more affordable shoes. Sounds like they didn’t have a lot of money to work with and you did them a favor.

    There are local game stores here too where I would be less inclined to advertise the discounted prices online, and I try to support these places with my own purchases too. Having a local resource that provides products I like as well as an environment to play games is valuable to me and I wouldn’t want them to disappear.

  10. Lysander says:

    I think that sharing information while physically in the other store is going to far, in every case it disrespects the other store. You were basically advertising for the competition while in that store.

  11. Laura says:

    I love this post. This week I have been the lucky finder of two left-behind coupons: one with the item on the shelf, one that someone left at the register. I had just been thinking about paying it forward and you have inspired me to follow through.

  12. becky says:

    In the couponing world, they refer to it as a coupon fairy! I do it, too! And I ‘d share the fi ds…there are even apps that do it, so how is it disrespectful?

  13. Tizzle says:

    I learned to do this “paying forward” by coming across a pre-paid parking sticker (had about 30 min left) on the meter. I have used this concept with tickets on the light rail..I would buy for the same price a ticket further than my destination and leave it for someone else. Why not?

    If that store owner heard Sarah doing that, s/he could have kicked y’all out, with justification and within their rights. But telling a mother with 4 kids? Yeah, I would do it too. I would probably also lean toward sharing coupons/advice with someone who looks like a) they need it and b) are nice enough to talk to. How would I determine that? No idea and it’s arguably problematic.

  14. Kai says:

    I think a free market can take advertising for the competition within a store. Many stores offer price-matching for just that.
    I certainly don’t see any reason that a store should automatically get your money just because they got you in the door by keeping you ignorant. And I really don’t see any reason that shoppers should be complicit in it.

  15. Kai says:

    I think this is a great article raising questions about different ways to do things and the values inherent in each, while being different from what we’ve seen lately. I don’t mind if it is name-dropping coupons when it’s well done.
    I do question Trent’s personal decision on the matter, but that’s separate from the article’s value.

  16. RJ says:

    I’ve used those “left behind” coupons on multiple occasions. Let me just say thank you!

  17. MemeGRL says:

    Interesting, Google doesn’t list it that way for me. Still uses the tagline.
    I always cut diaper coupons to leave in the store because that expense is fresh in my mind, and same with coupons that are about to expire that I won’t use.
    As to the particular case of the shoes–with a family that size, I would definitely let them know. And for all you know, they tried the other shoes and didn’t like the fit and came back for the first pair. You didn’t block them from making that purchase, just gave them another option.

  18. Dizzy says:

    My husband was in a store offering two-for-one on certain designer suits, hooked up with another guy in the store and they split the purchase. This was a massive chain – no guilt felt at all.

  19. Michele says:

    I am one of those “coupon fairy” people who leaves them behind, when I have some I’ve decided not to use. Sometimes I’ve handed them to folks while I’m browsing in the area (i.e. vitamins), and tell them If You Don’t Use It, Leave It For Someone Else. I’m not sure how the stores feel about it? I’ve also found some on shelves and appreciated being able to use them, a nice little surprise!

  20. Spamisyummy says:

    We don’t use coupons very often because the items that we buy do not usually have coupons. But when we do clip them and take them with us, and we do not use them, we will leave them for other customers to use. I like paying it forward this way. It’s good karma.

  21. Non says:

    Just my two cents about leaving coupons around from someone who used to work retail. Lots of stores actually toss out those coupons as they’re found on the shelves. The reason for this is that after a while, it litters the shelves, floors, etc. I’m all for saving money but just know that there is a good chance that when you leave a coupon, it will be in the trash can no longer than five minutes after you do.

    The better practice is to hand them to someone as you see them put the item in their cart.

  22. Lauren says:

    I think there’s a big difference in going into a store specifically to redirect people elsewhere, and that that’s never OK, but if you’re there and just happen to have information that somebody else would like, I don’t feel like you owe it to the store not to talk to someone. If I thought people shopping in a local store I actually cared about were actually more concerned about price and a price difference of this magnitude were involved, I would say something there too. But then again I also frequently directed customers in the college bookstore where I worked to half.com and don’t feel at all guilty.

  23. Telling another customer about a specific deal concerning a particular purchase is fine. Spamming a customer with general information is rude.

    I worked retail management for a number of years and I had no problem telling customers if they could get a better deal on a particular item elsewhere. Of course my store did have a price match policy and if I could get the customer to prove the price and item I could then lower my price to match.

    Buyer beware though because if an item looks identical it doesn’t mean it is identical. People would try to get me to price match Wal-Mart prices but they didn’t realize that they weren’t comparing the same item. Some stores have manufacturers deliberately make items with cheaper components and take effort to box them up to look like higher-end models.

  24. Charles says:

    I can’t stay quiet about this, I think you are taking it too far. How can it possibly be wrong to share information?

    Disrespecting the store? How about the store disrespecting you for trying to sell you something for 4 times as much? Are you familiar with the term free market?
    And if the person you share this info with values the services that the more expensive store subsidizes by selling at MSRP, then he will buy there nonetheless.

    Next you’ll be asking if its rude to recommend a friend doesn’t buy certain brand because you’ve had bad experiences with it, disrespecting the brand and the trust they set upon you by letting you buy one of their products.

    Jeez, I really disagree entirely with your post.

  25. Joan says:

    I would very much appreciate hearing about a better price at another store. I do know people who would prefer paying the higher price, and if that is their thing; they can still do so.

  26. Linda says:

    When i was in college, I used to work retail at the children’s section of a department store. I had the same compulsion that Trent’s daughter had to spare a mom from paying too much for an item by telling them to come back to purchase it when it was on sale. I just couldn’t stand to see them pay more than they had to. This may not have seemed to be in the best interests of my employer but those customers were really grateful and seemed to think more of the store as a whole as a result. I considered it good PR.

  27. Katie says:

    I can understand wanting to save someone money, but as a retail worker, I definitely don’t appreciate you leaving coupons. Every week, I get to clean up the mess of expired coupons that “helpful” consumers leave that never get used, which tend to expire a day after they are left anyway. >.<

  28. Misha says:

    Becky at #12 wrote: “there are even apps that do it, so how is it disrespectful?”

    Seriously, what kind of moon logic is that?

  29. Johanna says:

    The difference between sharing a deal with a stranger in the store and sharing a deal on a deal-sharing blog is that you know for a fact that people on deal-sharing blogs are looking for deals to be shared. You don’t know that about the person standing in the store.

    Maybe they already know about the deal at the other store, but they have a reason for wanting to pay the higher price at this store. Maybe the other store doesn’t have the size they want. Maybe it’s not actually the same product. Maybe they have a coupon for this store that you don’t have. Maybe they have some other reason. Or maybe they just really don’t like to have strangers critiquing their shopping habits while they’re minding their own business.

    None of this is to say don’t approach them, but do be careful about how you approach them. If a stranger came up to me and told me that I was an idiot and a half to be shopping here, because you can get all the same stuff for five cents cheaper at the big-box-mart ten miles away, I like to think I’d tell him in no uncertain terms where to go.

  30. Tori says:

    I am also a “coupon fairy.” In addition to leaving coupons on the shelves underneath the items they apply to, I have even stopped people walking past me with their carts if I knew I had a coupon that they could use that I was not going to use myself. I have been thanked profusely for that & have never received a negative reaction.

  31. Emily says:

    I have done this many a times at the supermarket. I look at the items the person before me has and offer any coupons I have extra or won’t be using if they want them. 100% of the time they have been very grateful for helping to save them money. My mom is also really good on helping others in the drug store game by showing people where to find the items. On the day after Thanksgiving, when one drug store had 20+ free items, she and I and all the other couponers worked together to find all the items the store had available.

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