A new Barnes and Noble bookseller recently opened near us. To promote the store, they mailed out ten-percent-off coupons. I dragged Kris with me last Saturday, and spent half an hour learning the layout. I managed to hold myself to $51.93 worth of books, which, after the 10% discount, were only going to cost me $46.73. But when I went to pay for them, I ran into trouble.

The clerk scanned my coupon and threw it in the trash. “That’ll be $50.93,” she said.

“That’s not right,” I said. “There’s $52 of books there and I get ten percent off. The total should be less than $47.”

“The coupon is only good for one book, sir,” she said. Apparently the least expensive book, I thought.

“Let me see it again,” I said. She dug the coupon out of the trash and handed it to me. I indicated the text. “Look — it says ‘ten percent off books‘. ‘Books’ strongly implies more than one.”

“Uh, well, that’s the way we’ve been doing it: ten percent off one item…”

“But that’s not right.”

To her credit, the clerk immediately summoned her manager. While she did, I scrutinized the coupon. It not only clearly said books, but it also had instructions to apply the coupon at the “transaction level”.

When the manager arrived, the clerk asked, “Is this coupon just for one book or is it for the whole transaction?”

The manager glanced at it for only a second. “The coupon says books,” she said. “And here on the instructions it says to apply it at the transaction level. It’s for the entire order.” Just then another clerk summoned the manager with the same question.

I got my books for $46.73, of which $32.01 came from a gift certificate I’d received for my birthday. The total cash out of my pocket was $14.72 instead of $18.92, a savings of 22%!

It amazes me that this clerk — and presumably many of her fellow employees — had been ringing up this coupon incorrectly all day despite the printed instructions. And nobody had called her on it! How many hundreds of dollars did consumers lose last Saturday because they didn’t protest?

I know it’s only four dollars, but it’s my four dollars.

Walking back to the car I said to Kris, “I’m posting this at Get Rich Slowly.”

“I know,” she said. “That’s obvious. The old J.D. would have just meekly let it slide, but the new J.D. fights for every dollar.” She paused. “It’s good. The new J.D. is better.”

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