Penny Pinchers: I Want My Four Dollars

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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VinTek
VinTek
13 years ago

Congrats, JD, on your new mindset. Soon you’ll be quoting one of my mottos when it comes to purchases:

“Don’t leave money on the table when you’re doing business.”

and another one…

“Better that it should be in your pocket than in theirs.”

dokaben
dokaben
13 years ago

Nice job. Most people would probably just let the $4 slide, but I say fight for it! When large companies are involved, it definitely becomes a matter of principle.

I had a strange experience once trying to use a B1G1 breakfast sandwich coupon at McDonalds. The woman kept insisting I had to take two McGriddles because of the picture on the coupon. A manager finally straightened her out.

Sad to think of all the poor people before me forced to eat those weird little pancake sandwiches…

Anon
Anon
13 years ago

I’m a trainer at a major chain bookstore that isn’t the one you named. 🙂 I know what it’s like when there’s just one new person at the register. They turn to a more experienced colleague and ask for clarification/assistance. When everyone is new . . . well, bad things happen. Clearly someone misinterpreted the coupon and passed on their faulty misinterpretation. Good for you for pressing your case. Anyway, you should go to B&N’s competition (us) – better discount card, and it’s free!

Marco - Stock Trading
Marco - Stock Trading
13 years ago

You, Seth Godin recently posted something about coupons too… He wasn’t as lucky as you though! He didn’t get the discount.

But hey, B&N got some free publicity from this rather small transaction!

Jai
Jai
13 years ago

This is why you should shop at indi stores (books, music, clothes, cooking, etc). They will – with rare execption – give the customer the benefit of the doubt.

IAmCorbin
IAmCorbin
13 years ago

I just had my own “4 dollar encounter.” I took my girlfriend out to a movie the other night and before going we called to check on ticket costs to see when the matinee times ended. I was told anything before 6pm was $6, everything after was $8. So we went to a 5:40 show, when purchasing the tickets I was told it would be $16 and I told the man at the counter that I had been told matinee prices were until 6pm, he told me it was 5:30. I asked to speak with a manager, explained to him… Read more »

The Technocrat
The Technocrat
13 years ago

Sorry to hear about the problems with the bookstore, but I think I got them back for you: I decided I wanted to brush up on XHTML, CSS and AJAX (weekend before last) so I went and picked up an XHTL/CSS book from borders, $35. Got a 20% off coupon. Studied the book, but since it was instructional and not a reference book, I didn’t need it when I was done (this past weekend). I took some notes and returned it. Used the 20% off coupon and a $20 gift certificate I had to pick up the AJAX book on… Read more »

Kira
Kira
13 years ago

I had an experience at the grocery store where the clerk examined each and every one of my coupons (despite the fact that if you didn’t buy it, the coupon won’t scan). At one point I was “disagreeing” with him over one coupon which clearly said, any Edge shaving product, but since it had the Advance Care logo (or whatever their new product was), he said it was only for that. Despite the fact that it said for all products by that company, and there was a PICTURE of the item I was trying to buy on it. I pointed… Read more »

Tim
Tim
13 years ago

Why not take your frugality a step further? Research the books you want online and purchase them slightly-used at half.com or amazon.com? After all the purchasing dust settles, you likely would see 40-50 percent savings (or even more!) and as a bonus, the books would arrive at your door and thereby also save your gas and time!

PT
PT
11 years ago

You’re right, J.D., this is a good post. Got me fired up. 🙂

UncleMidriff
UncleMidriff
11 years ago

For what it’s worth, I think this situation is a lot different than the Office Depot situation. The coupon you had was clearly for more than one book, and it doesn’t appear that the Barnes and Noble corporate was giving the employees information that conflicted with the coupon. The was little to no ambiguity in this situation.

mary
mary
11 years ago

I got a $600. bonus when i decided to give the business office of my daughters college a call about the bill. they had forgotten to give us credit for a dropped class ! OMG, i almost just sent a check without looking at all the charges. I always guestion everything. A grocery store scanner sometimes sounds that little beep when scanning coupons but actually only 1 came off. I got them good with that one.

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