If a cashier handed you too much change, would you keep it? Does the amount of the mistake matter? For instance, would you keep an extra $5 but return an additional $100?
ABC News Primetime ran an experiment to determine what people would do when faced with this ethical dilemma. For two days, they watched as a cashier handed out $10 to $20 in extra change to 46 different people.
In Primetime’s study, 18 of the subjects immediately returned the money, while 26 put the money in their wallets and walked away.
After the initial experiment, Primetime ran a second study. This time the cashier handed out an extra $100, and 16 of the 25 people returned the money.
Karma was the main reason people returned the money. The belief that stealing is a sin was another. Most importantly, restaurant-goers didn’t want the cashier to be financially responsible for this mistake.
But what about those who walked away with the money? Why didn’t they feel guilty for taking money that didn’t belong to them? Most restaurant-goers said they didn’t realize the cashier made a mistake. Others said they didn’t take the money on purpose. It’s not like they stole it. The cashier just handed it to them.
A few months ago, I faced a similar ethical and financial dilemma. I bought a bike from a local bicycle shop for over $400. I ordered a black bike, but when I arrived at the store, one of the employees brought out the identical bike in every way except the color.
The bikes were the same price, and I decided I liked the blue one better, so we paid for some additional accessories like bike helmets and water bottles and went on our way.
The business changed hands shortly after this transaction, and I received a phone call from the bike shop a few months later. The shop owner said my new bike was ready. I just needed to come to the store to pick it up.
Had I been dishonest, I could have taken the bike and walked away with an additional $400 bike for free. Instead, I let the shop owner know that my husband and I had picked up a blue bike instead of the black one.
When my husband mentioned this story to a coworker he said he wouldn’t have thought twice about taking the black bike home. “It’s not my fault they got things mixed up at the store,” he said.
If a Cashier Gives You Too Much Change, What Do You Do?
So what do you think? When cashiers give you too much money, do you let them know?