‘Is the Customer Always Right?’

by on January 21, 2021 · 16 comments

in Ocean Beach

Straight-Up With a Twist

By Edwin Decker

Hi Ed, I co-own a small, boutique clothing store in San Diego. A few days ago, a woman came to the register with a vintage leather aviator jacket. When I went to ring the item up, I noticed that the price on the tag was $29 when it should have been $299.

I apologized and said it was a typo but she demanded I honor the price on the tag. I told her that as a small business owner, I could not afford to let the jacket go that cheaply. She insisted that I was required to honor the price on the label and gave me that old line that, “The customer is always right.” A heated argument followed and I kicked her out of my store. So, what do you think? Was I in the wrong? Is the customer always right? How would you have handled it?

Just an Independent Businesswoman Trying to Get By

Dear Indie Businesswoman,

thanks for the questions. I will answer them in order.

1. “Was I in the wrong?”: Well certainly not morally. You have no moral obligation to release an item that far below the asking price. It’s not like she saw the wrong price online and drove 90 miles each way with six toddlers and an oxygen tank in tow to buy the jacket. No, it was an innocent mistake that caused no inconvenience (save the distance she walked from the rack to the register) and I frankly find her demand to be despicable – especially during a pandemic when small businesses like yours are struggling to stay afloat.

As for legally, it’s unclear. According to Consumer Reports, federal law does not oblige a retailer to honor an incorrect price tag, providing it was an accident and that the mispricing caused no discernible damages to the customer. On the other hand, California law does not seem to have a “mistake” exception, except in certain situations. However, as Attorney Bryan Whipple from LawGuru.com put it, “I don’t think there’s a judge in the country that would require the store to sell at the mistaken price.”

2. Is the customer always right?: As a former bartender who has heard this phrase more times than a Baldwin has had to apologize publicly, I can safely say no. Much like the infamous Karen, the CAREN (Customers-are-Always-Right Entitlement Narcissist) is often obnoxious, insulting and wrong. Anybody who has ever held a job in the history of job-holding knows The-Customer-is-Always-Right idiom to be provably false. Customers are wrong a lot because customers are humans and humans are never always right – ever! Not to mention, any sentence or expression that contains the words always can always be dismissed – except, of course, this one.

3. How would you have handled it?: Well, I can be a bit of a curmudgeon and do not recommend anyone following my lead, but I probably would have told your CAREN something to the effect of, “Even if it’s true that customers are always right, you haven’t yet purchased anything and are therefore not a customer – so kindly bugger off.”  I would say it politely and calmly, of course, as that tends to infuriate CARENs even more.


Dear Ed,

Sometimes, if I’m feeling lazy or are in a rush, I don’t return shopping carts to the corral. My wife doesn’t approve. She says I’m being inconsiderate to the employees who have to go around the entire parking lot gathering all the errant carts. Thoughts?

Lindsey in Ocean Beach

Dear Lindsey,

I am pretty sure that most readers will agree with your wife, but there are other ways to look at it.

See, I remember the time when there were no cart corrals in parking lots; nor was there an expectation to return the carts to the storefront. It was pretty much understood that cart collection was part of the service for which we paid, along with the bagging of items, price checks and – most importantly — free grape-tasting. When these corrals started showing up in the early 90’s, a lot of people felt like the stores were pulling a fast one.

Much like when airlines began charging for luggage, cable providers started “renting” cable boxes and when so-called “service” stations stopped pumping gas for customers, many of us thought, What gives? We are losing services yet paying the same prices? I and many others had been conditioned to believe the store is responsible for gathering carts and while I have mostly been browbeaten into conformity, I still hear a little voice saying, “Sucka” every time I do. But that’s just me.

I understand that many – especially those who are too young to remember the carefree days before Skynet installed the cart corrals – do not feel the same. It makes perfect sense for them to think that the responsibility of cart-corralling has always been on the customer so, what is the big deal? The point being, it is a matter of perspective.

Then there is the issue of job elimination. Your wife is nobly concerned for cart pushers but it’s not them we are helping when we return carts to the corrals. We are helping the store. Because, if all the carts are in one place it will take less time to gather them, which means fewer hours, which means, ultimately, fewer jobs.

Of course, it also leads to lower operating costs and cheaper goods which, too, is a valid concern. The point, again, being – it’s a matter of perspective. So, my advice is to do what suits you. Just be sure to secure a wheel or two in a plant border or parking pylon before telling your wife — calmly and politely — to bugger off. After that, go ahead and call Bickford, Blado and Botros which is a well-known San Diego divorce firm because, as I keep saying, heed my advice at your peril.

Edwin Decker (of Ocean Beach) is not a licensed therapist or psychologist. In fact, his only qualification is the 25-plus years as a bartender listening to the liver-aching of desperados and dipsomaniacs. Heed his advice at your peril

Send questions to ed@edwindecker.com


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie January 21, 2021 at 7:55 pm

Taking your cart back is being courteous , like opening or holding the door for someone. Shows you are not lazy and have manners IMO


edwin decker January 22, 2021 at 9:07 am

I get that, Debbie, but what about the alternative ways to think about it that I proposed. For instance, to whom are we being courteous? Not the cart pushers, to them we are taking money out of their pocket. Perhaps to other customers, but is it any more difficult to grab a cart from the corral vs. the cart stack at the front of the store? That leaves the store and, frankly, I worry more about employees than corporations. Just some food for thought.


Eric January 25, 2021 at 10:37 am

I respectfully disagree Ed. We SHOULD return our carts to the corral, out of courtesy. Out of courtesy to other shoppers, neighbors and the “cart pushers”. Nobody should have to park in the lot and have to worry about another driver bumping into a stranded cart sitting in the middle of the lot that may go rolling into the side of their brand new Mercedes or KIA or whatever we drive. It is just plain courtesy and responsibly. And we aren’t taking money out of the “cart pushers” pockets, they don’t get paid by how many carts they return. They most likely have other duties that they have to do during their shift and get paid by the hour. While the price that we pay for goods, groceries, gas or whatever may not have gone down as businesses started to implement these policies, my guess is they didn’t rise as fast either. You/We are always going to encounter those few people that are just too lazy, too entitled, or “too busy” to return the carts. But we should always try to be courteous and respectful to each other.


Geoff Page January 22, 2021 at 11:00 am

I disagree. Being courteous to whom, the store? It is not at all like holding a door open for an individual person. Manners has nothing to do with it. I learned something from this piece about the history of corrals. Another one is self-pumping gas. I grew up working in gas stations where the motorist got gassed up, oil checked, and windows cleaned. Those services are all gone but the price of gas did not go down. Mr. Decker is correct. I’m now rethinking pushing those carts back to the corrals after reading this.


Debbie January 22, 2021 at 4:36 pm



Debora Greene January 22, 2021 at 4:39 pm

Forgot to finish. Ok, manners has nothing to do with bringing something back where you got it???

Just laziness then


edwin decker January 22, 2021 at 5:33 pm

Deborah, with respect, another form of laziness is intellectual laziness. To not consider the nuances of a given issue and just stand by what amounts to a blind idiom is an example of that. Yes, in general, we should return things to where we got them from but not always. Every situation must be considered on its own merits in order for us to make good decisions. I feel like you’re not doing that. I feel like you are just spouting a mantra without considering the ins and outs of the issue.


Geoff Page January 22, 2021 at 8:05 pm

Until you show some consideration, i.e., “manners” to your own neighbors, don’t even pretend to be an authority on manners.


Chris January 22, 2021 at 12:12 pm

Completely independent of courtesy to the store, I always take them to the corrals to prevent runaway carts hitting another car. My vehicle has been both hit by a cart and previously my cart hit another vehicle and it cost me some dough.


Geoff Page January 22, 2021 at 12:51 pm

Ed covered that, Chris, ” Just be sure to secure a wheel or two in a plant border or parking pylon…”


sealintheSelkirks January 23, 2021 at 12:40 pm

I return them because I want to find a parking place that doesn’t have a cart in it which has happened before! And anyway, what are the corporate owners of those carts gonna do if we don’t? Send out their blackshirts to attack us. Oh wait…

Ed, I love your form of politeness to those customers. I was helping a friend move heavy boxes to the back of her 2nd hand store one afternoon a couple weeks ago (she can’t lift) and came out of the back into a full-blown pissed off argument this woman was having with her from the inside the front door who was demanding that she be allowed to do what she wants in the store. The owner just kept telling her to leave and this woman kept raising her voice higher and louder questioning the legality of that and of course the same customer is always right crap. She also threw out the ‘you don’t like my money? You’re a lousy businesswoman’ and a few other gems. So I rolled the handtruck down the very narrow aisle between the furniture right up to her toes where she was standing inside the door, she had nowhere else to go but backwards out the door, and told her to get moving. Handtruck intimidation at work, baby!

There is a very large sign on the door FACE MASK REQUIRED and she was waving around one of these FACE MASK EXEMPT cards that say ‘ADA’ rules and medically exempt from the so-called FTBA Agency on the front with a great eagle picture snagged off a real US agency on it. Very ‘official’ looking card and totally bogus. She stood outside with her adult-age daughter and (I assume) granddaughter yelling at me…but she WAS outside. Somehow I doubt she’ll ever come back to the store but the owner said thanks for running the nut out…

The customer is NOT always right! Otherwise I could go into a restaurant with no shirt and no shoes and demand service because of my ‘rights!’ Pizza with armpit hair, YUMMIE! Ahahahaha



Christopher Klein January 24, 2021 at 6:58 pm

I work at the one and only big box grocery store in La Jolla, being the low man on the totem pole I am often stuck with the dreaded carts job, it SUCKS, people leave trash in the carts, their coffee cups, dirty diapers (they change their babies in the car and throw the diaper in the cart, it sucks, then I have to deal with the homeless (probably from OB), stealing the carts, i tell people please put your cart back in the cart corral, “oh honey, Im too busy, B.S., sorry, just venting,


sealintheSelkirks January 25, 2021 at 10:13 am

EEEUUUWWW! I completely get your rant as my shop was a CalTrans volunteer litter control at a Park & Ride for 7 years on the I-5, and I dealt with the nasty stinking diapers, too! Except, instead of carts, they’d not get their fat lazy butts out of their car to walk six feet to one of the trashcans and instead threw them into the bushes BEHIND the trashcans where they’d rip and start dripping. Very colorful bushes, and the smell in the hot sunshine was…pungent. Every week (though the job was only supposed to be monthly) I was there dragging people’s trash out of the bushes when the cans were not even half full, especially in summer. Winters weren’t so bad since the sh*t was frozen but in Spring there’d be dozens of rotting diapers to gather after the snow melted off.

Our species in a nutshell? Or just the mentality of far too many US citizens?



Mark Sabier January 27, 2021 at 6:37 am

Ok, a lot of people don’t get why it’s wrong so to sum it up: You know why prices are higher in a regular shop than those on the internet? Because they have to pay for more things than the online shop has to. Things like rent, salesman, security, etc. This results in them having to higher their prices to still make a profit, which is bad for the customers, but on the other hand, it brings them some great benefits. Namely the option to physically touch and compare the items and to ask the salesmen there for help. So if they know they’re not going to buy it there and still do it they just use the benefits without paying the price for those benefits. And about the buying and returning that’s just pure stealing. I know of people that bought a stroller for their baby and then after 1 year and 11 months, purposefully broke its wheel and demanded their money back.


sealintheSelkirks January 27, 2021 at 3:58 pm

Ummm, I don’t really get your answer. Why not returning a cart is wrong or are you arguing for the opposite because it costs the brick & mortar shop more to hire employees to shove those carts back to the store and clean them out of people’s garbage?

Last time I went through Oregon they still required gas stations to hire gas pumpers for that job…because it was a JOB for the lower class was the argument in the State Assembly due to the reality of US corporations permanently destroying tens of millions of US jobs since Reagan who started the mass corporate factory exodus to cheap labor Mexico. Most of what is left is now low-wage service jobs anyway (like moving shopping carts). So getting rid of more of those kind of jobs does not compute because there ISN’T much else for a hell of a lot of our fellow citizens. We need MORE shopping cart movers so they can pay their bills! Or not since they aren’t making diddly, but hey a jobs a job, yes? So leave those carts everywhere folks, here’s the reason why!

And what would the homeless do without them, too?

But I did laugh about about the people you know who deliberately broke the wheel and got their money back. A perfect example of the little people’s form of Capitalism at work; which is of course profit at any cost and if one can unload the consequences, those costs, onto someone else so much the better. Which they did! The corporations steal all the time and they get away with it… What was it, $2.5 trillion in federal Covid Relief paid out and 83% of that went to the tiny elite wealthy and their corporations? I still never got my 1200 bucks!

I recently read 6 out of 10 big businesses pay ZERO income tax, isn’t that an interesting number? Certainly that should be considered stealing and we all should be much more upset about that than a baby carriage wheel. And about breaking things; I’d advise you never fly in one of those Boeing Max jets. From what I’ve read they didn’t have to break it because they already knew the machines were broken but it was gonna cost them too much to junk the pieces of crap, so they hid the evidence and let them fly. Like Ford realized over their Pinto cars, it’s cheaper to pay off the lawsuits. Which of course (I think) can be deducted from those non-existent income taxes! Aren’t those awful jets back to flying?

Disclosure: I drove my roomie’s early 70s Pinto to K55 on a surf trip once way back when, and we didn’t burn to death. But nobody rear-ended me. I have lived dangerously!

And of course NEVER buy anything from Amazon.com because Jeff Bezos has been making a personal $10 billion+ a month since the Pandemic hit…and he pays crap wages and treats his employees like disposable lighters…which, if you think about it, is what we all are to the wealthy who rule us…what a horrible thought that is.

Time to go shovel some snow off the steps. Ta-ta!



Frank Gormlie January 28, 2021 at 8:40 am

I’m not posting comments that basically say the Dems are as bad as the Republicanazis. There is no moral equivalency. A lot has gone under the bridge since 2001.


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