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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

No lunch round-up -- holiday, yay! -- but lots and lots of potatoes

With a shortened work week, we're just making do for lunches for this week. So I thought maybe we could discuss something that's been a question of ethics in my mind for years.

When there's a limit placed on a sale item, what do you think is ethical to do?

I've seen limits worded in a couple of different ways, which I do, in turn, interpret differently.

"Limit 1"
"Limit 1 per customer"
"Limit 1 per household"
"Limit 1 per transaction"

"Limit 1 per transaction" definitely implies that you may go through the check-out line numerous times, IMO., and multiple family members may make the same purchase.

"Limit 1 per household" states that you may NOT have multiple family members go through the check-out line, to purchase more of the limited item. (I've only seen this limit a couple of times. It was on turkeys at a special low price, a couple of years in a row, at one particular store.) And I also interpret their intention to mean "limit 1 per household, per sale per period". If a special price runs in 2 separate ads, one week following another, with this limitation, then I figure I am entitled to make the special purchase in the second week, as well, as the sale ads usually have a calendar at the bottom of the front page, indicating the sale period for which they are advertising. So, I feel I am may make the sale purchase once per sale period.

But the "Limit 1" and "Limit 1 per customer" have more ambiguity built in. One per what? Per transaction? Per family? Per day? What constitutes a customer? Am I a new and separate customer each time I enter the store?

I did some calling around and discovered that policies do vary from one store to the next. Some stores will allow you to go through the check-out line and buy the "limit" several times per car trip to the store, but with a stated limit, like 4 times. Other stores discourage this with wording in their ads, such as, "we reserve the right to enforce limits". Mostly, I was given the same basic explanation, along the lines of "we wish to provide enough stock of any sale item, so that all customers will have the opportunity to make this purchase." And there is some basic kindness and courtesy, here. It seems selfish to clear a shelf of all of the advertised items.

So, where do you fall on this issue? When a store imposes limits to a sale-priced purchase, what do you feel most comfortable doing?

For our family, here's how we interpret, and act on "Limit 1" or "Limit 1 per customer":

When our children became adults (age 18), they also began contributing to our household finances. I consider them all as paying rent, here. This became the age when I felt most comfortable giving them the cash to make a purchase, for our family to acquire more of a limited item. They could just as easily be renters in their own apartments, doing all of their own grocery shopping. We don't hide this in any way, but follow each other one right after the other in the check-out line. (And with identical twins, it would be pretty hard to try and "fool" the checker!) With 5 of us in the household, we can acquire 5 of a "Limit 1" item.

I figure that each time I drive into the parking lot that I am a new customer, as grocery stores encourage and hope for customers to make repeat visits throughout the week. So, in 1 week, I may go to the same grocery store multiple times, to purchase as many of an item as I need, at the special price. If they wished to only sell me the item at the special price once, then I would expect the limit to read "Limit 1 per person", and I would abide by that, one per person in my family.

So, this week, potatoes are on sale at Albertson's, 10-lb bag for 99cents, "limit 1". On several days this past week, myself, and any family members I had with me in the car, stopped at Albertson's and each bought our 1 bag of potatoes. Yesterday, I picked up our last bag of potatoes for our winter supply. We now have 100 lbs of potatoes to get through the winter months. And I feel we worked within the rules imposed by the store.

What are your thoughts on store limits?


  1. I think you've defined it pretty well. I've seen the "one per household" ad and that says, to me, that there is a limited supply available and people need to be mindful of the needs of others. Overall, I think that's the main idea--enjoy the "deal" but don't wipe the store out of supplies so that no one else can benefit from a sale.

    1. Hi Kris,
      And I think maybe that's the most important thing, that we remain mindful of others.

  2. I follow the rules pretty much the same way you do. I will let my teenage daughter check out separately at Hobby Lobby with her own 40% coupon, for instance. We don't try to hide that we're together and I figure the clerk can always tell us "no" if that's not allowed.

    1. Hi Cat,
      That's a good point, that the clerk can always say "no" and reflect the store's policy.
      It's good to know that many of us are on the same page on this.

  3. A thought: Does Albertson's use a loyalty card to get the sale price? Couple of supermarkets here do that, and I've always figured they could say "Limit X per card," and cut you off once you hit that limit.

    1. Hi DW,
      Our Albertson's discontinued their loyalty cards (yay, one less thing to carry around). But yes, a store could do that, simply put a limit in the card to how much someone could buy at the sale price. The cash register computer already enforces limits on items in one transaction.

  4. I think the stores are ambiguous on purpose. If they get you into the store multiple times, it will probably be better for them. Most people buy something else with the sale item--usually an impulse.The more people that go through the line the better. Most people would feel guilty lining up several members of the same family to only buy the sale item so they would add and item or two to their purchase also. However, the stores do want to have enough loss leader items to get a lot of people into the store. The policy enforcement may vary during the week depending on how the business is going.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      there's probably a whole psychology about shoppers, their habits and what they will feel guilty or fine regarding their purchases.

      It is curious that we would feel "guilt" buying only the sale item, or having family members buy only the sale item. It's certainly within our right to do so. So, odd that we do feel unease over this.

      And I think it goes beyond guilt. There is so much pressure in our culture to appear to be well-off. I think some folks don't like only buying sale items because it might make them feel or appear to be "poor". I know I've sometimes felt like that, like I had to explain to the checker why I buy what I do, etc.

      And of course, with the Hoarders TV show, no one wants to look like "one of those people"!

  5. We follow the rules of that particular store. For example, our Publix only allows us to use one Target coupon per transaction. I'm OK with that. I figure another deal will come along later. My computer allows me to print two of a coupon that I am wanting to print, and I am fine with that. Two will add to my stockpile quite nicely, thank you. My daughter loves to buy multiple copies of the Sunday paper, so she can have multiple coupons. I would rather print my two copies and be done with it. lol

    1. Hi Belinda,
      and this is something I discovered in my phone calls. Different stores enforce their policies differently. Like some stores allow using their store-coupons up to 4 times per car trip to the store. Our local Fred Meyer doesn't even take the coupon, but just scans the flyer/coupon, and I'm free to use that coupon again later in the week.

      I have a couponing-fiend friend who goes by the library on Saturdays and picks up the coupon inserts from the papers there. She gets multiple copies of all the coupons and really does do the stockpile thing. Sometimes she sells her "loot" at garage sales, but often times she donates items to the food bank.

  6. As someone who only buys for one person, I don't often get close to the limit for things :) Having said that though, I can't remember seeing limits in any of the shops I shop at. It might not be as big a thing here in Australia, because we don't tend to have sales that are as big.

    I hope you and your family have a lovely Thanksgiving Lili :)

    1. Hi Liz,
      Thanks! It was a lovely Thanksgiving, here.

      And you're probably right about the limit thing. In the US, most grocery stores deeply cut the price of two or three things each week, to entice customers to do the rest of their shopping at their store. Those items are referred to as loss-leaders, here in the US. They're items which the store sells close to cost, or sometimes at a loss, and they lead the sale with it -- hence the name.

  7. It is a sticky wicket.. If everyone used their right to purchase only the sale item one of two things will happen. Either the stores will go out of business or they will discontinue loss leaders. Either way we all lose.

  8. We have all kind of sales here but I think also with the same reason behind it: to draw customers to do all their groceries in the store. In my little town there are sales but no limits. When there will be a sale I think of buying a lot (30 kilo's of red bell peppers for example), I notify the store. They already know me and know that I buy big quantities of certain sales.
    My mom always goes where there are other sales for example cans of tuna. Those stores sometimes have limits per person but you can go in and out of the store and buy it again (yes very strange rule;)).
    I have a certain amount of tuna I like to have in store and we always buy when they are on sale.
    About the ethics, I don't know, I am quite ambivalent: I can understand both views and I do understand there are people taking advantage of everything...

    1. I guess a scene I witnessed last week impacts my above statement. I watched a woman steer two carts to block a peanut butter display ( great sale). She emptied every jar of pb, and checked out with only those items. Technically she was within her rights since they posted no limit, but in my opinion she was beyond unethical.


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