I'd like to get your feedback on an ethical dilemma that I encountered a few weeks back concerning online coupon codes. I don't know if this has ever happened to you, but I thought it was an interesting moral situation.
One weekend, I was looking to get a tee-time to play golf using an online reservation website. When I finally found a time that would work out, I selected it and continued on to book it.
During the check-out process, I came to a screen with a box where I could include any promotion or coupon code. While I didn't have one at the time – I decided to try my fortune and make one up (I've tried this before at various online stores. For example – some retailers will take “FREESHIP” – to get free shipping – or the like..). To my astonishment, the code I entered worked. It worked so well – that my two rounds were absolutely FREE.
Wow, I thought. I just scored over $80 worth of golf – absolutely free.
But that wasn't all. There was a message that read, “Please enjoy your free golf for the rest of the year.”
“What!? Free golf, for the rest of the year?”
Wait. My mind started racing to all the golf I could get in. All the courses I'll get to play this summer. All the money I'd be able to save…
Like Gollum, from Lord of the Rings, I started to let this newfound secret code become “My precious”. I wasn't going to share it with anyone.
Fortunately (or unfortunately – however you view this), I talked to my better half and soon came to some reason. I couldn't use this and steal golf. No one gave me this code. I just happened to guess – and it so happened to work. I thought I'd better let the tee-time reservation website know.
Against my better judgment (or worst judgment – again, however you view it) – I was soon on the phone talking to a representative at the company letting them know what I had uncovered and they had better change this code or myself and everyone I knew was going to be golfing everyday for the rest of 2013.
While I am not sure what came over me – I figured it was probably the right thing to do. Now, don't call me a saint AND I'm not looking for any kudos (a part of me is still kicking myself for telling them!). I DID get a free round of golf out of the deal – as the representative let it slide. But the next day – I tried the code again to see if it would work. It didn't. They had deactivated it.
So, here's the ethical / moral dilemma. Promo and coupon codes exist on websites for a reason: to offer discounts and incentives to the customer. Wherever a person gets them (so long as they work), the code ought to be honored and accepted – right? I mean, it's the retailer who puts it on their site?
OR, is this a whole ‘nother issue. If we make up codes looking to game the system (as I had done and it worked) – are we (essentially) stealing?
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. Does our constant search for frugality sometimes cause us to lose our integrity?