Should you be a shopping Good Samaritan?

Say you see someone in a store who's about to pay more than they have to for an item. Would you let the person know?

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    In this file photo, a shopper checks a jacket from a sales rack with a final discount price of 1,900 yen (US$21) at a clothing store in Tokyo, Japan. Hamm argues that telling fellow shoppers when they can pay less for an item is a nice gesture, if you feel comfortable doing so.
    Itsuo Inouye/AP/File
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A few days ago, Sarah and I were buying shoes for our daughter. She’s graduating to shoes with laces, as she’s developed the finger strength and dexterity to tie them for herself, plus her feet are just getting too big for her old ones.

After checking prices in several different stores, we found the perfect pair in an outlet store. The little girl fell in love with the purple design and the sparkles, I respected the sturdy craftsmanship, and the price was pretty solid, too – around $12.

Content with our purchase, we looked around for other items in the same area. We walked down to another outlet store about a block away and found ourselves browsing a mix of children’s clothing and shoes.

While there, Sarah spied a family of six – two adults and four small girls – trying on shoes. One of the pairs that one of the girls was trying on was virtually identical to the pair we had just bought for our daughter (it might have actually been the same model, but I wasn’t quite close enough to tell – suffice it to say that they were very similar). They then talked about the price of the shoes, and I saw Sarah almost choke when she heard that the family was about to pay $50 for that pair of shoes.

She couldn’t hold it in. She spoke up by tapping the mother on the shoulder and saying that we had found almost the exact same pair of shoes for 80% less at a store down the block. The mother’s eyes lit up, she thanked Sarah several times, and that family practically ran out of that store.

Since then, I’ve been flipping this situation over and over again in my mind.

First of all, is it intrusive to suggest lower prices to other customers? If I know that a person can get a lower price on a particular item elsewhere, do I feel appropriate telling them so? On the flip side, if a person in the store knows I can get an item at a lower price elsewhere, is it appropriate that they tell me?

For some people, the answer to both of these might be “yes;” for others, it’s always a “no.” For me, it’s a “sometimes,” mostly depending on context and often depending on how outgoing I’m feeling in that moment.

On the other hand, does it really make a difference whether I’m standing in a store or not? I’m very much willing to share a deal while sitting at my computer. I often visit blogs that share deals, particularly when I’m trying to find a discount on a particular item. Friends often email me deals on things they know I’m looking for, and I do the same for them.

In both cases, context really matters. I simply wouldn’t do such a thing at my preferred local game store, for example, because I value the continued existence of that business and I know that the multitude of services they provide are subsidized by selling things at MSRP. On the other hand, at a large chain store, I’d find myself much more likely to do it, particularly if the savings is quite large.

In the end, I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with sharing bargains with other customers in a store. Much of it has to do with your own social skills and the approachability of the other person.

This brings me to another interesting situation I found myself in recently. When I was shopping at a local store, I was picking up a container of my youngest son’s favorite fruit juice when I noticed that someone had actually stuffed a coupon for the item down inside the label so that part of the coupon was hanging out of the package. Naturally, I used the coupon.

It left me thinking about the person that did this, though. Most likely, a person clipped the coupon, decided it was still too much even with the discount, and decided to leave the coupon for some other buyer (in this case, me). That seems reasonable.

I often clip a lot of coupons that I don’t use. Should I just attach them all in a similar fashion as this mystery juice shopper did for me? Perhaps I could create a culture of coupon paying-it-forward at my local grocery store.

A week later when I was at the store again, I found myself leaving behind six coupons. I just stuck them inside of labels or left them on top of packages. I’d like to think that six lucky customers found the coupons, saved some money, and then maybe one or two of them decided to help someone else save a buck as well.

I think the notion of paying it forward is really what it all comes down to. If you have a chance to share savings with someone else and feel comfortable doing so, share it. It costs you nothing, but it certainly helps the other customer. Perhaps that person will share a savings tip with another person or two and someday the savings will come back around to you.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on

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