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May I Shop in a Store and Then Purchase for Cheaper Online?

May I Shop in a Store and Then Purchase for Cheaper Online?

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Question:

Here’s the scenario. I walk into an electronics store and ask the sales staff for advice on which digital camera is best for my needs. The guy spends half an hour explaining the pros and cons of all the different models. I say thanks and walk out of the store, then go online and order the exact camera he recommended, but at a much cheaper price. Am I being dishonest?

Answer:

“Thou shalt not steal” does not only apply to outright thievery. The Torah warns against “stealing people’s minds,” which means misleading them through words or actions in order to gain some personal benefit.

Say you’re getting married, and you send an invitation to an acquaintance who you know won’t attend the wedding. If your true motive is just to earn a gift in return, and you don’t really want the person to come to the wedding, then that’s stealing their mind for selfish gain. But if you are extending the invitation to honor them, or so they don’t feel insulted, then that’s fine. In such a case you are not taking, you are giving. It all depends on your intent.

The Talmud prohibits asking a shopkeeper the price of an item that you have no intention of buying. You are stealing his mind, by making him think he has a customer. It would seem that the same applies to your camera-shopping expedition. The salesguy invested half an hour in you, thinking he had a buyer. If you never intended to purchase the camera in that store, you stole his mind, as he gave you his time for nothing.

Now, you could argue that your case is different from the Talmudic one. The guy who served you doesn’t own the store; he is just in sales. It makes no difference to him if he made the sale or not; his job is to answer customers’ questions. Okay, but perhaps he gets a commission on each sale, so he wouldn’t have bothered wasting his time on you if he knew there was no chance of sealing the deal. And even if not, are you not stealing from the shop owner, who pays his sales team to serve genuine customers?

You might say that you would be more than happy to purchase the camera from the store, if they would match the online price. So you weren’t deceiving, just comparative shopping. That may indeed be the case. Only you and G‑d know.

In most questions of right and wrong, actions count more than intentions. But when it comes to stealing minds, the action is always defensible. Your intentions should be, too.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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26 Comments
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Anonymous Northbrook IL via m.chabadnorthbrook.com October 9, 2016

If only you knew true professional salespeople who put their soul into teaching people so they can make truly informed decisions. Instead of encouraging great as you call it salesman, your method encourages clising a deal even if the buyer is not properly informed. How terrible a world to codone that as OK. How about me that spends so many thousands of dollars to work on Code Changes to save lives. Why under your world even care? Teach people so they can buy eksewhere means results that are acrace to the bottom of a garbage dump. No, your world is unacceptable. Reply

Larry Sheldon Elkhorn, Nebraska October 9, 2016

"... he is an employee, he is being paid ..." Probably not, in the USA.

In any case, is it still stealing from the owner of the store. Reply

Michael Brighton, England September 27, 2016

Stealing Time A salesman isn't a victim of "time stealing" because, it he is an employee, he is being paid for his time which belongs to his employer. The employer doesn't sell time, he sells things. Reply

Anonymous Toronto via jrcc.org March 27, 2016

Customer not always knows if he is going to buy or not. And good salesperson could make a sale regardless of customers original intention. Also salesperson always has an edge over a buyer becouse he sells an item over an over again, knows his cost basis, has control over situation and can always stop the process of selling and stop waisting his time. So it is customer's right to discover the best posiible deal for himself. Conclusion - don't be shy and shop around as much as you wish. Reply

Theresa March 12, 2016

The one who gave his time and wisdom is blessed and will real a harvest even if it's not through the customer. Doing right and good reaps a harvest of its own seed. Reply

Zaidy B. spring valley February 24, 2016

If getting information was the original intent, clearly tell the salesman that you are not buying but would like some information. This solves all problems and puts the Yid in a good light> Reply

Zalman NY February 24, 2016

One reason why OK
Thank you Rabbi Moss for your great and very relevant and balanced article.
Just one reason why it may be totally ok to do it.
Many store owners would outright agree and even encourage just that practice. Brick and mortar stores stores know by now what they compete with. what they offer instead is service, advice and convenience. There are many reasons why someone would pay a bit more and buy in a store. often the consumer won't know about these values until they walk into the store and meet the staff or see the place.
Because of this many stores encourage you to come in and try things even if you don't intend to buy - or plan to buy online. eventually the practice will bring them more customers.
-however, and very important: as Rabbi Moss writes, there are variables. It is important to truly know if this is ok with the store - and you can feel free to ask! you might be surprised with the answer.
[and we should not be quick to dismiss as immoral many common, current practices] Reply

Yosef Shirazi / Sam Alkhoury Sydney February 22, 2016

Legal Clarification "The Talmud prohibits asking a shopkeeper the price of an item that you have no intention of buying."

In my opinion this commandment should not be taken to seriously if you have a good intention. The reason for this is that it is usually the shop owners responsibility to affix price labels, and most people desire to, and have a right to, compare prices between products and stores.

Love Reply

Larry Sheldon Elkhorn Nebraska February 19, 2016

Also stealing from the store..... (I am not Jewish and I am not, in general, familiar with the Torah or other Jewish writings, but this subject interests me for several reasons mostly having to do with providing the on-line connections, and to do with looking for the store that has gone out of business that had the wonderful people to advise me on what ever I am looking for at the moment.)

In addition to the theft from the sales person as discussed, in the situation you have discussed, the owner of the store is being stolen-from rather directly,

The owner has paid for a facility in an attractive part of town, lights it, heats (or cools) it, keeps it clean, and biggest of all, stocks samples of a variety of merchandise that you will not buy even if you buy one of the items.

And you will never buy the shop-worn floor model you handled, and maybe that you or somebody else mistreated--you will insist on a fresh one from an unopened box.

The on-line operation pays for none of that.

I've run out of space. Reply

Anonymous Northbrook, IL via chabadnorthbrook.com February 19, 2016

Stealing Time Charity is something given with no expectation of compensation. It is dishonest for someone to come in, posing as a buyer, taking up to an hour, more of time, at a place such as ours, where we feel it is crucial the customer is fully aware of safety issues, all possible options, and even highly technical aspects. Sometimes, a kind person comes in and declares they have no intention of making a purchase, and we have a special respect for such an individual; still we will offer guidance. However, it is given with all parties knowing the intent of the visitor. When a highly specialized seller, spends their entire life learning the most technical matters, including even the applicable codes, design and layout, an honest visitor is appreciated. Further, there is really still stealing because to make the sale, the pricing must match the "Internet" prices, where that seller knows little or takes very little time to educate the customer. There is a Jewish Law, not to forget a teacher. Shalom Reply

Susan Levitsky February 18, 2016

A store is not a showroom and you know it It is obvious that you are stealing the time and effort of the salesman when he could be waiting on a serious customer who plans to buy. He may or may not work on commission but it is not his job to educate you so you can buy somewhere else. It is especially tempting in the big blue electronics store, but if you are not planning to buy there you should stick to online reviews. Look around online first to check the models and prices. If you think you need a more personal touch then be willing to pay for it in the brick and mortar store, otherwise you are stealing their rent money and profits. Reply

Randi Freedman US February 18, 2016

what is sin Mr. Cohen? In other words, like plagiarism? So if I go into a store shopping for sneakers and spend the sales clerks time, or waste it talking the brand and comparisons to other brands then go home and go to my usual online store and buy the exact same sneaker for cheaper and free delivery and no tax (which I wouldn't do because I do research online before I order but? If this was the 80s and that was impossible) that's a sin or crime in Judaism? Isn't that immoral to begin with? Just like the kid who didn't study and peeks at his neighbor's answers or just plain steals the answers is a moral lapse and worse. Reply

Anonymous February 18, 2016

Question What if you compare several online stores and decide on the best offer?
(Without visiting a store or talking to a sales person) Reply

jb Jerusalem February 18, 2016

Re: to Stanley Cohen Stanley says: "the proprietor of the store has still made the informed decision to educate anyone who enters his premises".

This is certainly not true....:-)....! His salesmen are not there to educate the general public. By definition, salesmen are there to sell! Taking up a salesman's time when you know you are not going to buy is theft of time/labor. Especially if you are taking that time away from potential customers.... Reply

Anonymous February 18, 2016

the storekeeper that cannot compete with the internet should not work in the store to begin with. Looking for the first price that is offered is not a moral issue, is it? Everyone will pay a lower price. If a product is lower why not buy from that source? It is the same identical product so we want to pay the lowest price that is OFFERED TO THE CONSUMER. So in conclusion show me in the Torah which indicates that we have an obligation to the store that spends the most time. Reply

zn ny February 18, 2016

Halocho BH. Hi. This is a question of halacha but the approach seems to be conversational. All irony aside it seems to be placing a stumbling block in front of the reader who may take halacha as an interesting discussion of exploration when in fact its a serious question for a Rov whether its considered stealing in Halocho or not. I'm not suggesting the author be right or wrong I'm just suggesting that the subject be given its proper respect as a halachic question for a expert in this area of Halocho and not be approached in a casual conversational exploration of the subject.

I hope I'm being coherent and clear in my point!

Thank you

Reply

Stanley Cohen February 18, 2016

This is addressed to Randi Freedman - The expression 'G'nevat Da'at' does not mean or even imply 'Stealing someone's mind' - it means stealing knowledge and thus cannot be confused with the brainwashing activities of cults intent on capturing gullible individuals for any purpose. Reply

jb Jerusalem Israel February 18, 2016

Stealing Labor The difference between the store price and the online price pays for "The guy who spends half an hour explaining the pros and cons of all the different models", and for the rent of the store and the stocking of the goods which enable you to examine them. Taking this costly help in the knowledge you will buy elsewhere is intentional stealing. On the simplest level, you are at very least stealing time/labor. Reply

Stanley Cohen Jerusalem February 18, 2016

The owner of the store is presupposed to be an intelligent businessman. If he has decided to allow his staff to freely give out detailed information in the hope of attracting trade, then g'nevat da'at has not taken place, since without the information gleaned by the potential customer it would have been impossible to make an informed decision as to where to purchase the article. Even if the 'customer' never had any intention of purchasing the article in the store, the proprietor of the store has still made the informed decision to educate anyone who enters his premises. Reply

Randi Freedman US February 18, 2016

Thanks for the clarification. The Talmud prohibits a person from asking the price of something you're not gonna buy. Stealing the mind? My problem with this though is it likens the act with being a member of a cult? Or trying to indoctrinate someone to your way which isn't true. Guilt assuaged on the one hand, the other? Would maybe dissuade a Jew from joining a cult? I'm not sure but the mention of stealing the mind is what a cult does. How they operate and once the person willingly joins they'd then hooked. Most of us are stronger than to follow what some crazy tlss us is right. Putting your left shoe on your right foot and so with the other and going all day like that is crazy. Who would? Reply

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