Aug 31 2010

Donation solicitations at the cash register

Has this happened to you?

You’re strolling up to a cash register to make your purchase. The cashier rings you out and asks, “Would you like to donate $1 to (some charity)?”

You weren’t planning on spending an extra dollar. You aren’t even completely sure of the cause in question. But it’s just a dollar, and you’d feel like a jerk if you said, “no.”

Or maybe, you refuse donations without thinking twice.

Whichever the case, I think these types of solicitations are incredibly annoying.

Yesterday, I went into Family Christian Bookstore and I was barraged with several bits of upselling. It was insane!

First, I asked the clerk where I might find a particular book. She pointed me to it, and then brought me another related book that was “only” $5. Ok, no thanks.

At the checkout, she pointed me toward the $5 “members-only” section so I could look over this month’s deals.

Next up was her asking if I wanted to pre-order a new VeggieTales movie and get another triple-feature movie for free.

Then, she wanted to know if I wanted to donate a Bible to a prisoner in the Allegheny County jail. The donation cost $5 and purchased a Bible from the “members-only” section. Wait a minute. If the company was truly being philanthropic about it, wouldn’t they offer those Bibles for sale at their own cost, instead of at their retail price? So that seemed sorta off to me.

Last, she wanted to know if I would round up my purchase to the nearest dollar to donate money to the flood victims of Pakistan.

Good GRIEF! All I wanted was one book. And I’m hit with all these sales pitches/donations requests.

And you know what?  I was so caught off-guard and wasn’t really thinking it through, because I did buy a Bible to donate. And I did buy the VeggieTales pre-order. I figured, wow, 4 VeggieTales movies for $13 total — I could use those when the baby comes to keep Johnny entertained when I can’t give him my full attention.

So yes, I am a sucker.

But I left feeling really icky about the whole thing. I emailed customer service and they said they’d forward my complaint to management.

In the future, I will just say “no.” I don’t really care if I look cheap or ungiving. I’m not. I donate plenty of money and goods to charities that I’ve taken the time to research.

How can I know if XYZ charity will actually make good use of my donation? I can’t know that when I’m put on the spot. And I don’t need to be encouraged to make impulse purchases.

What do you do in these situations? Which places bug you for donations?

More on the topic here and here.



18 Responses to “Donation solicitations at the cash register”

  1. I usually refuse the cash register donations for the same reason. Because my giving budget is limited, I prefer to carefully choose which charities/organizations I give to so I can be sure my donation is being put to good use.

    I do make some exceptions, though. Sometimes after a HUGE disaster (like the Haiti earthquake or Hurricane Katrina) the grocery store will offer the opportunity to give $1 to the Red Cross to help. Because I know that the Red Cross is an organization I can support, I’ll often agree to the extra dollar in those cases. But other than that, I don’t like to give to charities I don’t know anything about just because I’m being pressured at the cash register.

    In a lot of ways, I agree with you that it’s pushy. But I can also see the potential for this kind of practice to do a lot of good. It’s annoying to people who carefully plan their giving, but unfortunately, I don’t think the majority of people give that way. For those people, I think it’s good that they get a reminder to give in situations like that, because otherwise they probably wouldn’t do it.

    Like the “text 90999” thing after the Haiti earthquake. SO many people donated because they wanted to help, and the campaign made it easy for them to do so. A lot of those people probably would have thought, “I’d like to do something,” but then they wouldn’t bother to seek out the information on how to help and actually make a donation. I think a lot of times people do want to give, but unless it’s in their face and simple, they don’t bother. For those situations, I’m glad the opportunity is there for them.

    So I guess I have mixed feelings on it. I think if you are already contributing to charities on your own schedule or whatever, you should just go ahead and refuse and go on with your day without having any reason to feel guilty. But for people who don’t give otherwise, I think in some cases, it’s good that stores are making it easy for people to help.
    Karen´s last post ..99 days to go give or take a few

  2. But the situation you describe here sounds really extreme. A dollar to a good cause is one thing, but I would be VERY annoyed if they pushed me to give to three or four different charities. I would have complained, too.

    I definitely agree with you. If the Bibles for inmates charity really cared about providing Bibles for inmates, why wouldn’t they just let you donate a used Bible or something instead of giving $5 for the new Bible they choose? That’s exactly why I like to carefully choose my charities and avoid giving to inefficient ones. I guarantee there’s an organization out there that gives gently used Bibles to inmates, and that makes way more sense to me from a financial and environmental standpoint than giving them brand new ones.
    Karen´s last post ..99 days to go give or take a few

  3. I agree — upselling is bad enough when it’s for a product you’re buying. I hated it when I had to do it as an employee, too! It seems like every month my grocery store (a Safeway) asks me to donate to a new cause. I think it shows up on the card screen after I swipe my card. And sometimes the cashier asks me, too, so I get it twice. When they say “prostate cancer research”, how do I know which organization it goes to? There are many, and I’m sure they all have slightly different approaches to research and what they fund. I automatically hit the “No” button on the card machine and always say “Not today,” when asked by the cashier. It may make you think you’re being cold or a jerk, but really, it’s not very responsible giving, so it’s actually smart to refuse until you know where it’s going. I wonder if it would also make it difficult to track what you donate, if you usually donate enough to have it reflected on your tax return (I don’t think I do).

    With the bible thing, I’ve seen circumstances like that before, where you have to buy an item to donate (Borders does this near Christmastime, I think?). It feels like a PR move to me. They get the money from the sale, and they look charitable in the process by basically just organizing the donation event, which probably costs them very little. That just seems a little sleazy to me. But I must admit, I’ve fallen for the Borders book donation thing, and I’ve justified the impulse purchases by thinking of the cute little kids who will benefit from the books. But really, I should donate my old books, which is better for the environment (as Karen mentioned), directly to an organization or group that needs them, rather than through a intermediary that might benefit financially and is trying to pump up its image.

  4. As a rule, I categorically decline any check out upsells or donations. The only exception would be those informal little buckets that are placed in the stores in my little rinky dink community to help those that have a loved that was in a tragic accident or is under going cancer treatment. I enjoy giving to these types of causes because it is so local, lots of times we know the person or know a neighor that does. Growing up I was the beneficiary of the goodness of our neighbors and I love to pay it forward.

    My hope and prayer for these people in my community to be uplifted and encouraged knowing that so many of their friends and neighbors cared enough about them to help easy their financial difficulty during a health crisis.
    Trixie´s last post ..Menu Plan Monday

  5. Yuck! Family Christian is the worst about this. The last time I went in they just kept pushing the five dollar stuff. I had to tell the guy no about five times. When he was trying to push the anti-evolution video I really should have told him I’m a heathen and believe evolution and creationism are not mutually exclusive just so he would leave me alone!

    For the donations I almost always say no. Usually they are for very high overhead charities like March of Dimes, and I want my money to go to a real cause.

  6. I say no every time, and tell them I already donate to the charities of MY CHOICE. I say the same thing when an employer wants to take an automatic “charitable donation” from my paycheque every two weeks.
    Kate´s last post ..Getting On With It

  7. Oh my word! I remember being “offered” several charitiable opportunities the last time I was in a Christian Bookstore, too. It’s not just annoying for the customer, think about the poor sales clerk who’s required to pester every customer they see all day long, and face rejection all day long. Seems like a pretty un-Christian way to treat your employees if you ask me.

    I never donate in campaigns like that. It’s much more effective to pick a few charities of personal interest and donate larger amounts than to give a dollar here or there to 100 charities you’re not passionate about.

    On the other hand, most large corporations give donations somewhere without asking their customers about it. Target just got in some hot water for making a large donation to a controversial political campaign, but also gives lots of money to schools. I guess I’d much rather be asked to donate to a charity than to sign up for a store credit card at every purchase, but 1 upsell should be the limit.

  8. I generally say ‘No thank you, not today’. Generally the cashiers are pretty accepting. I make an occasional exception – usually for causes that I really DO care about, and I would make a donation anyway. I save my donations for a few larger donations that I make, unsolicited, throughout the year.

  9. Considering that I’m the person on the other side of the register, I am disappointed to hear all of this. Yes, I know it’s pushy, but have you ever realized that this employee’s job is on the line if they DON’T do this?

    It’s a requirement where I work. It gets put into our files if we don’t do it.

    Complaining about it to management though? About something that they are required to do because they are in retail… well, shame. I did a good job. Now I’m getting chewed because I actually did my job and did my job well. If you bought the extra things, that was the idea. All you had to do was say no.

    I know this seems a little nasty, but in truth, I trying to make this in the perspective from the other side. It’s not US who are trying to barrage you with questions. It’s the COMPANY who requires it.

    Sorry, but being part of retail, and hearing about a complaint being made for doing a good job… just really burns. In retail, you’re constantly on the chopping block because they can easily replace you, and you know it. So if you don’t do the little things, like up-selling a candy bar, or letting the customer know about the “member’s only book section” then you’re the weakest link of the crew.

    And if you’re the weakest link of the crew, then well, those precious hours that you’re working will start to decrease.

  10. Jeesh! It bothers me when I get asked for 1 thing – much less 4. That is crazy!

  11. Ashleigh–

    I know this is coming from management and it’s not something on the cashier’s agenda. I used to work retail making barely above minimum wage — I know how it goes! And I’m not blaming folks like you. I’m blaming company policy.

    And I complained not to get the cashier in trouble, but for management to reconsider their policies.

  12. To avoid feeling flustered I usually make rules for myself before I get into situations. For example I always say no to request at cash registers but at Christmas I always put a little something in the Salvation Army red tins. If I can’t afford to put something in I can’t afford to go to the store. For me personally it always gets a little more dicey when you see people on the street begging for money. I find myself cringing when people come up to my car to ask for money while I’m putting the kiddos in their carseats. Then I feel guilty because I can’t imagine Christ doing that. So I have guilt and crazy hover mom anxiety going. A bad feeling.
    crys´s last post ..Is it so wrong

  13. I just automatically smile at the clerk and say “No Thank YOu.”. Why I donate plenty but I like them to be my decisions in my time frame. Besides its my way of fighting back against the constant barage of donation request.

  14. I always say no. I donate to my chosen charities & I work for a non-profit group that makes monthly donations to local charities we vote for.

    If you say yes every time, those $1 really add up. Plus like everyone else says, who knows if the money is really used, etc.
    Ginny´s last post ..Thrifty Finds

  15. Good point about the cash register donation solicitations. I do like to research causes before I donate. I am pretty surprised that a Christian bookstore would be so pushy. Maybe it’s because I don’t go in those stores very often, but wow. My husband used to work at Blockbuster, one of the companies whose business practices I dislike the most, and THEY didn’t even harass customers that much! I think when sales reps are annoying like this, it’s usually store policy. My husband was supposed to talk a certain number of people into signing up for a movie or game pass, or else. I can’t remember exactly what they told them, but it wasn’t a fun contest–it was pressure. I feel bad for the customer and the salesperson in this situation. These policies are made by people who may have no idea what it feels like to work inside a store, and probably also no idea what it feels like to be harassed to make a purchase you can’t afford.

  16. I hate those! Worst one is at whole foods. If you bring in your own bag, they give you some money off or you can donate it to charity.

    It plays off the guilt factor so much. I made a new policy to always say no. Doesn’t matter, just no. And give what I want where I feel it should go, not to assuage some guilt.
    Ted´s last post ..Curve ball! Houston- we have a problem

  17. ood point about the cash register donation solicitations. I do like to research causes before I donate. I am pretty surprised that a Christian bookstore would be so pushy. Maybe it’s because I don’t go in those stores very often, but wow. My husband used to work at Blockbuster, one of the companies whose business practices I dislike the most, and THEY didn’t even harass customers that much! I think when sales reps are annoying like this, it’s usually store policy. My husband was supposed to talk a certain number of people into signing up for a movie or game pass, or else. I can’t remember exactly what they told them, but it wasn’t a fun contest–it was pressure. I feel bad for the customer and the salesperson in this situation. These policies are made by people who may have no idea

  18. My husband worked a side job for short time for a now-bankrupt bookstore chain that required him to up-sell, cross-sell, and suggestive sell. The promotion that irked him the most was the “buy a book (at full price) for hospitalized children.” Customers’ good will was exploited to sell books at a profit–all the charity coming from the customer, none from the company. My husband quit after one woman broke down in tears that she couldn’t afford to buy a book for an ill child. He was okay with suggesting other titles that a customer might like, but the cynical charity angle drove him over the edge.

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

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