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Ask Marilyn: Comment on a 'Strictly Personal' Question
David Fink of Los Angeles, California, writes:
Marilyn: I object to your advice to a reader who is unhappy about her appearance. (October 16, 2012) Your suggestion that she go to a department store for a free makeup is unethical because she has no intention of purchasing any items. Moreover, she intends not to purchase any items. Yes, you do not say that explicitly, but your follow-up, "And you can go to a different store another time," makes the meaning clear.
The reader would be taking up the salesperson's time, using his or her expertise, plus the store's makeup supplies, as well as possibly allowing the store to assume liability for working on the person. What you propose is not different from a person who goes to a store for a hands-on examination of a product and then orders it online from a different store.
I think it's a great suggestion, with the potential to be a win-win situation for both parties. If the reader is pleased with what she sees in the mirror, she's not just happy—she's likely to become a customer! (And if she isn't quite thrilled with the result, she can try a different store—or a different makeup counter—another time.) She has nothing against making a purchase. She isn't even thinking about that yet. She just wants to feel better about the way she looks. If I were selling makeup, I'd love to have a chance to put a smile on her face, wouldn't you?
About your not-different-from example: Who said anything about price-shopping?! The unhappy reader doesn't intend to try a certain product in the store, see if she likes it, and then go home to see if she can find it cheaper elsewhere. And by the way, makeup counters in major department store usually have a stock of "testers" so customers—regular or not—can try various products to see if they like them. This kind of sampling is routine and encouraged as part of the shopping experience, which stores and manufacturers hope will be enjoyable.