By the Bais Hora'ah
Some stores assist customers in choosing the product that best suits them. For example, clothing stores often have a salesperson who helps customers choose a size and style that match their taste. Sometimes customers spend time with the salesperson discussing a product they have no intention of purchasing. They intend to purchase the product elsewhere, where the prices are cheaper, and are simply taking advantage of the customer service the store provides.
Q: Although it is understood that it is improper to use a store’s customer service without intent to purchase, does this practice violate any halachic prohibition?
A: Last week, to read click here we noted that this practice may violate the prohibitions of onaas devarim and geneivas daas. We will now point to other prohibitions that, depending on the circumstances, may be violated if one follows this practice:
3. Gezel – Theft. Borrowing an item without permission is an act of theft (C.M. 292:1). Accordingly, a person interested in purchasing a sefer directly from the author because it is cheaper may not go to a store that sells that sefer to obtain the author’s contact information, since he is borrowing the store’s sefer without permission (Sim Shalom, Piskei Rav Elyashiv, found at the end of sefer Mishpat K’Halachah 228). Even though the store owner allows people to browse through the sefarim, this allowance is limited to potential customers. However, if someone’s intent is to use the sefer only to obtain a phone number in order to purchase the sefer elsewhere, it is likely that the owner would not want the sefer to be handled.
Some suggest that one may be considered a ganav even without handling any merchandise. When it is clear that the owner would not allow non-customers to enter his store, doing so is trespassing, which is a form of gezel (see Rashbam, B.B. 57b, d.h. “l’kula”; Erech Shai 369:6).
Even if one violates the prohibition of gezeilah by using the sefer without permission he is not obligated to pay the merchant since he did not suffer a financial loss. However, other violations may trigger an obligation to pay for the service that was used.
4. Mazik – Damages. A merchant may become busy with a “customer” who has no intent of purchasing anything and as a result neglect an actual customer and lose a sale. Although the damage is indirect (grama), nevertheless, one may not knowingly cause indirect damage (B.B. 22b). Furthermore, in the opinion of some authorities the mazik (damager) has a moral obligation to reimburse the damaged party even though the damage was a loss of profit (Radvaz 1:84; Imrei Yosher 1:149; see also C.M. 333:2).
5. Oshek – Withholding an employee’s pay. Some suggest that someone who uses the merchant’s expertise to help him make his purchase but intends to make that purchase elsewhere may owe the merchant money for that customer service. The merchant is only willing to invest time with potential customers. In all likelihood he would not be willing to spend time discussing his products with someone who does not intend to make a purchase without charging him for that advice (see Rema, C.M. 264:4).
These issues apply even if one takes an employee’s time rather than the merchant’s. The merchant pays his employees to be productive and such a customer prevents the employee from being productive.
Behaving in this manner certainly demonstrates a lack of consideration and derech eretz and, as we have demonstrated, may even violate numerous prohibitions.