Life Lesson #16: Read the fine print
How many times have you redeemed a promotion without reading the terms-and-conditions? How many times have you signed a contract without reading the fine print? Did you know what you were agreeing to? Were all of the details accurate? Most people, in fact, don’t read these obtuse and lengthy clauses and documents.
The Story: While not exactly like TLC’s reality-TV show, I fortuitously found myself in a similar coupon operation. Many years ago, as I sorted through mail, I came across an advertisement for a new restaurant opening in the area and mechanically tossed it into the recycle bin.
As I glanced down at the heap of junk mail, something caught my eye. It wasn’t just a flyer announcing a new Chipotle opening in the area, but rather a promotion for a free menu item. The complimentary offer, however, was written in very small font, which is why it went unnoticed.
If somebody as detail oriented as me was to miss the $5.95 offer, what about Average Joe?
I lived in a large apartment complex at the time, which had numerous mailbox clusters; each with adjacent recycle containers. My hypothesis was confirmed at the first cluster, which had a dozen or so discarded flyers. The second mailbox cluster, another eight; the third, five more. My treasure hunt extended to nearby apartment units until I had 47 in all, a total value of over $270.
The fine print enumerated an expiration date about 30 days out, but no limit on how many could be used per person or visit. These were critical details in order to traffic this kind of volume in such a restricted window.
My first Chipotle run reaped two burritos. When I returned later that evening for two more, I nervously expected a confrontation with management, but that didn’t develop. The next day, three more items, and several more the following. It was sometime around the fifth day when my resolve to eat Chipotle began to weaken.
I learned early on to pay close attention to the nutrition guide. For example, Chipotle’s braised ‘Barbacoa’ has over 70% more sodium than their grilled chicken. While not problematic for a short distance race, this was very important information for the marathon ahead.
By the second week, I restricted my orders to chicken tacos. Upon returning home, I would empty the chicken into a bowl and discard the remaining ingredients. Next I would assemble a pasta or salad with the protein. But one thing was certain: it wasn’t Mexican cuisine.
The Breakdown: A promotion, in essence, is a contract between a consumer and a company. One only needs to look as far as the FTC and consumer protection laws to understand what happens if that contract is violated.
Chipotle’s marketers overlooked something important. The promotion should have had restrictions, such as limiting the offer to one per person per day. While my situation was undoubtedly unique, it exposes the importance of understanding contract terms for both parties.
I confess, I too am guilty of having signed contracts without reading them in full or with the attention they deserve. It’s human nature to look for shortcuts. I have thoroughly reviewed countless contracts in my life, both personally and professionally; the majority of which have been error free. These statistics can easily lull you into a false sense of security. The instances, however rare, where there was an issue would have had calamitous and expensive consequences.
So read the fine print! Don’t lock yourself into something you don’t understand, or miss out on your month’s supply of free burritos.