Retail in Lebanon: A Never-Ending Tide of Scams
It seems to me like every day, the Lebanese are put through a charade of scams intended to test (1) how vigilant they are, and (2) how unabashed they can be when it comes to calling out the perpetrator. If you live in Lebanon, you know exactly what I’m talking about. False advertising? Rampant. Just go inside a "dollar store," and you'll notice that nothing is actually for a dollar. Fine print? There’s always some of that, but rarely is it printed. Shortchanging? Would it really be a Lebanese enterprise if it didn’t condone this?
In the span of just one week, I’ve seen it all, and it sickens me now more than ever before. Why? Because the Lebanese people have been stripped naked over the course of the past two years and suffer from overnight theft of their bank deposits, a failed state, a corrupt government, hyperinflation, acute unemployment, lack of basic necessities, and an onslaught of every conceivable bane in the book. So now is not the time to push their buttons. They’ve been whittled to the bone and don’t deserve to be subjected to the underhanded tactics of retailers, some of which I have detailed below.
|(Photo: Courtesy MGN Online)|
First case in point:
One major supermarket was advertising 76-g bags of Master Kettle chips for 6,999 LL. A massive sign displaying the price decorated the bin where these bags of chips lay, and they were bundled in twos, wrapped with a yellow tape signifying what would universally be accepted as a buy one get one free offer.
Customers were clustering around the bin trying to grab as many bundles as they could, presuming it a decent deal. Usually, a 76-g bag of said chips goes for 9,999 LL, whereas the larger 144-g bag is marked at 17,999 LL. So nabbing two 76ers (or 152-g of kettle chips) for 7,000 LL is a bargain.
One wary customer took the bundle to the nearest price detector and scanned the UPC sticker affixed to it. The reader spit back “15,999 LL,” in sharp contrast to the advertised sign of 6,999 LL. Too late. Customers throughout the course of the day had already greedily snatched up their loot and headed to the checkout stands to pay. And the thing about Lebanese customers is that they barely glance at the receipt. In fact, oftentimes they’ll walk away from the cashier after settling payment and leave the receipt in the register. So imagine how many customers bought those chips in a frenzy, not realizing that they were in fact paying more than double the price advertised, and close to the full price of the commensurate large bag. No deal here!
I mustered the courage to call out this scam to an employee who was restocking the bin with more chips. How could the store be falsely advertising the price of those "on-sale" chips? He agreed that I was right and apologized for any confusion. An apology doesn’t cut it. Think of all the customers who were deceived into paying more than double in their blind trust of the store’s reputation. It’s infuriating.
|I later learned that the store updated its price label. A friend sent me this snapshot hours after I left the store.|
Second case in point:
One of Lebanon’s favorite delivery apps has been running a free-delivery campaign over the past week. Order your food from any of their participating eateries, and benefit from no-fee delivery by applying a certain promo code at checkout.
These days, that freebie is substantial. Fuel isn’t cheap, so you could save at least 15,000 LL on the cost of delivery. We decided to take up the offer by ordering a couple sandwiches from a popular fast-food joint. When I typed in the promo code, the app seemed to recognize it, but the deduction from the balance owed was not posted. Confounding! As this app doesn’t boast a call center, I contacted their support via in-app chat. Did I type in the promo code in caps or lowercase letters, he prompted me? Once we got past that hurdle, the agent mentioned that there were numerous exceptions to the free delivery offer. Oh, really!? A number of retailers, including our chosen establishment, were excluded from this promotion. How convenient! Why then was this not communicated in the email and app notifications sent to app users? Good point, the agent admitted. He’d let management know. Absolutely ridiculous.
|Here's the email advertising the promotional free delivery. Notice the asterisk with the "terms and conditions apply," but nowhere in the body or footnote of that email are they stated. So how is one to know?|
Third case in point:
Who else has fallen victim to some type of gas station trickery? Every time I pull into the station nearest our home, the attendant motions for me to park past the pump rather than directly in front of it. On the surface, it would appear that he wants to accommodate a second car if it were to pull up right behind my car. But it might also mean he doesn’t want me to be able to read precisely how much fuel my car took.
This happened to me just a few days ago, and I kept twisting my neck and squinting my eyes, trying to make out the numbers on the pump after the attendant had removed the nozzle from my car. Alas, the glare from dusk was just too much for my eyes, and I resorted to asking how much I owed. “269,000 LL,” he replied. I handed him my debit card trustingly and waited for him to give me the card reader so that I could key in my pin. That’s when I noticed he’d typed in 296,000 LL as settlement of fees. I immediately set him straight, and he apologized, handing me the shortfall in cash.
Now it may have been an honest to goodness mistake, which I like to think it was. But it also could have been a conniving tactic on his part to pocket a little extra change. It's always crucial to reconcile the pump reading with what the attendant reports back to you!
Who else has been the victim of some type of scam in or around Beirut lately? Comment below with your experience and whether you addressed it on the spot or didn't catch on until later.
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