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Bait and Switch

One of the oldest tactics used by merchants to lure potential customers into their stores or establishments, or into checking out their merchandise, is called the “bait and switch” tactic. This is a none-too-honest method wherein the seller makes a claim to such an outstanding bargain or attractive sale that potential customers are pulled to the seller like photographers for sensationalist papers are pulled to an accident site.

In truth, though, the “sale” never really existed. Once the customer is in the store or dealing with the seller, the seller tries to sell other items or the same item at a higher price than originally claimed. Since the buyer is already in his store or dealing with him, it is often easier to sell at this higher price than had the seller originally advertised at that same higher price.

 

This is called bait and switch, because the customer is “baited” to the seller the way fish are baited to a hook. Once the customer arrives, though, the deal is then “switched” to one more profitable to the seller and less desirable to the buyer.

 

This practice is so crooked that it is in fact illegal in the United States. A store that advertises a sale in order to attract customers must have that item on sale for that price. If not, legal action can be taken against them.

 

Buyers still need to beware of sellers attempting a modified “bait and switch” on them, which, while legal, may cost them dearly. Sellers often lure buyers into their establishments with advertised specials that, due to legal requirements, they do carry. However, once the buyer has arrived, the seller may try mightily to convince the buyer that the “sale” deal is not really what he wants. Instead, the seller will press the buyer to spend more money on what he attempts to convince the buyer is a much better deal.

 

In such an instance, while the “bait” is indeed available if the customer would so desire, the seller still attempts to “switch” the originally advertised sale to something else.

 

At what point the baiting and switching crosses the fine line between legal and illegal is a discussion for an article dealing with jurisprudence. For our purposes, it is sufficient to be aware that not everything advertised is always as it seems and the time-tested advice of caveat emptor, or let the buyer beware, should be heeded.

 

Frum and G-d-fearing individuals have the added responsibility to ensure that they are dealing with absolute truthfulness. Not only is it incumbent upon us to adhere to all legal requirements, we also want to be sure that we are dealing honestly in the Eyes of Hashem. It is Hashem, after all, Who decrees exactly how much we will profit every day of our lives. Any profit we will bring in will come in no matter what. Netting those profits through less-than-honest means only dirties the water we would have anyway gotten to drink.

 

To illustrate the degree to which truthfulness and honesty should prevail in all our dealings, allow me to share a phenomenal story told by a talmid of Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt”l. When this talmid was a young man with one young child, he visited his rebbi, Rav Yaakov, one Chol Hamoed, in keeping with the practice to visit one’s rebbi over Yom Tov. They spoke for a bit, and Rav Yaakov, with visible joy, mentioned how happy he was to see that his talmid’s little child was already getting “so big.”

 

Unable to contain his pride, the young man told his rebbi how the child “just started walking.”

 

“Really?” Rav Yaakov asked. He was truly as interested as if he was the child’s own proud zaidy.

 

The talmid got up and walked a few feet away from his child. Taking a sweet out of his pocket, he held it out to the child, saying, “Come. Get the candy.”

 

The child indeed began taking a few unsteady steps towards his father – and the treat he held in his hands. Both the father and Rav Yaakov were smiling broadly. As the child drew closer, the father automatically backed up just a bit. This would make the child walk even more.

 

Rav Yaakov’s smile suddenly disappeared. “No,” he told the talmid. “That’s not right. Go back to where you were before and give the child the treat. It’s not honest to make a child think that by walking a certain distance they will get a treat and then not give it to them unless they walk even further.”

 

This, taught Rav Yaakov, is the extent to which each of our lives must be lived within absolute truth.

 

While this story speaks of a level of truthfulness we must all strive to attain, there are many far more obvious cases of the bending of truth, of baiting and switching, which, legal or not, are simply dishonest and dirty any gains they bring in.

 

To give just one example, suppose an establishment would advertise clothing for women at certain prices. Once a customer tries on the merchandise, however, it becomes clear that these items can in no way be worn by any frum individual. The lengths are way too short, there are no sleeves, an added lining may be necessary, etc. Not to worry. The shops – owned by ostensibly “frum” people and catering only to frum clientele – would have material right there on hand to add for length and sleeves which can be put in.

 

Of course, this adds quite an extra tailoring expenditure to any item in question for purchase. In addition, the entire look may differ fundamentally from what it was prior to the changes. In such an example, there would be two bait and switches involved: The price will have risen considerably, and the “look” one was baited with is not the look one ends up with – and all this was clear from the get-go.

 

While perhaps fully legal, one doubts that any individual or establishment that would engage in such a practice could be considered honest or G-d-fearing.

 

Our Own Bait
and Switches

 

While the above is all true and worth mentioning on its own merits, one cannot help but wonder whether we, in our own way, ever engage in similar acts of bait and switch.

 

In his hakdamah to Sefer Chofetz Chaim, the Chofetz Chaim warns of one prevalent pitfall that pulls people into the sin of engaging in hurtful speech. Surely we mean to do only what is right, explains the Chofetz Chaim. The yeitzer hara, however, is wily. Rather than tell us to speak evil about another individual – something he knows will disturb our sensibilities – he tells us that in such a case it is a mitzvah to speak negatively against such-and-such a person. After all, that person did this or that, so wouldn’t it be right to speak against him?

 

Alternatively, the yeitzer hara might convince us that what we are saying is not really lashon hara.

 

Once one allows himself to be pulled into these traps, warns the Chofetz Chaim, the next thing he knows, he suddenly finds himself speaking about others with no restraint whatsoever.

 

Such is the classic bait and switch of our yeitzer hara. We tell ourselves that – for whatever excuse happens to be applicable in any given instance – what we are doing is not really wrong. That’s the bait. We forget that too often the bait is not even true, and the excuse was never really a proper excuse. How frequently do we indeed begin with acceptable reasoning, only to find ourselves suddenly deeply mired in behaviors with which we never intended to get involved?

 

We tell ourselves that “in this one exception” it would be okay to allow such-and-such, and perhaps our reasoning is justified. One must save his battles for the ones he can win. One must sometimes (when allowed) give a little to gain more in the long term. There are many and varied reasons thanks to which we allow ourselves certain leeways and leniencies.

 

What happens then? How often do we suddenly find ourselves – having truly not expected this to become the case – easily allowing what was supposed to have been a “one time” exception or engaged in a practice we told ourselves was only acceptable in this one instance because of that one special consideration?

 

The yeitzer hara is the most crooked of sellers with no legal or moral compunctions. He engages in bait and switch all the time. He tells us that this won’t really happen, that atmosphere surely won’t affect us, or some other type of behavior would be acceptable – or even commendable! – for whatever reason.

 

He’s smart, and a great salesman, this yeitzer hara. Once he has us “in his store,” one needs every ounce of wisdom, strength, discernment, sensitivity, and great doses of Heavenly assistance to avoid falling for his convincing sales pitches. Best to keep out of his store altogether. One would rather not frequent dishonest establishments. If, for whatever reason, one should ever find himself there, one must remember: Caveat emptor.