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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Discount Would Apply to All Customers

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I own and operate a small jewelry store in a largely military area, where our business serves mostly working-class and lower-middle-class people. We have been around for a long time and have a good senior citizen customer base.

We’ve set our margins to the minimum we need to charge in order to keep a brick-and-mortar location, and to make an OK living at what we do. We are not getting rich by any definition of the word.

No matter how many times I’ve been asked, I still stumble around answering the question of whether we offer a discount to military personnel or senior citizens. In order to be able to afford to do that, we would basically have to raise our pricing by whatever discount was offered to those groups, which would adversely affect the working-class people that make up the other part of our customer base.

Many handle my, “No, I’m sorry, we don’t” pretty well, but I need something more to smooth over those who feel entitled to a discount. Some invariably act offended that I’m not appreciative of their service to our country or their advanced age. Will you please help me with a nicer way to convey this?

GENTLE READER: Whole industries have attempted to preempt such criticisms by being on perpetual sale. Miss Manners could have told them that this would not solve the problem. The people who complain are not as interested in the discount as in being singled out for special treatment.

The solution is to express genuine gratitude and admiration for them. Then explain that, since the vast majority of your customers are in their exact situation, you have already lowered all your prices relative to the competition. That seemed, to you, less insulting to their intelligence -- and more respectful of their time -- than creating a discount that nearly every one of your customers would receive.

You may then insult their intelligence by describing their profession as “service,” their age as “seniority” or their poverty as being due to their status as a “working family.”

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