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How Businesses Are "Taking Advantage" of Shoppers With New Tipping Requests

Some are calling new tipping policies "emotional blackmail."

Tipping is always a controversial topic. Do you normally leave 20 percent, or is 25 percent the minimum? How much do you tip when you get takeout? And what happens when you're suddenly asked to tip at stores? Shoppers are reporting that increasingly widespread digital prompts are encouraging tipping at self-checkout, pressuring them to shell out additional money on top of their purchases. Read on to find out why some say that the new tipping trend is an example of businesses "taking advantage" of their customers.

READ THIS NEXT: 6 Places You Should Never Tip, According to Etiquette Experts.

People feel more pressure to tip these days.

Woman paying by credit card and entering pin code on reader holded by smiling barista in cafeteria. Customer using credit card for payment. Mature cashier wearing apron accepting payment over nfc technology.

Tipping has become more convenient thanks to digital options that make it simple to add gratuity. But this new ease is making some uneasy.

According to a Sept. 2022 survey from Time2Play, 67.7 percent of people in the U.S. say they feel pressured to tip if prompted to do so by the point-of-sale system. A whopping 86.8 percent also admitted that the pressure to tip from this system makes them uncomfortable.

"Once a rarity, but now something of a norm, restaurant payment systems are commonly prompting customers to tip when picking up their takeout orders, which can lead to awkward social pressure," the researchers explained in their report, noting that the prompts "seem to be working as intended," with 44.8 percent of those who tip for takeout saying they only tip because they're being prompted to do so.

Now, this type of tipping pressure is expanding beyond the counter at coffee shops and takeout restaurants—and some believe businesses are going too far.

Tipping requests have popped up at self-checkouts.

Couple with bank card buying food at grocery store or supermarket self-checkout

The next time you're asked to tip, there may not even be another person involved. Businesses are now including tipping requests at self-checkout machines–prompting customers to consider leaving gratuity at airports, stadiums, cookie shops, and cafes across the U.S., The Wall Street Journal recently reported.

During a recent stop at an OTG gift shop at Newark Liberty International Airport, 26-year-old Garrett Bemiller told the newspaper that he was buying a bottle of water at a self-checkout machine with no help from any employees. Despite this, he said the screen still asked him to add a 10 to 20 percent tip on his $6 water.

And 35-year-old Warren Williamson told the WSJ that he faced a similar situation at an OTG in Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport. "I thought maybe I was going crazy," said Williamson, who works in financial services.

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Stores say these tips are still going to employees.

A front view shot of a waitress handling money behind a counter in a cafe.

Both Bemiller and Williamson said they declined to leave tips. "Just the prompt in general is a bit of emotional blackmail," Bemiller told the WSJ.

But this is not the only retailer where self-checkout tipping is happening. At a Crumbl location in Metairie, Louisiana, there is a sign at the bottom of the self-checkout screen asking shoppers to "consider leaving a tip if we made you smile," according to the newspaper.

While college students Emily Clulee and Gracie Sheppard said they chose to accept the tipping prompt, their only interactions with the store's employees were when they were told to step to the side to wait, and then when they received their order.

"When no one even helps us, I feel like there shouldn't even be the option to tip," Sheppard explained.

When asked about the self-checkout tipping requests, a spokesperson for OTG told the WSJ that the tips are pooled among staff working that shift.

"It is always our goal to create valuable experiences for our guests while taking care of our crew members, and the option to leave a tip if you have received assistance allows us to do both," he said.

A Crumbl spokeswoman told the newspaper that tips from the kiosks are distributed among its bakers.

But some experts say business are "taking advantage" of shoppers.

Tip jar with American currency on brown background

It's one thing for people to be asked to tip workers who have helped them directly. But business "are taking advantage of an opportunity" by including tipping requests for shoppers at self-checkout machines, William Michael Lynn, PhD, who researches consumer behavior and tip culture as a professor at Cornell University's Nolan School of Hotel Administration, told the WSJ.

"Who wouldn't want to get extra money at very little cost if you could?" he noted.

But self-checkout tipping puts the onus of paying workers well on consumers rather than on businesses. As Saru Jayaraman, director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, explained to the newspaper, "Some employers are trying to use increasing tipping as a way to not have to pay people more."

Experts also warn that the tips left at self-checkout kiosks may not even end up reaching employees, because the protections afforded to tipped workers by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act don't cover machines, according to the WSJ.

As a result, self-checkout tipping "exploits the high adherence to tipping norms as a way to generate more revenue for the company," Holona Ochs, an associate professor at Lehigh University who co-wrote a book on tipping, told the newspaper.

Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
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