Honesty Reigns on Boxing Day

As always, we try to bring you the best and latest in honor-payment commerce schemes. Here’s one from a town called Settle in North Yorkshire, England:

A shopkeeper in North Yorkshire who wanted a day off on Boxing Day decided to leave his store open and let his customers help themselves.

Tom Algie, who runs the Practically Everything hardware store in Settle, returned to work at the end of the day to find an honesty box full of money.

“It was stuffed with notes and coins,” said Mr Algie. “There was £187 in it and two euros, which is pretty good.”

Grateful shoppers had also left notes thanking him for trusting them.

That’s from a BBC article; here’s another take, with better pictures, from the Daily Mail.

There used to be some very robust comments at the Daily Mail article, but they seem to have been erased. My guess is that the comments descended into name-calling, since an early round of comments that I read implied that such honesty could only happen in a small town where certain types of people — you know who they are, wink wink — don’t come around.

Here’s another bit from the Daily Mail piece:

[The owner’s] note read: “Yes, I have given everyone the day off, including me, so please choose the items you want and place the right money inside, Merry Christmas.”

Customers also left notes saying what goods they had bought, and this, combined with a quick check of his stock, confirmed that Mr. Algie’s trust was not abused.

Instead of being behind the counter, the divorcee had spent the day with his son Joe, 23, and daughter Beth, 18.

I wonder how well Mr. Algie would do if he trusted his customers on a regular basis. One of the things that kept the Bagel Man’s customers honest was the threat that he would pull their precious supply of bagels and donuts if they slipped below an acceptable rate. Are the goods in a hardware store as precious?

(Hat tip: Marcus Fardoe and Rachael Churchill)


Perhaps people feel more honest and giving on Boxing Day, so mistrust is less of an issue.

An easy way to falsify that claim would be to see how crime and theft rises or falls on say, Thanksgiving and Christmas.


Unfortunately it wouldn't work anywhere else, for the simple reason there's no-one quite like Yorkshire folk.

It's true that it's just a small town mentality though - Settle is really just one main street.

Bobby G

I have often mused of setting up, say, a gas station that has a fixed profit of the bare minimum (say, $0.01 per gallon) when I get the riches to do so. Maybe have it pay for it's initial investment then just sell gas at marginal cost. A store that has a pay-for-yourself box might be another idea... could run it like normal until I paid off my initial investment then experiment a little bit. A tough problem would be people who want to pay via credit card... maybe I'd let them keep a tab and then they could come in and pay on the two days a week I man the cash register or something.

So I'll let everyone know when I make enough money to retire and drop a huge investment into a business experiment.


To further the point:

"the comments...implied that such honesty could only happen in a small town where certain types of people...don't come around"

- I would turn this slightly and suggest that it's not the "types of people" that make the difference. At some point, if fleetingly, customers in the shop would have considered just taking the items.

Instead they fear being caught and ostracised in their community. It's not a case of good or bad people, but what others might think of them (in a small enough town, a man with new a stepladder would be quickly be connected with stepladder theft in the shop).

English Clergyman

Depending, of course, on the type of small town you live in. Not every small-town is nosy enough that you'd likely get caught. The one I live in might be, sure, but not all are. Different towns have different dynamics.

I imagine that the store owner knows his customers is a large factor. They like him and will buy from him again, and therefore will feel guilty about having stolen. I don't think many would have thought about stealing, as Joe suggests, so much as think, "He shouldn't do that, someone could steal," without really considering doing it themselves. This is assuming that he has regular and not transitory customers.

I also imagine some people--though not likely many--will have paid more than what their purchase costs to compensate for goods they assume will have been stolen.


"Are the goods in a hardware store as precious?"

Not until your bathroom floods and you need something *right now!*


There was this one fellow, who talked a certain students' council into trying a similar system at a students' hang-out lounge. There were almost three (!) fridges filled with beer, and an honesty box. The amount paid wasn't even set - the box did end up getting filled with 1€ coins.

What surprised most of us, that the system has worked ever since. All revenue is spent on buying new beer by whoever happens to be in the mood for it. Catering to about two thousand different people yearly, it is one of the biggest, and useful, pay-as-you-wish systems I have ever heard of. I don't know if it would work in most places, where the law on serving/selling alcoholic beverages would probably discourage such activity.

Henry Rothwell

I've known a couple of pubs which, after the landlord had turned in for the night, operated on an honesty box system. One was in rural Wales, another in a more populated part of England - both landlords reported that the makeshift 'till' was always up, never down.
And Joe's comments about Yorkshire folk, for an internalional audience, should probably be qualified. Or should it. . .

Dan from Madison

How in the world does someone who sets up something like this control his inventory? If they have bar scanners that helps, but the number of sku's at a hardware store must be very large, and I would bet that many of the small items such as nuts and bolts would end up in the bag for free.


We've done this at concerts, when we don't rent a gsm-creditcard-pay-thingamajig, just when people haven't got cash (who has cash on hand, these days), we just hand out a slip of paper with the bank numbers and such, so people could transfer the money for the ticket, electronically. Works about 95% of the time, here in Reykjavík

(not all Icelanders are crooks, you see...)


it could work in this case because
a) people buying in boxing day are different (more honest?) than the average customer
b) a customer that arrives to the store thinks: "there must be something wrong here, the owner must be taping me. I better pay, I don't want my picture in the small town newspaper"
c) the owner thinks it worked because he saw the jar full of money and messages, but he haven't checked his inventory


A local chiropractor couldn't be bothered with insurance and other issues when he first started his practice....so he set up an honesty box system-- pay me what you think I'm worth.

He did quite well!


There are two main factors at work with the success of honesty systems. One is the non-monetary incentives to avoid cheating which you've got into extensively. The second is the scope of potential benefits to a cheater. For instance, a jewelry store could almost never use an honestly system because even if vast majority of the population were honest, the small proportion who were not could easily steal hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods in one visit. For hardware or muffins, it's much less of a problem because there's only so much of either that you can want for your personal use, and it's time consuming to sell them.

This matters in the case of the free provision of some goods by the government. Free tap water relies on a sort of honesty system - that you'll be considerate of others and won't excessively waste it. It does have the advantage of there rarely being highly lucrative opportunities to use it - it'd be difficult to sell off a lot of water. However, it has the disadvantage of having few non-financial incentives not to waste it - the costs are generally spread amongst a large group of mostly strangers, and most household water consumption is done outside the watch of peers.



Interesting about the Daily Mail article comments. For info if the Daily Mail was sold in the USA it would be read by the type of people who think Sarah Palin would have made a good VP.


On Queensday, the national holiday of the Netherlands, all of Amsterdam turns into the largest garage sale on earth. It´s mostly kids selling off any old toys and stuff their parents donate. It´s good fun, great haggling, and a little spare pocket change (usually spent the same day on other useless toys from other kids selling them....)
Many moons ago, after having done this for a couple of years, when I was 13 I felt a bit old for it, and decided to do one last experiment - I put everything out, with a big sign ´does Amsterdam have honest people?´
The results where amazing - I took in three times as much money as normal (inflaction corrected about 200 euros - then and now a huge sum for a 13y old) - as nobody haggled but paid sticker price.
As far as I could notice, nothing was stolen.

There are quite a few ´pay what you think is fair´restaurants in Europe now, and they also always receive more then they would based on a menu/price system.

Interesting lessons here...



I think our friendly proprietor should be careful letting out the news--I'm sure the government over there will find some way to declare this sort of thing illegal.


I read recently that most shoplifting is done by employees. By letting everyone go that day he may have gotten rid of the problem!

Bobby G

@ Stefan (#15),

It reminds me of the Freakonomics chapter on the Israeli day care center... when the charge for picking up one's child late was increased from $0 to $3, late pickups actually INCREASED. This clearly states that the guilt parents felt outweighed $3, so when the price was raised to that they were allowed to "buy" their guilt for a cheaper price when picking their child up.

A "pay what you think is fair" restaurant probably imposes a certain amount of guilt on the client, enough to increase the price of the meal beyond what the normal equilibrium price would be. In effect, this offers the opportunity to maximize capturing consumer surplus by also allowing for dishonest people to game the system and get away with it. Guilt might outweigh that urge to cheat.