It is forbidden for a person to ask the price of an article
when he has no intention of buying it. To do so is simply to trouble and
disappoint the merchant. The Meiri points out that it may also cause the
merchant a loss. Others might overhear him asking the price and interpret his
not making the purchase to mean that, in his opinion, it’s not worth the
price the merchant is asking. It seems to me that from the Meiri we learn that
although it is permitted to bargain, it is not permitted to say that
merchandise is not worth the price the merchant is asking when it really is.
When a person’s intention is to buy an object at the best
price he can find, it is permitted to shop around and ask how much the article
costs in several stores, for that is the way of the world, and he will return
to the shop which sells the article at the best price.
If a person tells the merchant that he just wants to know
the price, he can ask him how much it costs even if he has no intention of
buying it. In order to avoid disappointing merchants, it’s a good idea to
say that you’re checking out prices even if you intend to buy it if the
price is right.
A person should avoid causing another customer to pay more
for an article because he thinks that you might be interested in it also, and
that if he doesn’t buy it quickly, you will snatch it up. Similarly, a
person should be careful to avoid causing a loss to the merchant by creating
the impression that there is something wrong with his merchandise by
bargaining and then, at the last moment, deciding not to make the purchase.
People will assume that you realized that there was something wrong with the
merchandise and won’t want to buy it.
Just as a customer may not mislead the merchant, the
merchant is not permitted to mislead the customer. He may not say that an
article is for sale to prevent people from going elsewhere to purchase it
when, in fact, he has no intention of selling it. A merchant may not say that
he is giving a special reduction unless it is true.
A sale is not completed by verbal agreement alone, and even
after a verbal agreement, both the merchant and the customer can withdraw from
the sale. Even the curse of “He who punished the generation of the flood
etc.” does not apply unless money has been exchanged. Nevertheless, Chazal
disapprove of a person who does not keep his word, for a person should do what
he agrees to do. He should keep his word. “The remnant of Israel will not do
wrong and not speak falsely.” But if a person changes his mind at the very
moment that he expresses his intention to make the sale (toch kday dibur),
it is as though he never agreed, for the statement that he changed his mind is
considered part of the statement that committed him to the sale. From here we
see how important it is for a person to stand by his word and do what he says.
Once a person agrees to a sale, he should not take it lightly even if he has
not done anything else to finalize the transaction.
If a person enters a shop to buy an item and takes it into
his hand with the intention of purchasing it, he is permitted to change his
mind. Nevertheless, a person who has yiras Shamaim should be concerned
to carry through the decisions he makes, even when no one else knows about
them. Similarly, if a merchant decides to sell an item for a certain price, he
should be concerned to carry through the decisions he makes and, for that
reason, even if he is offered more for the article, he should sell it for the
price he set in his heart.
To fail to keep a promise to give a gift is a breach of
faith, but only if it is a small gift, because a promise to give a big gift
is, in any case, not taken seriously. Nevertheless, a person should not
promise to give a gift which he does not intend to give. That would be deceit,
which is forbidden by the Torah. The promise of even a big gift must be
fulfilled if it is made to a poor person, for then, the promise is actually a
commitment to give tzedaka and has the force of a neder. Indeed, there
are those that hold that even the unspoken decision to give tzedaka is
binding. Some hold that if the promise of a large gift is made by a number of
people, they are bound to keep their promise. Since the promise was made by a
number of people it was taken seriously.
Even if the seller takes complete responsibility for any
loss that the customer may incur, it is forbidden to sell real estate or
moveable goods upon which others might have a legal claim without notifying
the purchaser. The purchaser does not want to have to deal with a court case
after he has made his purchase, even if, in the end, he will suffer no loss.
We learn this from the passage in Yechezkel (18:18) “And that he did that
which is not good among his people.”