Consumer Ethics Question

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by FenderPriest, May 19, 2011.

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  1. FenderPriest

    FenderPriest Puritan Board Junior

    I got into a lively conversation with a co-worker this morning based on this question: Is it ethically/morally wrong to go to a physical store, compare products, decide on a product, and then buy it from Amazon because it's cheaper?

    The gist of my answer was this: When you go to a physical store, and check out their products, your already using their business by being able to physically touch, feel, and compare products (i.e. you can say "this feels cheap", or "I like the way this looks" which you can't do w/ online stores). Your ability to do this is a part of the price of the product - which is why Amazon can sell cheaper, b/c they're zoned as a warehouse, which has a different business model. When you decide on your product, and then decide to go with Amazon b/c it's $10, $15, $30 cheaper (or whatever you guys use in Greece!) you've just exploited the physical store, which I think is morally and ethically wrong (especially for a Christian). You've exploited their services (of being able to physically touch, compare, etc. a product) for your own financial gain. That's wrong.

    What say you? (Or any resources would be appreciated!)
  2. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    I don't see an ethical problem there. Christ relied upon the freedom of contract principle in his parable of the laborers. From that I think we can assume that freedom of contract is ethical unless it infringes on some other moral law.

    In this case, there is freedom of contract. The store and the consumer have an implicit agreement: the store opens its doors to all who want to look at things because the store knows that it will sell to a certain number of people. Any particular person who enters the doors is not obligated to buy.

    Now, if the store had some other arrangement in its offer to the public, it might be different. But what kind of store will say to the public, "you may enter our store only if you agree not to buy from Amazon"?
  3. torstar

    torstar Puritan Board Sophomore

    That's a matter of private conscience.

    When you stand at the counter and start bickering with the staff and insisting on a discount because Amazon is cheaper and they have told you 5 times they won't reduce the price but you STILL won't buy or leave, and there are 30 people in line waiting for you to finish this embarrassing display and they are starting to get angry....

    That would be pushing the ethical boundary.
  4. Kevin

    Kevin Puritan Board Doctor

    A few years ago when I was in the home reno biz I had a customer walk into our store. He was a DIY'er but it was a slow time of year so I spent a couple of hours with him. I explained all of the pro's & con's of the various products, educated him about r value & showed how to calculate the energy savings against the relative cost of the products, etc.

    In other words, "Kevin's College of renovation Knowledge" was in session! What I explained to him that afternoon would save him several hundred bucks a year in lower heating costs. Plus I taught him how to qualify for $3,200 in government grants. Total commission for me is he bought everything around $100. Not a very productive use of my afternoon.

    He came back a couple of weeks later & wanted to order about $200 worth of accessories! He had taken his new knowledge & ordered all of his materials from a competitor for a savings on a $6k order of about 200 bucks. He said that no one else at any other store had been as helpful & that after spending an afternoon with me he knew how & what to order. However since I was "so helpful" he wanted to buy something from me!

    I thanked him for the compliment & told him to shove off & not come back! I explained that the 200 $ that he saved was the cost of having a well educated salesman that spent hundreds of hours reading, attending seminars, and touring plants in order to be the best informed sales force in the region. Since we made a lot more then the $10 an hour counter man at box store we were expected to know our stuff & we did.

    I sent him away & told him to buy everything he needed elsewhere, and I hoped that the staff were helpful. He said "no they weren't, all they did was take the order, they couldn't help at all".

    People are free to buy or not buy as they see fit. No one "owes" anyone their business. But don't rub my face in it.
  5. FenderPriest

    FenderPriest Puritan Board Junior

    Kevin, thanks for your example there. It's not the digital-physical store issue I was thinking of, but still a consumer ethics issue in the realm of my question. Indeed, people are and should be free to choose in these issues, but that doesn't negate the ethical issues involved. My question isn't a legal issue, but an ethical issue. In many cases, I think people are exploiting the benefits of physical stores (experiencing and comparing physical products, trained staff, etc.) for the benefits of online/digital prices (which don't offer any of those services, hence the lower prices).
  6. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    If you just walk into a store and look at products you aren't really costing the store anything extra. They know that one of the costs of being open for business is that some people will come in and not buy. That's okay. However, if you take up much of a salesman's valuable time, like in Kevin's example, never intending to actually buy from him, that's wrong.

    Many people don't realize, though, that bricks & mortar stores often are competitive with online retailers when you consider all the costs. There's the cost of shipping. The time cost of waiting for the item to arrive. The time cost of going online and ordering. The cost of not being able to examine the actual product and make sure it's in good repair. And so on. Such things are often worth the few extra dollars you might spend. Plus, when you buy from a local store you help keep it in business so that you can visit it in the future.
  7. athanatos

    athanatos Puritan Board Freshman

    Thinking the same thing. Or rather, that the store offers open access to the location free of charge. There is cost: cleaning, for one.
    Last edited: May 20, 2011
  8. CharlieJ

    CharlieJ Puritan Board Junior

    Jacob, you're missing the other side of the equation. The store physically displays its wares in order to create an environment that entices people to purchase. People are much more likely to purchase clothing after they've held it in their hands. They're much more likely to buy furniture if they've seen it presented in a room setting and sat on it. So, the store allows you to look and feel in return for the opportunity to entice you to buy something that you perhaps weren't even interested in buying.

    By walking into the store, you are subjecting yourself to their enticement. By looking and feeling, you gain information. It's a fair arrangement.
  9. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    To be fair, if the physical store was smart they'd have their business online (at least)...
  10. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    Most everyone who has been in business has had the disheartening experience of spending much time and effort with a potential customer and then having them buy from someone else.

    I've been on both sides of that.

    Sometimes, I've purchased mainly because I wanted to support the seller, or even felt sorry for them. Not really in my best interests.

    It's just a fact of life in the marketplace.

    Some people will buy for a temporary motive, such as buying on-line, or not supporting a "big company" on-line.

    It all works out toward the most efficient general good in a free market, using normal self interested motives to end up improving the quality of goods and services at the optimal price.

    It's not "fair" from our self-interested standpoint in every case, nothing could be because each one will define that from their own vantage point.

    Biblically, "shopping" is not prohibited unless one is substantively misleading.

    "Interest" is not the same thing as contract any more than one "date" is a contract to engage.
  11. fredtgreco

    fredtgreco Vanilla Westminsterian Staff Member

    There is always a cost involved. If you buy like the person in Kevin's example, you are contributing to the decline in customer service. But that decline is also a reason for online buying. I buy many things from Amazon because it is easier for me to find them and have them shipped to me than it is to find them in Walmart. And if I call Amazon with a question, the customer service is better, especially with returns.

    Physical stores are not always doing you favors either. Like when Best Buy sells a Monster HDMI cable for $90 that you can get for $4-5 (yes, really) online.

    On the other hand, I make it a practice to frequent certain businesses with good customer service, both because it makes business sense (for me - I can get help) and I build a relationship. So I use the same local mechanic, and frequent the same family pizza shop.
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