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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2005 / 18 Kislev, 5766

‘Rate and switch’

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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The ethics of shopping around


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q. Can I get a salesman to teach me about a product and then buy it cheaper from a discount store or the internet?


A. This phenomenon, which NYT columnist David Pogue recently called "Rate and Switch" (rate the item in one store, switch to another) has been around for decades. In my home town there was a small, upscale, camera store. The owner was knowledgeable and patient, and would often spend twenty minutes explaining to a customer the arcane of light meters, coated-lenses, and single lens reflex, only to have the customer exploit that information and buy the item on the cheap in Manhattan.


There is an obvious injustice in getting a valuable education from one merchant which you then exploit to get a good deal from another merchant. But it's important not to jump to conclusions, because the phenomenon is more complex than it may first seem.


One problem is that there has to be some limit to customer loyalty. It's true that the full-service salesman may spend twenty dollars worth of his time explaining how the product works, but often he doesn't charge twenty dollars more than the discount store, but rather a hundred dollars more. Now it could be he has to charge five times more to recoup the four customers who defected, but the fact remain that it's hard to demand that the customer who receives a service from the retailer should be obligated to pay any amount.


Another complexity is that the relationship between specialty stores and discounters can sometimes be parasitic, but in other cases it is symbiotic (mutually beneficial). For one thing, stores are desperate to get customers inside; many customers, even if they don't have any particular loyalty, will buy from the store they're in if only to save the time and effort of shopping around.


Sometimes the websites create the interest that draw people into stores. Going back to my suburban experience, the Manhattan stores had huge ad spreads which informed customers about the variety of cameras they sold; many people probably learned about camera availability and prices from the Sunday paper and then bought locally.


And sometimes the effect can work backwards. Web sites may invest huge sums in instructional interfaces which are then exploited by stores. For example, my books are sold on Amazon.com. Amazon provides a wealth of useful features: if someone is examining a similar book they may refer them to one of mine; surfers can benefit from customer reviews; and so on. Probably some readers find out about the books on Amazon and afterwards buy them from a local bookseller to save on shipping!


Also, retailers are not always on their own. Very often manufacturers and distributors take steps to help them. After all, they recognize the benefits of having full-service retailers provide product information. Some companies don't sell on the internet at all, or they limit internet sales to certain products and reserve others for full-service stores.


Let's recap the situation.


Deliberately taking advantage of a salesperson to get price or product information with the primary intention of buying somewhere else is certainly wrong. In Jewish law, this transgresses the prohibition of onaat devarim, causing needless anguish -- in this case, taking advantage of the store's resources without really giving them a fair chance to compete.


Even when you have an open mind, the fairest policy is to be willing to pay a premium for good service. If the premium demanded by a full-service store is reasonable, them most customers will find that if they account sincerely for the time and trouble of going somewhere else for the item, as well as for the confidence they will have buying from salesperson they trust, they would be better off buying from the salesperson. Remember that rewarding good service is in everybody's interest. Just as you willingly pay a fifteen percent tip to a waiter who provides decent service in a restaurant, you should willingly pay a reasonable premium for a salesperson who provides service in a retail store.


At the same time, the retailers will have to find their own solutions. Some full-service retailers will lower prices; others may charge for instruction but give a rebate for customers; some will stock only unique items, and some may go out of business. Salespeople will have to become expert in providing selective information which won't give an advantage to competitors.


This issue really exemplifies a common theme in the Jewish Ethicist columns. Neither markets alone, nor ethics alone, can create a fair economic system. Markets can provide the basic engine, the "meat and potatoes", of commerce, but a little bit of ethical sensitivity provides just the seasoning necessary for truly fair and mutually beneficial dealing.


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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.


Previously:

My paycheck is late!
Should schools cater to an elite?
All's fair in love?
Comfort and Competition
Do I need the caller's permission to put a call on the speakerphone?
Overtime for lost time
Is it unethical to play suppliers against each other to get the lowest bid possible?
Do family members have precedence in charity allotments?
What the world of business can teach us about our annual process of repentance and renewal
Are religious leaders subject to criticism?
Vindictive Vendor: How can I punish an abusive competitor?
Blogging Ethics: Is the blogger responsible for defamatory posts?







© 2005, The Jewish Ethicist is produced by the JCT Center for Business Ethics