Ethics is a Two-Way Street

I was in my “satellite office” in Albuquerque,NM reading about a local art supply store that is going out of business after 67 years. The store was started by the owner’s father and he grew up there, learned the business and took it over. Over the years they had a large clientele of local artists, including Wilson Hurley (one of my favorites) and Georgia O’Keefe.

Why are they closing? So many small businesses are being driven out by large “box” stores. In the case of this brick and mortar store, it’s the Internet. Customers find it easier and cheaper to buy on-line. Well, sort of, assuming that they know what the want and what they are doing. Imbedded in the article is glaring question, not of customer loyalty, but of ethical behavior.

The article describes a situation where a potential customer comes in, looks at supplies and equipment, receives demonstrations on how to use them, all at a cost to the owners for not just material, but their time. The customer then proceeds to negotiate over the price of the piece of equipment she is interested in, stating that she can get it significantly less from a website. The owners can’t meet the price (overhead, time and material, etc.). While leaving, the customer shares the internet advertisement with another prospective customer and suggests that the other customer buy it on line.

Here are some questions to ponder.
·Did this customer ever intend to buy the equipment from this brick and mortar store?
·Did she visit the store for the sole purpose of getting “free” lessons on how to use the equipment?
·Why was she trying to drive business away from this establishment?
·What’s in it for her?

We hear so much about ethics in business, especially big corporations. Reading this article made me realize that ethics works both ways. Organizations, large and small, for profit and not-for-profit must engage in practices that are fair and ethical. They must treat all their stakeholders (employees, customers, shareholders, etc.) with fairness and respect. They also have the right to expect that individuals who engage their services and buy their products do the same. It’s as much about ethics as customer loyalty.

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