Shop floor ethics

We’ve all done it. Fallen in love with that stunning Karen Millen dress, tried it on in store, found the perfect fit… walked away and found it cheaper on ebay. Or spent ages with the polite young fella in Jessops finding the perfect camera for our needs, only to leave the store empty handed and purchase it from Amazon. Everyone does it, it’s almost second nature now to seek out the best deal, a part of modern society.

At one of the conference lectures I attended on Tuesday we were shown these ads:

Anyone familiar with the UK high street will recognise the colours and fonts used in the top parts of the ads. Targeting John Lewis and Selfridges, Dixons have tapped into our shopping habits and used them to sell us their website. As ad campaigns go this is a decidedly clever one; it’s also open warfare.

I blog a lot about manners and ethics and a lot about social media, and have blogged on occasion about social media etiquette – polite commenting, attributing images, acknowledging inspiration, minimising self-promotion on other people’s blogs, etc. Where I’ve been remiss in my blogging is on the topic of social media marketing and the ethics of marketing in general – which, considering I’m now a social media marketer, needs redressing!

Personally, I have issues with any form of marketing that openly puts another brand down – the high school bitch of the marketing world. On the one hand, these ads are extremely clever, reinforcing our behavioural patterns and endorsing our thrifty ways. On the other hand, for some consumers (myself being one) the ads highlight the questionable ethics of bargain shopping. Before showing these on Tuesday, the speaker told us about a colleague who had browsed the high street with his Christmas list, entered it all into his amazon basket as he browsed and got it delivered same day via amazon prime. That way he got the pleasure of the shopping experience at online prices.

The only reason online-only stores can afford to offer reduced prices is because of their low overheads – they are not paying for shop floor space, for damaged returns, for employee expertise. And they certainly don’t have to worry about customer service levels during an online transaction – essentially the computer is the pre-programmed robot who runs the transaction according to script. There’s no personal interaction, which is what your extra pennies are paying for.

It’s a bit of a tricky grey area to manoeuvre to be honest. It seems obviously smarter to find the best price you can for any major purchase. But to use a person’s expertise to the extent the ads suggest and then walk away leaving that person without their commission (or more likely, to leave their livelihood in danger) – well, put it this way, if a waiter gave you really good service you wouldn’t leave them without a tip would you?! (If you would, get off my blog – I’ve done my fair share of waitressing, and we rely on topping up minimum wage (sometimes less) via tips).

This is where your 3G really comes into its own. Many big electricals stores will match the lowest price you can find, so if you bring up the Dixons.co.uk price on your phone, chances are John Lewis might match it. And this is a far more ethical way to bag a bargain than buying nothing at all from the store in question…

Of course, seeing as that price doesn’t cover their overheads, you might still come back in two weeks to find a formely magnificent and established store empty and boarded up. Was there anything more depressing than the gap in the high street left by Woolworths’ departure?

I don’t really know how the ground-level stores can overcome the online problem. Waterstones have their own solution – books available online for online prices and in store at RRP (except where offers apply). Other stores have items available online at the same price as in store, but run major promotions via their websites. I have no idea which models work best. But I do know that marketing in a way that encourages the downfall of our favourite retailers is NOT ethical practice. And I know that, if we keep using and abusing our shops the way that we have been we will soon be without them. And the tactile joy of shopping, the pleasure of handing your purchase to the shop assistant to wrap, the heady scent of a hundred newly cracked books on the shelves will be things of the past.

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4 thoughts on “Shop floor ethics

  1. Really interesting post.

    I think the general public are starting to realise that whilst online shopping is often cheaper (before all the p&P gets loaded on) and more convenient, you’re often missing out on that good customer service and, more often than not, good quality products. I had various problems over the Christmas period with orders that didn’t turn up, turned up a week late (when I paid for next day) or turned out to be very disappointing. All problems that I wouldn’t have faced if I’d bought them in the high street. Customer service is often awful online, possibly due to the faceless element of it.

    I don’t understand the thinking behind creating a bunch of adverts that basically state “Our customer service sucks, but at least we’re cheap!”

  2. I’ll agree that those ads are quite clever, but I agree with your argument of the ethics of shopping that way. As a small businessowner myself, I often try to shop at locally owned businesses because I know what a difficulty it can be to be self-employed. I also enjoy getting to know the owners of the shops and forming relationships with them. Not only do I sometimes help my own business (insurance) but also I have scored nice discounted prices from many of the shops I frequent. It’s nice to build a relationship with someone who appreciates your return business enough to knock the price down!

    Also, price matching with my iPhone is a bargain shopper’s dream come true.

  3. I totally understand the allure of online shopping, and I online shop OFTEN, but I never use shop assistance expertise and then buy online. For me, it’s not even grey. If I needed and used their expertise, it is wrong not to pay them for it, which is what a higher price does. Pays for the information and help I needed from a person.

  4. I feel much the same as everyone. If I’m taking advantage of your training and experience, then I feel I should pay the (generally relatively small amount) extra for it. If I don’t want to do that, the onus is on me to do the research for myself.

    Similarly, if I want the local businesses that I enjoy to stick around then I need to support them – I never buy yarn online that I could get from one of the shops near me, for example, although I’ll happily buy things they don’t stock (er, and occasionally try to persuade them to start stocking it!). By the time you factor in delivery charges the cost difference is often not that big on non-electrical items, and I’m happy paying an extra couple of quid if it goes towards my local economy and a shop I’d like to stay in business.

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