Sunday, September 16, 2018

Is it OK to use a sales clerk's expertise to make an online purchasing decision?


Readers regularly ask if it is ethically OK to shop at a bricks and mortar store with no intention of buying something if they can find it cheaper online. Their reasoning is that sometimes they like to see and touch the item before ordering it and what better way to do this than to go to a store that has it in stock.

In the past, I've responded that while there is nothing unethical about shopping around for an item -- in both physical and online stores -- you cross a line if you take up salespeople's time and expertise if you never had any intention of making a purchase from them.

Lately, the questions have been coming from retail store salespeople who question the ethics of customers who take up their time when the customer has no intention of buying anything. Especially in a store where salespeople are paid a commission on the specific items they sell, the salespeople suggest, they are distracting them from working with actual potential customers and causing them to risk their livelihood if they spend so much time with customers who have no intention of buying anything rather than those who do.

Granted, it's a risk any salesperson takes when holding a sales job. Some prospective customers just don't end up buying anything. But at least they might have purchased something. What about those who go to a store for the sole purpose of confirming for themselves the purchases they plan to make online?

While I make an effort to support independent retailers in my community, I must confess that unless I want or need an item right away, I often shop around online to find the best price.

But when I go to my local independent hardware store, and Zack spends 20 minutes with me explaining how to carve out a piece of rotted wood from the bottom of a window frame and then walks me through the steps to repairing it along with the materials I'd need to accomplish the task, I feel obliged to buy those materials from Zack's store.

It's not just that Zack came up with a solution that was significantly less expensive than the YouTube tutorial I had previously consulted online. It was mostly because Zack and his co-workers have consistently provided me with solid advice and good service.

I know when I buy from Zack that I can go back to the store and seek further wisdom if I am running into a problem with a project. I can't expect the same level of service if I buy materials online and things don't quite work out.

While it's unlikely that the advice given by sales clerks in a bookshop or a clothing store would result in me having to return for more advice on the same items I purchase, the relationships I build with them based on their time and expertise makes me choose to buy from them.

Don't get me wrong. I still make clothing, book, and hardware purchases online. But if I expect an in-person sales clerk to continue to provide me with their expertise and service, then the right thing is to respect them enough to give them the sale when they take the time to work with me. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, September 09, 2018

Call me by my name


Occasionally when readers or others write to me, they refer to me as "Dr. Seglin." I typically respond to readers when they email me with questions or positive or negative thoughts on something I've written. But I'm often torn about whether to correct them about addressing me as "Dr.," since I am not a doctor.

My hesitancy is because I don't want them to feel embarrassed about the mistake. My guess is that they think I might be a doctor because I teach at a college. (It certainly has nothing to do with any perception about my ability to heal.) But I also don't want to let the error go uncorrected and give off the perception that I'm laying claim to a title I have no right to claim.

While my alma mater might feel comfortable addressing its correspondence to me as "Dr. Seglin" because of an honorary degree it was kind enough to award me, it's the only place that feels compelled to do so. At best, I'm an "Honorary Dr."

I was reminded of this after receiving a note from a reader -- let's call him Otto -- who recently received an invitation to participate in an industry conference. Those who invited Otto referenced his credentials as a variety of things in their invitation, some of which he has never claimed to be.

Otto is inclined to want to accept the invitation to participate, but he is wrestling with whether to take the time to correct those who invited him when he responds.

"I could just accept the invitation," Otto writes. "But if I do without correcting them, am I misleading them?" He also wonders if they might rescind the invitation if they find out that he is not exactly what they might have thought he was when they invited him.

"If I accept now, then I could correct them prior to the conference," he writes, wondering what the right thing to do is.

Otto's motivation shouldn't be to correct the inviters only if he knows the invitation won't be rescinded once they discover the error. Hiding that he is not who they think he is to get to the conference would be dishonest.

The right thing for Otto to do, regardless of his reasoning, would be to include a clarification in his response to the inviters. They likely will appreciate the response and it will also ensure that he is not incorrectly listed in any materials that are distributed to other attendees.

If he doesn't correct the inviters and his name appears with the wrong credentials, he also runs the risk of being perceived as someone who claims to be that which he is not. But the main reason he should correct the inviters is that the information about him is wrong and he knows it, just as I know and now you do too that I am not a real doctor.

I encourage each of you to write me whenever you'd like with questions about any ethical dilemmas or conundrums you may be facing, but please call me Jeffrey. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Is it OK to use a sales clerk's expertise to make an online purchasing decision?

Readers regularly ask if it is ethically OK to shop at a bricks and mortar store with no intention of buying something if they can find ...