Sunday, January 05, 2014
A new year and a look back at what got your attention
Over the past year, the topics I have written about that readers responded to most are those that involve day-to-day ethical situations. Four topics seemed to generate the most discussion, the ones involving comparison shopping apps, library book sales, a returned circular saw, and astolen cellphone.
Readers continued to take me to task for arguing that using price comparison apps in brick-and-mortar stores to determine if a better price for a product could be found was perfectly acceptable. The "stores have the huge expenses of knowledgeable sales reps to help the customer," wrote one reader. "That this common practice is unethical won't stop it, but just because many people do it doesn't make it right."
I still maintain that the choice should be the customers of whether to wait to receive a product ordered online at a better price or to buy it from the store right away. It may feel good to support local commerce and I often do, but there is no ethical obligation to do so.
I wrote about organizers of a library book sale who let an online bookseller pay to have first crack at the books, then volunteers at the book sale, then those who pay an annual fee, and only then the general public. I commented it sounded like it had "the makings of a lousy book sale for the general public."
One book sale chair wrote to take issue with my statement that the sale to the public sounds like a "lousy deal." He pointed out that his sale has a relationship with an online dealer who splits any proceeds with the organization that runs the book sale. He also believes that volunteers who put in many unpaid hours aren't cheating anyone if they are permitted to buy a book in advance of the general public.
As I wrote, the organizers have the right to run their sales any way they want as long as the rules are transparent to the general public.
Many people agreed that it was perfectly acceptable for me to return a circular saw I had purchased to cut some wood for cash credit after the saw stopped working, but when I was close to being finished cutting what I needed to cut. A 40-year carpenter named David, however, wrote me a handwritten note to indicate that the saw didn't break, but that I had burned out the motor by not knowing how to use the saw correctly. "Pay the man," he wrote.
The column that seemed to generate the most attention from readers, however, was the one about how my wife's cellphone service provider reacted after her cellphone was stolen -- first not permitting her to upgrade her phone since she was a couple of weeks short of eligibility and then offering to do so when a different customer service representative got involved. One reader summed up the sentiments of many when he wrote that both reps had done the right thing: "the first by toeing the line, and the second to breaking it in the name of customer service."
As we enter a new year, I hope that you continue to send me your questions and stories that help me think long and hard about the right thing.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin