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The Importance of Ethics in e-Commerce

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The Importance of Ethics in e-Commerce

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When you first start looking around online for something that you want to buy, the ethics of the company selling it might not enter your head. You’re intent on locating that bargain, or searching out that rare item.
However, once you have found what you have been looking for, questions will often start to creep in, especially if you find yourself on a site that is notorious for having less than transparent ethics. It turns out that ethics are much more important to a consumer than anyone might have considered. If you run a business, making sure your ethics are unquestionable and clear is all important. It can make the difference between success and failure. 
Amazon’s Fall
Amazon, of course, is still big news. It’s a massive corporation, and people are buying from it thousands of times an hour. You would think, then, that since it is so big and so popular, customer satisfaction would be high, only it’s really not. It may be the world’s most valuable listed company, but it has fallen – quite dramatically – in the list of companies ranked by customer satisfaction and that is due mainly to its company ethics. Where once it was first on the list published biannually by UK Customer Satisfaction Indexes, it now lies at fifth with a score of 84.4 percent. 
Why did this happen so suddenly? The Institute of Customer Service added a new category to the rankings that dealt with the ethical aspect of all the companies included in the poll, and that’s why Amazon’s ranking slipped down. It shows that a company with poor ethics is not something that customers want to deal with, even if it is as big as Amazon and can potentially negate this issue. 
What’s Wrong With Amazon?
Amazon is a massively popular company, and because it is so huge there are few people who can manage to stay completely away from it; sometimes it’s the only place to buy from, especially if you’re working to a budget. That, however, is part of the problem, and it causes an ethical dilemma for many customers. 
The low prices have to start somewhere and, according to reports, that somewhere is Amazon’s own wages. By paying staff the minimum wage and having contracts that require them to work long hours, those prices stay low. More people buy and the cycle continues. 
But it’s not just the wages that are the problem; the working conditions have been called into account as well. Plus, there’s the tax issue; if the public know nothing much else about Amazon, they will certainly have at least an idea that there is a problem with the (very small) amount of tax they pay. 
Put all this together, and it’s clear that this is not an ethical company. Yet it still makes money because it is so large. A smaller company who worked in this way would soon have to shut its doors. 
Since Amazon are now at number five on the list, there must be more ethical companies above it. Number one, right at the top, is bank First Direct, followed by John Lewis. These brands are known for their ethical way of working; their staff get shares and are part of the company, for example, or they pay their taxes and give a percentage of their profits to charity. These things make a difference, and you don’t have to be a big company to be able to do it either; percentages are, by their very nature, relative, so you can always find a number that will suit what you want to do, and that will show your clients and customers that your ethics are in the right place.
Conclusion: Are Ethics Important in e-Commerce?
Once upon a time, ethics in e-Commerce wasn’t something that was particularly discussed. People didn’t think about it. Buying online was new and exciting, it was a novelty. Plus, there wasn’t a lot of choice – Amazon was there, so was eBay, perhaps a handful of others who have stayed the course, but the choice that we have today was non-existent. So ethics? They weren’t something that came into the decision making process (not least because we didn’t know enough about these companies to look into how ethical they were). 
Times change, however. 
Now there are hundreds of thousands of e-commerce sites, and although the likes of Amazon can ‘get away’ with poor ethics (to a point – it’s clear that the people are beginning to speak out, and their rankings are evidence of this), smaller companies cannot. Smaller companies will lose customers extremely quickly if their ethics are called into question. There is so much choice online these days that if a customer doesn’t like what one company is doing or how they’re doing it, they can look elsewhere and find similar products and services with a business that has its ethics for all to see in a positive way. 
It is crucial, therefore, to be ethical in e-Commerce. Pay people fairly, pay taxes, offer good working conditions – these should not be something that you need to think about, they should be an automatic part of running an e-Commerce business. If you can’t afford to do these things, you’ll need to take a step back and reassess your business. 
Are ethics important in e-Commerce? The answer is yes. No matter what size your business is, no matter what sector you are in, people are looking for more than ‘just’ a good deal or a unique product or service. They want to know that they are doing something good, or helping someone else do good, when they buy from you. 
So show them that they are. 
Work with charities, offer shares to your team, make where you work a happy place to be. As well as this, sourcing ethical goods themselves will also be a big benefit to you and the people who buy from you. Use local produce and products wherever possible, get involved in the community, help out and do more than you really need to.
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