Are Social Savings Techniques Ethical?

Personal finance weblog The Simple Dollar has a post on social savings techniques. The big example he gave was shopping carefully for a new pair of shoes for his young daughter at an outlet store, finding a great pair for $US12, then shopping at another store where another parent was planning on buying the same pair for $US50. He told the parent about the shoes being at an 80 per cent discount at the outlet store. Was this ethical?

Image: Bill Bradford

Trent at The Simple Dollar argues that he would not do this at local stores where he values their other benefits (expert knowledge, a place to play board games, ancillary services) but has no problem telling customers at major corporate chains where to find deals.

What do you think? Have you recently experienced any social savings techniques such as coupons left by other shoppers on items? Let us know in the comments.

Some Thoughts on Social Savings Inside the Store [The Simple Dollar


    No problem with this whatsoever. I also have no problem going into a shop and haggling, even for the smallest amount of money off, or using my student card to my advantage. The money is better served in my pocked, than a chain store, or even perhaps a middlish one.

    People use the same criteria wheb choosing where to shoplift. It doesn't make sense here either.

    I don't think this is unethical - your sharing information. Its up to the other consumer to decide if the service is worth extra.

    How would it possibly be unethical to tell someone that there is a better deal somewhere else? if anything, wouldn't it be 'unethical' to NOT share the knowledge with someone else, essentially making them pay more because you don't want to 'share' your knowledge of a good deal?

    Sure, one store loses out on a sale, but another store GAINS the sale, and they are selling at a discount for the express purpose of gaining sales, they NEED more sales if they are going to make a profit, and so you could argue NOT telling someone about the discounted price elsewhere hurts that store more for the lost sale that it would hurt the store that was selling at a higher price.

      This is also why I don't bother trying to get a store to price match an item at a cheaper store. If they're not going to give me a better deal, I might as well get it from the store that advertised a cheaper price in this first place. If it weren't for them, I couldn't get it that cheap!

    ... Huh?

    I can't even comprehend why anyone would ever think this is unethical. That's not hyperbole, I honestly can not think of a single situation in which telling someone that they can save money by shopping somewhere else could possibly be unethical. I can't even imagine why it would even cross your mind.

    I just did this over the weekend, in fact. I picked up my latest disposable netbook for $220, and was still making the rounds of the electronics discounters. When I saw an older lady looking at the $300 netbooks, I told her about the $220 one at another shop, and off she went, thanking me profusely.

    The way I see it is, retailers check each others' prices, and have more "perfect" knowledge of sale prices than does the typical consumer. Spreading the knowledge on the consumer side just like it's spread on the retailer side seems completely ethical to me.

    I have always looked at it this way. If I need the assistance of the shop in my purchase (special orders, specialist knowledge), then paying for service is worth the money. However, if I'm buying a book and I know what I want, why should I pay $10 more at one store than another? Both stores are performing an equal function in the second case.

    Every month I hear the RBA mention "inflationary pressure" as an excuse to try slow our spending by increasing our mortgage payments. Half the reason we have inflation is people earning more than average in some boom and just spending whatever the asking price is without questioning it. Something is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay. These days it seems people are forgetting all about haggling, hunting for bargains and just grabbing on impulse so I have no problem telling people to shop around.

    This problem has dropped in the last year or two, which is probably why we hear from various people in the retail industry complaining about overseas online retailers.

    The only time it could be considered unethical is if you were an employee of the other store and were hiding the fact that you were from the other store.

      The only time its unethical is if your on the clock( if you were from the other store or the manager). outside of work your just an average joe, so you can do this without issue.

        I disagree. Whether you're on the clock or not, you're trying to give your store the best possible advantage. I'd argue that that's not a bad thing, but you can't say it's unethical on the clock, but ethical off the clock. Unless of course you're referring to the fact that you should be doing work instead of hanging around in some other store!

    Look, I wouldn't trust someone who worked for a competitor store to be giving me honest information. But it's not unethical of them TO give me honest information. Regardless of where they work or if they're on the clock - telling someone the truth with the intention of genuinely benefiting them, in a way that they would consider a benefit isn't ever unethical.

    Ethics get gray around topics like the benefit of helping a stranger find religion (you believe they would be deeply benefited by embracing jeebus, while they would prefer that you go away and leave them alone), but for something like 'the store next door, has the exact same product at a much better price' - it might not be polite to the vendor who's store you're in, or ethical to go into the store with the intent of luring customers away, but it's certainly ethical in terms of your interaction with the other customer.

    Sharing information which is already freely available to absolutely everybody is never unethical.

    If the product, in this case shoes, was exactly the same then it becomes a commodity, no matter where you buy it the shoes will perform the same and it is the job of the free market to decide how much the shoes are worth in relation to their features (how long they will last, brand, etc). If it is NOT the same product, but mearly similar then that gets more tricky.

    Ethically I'm sitting on the fence, The only experience I have is with camera stores. A camera may cost more than the big brands ripping into the margins but atleast the guys there are technically able to assist you after the sale where as the big brands just want to move you in and out without any care for after sales support but push for selling you crappy accessories to bring their margins back up.

    is Ozbargin unethical? it's essentially the Digital version of the in store case. do the ethics change because your in store at the time?

    I had a suspected dead PSU in my PC, and a local computer store tested it for free and told me it was OK. As I was walking out, I saw a dirty salesman selling a full Norton suite to a 50ish year old couple. I was pretty torn between telling them go to home and download MSE for free or letting this store make a few dollars.

    I think had it been a bigger chain I'd have spoken up as long as I didn't impact some poor guy's commission.

    Here's a thought - companies can't price fix (work together to push pricing up), but, buyers can form groups to gain volume discounts (work together to push pricing down). Is THAT ethical?

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