Of corrupt minnows and unethical shopping

Stories of greed and corruption by the wealthy on the one hand, and welfare benefits cheating by the feckless and indolent on the other, go down very well among consumers of media products of all social classes, but smaller scale corruption barely gets a mention. Take shopping, for example, and the practice of some retailers in offering financial inducements to customers who leave positive reviews on social media websites.

In e-commerce business circles the practice is known as “review marketing”, and, whether it is done on Amazon.com or by your corner fags and mags shop, it raises serious ethical issues even where there is no intent to deceive on the part of those doing the marketing.

Almost as bad as the potential for corruption is the defence of review marketing by consumers, eager as they are to maximise the benefit to themselves. One example I came across recently concerns a bike shop in Lewisham, southeast London. The retailer recently offered a discount to members of the London Cycling Campaign who publish positive reviews on social media sites.

One subscriber to the email list of Lewisham Cyclists questioned the ethics of shop owners who offered a discount in return for positive reviews. At the time I called on the shop owners concerned in this case to apologise and withdraw their offer, but no apology was forthcoming.

A list contributor for whom I have considerable personal respect put it down to a silly mistake, and provided what is in effect a character reference for the shop owners. But today we have seen contributions to the list defending the unethical behaviour.

One particularly incoherent example, from a would-be Mrs Trellis of North Wales, admitted that the tactic employed by the bike shop was below the belt, but at the same time brave, and justified in these straightened times. Another contribution, from a respected family physician, refers to there being bigger fish to fry, and pillories those who whinge about a well-meaning retailer operating in a difficult economic environment.

If the email list archive were public I would happily quote verbatim from the contributions in question. They are far more damning than the paraphrasing published here.

Time, methinks, for a Leveson Inquiry into the Ethics of Shopping.