Is there such a thing as ethics in business?

Until recently I would have answered ‘yes’ without hesitation, but after what’s happened in the last few days, I’m not sure any more.

Work isn’t usually something I spend a lot of time thinking about – and it’s on my mind so rarely that I’m even having to create a new category specially for it! – but it’s been occupying most of my waking thoughts for the last 24 hours or so, and here’s why.

Most of my income is from affiliate marketing, which is kind of like having a commission-only sales job, except that you’re not actually an employee. You just sign up to promote a particular company’s products (like Amazon’s, for example), they give you special links to promote, and any time someone buys something through one of your links, you earn a commission. One of the companies I promote has a big online mall, with all kinds of products for sale, as well as lots of games to play, music to download, and penny auctions.

When I first started promoting for them, I didn’t even know what a penny auction was, but I’m a big believer in only promoting something you’re very familiar with yourself, and that you actually like enough that you want to use it. I tried out the penny auctions, and was hooked!

If you’ve never come across penny auctions, they’re a lot of fun to do because you can get some amazing deals. The company I promote for boasts up to 97% off retail. Each auction starts at one penny, and the price goes up by a penny with each new bid that’s placed. The auction runs until no-one has placed a bid before the timer reaches zero, and then the highest bidder wins. To bid, you need to buy credits (the company has to make money on the auctions somehow!) and each bid costs one credit.

Back at the end of July, I decided to bid on an auction for a new laptop. I won the auction, and the winning price was only $30 (although it wasn’t quite such an amazing deal because I went through nearly 1,000 bidding credits in the process!) so I was very happy. The company gives you 30 days to pay for your item, so I decided to wait the whole 30 days to pay because the postal system is really bad here in Spain during August. Most of the regular staff are on holiday, so they have temporary staff in to cover, and things often go missing, get delivered to the wrong place, or arrive damaged. I wanted to actually receive my new laptop, so I figured it was worth waiting a month for it.

On 4th August, the company changed its shipping policies. From that date forward, auction items would only be shipped to the US and Canada. When I came to check out, instead of being asked where I wanted my laptop shipped, I was offered a ‘compensation’ deal (they didn’t actually call it that) worth about half what I’d actually spent on the auction. Lots of emails backwards and forwards to support (and even to the owner of the company) followed, but I got nowhere. I was told, “This is the new policy, and that’s all there is to it.”

I’m still shocked, and I’m still hoping it will be resolved, although I’m starting to think it’s unlikely. If they can’t send me my laptop, I’ve asked that the whole auction is reversed, and my credits returned to my account. It won’t get back the afternoon I spent bidding on the auction, but at least I won’t be a hundred dollars or so worse off.

But it isn’t even the money that bothers me. As my father likes to say, it’s the principle of the thing. To make a policy change like that, one that affects customers with open transactions, with no notice, is just wrong. To then refuse to put it right is even worse, and shows a total lack of any kind of customer care. How can I continue to promote their products when that’s their attitude towards their customers?

Obviously, I can’t.

Fortunately, it’s only a minor source of income for me, but it’s still a massive disappointment because this company had always shown itself to be honest and ethical, and to really care about providing a good service to its customers. I’m starting to think there really is no such thing as ethics in business.

About the author


Animal lover, asexual, blogger, cyclist, daughter, dreamer, entrepreneur, expat, optimist, procrastinator, reader, realist, rescuer, runner, sister, writer ... Hate labels? Me too. Just read my blog.

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