Technology is an ever-advancing concept. As it changes, many things change along with it. One of those things that do not remain constant when technology changes, is business. The way in which business is done is influenced largely by changes in technology. Notably, business is now a global idea. Even the small and medium sized corporations are going to the international scene with an aim of expanding their market and accessing new ideas on the global scene. This has given birth to a concept that is becoming a household name in any countries – ecommerce. Ecommerce is a way of trading, just like the normal trading, with the only difference being the actuality that the seller and the buyer never get to meet as they carry out the transactions through the internet. Money and orders are sent through the internet, particularly through the seller’s website, and the goods are sent through a predetermined mode of shipment. One thing that is raising concern is the issue of ethics. The internet, can attract too may unethical conducts such as dishonesty, lack of privacy and so on. This paper endeavors to reveal the differences in the ethical issues associated with B2B and B2C forms of ecommerce.
Offline businesses have to adhere to some ethical standards in dealing with clients. The ethical standards do not actually apply to the customers only, but rather to all stakeholders including the owners of the organization. This is no different with ecommerce. E-traders have as well to adhere to various ethical standards. However, it is important to note that the ethical issues surrounding the online businesses are substantially different from the ethical standards around offline businesses (Maury and Deborah 27). The primary differences revolve around the reality that in ecommerce, the seller and the buyer never get to meet. When people do business offline, there is an aspect of personal touch. One can go to town, to a favorite store, say hello to the seller, because with long time of trading, they have become more than acquaintances. As such, the person can obtain goods on credit, sometimes through some local arrangements because there is trust between the two parties. This is not the same when ecommerce is involved. The seller knows his customers by numbers, and email addresses. There is minimal or no personal touch at all. As such, trust becomes the first ethical issue in ecommerce.
As a primary factor in ecommerce ethics, an organization should at all times endeavor to keep the trust between them and the customer. This will enable the organization create a good and reliable customer base, which can lead to customer loyalty – an aspect that gives an organization competitive advantage. In straightforward terms, an organization should at all times endeavor to differentiate itself from those unscrupulous online traders that trick people and never deliver the commodities to the clients. Honesty should be a central ethical requirement in all online businesses. Such honesty can be achieved through the endeavors by an organization to make public all its policies (Nardal and Ayse 195). Such policies should be displayed on the website, and adhered to, to the letter. Such policies may include such things as whether or not return of goods is acceptable. In furtherance of the honesty and trust through policies, an organization should avoid such unethical tactics as bait and switch strategy. The bait and switch strategy is one concerned with publicizing prices that are not real. For instance, some unscrupulous online organizations announce that they are selling a home theatre system at 150 dollars. Prospective buyers stream to the website only to find that the announced price was not the correct price.
Another issue that online ethics should give prominence is the issue of security. Research indicates that there are organizations that do not safeguard the vulnerability of the customer’s information. The people handling the sensitive information may at times be careless as to let unauthorized people access such sensitive information such as the account numbers through which payment is made. Accessing information relating to such account numbers can enable thieves and other fraudsters to make unauthorized money transfers leaving the owner of the account aggrieved. Such security loopholes should be sealed at all costs for the good of the client and the business relationship. Security over the net is a more sensitive matter compared to security on off net business. As a way of strengthening ethical conduct relating to security, the organization should reduce the number of people authorized to handle sensitive information. Ethically, the people entrusted with the customers’ sensitive information should not be allowed to give out such information, except when it is a court order requiring the revelation of such information as a way of furthering greater good and the wider interest.
One of the most talked about ethical issues is the issue of customer privacy. Privacy is an essential aspect of customer relationships. In trading online, the organization is in a position to acquire a substantial part of the private information of the client (Bélanger & Crossler 1026). For instance, the organization can access the phone numbers, email addresses, full names including the National Identification Number or the passport number. With such information, unscrupulous officials can collude with third party vendors to antagonize the customer. Third party vendors are people that look for and access other users’ mails and details to pursue their individual interests. This can expose the users to such activities as web spoofing, a malicious concept that entails the opening of counterfeited organizational websites and defrauding them through correspondence that appears real. The privacy of the customers should be given primacy. This means that, for the betterment of the relationships between the organization and its customers, the people handling confidential information should keep it within the confines of the organizational customer database.
Typically, a customer that is receiving services over the internet cannot tell whether the person serving them from the other end are professionally qualifies. As part of exercising due care and diligence, the employer should take it upon himself to employ staff that is qualified. It would be equal to negligence for an employer to use incompetent staff for the simple reason that the customer and the members of the organization do not meet. Employing incompetent people may subject the customer to a number of risks (Sama and Victoria 96). Such risks include the risk of losing money or receiving low quality services. This affects the organization’s corporate image negatively. Essentially, therefore, the online employer should realize that they owe the clients a duty of professional care and diligence, and aim at acquiring the most effective staff.
One of the most serious ethical issues associated with the internet is the matter of age and restrictions. Unlike offline trading where the seller easily establishes the age of the buyers, online traders run the risk of transacting with minors, on commodities that such minors should never access under the laws of their various jurisdictions (Mavlanova and Benbunan-Fich 94). Sale of alcohol to minors is one of the biggest possibilities in e-commerce. This not only causes breach of the law, but always the abuse of ethics. This matter needs to be addressed with utmost urgency, especially for those organizations dealing in such commodities as alcohol and other products consumable by adults. To reduce such occurrences, an organization should make tough the verification procedures and require the client to produce a number of authentic documents. This way, the chances of sealing with minors is considerably difficult.
Bélanger, F., & Crossler, R. E. “Privacy in the digital age: a review of information privacy research in information systems.” MIS Quarterly, (2001) 35.4, 1017-1042.
Maury, Mary D., and Deborah S. Kleiner. "E-Commerce, Ethical Commerce?" Journal of Business Ethics 36.1/2 (2002): 21-31. OmniFile Full Text Select (H.W. Wilson). Web. 8 Apr. 2013.
Mavlanova, Tamilla, and Raquel Benbunan-Fich. "Counterfeit Products On The Internet: The Role Of Seller-Level And Product-Level Information." International Journal Of Electronic Commerce 15.2 (2010): 79-104. Business Source Premier. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.
Nardal, Sinan, and Ayse Sahin. "Ethical issues in e-commerce on the basis of online retailing." Journal of Social Sciences 7.2 (2011): 190-198.
Sama, Linda M., and Victoria Shoaf. "Ethics On The Web: Applying Moral Decision-Making To The New Media." Journal Of Business Ethics 36.1/2 (2002): 93-103. OmniFile Full Text Select (H.W. Wilson). Web. 8 Apr. 2013.