BP#12: List Prices Create Deceptive Deals

Some Online Bargains May Only Look Like One by David Streitfeld on April 13, 2016 in The New York Times

Online deals, which can claim that an item is being discounted by 99% or even 100%, can do so because vendors can provide their own list price, or manufacturer’s suggested retail price, to websites such as Amazon without oversight as to how correct it is. This allows for a lower retail price on Amazon to appear as a discount by hundreds or even thousands of dollars, such as the cat litter pan with a list price of $2,159.00 and a retail price of $27.67, resulting in savings of 99%. Retailers argue that using the list price is necessary and that there are no victims in these scenarios.

Online listings such as these would most likely be considered advertising, therefore, I will treat these deals as a form of advertising for moral discussion. 

These online deals are clearly misleading to the consumer. They are designed to make it appear that the product is far more valuable than it is. When a product has a high price attached to it, we as consumers are lead to believe that there is a quality-related reason for that. Therefore, the use of an inflated list price is arguably an overstatement of the quality of the product.

Is this type of advertised deception morally acceptable? Burton M. Leiser argued in his essay “Truth in the Marketplace” that an advertiser’s goal of selling a product should not be met at the expense of harming an unsuspecting person. However, sellers argue that no harm has been committed. Is this true?

Quality can be a very important part of a purchasing decision. Quality determines how long a product will last without breaking or how well it will do its intended function. The high list price can mislead consumers to assume a higher quality product is being purchased than what they intended to buy. If it breaks far sooner than expected based off of its list price or if it fails to meet functional expectations based off of its list price, it could be argued that the retailer has caused economic harm to the consumer, as they will have to pay again in order to replace their purchase. The economic harm then could be measured in the replacement plus any sort of physical damages that might have resulted from the initial purchase.

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