Internet Marketing Ethics – Will You Stoop So Low For Money?

internet marketing ethics

Internet Marketing Ethics: Some people (and marketers) will just do anything for money, even if that means using dishonest and unethical means.

They don’t really mind and they don’t really care about it as long as they make money. Their first priority is always about making more money and they will stoop so low just to be able to do that.

Do you think it’s right to do that? Do you think it’s ethical? What’s your definition of ethical?

Though I’m not into ethics and wouldn’t qualify to talk about it, in my opinion being ethical in running a business is about being honest to your customers and prospects.

Of course it’s not easy to simply judge whether a certain act is right or wrong, since people can have different opinions about it. A lot of times, we simply can’t attach absolute values to these acts like we can to math.

For example, we know that:

1 + 1 = 2

2 + 2 = 4

There is only ONE answer.

But what about: “Do you THINK what he did was in the best interests of the company”?

When you have questions like that, there are bound to be different answers supplied by different people. And the answers these people give is dependent upon their own characteristics and backgrounds that have shaped their lives and lead them to become what they are today.

The answers are SUBJECTIVE, and there are no clear right or wrong answers.

So what am I getting at in this post? Internet marketing ethics?

I just met a friend of mine from another country.

We were talking about marketing in general and how there are many different ways to sell products and services. Then he told me about one of the underhand practices that some of the retail shops in his country are using to get people to buy stuff from them instead of from their competitors.

He was talking about the camera market.

So this is what would happen…

Peter is a tourist from another country and he enters into a local camera shop and asks for the price of a Canon camera with model number XYZ-123.

The shop owner replies: “The price for that camera is $300″.

Peter thinks to himself: “Wow that’s cheap! The last 5 shops I went quote me a price between $350 to $370. This shop is only charging $300. This is definitely a good deal!”

Without any hesitation, Peter says: Okay I’ll take it.

Store owner: Sure, please have a seat first while I get the camera from the storeroom.

A few moments later…

Store owner: Sir, unfortunately the camera you’re looking for is out of stock. Actually, to tell you the truth, that camera is an old model and it’s not really good. A lot of customers who bought it complained they should have gone for a higher model, the XYZ-217. It boasts a higher megapixel, can zoom in more, gives you clearer shots, and has a longer battery life.


Really? How much is that?

Store owner: $500, but I can give you a 5% discount if you really want it. After discount, it would be $475.

Peter again thinks to himself: “Hmm… the original model that I was looking for is sold cheaper in this store than other stores. This means this store is selling cameras at a cheaper price than others. They are selling the higher model for $500 plus 10% discount. This must mean that other stores are charging around $600 or even more. This must be a good deal!”

Finally Peter bought the higher model camera for $475, thinking that he got a good deal…

Until he walked past another store with a banner that says:

“Canon XYZ-217 for only $400″

It was then that Peter realized he’d been “tricked” and “cheated”.

Why Was Peter Tricked And Cheated?

In the scenario above, the shop actually has in stock the camera Peter was looking to buy. The problem is that they (the store) are selling it for $370. But if they were to simply state the price bluntly, Peter will just say “Okay thanks” and move on to another shop because he was looking for a price lower than $350.

To make Peter stay and buy from them, they purposely quote a very low price to get Peter’s attention. And it worked. Once they said that it costs $300, Peter immediately agreed and wanted to buy from them.

But they would lose money if they were to really sell the camera for $300. Hence they went to the storeroom to PRETEND to get the camera, and finally returned empty-handed, saying that there are no stock left (which is not true).

Then they “switched” Peter’s desire for that camera model to another different model by saying some negative things about it and praising the other model with some cool features.

Moral of the story: Just because someone or some shop is selling ONE product for a cheap price does NOT mean that someone or shop is selling EVERYTHING for a cheap price.

Peter was tricked into buying the higher model camera for a higher price because he failed to realize this principle.

There Are Prices To Be Paid

It’s also important to know that there will be consequences if you resort to such tactics.

Firstly, Peter will of course never buy from this store again, EVER.

Secondly, he is going to badmouth the store everywhere he goes. If this was the 1990s, he will only badmouth the store to every person he KNOWS. Now, you can be sure that he is going to badmouth to everyone out there via social media, even if he doesn’t know them. After all, it only takes a little tweet and sharing your message via Facebook to get your message heard.

Remember earlier when I said that Peter was a tourist?

Stores like I’ve just mentioned above mostly target tourists because most local people already knew of their underhand practices. Tourists from other countries, on the other hand, even with the power of social media, still fall prey to these unscrupulous sellers.

What do you think of doing business this way? Do you think it’s ethical? Would you resort to such tactics as a marketer or seller? What do you have to say about internet marketing ethics or just marketing ethics in general?

30 Responses to “Internet Marketing Ethics – Will You Stoop So Low For Money?”

  • Businesses should convince customer genuinely and make sure that the customers get what they pay for. Its not only a matter of making profits but also of making a good impression and reputation. These will lead many more customers who will patronize your store.

  • Honesty and ethical practices will possibly mean that things take longer than if you cheat, but, in the long run, it is simply the right thing to do.
    From my experience in sales it is just too easy to pretend or lie by not saying things that should be said.
    Whether it is online or brick and mortar, honesty is the best policy.

  • Ron

    You said “I think good business ethics are essential to long term success,cheating and stealing from customers will only last for a short time.”
    You’ve hit the nail on the head there. We can argue about the rights and wrongs of different approaches until we are blue in the face, but ultimately treating your customers with respect and decency is the only way forward in business.

  • Be bold! Let that marketer now that you are in charge. Don’t just agree to what they are saying. Better look around for yourself and rely on your own taste and instinct.

  • I will definitely not buy goods from a sales person who has way with words. If I sense he takes extra effort in convincing me to buy a product I will just shy away and move to another store. The sooner I am out of his sight the better.

  • How does marketing ethics online and offline differ? I wonder if there is a separate law concerning this matter because it seems that people think that if it is done online it is not covered by the same rules of ethics. There is so much freedom online that I think its high time we create clear policies on this.

  • If they have tricks in marketing so does buying. I believe that buying is an art where you can challenge your skill in getting the best value for your money. Also, you learn to deal with people and lastly you will learn to know about the product you are buying. If you are not in a hurry, try to ponder on the information before you swipe your card.

  • I will call it cheating basically because the storekeeper lied about the stock and destroyed the reputation on the lower model. In fact the old camera model could suffice the buyer’s requirement and there is no need to sell him the latest one. The world is already pouring with scammers, let us not be among them.

  • I would be willing to sell my products at low prices because I once heard a great speaker tell us to “get your market even at a loss”

    I’ve always sold affordable products and services but made sure that quality is never compromised. The trick to gathering a loyal customer base is honesty.

  • When it comes to money and making profits anyone is susceptible to trickery and gimmicks. That is why anyone should be less trustworthy of people that they barely know. As a buyer, you should practice checking all available options before deciding. This will increase your chances of getting the best deals available and avoid swindlers.

  • Being ethical is probably why I am an unsuccessful affiliate marketer. When I first tested the waters I was introduced to those over-hyped cheesy sales pages and couldn’t believe that that was standard practice. I didn’t want any part of it because I found it revolting. There are tons of questionable products being promoted and money being made by them. There are too many suckers in this world and as long as they’re out there there will be these unethical marketers feeding on them. I am still trying my best at this affiliate marketing game, but will most likely continue to fail because I can not promote a miracle skin cream or hemorrhoid cure. My conscience won’t let me.

  • Welly,

    You bring up some great questions. I think the story with Peter and the camera is extremely shady. If you run your business like a crook, it will eventually catch up to you and bite you in the ass.

    I’ve been a member of many Internet Marketing email lists for a long time and I must say that so many of these people are no better than the camera store owner in your story. Soooo shady. All these product launches happening every single day. They “HIGHLY RECOMMEND” them all. Seriously? Do you highly recommend every damn product that comes out? I doubt it.

    What really gets me are the jerk offs that lie about “limited quantities” and “this deal WILL expire soon.” I’m not stupid enough to fall for those tactics but many people are. They work hard for their money and these IM guys just take it from them, undeservedly.

    Thanks for the great scenario. It reminds me why I remain to be a non-shady person. I don’t ever want to be like that.


  • Hey Welly,

    I just read a report from a IMer that does some decent monthly figures and I was feeling low just from reading it. I’ve been around techniques and tips to boost response and get people to buy as a copywriter for a while, but what I read was so underhanded and “manipulative” that I could not sleep at night if I employed those techniques.

    Yes, he gets results, and the clients to get persuaded to buy his products and some may be happy, but if they new the process that was used, I guarantee they would be seething and demand money back and spray this guys reputation.

    I always would rather be persuasive with integrity than slimmy and make a few more sales!

  • In every business whether online or not, is important that there is an ethic or value that every member should be aware of. In this way, they will know what are the things that they should be doing not just to become a better person but to become a role model.

  • kc

    Word of mouth and bad buisness pracices will eventually catch up to theses type of buiness owners whether offline or online business. Stealing will always be wrong in whatever form.Thanks for sharing this.

  • Marketing ethics is a big deal and is very important to me. Whether it may be online or not, I think people should observe proper marketing ethics.

  • Do scams abound on the internet? Sure! But buyers are always responsible for doing their “due diligence” whenever they buy. Unethical internet marketers will be able to make a fast buck but will not endure for the long haul. This is where social media can be the watch dog. I always check out customer review when I can before I buy anything important online.
    Tammara Acerra

  • Internet marketing is still in its infancy. Just like a child a lot has to done before it matures. It’s just safe to say that internet marketing is vulnerable to people who likes to take advantage over honest users. As for the moment we must be cautious and vigilant when dealing people in the internet.

    A. Harisson
    Blog Writer

  • As an affiliate marketer, I won’t promote anything I don’t believe in. I’m amazed at some of the rip off products with poor customer service and really hyped-up sales pages out there. I would rather get out of the business than to have my name associated with these types of products.

  • Paul

    @Ron: “I think good business ethics are essential to long term success,cheating and stealing from customers
    will only last for a short time.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Honesty in any business should always be implemented. Stealing will always be wrong in whatever form.

    Paul Roberts

  • It’s no wonder why many consumers avoid internet marketer like plague.

  • I am an internet marketer – an ethical one :) . One of my pet peeves are these “don’t buy”, “scam”, “warning” come ons. Some IM’s even buy domains like Then you get on their site and all they do is extol the product’s virtues. I’m in a few markets where I’m having a dickens of a time ranking about these people. This is a big bowl of wrong. Google shouldn’t allows it, the affiliate programs shouldn’t allow it, and if people did’t click on those, marketers would stop doing it!

  • The problem with society in general is that too many people will scoop low for quick profits. You only have to look at IM as a case in point. That’s why I focused mainly on phyisical product. You’d do better to buy a book than most info products.

  • I received an email that offered my great tips and a website for fr-ee.
    Everything looked great and I am pretty familiar with scammers so I went ahead and bought the system.
    Funny, the free site I get is for THEIR product. They did teach me many things about advertising, creating the website, etc.. But now when I go to see any reward for my hard work (11 days of solid building) I will be promoting their product like a pyramid scheme. I may see commissions from them, but only when others sign up.
    This is totally AbZY!!!(Thanks Welly)

    I think it is wrong to not let a customer know exactly WHAT they will be getting for their purchase. They should have the opportunity to make an informed decision!
    (keyword–> INFORMED!)

    Owner, The Speckled Umbrella

  • James

    It is wrong but it happends every day. I received an email telling me and I am sure I am not the only one that reveived the email but it says you can get this product for $5 and gives you the link. When you get there it says the $5 is for 3 days and then you will have to pay another $72. It is not the same as with the camera but it is just as dishonest. Some people wouls not read all of the sales letter and would find out about the $72 when they received their credit card statement. I have seen several like this in the year and half I have been getting emails from marketers.

    Don’t get many like that but when I do I close the website and delete the email.

    • Hi James,

      As long as the sales page is CLEAR in stating that $5 is for 3 days and then customers would be charged an additional $72, that is fine.

      By CLEAR I mean stating it a few times in the sales letter and stating it at an obvious position so that people skimming through the sales letter will not miss it.

      For example, stating it before the the “add to cart” button would be good, and then when you go the shopping cart page where customers fill in their details, you state it there as well.

      If, after such obvious declaration that customers are going to be charged xx amount after xx days, they still miss it, then it’s really not the fault of the product owner but rather the customer.

      My GOLD Coaching has a similar setup. The first 14 days is $1, and after that it’s $19.95/month. It’s stated very CLEARLY on the sales page as well as on the shopping cart page.


  • hi Welly
    yet snother good point in my opinion theres two aspects to this story both involve greed to a greater or lesser extent
    peter the buyer is looking to get the best possible camera for his money at the lowest possible price (bargin) whereas the shop assistant has realized this and played upon his desire to get a good deal (something for nothing)

    the fact that the shop managed to sell him on the benefits of a more expense camera based on his desire to get a cheap deal the assistant realised his need to get areal cheap deal

    yes its morally wrong in a perfect world but the world is not perfect as we all know and just to finish I have been fooled into buying amore expensive items in exactly the same way as your example an expensive lesson for me

    keep up the good work Welly
    peter mcgrath

    • Hi Peter,

      Upselling to more expensive items is totally fine. The point of the story is not about upselling, but rather how the shop is purposely “tricking” the consumer to think that their price is cheap; and when the consumer thinks like that, they sell another product at a higher price than what other shops are selling, to exploit the fact that this consumer will not even think twice that they are being overcharged.

      Good point though.


  • Ron Brantley

    Hey Welly,

    I think good business ethics are essential to long
    term success,cheating and stealing from customers
    will only last for a short time.

    Building an honest and ethical business will last
    for a lifetime. What you put out in the world comes
    back to you ten fold, whether it be good or bad….

    ….so put out honest an ethical business practices,
    and you’ll have a lifetime of success.

  • From the store owners point of view he knows you are a tourist chances of you giving him repeat buisness is very slim and he knows that so it all comes back to being HONEST and showing INTEGRITY which this store owner did not show to his tourist customers. Word of mouth and bad buisness pracices will eventually catch up to theses type of buiness owners whether offline or online buisness

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