Consumer dishonesty makes no cents

Written on the 28 January 2011

A RECENT study shows one in three customers feel justified in accepting extra change from businesses or giving false information to receive discounts.

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) study involved more than 3700 young consumers across five continents over 10 years.

QUT’s Dr Larry Neale says businesses cannot rely on customers to always do the right thing, but understanding consumer ethics can help them adjust their technology and design policies to avoid vulnerability.

“Arm’s length and self-serve transactions provide the customer with greater opportunities for deviant behaviour,”
he says.

“From a business perspective, the unfortunate reality is that there is indeed a dark side to consumer behaviour – the results reveal consumers already know that illegal activities such as filing a false insurance claim are unethical.”

In the study, which was conducted with Professor Sam Fullerton from Eastern Michigan University, consumers were asked their ethical views on 14 different scenarios.

“43 per cent of people said they think returning used goods for a refund is acceptable behaviour,” says Neale.

“Twice the number of people think falsely claiming a child discount (40 per cent) is acceptable, than falsely claiming a seniors discount (21 per cent).”

Neale says many consumers viewed their own misbehaviour as’ levelling the playing field’, due to a belief that businesses were only focused on profit-maximisation.

“Either the business wins or the consumer wins in this zero-sum game.”

The study also found women were more critical of questionable behaviour than men.


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