Add to Cart? Consider the Ethical Aspects of Ordering Non-Essentials
Mon, August 15, 2022

Add to Cart? Consider the Ethical Aspects of Ordering Non-Essentials


The UK government announced that all retail outlets, other than those that provide essential goods and services, were to close immediately in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, reported Laura Steele of The Conversation, a news and analysis website. However, online retail is “still open and encouraged.” Is that a go signal for consumers to purchase goods online? Most people will say that ordering essential items is ethically acceptable. But how about non-essential goods such as toys and home décor? Is it still ethical to shop for these products?

Survey On Online Shopping 2018

Clarivate Analytics, a global leader in providing trusted insights and analytics, and leading enterprise brand protection Mark Monitor found that 30% of consumers have accidentally bought fake goods over the last five years. Meanwhile, 49% said they have unintentionally purchased fake products as gifts and 45% were worried about buying fake goods as gifts. 84% said they would never purchase bootleg products as gifts intentionally.

The research showed that global consumers continued to shop online, with 22% reporting doing 26% to 50% of their shopping (outside of grocery shopping) online. 20% said they did 75% to 100% of their shopping online.

Shopping behavior changes over the festive period, with more consumers shopping for goods online compared to the rest of the year. Not everyone had done their festive shopping on the web. When asked where they spent most of their money while shopping over the festive period, 54% said either via online marketplaces (37%) or directly through a brand’s website (17%). However, 38% said they spent the majority of their festive budget in physical stores.    

When asked why they chose to spend most of their cash via online marketplaces, 68% cited “convenience” (versus 60% for those who chose brand websites and 53% for those who picked physical stores), followed by “choice” (versus 46% and 35%), “ease of search” (versus 49% and 48%), “good deals” (versus 49% and 34%), and “trust” (versus 33% and 37%).  

When asked about the specific issues they were worried about when shopping online, 65% (U.S. 72%; France 69%; U.K 59%; Germany 58%; Italy 51%) mentioned “hackers stealing details,” followed by identity theft at 59% (U.S. 73%; U.K. 54%; France 49%; Germany 45%; Italy 37%), and “scammers stealing money” at 56% (Italy 67%; U.S. 57%; France 56%; Germany 56%; U.K 53%).  33% of consumers were also concerned about “buying something by mistake” (France 39%; Italy 35%; U.K. 34%; U.S. 33%; Germany 19%).   

Regarding the confidence rating of trusted channels, the global average of trusting online marketplaces was 88%, followed by clicking on a link in search results (63%), smartphones, (59%), paid-for adverts in search results (38%), link in social media post (38%), and sponsored social media content (33%).

Clarivate Analytics also asked consumers that showed low or no confidence in the aforementioned channels why they deemed them to be untrustworthy. Respondents said they were worried about buying bootleg products. This fear was highest when clicking on a link in search results (62% in 2018 versus 51% in 2017), clicking on a paid-for ad in search results (61% versus 55%), and sponsored social media advert (61%). This also included clicking on a link in a social post (60% versus 61%), online marketplaces (56% versus 40%), and smartphone app (52% versus 44%).

88% of consumers who have been victim to counterfeiters agreed that brands should do more to protect them from online counterfeit threat (versus 86% in 2017). When asked what the respondents did when the item they bought was fake, 32% sent the products back, 27% warned family and friends about the brand, and 26% stopped spending on the brand. 22% said the bootleg product tarnished their perception of the brand, 20% wrote a negative review on an independent site, 17% wrote a negative social media post about the brand, and 16% complained to the genuine brand.  



Why It’s Unethical to Buy Non-Essential Items Right Now

Monica Torres of HuffPost, an American news and opinion website, recommended not purchasing non-essential products as delivery and warehouse workers will be more at risk. In fact, some warehouse workers are calling out against the increased demand for online orders, which are higher at some companies. This means more workers will interact with each other at work.

“I don’t want to be the person who died for fragrant oils,” said one worker in a busy Pier 1 warehouse. Customers may be blind to the fears and frustrations of delivery and warehouse workers. It takes effort to package, ship, and transport your orders to your doorstep. But for those who are responsible for performing these tasks, they have to make a clear distinction between a delivery that caters to your needs to stay safe and healthy and one that fulfills your online shopping impulse.  

Ronnie Stutts, president of the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, suggested, “The key [question] here is ‘Do I really need it or do I just want something that I want right now?’ If it’s the latter, hold off for now.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the risk of buyers being infected by the virus from a shipped package is low. Still, workers are putting themselves at risk as they interact with buyers. Stutts commented, “The more interactions that you have with us, the more likelihood of a carrier coming in contact with [COVID-19].”



Should You Still Buy Non-Essential Items?

It’s up to you whether you want to buy non-essentials online, said Steele. Those who support buying non-essentials online argue that it provides a safety net against the impacts of closing down physical stores, especially for small businesses with limited finances. Those who are against it assert that the health and safety of warehouse staff, postal workers, delivery drivers, and other employees within the supply chain are at risk of being turned into a profit. Many companies have launched contactless deliveries

However, there are still concerns regarding the conditions of warehouses. As the COVID-19 escalates, an increasing number of staff are becoming sick or are being forced to self-isolate, further burdening those in work. Jim Thomas, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina and lead author of the American Public Health Association’s code of ethic, used purchasing exercise gear as an example. He said, “If I can wait six weeks, then maybe I should.”

Add to cart? No, not right now. You might be tempted to order non-essentials online, but you should also consider the risk of you and the delivery driver contracting the virus. Ask yourself if you need the product right now and if you can wait for several weeks. Perhaps it’s best to focus on purchasing essential items that can help you stay healthy and safe.