Business and Economy


Many salespeople take complying with the law to be the only acceptable standard for their conduct and claim that they have no moral duty to provide buyers with information about the goods they sell, except for that information which the law requires for an enforceable sale.

A perspective says that a voluntary exchange occurs “only if” the following conditions are met:

  • Both buyer and seller understand what they are giving up and what they are receiving in return.
  • Neither buyer nor the seller is compelled to enter into the exchange as a result of coercion, severely restricted alternatives, or other constraints on the ability to choose.
  • Both buyer and seller are able at time of the exchange to make rational judgement about its cost and benefits.

These three conditions admits of degree of satisfaction. An ideal exchange is an exchange involving people who are fully informed, fully rational and enter into the exchange entirely of their own volition. For this position, “the primary duty of salespeople to customers is to avoid undermining the conditions of an acceptable exchange”. This makes it clear that, act of omission as well as act of commission can understand the conditions of an acceptable exchange.

Careful examination of products will not necessarily reveal problems or defects. Accordingly, caveat emptor is not acceptable as a moral principle, because customers often lack information necessary for an acceptable exchange. In such cases, salespeople are morally obligated to give information to the buyer.

One can object to this perspective by saying, when time does not permit it, a salesperson cannot be obligated to provide all information necessary to ensure that the customer is adequately informed. The position also implies that a salesperson in a store would be obligated to inform customers that a particular piece of merchandise in her store sells for less at a competing store if she knows this to be the case. The position seems to yield unacceptable consequences in class in which the buyer’s alternative are severely constrained.

For a more plausible perspective, salespeople have the following duties regarding the disclosure of information when dealing with rational adult customers:

  • Salespeople should provide buyers with safety warnings and precautions about the goods they sell.
  • Salespeople should refrain from lying and deception in their dealings with customers.
  • As much as their knowledge and time constraints permit, salespeople should fully answer question about the products and services they sell.
  • Salespeople should not try to “steer” customers towards purchases that they have reason to think will prove to be harmful to customers.
  • Salespeople should not sell items they know to be defective or of poor quality without alerting customers to this.

Almost all salespeople invite the trust of customers/clients and claim, implicitly or explicitly to be acting in the interests of customers/clients. Salespeople often ask customers defer to their judgement about what is best for them. For most salespeople, gaining the trust of customers or clients is essential for success.