Bioethics Blogs

Supermarkets, Spending, and Influences on Choice

Something of a twitter storm erupted last week over a poster placed in a supermarket window. The poster, placed in a branch of Sainsbury’s, issued a “50p Challenge”, urging employees to encourage every customer to “spend an additional 50p during each shopping trip between now and the year’s-end”. After a passer-by named Chris Dodd took a photo of the poster and posted it on twitter, a Sainsbury’s representative confirmed that the poster was intended only for employees and that it was not intended for public display. See a news report here. The picture has since gone viral, and attracted the ire of social media commentators. Mr. Dodd himself told the Daily Telegraph Newspaper:


As a customer, I don’t want to feel like I’m being forced or tricked into spending extra by staff who have been challenged to make me do so. Had the poster encouraged better customer service, or more effective promotions, I doubt there would have been this kind of reaction


In the above quotation, Dodd seems to capture what lies behind much of the online disapprobation of the poster. However, whilst this is undoubtedly an embarrassing episode for Sainsbury’s, is it really worthy of our moral indignation?

If it is, then it seems that such indignation can only be part of a much bigger story. Consumers are influenced to spend more money in supermarkets (and various other establishments) in a wide variety of ways. Of course, as Dodd intimates above, not all of these influences seem morally problematic; for instance, he points out that there would not have been such moral outrage over the poster if it had encouraged better promotions.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.