From The HOTLINE
A Project of the Business Halacha Institute
All content has been reviewed by Harav Chaim Kohn Shlita for accuracy
by Rabbi Meir Orlian, Yerushalayim
I am interested in opening up an internet business. I need to figure out what is considered reasonable pricing for my specialty products so that I can be competitive, yet profitable. The most effective way for me to obtain the information that I need is to contact my competitors and find out how much they charge for the same product or service. Some of this research can be done online, but the majority would require me to speak to a representative of the company. I have heard that there is a halachic issue with going to a store to inquire about pricing without the intention to purchase anything.
Q: Am I permitted to contact my competitors to find out their pricing?
A: Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 228:4) elaborates on the prohibition against ona’as devarim – verbal exploitation. Cases of verbal exploitation include reminding someone that he is a ba’al teshuva (a descendant of converts) or asking someone a question that requires knowledge which the questioner knows the person does not have. One of the examples mentioned is that one may not inquire about the price of an item if he is not interested in making a purchase. This ruling would seem to prohibit “window shopping” where the customer inquires about the price of an item without intent to purchase. Shulchan Aruch Harav (Laws of Ona’ah and Geneivas Da’as par. 28) states that this prohibition is violated when the customer’s intent is to deceive his friend. When a purchase is not made, the friend will realize that the customer’s intent was to deceive him, and this will cause him to be anguished by the incident. Accordingly, as long as the owner/employee does not realize that the customer had no intent to make a purchase and will not feel that someone deceived him, the prohibition is not violated.
Based on this more narrow definition, it is certainly permitted for one to go “window shopping” if the business owner is not led to believe that someone was taking advantage of him. Returning to your initial inquiry, it is permitted to inquire about the competition’s pricing following the same guidelines – as long as the business owner will never realize that the one making the inquiry had no intention of making a purchase.
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(YWN Desk – NYC)