Yours truly remembers the debate in the state where I grew up. Dram shop laws vary from state-to-state. They are the laws that prevent bartenders from serving to minors, to those addicted to alcohol, and those already inebriated requesting more. The effect on life as I knew it was that bartenders now have legal culpability for serving someone who is already impaired. There were heated discussions from both sides of the bench. Over time, yours truly has informally surveyed five bartenders in search of a feel for whether their adherence to the law is altruism, avoiding legal troubles, or a combination of the two.

The responses have varied

A professional bartender at a fraternity party in college asked me for proof of age, apologizing that he had already denied one student another drink because he lived off-campus and had to drive. Conversely, a guy tending bar at an up-scale restaurant downtown stated unabashedly that drinks mean money, and he would serve a customer until he drops if the law did not interfere.

A third tended a private catered event. Given her choice, she would serve even fewer drinks than the law allows because people become sloppy or embarrass themselves. She thought that catered contracts should stipulate a limit to a cocktail before dinner, and one after if the event included a band plus beer or wine with the meal. A fourth had a solution.

He said their drinkers were usually guests at the resort so, aside from the nuisance the inebriated can make of themselves, there was little worry about how much they drank as long as they were ambulatory. Being able to walk was not the issue for the fifth who owned a small pub that served food, too. He was glad for the Dram laws in his state because he said he was too old to man-handle the young soldiers and gym rats that came in wanting to pickle their brains.

I recently researched the Instagram Marketing applications available for the Shopify account for a blog article I needed to write. The purpose was to write the pros and cons of the applications an online business owner can use for marketing. Similar to a bartender with an inebriated customer requesting another drink, some disturbing questions of possible entrepreneurial culpability surfaced. This article proposes to enumerate them.

The entrepreneur’s point is well received

An entrepreneur making a startup presentation
You Are Not Making Holiday Cookies for the Salvation Army

Your enterprise is a for-profit charter declaration. Point taken. The nature of business is to make sure that the people who would most be interested in the product or service know about it, know where to learn more about it, and where to obtain it. Understood. The ability to transact business while on Instagram or Facebook offers convenience to customers. I understand that point, too. Marketing strategy has long included the notion that once in the store, a customer will buy something. It is that very idea of being challenged. In the same way, a bartender could make an accident and death too easy by serving another drink to the wrong customer, social media programs that make shopping too convenient fosters impulse buying rather than responsible use of resources. 

Competition is Fierce

Defensive business tactics can be as important as offensive ones. That fact is even more true in on-line businesses who use drop shipping to fulfill orders to their customers. For example, these business owners have no control over the inventory practices and pricing of the order fulfillment company. Except for the specific stipulations of their drop shipping contract, they have no control over what is sold to another business, its quality, or the price other businesses pay for products. At least a brick and mortar business has some leverage in pricing because inventory is ordered unsold from the supplier, and the owner can negotiate a bulk purchase price. Of course, that strategy comes with the risk of unsold inventory at the end of the season. I get that, too.

Competitors Are Unconscionable

Regardless of the type of business, the monsters of competition are relentlessly breathing down a business owner’s neck. They will cross any line to secure the next sale, including the use of the numerous available software applications to steal online visitors. All website visitors are up for grabs. Worse, the questions are not of ethics or human decency, but culpability; the likelihood of being found out is the primary concern. The rules of the game in e-commerce are unknown because they are largely undetermined and mostly unarticulated. The honor among the thieves, if you will, has yet to be defined. I get it.

Competitors Are Unrelenting

Businesses are furiously burning rubber toward the finish line daily, which is to provide what the customer wants, when it is wanted, at the price it is wanted, and under the most convenient circumstances. That is exactly why many eating establishments, for example, offer meals by dine-in, carry-away, pick-up, and delivery. They are convinced their success must not be forfeited to another offering an option they do not have. Competition revenue tastes the sweetest, the most delicious, of all. I get it.

Does Impulse Spending Create All This Debt?

A pants pocket full of credit cards

The ugly truth is that it does. When compared to the global models of savers, Japan, we should feel embarrassed that we as a country and we as households carry so much unsecured debt. Debt that has no real purpose, it is not for homes, cars, or education. Even more embarrassing is the fact that Japan does not live an impoverished existence to save. Discipline is the key to the destruction of impulse spending.

Who has not experienced the frustration of entering an establishment only to find the draw is sold out, discontinued, or somehow not quite the way it was understood to be? Is the responsible entrepreneur he who will employ tactics to get us inside the store with the expectation, once there, we will buy something, even if the purchases made are not the reason we came?

Offering customers product images through Instagram or Facebook is a vehicle for marketing the same as a billboard or commercial. Doing so facilitates effortless shopping. Understood. Customers are increasingly averse to complicated shopping. Understood. The question begged, however, is whether we, as a society of entrepreneurs, are so dollar-dizzy that a sale, whatever the consequence to the consumer, is the sole objective.

Be All You Can Be — But At Any Price?

A person holding shopping bags and handing out their credit card

Impulse buying is degrading us as individuals and as a nation. True, no one forces us to make whimsical purchases any more than someone forces an inebriated person to attempt to buy another drink. We erode our self-respect through a lack of spending discipline. Skin-tight budgets and seemingly endless financial shackles are only marginally better than the prospect of a debtor’s prison.

How do we want people to see us as entrepreneurs?

Do we want to be one that helps families have a better quality of life or one that is unconcerned if a family struggles to pay the credit card minimums or buy household necessities? Is that the kind of commerce community American business owners want to display to the world?

A Mexican friend once advised the most authentic Mexican food and service are to be found only in the old-country owners who take pride, first in themselves, and then in the product and service they provide to those who pay them for it. He went on to say they hire wait staff to do a job and take pride in paying the staff to do the job well. They do not rely on customers to pay waitstaff wages. He hinted that younger Mexican restauranteurs cheapen themselves by adopting greedy American restauranteur practices.

What can we do?

A man making a drink while using a torch

Consider how ridiculous it is; many Americans have a nice home that should have ample space but, too often, every square inch bulges. Many have a two-car garage that the cars never see. Sheds in the back yard or rented storage space off-site bulge as well. Bars are there to sell drinks. Bartenders are there to sell them responsibly so that participants do not kill themselves or others while driving intoxicated.

Social media platforms are there to please customers with uncomplicated shopping. They should be there to reach and inform customers, yes, but when customers’ minds are uncluttered with other aspects of social media use that result in scatter-brained, impulse spending. We don’t need subtly deceptive and manipulative sales tactics in this age of information except by the greedy and lazy. The tools available in the marketing media platforms alone make customer targeting more precise and streamlined than ever.

What responsibility, if any, do you think entrepreneurs have towards making sure people spend responsibly? Let us know in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.