The perceptions of SME owner-managers relating to ethics and online business practices : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Management in Management at Massey University
The Internet has created many new opportunities for small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and many of these firms are encountering external pressure to have an online presence. E-commerce, however, brings a series of ethical challenges for many businesses, notably issues relating to privacy and security. These ethical challenges need to be met by SME owner-managers in order to ensure that their business competes and survives in today's hyper-competitive environment. To date, there is very little research on ethics and online business, and the focus of this study was to investigate ethical perceptions of SME owner-managers relating to online business practices. The study was qualitative in nature and involved semi-structured interviews with twelve owner-managers of Wellington based SMEs that had an online presence. The exploratory nature of the study meant that rich data was obtained from the twelve interviewees and the findings were grouped into three main themes for discussion, the importance of e-commerce, the underlying values and risk-tolerance of the participant owner-manager and, participant perception of ethical online issues such as privacy, security, intellectual property (IP) and online trust. The importance of e-commerce both now and in the future was highlighted by the owner-managers, and there was also a diverse range of ethical concerns that they had with online business. These findings and subsequent discussion allowed for some interesting conclusions to be made. The complex changing nature of online ethics is highlighted, as well the notion that stakeholders have an important influence on the online ethical framework. This study also concludes that there is a gap between current legislation and an awareness of how this impacts on the owner-managers business. There is also a 'disconnect' between thought and action on the part of the owner-manager in terms addressing some of their online ethical concerns.