Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan| 5763
Ona’ah (Mispricing) - Part III - Difficulties in Setting a Price
We discussed how mispricing by a sixth is a critical cut off point in regard to ona’ah. A frustrating issue in trying to apply the halachot in the modern market system is determining from which point to calculate the sixth. Is there always one going rate? Apparently at the time of the gemara, prices were pretty much set at a given time and place, and ona’ah was in relation to that going rate. However, in modern times, there are great price fluctuations, which depend on whether one shops at the local makolet (grocery), at the shuk, or on the internet, etc. It is, thus, no surprise that present-day poskim have to think more independently, based on the spirit and precedents of the classical sources (see Pitchei Choshen IV, 10:(1)).
It appears clear, for example, that one could charge more by providing improvements not only in the object itself but even in ancillary factors relating to the “buying experience.” For example, a store which invests in real estate (size, location), staff (sellers, more check-out counters), and interior decoration to provide a more calm and efficient buying experience can legitimately expect a return on their investments and charge a higher price (ibid.). A local grocery, which provides greater convenience, at the expense of volume, has a right to make a living. Thus, going rates need to compare and consider sellers of a similar type. So too, one who buys in bulk can expect to pay a lower price than a simple household does.
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