Business Halacha: Browsing a Store to Buy Online


internet-computerQuestion: May I browse a store’s showroom if I don’t intend to buy there, but from another store or over the internet? 

Answer: Just as it is prohibited to cheat a person monetarily (ona’ah), it is prohibited to taunt him emotionally (ona’as devarim). For example, you may not ask a store owner how much an item costs when you have no potential interest in buying it. Asking the price gives the seller the impression that you might buy the item, and he remains disappointed when you don’t. It also distracts him when he could deal with other customers. (C.M. 228:1,4)

Walking into a store similarly raises the seller’s expectation that you might buy, albeit to a lesser degree, and he is disappointed when you walk out without buying. Therefore, it is inappropriate to browse if you have no interest at all in buying there.

It is permissible to browse, though, if there is a possibility that you might buy there. Any store owner knows that potential customers comparison shop and might decide not to buy there. (Pischei Choshen, Ona’ah 15 nt. 15) It is also permissible if you ask the store owner up front, “Do you mind if I browse the products without buying?”

Furthermore, browsing in a large store full of customers is permissible if you do not distract the salespeople, since the owner or salespeople do not note an individual person who enters and browses. Similarly, it is permissible to browse in stores that emphasize feature displays, such as FAO Schwarz, since the owner encourages people to view the display and does not necessarily expect a sale.

Finally, the prohibition of ona’as devarim applies only to a fellow Jewish storeowner. (Rama 228:1)

 Authored by Rabbi Meir Orlian

These articles are for learning purposes only and cannot be used for final halachic decision. The Business Halacha email is a project of Business Halacha Institute ( and is under the auspices of Rav Chaim Kohn.

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  1. It only applies to store owners or employees with a financial interest in the sale.
    Most employee (specially in big chain stores) have no financial interest & will not feel slighted if you don’t buy.

  2. “Finally, the prohibition of ona’as devarim applies only to a fellow Jewish storeowner.”

    Would some kind person explain to me the distinction between a “fellow Jewish storeowner” and a Gentile store owner, please?

  3. # 2 – no one is saying that there is a difference, necessarily but that is the HALACHA! We don’t change it or make up different ones because someone may be insulted etc.

  4. Yidlmitnfidl (#4) is less than helpful (and even less observant of simple derech eretz) in his obstructive response to what seemed like a genuine request for enlightenment.

    Given the name of the original questioner (Bor veBok veAm Ha’aretz) it would appear that he/she really wants clarification of the issue.

    It could also be that #2 (a) may not have access to a “local orthodox competent Rabbi” or (b) that he/she may not even be Jewish.

    Whatever the case, Bor veBok veAm Ha’aretz would seem to have been unnecessarily insulted and not offered adequate explanation.

    That is not the attitude to be adopted by yidlmitnfidl during the month of Elul. Quite the contrary.

  5. The issue here is not one of dishonesty or cheating, but of great sensitivity to the feelings of the seller. The Torah says, “lo tonu ish es achiv – do not anguish one his brother.” (Vayikra 25:14) This special sensitivity demanded by the Torah is only demanded towards our Jewish brethren, with whom we have a natural bond.

  6. #1: People with a financial interest in the sale could extend far beyond the store owner or even the manager (whose salary may be determined by store sales). Obviously an honest, smart employee will care greatly about whether or not the business thrives, can support their employments, and will continue to operate.

    #2 The halacha in question originally only addressed the relationship between Jews. However, I am certain that most observant people interpret this as a paradigm for how Jews ought to ideally treat all of God’s creations.

    #3 In fact, the beauty of the halachic system is that it has allowed for tremendous change through response and various takanot throughout the generations. This is true for even the strictest, most observant Jew. New situations come about (such as shopping via internet, chain stores, etc.) that require a degree of flexibility. To imply otherwise is a failure of honesty either with oneself or with others.