Category Archives: Consumer Activism

Best Buy Sued for $54 Million over Lost Laptop

Raelyn Campbell is my consumer hero of the month.  She had enough of Best Buy showing just how bad their service can be and sued them for $54 million.  It is very extreme but unfortunately based on my experience and the experience of others; this is pretty much the only way to get Best Buy to respond to your needs and their service promise.

 

I think it is time consumers’ show that they will not tolerate breaking of service promises.  Best Buy in their own commercials promise be best service and best products.  Yes I will agree they have a nice selection in some categories, but the service, very much lacking in pretty much every category.  And I happen to live near a “model store” so I can only guess how bad it can be at a poor performing store. 

 

I hope more consumers follow Raelyn’s example and speak up and take action when a company does not keep their service promise.  After all, the service premium is built into every product so you are paying for it, you should get it what is promised.

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Filed under Business, Consumer Activism, Consumerism, Customer Satisfaction

Boycott Whole Foods

I know Whole Foods is the poster child for organic and all, and yes they do have a lot of wonderful products which I am glad they are sharing with us.  Even though those items are generally way over priced and prohibit many people from shopping their due to the high margins Whole Foods imposes.  Which is probably the root cause of why they fired one of their own employees for trying to ensure you didn’t have to pay even higher margins.

 

Last December, just before Christmas, the Ann Arbor, MI Whole Foods had someone make off with over $300 in food.  John Schultz, an employee of 5 years at Whole Foods was on his break (as in not on the clock) when the store manager called for help to subdue a robber.  Schultz came to the aid and as a result, was fired.  You can read the whole news clip by clicking HERE. 

 

Whole Foods claims that it is against company policy to touch a customer.  Ok, but don’t you have to buy something or intend to buy something to be a customer?  When did being a thief mean being a customer?  Does this also mean that if someone is beating you senseless in the bulk foods aisle of your local Whole Foods, you can expect no staff to come to your aid because that would mean touch you or the person beating you, so basically you are going to lose some teeth at the least because Whole Foods doesn’t want to touch you.

 

Also, this guy was off the clock, not working for Whole Foods so Whole Foods is a bit in murky waters claiming he is always an employee, if that’s the case, I believe they owe him a lot of over time.  Also, this guy only went after the thief because the manager requested it, how can you catch a thief without actually touching the thief?  Usually they don’t stop just because you asked politely.  So the manager can be held liable because it was only on his request that the employee came to help.

 

Third, this did not happen on Whole Foods property, so again, Whole Foods is on some very shaky ground.  Do they now feel they have the right to dictate terms on public property or the property of others?  I wonder what would happen if Wal Mart decided to do that to Whole Foods, I’m sure Whole Foods would have issues with it.

 

Whole Foods is a company that I really used to like, but the more I look below the surface the more I prefer doing my shopping else where.  This is one more example to add to my list.  Here is a guy that did the right thing and they reward him by firing him, the day before Christmas, yet their CEO who was clearly in violation when pretending to be someone else on Yahoo message boards praising his stock while trashing competitors, gets a slap on the wrist?  He should have been fired and fined heavily.  This is a company whose morale compass is out of alignment.  As many of the comments on the article are saying, I have to agree, it would be a good idea to boycott Whole Foods, they don’t seem to understand the world of realities.

 

Whole Foods is known as Whole Check because it costs so much, they do that because they keep their margins very high.  That means, you pay more for the very same thing that your local supermarket sells for 30% less.  This is probably why the “customer” robbed them; they needed food and couldn’t pay the high prices.  But that would make too much sense to play high prices, so they blame the not on the clock employee for violating policy.  That’s just wrong.

 

Also, lets look at this issues more.  A zero tolerance policy of no touching.  Is Whole Foods saying they own the employee no matter where they are?  Have the right to dictate their lives?  Not very people friendly but really if you look at the comment by the Whole Foods spokesperson said “He is still considered an employee of Whole Foods Market regardless of where he was and what was happening.”  So lets say you work at Whole Foods and your spouse comes in to shop, does that mean when you go home at night you can’t kiss them or hug them?  By the definition given by Whole Foods, yes, they have to right to fire you for that.  If you play a contact sport, you are fired if you happen to touch someone who is a customer too.  Don’t you dare shake hands with someone either, you will be fired!  Anyone else see how insane and completely off the chart of common sense Whole Foods is being on this?  Talk about police state mentality, I wonder what policies they have toward customers that we don’t know about. 

 If you own stock in Whole Foods, you might want to ask the board why is it they are wasting money and reducing your income potential.  If you read this, Whole Foods has essentially said to every shoplifter to come on in and rob the place, because employees will be more afraid of being fired than stopping you from robbing the place.  All that shop lifting is going to cut into operating margins which means weaker stock performance.   This company has shown very little goodwill and more interest in political correctness than correctness and common sense.  I am not for giving money to companies that can’t tell the different and realize a good thing when they see it.  As a result, I urge you to think about spending your money else where, there are plenty of options in most locations and often less expensive at that!  With a tighter market on the way, maybe Whole Foods will realize we don’t want to have to worry about our safety in stores because employees fear for their livelihood.  The best way to help a company see the light is to spend your money else where.

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Filed under Business, Consumer Activism, Consumerism, Food, Life

2008 New Year Resolutions

It’s the new year!  I hope the new year brings positive benefits to all, at least those that deserve it.  😉  To help make 2008 a better year, I have a few suggestions I would like to put forward to help make the year go more smoothly for all of us, so that we may have less stress in our lives.

  

Everyone should take a stress management course

I think people are way too stressed out; everyone should sign up for Tai Chi, yoga, meditation or whatever and learn to relax!  I’m all for the government subsidizing free 1 hour massages every week!  Sign me up for the deep tissues hot rock massage please!  But seriously, people are way to serious about themselves, relax, if you can’t, learn.

 

Ignore special interest groups

Aren’t we all human beings, in the same boat?  So why even bother with these snobby people who think their group is “special.”  Lets ignore them, hell lets ban them as lobby groups, maybe we can actually have a real presidential debate that way.

 

Keep the planet clean

If you do or do not believe in global warming, doesn’t matter to me.  We have one planet, can we all agree to try and keep it clean?  There isn’t some cosmic dump we can send our garbage and pollution to, we are stuck with it, so lets not make a big mess.  It’s like your home, generally if you make a mess, you have to clean it up.  Lets not make the mess in the first place, that way we won’t have that much to clean up later.

 

Buy Consciously

Can this be the year, we as consumers decide we are not just going to buy what is on the shelf because it is there?  Demand quality in product and services and ditch those who don’t offer, if we all do this, companies will actually have to do what they claim they do to ensure quality, won’t that be a new concept after the year of recalls.

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A Weak Dollar is just Dumb

We currently are experiencing a very weak dollar, for many this is news, but really a weak dollar isn’t news, it’s been around for 30 years and the reasoning behind a weak dollar are as out dated as writing on clay tablets.  A strong dollar is what is needed, as strong a dollar as is possible and here’s why.

 

Back in the 70’s, when we actually had a manufacturing base in the US, people realized that a strong dollar made it hard for people in developing nations or what was called the third world back then, found it hard to buy US goods because their currency was so weak.  So instead of trying to improve the quality of life and value of the currency for these other people, the then new idea of globalization and free trade, came around and said “lets have a weak dollar so our stuff is cheap overseas.”  People went along with that idea, probably not realizing what a bad idea it was.

 

So since the mid 70’s the dollar has been weakened intentionally.  So when I hear conspiracy theories about the intentional weakening of the dollar by Bush, I kind of shake my head.  Yeah he is weakening it, but not like he is the only one who was doing it, so was Clinton and all the others before since 1975.  Now this doesn’t excuse anyone from knowing the facts on the issue.  The idea back then was to make our products competitive, back when manufacturing was king of the economy.  Fast forward to the present, manufacturing is not king, the consumer is.

 

So all those manufacturers who wanted to sell cheap stuff to people in the developing world, decided to go produce their goods there, leaving we the consumers as the king of the US economy.  Now the logic of that is another debate, which I am not discussing here so please refrain from debating this point.  70% of the economy is driven by consumer spending, about 10-15% by manufacturing, so we have a weak dollar to help 10% at the expense of 70%.  A strong dollar means everything is cheaper, gas, food, cheap junk from China at Wal Mart, etc…  A weak dollar means all those things cost more.  You spend more money to buy the same donut that was 63 cents last year, now is 67 cents, same donut, it doesn’t taste any better!  So as you spend more on the same thing you can’t spend enough on all the things you want and the consumer engine slows down and so does the economy.

 

It is unfortunate that the free traders fail to realize that their policies are failing.  First off, if they were so concerned about people in other countries being able to buy their products, they should have focused on quality of life, not price.  So the theory was flawed from the start.  Second, why are we the consumers paying the price for all this?  If you want to have a strong dollar and as a consumer, you do!  Fight to impose taxes on companies that outsource and are just branding companies trying to sell you junk that is probably tainted with lead anyway.  But first you need to ensure we vote in people who understand a weak dollar is just dumb and will fight to have the strongest dollar possible.  When the corporations complain about it, who cares, they are 10% and they will leave and have left us to produce overseas.  In fact it should be a law that a company can not lobby unless 70% of its manufacturing is based in the US.  That would solve a lot.

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Filed under Business, Consumer Activism, Consumerism, Globalization, International Trade, Politics, The World

A Year Without WalMart

I’ve been reading this wonderful blog here on WordPress called That’s Swell by a fellow blogger and her experience with giving up WalMart.  I particularly liked part II of the series as it talks about Sam Walton and how he was a real believer in Buy American and how after his death, the company took a dramatic change. 

 

Remember back then, we had NAFTA to worry about.  We had some companies already producing in China but it was so small, nobody really noticed.  The reflections on how times have changed in the last 15 years is amazing.  And something as small as stock prices of a discount retailer from Arkansas having that much impact on globalization and daily life for, millions if not billions around the world.  Cheap tainted goods for Americans and pollution and tainted goods for Chinese.  Was the stock price of Wal Mart worth it? 

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Filed under Business, China, Consumer Activism, Consumerism, Globalization, International Trade, Life, The World, Trade

The End of Brand

It was going to happen sooner or later and the Mattel recall finally did it for many.  The end of the illusion brand is here.  And it’s a really good thing too!  I don’t mean the concept of branding is dead, I mean the idea of using brands as a smoke and mirrors tactic is over as some consumers are now becoming aware of what a brand really is to many companies.  In essence, the brand they use is not a very good type of branding, and with that, perhaps we can move on to a better use of branding, one that actually ensures a strong connection with consumers and is what it claims it is.

 

Mattel’s brand relies on quality, traditions of American icons and safe toys that parents can trust.  All of this is false.  This is what we call a brand disconnect.  Mattel outsourced its manufacturing to overseas manufactures, Mattel has agreements but a contract doesn’t actually mean anything if you don’t do anything to enforce it.  So we have seen millions of toys recalled because the quality isn’t there.  The brand fails this aspect of its promise.

 

An American icon?  Back when Barbie was made in American, yes, now, no.  Sure I loved my Hot Wheels as a kid, tough metal toys that could take a beating, these Hot Wheels today are cheap and a few good hits and your kid can be a toy car mechanic.  A name and logo doesn’t make a product, Mattel did that and it failed.  Barbie and Hot Wheels are not traditional American toys anymore, the people making a dollar a day don’t really care about the history of these toys, what they mean to people, they just know they get a pay check for making them and that’s that.  For this, the brand promise fails.

 

Safe toys?  There was a time you could trust Mattel for a safe product without question.  Sure now and then they had a problem but we believed that was the exception, not the norm.  Today, you have to wonder.  Mattel has very little control over its suppliers and we know this, you don’t have millions of recalled toys if there is just a small problem now and then.  Since Mattel has lost control of it’s safety standards, it fails this part of its brand promise as well.

 

This all adds up to a total brand disconnect.  This is mainly due to the philosophy of branding employed.  For most who don’t understand branding, it is not a concept like accounting where you have agreed upon standards, it’s very wide actually with many schools of thought and ways to use.  The type of branding you see with Mattel is actually very common among the multinationals and they do it because for the most part, you the consumer fall for it.  Don’t think this is limited to Mattel or toys, this is widespread and as people start looking closer at more products, you’ll see this is actually surprisingly widespread and for a good reason, it makes money.

 

Generally what is done is, a shell game is played, a brand is held up as being one thing, when in fact it is quite another.  I was out shopping and saw a product that said “An American Company”  yes it was based in the US but made overseas.  Was that nice shiny red paint up to US standards of being lead free?  Who knows, you can’t tell without testing it which means you have to buy it!   But would most consumers even notice it isn’t made in America.  With the “American Company” phrase all over the box and American flags, it really looks like it is American made, but it’s not.  Enough people do get fooled by this and buy it, not really looking at the fine print. 

 

A lot of this was done during the 90s and early part of this decade when companies like Wal Mart decided that low prices at any cost was the way to go.  You as consumers ate this up!  You loved the low prices and while I and others told you that those low prices came at a cost, you didn’t listen.  So now we have a situation on our hands where low prices often me, not up to regulatory standards and our definition of safe.  Are you sure that utensils set you bought is lead free?  How about those pant, are they on the list of clothing that has 900 times the safe level of chemicals?  They were certainly cheap, but what’s the price to you?  You don’t know, neither does the store you bought it from, the brand company that markets it or even probably the manufacturer.

 

What are the companies doing about it?  Most people feel that the consumer outrage will cause them to change.  Not really.  What’s going on is they want to change the regulations so what they are having made, gets in legally.  Don’t expect Mattel to build plants in the US and start making toys here again.  Don’t expect Wal Mart to realize that their demanding of production be sent overseas is the reason why 70% of Americans can’t make ends meet at the end of the month because that nice factory job got replaced with a lower paying service job.  See the real savings wasn’t for you the consumer, it was for the corporation.  When they ship overseas, they now don’t have all the overhead they had here and that means better margins and if you are CEO, you like better margins.  That means bigger bonuses, so do you really expect these companies to give up the personal gain they are making off this branding bait and switch they are doing?

 

More people are realizing this is what is going on and are disgusted, they feel cheated and they should!  They were lied to and it shows.  But you lied to yourself as well.  Back in 1999 when I was writing on this topic, people told me that low prices will only help the consumer, lead to better choices.  Better choices?  If you like lead, sure.  How about toxic fish?  Clothing with questionable chemicals?  Cough syrup, toothpaste, pet food from China anyone?  If you want quality you have to look beyond the price tag.  And many consumers did not do that nor did they stop to wonder what the impact all this would have, the race to the bottom was too good.  It’s like fast food, the value meal sounds like a good deal, but how many more hours on the treadmill is that going to cost you to super size it?  Not so great when you thinking of it that way.  And that’s what you need to do, start thinking of it in different ways and look at it in ways that get you seeing the whole value.  When you do that and vote with your dollars, branding will be forced to change, as the illusion branding tactics just don’t work when you change the rules and demand accountability and have a “show me” attitude.

 

Experiential branding is what I would use if I were in a market with competitors who have already been busted for tainted goods.  In fact any market with consumers who source overseas, doesn’t matter if you are in Canada, Panama, Germany, if you have competitors that source outside the area of your regulatory market, you are at risk.  Because as we see with Mattel, it’s not just Mattel that is being looked at, now all toy manufacturers are being looked at.  Experiential branding would save some, assuming they move fast.  It is like open book management for branding. You combine parts of operational branding and create an experience, where consumers can really interact with the brand, touch it, probe it know how it was really made.  Place the information about who made it.  I did this once where we have pictures and the stories of the manufacturers.  We showed people where the products came from, the actually people who made them and really made that connection all the way through the supply chain.  So that people really knew exactly where and who made their product.  People loved it, and they had faith in the product and the ROI per sale improved as a result.  We gained a lot of trust from consumers where as our competitors had little to nothing to show and couldn’t do that.

 

If consumers demand real change and vote with their dollars, this can change.  But if you continue to shop as you have been the last few decades and believe the brand without much question, don’t expect any change.  Companies are lazy for the most part, make them work for your money.  They say a citizen should never trust his or her government but always question the government and make the government prove its intention are good.  The same is true with companies; you shouldn’t believe a brand until it has proven it is what it claims it is.  When enough consumers do this, things will change.

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Filed under Branding, Business, Consumer Activism, Consumerism, Customer Satisfaction, Globalization, International Trade, Marketing, Recalls

Recall Conspiracy?

I have been hearing a lot of talk now that there must be a conspiracy going on against China goods, why all the recalls?  Well it is quite simple and easy to explain without the need to rely on conspiracy theories of any kind.  This isn’t anything new, we have known about it for a while, the problem with China goods.  Just look at the FDA’s own records, the fish problems have been going on for years. Nobody paid attention to it, until some pets got sick and people started looking around at other products.  This is natural.

 

Never underestimate the anger of pet owners whose beloved family member got sick from bad pet food.  China was the problem and the source.  It actually took some time for this to get rolling, very little in March or April.  Some news in May and then an explosion this summer in the form of massive recalls.  If you look at the way most trends, products or information gets spread, this follows a natural pattern.  A few early adopters notice, the trend setters catch on and then the masses. 

 

So we had a few people who caught on, then the trend setters and finally everyone is looking around every corner wondering if their product from China is safe.  Add to that, the products in question are for kids, that gets people’s attention!  When you mess with someone’s kids, you are asking for more trouble and people are now questioning anything from China, where as before they just believed the brand promise without question.  The alarm is sounded, this is going to get wider.  Which is a good thing because if it had gone unchecked, imagine if people became ill or worse from these products on a wide scale.  Remember the spinach scare last year?  I know a lot of people who do not eat spinach anymore.  The ball is rolling so this is here to stay, and with the Christmas season coming, you can be assured more testing is going to bring up more recalls.

 

I don’t have any sympathy for the producers or China; they failed in their brand promise to deliver us quality goods, which does imply a safe good.  They will have to work hard to earn the trust of consumers.  Which is a good thing, consumers should question their manufacturers about the products they sell.  That’s how consumers stay informed and keep producers focused on quality.

 

Why some people want to claim the recalls are a conspiracy are because they don’t fully understand how people as a group react to alarming information.  I’ve been watching this since the first story on pet food hit the media and this is not a conspiracy, it’s not even a fad, it moves too slow.  We haven’t even hit the peak yet.  The great thing is, companies are taking advantage of this and new channels for businesses are cropping up.  In fact I just read how a local supermarket is going locally grown for produce as a result of concerns about where produce come from and they are doing great.  This is great, consumer demands are being met.  It goes to show that when given a chance, consumers will pick quality over cheap goods. 

 If anything the above example probably shows if there is a conspiracy, it was on the part of big multinationals who claimed we were getting inexpensive goods by moving production to China.  Not really, just their profit margins got better, the prices didn’t get that much lower. 

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Filed under Branding, Business, China, Consumer Activism, Consumerism, Customer Satisfaction, Food, Globalization, International Trade, Recalls, The World, Trade