Ever since the first Egyptian peasant was forced at gunpoint to sell Microsoft Windows by rich Norwegian farmers on the streets of Havana, retailers have been an indispensable part of our daily lives. Unfortunately, they’ve also been screwing over customers for just as long. It seems not a day goes by anymore that I don’t hear a story about some major retail chain being exceptionally mean or unethical in dealing with one of its customers. Sadly, a single customer can’t easily make a difference against these behemoth businesses and their crappy conduct. But at least we can always complain about it on the internet!
Here’s my list of retailer pet peeves that really press my buttons.
Refusing to honor price mistakes
I cannot begin to tell you how many times retailers have tried to stick it to me with that horrible fine print at the bottom of their ads stating “We are not responsible for typographical errors in this ad.” You think you’ve found a really good sale on a product. You drive to the store, search for the item, stand in the long lines, only to have the item scan at a higher price. “Sorry,” says the cashier, “we had an error in the flyer.”
Worst Offenders: Large electronic chains like Best Buy and Circuit City. Pricing errors happen with these guys on such a regular basis that you have to wonder if they’re making them on purpose just to get you in the store.
Potential Solution: How about some legislation requiring retailers to honor their price mistakes? It might sound a bit unfair to retailers, but it’s certainly fairer than putting the “blame” for price mistakes on the consumer who has to pay for it. I guarantee so-called price mistakes would all but disappear because retailers would throw a lot more pairs of eyes at checking over flyers before they go to press.
Not standing by the merchandise they sell
You save your money and finally have the $8,000 for that new MP3 player/vibrator. You stop by your local music store, buy it, take it home… and it lights itself on fire in the most unfortunate place. A few skin grafts later, you return the product to the store, but they refuse to take it back. “Looks like a manufacturer’s defect. You’ll have to deal with the manufacturer.” Not only does the store refuse to take back the faulty merchandise it sold you, but it’ll keep selling it to others until enough people light themselves on fire to warrant an official recall.
Worst Offenders: Retailers refusing to back the quality of the merchandise they sell isn’t limited to safety issues. I find that the retail industry with the worst track record of standing by its products is furniture sellers. Dishonorable mention goes to Wal-Mart because they sell many categories of crap.
Potential Solution: Make retailers partially liable for monitoring the quality of the merchandise they sell. Sure, that All-Paper Artificial Christmas Tree sounds like a great product for your store to sell, but maybe you should do a couple of quality and safety tests on your own before stocking it on your shelves.
Broadcasting useless TV commercials
A snowy mountaintop. A serene river in summertime. A starry night sky. Pan down to the product. It’s there. You should buy it. How many television commercials have you seen like this one where you watch 27 seconds of irrelevant build-up, two seconds of product shots, and zero seconds of information about what the product does and why you should buy it instead of other similar products.
Worst Offenders: Hands down, automobile manufacturers spew the bulk of romanticized but useless TV commercials. Beer makers and their sport-playing equines come in second. Retailers also place highly in this competition. Dear Target, sexy models dancing with bleach bottles does not make me want to buy bleach. Telling me why (e.g. “we sell it cheaper”) I should buy bleach from you instead of another store does.
Potential Solution: Change the channel. Don’t buy the product or shop at the retailer without doing your own research. Or just don’t buy the product or shop at that retailer.
Selling products they know are bad for people
How can retailers who sell cigarettes sleep at night knowing they sell a product that will directly kill lots and lots of people? Oh, that’s right: money.
Worst Offenders: Too numerous to count, but you don’t have to go very far to find one. Your local supermarket likely makes a pretty penny killing its customers.
Potential Solution: To spare consumers from long, drawn-out years of suffering, they should just bring a check for their life savings to the cigarette counter where the sales clerk proceeds to shotgun them to the chest. Quick, far more humane than death by slow poisoning, and the retailer still gets paid. Everyone wins! Or… retailers could just stop selling products they know make people sick or dead.
What bad business behavior really burns your biscuits?