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Retail Madness Part Three

Web posted on May 18, 2017

A Curmudgeon's View

By Les Enekes

In an earlier column I talked about refusing to buy products where the packaging has been downsized. This is just one of many corporate decisions that make it very difficult to remain loyal to a product or brand. My brand loyalty is very fickle these days. You piss me off and you have lost me as a customer.

I always check packages and labels for the country of origin. I prefer to buy local produce as much as possible. The further from home it comes from the less likely I am going to buy it. Some of the frozen and canned foods come from very far away. I try to buy clothes made in Canada or the United States whenever possible. My current car was made just down the road in Cambridge.

I also avoid buying products that come from countries with poor environmental or human rights records. The lower the price the more issues with the product. Conditions in some of these countries are improving, but very slowly. Always do your research about what is going on in some of those countries.

There are a lot of products that I will never buy because the company shut down their local plant and moved jobs to the U.S. or Mexico. Just like they have no loyalty to their workers, I have no loyalty to their products no matter how good they are or how much I like them. I have always been able to find something else. In some cases better than my previous favourite product.

Take a look what happened when the best known ketchup maker decided to shut down their facilities in Leamington and move production down south. Another company noted for its mustard, decided to start buying from the farmers in the area, and the plant was reopened to process the tomatoes. This year they started packaging the product in Toronto rather than in Ohio. Many consumers changed their buying patterns, and the other company's product is sitting on the shelf, and it is hard to find the new ketchup. Some stores still have not seen the light and have shelves full of that other brand of ketchup. I notice that the prices of the original ketchup have come down a bit. I would have made the switch, but I don't eat fries therefore I am not a ketchup user. The point is that consumers can make a difference.

If I think the price of a product or service is too high, I will avoid it. If it comes on sale at a price I consider to be reasonable, I will stock up. Books are way overpriced. I have not bought a new book or been in a regular book store (on either side of the border) since the Giant Book Sale started. Yes, I might have to wait a while, but sooner or later I will find the books I am looking for. If I am truly desperate I will go to a used book store. As I mentioned in an earlier column, I have built up my video and CD collection at garage sales, auctions, and the Giant Book Sale.

On general principle alone I do not buy any clothing with a visible name or logo. If the manufacturers of these products want me to advertise for them, they should be at least giving the stuff away or be paying me the same money that the so called celebrity endorsers get. I must admit that I do have some clothes with company names or logos, however I did not pay for them. I will take all the free stuff I can get. Unless the clothing is from an organization I belonged to or volunteered for, chances very good that I will not wear it in public. I also have the usual souvenir t-shirts. Just to be clear, I have not received any free clothing since I started this column. You also know that it is highly unusual for me to use a company name, and even rarer for me to endorse any company or product.

Another thing to check for it to see who actually owns the brand you are buying. Companies buy and sell brands these days to the point where it is hard to keep up with all the changes in ownership. There are some brands that I don't buy anymore because they were bought by a company that pissed me off.

Governments can make all the free trade agreements they want, but in the end the choice of the consumer can still make a difference. If enough consumers change their buying patterns because of corporate decisions, it can have more of an impact than some politician tearing up a free trade agreement.

I would never use the word boycott for any of my purchasing decisions. I prefer to think of it as selecting a product after careful consideration. Products endorsed by high paid, opinionated, celebrities will always cost more, and I will avoid them like the plague. Some of the worst offenders are the shoe companies and their so called star athletes. I just don't understand the concept of paying grossly inflated prices for products endorsed by some overpaid athlete. I see no reason to give these characters any more money.

The only way things will change is for one consumer at time to stop buying products that have disappointed, stop buying from companies that have moved their factories, and stop overpaying for branded merchandise. Consumers must become more informed, and use that information wisely. Governments at all levels are doing very little to protect the average consumer.

There are very few ads (I would say less than one percent and I am being very generous) that will ever convince me to buy a product. On the other hand there are many products out there that I will never buy because of their ads. I use ads to determine what I will NOT buy, rather than what I might buy. I have stopped buying some products simply because their ads insulted my intelligence, and in a couple of cases that of my house plants.

I encourage everyone to do their homework, and of course use their conscience when it comes to any purchases. I realize that it sounds like a lot of work, but in the long run everyone will be better off. There may be products that you might purchase that I would never touch because of any number of issues about the company or where it came from.

Ever try to get customer service at some of the larger big box retailers? When you do find someone, do they have any clue? Even some of the hi-tech stores seem to have decidedly low tech customer service. This is our fault because we expect low prices and that comes with the loss of quality service. We get what we pay for. There are always exceptions, but you have to look.

It's always nice when you can find the owner or franchise holder working the isles. It says that the owner cares. This is why I try to support our local retailers whenever possible.

Many retailers now have some type of loyalty program or belong to an external loyalty program. The problem with all but one of the loyalty programs is that their real purpose is to track your shopping patterns. They want to know as much as possible about how you spend your hard earned money. The more they know about you, the easier it is for them to target you. These programs are for the benefit of the retailers or the loyalty program providers. It would not surprise me if some of that data were being sold to various third parties.

In order to have the infrastructure to follow your shopping patterns they have to charge you more. Of course, they also need to charge a few cents more to cover what few benefits you get from their loyalty programs. The extra you pay for these loyalty programs does not come anywhere near what you might get back, considering that they are watching you like Big Brother. They will try to convince you that they are doing this to enhance your shopping experience. The reality is that they want to squeeze as many dollars out of you as they can.

Let's face it, you have to accumulate thousands of points or miles to get anything of real value. Did you really think that they really wanted to do anything for your benefit? By the way, you still have to pay taxes and fees when you redeem your points/miles.

The original loyalty program that did not track your shopping patterns was from the people who gave us paper "money" that we could use at their stores. What you got was what you could spend right away if you wanted to, or save them for something special. There are very few restrictions on this "money." Now they want us to get loyalty cards to give us virtual "money" instead of the current paper version. What they really want is to track our shopping patterns. As long as I can get my paper "money" from them I will continue to shop there. By the way, some of that "money" that has been hidden away in drawers, or an old shoe box and forgotten about for years has become quite collectable and could be worth many times the original face value. Perhaps you should check your stash. None of the other loyalty programs can make that claim.

Another way they try to gather information about you is those on line contests where you get a pin number in a package. Once you go on line, you have to answer all sorts of questions. The value of this information is far more than the combined value of the prizes.

I value my privacy more than any access to a loyalty program or contest that keeps track of what I do in their stores. I even keep my credit cards in those pockets that stop the RFID chip from being read. The less they know about me the better.

The best loyalty program is low prices and good service. Keep it that way and I will be a very loyal and happy shopper. I am very happy to participate in any loyalty program that does not keep track of my shopping patterns. I have no problem with collecting "money" or putting small stickers on a card to get a free coffee.


Les Enekes can be reached directly by owl. For those not owl equipped, he can be reached at news@thefountainpen.com

The views of columnists in The Fountain Pen do not necessarily represent the views of the principals of the publication.


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