Friday, January 11, 2013
“Just shoplift them next time; we’ll let you.”
Previously I wrote several posts about how the corporations have been scamming consumers out of billions if not trillions of dollars every year through planned obsolescence in addition to the amount they’ve been scamming consumers through other means like deceptive advertising price fixing and many other practices. I cited sneakers as an example and how I would no longer silently let them continue to cut costs while they raise their prices and the sneakers as well as many other products they sell fall apart much faster than they used to.
(This was first posted on Open Salon July 11 2012; since then I have followed up on this more in a series of posts under the author tag A small sucess against planned obsolescence.)
The first one was Complacent consumers have few if any rights, which I wrote shortly after replacing a pair of sneakers that was only a few months old and declared that that pair or it’s replacements would last as long as they used to. A few months after that the Occupy Wall Street movement broke out and my recommendation for one of the tactics that they could try to draw attention to planned obsolescence and other corrupt activities by protesting these things at the cash register in Occupy Wall Street and Cash Register Protests. Then last December I wrote about how Loud complaints brings quick free replacements especially when they’re made during the Christmas rush. At that time I made it clear that I wasn’t going to tolerate their shoddy merchandise and demanded a free replacement and received it.
A couple weeks ago I did it again and received a second free replacement pair for the same purchase of sneakers.
They might have been reluctant to replace them a second time or even the first time if not for the fact that I made it clear that I was aware of their business practices and that they wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny if scrutiny was actually applied. I even wrote a page and a half “Consumer Declaration of Rights or Grievances” and brought some quotes from several books that clearly raise some doubts about the business practices that are routinely used (copies below if you’re inclined to use the same tactic). These could be used repeatedly if necessary when it becomes necessary to return other products that are incredibly crappy, which is now standard operating procedure.
While I was at it I may have reminded other people of how crappy their merchandise is and of the fact that they don’t have to take it anymore than I do. This could potentially include the workers at the store who aren’t responsible but when they ship jobs overseas they suppress local wages as well making them victims when they earn money then again when they spend it. It is difficult to return these things and let them know that you’re not going to take it anymore without taking it out on them but if it is done properly it can be done and they may appreciate it even if they can’t say so for fear of retaliation. Many of these cashiers are too young to remember when many of these products lasted four or five times as long as they do now; so by discussing it they may realize that they’re being scammed as much as us.
When requesting a replacement I told explained to three different people why I expected to have this replaced and even threatened to sue under the seventh amendment, which guarantees a jury trial if “the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars” and told them that if they used their first amendment rights to speak through deceptive advertising and campaign contributions and lobbying and passed these expenses on to the consumer without any honesty in the ads or influence in our own government as a result of the amount of money they spend lobbying, then I wouldn’t abandon my first amendment rights to inform people about it.
I began by announcing clearly and that they had an incredibly big problem with their merchandise; and quickly going on to say that they’ve been cutting manufacturing expenses to the bone while sending advertising and lobbying expenses through the roof and their products fall apart much faster than they used to. I informed the cashier that thirty years ago when a pair of sneakers was a year old the shoe laces broke and all I had to do was replace them and I could wear them for a second year; fifteen years ago when they were a year old they were falling apart; now they fall apart in no more than six months and I don’t put nearly as much wear on them as I used to. I went on to explain that over the same period of time the corporations have been consolidating into a small number of oligarchies and that they’re no longer even trying to do a good job providing good merchandise at a reasonable price.
The cashier said, “I’m just the cashier.”
I more or less knew that and informed him that there was nothing against him and that I would go to the back and request a replacement at the return desk. Frankly the point was that in addition to getting a replacement I would make some noise and let them know I would be speaking out if they didn’t at least cut back on their scams and it worked, the replacement sneakers are better quality.
I went through the same rant with the person at the returns who called the management who showed up and I ranted again when he got their and immediately agreed to replace it without argument. I also informed both these people that the first two pairs of sneakers started showing serious wear and holes after no more than two to four weeks and that the pairs that I used to be able to buy were in better shape after a full year when the only thing that fell apart was the shoe lace than these were after a few months. While waiting for the management I decided to read part of my “Consumer Declaration of Rights or Grievances” to the returns lady who didn’t seem to mind, especially since I explained to her that there was nothing against her because when they ship jobs overseas they suppress local wages as well and she was a victim of these scams too.
Oh did I mention that I was also carrying a sign that said “Stop Planned Obsolescence save receipts return crap;” and showed it to people while I was explaining my return to them as well as to some of the customers that I passed in the parking lot and even within the store.
Seemed like a good idea to me and there was little they could do about it if they wanted to. If they attempted to take a stronger opposition by bringing in police or the courts then I could easily argue that they pass the expenses for their speech to the consumers as a business expense and it would be highly unreasonable to do that and then outlaw consumer complaints at tax payers’ expense; if they attempted to do so then it wouldn’t be hard to inform the taxpayers of both the fact that their tax money is being used for the benefit of the corporations and to remind them of the corrupt practices the corporations have been using.
Of course they didn’t mention this presumably because they knew that it would have been more trouble than it was worth.
Or perhaps I mentioned it in my rant; it was certainly mention in my “Consumer Declaration of Rights or Grievances” which I started to read.
Some people might think this seems extreme or petty but if you consider how much they mark things up and the fact that merchandise is getting worse all the time while the prices continue to rise due to the fact that the corporations have consolidated into a small number of oligarchies it is perfectly reasonable and the foolish thing would be to do nothing and let them continue to get away with this enormous amount of fraud.
Furthermore one of the reasons that they didn’t put up any significant argument is the fact that they have such an enormous mark up and they can afford it. It would actually cost them more to dispute or risk ruining their reputation more than it has already been ruined than it would to replace the merchandise. If their markup wasn’t so enormous or if they actually provided decent merchandise then it might have been a different story. In fact one of the quotes listed below clearly indicated that the cost of manufacturing these products is only a small fraction of what they charge consumers which is why they fall apart so fast.
As I said it has been close to a month since I returned them for the second time and the new pair of sneakers are in much better shape than the previous two; which means that I may not have to ask them for a third replacement sneakers to match the quality that I received thirty years ago.
It’s tempting to say that this must be because they learned their lesson from my previous complaint and called up their manufactures and had them fix the problem.
Sounds good and it’s flattering to think that I made the difference but of course if it was just me they wouldn’t have changed anything and this is just one pair which is still only a few weeks old so there is no reason to believe that this is because of me. However I’m sure I’m not the only one that has been complaining since they’ve been getting worse at a faster pace over the last few years and there are enormous amounts of other blogs on this subject if you look for them.
I’m sure they’ve been having their customer complaints go through the roof although they will never admit it.
This doesn’t mean that consumers can relax and assume that they’ll start trying to do a good job from now on. In fact they’re still committing an enormous amount of fraud even if they restore some of the quality of their merchandise for a little while. In fact they almost certainly study consumer complacency so it is guaranteed that if we stop being vigilant then they’ll just be careful not to push things quite to the same extreme. If they maintain a slightly better quality without restoring all the quality they can go back to business as usual.
More needs to be done to change the trade secrecy or proprietary information laws so that people know more about the business practices they use. This includes the slotting fees that they charge manufacturers that guarantee that small factories have a hard time getting into the market can’t compete and have to charge more for their products. We also need to reverse the escalating advertising costs one way or another. If the typical retailer has to spend more on advertising than they do on their merchandise it is no wonder they can’t give consumer a good deal. When manufacturing plants were made in the USA they didn’t have to spend nearly as much money on shipping and distribution and there were more jobs so that the consumers had an easier time making a decent living and there are plenty of additional things that could be improved on.
Most people probably don’t want to go to more trouble than they have to in order to get good deals on their merchandise but if the objective is to help reform the system and inform more people about how corrupt it is there are other simple ways to draw attention to the problem and make the corporations think twice before steadily increasing their scams.
Imagine if a dozen people asked a variety of questions about the products that drew attention to them at the stores whether it was the grocery store or the department store during the busy hours to remind people that these scams are escalating. For example you or I could ask the stock clerk if he knows if they’ve been watering down the shampoo again or how much of each ingredient is in each product. When he inevitably says “I don’t know,” perhaps with a strange look on his face I could inquire about whether this is a trade secret or not and if he thinks that corporations should be allowed to hide their scams under proprietary information laws. I could go on and inquire about if they charge slotting fees or if they have manufacture representatives come in to stock some of their merchandise. And I could tell him that when they ship jobs overseas they’re increasing their shipping cost so they don’t have any savings to pass on to the customer. And I could add that this fraudulent behavior is all protected trade secrets thanks to the politicians that collect campaign contributions from the people that benefit from the secrecy.
Or I could make similar inquiries at the department store about why they use those screws in pots and pans that always start coming lose after a few years instead of more solid construction that enables them to last for decades if not centuries; or inquire about whether they put on an extra coat of paint at the auto manufacturing plant, while it can be done inexpensively, so the rust won’t start rusting earlier than necessary. All these things would be important for consumers to know when it comes to the quality of the merchandise they’re buying and with everything being mass manufacturing it would be much easier to make this information available easily, perhaps online. But the corporations keep it all secret, presumably because it costs too much but they don’t hesitate to add expenses when it comes to advertising that doesn’t improve the quality and pass these expenses on to the consumer.
Then, if this could be said politely and if possible without seeming to presumptuous, I could inform him that he just got paid by the hour to discuss the corruption that his bosses are involved in.
As I said they’re as much a victim as the consumers; and they may be interested in seeing reform as well preferably without retaliation for it; which is why they couldn’t be expected to act immediately but they might be more inclined to discuss it later or consider it when voting for the next corrupt politician when there are alternative parties available.
Many of the economists have attempted to justify this by claiming that if people didn’t replace their products as often as the economists think they should that it would be bad for the economy. This argument is seriously flawed when you consider what the purpose of the economy should be; it should be to allow people to trade services in the most effective manner possible so that people could get things they need to improve the quality of their life. This should mean that the economy should be based on jobs that improve the quality of life, not jobs that create waste without serving a purpose. If people have the products they need without replacing them then they should find more jobs that fill a need or if people’s needs have been addressed they should take more time off and relax. It would be foolish to say we should sabotage good products so that we’ll have work to do to repair the damage which is essentially what planned obsolescence does. Ironically even some of the critics of planned obsolescence don’t see this obvious flaw in this argument.
This isn’t a trivial problem; the math is easy to do if you figure a typical person pays between twenty and forty dollars for a pair of sneakers and if they have to buy three extra pairs every two years due to the shoddy quality of the merchandise and the fact that an enormous amount of bureaucratic expenses are being added on in addition to excessive profit then it clearly means that they’re paying and extra thirty to sixty dollars each year times 300 million people in the USA and this comes to 9-18 billion dollars a year in fraud in the USA for sneakers alone. If you add all the other products that are also being made shoddily to force people to replace them it runs into the hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars per year.
The reason that this has gone with little notice by most people is because they have done this gradually and at the same time they’ve been steadily increasing their advertising budget to convince people that they were getting more while the quality has actually been getting worse. Some of the most effective advertising has been those targeted to children starting at a very early age including ads in School and even Channel One which has been reviewed by Roy Fox who has found that it does an enormous amount of damage to the education of children and their ability to recognize how they’re being manipulated by ads. Advertising has been used to influence the education that children have been receiving and it is creating a large bias in favor of corporations for those that don’t take the time to scrutinize it.
If they continue with this trend the quality of their merchandise will continue to deteriorate while the effectiveness of their advertising continues to improve. Eventually the quality of their merchandise might be so bad that they may as well be trying to merchandise cowshit in a shoe box. No matter how much you spend on advertising you can’t change the fact that cowshit in a shoe box is nothing but cowshit in a shoe box.
This will be much harder for them to get away with if more attention is drawn to it one way or another; and since the mass media is getting a large share of the loot that is being scammed from people through advertising dollars it has to be done at the grass roots level. Since this only reaches a small number of people at any given time it may require a variety of ways of getting out the word.
Of course it would be worth getting out the word about other related things as well, including the fact that those that do productive work that benefit the consumers like manufacturing are paid much less than those that do work that doesn’t actually provide a benefit to the consumer like advertising. And on top of that they often have to put up with abuse as well. If any rational person was asked if they thought that someone should be paid more to provide deceptive ads than an person is paid to do work that improves the quality of life they would say no but if you look through all the spin that is exactly what is happening. This is why they might be tempted to say “Just shoplift them next time; we’ll let you,” if they understood all this; I had to make that up so that I would have a catchy title in addition to making what I consider a legitimate point. The last thing they want is to apply scrutiny to what they’re doing. It would cost them much more in profits if more people became more aware of this and stood up for their rights so if they can make this go away quickly and quietly by replacing the pair of sneakers that is what they do. If they can’t then they won’t be able to avoid scrutiny and their profits based on fraudulent practices would be dramatically reduced. The replacement cost of the sneakers even if they have to do it twice is still profitable when you consider the fact that they multiply their costs numerous times when charging the consumers as indicated by some of Naomi Klein’s quotes below from “No Logo.”
A written “Consumer Declaration of Rights or Grievances” probably isn’t necessary but if anyone does decide they want to use part of all of this in a similar return they’re welcome to it. Of course if it is for returning different items it wouldn’t hurt to modify it for those purposes.
The following are some quotes mainly from Naomi Klein’s Book “No Logo”
The information that Naomi Klein gives about mark ups are limited and partially contradictory presumably because she researched things that are mostly kept secret and they don’t always use the same accounting practices. This means that it may need additional perspective and it may actually be even worse than it sounds. For example when she says they search the world for a 400 percent markup when it used to be closer to 100 percent this may mean a markup of their costs which could include shipping and distribution that doesn’t actually go to quality of merchandise and could be lower if they used local suppliers. Some of these expenses may be legitimate but it is difficult to tell when they keep everything secret and the fact that they do it in secrecy implies that most of it isn’t; otherwise there would be no need for the secrecy.