Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Customer feedback for Wal-Mart and elsewhere
pics on Sodahead
As I previously indicated in my blog about, Negotiating at Wal-Mart, I haven't finished giving Wal-Mart customer feedback and won't until the last of a gift card has been used up. However this may not be good enough. Wal-Mart isn't the only corporation that takes a portion of the money they collect from consumers and uses it for political purposes without passing on the political influence to those that ultimately pay for this political speech; which is why I think that most if not all business with large corporations is political activity as well. If you start plugging the name of any national or multinational corporation at Open Secrets.org you will almost always find that they're involved in political activities which they finance with money they get from their customers and they rarely if ever look out for the best interest of the customer who indirectly provides those funds.
In the long run it would be better to shop at businesses that aren't conducting political activities that threaten democratic participation or are involved in all these scandals at all; in this case it would still be a good idea to give them positive feedback that might include suggestions about how they might be able to obtain a competitive advantage over corporate oligarchies like Wal-Mart by buying locally which in many cases is better for the environment and saves money on shipping and in the case of food it may mean fresher food that could also be healthier. Buying locally also means that they're helping the local economy without trying to make people compete for work with those that have little or no worker rights. Presumably they already know this but they might not know how much their customers care. A small number of people that express sincere concern could make a difference.
As long as I'm going to use up this card I figured I might as well give them feed back in writing each time I make a purchase and mention what it about briefly while leaving the store. This might include a statement "This is customer feed back to ask the management not to support voter suppressant laws either through American Legislation Exchange Counsel or any other ways," or "please ask them to drop charges against Penny Winters for eating an Oreo cookie; with all the scandals that Wal-Mart executives are involved in it is highly inappropriate for them to be using tax payer money to intimidate their employees." I have little doubt that Wal-Mart would almost certainly not care much about the feedback that they receive from me unless it impacts their sales as well and they will have no way of knowing exactly how much it might do so. The bigger impact on their sales won't be from me; it will be from the enormous amount of stories about their activities that are being reported from sources that are much more widely read and from the fact that many other customers have also had major problems with the quality of their merchandise as well; however I can still provide a small contribution.
For every one letter that I have given them I have attempted to give away at least a few others to other people suggesting that they consider this too either with this letter or their own; and I have recommended that in most cases at least with Wal-Mart the best thing to do is to just boycott them when ever possible. Considering the fact that Wal-Mart has responded in draconian manners to many of the protests that they have encountered and that they routinely attempt to intimidate their critics including any employee that stands up for their rights or anyone that raises issues including former customers that sued them over their defective bikes it might be a good idea to let other people know about their complaints about Wal-Mart first then bring them to Wal-Mart. The old saying that many retailers used to have, "If you like our service let your friends know; if you have any concerns let us know," is based on the assumption that the business will actually try to address these concerns; this no longer seems to apply to Wal-Mart. They seem to think they can rely more on their deceptive advertising, public relations and market share to keep their customers than actually addressing anyone's concerns. Unfortunately there are many areas of the country where people don't have any other options since Wal-Mart has wiped out the competition, often with the help of government subsidies in the form of tax breaks or road construction paid for by local tax payers. In the long run more needs to be done to give them better options, but in the short run anything that can help let them know people are going to start standing up to corporate corruption even if our politicians don't will help.
The following are a couple of the letters that I have written to Wal-Mart and given to the cashiers or the people at the service desk asking them to pass it on to the management; if anyone else thinks this is a good idea for Wal-Mart or anywhere else feel free to use this or improvise with your own comments.
The workers that I hand these to aren't the ones that have been involved in the scandals that Wal-Mart has been involved in so I try to keep it polite. On one occasion when I said it was customer feed back asking them not to press charges against Penny Winters for eating an Oreo cookie the cashier had told me that she couldn't accept it and to go to the service counter; this seemed to make her a little nervous although that wasn't my intention and I tried to state this politely. At the service counter when I said it was for the management they told me that she was right there and quickly handed me off to a supervisor, which enabled them to avoid addressing the subject, not that I asked them to, previously, I just handed them the papers with a brief statement and left. Even the supervisor is low level management and almost certainly not involved in the scandals either and they probably aren't paid much more than the regular employees; however I explained a little more to her about what it was about and informed her that I thought it was outrageous that they were using tax payer money for this purpose. This made her a little nervous and she thanked me for my suggestion and I didn't push it any further. Perhaps I should have made more of an effort to inform her that I understood that this wasn't her decision and that she shouldn't take offense. The people that make all these decisions don't make themselves available to the public which is part of the reason why there is no accountability at these oligarchies at all.
This would be bound to make them a little nervous if it happened on a regular basis; they're not accustomed to having people give them much if any feedback about anything that isn't trivial except from protesters or critics that communicate through different means. My intention isn't to make the workers nervous, and most of them aren't, but I suspect that if they continue business as usual indefinitely they will find something else to be nervous about. If on the other hand boycotts, customer feedback and other forms of non-violent protests bring about real reform and businesses like Wal-Mart rapidly lose their market share to more responsible companies then they would have less to be nervous about and they might have an easier time getting jobs at companies that treat them better, at least that is the objective.
Ideally it would be better to just boycott Wal-Mart, of course; and that is what I will be doing. But unfortunately they still have an enormous market share and even though it is becoming increasingly obvious that it will continue to shrink there are still many locations where customers have few if any choice but to do at least some of their shopping at Wal-Mart; especially the complacent that don't even try. It would be helpful to shop more at stores that are much more responsible or at least don't have such a dominant impact on the market that they can single-handedly drive down the quality of a large segment of merchandise on the market or drive down worker and consumer protection. As indicated in author tag “A small success against planned obsolescence” there is at least one national store that has responded to customer feedback much better. One thing that I didn't mention previously is that when I first bought the pair of sneakers that I made them replace because the quality was so bad, when I went to the register there was a woman with a complaint at the register and she obviously had a return. The cashier was very young and had an amused look on her face. I couldn't hear every thing they said but it appeared as if this woman was taking her time instead of going straight back to the returns department as the young cashier was trying to direct her. Instead she was politely explaining to the cashier that the quality of merchandise was much better before she was born, and that it was gradually being reduced. Clearly I wasn't the first or only one that was complaining about shoddy merchandise and the people I dealt with previously at Wal-Mart openly admitted that they were also getting an enormous amount of complaints but unlike this other national store they are slower to even partially address the problem.
There are many other smaller outlets for both department store items or groceries which Wal-Mart is now also dominating. Being as out spoken as I have on some occasions is not the way I, or many other people, would prefer to address the excessive deterioration of the quality of merchandise while they cut manufacturing expenses and services while simultaneously sending advertising expenses, lobbying, campaign contributions, and shipping expenses to send things half way around the world; but with centralized corporate control of the economic system it is difficult if not impossible to get them to pay attention otherwise.
This is why I have decided that on occasion that I would try to provide more positive feedback to them to let them know they might receive a benefit from addressing the concerns of their customers. The following is just one sample of a feedback letter I might hand to a grocery store; others could just as easily be presented to other types of outlets and if anyone think this is a good idea and would prefer their own comments that would probably be just as well; although anyone is welcome to use these if it is easier. In this case there would be no reason for the recipient to express concern since ideally it wouldn't be intended to be too critical although it does include requests to boycott Koch Bothers and Monsanto's which I have no doubt that most grocery stores won't rush to do; although a few small outlets might do so. If those get business then it could reduce the dominance of these two companies as well and it could lead those that don't completely abandon these oligarchies to at least cut abck on how much shelf space they provide for starters.
Clearly if I am the only one that does something like this it won't make much if any difference at all but there are already many other people that are doing similar things; in fact this idea partially came from many of them although I can't give credit to all the individuals and organizations that have expressed similar ideas. It could have an even greater impact if more people did similar things. If it became common place for people to make a few statements while making a purchase that supports political causes indirectly it is bound to draw some attention and it would be highly unreasonable for those that collect this money and use some of it for political purposes to complain if the people that provide their business want their own influence in the political system that they're indirectly financing.
Consider how it would sound if they had their cashiers say "Thank you for doing business with us; a portion of the money you gave us will be used for political purposes which you might disagree with and we would appreciate it if you ignore this inconvenient fact and settle for much fewer rights to free speech than the corporate CEOs routinely have."
Of course they would never say anything like that but if they did they would be accurately describing the business practices that they routinely use.
Another way to make this more effective might be if multiple people from the same area did the same thing and after handing over a few of these customer feedback statements, or more likely a variety of them that the individuals wrote themselves, if they continued to see Koch Bothers products that were in the most prominent spots in the store, for one reason or another, they could do their shopping together, without buying Koch products of course, and before leaving the store ask to see the manager and request that they consider changing their displays and hand them a request in writing before leaving. This feedback statement might be one that they all agreed on while the ones that were written by individuals could be more extensive. An immediate response to the might be unlikely but the management would almost certainly have to at least consider this request. If they continued to display Koch products prominently while another store that faced the same situation responded by changing their displays then the entire group might abandon those that continue to support the Koch Bothers and their voter suppression and environmental denial policies.
This method of boycotting could make it more effective by drawing more attention. Then if it worked in one store and word got around more people might try it across the country. This could lead to Koch and Monsanto's free towns and attract much more attention at least from the alternative media outlets and eventually the commercial media will have to cover it to present a token amount of credibility. Then the Koch Brothers and Monsanto's could lose more sales as Wal-Mart already seems to be. Boycotting Wal-Mart is much simpler since it is clear what they sell and where but Monsanto's and the Koch Bothers will require more awareness and planning.
Koch Brothers Exposed
The claim that the customer received a benefit from these sweat shops have always been false with the possible exception of when they have the sweat shops locally and even then I doubt if there is much benefit for the customer and most customers wouldn't want to obtain that benefit that way. Any savings that are obtained from using sweat shops half way around the world are for the most part lost due to the higher cost of shipping and handling to get them here or they're kept in the form of higher profits. When the products are made under these conditions they tend to be much lower quality and have to be replaced two or three times as often or in the case of Wal-Mart merchandise perhaps four or five times as often; which enables them to take a cut more often but doesn't benefit the customer. Furthermore there are many more negative externalities like the dramatic increase in pollution that is involved in shipping low quality merchandise half way around the world that has to be replaced much more often.
When they report another fire that kills more people half way around the world this should be an reminder that the customer is also paying the price in the form of lower quality merchandise and still footing the bill for the bureaucracy getting the merchandise half way around the world or worse when they don't report it as well as they could or should. The fire in Bangladesh was reported widely for a little while but it has for the most part been forgotten by the commercial media and there is little more mention of it. Even when they were reporting it the commercial media only covered it as an isolated incident in many cases while some of the alternative outlets have reported more extensively including Common Dreams which reports that there have been over 300 deaths in Bangladesh alone since 2006. The following article which I didn't spot until more than two months after the fact also reports even more deaths, presumably not limited to Bangladesh, in garment factories. This was from ABC news but it wasn't repeated nearly as often as they repeat the material that they want people to take notice of so it is much easier for many people like me to miss it when not watching too closely.
The following are a few more articles about related material that you might be interested in.
Wal-Mart to pay $2.1M for overcharging customers
"Wal-Mart Executives Sweat Slow February Start in E-Mails" Bloomberg News
"WalMart's Mexican Bribery Scandal Will Sink It Like an Iceberg Sank the Titanic" Forbes
"Wal-Mart Protests Pit Workers Against Shoppers" Rick Newman This may not be entirely accurate; first of all it may be the management that is trying to "Pit Workers Against Shoppers." Second of all they're scamming both the customers and the workers with deceptive business practices and if this is considered carefully it won't work and many customers may realize that they have more common ground with the workers than with the management that is involved in fraudulent business practices.
"Putting Wal-Mart's Green Moves in Context" Stacy Mitchell
"Why Walmart’s Death Grip on Our Food System Is Intensifying Poverty" Stacy Mitchell
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
"Here are many MORE things NOT to buy from Koch…" Mark Crispin Miller
"Debunking the GMO Talking Points with Ease" Nick Brannigan
"STUDY: Agriculture Giant Monsanto’s Products Cause Tumors, Organ Damage In Rats" Aviva Shen based on study by Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen and colleagues
Monsanto products to avoid and alternatives to buy at food freedom group
Monsanto products to avoid and alternatives to buy at ethical investing
More Monsanto products to avoid at natural femina
"Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America from Monsanto to Wal-Mart" Democracy Now
"Walmart Falling Flat with Not-so-Fresh Foods" The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union