Monday, December 16, 2013

Being My Own Consumer Advocate: How Allegiant, Hobby Lobby, and Target Responded

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I'm from a family of six kids. We're all different, but one thing we have in common is our easy-going, non-confrontational personalities. I can't speak for my siblings, but that has sometimes translated into me being a total doormat, afraid to "rock the boat" or ask for anything. I fell into that category for most of my life until two things happened: (1) I went to business school and (2) I became a stay-at-home mom. Both of these made me realize that being assertive is not only a good thing, but sometimes necessary. It's up to me to be my own (and my kids') advocate when it comes to health, safety, and (especially applicable to this blog) my... consumerism. Weird thing to be an advocate about, I know. But when you're a stay-at-home mom living on a budget, it's up to you to make sure you get what you pay for.

First of all, let me clarify, I'm not talking about being a total jerk and/or verbally assaulting retail clerks who are just trying to do their job. Anyone who's ever worked directly with customers can tell you acting like a jerk isn't going to get you nearly as far as being respectful and kind. Even if it did, who wants to live their life yelling at people to get what they want? Not me.

Here are a few examples of how I've taken a stand (without being a jerk):


Allegiant

Company-bashing is not the intention of this post, so suffice it to say I had a pretty terrible flight experience that involved me chasing a toddler around an airport terminal for eight hours straight. Did I mention I was ginormously pregnant? By the time we made it to our destination, I was exhausted and my toddler was on his last diaper (it was supposed to be a 1.5 hour direct flight so I had prepared for a few hours of delays, not an entire day). We literally could have driven the 800+ mile journey faster than we flew it.
Most of the other passengers (including me) took their ranting to Facebook. Luckily one of the other moms I met took a more productive route and called Allegiant (I later did the same).

The Result: (Grade: B-)

My son and I were each given $50 of credit for future flights. Not great, but better than nothing (especially considering how little I paid for my original flight).

Hobby Lobby

When I was making my DIY Headboard, I bought hundreds of decorative tacks from Hobby Lobby. There were a few broken tacks among the bunch. Not a big deal, I thought . . . until I got near the end of my nailing and realized I was exactly two tacks short of finishing. If Hobby Lobby was down the street, I would've run and bought another package, but there aren't any Hobby Lobbys in my city (sad, I know), so I had ordered these online. Ordering a $2 pack of tacks would have cost me $8 because of shipping costs. Not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but I couldn't help thinking that if some of the products hadn't come damaged in the first place, I would have had enough. So I contacted customer service online.

The Result: (Grade: A)

They quickly sent me a new package of tacks, free of charge (including shipping). It was a one-time courtesy, but hey, that's all I needed. I wasn't trying to score free stuff just for kicks, I was just trying to get my damaged product replaced.

Target

I love Target. I am a loyal red card holder. But sometimes my nearby Target drives me nuts. I know low inventory is their business model, but sometimes their stock is so low, I want to scream because half the things on my list are out of stock. One particular day, I ran to Target with my toddler and my newborn because I desperately needed new pacifiers (and wanted a specific brand that I knew Target carried). This is what I found:
Grr...that was the final straw. I e-mailed that store's operations management and told them about my frequent experiences with stock-outs, specifically in the baby section and could they please do something about it? 

The Result: (Grade: B-)

I received a canned e-mail response, but I went back to Target the other day to check how their baby section looked. Here's what I found:
Much better stocked.
What are the odds this was just a coincidence? Pretty good, actually. I can't say if my e-mail made a difference but it certainly didn't hurt. One philosophy I'm trying to live by is, If I can't do anything about it, I don't worry about it. If I can doing something about it, what am I waiting for?

I want to hear about your experiences with being your own consumer advocate? My friend Holly wrote a polite, but pointed e-mail to the manager of a McDonald's location about their slow service and repeatedly incorrect order fulfillment. She didn't receive a response back, so she sent it again, saying she'd be taking her business elsewhere. What do you know? She received a kind and apologetic response (with vouchers). Like I said, it's not about being a jerk and trying to get free stuff. It's about giving the feedback that companies so frequently ask for, "How was your experience today?"


Anyone out there have stories? What stores have you found responsive and willing to make restitution?


9 comments:

  1. I just bought a bedframe from West Elm this week. The morning after placing my online order, all their bedroom furniture went on sale--25% off! After kicking myself for 10 minutes or so I remembered that some furniture stores will refund you the difference if a piece you buy goes on sale in the next 30 days. I figured it was worth a shot, so I gave them a call. It took around 30 minutes, but I got back $122. HOLLA!

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    1. That's awesome, Lauren!! Perfect example. 30 minutes of your time is definitely worth $122. Way to go! And I bet you're more likely to shop at West Elm again since you had a good experience so in the end, everybody wins.

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  2. Love what you said about business school making you more assertive - getting my business undergrad at the Y definitely lessened my doormat disposition!

    I find that when you've been grossly mistreated as a consumer, and tried everything in your power to resolve the problem with customer service, management, etc., one of the best things to do is calmly state you will be filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. I've only pulled this stop once or twice (most places have pretty good customer service and want to fix the problem before it comes to that), but this threat alone will cause a fairly quick response.

    For example, I attended a professional association conference earlier this year, and they allowed participants to purchase an extra ticket for the entertainment night - which I did so that my husband could attend. When I checked-in, I didn't receive the extra ticket, and they had no record of my order. My credit card hadn't been charged, so although I was annoyed, I let it go.

    A week later, my card was charged $90 for this supposed extra ticket. I called the association to resolve the issue, and after escalating the call a few times, I was eventually told that I had no proof that I didn't receive the extra ticket, so they weren't going to refund me. At this point, I calmly explained I was going to be filing a complaint with the BBB, and that we would let them investigate the situation. Needless to say, I received an apology and a refund immediately.

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    1. Way to go, Amy! That's so smart to mention the BBB when the normal means of fixing the situation don't work. I'm not one to pull punches, but if I get ripped off, I want other consumers to be warned and reporting to the BBB is a great way to do that. Good for you!

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  3. I have learned that it can't hurt to ask. If you are at the grocery store looking at packages of chicken and you see that one has a "use by" date of that day, Take the package to someone in the meat department and ask if it is going to be marked down. 30%-50% off is the usual discount. You can return things to the grocery store as well. We bought one of those boxes of cuties and two days later found one or two in the box that were moldy inside! I took the box back and they gave me a new box, no problem. Most companies know there is competition for your consumer dollar and they want to keep you happy.

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  4. after the Chobani yogurt incident, Lucky's didn't want to take my yogurts back because I didn't have a receipt from them. I went to the Chobani website and received 10 coupons for free yogurt.

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    1. So smart, Amber. I never would've thought to go to the company itself when the grocery store wouldn't take it back. Way to get your money's worth!

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  5. You're experience at Target has always been one of the biggest deterrents of me shopping there! I had never considered that it was part of their business model! I love Wal-Mart's price match guarantee. They make it so easy to get the best deals and shop in one place. I have never had an issue with them matching any sale I've mentioned. Definitely worth the 10 minutes it takes me to read the ads and compare prices.

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    1. Yeah, if you notice, Target carries thousands and thousands of different products, but never very much of each product, which (unfortunately) results in a lot of stock outs. So smart to do price matching! I don't think I've ever bothered to do that, so way to be a savvy shopper, Mel! :)

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