Over the last few weeks, my shopping exploits have left me frequently frustrated, and at times, downright wicked and evil.
As an expert in Consumer Affairs, I understand better than anyone what I’m entitled to, and how to get it when it’s not there… But even with all my knowledge and experience, I was ill-equipped for what I was facing.
Whenever I run into problems like this, my first thought is always; “If I’m having this kind of trouble, what chance would the average consumer have?”. I know a lot of smart people, but I’ve never met anyone whom understands the depth of deception in todays market place.
Thanks to the internet… deception has the high-ground on the battlefield, leaving us defeated before we even get to face our foe (I emphasize this, because at this point, it’s likely that you don’t even know who you’re up against). How can you survive? Arm yourself with the tools to detect, understand, and resolve this unique circumstance.
Everyone is a consumer; whether you’re buying gas, a guitar, or a sandwich, this is what you need to know.
First off… a little history on how you found yourself facing uphill at an unbeatable opponent.
Walmart didn’t put Mom and Pop out of business… You did. Lol… and I’ll explain why I had nothing to do with it later.
When the corner hardware store had great tools and expert support, customers complained about price. Merchants and manufacturers took this data and they applied it to the very first marketing tactics that we encountered. Obviously, if the number one complaint is high prices, then whomever offers the lowest prices will get all the business.
The problem was; when store A lowered its prices, then store B countered, but when the winner had all the customers, their prices were so low that they were unable to make a profit.
Once you’re selling a wrench that cost $2 to make, for $2… Then what?
Enter Foreign Manufacturing…
Back in the 70’s people hated foreign car companies, but I’ll tell you a little secret… Chevrolet was already foreign by then. However, they were slick about it… They only went to Canada, because they figured that Americans wouldn’t catch on, so long as cars were still being made on the same continent.
Why would a Michigan company go to Canada to work? Because Americans wanted cheap cars, and they wanted them cheaper than Americans could build them for. At this point, I should probably define “Made in America”.
In that example; Chevrolet’s were “Manufactured” in Canada, but they were “Assembled” in America, which from an economic stance is opposite of how I’d prefer it, but that’s another story.
Made in America is a very slippery play-on-words, and perhaps you’ve seen it in the newest audio equipment advertising?
“Dreamt of in America, Designed in Canada, Engineered in Japan, Manufactured in China, Assembled in Taiwan, Painted in Indonesia, Packaged in Mexico, and then branded and sold and priced in California (that’s because CEO’s like their desks in America)”.
Now back to our Mom and Pop hardware shop…
The customer still wants a $2 wrench, but there are none in America, so the store gets them from China and we’re back on track. Or are we?
Well now, the American brands lost all their business, so what did they do? They fired their workers, bought their wrenches from China, put their name on them, and we’re all caught up again.
But what just happened?
It was a simple story and explanation, but there was more to it than meets the eye. In that instance, we let go of the reins and began our distant trek from the “good old days”.
Craftsman Tools, RCA, Zenith, Maytag… and all but the most loyal American Manufacturers followed suit… It was at that moment that commerce stopped being about “getting what you paid for” and became all about “paying for what you thought that you were getting”.
American manufacturing jobs… which were what 2/3 of the country had at the time, disappeared in order to make room for the unskilled youth of America and their low salary demands.
Enter the age of the warranty and marketing…
Our Great Grandfathers always bought Craftsman tools because they had a lifetime warranty, so right away, foreign manufacturers started giving lifetime warranties on their wrenches. But how could they do this when they were so inferior? Simple… who cares?
When your product is mass produced in a cave, by a guy who makes 14 cents a day, lifetime replacements are just what the doctor ordered.
So let me break it down…
1975: Craftsman manufactures a quality wrench; it cost $1.75 to make, and they sell it for $2, which nets them a $.25 profit. In doing so, they’re able to employ dozens-of thousands of Americans and pay them decent wages so that they can live well and support their families.
2018: Craftsman buys its wrenches from a generic foreign wrench manufacturer for $.25 a wrench. It sells them for $4 a wrench, which nets them a $3.75 profit. They employ a few hundred part-time people to market it all… and trust me, you don’t want to know who pays Americans to live now.
Oh… You do? Or should I say… You do.
I told you that I had nothing to do with getting us into this mess… and that’s because I put my money where my mouth is.
I don’t shop bargains. I determine what I want, I find the best price that I can, and I purchase it. That frequently includes paying more for it, in order to buy it from a company that offers better service, or that simply has a better business model.
I avoid internet commerce at all costs, and unless there is no alternative, I don’t patronize Walmart, Target, Home Depot, or the likes. No matter what, I always let merchants know how fortunate that they are to have my business, and above all else… I take the time to educate my community.
Now you know where we are and how we got here. In Chapter Two, I’ll tell you who’s at the top of the naughty list and what you can do about it when it happens to you.