5. BECOME A TOWN CRIER
HOW TO DO IT: As a last resort, try typing up a one-page flyer telling your true tale of customer disservice. Make copies and take them with you to the store. Inform the manager that unless he gives you what you deserve, you will stand outside the store and distribute flyers to anyone and everyone who walks by.
WHY IT WORKS: Now that it has your money, a store can afford to lose your business. But what about the business of the next ten customers?
ONE EXAMPLE: In his book Unscrewed: The Consumer’s Guide to Getting What You Paid For, Ron Burley recounts buying a new car. His thrill over the new set of wheels evaporated when he opened the newspaper a few days later. There was his car, in an ad from the same dealer, for $1,200 less. When Burley called, the sales manager told him the contracts were complete, so there was nothing he could do.
Burley stewed-and made some flyers: “This company lies to its customers!” He returned to the dealership and laid the papers on the manager’s desk. “I am going to exercise my First Amendment right to stand in front of your dealership and hand out these flyers. I bet that in just a handful of Saturdays, I can convince a couple of dozen people to shop elsewhere. It won’t put any cash in my pocket, but I’ll feel a lot better about things. What do you think?”
The speechless manager excused himself. When he came back, he smiled and apologized for not honoring the advertised price. The dealership cut Burley a check within minutes.
Companies have the right to make a profit. As consumers, we have the right to receive the goods and services we purchased at the price and quality advertised. We also have the right to seek redress if those expectations are not met.
But the Federal Trade Commission and other regulatory bodies that are supposed to protect us from reckless profiteers can’t possibly address every complaint. So now it’s up to you to protect your consumer rights.
You can execute most of these techniques in less than 30 minutes. And you probably have everything you need already: a telephone, a computer, and a spine. Do your research. Ask questions. Read the fine print. Be fair. When things go wrong, know whom to complain to and how. And always vote with your dollar. Remember, there’s no valid excuse for anyone to rip you off.
These techniques are recommended only for sane people who can speak in reasonable tones and treat strangers like humans. Threatening an individual may result in a visit from the police. Causing a company to lose money may result in a lawsuit. The right to free speech does not exist on private property and may have to be exercised just beyond the owner’s property line, which usually extends from the edge of the store to where the sidewalk meets the asphalt.