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The Importance of Value --- and Good Karma

9 May, 2005 By: Stephanie Prange

As a consumer, I know when I feel I have been “taken” or offended by a retailer, I don’t return. That’s why I avoid certain overcharging gas stations, restaurants with bad or sloppy service, or employee-exploiting discounters.

I would call this the “bad karma” quotient. I understand retailers have to make money, but when they overstep their bounds by mistreating employees (not offering health care) or unnecessarily venturing into my private life (such as through advertisements on bathroom doors) I take note. It may not mean I never frequent a certain establishment, but I certainly steer clear if at all possible.

In my estimation, it’s best for those selling products to consumers to pay heed to the “bad karma” quotient. I’ve written in this column before of Blockbuster Inc.’s misconceived “no late fees” campaign, which made the policy change look like the end of prohibition. As I said, a straightforward approach might have proven more of a long-term advantage. The music industry, too, hasn’t helped its karma score by suing preteens who download music. And theaters don’t gain any points for making patrons sit through a slew of TV-like commercials before a feature for which they have already paid a hefty price.

Granted, Loews Cineplex theaters have backtracked a bit by planning to warn consumers about the actual start time of movies rather than the beginning of the commercial sales pitch. This, only after legislators have circulated bills to make them do it.

Why do companies have to be forced into pleasing their customers? There’s an undercurrent of frustration among customers who feel cheated. It’s evident in the slowing CD sales and in the decreased attendance at theaters. It’s also in evidence at Blockbuster, where rentals have been falling as Netflix (which kicked off as an answer to late fees) has taken off. DVD, one of the most successful products in recent history, succeeded by offering extreme value to consumers — without offending them.

Consumers don’t ask terribly much. Just to be rewarded with value for a purchase.

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