Taylor Gray, Ph.D.
The world is a better place when companies are good corporate citizens. I remain focused on developing meaningful and actionable insights from empirical data in pursuit of a better world.
Over the weekend I needed to go into a store and pick up a few little items that I felt were too small and too few to justify ordering online and causing so much unnecessary packaging and shipping. Actually shopping in-person has been a rarity over this past year, and this little weekend adventure served to remind me of something that I think is critically important. That is, companies are not entitled to our patronage and our spending. As consumers, we do not owe a company anything more than the price of the product we choose to purchase; should a company want more from us--more information, more loyalty--then they need to earn it.
In an era of unparalleled consumer choice each company must realize that they need to earn the privilege of our patronage.
Going into this store reminded me of the power balance of the shopping relationship--and how often companies mistakenly believe they should hold the balance of power in this relationship.
Please, Let Me Give You My Money...
As I prepared to pay for my purchase, the retail associate asked for my phone number. Not that this is unusual, but it is odd--the price tag said this item should cost $7.99, and not $7.99 + my phone number. I could assume where this was going, but I wanted to see exactly how far it really would go. So I decided to play along, providing information as requested just to see what was required of me to gain the privilege of being able to buy something. Just to think, I would need to earn the privilege to give them my money!
Phone number entered, and now the requests kept coming...first and last name, address, birthday, and lastly email address...all for home care products under $10. At this point I told the associate that these demands for my personal information were a bit much and I would prefer to simply make my purchase without entering all these details. And this is what was even more shocking--the retail associate needed to get a manager to override the store’s computer system to allow this purchase to proceed without me joining whatever secret society it was they were trying to populate! This company felt so entitled to my personal information that their associates could not independently process a sale without it.
I understand that I enter all this information every time I make a purchase online, and am not surprised by their attempts to gather this information in-store as well. I was surprised, however, by how they felt I owed them this information, so much so that their payment processing infrastructure was predicated on it being provided. This interaction was structured as it being my privilege to be able to make a purchase from them and a privilege I would need to earn--simply paying the listed price of an item would not be enough.
Re-Balancing the Relationship
This power balance is completely backwards. As a consumer I do not owe a company anything other than the price of the product I am choosing to buy. I may choose to give them more--more information or more loyalty--but I certainly do not owe them any more. The balance of power rests with us, the consumers.
Companies are not nearly as important or powerful as they often like to believe.
We are empowered through choice. Looking back over the purchases I made over the past few weeks shows me quite clearly that I had plenty of choices and alternatives in every purchase I made. From each and every item on my family’s grocery list, to a new pair of running shoes, to our monthly internet bill, to the local regional bank we choose to use, and even the gas station where we fill up, we had alternatives and hence the ability to choose. This is consumer choice, and it is powerful.
In an era of unparalleled consumer choice each company must realize that they need to earn the privilege of our patronage. There are alternatives of similar quality, price, and convenience for nearly every product category out there, so if a company wants my spending they will need to earn it. And if there is little differentiation on product quality, price, and convenience they will have to earn my spending and my loyalty in other ways.
To earn my patronage and my spending, a company needs to be transparent and truthful. I want to be intentional in the impacts of my shopping and to do that I need information. I want to know about who it is I am entering into a shopping relationship with. For you, the terms of the shopping relationship may be different, but regardless, a company should meet your terms in order to earn your spending.
Shopping is a relationship and there is a power balance to this relationship. Companies are not nearly as important or powerful as they often like to believe. Consumer choice can change the world, and we need to remember this.
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