Share your brilliant burst (or dashed dream) as a consumer advocate
Ever protested an unfair retail policy, pointed out that an advertisement is misleading, organized a boycott, or somehow advocated for yourself or another consumer? Whether you won or lost, tell us your story and you'll be entered into a random drawing for a $25 Amazon gift certificate!
CONGRATULATIONS TO KATHRYN, OUR WINNER FOR THE $25 AMAZON GIFT CERTIFICATE DRAWING. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE FOR PARTICIPATING.
Julie Rains demands that her coupon be honored (it's the principle, not the dollar)
When I was a junior in college, my residence hall-mates and I received expiration-date-less coupons from a major pizza delivery company in August when we arrived for the start of the fall semester. Many of us hadn't used the coupons all year but found them when we were getting ready to move out for the summer in May. So I (and others) tried to use the coupons to get $1 off our pizza orders.
As a side note, I was taking a business law class and learning about the concept of the "reasonable" person. Basically, companies need to determine what the reasonable person (not the wacko person or the ultra-safe person) would do in a certain circumstance, and then set policies that are consistent with what the reasonable person would think or do. Of course, companies have to abide by laws but absent specific regulations or contracts, businesses should try to communicate in a way that a reasonable person can comprehend.
Anyway, I ordered my pizza and tried to use the dollar-off coupon. My pizza delivery person was resistant to accepting the coupon. I protested but decided that if his response to me, upon my insistence, was something like, "well the reasonable person would not think that a coupon given in August would still be valid in May," then I would accept his decision. He said, however, "so, sue me."
Well, I lost that round and paid full price for the pizza.
What I lack in persuasion, however, I make up in persistence. The following August, when I was attending a workshop presented by the campus legal advisor, I learned about a complaint process through the state attorney general’s office. I filled out a form that explained my complaint and waited for a reply. A few weeks later, I was thrilled to learn that the attorney general's office agreed with me!!
From that point until my graduation, coupons with no expiration dates were accepted by the delivery drivers, and within a couple of years, this particular pizza delivery company started putting expiration dates on its coupons. I am sure that I am not the only one who complained. Over the years, the coupons from the pizza delivery companies have drifted back to their old ways (with vague references such as "expires within 30 days") but my victory still seems sweet.
My dashed dream? I received compensation for a cleaning product that didn't work as expected from the retailer where I made my purchase. I received an unsigned check from its trustee (a major U.S. bank) for something like $1.93. I had recently relocated and was holding over $10,000 in a savings account (the proceeds from my home sale, awaiting investment) and had a checking account with the same bank. I tried to deposit the check but the bank refused to accept the deposit because there was no signature on the check. Surely, the bank could have cashed the check, waited for it to clear, and upon settlement, made the funds available to me. I guess I could have pursued my cause but at this point, I felt I had wasted more time than $1.93 was worth.
Linsey Knerl gets tough while recovering from surgery
My most challenging consumer dispute involved a gym membership. While I was recovering in the hospital from major surgery, my ex decided to get us a couple's membership at the franchise gym nearby. (Nothing says, "rest and get better" like 24-hour access to the elliptical trainer.) Under a fair amount of morphine and some little red pills, I agreed, and I signed the contract for a one year term.
I was released the next day, and upon returning home had a case of buyer's remorse. (Could it be because I was instructed by my Doc not to exercise for a full 6 months?) I contacted the gym, and attempted to terminate the contract without penalty on the last day of the 3 days allowed by the terms of the contract. I was told it was cancelled and my check would be returned by mail within a week.
The check ended up being cashed, and they called the next week to confirm that I still wanted to meet with the personal trainer! I was in shock, and upon telling them about my call to cancel the membership, they told me that it was too late because I had called on a Saturday. Since business wasn't conducted on Saturdays, my call was not honored.
Since I knew this was garbage, I called daily. Twice daily. Three times daily. I went to the gym. I wrote letters to corporate. I threatened my local news team on them. 7 months (and a heck of a lot of polite but firm squawking) later, I received payment in the amount equal to my check.
Of course, by then I was able to exercise, and needed to join a gym. But you can guarantee that I went to the mom and pop place down the street.
Jessica Harp educates staff of apartment rental office on federal law
With my husband being in the military and having to move around a lot, I cannot tell you how many times we have had to break leases and/or rental contracts. Thankfully, we are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which allows us to break leases and contracts without having to pay early termination fees. But every time we have had to move, there has always been at least one company that insisted they did not have to follow the SCRA -- even though it is federal law! The most memorable company that has insisted that they did not need to abide by the SCRA was our apartment complex in Alabama.
As per the SCRA, when my husband received his military orders for us to move, I took the orders down to the rental company so that I could fill out the paperwork to break the lease. They told me they would be more than happy to break the lease for me, but that I was going to have to pay for the remainder of my contract plus an early termination fee. WHAT? I reminded her of the SCRA, showed her the military orders, and suggested that she talk to her boss if she needed any clarification. She didn't even blink before she said, "We don't follow the SCRA." Oh really? Why not? "We don't have to. It's optional." Um...I don't think federal law is optional. "Well, we can't just let you out of your lease." At this point, I realized I was going in circles, so I asked to speak with her manager, who (conveniently) was not in the office. The only next step I knew to take was to threaten to call the military lawyers. She didn't even blink when I threatened to call the lawyers. She said, "People threaten us with lawyers all the time. What makes you think you're any different?" At this point, I left and called the military lawyers, and they had the situation resolved within hours.
I went back to the rental office the next day to complete the paperwork, and the manager was tripping over himself to apologize to me. He gave me this huge speech about how the company supported the troops and how the lady I talked to the day before had been reprimanded for her attitude and lack of customer service. Honestly, his apology was great, but I was just glad that I knew the law. If I hadn't of known the law, as well as stood my ground, we would have paid A LOT of money in unnecessary fees.
Friend of Will Chen leads an exodus of poorly treated movie-goers
My friend John loves the movies. A fea years ago John attended a showing at one of those craptacular multiplex theaters. Ten minutes into it he noticed that the screen was unusually dim and the sound was out of sync with the action. There was a lot of discontented murmuring and a couple of people actually left the theater. But most of the audience stayed despite the problems.
My friend wasn't going to take it. He went to the front of the screen and told everyone that they deserved better treatment after paying $12.50 for tickets and sitting through 20 minutes of gawdawful previews. My friend stormed out after his speech and the entire audience followed him. The manager of the multiplex ended up giving everyone a refund and two free tickets to future showings. The movie they were watching? The Prince of Egypt.
Paul Michael seeks simple explanation for friend, spurs incident investigation
I was 21 and working in my first job as a junior copywriter in a London ad agency. One of the account managers I was working with came to work one day very shaken and stressed. She was a wreck. My art director and I sat her down, made her a drink (tea, we're English) and asked what happened.
She cleared away the tears and described a horrible train journey. This was in the mid 90's, when train accidents in the UK were increasing. She said her usual morning commute was going well, but then the train started speeding up. And speeding up. It was rocketing down the tracks, everyone started freaking out, the train took a corner at a nasty speed and literally started tipping over. Everyone was screaming, people and kids were crying, it was your basic "oh my lord, I'm going to die" moment.
Thankfully, just as suddenly as the train had started speeding up, it started slowing down. The train arrived at the station and not one thing was announced to the passengers. No explanation. Nothing. When she asked what had happened, she was met with a vacant expression and a complete denial.
I was only in my first year of copywriting, I was still learning the trade of persuasive writing. But I was so enraged by my friend's ordeal that I turned straight to my PC and crashed out letters to everyone I could think of. The management of the train company, the press, you name it. I hoped for something of a resolution for this poor girl who just wanted to know what happened. My letters prompted a full investigation of the incident, the firing of the driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel and compensation for my friend. From that point I knew that sometimes you can make a difference. That words matter. That one voice can raise an army of voices. I have been looking out for the consumer ever since.
Justin Ryan's mom gets a department store to alter its policies
I've not had any wild advocacy moments that come to mind, but I wrote recently about my infamous mother and her quest to have the ring I bought her for Mother's Day sized for free. I can't think of a better anecdote to include!
Read her story in The Affair of the Sapphire Ring.
Tell us your consumer advocacy moment and you'll be entered in a random drawing for a $25 Amazon Gift Certificate. Deadline to enter drawing is 8/26. Don't forget to enter your email address in the field provided and only one entry per person!
THE DRAWING HAS ENDED. CONGRATULATIONS TO KATHRYN, OUR WINNER OF THE DRAWING!