I happened to be at the counter of a very popular clothes shop the other day, telling the lovely member of staff how much I hated the self checkout machines. “Oh thank you” he responded. “If enough people refuse to use them, then me and my colleagues might just keep our jobs”.
I hate self-check out machines. They are clunky, constantly fail to work properly, are not suitable for people with disabilities, older people or those who are more vulnerable – and 9 times out of 10 you have to ask a staff member for help anyway. Which involves trying to catch the eye of a single harassed employee as you and your fellow shoppers stand about feeling hopeless.
Businesses always trot out the ridiculous lie that customers like self-checkouts and want them (have you ever been asked?) So the simplest way you can fight back is by refusing point blank to use them – and complain about them to the stores.
Which got me to thinking, what else can you do to use your consumer power to take on businesses that don’t care about their customers. Here are my tips.
Ditch the disruptors
We should all worry when certain online businesses dominate the market. Recently, we’ve seen both Esty and Amazon introduce new T&Cs that have allowed them to sit on the cash of sellers on their site for no good reason. Dominant businesses stifle independent shops and wreck the high street. So it’s time to stop using them. I started buying books from independent shops after discovering I could search online and find special or signed editions, often exquisitely packaged. Why not use the big disruptor businesses to check out the options out there – then buy direct?
Lots of businesses ask you for feedback on their service. For millions of people that will be negative. But why not compliment good service when you encounter it on the phone or face to face? This serves two purposes. Firstly, it’s the decent thing to do. But most importantly, it reminds the business of the value of actual humans sorting out problems. Just ask the member of staff you are speaking to how to pass on a compliment. But stick in a barb about the rise of chatbots, AI and impossible to locate telephone numbers. Businesses need reminding that you’ll walk if they automate their service.
Don’t share your data
If you’ve downloaded an app on your phone or subscribe to a website, then chances are a button will pop up at some point asking if it can ‘track your activity’. Don’t let them. A carless ‘yes’ can result in a ton of your private information, from your interests to your location, being harvested. This in turn is sold back to other businesses so they can market more aggressively to you or people like you.
Why would you give money to a business that has no intention of speaking to you if something goes wrong? Astoundingly, some of the biggest companies in the UK have no customer phone number or email. Before you buy anything, then spend a minute trying to find the contact details of the business. If there isn’t one, then ask yourself what you’d do if the goods or services were not as advertised. Give your cash to businesses that prize good customer service.
Support the high street / use supermarkets less
The cost-of-living crisis has left many people struggling to afford the weekly shop. Supermarkets can and do keep the prices of many items artificially low. But there been recent allegations of unnecessary price hikes in other areas, along with a bewildering and complex array of BOGOF and multipack deals that are sometimes more expensive. So if you can afford it, try to wean yourself of using the supermarket for all of your shopping needs. Make a list (a great way to budget anyway) and check out what items are available in your local neighbourhood. Markets and specialist shops have better quality goods and can discount for loyal customers. Keep your high street alive in the process.
While I don’t really approve of blanket boycotts in general, you can certainly shop more savvy, particularly if you want to make political points. For example, you may have concerns over a country’s human rights record, or its current behaviour or leadership. Trade makes the word go round. So if you stop and source where the goods or services you are buying come from, you can make your point by shopping elsewhere. Of course, if you don’t want to be negative, the counterpoint to that is to buy from places that you approve of and want to support.
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.