Harness your consumer power and fight back - Martyn James

Try to wean yourself off using the supermarket for all of your shopping needs – they are not always the cheapest option (Picture: fascinadora - stock.adobe.com)Try to wean yourself off using the supermarket for all of your shopping needs – they are not always the cheapest option (Picture: fascinadora - stock.adobe.com)
Try to wean yourself off using the supermarket for all of your shopping needs – they are not always the cheapest option (Picture: fascinadora - stock.adobe.com)
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 loathe self-checkout machines. They are clunky, constantly fail to work properly, and aren’t suitable for many people with disabilities, older people or those who are more vulnerable. Plus nine times out of ten you have to ask a staff member for help anyway. This usually 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.

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Which got me to thinking, what else can you do to use your consumer power to take on uncaring businesses? Here are my tips.

Ditch the disruptors

We should all worry when certain online businesses dominate the market. Recently, we’ve seen both Etsy 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 also 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, for the same price. Why not use the big disruptor businesses to check out the options – then buy direct?

Compliment

Lots of businesses ask you for feedback on their service. For millions of us it 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 chatbots, AI and impossible to locate telephone numbers.

Businesses need reminding that you’ll walk if they take the soul out of 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 asking if it can ‘track your activity’.

Just say no. A careless ‘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 others.

Making contact

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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, 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 are 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 have 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 off 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 often have better quality goods and can discount for loyal customers. Keep your high street alive in the process.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist. Visit: https://martynjamesexpert.co.ukmartynjamesexpert.co.uk.

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