Friday, March 21, 2008

Wake up, Consumers!

I've been living in England for over a decade and coming back to the US has been a shock. What's happened to American products? Like Kleenex. It used to be decent. Now the basic Kleenex is so flimsy, you need to grab two. And it feels like sand paper. The extra soft one is a joke. Kleenex in the UK is still pretty decent. And they have extra strong for men. Although both countries have a problem with quality control. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten a box of aloe vera Kleenex with half the box being regular. So I have to ask, why is Kleenex ripping off the US consumer? It seems like all the US consumer cares about is price. Quality? Uh -- what's that? Like I was researching simple things like vacuums and food processors and toaster ovens and hair dryers -- all the comments from previous buyers were the same: "Great product. Until it broke." Thank god for Amazon because how else would we know electric goods are only built to last three months? Or aren't fit for purpose (as they say in the UK, where consumer protection is pretty strong). I was thinking of buying a pretty expensive Kitchen Aid food processor because everyone claimed they were far superior in build quality to Cuisinart. Only the one I wanted has a shaft that's too short so if you fill the bowl to more than a quarter of its capacity with liquid, the liquid oozes out. And if you try to grate mozzarella, the cheese gets into the motor and it freezes. Permanently. When I get the money, I'm going French. The Magimix I had in the UK was fantastic. I nearly cried when I found out it wouldn't work in the US and had to give it away. (Meredith, I hope you're enjoying my food processor. I can't tell you how much I miss my Magimix.) And I went Japanese with my hair dryer (they have a great selection at that department store in Koreatown Plaza). Much more expensive -- but so is replacing a product every three months. And my hair looks great. I've been using a French one from Phillips (travel model with dual voltage) -- but apparently French hair dryers don't like the US. Constantly whines and complains. And takes forever. So French. :) (I actually like the French, but service at French department stores -- don't even try to buy anything at Fauchon.)

What happened to the days when the only things you had to worry about was American cars?

It's not like there's any real protection for consumers anymore. Warranties mean nothing. Who are you going to go to if a company doesn't honor them? Small claims court is the only real option. "Sent the product back -- never heard from the company again." See this comment over and over again on Amazon. My husband and I bought an Aerobed from Bed Bath & Beyond. When you open the box, the first thing you see is a piece of paper saying if the product breaks, don't take it back to the store. What a warning sign. When ours did spring a leak (within the first two weeks), we found a deluge of warnings against this company -- apparently, trying to return a defective product is near impossible. But we also found happy consumers who bought theirs online from BBB and got a new one immediately without even having to send the defective one back. So we bypassed the company and did the very thing they told us not to do. We went to our local BBB -- and this was four months after the purchase -- and they were more than happy to exchange or refund. What a great place! They didn't have what we wanted at that branch, so we asked for a refund, went to another branch, used our BBB coupon, and basically got a forty dollar rebate on the spot.

And what's going on with stores? Why is it so hard to find out what anything costs. Ralphs is a nightmare. Erehwon isn't great either. And their tofu packages leak. Hate, just hate, getting home, looking at the receipt, and finding out that small, innocuous package of carobs cost me over $20. And that the tofu leaked. Isn't it illegal not to have prices clearly marked on goods? Or is my head stuck in some imaginary consumer paradise?

Okay, rant over. For now.

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