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Richard Laermer

Richard Laermer

Posted April 15, 2009 | 03:30 PM (EST)

The Problem With Captive Consumerism


An inordinate number of businesses make a mistake of saying to themselves that what they offer is so appealing that their customers wouldn't dare go elsewhere.

Let's talk about Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the one that consistently offers the lowest prices by being the biggest and having the most buying power, by forcing its "lucky" suppliers to cut margins and by paying shamefully low wages to its cultish workers. Despite legal problems about employment practices‡ and accusations that they destroy local economies wherever they open a store, Wal-Mart has forged on in the belief that all people care about is that they're cheaper than anyone else on earth. Right, nothing matters besides what I'm paying, so their sentiment goes. Cheap, cheap, cheap.

Birds do it, so why shouldn't we...

Cracks have started to appear, and in August 2006 Wal-Mart reported its first quarterly profit decline in a decade. Gas prices and the cost of closing its German stores were blamed, but perhaps it also has something to do with its customers finding themselves dealing with poorly or cheaply designed stores cluttered up with merchandise piled to the rafters and less of that down-home stellar customer service.

Archrival Target Corporation, in stark contrast, offers a striking combination of appealing stores, stylishly produced or commissioned lines, really top-grade customer service, and surprising prices that have won the hearts of consumers in all parts of America. Oh, and let's not forget a snazzy ad campaign and a dippy chocolate called Choxie that makes people feel good--and full--when shopping at Tar-jay!

Plus, the Target PR sounds good to the more discerning shoppers, namely those who would cry before shopping at K- or Wal-. The key differentiator is that this chain hires talented buyers who stock shelves with "only those products we think you'll appreciate" (a paraphrase), rather than one of everything. The message is, we select so you don't have to. Neat, subtle, and the quintessence of what I dub Punk Marketing.

Why can't companies understand the damage the treatment of a single customer can cause? People like Dave Thomas of Wendy's wagged their fingers at young'uns and said: "Each customer has to be the only one." Still, people rarely remember.

According to a survey of seven thousand by BIGresearch, someone who experiences a less-than-friendly employee interaction is left with a bad impression of not only that guy but his manager and the whole company. This enlightening survey claims more than 85 percent of customers say service is staying the same or getting worse, and 42 percent feel it's the one aspect businesses needed to improve most. In a similarly alarming vein, consultancy firm Accenture reported poor customer service was the reason customers switched to another technology service provider, with almost half of Brit and U.S. consumers surveyed saying it made them change to another provider of at least one industry during the prior year.8

Good customer service can't be a Band-Aid brand bandage for poor products or dishonest words. The whole package, man! Give an integrated, engaging experience that makes people love you all over. That's not as difficult as it sounds. Businesses need to stop all that legalese with contracts and small print and captivate, not capture, buyers through use of creativity from product design to marketing

The above is from the new paperback (5/15) of Punk Marketing - which you can get at www.PunkMarketing.com

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