Friday, April 4, 2014

Why I Teach My Kids to be Intelligent Consumers

Bad purchases are something we all deal with at one point or another throughout our lives.  Sometimes even our favorite brands have a bad day and we find ourselves frustrated with the quality of something we have purchased.  

I had two of those experiences in one weekend at the end of March.  Depending on the cost and time involved, I will sometimes just take these experiences in stride.  But money is beyond tight right now.  It is kind of non-existent, actually.  Every penny I spend needs to be spent wisely and produce as much good (and volume - I have two growing boys who are hungry ALL THE TIME!) as possible. So when I spend money to purchase food, I expect it to be made well and to be edible.  Otherwise, I am wasting time and money that I don't have and I become a frustrated, angry Boymom.

So when I had two experiences in one weekend with food purchases that did not live up to minimum standards, I did what many frustrated consumers do these days:  I took to Twitter and Facebook and posted photos of the offending food products.  I made sure I called the companies who made the food out by name.  When my son asked me why I was trying to embarrass those businesses on Facebook, I realized it was time for a discussion about how important it is as a consumer to hold companies accountable when what they produce is sub-par.

Drawing of child being sucked in by advertising
Illustration by Isabelle Arsenault
Kids are prime targets for brands and marketers who know that a large part of the household budget will be spent on purchases to meet the needs of the children. Teaching kids how to navigate these marketing tactics to become intelligent consumers is so important!  Both of my boys have learned how to be good consumers when it comes to saving money.  We have talked about and practiced comparison shopping so that they learn how to find the best price on products they want to buy.  One of my kids actively seeks out reviews and pricing differences on video games or toys he is interested in purchasing.  The other kid?  Struggles sometimes.  He is an impulse shopper.  We are working on that.  But it dawned on me that while I had taught my boys to look for good deals, I haven't spent much time teaching them what to do if the deal goes bad because the product they purchased is poorly made. 

So back to the question my son asked about embarrassing the company on Facebook.  I thought it was interesting that he saw my attempts to get the companies' attention as trying to embarrass them.  I suppose in reality, that is exactly what I was doing. I could call it reaching out, but really what I was doing by posting pictures and tagging those businesses was showing them and the world what kind of crap they had packaged and sold to me.  I was letting them know, in a very public way, that I was not at all happy with what I received for the money I spent.  "But why embarrass them, Mom? Why not just write a letter or call the company and tell them what happened and ask for your money back?"  

OK, seriously? I love that my kid is so concerned about people.  His main concern was not that we need to get our money back for a really bad product.  His concern is that the company might somehow be hurt by what I was posting.  So kudos, Kiddo, for taking the time to make sure that what I was doing was not going to cause unnecessary pain. 

This is where the meat of the discussion took place. The whole thing came down to these questions:  When is it okay to use social media to call out a company for their shoddy products?  Is that public shaming or is it being a good consumer?  It had never occurred to me that my son might equate my attempt to get the attention of a company with cyber bullying.  We talked a lot about the difference between bullying and using a social media platform to make good things happen.  We discussed the options a person has when a purchase goes wrong. Yep, I could have written a letter or made a phone call.  Would it have produced the results I wanted?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Then we talked about what happens when a picture of a poorly made product gets posted on the internet.  The answer?  Lots of people see it. Then they wonder if that company is a good place to spend their money next time they want that same item.  Do they spend their money somewhere else now?  Well, if they are good consumers, first they will take the time to see if the company did anything to resolve the original complaint.

And therein lies the difference, at least in my mind, between cyber bullying and being an active consumer when it comes to holding companies accountable.  Tearing a company down and damaging its reputation just because you don't like the owner's political views? That's bullying. Using the internet as a platform to attempt to effect change from a company that is producing sub-standard products? When done right, it is called being an active and intelligent consumer.  Yes, I posted a picture of the offending products.  Why?  Because that will get a business' attention faster than anything! The response I got from both companies came within just a few hours of me posting the photos.  And I am happy to say that both companies took the time to make sure that I was reimbursed for the purchases.  So I posted that information too.  I also want to ensure that people can see that both companies cared enough about their customers to take care of customer complaints. 

It's a tough world we live in.  I want my boys to feel confident in their ability to deal with money and shopping issues. I want them to feel like they have a voice as a consumer and know that it is okay to use that voice to get a product issue resolved.  And more importantly, I want them to understand that there is nothing wrong with holding businesses accountable as long as it is done in the spirit of helping, lifting up, effecting positive change.  That's what being an intelligent, active, informed consumer is all about.

How do you teach your kids to be intelligent consumers?  Share your tips with us!


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