The Art and Science of Boycotting

by Mr. Cheap

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I boycott companies often.

I don’t make a big stink about it (like picketing out front, setting up a website, or anything), but if I’m unhappy with a product or service and the company won’t fix it, I stop shopping there. I’m like the soup nazi as I’ll give different punishments for different crimes (sometimes I won’t patronize them for 6 months, sometimes for life). I’ll warn friends away from them if it comes up in conversation, but that’s about as far as I go.

I don’t pretend to believe that this hurts the company in a significant way, I’m sure they’re usually not even aware of it, but I view consumer activity as voting with your dollars, and I refuse to “vote” for companies that do a poor job. I certainly experience some schadenfreude when and if the company goes out of business.

One unfortunate side effect is a built-up black list of nearby businesses until I have to move in order to purchase the necessities of life. I live in fear that the moving company will piss me off one day. Sadly this is only a half-joke.

The things I boycott over are usually poor products or rude service. I won’t pay to be disrespected (enough people will do it to me for free). I realize that employees are individuals, and perhaps the company owner can’t control everything they do or say, but if you haven’t trained your employees to deal with customers in a civilized manner, I’ll shop somewhere where they have. I’ll sometimes boycott stores if they have a convoluted purchasing process – if it takes too much effort to shop there, I’ll go elsewhere.

I don’t boycott over expensive prices, but I probably won’t buy much there either if its pricey. I never boycott based on political / social issues that don’t affect me as a customer. If the owner of a cafe donates money to pro-life or pro-choice causes, how does that affect my latte? Society would be a pretty miserable place if we only did business with people who had the exact same world outlook as ourselves.

Meg at “The World of Wealth” recently wrote up her bad experience ordering sushi (I was sympathetic as I know what its like when you’re jonesing for sushi!). I’m 100% behind her to not order from a restaurant where she can’t interact with the staff (and which leads to order mix ups). I wouldn’t make the same choice she does about not eating at a restaurant that employs illegal immigrants.

How often do you boycott a company? Which company has treated you the worst, and what have you done about it?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Four Pillars

Canadian Tire skate sharpening is my latest boycott – never, ever, ever get your skates sharpened by those bozos.

Question – you mentioned boycotting for life – but what if the company/employees change their tune? How will you find out?

2 Mrs. Micah

@4P if he finds good service elsewhere, then he doesn’t really owe it to the other place.

There were various places in my hometown that I simply wouldn’t go to based on bad service or overall sketchiness. I never thought of it as active boycotting but I just never wanted to go back.

3 guinness416

Bell (literally the worst company in the western world), American Airlines and the pub near my gran’s house that charges more to black customers.

Don’t think I need to elaborate on any of them, but I certainly badmouth them to everyone, leave incoherent foaming-at-the-mouth blog comments in various places and (in the cases of the first two) spent many hours clawing money back from them.

I’m not sure I “boycott” small/local businesses so much as “don’t go back”.

4 Four Pillars

Mrs. Micah – You are correct that Mr. Cheap doesn’t have to go back to the place he’s boycotting. I was thinking of the example where he might be boycotting a store which is very convenient for him.

5 MillionDollarJourney

I find that Canadian Tire is one of the most difficult stores for refunds also.

6 Mr. Cheap

4P: I don’t usually believe them. I’ve had a Bell rep swear up and down they’d improved, but I’m with Guinness and won’t do business with them. As you say, maybe they’ll improve after the teachers take over. PERHAPS if there was a massive change in the company structure, AND I heard from people that they were better I’d try them again.

7 Mr. Cheap

guinness: You pub example is one that I would actually keep shopping at. Racism is ugly, but I don’t like the idea of using economic coercion to force people to think a certain way. If the pub charged me more because of who I was, I wouldn’t like it, but I may even accept that and keep shopping there (this has happened to me in countries where the locals pay a different price then foreigners).

I think racism is natural to the human race (we’re tribal by nature, and therefore xenophobic), but we’ve shifted to view our “tribe” as an increasingly large group (currently its either national or multinational – are we the same tribe as Americans and British? perhaps).

Eventually, people will view humanity as a global tribe, and at that point skin colour will be about as important as hair colour.

I don’t think the best way to achieve this is by isolating people who feel differently. I think we can engage them in our community, not necessarily condemn them every chance we get, and allow them to experience that people from different areas ARE different from them, but they’re the same in a lot of ways too.

A pub that was exclusively patronized by racists would be able to maintain that outlook more easily, as they’d reinforce each other that that was the proper perspective on the world. If someone was there occasionally who would ask them why they believe what they do, then either gently point out the inconsistencies in their reasoning, or tease them about having old-fashioned views it might enact change faster then withholding your buying dollars. Especially if she was a cute, young Irish lass.

If you wanted to have some REAL fun, go in and agree with what they’re saying, then have your husband come in after 30 minutes, give you a big French kiss at the bar, then wish them all a good day and head out.

Plus, when you’re thirsty for a pint, you’re thirsty for a pint! ;-)

8 guinness416

Yeah, I think you’d want a lot of trustworthy anecdotal evidence that they’d cleaned up their act if you’re at the boycott stage.

Stoney/batter has more pubs than any other street in Europe, I’m told, you have your pick round there. That place definitely has the “xenophobic field-hockey playing Dublin gangsters” market tied up, very strange. Although maybe they’re ex-Bell customers too and that’s what’s ruined their mood.

Plus, while I like the way you think, my husband would never french kiss me anywhere there was a nice cold pint as an option instead.

The word “boycott” comes from the Irish land league actions in the 19th century, by the way. Quite amazing that it travelled so far, even into some non-english languages.

9 Four Pillars

maybe they’ll improve after the teachers take over

Didn’t help the Leafs. :)

Mike

10 T
11 Mr. Cheap

T: Thanks for the link! Very informative.

12 Procrastamom

I had a bad experience with The Childrens Place clothing store about a year ago. I bought some jeans for my son there and the back pockets started to fall off after the second washing. When I took them back for an exchange, the manager initially wouldn’t take them back “because they didn’t exchange items due to normal wear and tear.” I argued with her for about five minutes (normal wear and tear is NOT two washings!) and it was only when a few other people in line started siding with me that she finally gave me a store credit. I reluctantly bought another pair of jeans to replace the others, although I really would have prefered my money back. I will never, ever set foot in that store again. Not for my children’s clothes, not if I ever need a baby gift and not if it one day it suddenly gets chilly at Satan’s house.

13 Elaine

Oh the usual. Walmart and Starbucks. I prefer locally-owned businesses as a matter of principle, and those two are just really good scapegoats I guess. Walmart is easy since there isn’t one in Vancouver anyway.

As for Starbucks, they don’t hire people with more piercings than two in each ear. I have two facial piercings and three in my left ear (only one in the right though!). I didn’t know this when I applied for a job there. The manager said, “Some people raise the point about respecting everyone’s individuality, but our response is that we absolutely do. We encourage everyone’s individuality, and the way we do that is by having everyone look the same.” No word of a lie, that is verbatim.

Anyway, if it’s fair for them to not give me money in exchange for my working for them, it’s more than fair for me not to give them money in exchange for their sub-par product. I’ve since gotten a better job with people who recognize that many different types of people can still have a professional appearance, and that it doesn’t affect job performance anyway.

14 babboba

Canadian Tire. I once waited 6 weeks (!) for a shed they had in their catalogue, with no results. I went to the store to find out about it, and they had to call head office, wait, like half an hour on the phone, only to be told they didn’t stock the item, because it wasn’t in season (it was June). If I hadn’t gone to the store, what? No shed until Christmas? What is this, 1950′s Russia?

Ironically at the Rona directly across the street, they had sheds sitting in their parking lot, so I had one in the back of my truck in less than an hour.

Reeeediculous. So incompetent you can’t even get mad, just make low whistling noises to yourself.

15 Four Pillars

I really don’t know how CT stays in business they are so unbelievably bad. I was going to do a post on the skate sharpening fiasco I was so pissed off. Not that they messed up the skates but rather the fact that they totally denied anything was wrong.

Idiots!

16 Looby

I’ve been boycotting Starbucks since last September (it’s actually hard sometimes in Vancouver), I’m sure they haven’t missed my business, but it makes me feel better.
In my case it was a combination of poor product (tea- regularly) and appalling service (I was told I needed to rejoin the line up and pay 40c for steamed milk because my order hadn’t gone through correctly!)
I’m also boycotting a bank in the UK which gave my account number to another customer and used my account to pay his mortgage every month, for 5 months (when I closed the account).
I do however always contact someone at the company to tell them my issues, if no one ever says anything, how will they improve?

17 Four Pillars

Looby – are you sure there weren’t any poodles involved in your decision? Lol.

18 The Faulk

I’m finally boycotting the pub down the road.

I live on King St West in Toronto and my particular neighbourhood has more condos than you can shake a stick at, but not a lot of local restaurants and bars. I used to put up with an awful lot from my local pub just because it was close by. Most times it was poorly cooked food that needed to be sent back to the kitchen and cooked longer. It was annoying but not enough for me to boycott them. I mean, it’s just pub food right?

The kicker was when my gf tried to organize a birthday get together with some friends there. She was told by the manager that they didn’t take reservations, which was fair enough. Instead they suggested showing up early and snagging some tables that way.

Well on the day of the get together we went early to the pub and found that we couldn’t get any seats, despite the place being empty, because they had gone ahead and made reservations for two other groups.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Neither of us have been back since and we always make sure to let others know just how crappy this place is.

19 Looby

@ Four Pillars- yeah you got me, it was a poodle barista that tipped me over the edge!!

20 Mr. Cheap

The Faulk: Very annoying. That would be the last visit for me too. What’s the name of the place so the rest of us can avoid it?

Looby: Excellent point about letting them know so they can change. I’ve found companies don’t care, so I’ve stopped telling them. If you’ve had the impression it’ll do some good, then that’s definitely worth doing.

21 bigasssuperstar

I remember learning in marketing class that “a satisfied customer tells two people — an unsatisfied customer tells ten people” … Imagine how many people an unsatisfied blogger can tell these days.

I did a Customer Service Survey with a company that recently replaced a broken consumer item for me … and was reminded of that piece of wisdom when it got to the questions asking how many people I’d spoken to about my interaction with the company … One? Five? More than ten? Oh, a few thousand, I guess, since I blogged about how well they handled my concern.

22 Tax & Personal Finance Blogger

I’ve taken up boycotting everything that frustrates me. Bell Canada is one entity that I will never do business with ever again (unless of course I move somewhere where I am forced to deal with them due to a lack of competition).

Anyway, Bell screwed me with their internet services, phone service, and cell phone service. Their billing system is a shambles and their customer service blows. I’ve only ever been able to get things fixed by sending letters to Michael Sabia (yup I go straight to the top).

I tell anyone that will listen not to do business with them and will go on at length about my experiences.

23 The Faulk

The Foggy Dew

24 Meg

Interesting post – and thanks for the link! I boycott Neimen Marcus because they only accept AMEX and really treat you like a pauper in general if you go in there not decked out in Chanel.

My dad is adament about it when he boycotts places. When I was in high school a shiny new Exxon was built a) on a piece of land he had tried to buy and b) accross the street from a friendly old-timey run down gas station we all frequented.

It was SO not allowed for us to buy anything at the Exxon. The trouble was the old place reeked of cigarettes and didn’t carry any of the best drinks and candy!

Dad was also known to boycott this one fast food chain that started charging for a cup even if you just wanted water…I can’t remember which one it was but I couldn’t go there for years.

25 Praveen

With a lot of big companies (i.e. Walmart, Children’s Place, etc) it sometimes depends on the store and particular managers and employees.

So we’ll boycott a specific store, but not necessarily the whole company.

I know in a lot of places there might be only one store around you, but in the Chicago area we have like 3-4 of everything within a 15-20 minute drive.

Maybe that competition keeps then customer oriented.

Also, I have thought it interesting that different people have problems with different stores.

One person might be unhappy with American Airlines but like United. His friend might like American but not United.

26 Lise

I boycott for policitical/social policy reasons as well as bad service . I will send an letter or email to the company telling them why I am boycotting.

I feel they need to know when certain practices are costing them clients…. why would they change otherwise?

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