Customer as Criminal

This was a letter to the editor of the Roane County Reporter , written in disgust several years ago. No, I haven’t been back to Fruth’s since.

Dear Editor,

It seems the corporations that rule the world have found a new way of putting us mere humans in our place. Apparently it’s now standard procedure to put customers through a third-degree, virtually a criminal check, if they dare to return items. The first time this happened to me, an inventory error at Southern States caused them to sell me a 40 pound bag of puppy chow they didn’t actually have. No, they couldn’t let me have two 20 pound bags, which were sitting right there; I had to go back in and fill out a form with my name and address before they’d give me money back and then let me buy the 20 pound bag. Yesterday I tried to return a pair of sunglasses I had bought at Fruth’s, which fell apart the first time I tried to wear them. They had no problem agreeing the sunglasses were defective, but asked me to fill out a form with my name, full address, phone number and a reference in order to get my money back! Should I have been glad they didn’t demand my social security number, my mother’s maiden name, my fingerprints and perhaps a strip search? It’s not only that it takes longer and longer to get your money back, so that if the purchase price was low many will decide it’s not worth the delay, not worth holding up the other people in line. What really enrages me is the implication that if you want your money back for any reason you are a suspect who must be investigated.

When dealing with corporations as employees, the normal rights of free speech are suspended and we all submit to indignities we resent. Until fairly recently, though, at least we were treated with some respect as customers. Now it seems that we can be treated contemptuously even as retail customers. Dealing with utility companies that have a monopoly, like the phone company, is even worse. It can take dozens of hour-long calls, tossed from person to person, many of them on the other side of the world—after fighting your way out of the maze of automated loops that inevitably leave you grinding your teeth with frustration—just to get the kind of service that once required a single, simple phone call.

The US Supreme Court recently held that corporate “persons” must have the right to spend unlimited money on elections. More and more, the question is not whether corporations have human rights in full. It’s whether we flesh-and-blood persons have human rights. Certainly our situation will continue to erode if we don’t stand up to these assaults, which is why I walked away without my money, vowing never to shop at Fruth’s again.

Updated: November 1, 2018 — 5:46 pm

The Author

Mary Wildfire

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