08 June 2010

A fool and his money

Free gifts, miracle weight loss products and stores where shoppers do themselves a favour by shopping there - if you believe that, you'll believe anything.

When I start believing infomercials, I know I've been on leave for too long.

It’s time to get back to work when I begin having difficulty imagining how I could have managed my life without miracle arthritis cream, a revolutionary new mop, or a product that would make me lose half my body weight in three weeks.

To top it all, these are presented by a man who sounds like he's about to start hyperventilating after catching a sensitive body part in his zipper. But how could I resist the fine stores where these delectable products are on offer? Fine stores? If you'll believe that, you'll believe anything. Most likely they are American-style bargain-basement joints, where huge tubs of plastic coathangers, family-sized boxes of painkillers and toilet brushes adorn the aisles.

Who’s doing the favour here?
But at least infomercials are instantly recognisable at fifty paces - and that's why you have a remote control for your TV. What makes me come up in hives are all those other advertisements the ones that pretend I would be doing myself a massive favour by shopping at their store, or buying a particular product.

And on that note: has it ever occurred to anyone that if something could make you lose masses of weight or miraculously make pain go away, it wouldn’t cost R120?

Back to the stores and their customers. Let's get one thing straight: who is doing the favour here? Could it be me, spending my money in their store, or them allowing me to do so?

The days when the customer was king seem to be over. Everywhere I am cajoled and prodded by endless ads telling me how a supermarket chain that makes billions a year in profits is somehow on my side. Or is like an uncle in the furniture business. Where do those profits come from? Think about it for a moment.

Then of course there's the store that's 'good for you'. I should know, because I shop there all the time. Yes, it's convenient, there's a good product range and the stores are squeaky clean – but it's good for them if I shop there, not the other way round. And I don't like being told otherwise. Take my money, by all means, but don't expect me to do cartwheels about being afforded the privilege.

Special offers – for suckers
In all advertisements, special offers look good when they're hyped up, but they always somehow benefit the company advertising them. And we forget that at our own peril.

‘Buy one get one free’, only means they've got a whole warehouse of the bloody stuff and we'd really be doing them a favour by carting it away. And if you're prepared to pay for it on top of everything else, you are even more of a sucker than they thought. It's feeding frenzy time, just before Christmas nogal.

Then there's the issue of the 'free gift'. Aren't all gifts free? When last did you pay for a gift someone gave you for your birthday? We’ve been so conditioned to think that the free iron we get with the R3 500 lounge suite is a real bargain. But without it, the lounge suite would have cost R3 400.

No one would offer a product or service that truly benefited the customer, unless there was some profitable spin-off for the company. How could they? But wouldn't a bit more honesty be refreshing?

Consumers left gibbering
All of this leaves the South African consumer gormless and gibbering – we don't think we have any negotiating power as far as big businesses and service levels are concerned, because around every corner we're being told what a favour we're doing ourselves by supporting certain companies and chains. What would we do without them? Gnash our teeth somewhere in the dark?

The real question, however, is what these companies would do without us. We remain ever gullible and hopeful that there are real bargains and cures in a tube out there and that our best interests are being served by huge enterprises. A fool and his money are indeed soon partying – but he's certainly not the one laughing all the way to the bank.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, October 2006)


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