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Retail Insanity and Rip Offs Part One

Web posted on November 10, 2016

A Curmudgeon's View

By Les Enekes

As you may remember from some of my columns last year I have a lot of issues with the retail buying experience. It certainly hasn't gotten any better, and I am long overdue for a revisit. This will be another long one spread out over several instalments.

Did you notice that back to school was advertised the day after the kids got out of school this year? It really disgusted me to see Halloween goodies on the shelves at a grocery store before the kids went back to classes. Christmas merchandise is out long before the little extortionists come trick or treating. Valentines stuff will be out on Boxing Day if not sooner. You get the picture. These days the marketing people are pushing the buying seasons to the extreme. It gets worse every year. There seems to be a special sale for almost every event, no matter how trivial. Stores have to be at least one event ahead of the calendar, not to mention the season. Ever try getting summer clothes in August? Forget about it. The marketing people decide what we should be buying and when. The retail buying experience has been going downhill for years. You have to feel for the buyers who have to decide many seasons in advance what they plan to sell, and hope they get it right. When I worked in retail many years ago we started our Christmas buying in August for delivery in October. This year some stores that had Christmas stuff out in August. It didn't take me long to figure out that playing store was not for me, and went back to school. It also gave me a very healthy disrespect for the retail industry.

I am sure that everyone has encountered those oversized hard plastic cases that are supposed to discourage theft. Well they also discourage the purchase of said items. A Jedi Master would have trouble opening these things with a light sabre. No magic wand will open these things. I now make a point of asking the store to open the package for me, and of course, keep the plastic. Let them look after it. If they don't, I walk. How do they expect mere mortals to get them open? I have the feeling that they are also not the greatest for the environment. There must be a better and less wasteful way of packaging that can satisfy everyone. This type of packaging must be outlawed sooner than later.

I have no problem with an honest and legitimate price increase. Material costs increase, labour costs increase, our dollar is all over the place, so there are legitimate reasons for price increases. I may grumble about a price increase, and may look at alternatives, but odds are that I will continue to buy the product. On the other hand downsizing a product while keeping similar packaging and not reducing the price by a corresponding amount is neither honest nor legitimate. One of the worst offenders is a meat packer that used to be based in Kitchener. I no longer buy any of their products or those of their parent company.

I consider product downsizing to be nothing less than fraud. It is also a guarantee that I will not only stop buying that product, but the rest of that company's products as well, unless I have absolutely no other option. If a company wants to give us a smaller package, feel free to do so, but make it a choice. Both sizes must be available for the consumer to vote with their wallet. Ever notice that when one company downsizes their packaging, all the others do the same? Shouldn't the government be looking into this? I would be more than happy to buy from the companies who buck this trend even if I have never brought their products before.

It should be the law that no product can be arbitrarily downsized without keeping the old size as well. The packaging for any product downsized must change shape, and markings. Three quarters of the packaging must be used indicate that this is a downsized product without a price reduction (in bold black lettering) for at least two years. Failure to do so must come with criminal and civil penalties severe enough for both the companies and individuals that no product will ever be downsized again.

If I had my way all original sizes would have to be restored retroactive ten years, and they would have 90 days to comply. I would start with a million dollar per product per day penalty for each day late. I think I am being more than reasonable about this.

Companies will make claims like "new" and "improved" to justify the new packaging This is a bunch of Male Bovine Excrement. The only thing new is another way of screwing the consumer, and the only thing is improved is their bottom line. Some of the spice containers and seafood product cans have become so small that the can has to be worth more than the product inside. This silliness must stop. Therefore I urge everyone to contact the toll free numbers and try to get as high up in the food chain as possible before unleashing your wrath. Most importantly stop buying their products.

The latest bid of fraud is from my former brand of paper towels. They are now calling them ultra. Yes, they are ultra thin, and ultra flimsy. This appears to be a cheaper version of what used to be their economy brand. Most toilet paper is thicker and stronger. They kept the old package, and introduced a new "heavy duty" version with fewer sheets. These are probably the old ones with a new name, but I will never know. I wonder how bad the new economy towels are. They are getting sneaky in their ways of trying to screw us. I refuse to be taken in by this type of marketing mind games. I suppose I should be thanking my former brand because the towels I am now using are just a bit more expensive but much better quality.

CBC's "Marketplace" has done several shows on downsizing of products, and consumers are still taking it like sheep. We should tell the government we want changes. If consumers don't raise a stink, they will continue to screw us. When the next election comes along we should be asking candidates what they are going to do to improve consumer protection.

I had planned to start this series of columns a long time ago, but things had a way of getting in the way. With the Christmas buying season already here, I will have a lot more to say about all the retail games (a lot less fun than reindeer games) the marketing people are playing in future instalments.

Just a reminder that Friday is Remembrance Day. This is also my annual free unsolicited plug for the students of John McCrae school and their service at McCrae House. It usually starts around 10:30. Don't forget to wear your poppy.

Lest We Forget.

Les Enekes can be reached directly by owl. For those not owl equipped, he can be reached at

The views of columnists in The Fountain Pen do not necessarily represent the views of the principals of the publication.

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