Stanley keeps water hot, while Target’s in hot water

I'm not related to consumer advocate Ralph Nader. That I know of.

But I'm beholden to the concepts of consumer advocacy, of speaking up when you love a product and when it dissatisfies or is problematic, meriting a telephone call to a 1-800 number or a letter.

I further believe that customers have a responsibility to speak up not only when a product pleases immensely or fails but when service is sour at an establishment. I do not mean that the manager should be informed with every tiny gripe.

We live in an imperfect world, after all. I'm talkin' bad service that is accepted as common place now but remains an affront to the, evidently, minority of us who still hold retailers to a standard of service and/or are willing to speak up when it ain't there, sometimes miserably so.

I don't mean to blather but provide a sense of how much value and importance I place on customer service and the voice of consumers, and I bring my dollar to products and retailers accordingly.

The reason this is on my mind is because I received in the mail yesterday four black rubber O rings. Rings that cannot be purchased anywhere, including at the manufacturer of the product employing said rings, Stanley. You know 'em, the maker of stainless steel mugs, thermoses and more.

This rubber ring, which wraps around the lid, somehow slipped off and disappeared during washing one day, rendering my travel mug, to which I'm very attached, it was a gift, and rely on heavily, fairly useless.

So I called up Stanley seeking a replacement, and being quite willing to pay for it. "Oh, we send them for free. What's your address and we'll send you some," the customer service lady said.

Within a week, I had myself not one but four brand-new rubber rings. I saved the envelope so I can write a letter of appreciation and thanks for not only the product but their service.

Compare this to Target. Yes, that Target, with the red-and-white logo. Recently I bought a bottle of liquid bandage, another brand that was cheaper and, it turned out, of noticeably inferior quality over Nexcare, by 3M.

So after one use I returned to Target with full packaging, receipt and an explanation of why I was returning it. They wouldn't take it back. It'd been opened.

The clerk and I went in circles … I wouldn't have bought it if I'd known it was poor product … and I know now and I'd like a refund so I can purchase the Nexcare off your shelf … "but it's opened and we can't take it back" … yada yada yada.

So away I went with a product I didn't want and would never use and out the money too.

So I wrote some letters … to the manufacturer of the product, sharing my dissatisfaction and reasons for it … and to Target, via their Web site.

Twice. And I never heard back either time.

So I put it in writing on paper. Sent the letter off to the headquarters as well as the manager of the local store.

A month-and-a-half later I received a most unimpressive letter from Target basically saying "we're sorry for the inconvenience but we don't take back products that have been opened" followed by this long PR pitch that was so transparent and obnoxious, it made my stomach flip. And the signature? That was the icing on the cake. It was like "Bob, customer service." No last name. And this was from their headquarters!

And I wrote Target off for good. All over a $3 bottle of first aid.

The maker of the yucky product by the way? They wrote back — even though I neither requested nor needed a response — with a letter of apology and appreciation for the input and a check covering the product's cost. Now that's class.

Target: bad bad bad.
Stanley thermos-maker: good.


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