Monday, February 1, 2010

Retail guilt trip

If you’ve gone to Safeway recently, or Brooks Brothers, or CVS, or any number of other retailers, you’ve been hit up for donations at the cash register. In an article on this retail arm-twisting, The Wall Street Journal’s Eric Felten wisely observes, if he does not donate, “there's the reflexive twinge of shame. Are these the emotions businesses want to produce in their customers?” According to Felten, he talked to a number of retailers and was “assured time and again that customers like being solicited for donations and that no one ever complains about being asked to give.”


Isn’t there a chance that making customers uncomfortable could send customers running to shop online instead? Retailers are taking a pretty big gamble by not rigorously studying the effects of their charitable efforts on shoppers at the moment of truth.

There’s no doubt these efforts successfully raise funds, and hence provide a tangible benefit. They’re certainly well intentioned. Still, isn’t it a little creepy and invasive? Stores are essentially saying we just saved you some money (maybe as a way of getting you in here to shop in the first place), and now we’re going to ask you to give (and give it) back. Also, as customer, am I going to be a little suspicious of the money actually getting to the right place? Do I know if the retailer is going to deduct some kind of administrative fee for handling the transaction? Or perhaps pocket a healthy tax deduction for their customers’ contributions?

If stores want to encourage customers to give back, why not offer customers the opportunity to contribute without the hard sell? What would happen if a store said we saved you some money today—here’s an envelope (or a number to text), and we’d like to encourage you to send it to St. Jude’s Hospital—or wherever?
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1 comment:

  1. When you shop at Whole Foods and bring your own bags, they offer a 10 cent discount or you can donate the money to their charity. I donate the money but wish they would have the charity name posted and note how much they have donated to date.

    In fact, I'll suggest they do just that and l'lI leave the store with a feeling of pride in my humanitarian good deed!