The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines widget as “an unnamed article considered for purposes of hypothetical example”.
You may have seen the term used in legal discussions where the item of discussion is less important than the governing principles relating to that, and similar items. I am using the term in this post to describe an actual product I was going to purchase online yet, due to what I felt were unfair selling techniques, cancelled the purchase. Since I really do not know about the quality of the item I do not want to dissuade or negatively influence other potential purchasers with my comments about this item. So widget will have to do. You know, I still wonder if I may have passed on a good product but refuse to reward what I believe to be an unfair purchasing process.[Gee, wouldn’t it be great if, as taxpayers, we did not have to financially support activities which intentionally circumvent and/or violate existing law and approved procedures?]
ALREADY OWNED A FEW BUT….
Actually I already owned a few of these widgets and although they all worked to one degree or another, they were manufactured by different companies and varied greatly as to quality, dependability and cost so I was already “passively looking” for one that possessed all the desirable qualities of a good, dependable “widget” at a reasonable price.
ADVERTISEMENT WAS IMPRESSIVE
Like any good ad, after reading the manufacturer’s claims I wanted to purchase one and started the online purchasing process. The slightly different approach should have alerted me that something wasn’t right, but after all, to acquire such a great widget certain allowances might be made for the typical exaggerated claims of new technology, limited time offer, and discounts for multiple purchases – right?
The first page of the order process contained an initial confirmation that a customer wanted to purchase a widget at a greatly reduced price. Essentially, “want to save N% on the purchase of this great item?” The second page contained the more traditional questions in an order process:
1) Select the number of widgets to purchase (another sliding scale discount increased with volume of widgets to be ordered)
2) Contact information, name, telephone number
3) Shipping address, and of course,
4) Credit card information.
PRETTY STANDARD HUH?
BUT THEN, after all the above information had been submitted, another page offered other desirable options for the widget(s) each with their additional costs. Please realize these options were only made known AFTER credit card information had been entered and there was no opportunity to page back, modify, question, or even cancel the order and the seller already had all necessary information to complete a transaction. [Except for one aspect which is crucial to an above-board legitimate sales process: the purchaser’s clear understanding as to what was offered, purchased, and for what price.]
Suddenly, a customer is stuck in an order trap with nowhere to go but forward with each additional step (if accepted) increasing the purchase price. No back button. No second chance to confirm order. No escape.
PERFORMED AS INTENDED?
You know, suddenly changing your mind about some aspect of an intended purchase is another BIG CLUE that should prompt more careful scrutiny as to what you’re doing. When initially offered multiple widgets for a discounted price (selection must be made before continuing the process and learning more) I chose to get two instead of one. But again, as mentioned above, AFTER SUBMITTING PAYMENT INFORMATION I was advised of other desirable options that, had I been aware of in the first place, would have resulted in the purchase of only one widget with all available options. Ahhhh, too late! There was no opportunity to return to the number of widgets selection so if these new and desirable options were to be added to the sale a customer would have to incur additional costs on every widget purchased at discount. Not a fair or reasonable process at all.
MORE TRADITIONAL BAIT
Compare this with all the ads we see and hear on television for miscellaneous items – “BUT WAIT! IF YOU ORDER RIGHT NOW WE WILL INCLUDE ….. blah, blah, blah — for only blah blah blah! …. That’s a blah blah blah SAVINGS FOR YOU IF YOU ORDER NOW!”
But there’s the rub – the phrase “BUT WAIT” is followed by clearly disclosing what the additional options are PRIOR TO OBTAINING PAYMENT INFORMATION with a built-in guarantee of concluding a transaction up to that point regardless of option choice.
The only thing missing from this deal, which is very important in my mind, is the purchaser’s clear understanding as to what they were purchasing and for how much. There was no “meeting of the minds” if you will.
After searching for an escape route and finding none I abruptly left the site and immediately contacted my credit card company because I was concerned about the seller already possessing my credit card information. Yup, you guessed it, even though I bailed on the rest of the process the charge had already been made for the purchase of two widgets up to that point. I was pissed and explained to the credit card representative exactly how the process worked and why I believed it was unethical. The representative agreed with my position but since the transaction had already been received and processed if the seller would not voluntarily removed the charge I would have to dispute the transaction later – after payment. Obviously the next step was to contact the seller through the listed telephone number on the website.
I called the telephone number and waited for a human being to answer while repeatedly being offered the opportunity to just leave a message. Are you kidding me? If I don’t trust your sales techniques why would I believe you would actually call me back to hear a complaint? Yes indeed, I wanted to speak with a living breathing representative of that company – besides I already had a very good idea as to why this company was currently experiencing a higher call volume. Over forty minutes I waited during which time I “prepared my case” as to why the order should be cancelled.
The representative started with disbelief as to my dissatisfaction with the ordering process since all components of a “good sale” were present. I explained the problem was not WHAT information had been exchanged, but rather, it was the chronological order of the steps in the process that were unethical and essentially a purchase trap. Eventually the representative agreed to cancel the order but not until making one last pitch for an even larger discount on the two widgets. I must give them credit for tenacity but my distrust was solidified and I insisted on the cancellation. I called my credit card company and confirmed the cancellation had been processed.
Here’s the final paragraph of a letter I subsequently wrote to the company.
“I was disappointed that a conscious effort to purchase “MADE IN USA” was over-shadowed with a feeling of being “had” with piecemeal information. If this process was a result of a simple design or programming error on the website, it should be corrected ASAP. If it was by design, shame, shame, shame.”
JUST HUMAN NATURE
Do you know what one of the major trademarks is of a good con job? [Con refers to confidence which is required for the “Mark” or victim to take the bait.] Answer: The EMBARRASSMENT of admitting they fell for it in the first place! That is precisely why so many such scams go unreported, and thus continue to exist.
“THERE’S A SUCKER BORN EVERY MINUTE”[VICTIM: “Hey! I paid $100 for this Rolex but it isn’t really gold and it stopped working completely! I’ve been swindled!” Law Enforcement Officer taking the report: “Where did you buy this watch?” VICTIM: “From a guy in the alley behind the casino who desperately needed money for bus fare out of town because his wife and kids were …. “ ]
Ever hear the expressions: “Larceny of the heart”, “You can’t cheat an honest person”, or “if it seems too good to be true it probably is”? All revolve around the concept of a fair deal being understood on both sides of the equation, seller as well as the buyer. If a buyer believes (or is encouraged to believe) they are getting away with something sneaky or ostensibly beneficial only to them, they also are not being honest and their own pursuit of greed actually facilitates their being cheated. They had larceny of the heart.
THIS WAS A DIFFERENT FLAVOR
The widgets were not inexpensive (and may indeed be good products) but not disclosing available options PRIOR to selecting the number of items to purchase AND submitting payment information (with no modification or escape opportunity) were literally deal breakers for me.
SO WHAT’S THE POINT?
So what is the point of belaboring this insignificant cancelled purchase of a couple of widgets?
A few points actually.
I haven’t posted anything in a while and I thought the story made a good Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware) reminder. Heck, it might even help someone else avoid an unwanted purchase by recognizing a similar “purchase trap”.
The payment cancellation was a minor victory over one of the many things in life most would consider unfair, deceptive, or outright dishonest. Unfortunately, many folks (for one reason or another) do not challenge such business tactics. Maybe some feel the further frustration in such a challenge isn’t worth the trouble? You know, “suck it up” as a lesson learned and be more careful next time. I seriously considered that alternative but the question was: Would simply letting the purchase go through, (less than $100), be easier than the exasperation experienced with multiple telephone calls, wait times, and speaking with a company sales representative trained to make objecting callers feel unreasonable? For me the answer was no because I am pretty sure every time I would use one of those widgets (if they worked as advertised) I would chastise myself for not objecting right off instead of purchasing something I really did not want.
A good deal will sell itself just as unethical activity will breed customer distrust.
My best to you and yours, Lew
PS: This widget business also reminds me of the LAKE DON PEDRO COMMUNITY SERVICES’ DISTRICT (LDPCSD) aka [“the water company”] and how customers are apparently anticipated to just “suck it up” once again when it comes to a significant rate increase to fund the consequences of some questionable decisions. Sounds like a subject requiring some illumination huh?