Recently, I was reading a blog post written by Dianna Huff of Industrial Marketing, and I discovered we had something in common. She experiences something I’m all too familiar with when buying sustainably made products. So I reached out to Dianna to tell her about my own experiences. Which was? The blank stares we get from sales people when asking about product details!
Shopping with intention
Dianna helps small, family-owned industrial manufacturers grow through marketing, and becomes frustrated when trying to find American made products for her own use. In her latest article, Lessons Learned From Buying Made-in-America Clothing, she discusses the extremes she goes to to uphold her own values when purchasing items of wear. From hours of relentless researching, she’s realized the value in planning ahead of time due to online shopping, shipping and possible returns. She talks about buying with a strategy by only buying what she truly needs, and re-purposing what she already has. She brings attention to having to make compromises and buying fewer, but higher quality items. When I read this, all of these suggestions felt very familiar to my own when trying to buy sustainable and environmentally responsible products.
Dianna also talks about coming across misleading claims. Aside from clothing, this expands into larger product purchases she makes, such as her new refrigerator. She was told by the sales person in the store that, “all Whirlpool and Maytag appliances are made in the US.” So she happily purchased the appliance. However, after it was delivered and installed, she discovered on a label inside the fridge that to her disappointment it had been made in Mexico. You can learn more about Dianna’s purposeful purchases here.
If something doesn’t sound right, ask “why?”
This got me thinking. Perhaps I wasn’t the only one who has difficulty gaining a better understanding of consumer products. I remember putting many sales people on the spot asking them about what made this particular mattress “natural”. Or why the dishwasher I purchased gave off noxious fumes every time I turned it on? Only through my own research, I found that in this case it was bitumen. It was alarming to learn that many manufactures now use it for soundproofing these appliances. And if you’re familiar with bitumen, you’ll know that it is the residue left after distilling crude oil, and is used for asphalt and roofing because it’s adhesive and waterproof. After consulting the user manual about my concerns, I came across the Proposition 65 warning. Of course, it didn’t state which parts of the dishwasher this warning applied to, but from the offensive odor, I knew it had to go. What place does bitumen have in my dishwasher I thought to myself? And when I asked the sales person who sold it to me, he replied, “Oh? No one else has ever complained before.”
Do your research
Cosmetics are in similar vein. While the information is probably all there on the fine print of the packaging, it often comes down to the sales person’s knowledge on the product to be directed to it in the store when you ask. I become very skeptical when I hear someone say, “it’s all natural”, “all organic”, “green” or “eco-friendly”. I wonder if they are they expert enough to make these statements. So, I usually enlist the help of the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to check the ingredients for myself.
But it’s not the fault of these well-meaning sales associates. As I see it, the responsibility lies with the companies who make these products to ensure they are being accurately represented. And ultimately, it all comes down to transparency. Perhaps there’s opportunity for work to be done on sales education. Sales people would be able to have more confidence in the products they sell, and give a more accurate picture of what they are selling. And customers who make efforts to buy more responsibly could save themselves a whole lot of time and disappointment by getting their purchase right the first time.
I share a similar view to Dianna. Next time you have a question about a product you are considering purchasing, ask the sales person! More questions would require better transparency and accuracy in retail. It is my hope the demand will be recognized, and we might eventually start to see more sustainable products on our shelves. And if you are supplying a product for retail, work with your customer to help their staff know exactly what to say next time they see me (or people like me) in their store! Proper knowledge means better decisions.
What retail frustrations do you experience when it comes to understanding products? What surprises have you had when finding out information about your own product?
Let me know in the comments section below.