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By the Way: If we won’t buy, they die


As this new year takes wing, I’m afraid I’m the victim of a ruse. I keep hearing online merchants talk about customer service, but I fear I am the one serving rather than the one being served.

It occurs to me they want not just my money but my brain and my time to answer their endless surveys and provide personal information – and that, specifically, so they can use it to rope me in to more purchases.

I feel like shouting to the skies that I just want to buy that T-shirt for my grandson and am willing to pay the price. For that simple transaction the merchant does not need to know how tall I am, how much I weigh (yikes!) or that I have blue eyes. And he does not need to send me 14 e-mails showing more T-shirts. Enough said about that!

They all seem to suddenly become what they hope is your new best friend offering daily messages.

On my worst days, the Internet seems to me to be the Nosy Neighbor from Hell, picking my brain, knowing where I am, what I’m doing, asking too many questions about my personal life, trying to establish what my tastes are and basically coming too close to the core of my being.

It’s not hard to equate it to an electronic Peeping Tom or stalker, a preliminary and worrisome threat of worse to come.

The marketing ploys dreamed up by retailers are becoming a nightmare for us—and I’m sure I’m not alone in my annoyance.

A neighbor once told me she walked through the refrigerator department in a big box store when she was looking for something else and a few minutes later received a batch of emails extolling the virtues of several brands of refrigerators.

I have to confess I do make liberal use of the Internet for shopping – sometimes just searching for a specific gift I have in mind. If I look at six websites, say, before I order, I instantly have at least one incoming email from each of them. I can handle that – but they keep coming, day after day.

In the frenzied days before Christmas I had no time to delete them and my incoming mailbox grew fatter and fatter. As the new year loomed, in an excess of zeal, I spent hours unsubscribing to those I did not want to hear from – and they don’t necessarily make it easy to do that. They ask you why and sometimes offer you alternative notification plans that you must sign out of and if you don’t do it right, you’re still on their mailing list.

I am, unfortunately, an extremely curious person. That’s an asset for a journalist, but it can be a black hole for time if it’s not tightly controlled. If I get an email, for example, I need to open it – just to see what it contains.

That’s not so any longer with junk snail mail. I am now able to look at the envelope or catalog without opening it and, toss it into the recycle box I keep by my desk.

I am also fed up with providing feedback to retailers. Had they listened to me the first time, I wouldn’t be repeating my concerns again and again. I have completed and sent my last survey for people who really don’t want my feedback. If they did, they would not limit their questions to what they think is important.

Although some may think it’s convenient of stores to send us notices when they have introduced a product they think we want and will buy, I am not such a gentle soul. I hate it when a merchant tells me the new spring dresses are just what I want or need. I could be wrong but I think I am smart enough to know when and where to shop and for what.

If they truly respected customers instead of just bringing in the big bucks, they would treat us more gently. After all, if we don’t buy, they die.