By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Consumer advocates are known for leveling biting criticisms against corporations for their various bad acts. But when a company does something truly admirable, such actions also deserve our praise. The first admirable event came this week when Toys “R” Us announced that it would allow parents to trade in used cribs, car seats, and other baby products for discounts on new items in these categories. For each used item consumers bring to Babies “R” Us or Toys “R” Us, they’ll receive a 20 percent discount on a new product from select manufacturers. The list of products includes bassinets, strollers, travel systems, play yards, and high chairs.
Why is Toys “R” Us offering these discounts? For a very important consumer protection reason: CEO Jerry Storch told the Wall Street Journal, “We felt these were categories that were somewhat suspect, either because of the nature of the category or because there have been a large number of recalls in the category….We feel it’s critical to get these older products out of the chain of commerce.” Storch is exactly right; once a children’s product is in the market, the chance of getting it recalled and out of the nursery is extremely low, probably under 10 percent. The safety issue is all the more critical with products that children use every day. By offering this discount, Toys “R” Us is helping to cycle the use of older baby products out of the marketplace and bring in the newer, safer designs. Fewer children will be facing product hazards that can injure and even kill them because of the company’s actions.
Full Disclosure: Toys “R” Us has supported the National Consumers League’s teenage consumer education program, LifeSmarts, making financial contributions for the past several years, though the company didn’t ask us to write this blog post.
The second positive interaction with a corporate entity happened to me personally. In planning travel to Minneapolis to celebrate my father’s 91st birthday this weekend, I made the mistake of scheduling a plane trip several hours earlier than one member of my family could make. I was scheduled to arrive from another city, but they were coming from Washington, DC and simply couldn’t leave on the earlier flight. So I called the airlines and talked to an agent. She informed me that taking the later flight would cost $150 per-person change fee and a total of $1,000 to change the reservation for them to fly on the same route only two hours later.
I thanked her and asked to talk to a supervisor. She was perfectly pleasant, as was I, but asked me what she ought to tell the supervisor. “Tell her I would like to discuss my options,” I said. A few minutes later, her boss came on the line and I explained. “I screwed up and made reservations for the wrong time. My mother died this year and my father is celebrating his 91st birthday on Saturday. It would be a shame if his grandson couldn’t be there for the occasion, but I simply cannot spend an additional $1,000 to change these tickets for a flight 2 hours later.” She told me to hang on, and a few minutes later she was back with this news: “I made the change and confirmed your flights for the later time. There will be no extra charge. Enjoy your father’s birthday and thank you for flying with our airline.”
I thanked her profusely and let out a huge sigh of relief. I had despaired that my 13 year-old-son would have to forfeit his ticket and be unable to celebrate with his cousins and grandfather. But here’s the good news: an employee of a big airline was able to hear my story and out of kindness — and perhaps a sense that the rules are often too rigid — bend the rules a bit. No matter, this customer greatly appreciated that companies and their workers can do the right thing by their customers. Whether it’s Toys “R” Us or a big airline, when they do I believe we consumer advocates should commend them for it.