Be Your Own Consumer Advocate

I’ve never been a fan of getting things you don’t deserve, whether by deception or stealing. But when I purchase a product and it doesn’t live up to my standards, I make it a point to let the company know.

Crappy ways of getting “free” stuff include lying about poor service at a restaurant, returning an empty box to a store in order to procure a second item for free, and scamming stores with coupons (watch TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” for examples of this deceptive practice). I abhor these “practices” and highly advise against them.

But if you truly have a problem with a product or service, by all means, TELL the company about it. In fact, I’ve had success in gaining a replacement for defective merchandise or poor service nearly a dozen times in the past couple of years. Here are some of the highlights.


I bought a six-pack of Coca-Cola, and when I got it home, found a can was empty of the sweet stuff (the can wasn’t damaged or punctured). I e-mailed their customer service and was sent a coupon for a free six-pack to make up for it. Free is free, right?


A similar instance to the Coca-Cola one: I purchased an HP printer cartridge and found that no ink would come out of it, no matter what I tried. I spoke to a technician through e-mail, and when we couldn’t get it to work, I was asked to send in the defective cartridge. In return, Hewlett-Packard sent me a new cartridge, free of charge.


This one earned me a mention on The Consumerist. You can read the full, bloody Tostitos story here. The short version is that when my husband opened a stubborn jar of Tostitos Southwestern Ranch Dip, his finger was cut from a piece of chipped glass — chipped UNDER the lid. But he neglected to tell me about said event, so when I arrived home after working a late shift, I opened the dip and sliced my OWN finger. As I put on a bandage, I saw the bathroom wastebasket full of bloody tissues. Frito-Lay, Tostitos’ parent company, saw my blog post before I could contact them, and made things right with some free products and a bunch of coupons for even more free products.


Comcast was our old cable provider, and we not only had our cable ‘accidentally’ disconnected once, but TWICE (I watched the guy go up the pole the second time). So I wrote this scathing blog post, fueled by the fact that the disconnection caused me to lose paying freelance work. Someone from Comcast read the post (I assume the company has a public relations department that looks for negative mentions on the Web) and offered to make things right. For our two-day interruption of service, we were credited a half-month of costs on our next bill. A full month would have been better, considering we pay an arm and a leg for our service, but it’s better than nothing.


My mother-in-law got me Brita’s faucet filtration system for Christmas (yes, that was what I’d asked for, since we could hardly keep the Brita pitcher filled up due to our aggressive water consumption). I loved it, except for the crappy plastic adapters the company included in the package to get it to fit our specific faucet. Have you ever seen plastic threads? They don’t hold up very well. After a couple of months, the plastic adapter threads deteriorated, leading to lots of leaking from the faucet when we either used tap water or switched to the filtered water. I scoured the Internet to see if others had the same issue, and found that Brita consumers can request metal replacement adapters (it’s noted on the company’s own website). So I had a very easy time calling the company and asking that metal Brita adapters be sent to my home, free of charge. Of course, if the company just included these metal adapters with the faucet filtration system in the first place…

How to Do It

Again, I don’t condone deceptive consumer practices. That being said, I DO encourage anyone who has a less-than-stellar experience with a company to let them know about it. But the key is to not be a jerk about it. Don’t call and berate the person on the other end of the line. Most of my experiences involved writing an e-mail to the company’s customer service department or blogging about my poor experience with a product or service. Sure, some of it is passive (writing a blog post far from guarantees a company response), but it’s just as much a shot in the dark as writing an email and hoping someone from customer service actually responds.

At the very least, you’ll get your complaint off your chest!

18 comments to Be Your Own Consumer Advocate

  • I did this once with a box of Rice Crispies. I dumped out a bowl and out came a partially crisp-ized spider. It was gross.

    I wrote a letter complaining to Kellogg’s and they sent me a coupon for a free box.

  • I have done that a couple of times and my impression is that most companies will do their best to fix things.

  • Great advice, I need to do this more. Recently purchased some Burt’s Bees face cream that made me break out really bad (bottle said it was okay for sensitive skin). Am thinking I could write them and see if they would be willing to reimburse me somehow, even just some free lip balms would make up for the cost.

  • In this day and age the communications surrounding the big brands are carefully monitored (case in point your Tostitos story) and when a problem is found big or small it is used as a platform for the company to earn some good will points. Good for us….and good for them. The media rich world we live in does have some upside.

  • vashoppermom

    How about letting companies know when they’ve done something right. I informed a kitty litter company that manufactures disposable kitty litter containers w/litter that i used their product(Cat’s Pride)during our recent hurricane Irene evacuation. they were kind enough to send me a lovely letter and coupons–which I have used to restock our hurricane/evacuation box .

  • I agree 100% about letting companies know when they’re quality control systems fail. It’s important and I believe it leads to better products. It’s our insurance for keeping the quality high and saying nothing is no use to anyone.

  • Annette

    great article! found you through twitter and i’m adding you to my rss feed 😉

    im currently in a situation where the company that has been frustrating me wont even acknowledge me, lol. so it’s very nice to see when they do stand behind their product or are willing to make the customer feel heard and appreciate.

    i was hoping you’d give me some advice on dealing with my customer-problem. i emailed you through your admin box and would love if you could give me a second perspective =)

  • The way I see it, when you complain to a company and not just about them to your friends, you’re doing them a favor because you’re alerting them to issues they may not have known about. Plus, it’s better for your health. If you don’t like to make phone calls, try using our free app/website (ComplainApp) to make your voice heard.

  • redglitter

    I would have liked to see more explanation on what you find deceptive about “Extreme Couponing.” I have not seen the TLC show to know if you mean specifically the practice of “stacking” coupons (ie: store coupon+ manufacture coupon)and clipping coupons from discarded sales inserts or if you just think using as many coupons as possible and legal is somehow wrong and deceptive. If the latter is the case, then I disagree completely. Manufacturers and retailers have entire schemes based around seasons, product introduction and sales reports, etc; and they work the consumer as much as the consumer works them and both they and the couponers know it. It’s legal, it’s ethical and it’s not wrong or deceptive.

  • Patrick D

    I’ve also done the opposite. Let companies know when you are pleased with the product/service they are providing. Gotten plenty of coupons, free samples, etc.

    • Nicole

      @Patrick: That’s a good method, also. Glad you found success with this approach!

  • Oh, I hate Comcast! I’m glad they helped you, though. I’ve had trouble with them in the past and they were not helpful at all. Being your own advocate is insurance that you might get what you deserve. It may or may not lead to results but at least you are speaking up for yourself.

    • Nicole

      @Jerry: I’ve never had a good experience with Comcast. That’s why we now have FIOS!

  • I once opened a bottle of our favorite wine and it was just plain nasty. Defective bottle or cork ruined it. I called the 800 number and got a free replacement.

    Same thing happened with Pampers. We were changing our daughter and inside the diaper there was a small piece of metal that would have poked her if we hadn’t noticed it. They sent a whole slew of coupons to make up for it.

    Smart companies know that a little understanding and a gesture of good will can head off a PR nightmare.

  • It’s nice to see you back! I hope your little puddin’ is thriving. 🙂

  • I bought new CFL bulbs dirt cheap in Costco due to a NJ energy saver-type instant rebate in the store. They were guaranteed for 2 years/10,000 hours. I installed them into all of the light fixtures when we moved into our house April 15th. On July 10th, all 4 bulbs from one box went out and when I replaced them, I knew it wasn’t the fixture, but the bulbs themselves. I called the company, politely told them the issue with the bulbs and they had 4 replacement bulbs shipped and received them yesterday! It definitely pays to call out a company on a defective product or less than stellar service – just do it in a manner that doesn’t belittle the person on the receiving end! Chances are, they’re just the complaint department; they didn’t manufacture the product, nor are they at fault for it going awry!