The smarter consumer: 5 incredibly stupid things customers do offline

Customers do the dumbest things.

Last week, I dissected some of the outrageously mindless online behaviors. But that’s really nothing compared with what they do offline.
If you remember only one thing from this story, then please let it be this: Companies are counting on your stupidity to turn a profit.

The average purchaser spends just 11 minutes and 27 seconds in the store from start to finish. Impulse buys – those are purchases made without any apparent forethought – can account for a large percentage of a store’s profit.

Businesses don’t want us to be smart. They don’t want you to think. All the more reason to get smart.

Here are some of the mistakes customers make offline:

They Buy Without Thinking
The inevitability of a purchase is among the central theses of Philip Graves’ insightful 2010 book Consumer.ology: The Market Research Myth, the Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping. He claims that market research can’t accurately predict how you’ll act when you’re at the store, and that in many ways this is the big mystery of sales. But that hasn’t stopped companies from using everything from lighting to sales to lure you in. And it works – often without you even knowing it (or them knowing why).

How to prevent it: Be the person who knows what he or she wants before getting to the store. This will help you narrow choices, thereby eliminating a whole hill of confusion.

They Don’t Know Their Rights
Unfortunately, customers fail to do their basic due diligence, like reading the terms of their purchase, or asking the most basic product questions of the company (“Does this camera work in the water?”). They could have easily avoided these problems had they taken the consumer responsibility seriously. In most cases, they don’t even acknowledge their rights exist. So sad.

How to prevent it: Read the fine print. Review the warranty. Ask questions prior to your purchase. It’s that easy.

They Try to Resolve Their Problems Too Late
The best way to fight bad service is right now, in real time. Don’t wait to get home. Businesses expect you to put it off, so by the time you’ve written a letter or figured out what to say over the phone, you can bet the company has prepared an appropriate response. So why do folks wait? Maybe they don’t want to embarrass themselves, or they don’t remember, or they can’t be bothered. No matter – it’s too late. You can bet the company will be happy to send you a form apology for whatever ails you, and it will most definitely not be enough to make you happy.

How to prevent it: Say something when you’re unhappy. If you wait, it could be too late.

They Act as if Businesses are Charities
One of the most common refrains you hear when talking with a company is how they’re “not a charity.” Duh. But it merits repeating: They’re not a charity. Customers who expect them to behave like a nonprofit org – bending a rule or offering a costly replacement – are often in for a rude surprise. Bear in mind, though, that whenever a corporate employee repeats those words, “We’re not a charity,” it’s an admission that their company is little more than a moneymaking machine with an overtly singular purpose of creating wealth for its bosses, owners and shareholders. Do you really want to be that company’s customer?

How to prevent it: Economics 101 isn’t required – just a little common sense. These companies aren’t usually your friend. For them, it’s all about the Benjamins.

They Think Shopping is a Sport
If this is all just a game to you, then you should know this: the deck is stacked. The dice are loaded. It’s not a question of if you’re going to lose, but how much. Being a good customer means accepting certain responsibilities (more on that in a future story) and for those that head over to the mall without any forethought, they are probably just setting themselves up for a fall. Maybe you think you’re the exception, with your bargain-hunting, extreme couponing savvy. But trust me, any business would love to have you as a customer, because you’re in it for all the wrong reasons. You’re shopping recreationally, which is a distant cousin to gambling.

How to prevent it: Be a customer for all the right reasons. If it’s a product you genuinely need and you’ve conducted your research, then by all means, go buy it. Say it with me: Shopping is not a sport.

Look, I’ve made every mistake in this story, even the last one. I still do. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, I’m known to take my family to the mall to walk around and window-shop. (I’m the dad who always says, “No, you can’t buy that.”)

But just a few little tweaks to your buying behavior can prevent a purchase you will quickly regret.

(Photo: Fat ty Tuna/Flickr)

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend