9 Bad Consumers Who Make Things Worse For The Rest Of Us

(Photos, from l-r: Steve R.; Enokson; frankieleon)

(Photos, from l-r: Steve R.; Enokson; frankieleon)

Anyone who has worked in just about any job knows that this idea that “The customer is always right” is a bit of an overstatement; more of an ethos than a statement of fact. Most of the time the customer is simply mistaken and it’s a matter of finding the best way to set the record straight. But sometimes the customer is just a bullheaded jerk, or an egotistical ignoramus, or a scammer, and it’s these bad consumers who make it harder for the rest of us to get good service.

With that in mind, here is our list of the usual shopping suspects…

1. The Blackmailer

Modus Operandi: Trots out the threat of a bad review on social media in order to receive preferential treatment.
How It Hurts The Rest Of Us: Social media can be a very powerful and effective tool for sharing opinions and for resolving complaints. Every jerk that dangles the sword of a bad Yelp review or a nasty writeup on TripAdvisor in order to be treated like a VIP taints the overwhelming majority of legitimate reviews, making it more difficult for consumers to find dependable information and giving business owners another reason to disregard crowdsourced opinions.

2. The Borrower

Modus Operandi: Takes advantage of stores’ return policies in order to use a new TV, computer, camera, for a short period of time and then get a refund.
How It Hurts The Rest Of Us: Because of serial returners, more retailers are increasingly skeptical of all returns. In addition to restocking fees for people who return items, a growing number of stores are now scanning IDs of customers who return products and rejecting some returns if a remote computer’s algorithm determines a shopper has made too many returns.

3. The Faker

Modus Operandi: Fakes disabilities or illnesses to receive special treatment, like being able to board early on airplanes.
How It Hurts The Rest Of Us: This one is particularly nasty, as it takes advantage of the very fact that not all disabilities are visible. To most of us, the notion that you’d fake a disability just to save a few minutes at the airport, or just to scalp good concert tickets, is anathema. In the end, this repugnant form of line-jumping just slows the whole process down. Even worse, some people with legitimate disabilities may feel like they are being scrutinized because of the actions of others.

4. The Escalator

Modus Operandi: Takes a legitimate customer service complaint and immediately escalates into nuclear meltdown mode without giving the employee a chance to fix things first; often jumps straight to threats of filing complaints with Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General, their local legislator, or pursuing legal action.
How It Hurts The Rest Of Us: It’s this sort of hair-trigger rash behavior that has resulted in much of the lawyer-scripted robo-speak you hear from customer service representatives. A company would rather have an employee stick to that “I’m sorry you feel that way and I understand your frustration” script than say anything that a fire-breathing, potentially litigious customer could later use against them, even if it’s well-meaning. But since the Escalator rarely makes good on his/her threat, it often has the unintended effect of making the company take a customer less seriously when escalation is threatened.

5. The Exception

Modus Operandi: No matter how trivial the issue, this shopper believes it demands immediate attention and will head directly to the front of any line.
How It Hurts The Rest Of Us: Aside from making our waits longer, it also tends to put everyone on both sides of the counter in a bad mood, and if there’s one thing that we need less of in customer service, it’s bad moods. And again, since the Exception’s problem could probably have waited, anyone with a genuinely urgent issue is now looked upon skeptically. Another side effect is that the Exception can result in the formation of the next Bad Consumer on our list…

6. The Huffer/Puffer

Modus Operandi: Constantly complains during every second spent waiting in line, even if the wait is not worthy of a complaint. Noticeable traits include a persistent wrinkling of the nose, continual muttering, regular checking of wristwatch and/or phone.
How It Hurts The Rest Of Us: Like a less active version of the Exception, the Huffer/Puffer tends to darken the mood. And when it becomes the Huffer/Puffer’s turn to speak with customer service, there is a tendency to waste time by venting — “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting?” — that only engenders more Huffer/Puffery in the queue that is forming behind them.

7. The Fighter

Modus Operandi: Comes out swinging (verbally). Automatically assumes that customer service will be antagonistic and overreacts accordingly. Common battle calls of the Fighter — “I know you’re just going to pass me off to someone else but…”; “I’m hoping that may you know how to do your job…”
How It Hurts The Rest Of Us: Instantly puts customer service on the defensive, making them less like to go above and beyond to help. After all, why would you help someone who is pre-judging you to the point of insult? It tends to result in jaded customer service employees who come to expect to be blamed for problems caused by someone else. And it’s also a massive waste of time.

8. The Solipsistic Parent

Modus Operandi: Selfishly allows their children to run wild in stores, on planes, and in restaurants while they focus single-mindedly on their own shopping needs.
How It Hurts The Rest Of Us: First, it’s annoying; to both shoppers who have to dodge the brats, and to employees who become de facto babysitters. Inevitably, when the Solipsistic Parent goes to pay at the cashier, at least one of the children tries to add some item discovered during their in-store play date, or breaks something that must be paid for, or is wandering around and won’t come out of hiding, resulting in shouts of “Jeremy! Jeremy! Get out from under those potato chips now!” while we all turn into Huffer/Puffers.

9. The Tip Avoider

Modus Operandi: Repeatedly expresses statement that he/she doesn’t “believe” in tipping, as if its existence is up for debate. Rather than leave tips for servers who rely on them to survive, leaves rude messages on receipt, or “clever” verbal tips, that always begin with “I’ve got a tip for ya…” and would end with a fist in their mouth if there were any justice in the world.
How It Hurts The Rest Of Us: In addition to making things harder for the server — who has to continue working knowing he or she is getting paid, at best, minimum wage for the effort — it furthers this misconception that tipping at a restaurant is some sort of add-on that you only pay if you “believe” in tipping and if the service really knocked your socks off. With some incredibly rare exceptions, restaurant operators assume that you will tip and build a certain level of tipping into their prices. For every diner that balks on the tip, the restaurant has to go out of pocket to make sure the server makes at least minimum wage. If you want to change the system, petition the nation’s chain restaurants to change the system; don’t take it out on the servers, who may then take it out on our food.

There are certainly other categories of Bad Consumer that we missed. If you can name one and describe its identifying traits, shoot us an e-mail at tips@consumerist.com

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  1. webalias says:

    I agree with most of these indictments of bad consumer behavior, but Huffing and Puffing (constantly complaining, wrinkling the nose, etc.)? And the Escalor (who takes a legitimate customer service complaint and immediately escalates it… without giving the employee a chance to fix things?) I have sympathy with those behaviors, at least in some cases. The thing is: some companies are so bad that their policies aren’t fixable — the companies and their policies basically exist to take advantage of ignorant and/or passive consumers. You really think “good” behavior by consumers is going to make some of the “worst” companies, as voted on by Consumerist readers, better? Hardly. So in the case of the worst companies, I don’t want them to solve my consumer problem — we’re beyond that point. I know from experience that even if my polite, patient, tactful approach persuades a certain internet monopoly to credit me for a charge that was improper in the first place, I’ll probably see that same charge again next month. I don’t even want that company to get better, since even 100 percent better would still be abysmal. I want that company to go out of business.

  2. Xenotaku says:

    I have to object to #9, because of the point that NOT ALL OF US LIVE IN STATES WHERE TIPS ARE PART OF WAGES.

    In Washington State, ALL workers are required to be paid minimum wage*. No matter what. And tips are ON TOP of that. So yes, I’m only going to tip for good service, and I’m going to tip what I feel the service is worth, not some arbitrary number decided on by “society” or whatever.

    *The exception being workers 16 and 17, who only have to be paid a percentage. I /think/ it’s 75-80%, but I’m not sure.

  3. IrishLad118 says:

    I’d like to submit a 10th because I don’t think it falls under any category. Years ago, I was working in retail as a cashier and a customer wanted to purchase items we were running a BOGO special on (that’s buy on get one free). Instead of the system ringing up each one at regular price and automatically subtracting the free one, it had been programmed to ring up each one at half price. They argued with me that they were being charged for both becuase the second one technically wasn’t free. I tried to explain to them that the math worked out the same and that was how the system processed the transaction. The item was not on sale for half off and you were able to get one for free. You had to pay full price for the item to get the second free. They could not comprehend this and left without buying anything.

    • lehrdude77 says:

      Which could also include the “Separate Transaction Processor”…

      The one who demands that even though coupons specifically state that “only 1 promotion per transaction will be honored” feel that they can use more than one coupon if they are rung up as separate transactions…