How One Appliance Store Unleashed The Streisand Effect On Itself

The New York Times’ “Haggler” column is a standard consumer problem-solving column like many newspapers have, but backed with the brand recognition and vast readership of the NYT. A recent column about a financing dispute between a Texas woman and an appliance store could have just been a mundane account of a dispute over interest payments on a refrigerator, but the company refused to talk to the Times. At all.

The basic dispute here is pretty simple: a customer bought a computer and a fridge on a no-interest credit plan, but withheld her payment when the company wouldn’t help her get the refrigerator fixed.

The company insists that its policy not to talk to the media about customer issues applies even when that customer has given the company and the media outlet written permission to discuss their problems. Instead, the company maintained a level of customer confidentiality that would be more appropriate for a health care provider, say, a doctor’s office. Which is governed by explicit laws about this kind of thing.

“Maintaining the confidentiality of the customer information is more important to us than responding to what is going on in the media,” the company’s chief operating officer told Bloomberg Businessweek. Okay. Unfortunately, this policy brought the Streisand Effect down on the company. That’s when a person or company brings more attention upon themselves by trying to deflect attention. Maybe if the company had provided its side of the story, a Twitter swarm using the hashtag #talktothehaggler wouldn’t have happened. Maybe Haggler reporter David Segal wouldn’t have resorted to calling members of the Conn’s board of directors.

The company eventually emerged and released a statement arguing that they had tried to contact their customer, and she wouldn’t respond. While Segal remains “agnostic” regarding which party is correct in this dispute, he pointed out to Businessweek that the customer turned to the Times to get someone at the company to respond to her.

If you value your privacy, even when you explicitly ask the company to provide details to the media, apparently you should shop at Conn’s. Good to know.

The Wrath of Conn’s: The Appliance Store That Ignored the Times [Bloomberg Businessweek]
Many Are Knocking, but the Door Stays Closed [New York Times]