The Year's Top Business Screw-Ups

Fortune recently published a list of 2007’s 101 Dumbest Moments in Business, and then the Seattle Post-Intelligencer cooked that down to just 9 really good ones. Now we’re summarizing the Seattle PI article. (If you’d like to play along, pick just a couple of business blunders from our summary and write them on a sticky note—we’d like to get this down to a six-word fortune cookie by December 31st.) Some of the Seattle PI’s picks include the rats at the KFC in NYC, the GHB toy beads, Best Buy’s in-store kiosk version of its website with higher prices, Jay-Z’s dog-fur coats, and that time when SkyWest wouldn’t let that passenger pee, and so he had to go in an air-sickness bag, which led to him being questioned by the police when he finally got off the plane.

They also picked Hasbro’s Easy-Bake Oven, which we mentioned here but incorrectly reported as a basic recall that wasn’t a big deal. Turns out it happened twice and one case involved a partial amputation of a kid’s finger.

In February, Hasbro announces a recall of nearly one million Easy-Bake Ovens after 29 children get their fingers stuck inside, some suffering severe burns. Five months later, the company is forced to reissue the recall after receiving reports on 249 additional incidents, 77 involving burns, including one that required a partial finger amputation.

“Top consumer blunders of the year” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

“101 Dumbest Moments in Business” [CNN Money]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Buran says:

    Gotta love apple’s response: “We’re the only ones who have a good idea. If you don’t work for us, your idea is automatically a stupid shitty idea that anyone couldn’t possibly think is good, because only people who work for us have brains. You’re nothing more than a walking credit card. Now shut up and buy more of our shit, you stupid bitch.”

  2. Zodiack says:

    @Buran: Actually, a lot of companies are like that.

  3. Buran says:

    @Zodiack: Yeah, I know. I cited Apple because they were specifically mentioned in the article, but I’m all too aware of the stupidity. And to do it to a kid!? Those lawyers deserve every lawyer joke levied at them.

  4. ARP says:

    Actually, its a bit more complicated than that. If they accepted an idea and it made its way into a product or feature (whether the designers knew about the idea or not), they’d get sued for stealing someone’s idea (e.g. copyright, trade secret or maybe even design patent) without paying royalties. So, they make it very clear that they don’t accept outside ideas to prevent this issue. Obviously, they could have used more tact than they did.

  5. bluwapadoo says:


    Yeah, I once emailed Dunkin’ Donuts that (half-jokingly) they should have hash browns to go along with their breakfast sandwiches. They replied, via email:

    “Thank you for thinking of Dunkin’ Brands, Inc. (Dunkin’Donuts/Baskin-Robbins/Togo’s).

    We’re always developing new ways to keep our faithful customers coming back to our stores for more. In fact we have entire departments whose job it is to come up with fresh and exciting concepts for products, flavors, programs, advertising, etc.

    We also receive many unsolicited suggestions from our friends outside the company, driven by a love and passion for our brands. Most of the time, the suggestions are things our teams have already thought of and may already be working on.

    Therefore, to prevent any possible misunderstandings, we cannot accept or review unsolicited ideas such as: patented or un-patented, trademarked or un-trademarked ideas, copyright protected materials, advertising slogans, marketing programs, promotional programs, patent applications, trademark applications, copyright applications, product suggestions, prototypes or models.

    Again, thank you for thinking of Dunkin’ Brands, Inc.

    Thank you and have a great day.”

    Again, I didn’t think they would even take my suggestion seriously. Clearly, I understand why they have to send out an email like that. (Although, my favorite part was when they mentioned that they may have already thought of it).

    By the way, not all Dunkin’ Donuts, but the one I shop at have hash browns. Coincidence?

  6. spinachdip says:

    @ARP: Yeah, it’s pretty common practice with unsolicited ad ideas. If a company or its ad agency receives an unsolicited ad, the first thing they do is call legal.

  7. mysticone says:

    I do think it’s somewhat unfair that Apple is singled out for this particular action. Also, it’s difficult to say how tactfully they did or didn’t handle it without the text of the letter. But, as Spinachdip says, it’s common for companies to reject unsolicited suggestions.

    If they wanted to poke fun at Apple, there have to be some better stories from 2007. Heck, what about that massive iPhone price drop? :)

  8. spinachdip says:

    @mysticone: The embarrassing Apple story of the year is Apple TV, of course. But that’s been more than overshadowed by iPhone and Leopard.

    I actually think the price drop was handled as well as it could have been – if I’m not mistaken, the $100 vouchers for early buyers were announced the day of the price drop.

  9. deserthiker says:

    The worst Apple story was the price drop and the WEAK follow-up with a letter from Steve Jobs saying it was because the technology road was bumpy or some BS. If anything Apple should have dropped the price on the Apple TV and not the hot selling iPhone (which I love, BTW). Apple TV still has a chance for a market if they drop the price, add downloadable movie RENTALS and allow it to run computer games with a Wii like controller. Then all will be forgiven.

  10. Dick.Blake says:

    Are they designing EasyBake Ovens differently now than from 20 years ago? You’d think at some point in the past few decades some kid would have been dumb and/or unsupervised enough to stick their fingers into a plastic device that bakes food… or is it just a sign of the times?

  11. iamme99 says:

    I like this one: It’s soooo Comsumerist! :)

    38. Google. To test Google’s ability to block harmful advertising, a Belgian IT security consultant posts an ad that reads “Is your PC virus-free? Get it infected here!” It is accepted by Google and displayed 259,723 times; 409 Web surfers actually click on the ad.

  12. shoegazer says:

    @iamme99: Hey! it was a very CONVINCING ad!

  13. shoegazer says:

    The picture on #41 is PRICELESS. I never knew Fortune had such a… gawkeresque… sense of humor

  14. nursetim says:

    If Apple had phrased their letter along those lines, it would not of been a story.

  15. humphrmi says:

    @deserthiker: Apple dropped the price on the iPhone because it was not selling enough for their taste. Maybe you thought it was selling hot, but they didn’t. They didn’t want to sell more Apple TV; they wanted to sell more iPhones.

  16. vastrightwing says:

    At the risk of being annoying (too late?) can I slam Best Buy again for ripping me off on not making good on my warranty? So Best Buy, every day, you don’t make good on my warranty claim and I see a Best Buy reference on Consumerist, I’m whining about you ad nauseam. Thank you, I feel better now.

  17. kittenfoo says:

    six word fortune cookie: don’t cheat people. treat them right.
    (gotta count “don’t” as one word, tho.)

  18. spinachdip says:

    @humphrmi: Evidence suggests otherwise. At the time of the price drop, they were on pace to sell a million units in 3 months at the original price point, which is way more than most industry observers forecasted.

    From everything I read, it appears the price drop was coming regardless of sales.

  19. jeff303 says:

    How about “lawyers don’t make good pen pals”

  20. clevershark says:

    Frankly that Apple story with the 9-year old is the biggest non-story I’ve seen on this site so far. Many years ago I sent Apple an email suggesting a few product improvements and got the same form response. I never thought it be newsworthy in any way… maybe it’s because I wasn’t 9 years old when I sent the suggestions in.

    There’s plenty of dissatisfaction fodder in Apple’s mercurial decision-making to fill up this site. The fact that so many sites chose to highlight this particular non-story disappoints me, to be honest.

  21. Wormfather says:

    My favorite part was emailing my friend who works at Merrill Lynch the article…I’m awaiting his vitrol.

  22. Geekybiker says:

    Work for any company that gets “suggestions” and you’ll understand apple’s position. Consumers send the ideas in, and you don’t respond, or worse yet acknowledge them. When you release a product a year later with something similar to that idea (even though the develop team never heard of said idea) you end up in court. Only solution is to tell everyone that dont accept unsolicited ideas. Unfortunately that means 9 year old girls too.

  23. madanthony says:

    I’m a little puzzled about why Paris Hilton made a list of bad business moves at #72 for suing Hallmark for using her image and catchphrase on a card.

    I might not like her, but I’ve got to admire her business savy for copywriting the phrase, and it seems stupid to bash her for protecting her image and phrase.

    If anyone should have made the list, it should have been Hallmark for making the card in the first place.

  24. SVreader says:

    I can understand the Apple one. According to the story, her idea was adding “onscreen lyrics so people can sing along”. Had they sent her something like, “Thanks for the great suggestion!” or not replied at all, her parents could threaten legal action if Apple started adding subtitles. Hopefully, the letter was at least tactful, but I’m not sure there’s a way to say what needs to be said as sweetly and comfortingly as you’d want it to be for a child.

    Some writers are reluctant to accept unsolicited manuscripts/spec scripts/etc for the same reason–someone wants a famous author to comment on his or her boy-meets-girl story, and then threatens legal action when the author publishes a boy-meets-girl story later.

    Any surprise that airlines made the list so often?

  25. Mary says:

    @Dick.Blake: “Are they designing EasyBake Ovens differently now than from 20 years ago? You’d think at some point in the past few decades some kid would have been dumb and/or unsupervised enough to stick their fingers into a plastic device that bakes food… or is it just a sign of the times?”

    I’m confused by this as well. My EasyBake came with a big plastic thing to use to both push the stuff in and get it out the other side. There was never any call to even contemplate putting fingers inside, in fact it seemed especially moronic to do so.

    But I suppose they easily could have been redesigned. Not to mention that kids do stick their fingers where they aren’t supposed to on a regular basis, so having something that they could burn on so easily is probably not a good idea. But still…there’s just something off about it.

  26. spinachdip says:

    @svreader: BTW, doesn’t iPod already have a lyrics function (albeit a very primitive one)? Granted, they don’t have karaoke-ready subtitles, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they had a team working on it.

  27. humphrmi says:


    From everything I read, it appears the price drop was coming regardless of sales.


    From an economics standpoint, that sentence doesn’t make any sense. There is no other economic reason to adjust prices except to change (hopefully increase) sales.

  28. Trai_Dep says:

    In a day and age when innovative companies are sued out of business by competitors because of copyright issues (Vonage, etc.), the worst that someone can say of Apple is that they send out a form letter to a customer that suggests new features to add? On their number-one selling, paradigm-breaking, competition-slaying product line?

    And Boran, if a 9-year-old girl’s suggestion was unwittingly adapted by Apple, and if Apple basically shrugged, would you be taking Apple’s side in the resulting lawsuit?

    I STRONGLY doubt it. Which makes your irrational Apple-hatred even more obvious.

    Me, I’m bummed that they didn’t keep the GHB Love Beads on the market, simply moving them over to the shelves next to the anti-decongestants.

  29. Trai_Dep says:

    @humphrmi: from a short-term economics standpoint, it didn’t make sense. But customer goodwill – even customers buying at the razor-thin, mile-high, early-adopter pinnacle that the iPhone represented at the time – makes it make perfect sense. If you’re a smart, consumer-oriented company. Which, y’know, Apple is.

    How many hundreds of dollars did Microsoft refund Zune v1 owners when v2 came out? Or the ones screwed out of their non-Zune DRM scheme? Many, many hundreds, right?