Our Picks From 2016: Editors’ Favorite Stories Of The Year

Image courtesy of Brad.K

We write thousands of posts every year at Consumerist, and before we hit “publish,” we tell each of them that they’re our favorite. That’s a lie, though: when we look back, there are always posts that stand out. Whether it’s because of their real-world impact, important insights, important topics, or use of the phrase “Underwear Time,” we each have our favorites out of our work for the year. Each of our writers chose theirs along with some honorable mentions, and explained what made them love that post just a little more than the others.

Mary Beth Quirk

17 Commercial Failures From Brands With Spectacularly Bad Ideas
I’m a sucker for history, both recent and long past, so I enjoyed hunting around for these failed ideas from big brands that are still around today. While there were a few familiar products that have received the lion’s share of ridicule, some lesser known entries surprised the entire staff.

“This Is Underwear Time” — The Most Brilliant Catalog Cover You Will See Today
The title of this catalog alone is enough to make it one of my favorite posts of the year, if not of all time.

From Cash Registers To Escalators To Shopping Carts: 11 Important Firsts In Bricks-And-Mortar Retail History
Again, I love delving into history to find interesting nuggets of the past, including technological innovations that blew everyone’s mind back then and paved the future for today’s breakthroughs.

Why Is An Old Billboard A Treasured Symbol But A New One Is An Eyesore?
Have I mentioned I really like old stuff?

Fairly Used: Why Schools Need To Teach Kids The Whole Truth About Copyright
All sarcasm aside, I believe the children are our future. And because of that, I think they should know what the heck their rights are.

Honorable Mentions:

Yes You Can Milk A Reindeer: 9 Dairy Animals That Don’t Say “Moo”
6 Things We Learned About The Test To Become A Certified Cheese Professional
10 Things You Should Consider Before Paying For Any Retail Membership

Laura Northrup

Image courtesy of Nicholas Eckhart

53-Year Kmart Employee Was There When Store Opened, Will Help Close It Down
Kmart Realizes Maybe It Should Try Communicating With Its Own Employees
Candle Company Creates Hills Snack Bar Scent, Entire Mid-Atlantic Freaks Out

I spent a lot of this year writing about discount stores: nostalgia for disappeared chains, the slow shutdown of Kmart, and what happened when Target sold its pharmacy business to make some money from it.

Yes, There Really Is A Dentist’s Office In A Kmart In Miami
There is a prosperous dentist’s office inside a Kmart. While it might seem impressive that there’s still anything prosperous connected with Kmart, the practice dates back to the building’s previous occupant, a Jefferson Ward discount store. It’s the only Kmart Dental anywhere, and I loved learning more about this unique feature of the store.

Customers: CVS Takeover Erased Everything Good About Target Pharmacies
Where Did The Target Prescription Bottles Everyone Loves So Much Come From, Anyway?
CVS: Nope, We Aren’t Bringing Back The Target Pharmacy Bottles Everyone Loves
There’s probably some bottom-line calculation that we don’t get to see, but Target’s executives clearly don’t understand what made customers use their pharmacies in the first place. I thought that I was fond of the former Target Pharmacy bottles… and then I heard from our readers.

Honorable Mentions:

Remember: Your Eye Doctor Should Give You Your Prescriptions After Your Exam
5 Strange Things We Learned About Sudden Closures Of Old Country And HomeTown Buffets
The Grocery Shrink Ray Hit Seattle Bakeries In 1916
United Passenger Leaves iPad On Plane, Has Joyful Reunion With Airline’s Help (Update)
Did Target Stop Selling Miracle Whip? Depends On Where You Live

Kate Cox

The 3 Big Things We’ve Learned About Your Cable Bill
This story was the culmination of a months-long, truly crowdsourced effort. We asked Consumerist readers to send us their cable bills, and dozens responded. As we read them all, we were able to break them down, separating the simple from the misleading and explaining what’s really going on in that mess of fees.

It also led us to hear from more than 3,300 readers who answered our survey about negotiating with their cable companies. The TL;DR? It’s a lot easier to get free stuff than it is to get a lower rate.

Honorable Mentions:

How Much Control Do You Actually Have Over Your Private Data?
Overall, less than you’d think — but it’s important to know what the real rules are, and what to do if someone’s breaking them.

These Toys Don’t Just Listen to Your Kid; They Send What They Hear to a Defense Contractor
Because it shouldn’t be hard for parents to find out what their kids’ toys are doing… and it shouldn’t be hard for kids to keep some privacy.

When it Comes to Food, “Generally Recognized as Safe” May Not Mean What It Sounds Like
There’s a huge category of stuff in prepared, packaged foods that basically companies can claim is safe without anyone checking up on it. Lots of it probably is, but the fact that nobody really knows is… not good.

It Takes Dozens of Companies to Make your iPhone
Global supply chains are important… and super complicated.

You Can Take Jeremy Bentham’s Mummified Head through Airport Security… But Please Don’t.
The modern world has a layer of absurdity to it that it’s worth pausing to observe, every so often.

Ashlee Kieler

Image courtesy of frankieleon

$164 Per Mile: Surprise Ambulance Bills Are A Growing Problem & Difficult To Avoid
This was the final story in our Surprise Medical Bills series, and it was a doozy. You never really think about how much an ambulance ride to the hospital will cost, because, you know, it’s probably an emergency. But it turns out those short rides can be extremely costly. And while you might be able to find out if your doctor or hospital is in-network and covered by insurance, that’s nearly impossible for ambulances. It’s an issue that many of us will encounter someday, whether we’re prepared or not.

The Instacart Service Charge/Tips Debacle

Instacart Shoppers Say Getting Rid Of Tips Will Ultimately Hurt Customers
Instacart Replaces Tips With “Service Amounts,” But Are Workers Being Stiffed?
While a small change to its tip policy seemed rather innocuous at first, Instacart’s decision to ditch tips for a sharable service charge created quite a splash, both with customers and those who deliver their grocery orders. The way these shoppers banded together to fight for fair wages showed that change can happen when you work toward a common goal.

ITT Tech Closes All 130 Campuses
The for-profit college filled afternoon televisions with their incessant ads, and now they’re no more.

Honorable Mentions:

Why Did American Airlines Make Me Move My Child’s Safety Seat So Someone Could Recline?
Online Payday Lenders Could Be Worse Than Traditional Payday Lenders
Care.com Can’t Explain Why People Keep Texting Me To Babysit Their Kids

Chris Morran

Image courtesy of Great Beyond

Speak Freely America: New Federal Law Outlaws Gag Clauses That Punish You For Negative Reviews
I’ve written too many stories about companies using gag orders — and bogus copyright claims, threats of financial penalties, and frivolous lawsuits — to try to prevent their customers from simply saying things that are true. I’ve also written too often about potentially pro-consumer pieces of legislation that never make it a step beyond the initial press release.

So it was a huge, positive change of pace to see a Congress that couldn’t agree on the time of day be so united behind the Consumer Review Fairness/Freedom Act, which makes it illegal for companies everywhere in the U.S. to include gag clauses in their customer contracts.

Working on this particular story was also rewarding, getting to hear from the advocates, attorneys, and lawmakers who have helped push this issue into the spotlight, and to finally put this commonsense protection in place.

The Felon Dentist Who Tried To Erase His Past

A Georgia dentist who had been convicted on theft charges nearly a decade ago, was attempting to scrub the internet of other allegations made by former patients who claimed the doctor deliberately hit them in the face with a dental tool during procedures.

He tried to sue an anonymous YouTube user for defamation for doing nothing but posting a video of a 2009 local news clip about those allegations. Someone — possibly the doctor — falsely flagged the YouTube video as a scam in an effort to have it removed. They were successful, for about a day.

While all this was going on, we spoke to the YouTuber, who explained the importance of being able to remain anonymous, and in the end the dentist not only failed at unmasking the YouTuber, but also had to pay $12,000 in fees to the unnamed defendant.

Honorable Mentions:

Debt Collector Gets Out Of Lawsuit… By Buying The Lawsuit Out From Under The Plaintiff
Judges In Subway “Foot-Long Fraud” Appeal Ask Why Case Wasn’t Thrown Out Long Ago
Court Says Tattooing Is Protected Speech, Mocks City For Misrepresenting “Margaritaville” Lyrics
Why The Supreme Court Suddenly Cares About Cheerleader Uniforms
Is The Klingon Language Protected By Copyright? Paramount Thinks So

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