Froma Harrop: The steep downside of e-commerce
I’m shopping for a sweater online, and as so often happens, up pops a “tell us what you think” box. Or I’m on social media, and another social media company hijacks the screen, trying to sell me another product. Then there’s:
“How did you like the app?”
“Tweet about us.”
“Leave a review.”
This does three things: It diverts my attention from the task at hand, it steals my time, and it annoys the hell out of me.
Go away. Stop harassing me. You’re panhandling for information.
I often use the Open Table app to make a restaurant reservation. The morning after, my inbox will inevitably hold a demand/request that I review the restaurant: “How did you like the meal?”
My first childlike response is to wonder why I’m being asked. If I liked the meal, I’ll go back. If I didn’t, I won’t.
Now I understand what is wanted. I’m being asked to enhance the site’s value without being paid for my labor.
This is the business model underlying the Yelp-y world of amateur reviews. And it’s not always a nice business. Very busy people don’t review a restaurant unless they’re very busy owning it or very busy running a competing establishment. (To outsiders giving your honest all: Why do you do it?)
In olden days, a professional restaurant reviewer – and some still exist – had a name and reputation attached to the opinion. I might disagree with a reviewer’s priorities, but I knew where that person was coming from. And I could reasonably assume that he or she had no economic interest in the business being measured.
Moving on, don’t you marvel at being asked why you unsubscribed from an email list? That happened after I unsubscribed from Fandango’s “FanMail.” The reason, which I’ll share only with you, is that Fandango kept sending messages about movies I would not see if lightning destroyed my cable box and Netflix burned down.
In truth, I don’t recall signing up for FanMail, though chances are that I did so in an inattentive moment. Anyhow, after clicking “unsubscribe,” up came, “Help us improve your FanMail.” Yeah, in my next life.
I once used Teleflora to send Mother’s Day flowers and got trapped in some exotically crafted email dungeon. Some sites keep you permanently imprisoned unless you redo your email preferences.
I tried this on Teleflora, but to no avail. Small print on the bottom of the pest message: “This is a one time only email message to thank you for your business, so there’s no unsubscribe option.” Forgive my presumption.
Perhaps after a glass too many, I had asked to receive “special offers.” If so, I accept my punishment. But, your honor, I did not deserve a life sentence.
Teleflora recently sent an email with this subject: “Get 25 percent off when you write a review.” If I do, please lock me up.
Some of you may be thinking: What’s her problem? Doesn’t she know how to filter email messages? To answer, she does know how, but that’s not the point.
The point is that these are vendors I’ve sort-of invited into my life. I’ve created accounts with them. They should respect my time and intelligence and not bombard me with phony-friendly social-media talk about wanting to know what I think about this or that.
Some computer wants to know so that its human master can monetize my free labor and use the proceeds to buy a vineyard in Sonoma. I respect that aspiration. But as they say, time is money, and some of us don’t work for free.
Froma Harrop is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.