Me? I’m a Consumer. What does the government do to protect my interests?

After I finished teaching today I had to make a stop at Martin’s Food Store over near Interstate 81 in Hagerstown, MD. This is a brand new facility, which is one of the reasons I’ve started going there. It’s clean, well maintained, has great employees who seem to have been trained very well… and it actually makes grocery shopping fun.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a very BIG store… I get a lot of exercise just wandering the aisles. It has a nice organic food department, its fresh fruits and veggies are top notch and it has a wonderful meat department, too.

Today I tried their “Easy Shop” program – which strongly emphasizes the trust between store and customer. When I check in by running my Martin’s Bonus Card in front of a scanner. Then I am issued a handheld device that I use to read the labels on products as I shop and I take a bunch of bags to put in my cart – I bag things as I buy them. The handheld device keeps track of what I bought, shows me how much I save with my Martin’s Bonus Card and gives me the option to put things back if I find better deals on other items.

When I’m done shopping I hold the device in front of the machine that reads them, and it takes my bank card, rings it up, and gives me a receipt. No waiting in lines, no watching register girls and stockboys fool around with my stuff. In about two minutes I’m done. I saved about 10% over all on prices that were lower than other places. When I go outside I went to the Martin’s gas station, scanned in my card, and since I spent over $200.00 in the last couple of weeks (I bought my diabetes test strips in their pharmacy last week – as well as a week’s worth of groceries and pet supplies), holding my Martin’s Bonus card up to the scanner on their gas pump told me I had a 20¢ a gallon discount on what was already the lowest gas price in the area. I saved another $3.00 there compared to buying my gas at the best priced station in Shepherdstown.

So, the point of all this? I had a pleasant and rewarding consumer experience… the first one I’d had all week. Then it made me think: why can’t all shopping experiences be like this?

The government has agencies to protect banks, to protect gas companies, to protect major manufacturers, to protect organized laborers… but we have no Dept. of Consumer Affairs on a Federal level. Jimmy Carter tried to get one many years ago, and the lobbyists who protect the big boys I mentioned a moment ago got it squashed.

Now we’re here in a major economy disaster and we hear statements from the President and others that we have to get consumers confident in the government and the big suppliers again. Then they’ll buy new cars, and they’ll buy big appliances, and they’ll certainly buy more gas and hotel rooms and plane rides to vacations.

But the trust is NOT there. Why? Because no one is standing up for us at the same level. I don’t trust bankers or investment firms or automotive CEOs any more. I don’t trust what became Bernie Maddow and I don’t trust the GM CEO who had to resign. I don’t trust the Republican Conngressfolk who make believe that their party didn’t cause most of this, and I don’t Trust Democratic Congressfolk who let the Republicans have whatever they wanted over the last decade. I’d like to trust President Obama, but I’m seeing a lot of campaign promises go by the wayside as he is engulfed with all kinds of problems to solve.

But a Secretary of Consumer Affairs? I’d support that in a minute. Hell… I’d volunteer to BE it.

Under The LobsterScope