We are living in a very complex era, one where the consumer is simultaneously being punished by consolidation and unaccountable large conglomerates and empowered by social media and new companies that give them tools and a voice in voicing their displeasure with brands and protecting their own safety.
The growing power of large corporations, and the weakness of our anti-trust laws, has been well-chronicled. We designed our trust and consumer protection laws mostly a half century ago, and they are woefully incapable of either protecting us or even understanding the scope of the threat. What does it matter, for example, that Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods represents only 5% of the grocery market, which is how the company is justifying the buy up for anti-trust regulators - what it does is give Amazon a high-end, existing retail outlet to complement its complete online dominance and begin to replicate that on the ground.
But consumers have also become far more empowered to act both collectively and individually. The #GrabYourWallet campaign, targeting Fox News and other brands that violated consumer trust, has grown to millions of users and played the dominant role in ousting Bill O'Reilly from the network. Twitter, which is the social media channel most utilized to channel consumer rage, can make or break company brands, as United learned to its detriment.
Consumers have also become empowered at the individual level to protect themselves from bad products, and what is interesting is that this type of protection need not always be adversarial. One example is my friend Chris LoPresti's company, Bonnie.ai, which is a recall monitoring app where the founders are partnering directly with companies who want to be proactive in removing bad products from consumer homes before problems metastasize, which allows them to make the app free for the consumer.
"The very first recalled item Bonnie identified in testing was a fire extinguisher I purchased two years ago. I had no idea it had been recalled, and it turned out I purchased it almost four months after the recall had been announced - which means the manufacturer never bothered to tell the retailer they were actively selling recalled products. It was a real eye-opener for me to realize I can't assume even global retailers with hundreds of thousands of employees are staying on top of this stuff," said co-founder Matt LoPresti.
As we navigate a brave new world of massive conglomerates and digital scorched earth fires, perhaps more companies will use these tools to empower themselves by empowering their consumers.