Cranky consumer lady speaks up


By Janice Lindsay

Cranky Consumer Lady buys two nifty stainless steel water bottles with plastic sports caps from a popular outdoors-oriented catalogue company.

She keeps one bottle by her bed for night-time thirst. Cranky Consumer Lady hates getting out of her bed once she is in it. She takes the other in her car, because people get thirsty during the day, too.

Cranky Consumer Lady also intends to take one of the bottles on vacation, because why buy water in plastic bottles when almost everywhere in North America, the water is safe to drink.

So, she’s happy with her two terrific stainless steel water bottles with sports caps, until she receives an ominous letter from the company that makes the sports caps. The cap is being recalled. If the bottle is dropped, the cap might break or crack, thrusting bits of plastic into the water. This could be hazardous, though no injuries have been reported.

A practical person might suggest, “So don’t drop the bottle.” But Cranky Consumer Lady takes no chances.

She visits the cap company’s website, reports that she needs two new caps, soon receives a postage paid envelope, returns the suspect caps via UPS. Now she has two nifty bottles that are totally useless because they have no caps.

New caps, she has been promised, will arrive seven to 10 days after the company receives the old ones.


Twenty-five days after the company has received the caps (UPS confirms), she visits the website again. Finds no e-mail address for inquiries. Tries the customer service phone. Recorded message: “That mailbox is full. Good-bye.”

On a Wednesday, 40 days after the company has received the caps, Cranky Consumer Lady is desperate. She tries again. This time, she finds an e-mail address for inquiries. She explains, “I’m leaving for vacation on Sunday. One reason I bought the bottles is to take them when I travel. When can I expect replacements?”

As an afterthought, she sends a copy to the catalogue company – not that she expects them to do anything about this. It’s not their fault. She just thinks they should know.

Within 17 minutes – Cranky Consumer Lady is not exaggerating – she receives an e-mail from the catalogue company. It says, “To assure that you will have the new tops for your vacation, I have expedited two new tops to you, so that you can take the bottles with you.” If caps arrive from the cap company, Crank Consumer Lady may keep them, too.

On Friday, caps arrive from the catalogue company.

Cranky Consumer Lady loves that catalogue company.

Happy Cranky takes a bottle on vacation.

While she’s away, she gets an email from the cap company. Cap company is very sorry. They hired a sub-contractor to manage replacements, the message-writer is investigating why it’s taking so long, in the meantime she’ll send two new caps directly from the firm’s own warehouse. If any caps eventually arrive from the sub-contractor, Cranky Consumer Lady may keep them, too.

Cranky Consumer Lady considers whether she should reply, “Forget it.” She has two new caps. But the creaky wheels of bureaucracy have been set in motion. She’ll cause more problems if she tries to stop them. They grind on.

Cranky Consumer Lady returns from vacation.

Two new caps arrive from the cap company.

The next day, two more caps arrive from the sub-contractor.

Once again, Cranky Consumer Lady has proven the value of speaking up.

But now she owns two nifty bottles and six nifty caps. As we have seen, Cranky Consumer Lady seems quite resourceful. But even Cranky Consumer Lady can’t figure out what to do with six bottle caps and only two bottles.