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Bill nixing “gag clauses” on negative reviews on way to White House

(BUSINESS NEWS) Bad reviews about your business can hurt, but the days of “gag clauses” to punish negative customers is coming to an end.

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ambitious career hacks

Guitars are not violins

I once took my violin for a repair at a music shop, but suspected the repair was botched. My suspicions were confirmed when I took the instrument to a professional luthier the next town over.

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So I decided to write a review of the first shop on Yelp. I wasn’t being vindictive or whiny. I just wanted other violinists to know that the guitar repair guy in town wasn’t really qualified to fix violins. It was nothing personal. I didn’t think it was fair for other musicians to waste their money on a bad repair like I did.

That’s the beauty of reviews, especially for online businesses. There are plenty of companies out there, some you’ve never even heard of. Reviews from real life customers can really help businesses.

Bad reviews can hurt

Of course, bad reviews can be bad for business. Some companies have tried to stop customers from writing negative reviews by sneaking a “non-disparagement” clause into the terms of service you have to agree to before making a purchase, especially a large purchase.

These clauses, more casually known as “gag clauses,” punish customers with exorbitant fees if they write, or even threaten to write a negative review.

A $3,500 penalty for a negative review?

Recent examples include a Utah couple that made a small purchase (less than $20) from an online retailer called Kleargear.

The couple never received their order, so they wrote a bad review of Kleargear. They were slammed with a $3,500 penalty from the company.

Luckily the court ruled in favor of the customers, charging Kleargear over $300,000 for damaging the couple’s credit score.

The laws aren’t universal yet

The court also dismissed a suit in which a Texas pet sitter tried to sue customers $1 million for writing a bad review on Yelp. As the court has shown, these non-disparagement fees are almost impossible to enforce since they violate the consumer’s First Amendment rights.

Congress is working to bring the law into line. They recently passed a bill preventing companies from using gag clauses.

Get to know the Consumer Review Freedom Act

The Consumer Review Freedom Act will give the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general the power to prevent companies from using gag clauses. The Act was passed by the Senate in late 2015, and its companion bill passed in September of this year.

“By ending gag clauses, this legislation supports consumer rights and the integrity of critical feedback about products and services sold online,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senator John Thune.

Now that the election is over and Congress is back in session, the bill will be passed to the White House, where Obama is expected to sign it into law.

#GagClausesGagged

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

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Business News

What small business owners can learn from Starbucks’ new D&I strategy

(BUSINESS) Diversity and inclusion have been at the forefront of Starbucks’ mission, but now they’re shifting strategy. What can we learn from it?

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Hands of all different skin colors on green background representing Starbucks' D&I.

Starbucks was one of many companies that promised to focus on diversity and inclusion efforts after the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020. What sets Starbucks apart from other companies were its specific goals.

How It Started

They began with hiring targets and have now added goals in corporate and manufacturing roles. Starbucks’ plans and goals revolve around transparency for accountability. They released the annual numbers for 2021 as a way to help hold themselves accountable. The data they’ve released so far show that they’ve met nearly a third of their 2025 goals according to Retail Brew. Because of this information, we can see why they are choosing to move in the direction of manufacturing and corporate jobs. In 2021, POC’s fell to 12.5% of director-level employees from 14.3% in 2020 in manufacturing.

How It’s Going

Per Starbucks’ website stories and news, “[I]t will increase its annual spend with diverse suppliers to $1.5 billion by 2030.  As part of this commitment, Starbucks will partner with other organizations to develop and grow supplier diversity excellence globally.” To put that into perspective, they spent nearly $800 million with diverse suppliers in 2021. With these moves, by 2030, it will increase by almost double.

As part of their accountability and progress, they plan to partner up with Arizona State University to give out free toolkits to entrepreneurs on fundamentals for running successful diverse-owned businesses. Another goal they’ve listed is to boost paid media representation by allocating 15 percent of the advertising budget to minority-owned and targeted media companies to reach diverse audiences.

At the heart of all this information on their goals and future plans, data transparency and accountability are what’s forcing them to look at the numbers to make specific goals. They are doing more than just throwing money at the problem, they are analyzing how they can do better and where the money will make a difference. Something that, as entrepreneurs, we should all do.

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Peloton is back-pedaling: Reports of price increases, layoffs, and cost cuts

(BUSINESS) After a recording of layoffs leaks, ‘supply chain’ issues cause shipping increases, and they consult for cost-cutting, Peloton is doomed.

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Man riding Peloton bike with instructor pointing encouragingly during workout.

Is Peloton in Trouble?

According to many reports, Peloton had success early in the pandemic when gyms shut down. Offering consumers a way to connect with a community for fitness along with varying financing options allowed the company to see growth when many other industries were being shuttered.

After two years, CNBC reports that the company is “being impacted by …supply chain challenges” and rising inflation costs. According to the report, customers will be paying an additional $250 for its bike and $350 for its tread for delivery and setup.

As demand has decreased, Peloton is also considering layoffs in their sales and marketing departments, overheard in a leaked audio call. The recording details executives discussing “Project Fuel” where they plan to cut 41% of the sales and marketing teams, as well as letting go of eCommerce employees and frontline workers at 15 retail stores.

Nasdaq reported that the stock fell 75% last year, after a year where it soared over 400%.

Peloton reviewing its overall structure

According to another report from CNBC, Peloton is working with McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, to lower costs as revenue has dropped and the growth of new subscriptions has slowed since the pandemic. Last November, according to NPR, Peloton had “its worst day as a publicly-traded company.” It also anticipates greater losses in 2022 than originally predicted. It makes sense that the company would reexamine their strategy as the economy changes. They aren’t the only one that is raising prices amid supply chain issues.

It will be interesting to watch how Peloton fares

Peloton has a large community that pays a monthly fee for connected fitness. While growth has slowed, the company still has a strong share of consumers. Although it is facing more competition in the home fitness market and more gyms are reopening, as Peloton adjusts to the new normal, it should remain a viable company.

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Business News

CEO is offering folks thousands to *quit* their jobs, with one catch

(BUSINESS) A CEO out of Arizona is challenging employment norms by offering a sort of “sign-off” bonus upfront, but this method has one fatal flaw.

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Man counting cash in his hand representing the CEO offering money to employees who quit.

Chris Ronzio, the CEO of Trainual, a software company in Arizona that aims to systemize and scale your small business, is offering cold hard cash to quit your job in an unconventional ploy to bypass the effects of the Great Resignation.

Before you rush to turn in your notice and make some extra cash, you should know that this offer is dependent on being selected as a hirable candidate and making it through the hiring process for Trainual. This option is also offered to new hires after 2 weeks of employment.

This model of employment gives the employee the ability to fire the company and walk away with a little sum of money. The thought process of the CEO was outlined in an article by the Insider, saying it is a strategic move to retain top talent and maintain a strong company culture. While this is a unique approach…it has a glaring flaw. The offer is only good for the initial two-week period. However, it can take some time to recognize the shortcomings of any company when you begin employment. We can all recognize the long-term financial potential of reoccurring income and while $5,000 is not anything to shake your finger at, it will eventually be gone. I think we can all agree that constructive criticism can be difficult to swallow at times, however, if Trainual was truly invested in this model they would extend the offer at other key times during employment. What if this offer was again available at the 1-year mark? If the offer reappeared at a one-year review, the turnover may increase.

Per the Insider article, Ronzio was quoted as saying, “With today’s market, hiring teams have to move quickly to assess candidates and get them through the process to a competitive offer, so it’s impossible to be right 100% of the time,” Ronzio said. The CEO added, “The offer to quit allows the dust to settle from a speedy process and let the new team member throw a red flag if they’re feeling anything but excited.”

These statements detail another dimension to consider which is the employment hiring process and timeline. If top candidates are in such high demand that the process has to be sped up to secure a workforce, this monetary compensation can help to ensure the hiring decision. Although, when the offer was implemented in May of 2020, the offer was $2500, half of what it is now. Ronzio reasoned that they could stay while they looked for another job so they increased the amount to compensate for those with a higher salary range.

Let me preface this by saying that yes, accountability should exist, but I would be interested to know the turnover rate for the hiring team. The cost to the company from this unique approach adds extra weight for those making the decisions on who to hire. The stress the hiring team faces has to be factored into the candidate decisions. How many times can the hiring team get it wrong before they’re let go? While the pressure to hire the right candidate should always factor in, one has to wonder about the effects of this model.

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