How and why we shop has changed a lot over the last decade. The rise of the Internet, and eventually smartphone apps, forever changed the way companies interact with customers. Some stores – Blockbuster, Borders – haven’t managed to survive the digital revolution. Others – Amazon, Domino’s – have embraced technology and reaped the rewards. Among all this, class action lawsuits have played a vital role laying out how companies operate, and what customers can expect when they buy something. We’ve looked at the ways class action lawsuits have changed the way we drink and eat, how we travel, and even how the Internet works – but how have they changed the way we shop?
Lawsuits Accuse Stores of Targeting Customers for “Shopping While Black”
Shops can’t discriminate against customers because of their race – which is why a national class action lawsuit was filed against Macy’s after several customers accused store security of targeting African-American shoppers. As we reported back in November 2013, the allegations led New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to write to the CEOs of both Macy’s and Barneys, demanding a review of their policies. A complaint was also filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. In April 2014, Macy’s agreed to pay $650,000 to settle the cases against it, which by now included allegations from African-American, Latino, and other minority communities. Speaking about the settlement, Schneiderman vowed to ensure the lesson had been learned, reiterating that "It is absolutely unacceptable — and it's illegal — for anyone in New York to be treated like a criminal simply because of the color of their skin.”
Blind Customers Take Action Against Inaccessible Point of Sale Machines
Technology is wonderful – but sometimes, in the rush to embrace the new, companies forget about what’s really important: their customers. So it is with point of sale (POS) debit card readers which, in many shops and businesses, have switched over from using physical keys to offering only touch screen options. Touch screens may seem easier and faster, but the National Federation of the Blind has filed lawsuits against several retailers for failing to offer a POS device accessible to blind customers. Companies are varied as PetSmart, Apple, and Uber have faced accusations of discrimination, and as the NFB states:
“Blind people are just as concerned about the security of our financial accounts and information as our sighted peers, so having to verbally provide our debit card PIN to PetSmart’s sales personnel is not acceptable. Nor is it an answer to say that we can pay with cash or a credit card instead; blind people must have all of the same options for payment as the sighted as a matter of equal treatment, and the benefits of using debit cards, such as the ability to receive cash back, apply equally to the blind.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act must be upheld, and if lawsuits are the only way to ensure this happens, then you can expect more to follow.
Following Data Breaches, Lawsuits Hold Companies Accountable
2014 was the year of the data breach. Target, Neiman Marcus, Michaels, AmMed, White Lodging … the list goes on, prompting Forbes to publish the bluntly titled Big Data Breaches of 2014 list. Like never before, U.S. shoppers were shown how easily their information could be stolen, and the scale on which it could be done. As more and more people use debit and credit cards for their everyday purchases, retailers are being entrusted with more and more sensitive data, and are becoming more of a target for criminals who want that data. So, how have lawsuits helped in the months since the breaches came to light? For one, companies that lost customers’ data have been hit, sometimes heavily, where it hurts: their wallets. In March, a preliminary $10 million settlement was approved in a Target data breach suit, while the company agreed a $20 million settlement with MasterCard to reimburse financial institutions that suffered as a result of the 2013 Thanksgiving breach. The FCC is also levying massive fines in the wake of data breaches, exercising “full authority against companies that fail to safeguard the personal information of their customers,” to quote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Know What You’re Buying? Labels Always Matter
Shopping isn’t supposed to be a gamble; you need to know what you’re buying. Labels – on food, on clothes, on everything from diapers to the latest iPhone – need to be accurate and obvious. When they’re not, shoppers end up being deceived, and when this happens, class action lawsuits held hold companies to account. This is particularly true when it comes to food, as our Guide to Natural Food Lawsuits will show you, but there are plenty of other examples: protein powders and muscle boosters, fridges, freezers, cars, computers, makeup and, of course, medications and medical equipment have all faced lawsuits – and often lost them – because customers were misled by inaccurate marketing or labeling. The quality and labeling of the products we buy has directly affected by previous class action lawsuits.