The Nerdy Shopper: Unlock your Spidey Senses

melanie conklinToday, we have a lovely guest blogger, Melanie Conklin. Melanie is a product developer turned middle-grade author, now represented by Peter Knapp of Park Literary Group. In between books, she spends her time doodling and chasing after two small maniacs. She is also a founding member of, and writes a consumer blog called Consumerisms.

Welcome, Melanie — thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

Nearly every day, there’s a new consumer safety scare making headlines: tainted spinach, recalled beef, unsafe strollers and car seats. It’s pretty scary to see a headline and think, Oh no! Is that the one I bought?

It’s even scarier to stand in front of a shelf at the store and ask: Is this product safe for my family?

The good news is, most food products are monitored for safety, and a great number of watchdog organizations are eager to spread information to consumers. But when it comes to non-food products, there is much less regulation than you might expect of the products sitting on the shelf.

Medela_pumpAs a product developer, I’ve seen what happens behind the curtain at the companies producing your consumer goods. Most companies set out to create products with the consumer in mind. Some of those companies lead the way with innovative, thoughtful designs, such as Medela (a leading maker of breast pumps with whom I’ve worked). But other companies are keeping a closer eye on their bottom lines than your family’s needs.

How can you shop better (and safer)? By unlocking your Spidey Senses!

Yes, I know, shooting gooey webs from your wrists doesn’t sound all that awesome, but let’s focus on Spiderman’s other amazing ability: observation. His senses are heightened, which allows him to pay close attention to his environment. In combination with strong intuition, this Spidey Sense allows our superhero to conquer all.

How do you apply this to shopping? By taking the exact same steps: don’t read what an advertisement or label promises. Instead, trust your senses.

  • Examine products closely. Look for defects in the material and construction, like white creases in colored plastic, which indicate a high likelihood of breakage. Do not assume that because it’s on the shelf, you must disregard your own observations. Many products are produced with expectations of a high recall rate.
  • Use your sense of smell. I’m always amazed by the average consumer’s ability to disregard what their nose is telling them about a product. The next time you consider purchasing an item that may need to “air out,” think about what you’re inhaling. There are usually other options: metal, glass, and wood materials pass the sniff-test with flying colors. Your nose will point you in the right direction.
  • Trust your intuition. I’ve heard many consumers disregard what their gut is telling them about a product. It’s easy to say, what do I know? But the truth is, you know when a product fails: certain shoelaces drive you batty, or your tongs don’t work unless you squeeze them the right way. You are not imagining these failures. On the contrary, companies are often AWARE of their shortcomings and counting on you to overlook them. Take a moment to call a consumer feedback line, or drop an email. You’d be amazed at how many products are altered because of consumer feedback, and how few people report or return faulty items. You’re also quite likely to get a refund or replacement product for free!

The next time you go shopping, remember that you are in control of what’s on your shelf. Trust your Spidey Senses to guide you to the right purchases—and if those purchases don’t exist, remember, it’s not you. It’s them. Give companies your feedback and demand better products. You deserve them.