Friday, August 8, 2014

Still Learning: Phone App Makes Shoppers More Savvy

We've all heard about goods--such as clothing and beauty products--that are produced under unethical conditions. Some companies, for example, use manufacturing methods that are harmful to workers or to animals or the environment. In addition, some companies use their economic power to influence social change. These companies may be for or against equal pay for women, a woman's right to choose, and gay rights--to name just a few causes.

At times, I’ve been moved to stop buying a product when the media draw attention to what I consider harmful activities conducted by the product's company. The trouble is, the media often focus on a parent company and I will unwittingly continue to buy goods sold by businesses owned by the parent company. Recently, I learned that a free app called Buycott can help raise my awareness about business activities that go against my principles as well as quickly alert me to all the companies controlled by an offending parent company. Since Flattering50 is a style and shopping site, I'm sharing what I've learned about being a more savvy shopper with Buycott.

Buycott, which was launched a year ago, allows shoppers to use their phones to scan barcodes. Within seconds, the shopper can trace the product’s company back to the parent company. Did you know, for instance, that NestlĂ© has a stack in Jenny Craig, L’Oreal, Garnier, Kiehl’s, Maybelline, Poland Springs and hundreds of other companies?

Shoppers can also join user-created campaigns on Buycott to boycott negative business practices as well as support positive activities. Each campaign describes the ethical or non-ethical activity and lists companies known to engaged in the activity. The campaign also provides resources, that is, links to media coverage of the companies and their activities. It's up to the consumer to weigh the evidence before committing to a campaign. After joining a campaign, the barcode scan lets the shopper know whether or not a product is one she should be "avoiding" (see Poland Spring above) or one that poses "no conflicts" (see L'Occitane below). 

The campaigns on Buycott run the gamut. Currently, there are campaigns supporting Israel as well as those supporting Palestine. There are campaigns that “support reasonable gun control” as well as ones that “support gun rights and the second amendment.”In other words, there is something for everyone to support or boycott.

To see how it works, I joined 10 campaigns that either violate my principles (ie, child slavery on chocolate plantations and sweatshop labor) or supported what I consider worthy causes (like protecting bees, fair trade practices, and USA-made products). Instantly, I was given a list of companies that either support or violate my principles or do both. Yes, both. Some companies support activities I’m for and against. Ugh! Once again, I’m reminded that few things in the world are ever black and white.

The Buycott app is designed to give consumers instant information as she shops. Since I like to spend as little time as possible in the grocery store, I tested Buycott at  home with food and beauty products in my cupboards. My thinking: I would start by scanning the products I regularly buy and learn which ones I should or shouldn't avoid in the future. It was quite an eye-opener.

Yesterday, while shopping at a department store, I scanned several clothing labels. Unfortunately, the companies--DKNY, Ralph Lauren and Jones New York--weren't recognized by the Buycott system. I learned later that the shopper can find some information by typing in the name of a company that doesn't automatically pop up during the barcode scanning. I'll try that next time I'm clothes shopping.

I think Buycott is a fabulous idea and I hope it grows even bigger, representing more campaigns and more companies. If you’d like to learn more about Buycott, there’s an article at Forbes. If you'd like to try it out, just type in the "buycott" at the app store on your phone. Remember: It's free.

And...if you try Buycott, please leave a comment. I'd love to know what you think of the app. Thanks!