Look but don’t touch


While staying at the San Francisco Marriott last week, I saw a new twist on the always-overpriced minibar. Obviously, the hotel can charge whatever they want for the convenience of having these items right in your room, and no one’s forcing you to buy them. But here’s where it gets interesting: if you pick up an item to examine it, and then put it right back, the hotel still charges you for the product.

This is bad on so many levels. In a business climate where smart companies are helping their customers learn about products before purchasing, Marriott doesn’t even let you read the label on the back. Unhappy with your purchase? In Marriott’s world, you can’t even return a brand new, unopened package. As soon as you hold the product in your hands, it’s yours — whether you like it or not.

Frankly, I’m surprised this sales method is even legal. That issue aside, is it ethical? I would say it’s not. And in a particularly ironic twist, the disclaimer that warns you against picking up the products is partially obscured by the items themselves. No matter how you slice it, Marriott has made a decision to increase profits through trickery and questionable business practices. In the long run, treating customers like this can only hurt them.