Before I start, I’d like to mention that I’m not one of those people who feels the need to report on the evils of the world every time I see one, I rarely feel it’s my duty to comment or get in someone’s face except perhaps through this blog or my Facebook profile. But a few days ago, I did the unthinkable: I wrote to a store’s customer service department to complain. And the answer pleases me to no end.
First of all, you should know that I value skeptical inquiry and rarely accept information unless I am presented valid arguments for it and it’s consistent by itself and as part of the world we live me. Tell me an implausible “fact” or explain something away using pseudoscientific terms and I will inquire until I either believe you or call bullshit on your story. Therefore, it will be no surprise to you that I absolutely detest Power Balance and their products. Power Balance is a company that sells silicone wristbands which it has claimed, sometimes indirectly in order to comply with laws, to improve strength, performance, balance and flexibility. The mechanism of action is “a frequency embeded [in the device] which reacts with the electrical field of your body”. “Ooooooooooh!”, right?
If you answered “right!”, you should stop reading as you may get upset to find out that these devices, sold under a bunch of different brand names, are straight-out bullshit. They don’t do anything except trick the sucker wearing them into thinking that anything “extraordinary” they do is the result of the device. There is no link between the product and the effect perceived.
I won’t give you a detailed breakdown of the company, their product or history because Wikipedia would do a much better job than me so I’ll point you there first. Then I’ll invite you to watch this video:
Ok, so at this point you should understand that little silicone bracelets don’t do anything except relieve you of your hard-earned cash. But that’s just it, they sell these things at much higher prices than can be justified considering the materials used and yet people buy them! Instead of people refusing to pay that much for a little gimmick, they believe that for it to sell at that price, it must work. There’s nothing new in the idea that people will believe they’re getting something “better” if it costs more than the competition and/or what a “cheap” product that’s “not as good” would cost. I browsed the websites of two of the biggest sporting good stores I know and found Power Balance wristbands for 40$ each at both! I just bought “The Hangover” part 1 AND 2 on Blu-Ray for 35$, five bucks less! I don’t know about you, but I prefer the high-def comedies and leftover five bucks to a cheap wristband that doesn’t do anything.
Anyway, back to my story. Recently, I received a flyer in the mail from Sports Expert, a large sporting goods store franchise that operates sixty-two stores in Québec, they are part of the Forzani Group, Sportchek being a similar store in Ontario and other provinces from the same company. I usually throw flyers out as I walk back to my house from the mailbox but that day, for some reason, I felt the need to check on the great deals being offered. And I was not disappointed. Inside the holiday gift guide from Sports Experts, I found an item that surprised and shocked me, here translated from French:
“Power Balance: Silicone bracelet, technology that improves balance and flexibility”
WOW! I could not believe a store which made its name selling quality sporting goods would dip this low, going as far as adding this bullshit description to this overpriced piece of junk. So I wrote them a nice letter to let them know how I feel, copied below exactly as I wrote it (mistakes and all):
Hello, I just received a Sports Experts flyer for the month of December and while casually looking through it, I noticed that you sell “Power Balance” products. Not being one to accuse one of deceptive business practices without hearing their opinion, I ask you: Do you believe, in good faith, that this product has any actual repercussion on the balance or flexibility of the person using it beyond the placebo effect?
If so, would you agree to stop selling this item (and other such items) if, say, the company itself was found guilty of making false claims and forced to reimburse customers? Because that’s exactly the situation Power Balance is faced with in Australia after making unfounded claims regarding the efficacy of their product. Furthermore, this product is so utterly ridiculous in its claims and the expectations people have of it that I find it deeply insulting to anyone with half a brain.
Having been a loyal Sport Experts customer in the past, I am deeply troubled to see this sold by a company which I thought promoted health and physical fitness. Furthermore, the price asked for this product (39.99$ in this case) is ridiculous considering items just like these are mass-produced in China for cents each. In fact, a rival company of yours sells “Placebo bands” for a tenth of the price of yours and I suspect those may be manufactured at the same place “Power Balance” makes theirs.
I would be happy to receive an answer as to why these are sold at your stores and what plans are in place, if any, to discontinue their sale. Until this matter is resolved, I will stop frequenting this establishment and will publicize what I perceive to be a deceptive commercial practice via my website and groups with which I am in touch such as the Center for Inquiry.
These products are useless and are commercialized using deceptive terms I consider misleading to the layperson such as describing the band as being “technology which ameliorates balance and flexibility” when no such proof exists.
Worst of all, this type of product encourages people believe in magical cures instead of giving them sound advice on appropriate steps to take in order to better themselves health and fitness-wise. I urge you to do what’s right and distance yourself from this product and company. Profits aren’t everything, sometimes you just have to make a stand and do what’s right.
Thank you for your attention,
[my awesome name in original text]
I sent this out and waited. Six days later, today, I had almost forgotten all about it when I got a reply! The reply stated that they sold the bracelets as fashions items (as opposed to performance-enhancing devices) and that they do not make any claims as to the benefits of wearing them as there hasn’t been sufficient testing to support the ones made in the market. They told me that there had been “no findings in Canada regarding any deceptive marketing by Power Balance” or retailers. They agree that any references they made to the attributes of the product were “completely in error and contrary to [their] internal requirements regarding the sale of the bracelets”. Their website is now free of any references as to the beneficial powers of the bracelets and they have issued correction notices to be posted in each of their stores.
Am I crazy to feel that perhaps I made a valuable contribution to the skeptical world in my own, small way? If you think I didn’t change anything, please keep in mind what the original flyer said and compare that to what the online version of the same exact flyer (except in English) now says:
Hint: Check out page 19, item seven of the holiday gift guide
Update: The link no longer brings you to the gift guide but when it did, instead of listing all the potential benefits of the bracelet, all it said was “Silicone wristband”.
Yup, “Silicone wristband” 40$. Who the hell would pay forty dollars for such a thing with no perceivable benefits when you can get a wicked “Weighted hula” for 30$?! I know my friend Megan would go for the hula in a heartbeat and I must admit I would do the same because, honestly, without the bullshit description which some people are naive enough to believe, nobody without prior knowledge of the item and its claims would pay that much for what I consider to be a very unattractive bracelet.
I’ve replied to the email to ask if my actions were directly responsible for this correction or if it had already been noticed before but I haven’t received an answer yet. Still, I’m pleased to think that maybe, just maybe, I spoke up and someone listened.
By the way, I couldn’t find Power Balance products at all on the Sports Experts website today aside from the holiday gift guide. I can’t say for sure but I’m pretty certain it was listed in there at the time I wrote the original message just as it is on the Sportchek site (which has no description for the item at all, perhaps but not necessarily as a result of my message to their common boss, the Forzani Group).
As much as I hate that they still sell the damn things, I’m grateful they took action and corrected this unacceptable situation. For this, I thank them and hope they someday see the light and decide to stop selling bunk “fitness” devices.