Gas prices are holding steady, jobs and mortgage rates are down, the climate is changing, swine flu is spreading. Everyday we hear statistics, forecasts and prognostications about the economy, public health, the weather and just about everything else. The only thing that's not endlessly measured? Consumer sentiment.
While there's the occasional consumer confidence index, there are few regular indices that tell us what specific issues, products and services consumers are concerned about. It being a slow news weekend, we decided to nose around a bit and see what we could learn.
The most obvious place to start is ConsumerAffairs.com. From June 4 through July 4, consumers viewed our 193,283 pages 2,704,735 times, according to Google Analytics. Now, most journalism professors, pundits and reporters will tell you that consumer news is frivolous and petty, just a step above celebrity gossip but a look at the most often-viewed pages indicates otherwise.
Our informal and unscientific survey finds consumers worried about their personal finances, their health, safety and the major appliances that make their homes livable, as this list of the top ten pages shows:
1. Chase Credit Cards Chase has jacked up its monthly minimum payments for tens of thousands of its better customers. Many say they won't be able to make the new, higher payments and will soon fall behind, at which point one might expect Chase to raise their interest rate, making the monthly hit even higher. Number of complaints on this topic during the month: 431.
2. Speed Up Your Metabolism Consumers really want to lose weight. They really do. That burning desire has made this how-to article the all-time favorite of our readers.
3. Kevin Trudeau This impresario of cable and the Internet is now hawking his latest classic -- the "Free Money Book." Readers tell us that for $100 or so, they wind up -- well -- $100 poorer. No such thing as a free lunch -- or free money.
4. Kirby Vacuum Cleaners These things are a lot like colon cleansers. We get lots of complaints about the sales tactics but hear very little about how well they work ... or why anyone would want one. In a nutshell: don't let door-to-door salespeople into your home.
5. Safety Recalls We like to think our library of safety recalls is a lot easier to navigate than the government versions and thousands of consumers seem to agree.
6. Charmglow Grill When spring is near, can grilliing disasters be far behind? From what consumers tell us, the Charmglow is sort of like a Kirby vacuum salesman -- best left outside and far away from your house.
7. Maytag Washers Another perennial scourge. Problems abound and service is expensive and hard to find.
8. Capital One Brian of Red Wing, MN, says it best: "Last month my interest rate was 9.17% but now this month it is 17.90%."
9. US Fidelis Auto warranty services are never popular. US Fidelis is no exception.
10. Select Comfort We're not too clear about why a mattress has an air pump but consumers tell us the pumps don't work well and, worse, the warranty doesn't either.
Politicians like to talk about being in the "real America," which they define as wherever they happen to be at the moment. Well, fine but we'd say this is the real America: a place where, this month anyway, taxpayers are trying to figure out how to make their credit card payments, lose a few pounds and avoid sending any more money to Kevin Trudeau.
Use it for what it's worth.