Buyer Beware Weight Loss Product Claims

Jul 16, 2010

By Tom Ryan

Those quick-weight-loss diet books and 10-minute workouts have
transcended to a whole line of simple weight-loss products.

The latest appears
to be a line of calorie-burning underwear for men developed by Japanese apparel
retailer, Uniqlo. Called the ‘Easy Exe’ series,
the design of plastic dots and lines that traces the gluteus maximus and lower
back is said to encourage better posture, which leads to a more efficient walking,
according to Uniqlo’s Japanese online shop.

The underwear mimics many of
the basic principles of toning shoes, currently a hot trend in footwear.
Led by Skechers’ Shape Ups, Reebok’s EasyTone, and FitFlops, the rocker-soled
shoes cause instability while you’re walking,
challenging certain muscle groups to work harder. Promised benefits include
improved posture, weight loss and firmer leg muscles and buttocks.

“Get in Shape Without Setting Foot in a Gym,” Skechers’ marketing
states and those claims are backed by scientific studies and praise from satisfied

But skeptics have long questioned the ability of toning shoes to
help tone bodies without breaking a sweat. Nike, one of the few footwear makers
not to jump on the craze, has publicly ridiculed the product.

Speaking to Tulsa
, Dr. Brad Beasley, a Tulsa podiatrist and president
of the Oklahoma Podiatric Medical Association, noted that the shoes are risky
for those with bad balance, while likewise doubting their benefit.

“There’s no independent research that clearly shows that it has
that big of an impact on fitness,” said Dr. Beasley. “We all want
that quick convenient fix, but it’s definitely not a substitute for good
eating and exercise.”

While department stores, shoe retailers and sporting
goods chains have jumped on the trend, many running specialty stores aren’t
carrying toning product because of this skepticism.

Wii Fit, a breakout product for the last several Christmas seasons, has also
faced its cynics. A study from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) released
late last year found that the real activity (actual running or boxing) burned
many more calories than the game version. Only 14 of the 46 activities reached
a level of moderate exercise equal to that of walking.

“I guess anything is better than nothing, but we were a little bit underwhelmed
with the exercise intensity of some of the exercises,’ John Porcari, a University
of Wisconsin professor who oversaw the study, stated in the November/December
issue of Fitness Matters, a newsletter published by the American Council
on Exercise. “The Wii Fit is a very, very mild workout.’

A separate study
earlier this year by the U.K.’s watchdog group, Which?, found that household
chores like vacuuming or cleaning the bathroom cut more calories than playing
most games on the Wii Fit.

Discussion Questions: Should retailers have any qualms about selling weight-loss
products if their claims are suspect?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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15 Comments on "Buyer Beware Weight Loss Product Claims"

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David Biernbaum
11 years 10 months ago

There has always been a glut of weight loss products and claims for as long as humans have been exposed to processed foods. Should the retailer be worried about carrying such products even if the claims are ridiculous? In my opinion, retailers are in the business to make profits by selling to the consumer what they need, or want to buy, as long as the products are not illegal or banned. I don’t think it’s either fair, or good business, for the retailer to be the judge and make decisions for the consumer.

David Livingston
11 years 10 months ago

Retailers should not have any qualms at all. There is a sucker born every minute. Let’s admit it, as retailers we sell all kinds of products disguised as something good for us. Even the worst and most unhealthy products will tout they have vitamins and minerals. It’s not our job as retailers to protect consumers from their own stupidity. It’s our job to take as much cash from consumers as legally possible and make it look like it was their idea.

Mel Kleiman
11 years 10 months ago

Retailers and every other segment of business need to live by their values.

If your values say we will do everything we can to make a buck, then hop on the trend.

If your values are one of respect and integrity, then just follow your values or else your actions will speak louder than your words.

Steve Montgomery
11 years 10 months ago

I support David’s opinion. Whether it’s exercise machines that don’t produce the results they claim or weight loss drugs that don’t help you lose weight, the retailer’s responsibility is limited to ensuring that they are not selling illegal or banned products. Should any of the products be found to be harmful, responsible retailers will remove them from sale as they did a few years ago with Ephedra based products.

Ryan Mathews
11 years 10 months ago

Selling is one thing, endorsing is another.

Making products available for sale is free enterprise. Pushing products you know won’t work is poor customer relations.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
11 years 10 months ago

I agree with Ryan. Making the product available for consumers who want to purchase it is one thing and important for consumers who would normally come to your store looking for that product. Endorsing the product and its claims is entirely different. Making endorsement claims would make the retailers a target in any future lawsuits disputing the claims I would think in addition to tarnishing the retailer’s image if the claims are proved false. Endorsing without independent evaluation is always dangerous.

Doug Fleener
11 years 10 months ago

I think Ryan got it right. Offering and promoting are two different things, and a retailer can’t afford to violate the trust a customer puts in them.

Now if only someone could find a weight loss approach than includes responding to RetailWire discussions!

Gary Ostrager
Gary Ostrager
11 years 10 months ago

The brand equity that the retailer has built with its customr base is significantly more valuable than the sales it might generate through these types of products, especially when the customer’s satisfaction comes into question. The retailer must always strive to over satisfy the customer’s expectations. Short of that, the customer is more than likely to shop with the competition.

Gene Detroyer
11 years 10 months ago

OK, Doug, here is a weight loss comment to this discussion…

Retailers sell cigarettes.

Tom Ryan
11 years 10 months ago

I think it depends on the retailer. Since the consumer trusts their stores associates for the expertise/knowledge in offering solutions, that’s why some running specialty stores aren’t carrying toning footwear. That trust is broken if toning shoes under promise. One outdoor shoe vendor also pointed out to me that it’s pretty contradictory that some sports stores with a mission of “getting people active” are carrying toning shoes.

James Tenser
11 years 10 months ago

Certainly retailers have every right to edit their product offerings according to their moral convictions or those of their shoppers. Ukrop’s supermarkets famously did not offer alcoholic beverages in its stores, for example.

It’s also quite acceptable to stay out of certain categories as a matter of market positioning. Not every retailer offers tobacco products or prescription drugs. Fewer offer firearms. Those that do are not required to endorse or guarantee the efficacy of the items they offer for sale. Those claims are the domain of the product manufacturer.

The market has been flooded with fad diet books, crappy exercise devices, “fat-free” and “sugar-free” foods, and self-styled weight loss gurus for at least as long as I’ve been conscious on this earth. Retailers don’t invent this stuff and we can’t blame them for selling it – even when the manufacturers make wild and unsubstantiated claims.

Craig Sundstrom
11 years 10 months ago

It’s always on questions like this that we see a break between the free-for-all marketing types and the more cautious legal and finance types…AHEM. I think the issue is “might a retailer be accused of fraud if they sell a product whose claims are absurd?” If it simply sits on the shelf, probably not (particularly if said retailer posts a “caveat emptor” sign somewhere in the shop, big enough to exist but too small to actually notice.) Once they get into actively promoting it, though, the issue becomes somewhat more problematic; and of course a merchant is held responsible by the customer for the quality of what they sell, even if it’s not responsibility in the legal sense of the word. So ultimately it becomes an issue of marketing and reputation: do you want to offer schlock, or, OTOH, do you want to miss out on the next fad?

I would point out however, I don’t doubt claims for calorie-burning underwear… πŸ™‚

Ed Rosenbaum
11 years 10 months ago

Count me in as skeptical about weight loss products that do not include diet and exercise. The Sketchers shoes bother me because of the potential balance concerns. I do not think there is enough of a cardio workout to gain much of a weight loss or toning value. Retailers should beware of the products they sell; and assure their consumers that there is a true value to them.

Bernice Hurst
11 years 10 months ago

You don’t need to be a “cautious legal or financial type” to think it may perhaps, possibly, maybe not be a good idea to sell products making dubious claims. Nor do you have to be overly-prescriptive, telling customers what they shouldn’t buy. You could simply be trying to offer a potentially-profitable selection of goods that you believe your customers will want, thereby providing (excuse my language here, please), a service to them. By definition, and following many discussions on this site about SKUs, retailers constantly make decisions based on such criteria. They do not sell every single product on the market. I don’t believe that fear of lawsuits for fraud or misrepresentation are a primary guide for what to or not to stock.

Janet Dorenkott
Janet Dorenkott
11 years 10 months ago

I don’t want my retailer assuming something is good or bad for me any more than I want my library telling me what I can read. I would venture to say that there are as many products out there that could be considered “bad” for me as there are products that could be considered “good” for me.

I know cases where just the very act of shopping is bad for people. Maybe retailers should look at your clothing and decide if they think you can afford what you’re buying. I have friends that buy all sorts of healthy products that they can’t afford. I think that’s bad for them (and for the economy). My point is, that’s not the retailers job to decide what is good or bad for me. That’s my job. As long as it’s legal, and there is demand for it, it should be available.


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