Pro-market advocates often talk about how markets are self-correcting. But why do businesses in free markets fix their own mistakes? Because if they don’t, customers and other stakeholders will punish them:
Lululemon, which produces yoga and other athletic apparel, provoked outrage from its devoted customer base when it released a flawed product earlier this year: see-through yoga pants. Founded in 1998, the company had built trust and loyalty among its yoga-loving clientele for delivering quality products: In just 15 years, Lululemon had grown to over $1.3 billion in annual revenue. So, it’s no surprise that Lululemon’s fans were upset and disappointed at the failure.
But Lululemon’s response to its mistake demonstrates why government intervention in the marketplace is unnecessary and, often, inferior to that of the free market. To address all the complaints the company received from consumers and stores, Lululemon recalled the pants on March 18, offered refunds, and apologized.
Despite the gesture, the market punished Lululemon for its error: Its stock price plummeted the next day, decreasing the company’s value by $250 million. Several weeks later, the chief product officer resigned. The repercussions for Lululemon’s mistake affect the short term as well as the long term: The damage to consumer confidence will take time to rebuild and revenues will reflect the damage.
The incentives for the company to address this mistake couldn’t be any higher. They will be far more powerful in encouraging better customer service than having the government inspect all clothes manufactured.