They roundly blasted the fee on social media sites. About three dozen people launched petitions on Change.org calling for an end to the charge, with one getting more than 100,000 signatures within a few hours.
“In many ways, corporations are more subject to the influence of consumers than politicians to voters,” said Ben Rattray, founder of Change.org, which helped fuel many of the year’s most influential consumer campaigns. “Politicians are used to a world in which half the country dislikes them. . . . Companies cannot tolerate being a public pariah. You have brand equity that is so fragile.”
The pressure from Verizon’s customers began building as soon as the fee was unveiled. The telecommunications company had planned to charge the fee to those who make one-time payments online or over the phone starting next year. The company listed several ways to avoid the charge, including enrolling in automatic bill pay or mailing a check.
But that was not enough for many customers. Lawmakers have abolished similar fees in other industries, such as the credit card business.
“At Verizon, we take great care to listen to our customers,” Dan Mead, president and chief executive of Verizon Wireless, said in a statement. “Based on their input, we believe the best path forward is to encourage customers to take advantage of the best and most efficient options, eliminating the need to institute the fee at this time.”
Verizon’s concession underscores not only the power of consumer revolt but also the growing influence of a Web site started just last year that now counts 6 million users around the world. Change.org employed 20 people at the start of the year; it now has a staff of about 90 and plans to hit 150 next year.
The site has become an incubator for a host of viral campaigns, with its staff carefully combing the more than 10,000 grass-roots petitions launched each month for causes that are generating buzz. The site’s staff then reaches out to those users to offer help, such as connecting them with decision makers or organizing strategy.
The site says it scores an average of a victory a day on issues ranging from bullying to human trafficking. But consumer advocacy has emerged as one of its top causes, and its wins are growing in size and influence.
Change.org helped spur the backlash against retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day after a Target employee protested the holiday hours on its site. Wyndham Hotels agreed to develop a new code of conduct at its properties after a Change.org petition called attention to child sex trafficking at hotels. The site culled more than 50,000 signatures to persuade 1-800-Flowers to offer fair-trade blooms on Mother’s Day.