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December 15, 2014

Click vs. Brick Follow-up

Filed under: Computers,Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:14 am

 Last week, Consumer World presented the results of its survey of prices on a retailer’s website compared to the prices charged for the same item at its brick-and-mortar store locations. The prices were not always the same, and web prices were not always lower.

To emphasize the point that you always have to check prices in both places, online and in-store, here is an example of the inconsistency week to week of pricing between the two.

In the original story, we showed a huge price difference on a Dell computer at Staples.com versus at Staples stores:

Staples week one prices

Just before Black Friday, the price online was $429.99, but in-store it was $180 higher — $609.99!

Fast forward to last week, December 7. The price differences reversed.

*MOUSE PRINT:

in-store week 2

—–Versus—–

week 2 online

This time, the in-store price was $130 lower than the online price. Go figure.

As we said, there is no rhyme or reason to the price variations. You can’t predict whether the online price will be cheaper or more expensive than the in-store price, so you have to check both each time.

• • •

November 17, 2014

Holy Ship, Toys-R-Us Changed the Delivery Address of my Order

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:11 am

  As we all begin our holiday shopping online, this word of caution: scrutinize everything on the screen, fine print or not, before finalizing your order. If not, you may be in store for an unexpected surprise.

Last week, MrConsumer decided to send a toy to a friend, Jami, in Colorado for her kids. Toys-R-Us had a crazy low price for an electronic version of Scrabble, so he proceeded to order it at their website. Here’s the shopping cart showing the item:

Cart

Since this order qualified for free two-day shipping through Shoprunner (hint: AMEX cardholders should sign up for a free account good at many retailers), MrConsumer clicked the Shoprunner button and entered the Colorado address that the toy should be shipped to.

shoprunner screen

Not wanting this purchase to go on his American Express card, MrConsumer dismissed that screen and clicked the regular checkout button knowing that free shipping would still apply even entering a different credit card number.

The final checkout screen all seemed to be in order with the gift going to Jami, so he clicked the submit order button.

A few days later, FEDEX sent a notification that the gift had been delivered. Checking with Jami, she said she never received it. Did someone steal it from her doorstep?

Checking back at the FEDEX site, there was a notation that the package was left on a porch in LINCOLN, NEBRASKA! What??? Lincoln is where Jami used to live. Could MrConsumer have been so absent-minded as to erroneously list her old address on the ToysRUs.com order?

Going back to retrace his steps on the Toys-R-Us website, MrConsumer created a test order for the same toy. And just as depicted above, when clicking the Shoprunner button, the Colorado address automatically appeared. However, when clicking the regular checkout button, it appears that Toys-R-Us changed the address to Lincoln, Nebraska because that is the address it had stored from previous orders.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Toys R Us

MrConsumer called Toys-R-Us and walked the agent through all the steps above so she could see the glitch in the system. They generously provided a merchandise credit, and said they would forward this issue to their tech people.

The lesson here is that you have to scrutinize every Internet order, big print and small print alike, before hitting the submit button. Is it the right item? Is the order for only one item and not two by mistake? Did all coupon codes get accepted and deducted? And surprisingly, is it going to the right place?

• • •

September 15, 2014

Oh, Did We Forget to Say You Need a $50 Minimum Purchase?

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:28 am

  In the last few weeks, Staples.com appears to have begun misleading customers about the price of some of its back to school sale items. Here is one of their recent advertisements:

Staples ad

When one clicks on that thumbdrive, for example, it takes you to a page like this:

lexar thumbdrive

Wow, you think it must be your lucky day, it is actually only $7 instead of $8. You are promised “instant savings” of $12.99, so you add it to your cart.

Upon going to your cart to check out, you get a nasty surprise.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Staples cart

The price is almost three times what you expected. Why? It says you didn’t make the required $50 purchase. What $50 purchase? If you look carefully at the middle graphic above, you will see a box that states that the thumbdrive “special buy” only applies with a minimum $50 purchase. Where did that come from? It wasn’t in the original ad!

Similarly, the other paper items in the ad above are more expensive without the $50 purchase, as are a few others on its website.

That’s not all. Let’s say you had not seen the ad, but had just gone to Staples.com looking for a 16-gig Lexar thumbdrive. You search for it and find this product listing in the search results.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Lexar 3

You were even smart enough to click the “see details” link, and you’re told the item is $7 and there is no mention of any required $50 minimum purchase. So, you add it to your cart. And just as above, when you go to checkout, you will see that you are being charged $19.99, the full regular price, because you did not make a $50 minimum purchase that you were never told was required.

In our view, this practice is reprehensible, if done deliberately. We can only hope it was a careless oversight on Staples’ part.

Under Massachusetts law, sellers are responsible for clearly and conspicuously disclosing all material facts in their advertising the omission of which might mislead a consumer. “A disclosure is not clear and conspicuous if any material terms of the offer that affect the price of an item, impose conditions on acceptance of the offer, … are not disclosed in the advertisement itself, but require reference to an outside source..”.

It is certainly misleading in our view to fail to disclose upfront that a particular sale price only applies when a $50 minimum purchase of other goods is required.

We asked the company to explain why they created these misleading price representations and whether they would automatically refund money to customers who bought these items and unknowingly paid full price during the sale period.

Staples’ senior PR manager responded late yesterday:

“Staples works hard to ensure our customers have the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions. In the examples provided, the terms and conditions of our Less List offers were clearly displayed prior to the customer checking out.”

Staples indicated that it might update its comment today, so please check back here later today.

• • •

August 11, 2014

What Major Appliance Manufacturers Don’t Want You to Know

Filed under: Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:12 am

 When you read a manufacturer’s description of a major appliance’s features, everything sounds rosy. But when you read reviews of that very same appliance by consumers who have owned it for a while, used it, and learned its quirks, you sometimes get a totally different picture. Sometimes, they are horrifying, and they make you question the quality of major appliances today.

In 2012, we presented some excerpts of customer reviews of two expensive refrigerators, and the tales of woe and terrible problems described would make anyone afraid to buy any new frigerator. So, in advance of Halloween, we’d like to scare you again, this time by looking at some washing machine horror stories.

Here are edited excerpts of reviews written by (un)happy customers about a few front loading washers and one laundry center. (Obviously, we have taken note of the worst reviews. Often, some consumers will give the very same model five stars, which just adds to the confusion.)

*MOUSE PRINT:

washer “I could wash my clothes in a river and they would come out cleaner than when I wash them using the supposed sanitary cycle. Nothing ever rinses out of the clothes first wash, nothing ever washes off the clothing material, and it takes 4 or 5 washes for the items to be reasonably clean.”

Samsung Model #WF45H6300AW, $949, reviewed at HomeDepot.com. NOTE: At BestBuy.com this model has an average rating of 4.5 stars and is generally well-regarded. Sometimes a lemon gets by factory inspectors.

Frigidaire“I have the washer and dryer that are under a year old. The washer pauses its self around 5 times per cycle, it takes 12 hours to do a load of laundry and it comes out soaking wet. Problem started 6 months in.”

“This model is plagued by electronics issues. The first one we bought had a defective motherboard. It died right after the 1 year warranty ended. Since it cost almost as much to repair as to buy a new one, we bought a second of the same model. It just broke as well, this time the door switch burnt out.”

“We just got it delivered and installed and it won’t work. We put the first load of laundry in and pressed start. The lights flashed briefly, and then it turned off. It does this every time. Really disappointing.”

“Apparently, the washer eats socks which then fouls up the mechanics of the machine resulting in an expensive repair. This morning, for no reason at all the machine just began turning on.”

Frigidaire Model # FAFW3801LW, $699, reviewed at HomeDepot.com, BestBuy.com, Lowes (46 one-star reviews).

Kenmore“I am currently on my 2nd laundry center since Dec 2012. First one broke in under 90 days. This second one is now being repaired for the 3rd time since March of 2013. The cost of parts alone is almost the cost of the machine. Do not even consider this machine.”

“Stay away from this center! We had the unit replaced after the first was a lemon within 6mos of purchasing. The second is also a dud. … The washer, where to start… the technician is now on my Christmas list. This washer has been rebuilt 5 times. The seal at the base of the tub constantly detached and spilled gallons of water onto my wooden floors and into our subflooring. I now have not have a working unit since [two months ago].”

“I give it one star because I don’t believe the system will allow me to give it zero. Not only does the dryer rip buttons off my dress shirts with regularity (even on delicate setting), I’ve already had to put in two trouble calls for it. The second repair call came after the main, internal drain hose for the washer disconnected (apparently due to an inherent design flaw), spilling multiple gallons of water on our floor. The resulting flood ruined the carpet in two rooms, and forced us to have a number of oriental rugs professionally cleaned. Worse yet, both times we put in repair calls under our warranty service, it took almost two weeks for a technician to arrive.”

Sears Kenmore Laundry Center (made by GE), Model # 61532, $1052.

The lesson in all this is that the manufacturer is not going to tell you about all the problems that people report to them — the undisclosed mouse print, if you will. Why haven’t major appliance makers improved their products year after year much like the car industry? Instead, they seem to be producing more lemons than Sunkist, and some of the problems seem to be engineering and design flaws.

To protect yourself, you are going to have to search out reviews from real owners of these major appliances. Weigh the bad reviews against the good reviews and keep your fingers crossed.

• • •

July 28, 2014

New Program Trades Your Privacy for Rewards

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:21 am

 With great fanfare, Verizon Wireless launched its new reward program last week called Verizon Smart Rewards.

You collect points for signing up, for being a loyal customer, for amounts paid on your bill, for signing up for paperless billing, etc. And those points can be used for discounts on meals, merchandise, gift cards, entertainment and more.

This is what the homepage for Smart Rewards looks like at launch:

Smart Rewards

It explains how the program works: you sign up, your earn points, and you redeem rewards. Simple. Oh, they left out just one thing. See that sentence at the bottom that we outlined in yellow?

*MOUSE PRINT:

May require enrollment in Verizon Selects, which delivers more relevant advertising using anonymized information about customer use of Verizon products and services, interests and demographics.

You have to enroll in some advertising program called Verizon Selects? Huh?

Well, delivering relevant advertising is the result of the program. What you really are agreeing to is to allow the company to observe your Internet surfing habits on your smartphone, where you shop, what apps you use, what your location is, where and whom you call, and more. In essence, in return for getting rewards, you are allowing Verizon to track you.

But it doesn’t say that there. What a silly (or very deliberate) omission. And when you go to the registration page, all the introduction says is:

Verizon Selects personalizes the content and marketing you may receive from Verizon and other selected companies.

Still, you have not been informed what this Verizon Selects thing really is. It tells you the result of their tracking — getting more relevant advertising — not that it is a program to track you. Only when you scroll down to the terms and conditions agreement section, do they spring it on you, and ask you to agree to it.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Verizon Selects
[size reduced to fit space]

It seems to us that Verizon should be upfront about the precondition that you must agree to be tracked in order to sign up for the rewards programs, and clearly disclose that on the first page of the offer.

Customers will have to decide whether they think the rewards they are offering are worth allowing the company to track your smartphone usage. Incidentally, Verizon tells us that once you sign up for the rewards program and the tracking program, you can cancel the tracking part and still keep earning rewards.

Note: Edgar Dworsky is a member of Verizon’s Consumer Advisory Board.

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