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Consumer Reporters & Advocates in Media


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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.

• • •

July 7, 2014

When Good Rebates Go Bad

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:07 am

 Newegg offered an amazing price a few weeks ago on a refurbished 32-inch Samsung HDTV — only $159.99 after a $30 mail-in rebate. And if you used a particular American Express card offer, you saved another $15.

As with most rebates, to get the $30 back you had to mail in the UPC code from the box. Unlike regular TV boxes printed with a picture of the TV, etc., the carton the Samsung TV was shipped in was plain brown. And there was no UPC barcode to be found. There was only the UPS shipping label, and an internal Newegg item number barcode (not the manufacturer’s).

ups label

Upon closer scrutiny, it appears that Newegg’s shipping department placed the large UPS label over the UPC code label. Have you ever tried to remove one of those large labels from cardboard? Of course this could have been a freak occurrence but for the fact that another consumer complained about the same shipping department mishap.

If by some chance the purchaser was able to remove the UPS label through careful surgery, this is what they would find:

*MOUSE PRINT:

UPC

What a relief! Not so fast. The joy is about to end. A quick check of the rebate form reveals the next problem.

*MOUSE PRINT:

rebate form

The UPC code number required for the rebate to be submitted does not match the UPC code number actually on the box!

A representative at the fulfillment house that processes rebates for Newegg fully understood the issue, but said there was nothing they could do about it. Consumers would have to submit whatever they could as proof of purchase, get denied, and then take up the battle with Newegg directly to (hopefully) get their $30 back.

The consumer who complained to Consumer World said he got the same answer when calling customer service at Newegg directly. Each individual purchaser would have to fight their own battle.

Imagining that hundreds of these TVs were sold during two sales in May and June where the erroneous UPC code was printed on two separate rebate offers, MrConsumer contacted executives at Newegg in an attempt to find a global solution for these customers.

In short order, Newegg’s Senior PR Manager had good news. They were going to find a solution. And a few days later, they sent out this email to purchasers of that Samsung HDTV:

newegg apology

Unfortunately, the company didn’t address the problem of obstructed UPCs in this notification. But, at least most purchasers of this TV won’t have to fight an individual battle to get their $30 back.

• • •

April 14, 2014

They Advertise “Free” Shipping But Default to “Pay” Shipping

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

 A senior citizen friend was in need of a new TV, so MrConsumer found a wonderful deal on a 32″ Sony for only $199.99 with no sales tax and free shipping at Newegg.

Newegg

Yes, it is reconditioned, but MrConsumer owns two reconditioned Sony’s and they’re fine. Using my friend’s AMEX (since it doubles the 90-day warranty that Sony gives on refurbished products while most Visa/MCs exclude such purchases from coverage) I ordered the item for him. To my shock and horror, when I scrutinized the receipt, I noticed that Newegg charged $4.99 for three-day delivery. I swear that the “free delivery” box was checked off or appeared to be checked off on the ordering screen. But, a closer look revealed not.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Newegg

Despite being advertised as coming with free shipping, the Newegg system apparently defaults to pre-selecting a pay shipping option even when a free option is available. It may have been the blue arrow pointing to the free shipping option that erroneously gave me the impression I was all set.

Immediately upon noticing my error, I called Newegg. It was closed on Sundays. Drats. I tried “chat” and discovered it was down. Drats. I emailed them and heard nothing back on Sunday. Drats. I tried chat again, and this time got through and after a little persistence, the agent offered me a $4.99 credit toward a future order. She would not process a credit card refund, however.

At 5:30 a.m. Pacific time the next day, MrConsumer called Newegg, and spoke to a wonderful agent who agreed to make a one-time exception, and credit my friend’s credit card for the shipping. Great outcome, Newegg.

It should be pointed out however, (1) the item had not yet been shipped when these multiple requests to change the shipping method were made, and (2) that Newegg would better serve customers, particularly on items advertised as coming with free shipping, to have that option preselected by default.

Newegg is not alone in this gambit. Amazon also defaults to a pay shipping option even when the order qualifies for free shipping.

• • •

April 7, 2014

MetroPCS: “All 4G Phones Only $29″ ?

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

 MetroPCS has been advertising a “$29 for All Sale” where “All 4G phones on our nationwide 4G LTE network are now just $29.”

MetroPCS

MrConsumer thought what a great way to get a high-end 4G-LTE cellphone like the Samsung Galaxy S 4 for only $29 since MetroPCS does not require contracts. And, it might be able to be used on T-Mobile’s network.

Upon clicking the “Shop 4G Phones” button, one gets a surprise.

*MOUSE PRINT:

MetroPCS

Only three phones are listed, and not one of them is a high-end 4G-LTE phone. But all 4G phones are supposed to be $29, no?

Well, apparently, MetroPCS makes a distinction between a “4G” phone and a “4G-LTE” phone. (LTE refers to the newest fastest, network protocol for data.) But the advertisement specifically says that all their $29 4G phones run on their 4G-LTE network. How can that possibly be true, because only an LTE phone can run on an LTE network. A conventional 4G phone, as all the ones above are, cannot run on an LTE network.

MetroPCS has exactly one phone for $29 that runs on their 4G-LTE network, but it is not shown on the above page. It is that ultra famous, Huawei Vitria.

We asked MetroPCS for an explanation, and the PR firm representing them responded:

“While we believe that our website describing our $29 phone offer was fair and appropriate, it’s always important to us that we are as clear as possible in our marketing and advertising. As such, even though this promotion ends on April 9th, we have made some changes to the way we describe this on our homepage and elsewhere on our website.”

Lo and behold, the advertisement that proclaimed that all the 4G phones that run on their 4G-LTE network are $29 has mysteriously changed, including noting that the $29 price was “after rebate”:

MetroPCS

No longer do they claim that the $29 phones operate on their LTE network. Don’t you just love a company that denies anything is wrong, but then, just coincidentally, changes its offending advertisement.

Until that change was made, only one letter separated a “phone” sale from a “phony” sale.

• • •

January 27, 2014

Office Depot Offers $800 of “Free” (?) Software

Filed under: Computers,Electronics,Finance,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:58 am

  Every year, the office supply superstores offer either cash rebates or free software as an inducement to buy tax preparation software (like TurboTax and H&R Block) from their store.

This year, as in previous years, Office Depot is making a generous offer of $800 of free software.

Office Depot

But, according to Mouse Print* reader WAE, the promised rebates did not cover the full purchase price of some of the software titles.

Checking the Office Depot website for the purchase price and the promised rebate revealed he was right!

*MOUSE PRINT:


Office Depot
[Click reconstructed image above to enlarge, then click again]

Mouse Print* wrote to Office Depot’s media relations department asking them why they were charging money for supposedly free software and how they were going to correct the problem for customers they overcharged.

Office Depot did not respond.

• • •
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