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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.

• • •

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.

• • •
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