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December 2, 2013

Sprint Student Free (?) for All

Filed under: Electronics,Retail,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:53 am

Best Buy recently sent out an email making an astonishing offer on cell service for students:

Sprint student offer

They are providing a year of free service. That means free unlimited calls, texts, and 1 gig of data ($10 extra for unlimited data). What a deal!

It says however, “with purchase of phone at Student Activated price.” What’s that?

*MOUSE PRINT:

Sprint student prices

The prices being charged by Best Buy for the phones appear to be full price, the same as what Sprint itself would charge. In some cases, the price appears to be $50 higher than buying from Sprint directly. The benefit for the student, however, is a free year of service, without having to sign a two-year contract.

So is this a good deal? The less expensive of the two Sprint plans that the student is required to sign up for is $70 a month (plus fees and taxes) if he/she had to pay for it. So that is $840 saved for the year, but the student is paying full price or slightly more for the phone. On the other hand, if the student were to get a fancy phone free from Sprint during a promotion, he or she would have to pay that $840 for service. So it appears that the student could save a little by taking advantage of the student offer, but not hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

Presumably in year two, the phone might be able to be added onto a family plan at discounted monthly rates, and then the savings would increase (or maybe just get onto a family plan to start with to save).

• • •

October 21, 2013

Target Finds Sneaky Way to Make Robocalls

Filed under: Electronics,Retail,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:58 am

Target’s red debit card provides a host of benefits that few department stores offer: free shipping with no minimum from their .com store, an additional 5% discount off most purchases, and a 30-day extension to their regular return policy.

When MrConsumer recently applied for a Target debit card, he was taken aback by the company’s tricky maneuver to allow it to make robocalls to its cardholders’ cellphones.

When one applies for the card in-store, you fill out the simplified application that appears on the little signature screen of the credit card terminal at the customer service desk. In addition to entering your social security number on one screen, and your date of birth on another, two screens also come up requesting your home phone and cellphone numbers.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Target

On the left of the two phone number screens is a disclosure granting Target permission to make robocalls to your cellphone. MrConsumer only provided a home phone (a landline) and left the cellphone screen blank. The application did go through.

Why did Target tuck that disclosure into the on-screen process, while leaving all other disclosures to a fine print booklet? The reason is that the FCC requires companies to get the consumer’s explicit written permission before any robocalls or texts can be made to a wireless telephone.

Most consumers probably won’t catch the disclosure, and won’t they be surprised when Target targets texts to them.

• • •

September 16, 2013

Walmart Touts Free Layaways But Quietly Adds Cancellation Fee

Filed under: Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:58 am

Retailers are making a big push to promote early holiday shopping. Kmart began TV advertising last week, and Toys-R-US just announced modified store policies. And Walmart started promoting its holiday layaway plan:

Walmart layaways

“This time it’s free,” the ad boasts. This refers to the fact that last year Walmart charged a $5 fee to initiate a layaway, but they reimbursed that fee to shoppers at the end by giving them a $5 gift card.

What Walmart doesn’t tout is another inconspicuous change.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Walmart cancellation fee

Yep. They have introduced a $10 cancellation fee which is imposed if the consumer cancels the purchase. It is also triggered if all the payments are not made or if the item is not picked up by December 13.

No one is disputing Walmart’s right to add a cancellation fee, particularly if they have taken the shopper’s goods off the selling floor for three months. What is interesting, however, is that their marketing folks have taken a net negative change to the layaway plan (the $10 cancellation fee) and essentially no change to their start fee (since it was rebated), and turned it into a positive advertising campaign.

• • •

May 5, 2013

If You Don’t Read the Fine Print of Cable Ads…

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:09 am

If you don’t read the fine print, particularly in ads from cable companies, you could get snookered.

Example 1:

Cox advertised high speed Internet for only $19.99 per month for two years.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Cox

When you clickthrough, you realize that you have to buy cable TV service for an unstated price, but if you only want Internet service, it is $10 higher — $29.99 but only for three months.

Cox
Cox

Why couldn’t Cox simply advertise in the first place: “Buy cable TV service, get high speed Internet for only $19.99/mo for two years” ?


Example 2:

The promotion of triple plays (TV, Internet, and telephone) is common among cable companies so one always seems to try to outdo the other. Here’s a deal from Charter: HDTV, Internet and Phone for only $29.99 a month. Wow, sign me up.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Charter

If you look carefully, in tiny print, you can see the word “each.” So the real price is $89.97 a month. Word has it that Comcast in the recent past had a similar ad that conveyed the impression to some people that you got all three services for only $29.99 a month.


Example 3:

It is common to see triple plays advertised for $99, but during special promotions you can sometimes find even lower prices. Just last week, Verizon FiOS advertised a really low price — $69.95 for all three services.

Verizon FiOS

When MrConsumer clicked through, he discovered there was no such price.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Verizon FiOS

The lowest price shown was $79.99, and the $69.99 was nowhere to be found. Now it is possible that the $69 price was only for certain parts of the country, but there was no fine print in the original ad suggesting that.

The bottom line is that these companies should play it straight. Tell the consumer what the real offer is upfront, without having to resort to fine print or trickery.

Disclosure: MrConsumer is a member of Verizon’s Consumer Advisory Board.

• • •

March 11, 2013

Kiss Your Free HD TV Picture Goodbye

Filed under: Electronics — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:06 am

Last fall, the FCC issued an order allowing local cable companies to scramble or encrypt basic channels like the major broadcast networks and local TV stations. This means that every TV in your home will need to have a cable box, even if you have a brand new flat screen HDTV that currently is capable of displaying those stations in high definition without a box.

MrConsumer, for example, has small HDTVs in his office, kitchen, and guest room all of which just have the cable connected to them without a set-top box. And they all get a beautiful high definition picture thanks to the sets having a built-in QAM tuner. He doesn’t get cable channels like CNN on them, just local stations and the major broadcast networks. That’s fine, because these are secondary televisions.

Starting on April 10, 2013, however, according to a letter from MrConsumer’s cable company, RCN, they are going to encrypt these local and network stations. And MrConsumer’s HDTVs will become expensive paperweights.

FCC’s rules provide temporary relief, however.

*MOUSE PRINT

All digital cable companies that wish to encyrpt their basic channels must:

“(i) offer to existing subscribers who subscribe only to the basic service tier and do not use a set-top box or CableCARD, the subscriber’s choice of a set-top box or CableCARD on up to two television sets without charge for two years from the date of encryption; (ii) offer existing subscribers who subscribe to a level of service above “basic only” but use an additional television set to access only the basic service tier without the use of a set-top box or CableCARD at the time of encryption, the subscriber’s choice of a set-top box or CableCARD on one television set without charge for one year from the date of encryption; ” -FCC MB Docket No. 11-169

Nowhere in the FCC order do they state what type of box must be provided free for one or two years to customers. And that is where cable companies can try to weasel out of providing a high definition box free to customers with high definition televisions.

Case in point is RCN, which buries in its FAQs this important detail.

*MOUSE PRINT

“A customer subscribing to LIMITED Basic or higher level of service receiving RCN Limited Basic service on a secondary TV without RCN-supplied equipment is entitled to one standard definition box for one year.” [emphasis added]

A standard definition box by definition filters out the HD signal, so customers receiving those boxes will no longer be able to display a high definition picture on their HD sets.

MrConsumer contacted RCN and asked for and received a promise to be given an HD box free for one year. And, a subsequent discussion with an RCN executive also revealed that the company would in fact provide either a free SD (standard defintion) box or HD box to all customers. You just need to know to ask since their website does not disclose this option.

For other cable company customers, your turn to do deal with the problem is coming soon. You could be faced with receiving only an SD box for your HDTV, or having to rent an HD box for about $10 a month forever for every HDTV you own.

Of course, there is always the option of going back to rabbit ears.

Thanks, FCC.

• • •
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