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May 18, 2015

Ambiguous 2-Fer Offers

Filed under: Finance,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:34 am

  Everybody loves a bargain, and when a company offers a second product free or at reduced price, that can be an attention-grabber.

The problem is that too often companies advertise 2-fer offers that are ambiguous at best, causing the shopper to jump to a conclusion about pricing that might be erroneous.

Example 1:

4.95 checks

Okay, what are these people offering? Is it two boxes of checks for a total of $4.95 and you get a third box free? Is it merely buy one box for $4.95, get a second box free? Or is it $4.95 for each box, and if you buy two, you get the third box free?

MOUSE PRINT*:

The answer in this case: This is a straight buy one box for $4.95, get another one free. (That’s an amazingly low price until you factor in mandatory handling charges of $3.45 per box.)


Example 2:

49 cents checks

Now, what’s this deal? Is each book of checks 49 cents? Is one box 49 cents when you buy two other boxes for $13.44 each? Are two boxes $13.44 period?

MOUSE PRINT*:

The answer when you clickthrough to their website is that this is a buy one for regular price offer, get the second box for 49 cents. So, apparently the first box is $12.95.

Incidentally, two many of these cheap check printers do not disclose how many checks are in a box. If memory serves correctly, it was standard practice to get eight books of checks in a box, or 200 total. Now some sellers only provide 150 checks, and others only 100.


Example 3:

Staples paper

So cases of paper are $4.99 after rebate at Staples “when you buy two.” So do you have to buy two cases at regular price and then get the third for only $4.99? Or are two cases $4.99 total? Or are cases $4.99 each, but you have to buy two of them to get that price?

MOUSE PRINT*:

In this example, unlike the check ads, the stated price is meant to apply per item. So, paper is $4.99 each case, but you must buy two to get that price each.

With these three examples, you have to wonder if sellers ever look at their offers to make sure that they are clear and unambiguous.

• • •

April 26, 2015

Despite Crushing Publicity, TurboTax Sales Surge

Filed under: Finance,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 8:56 am

  In January, we were the first to call national attention to TurboTax’s nasty and inconspicuous ploy of stripping its flagship desktop income tax preparation software of key tax forms, thus forcing long-time users to upgrade to significantly more expensive versions. (See series of Mouse Print* stories.) Customers were livid and nearly 3000 of them posted one-star reviews on Amazon.

Major media picked up on the story, and after three weeks of a public pummeling, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, finally relented (after some half-hearted attempts to satisfy customers) and offered free upgrades to everyone.

Then came the revelation that crooks were claiming income tax refunds via TurboTax’s online software before their rightful owners could. Some states temporarily stopped accepting TurboTax returns. The FBI, Congress, and the FTC all launched investigations. And Intuit finally strengthened verification of identities on its website. This dual onslaught of negative press spanned most of January and February.

TurboTax headlines

One would think with the crushing and sustained negative publicity the company received over this period in the height of tax season that their sales would surely plummet. After all, consumers were mad as hell about the costly upgrades being forced on them, and worried as hell that TurboTax online was facilitating theft of their tax refunds.

According to Streetinsider.com, however, TurboTax desktop sales dropped only 6% or about 300,000 units, but online sales surged by two and a half million additional tax returns.

MOUSE PRINT*:

Unit Sales of 2015 TurboTax
TurboTax Sales

It is unfathomable to MrConsumer that millions felt more comfortable with TurboTax online this year than last, and that only relatively few abandoned the company’s desktop product. Wasn’t anyone paying attention except the two people who sued Intuit last week? Are all the alternatives just not up to the task? Or were those extra 2.5 million returns all filed by crooks?

• • •

January 22, 2015

Intuit Offering Partial TurboTax Upgrade Rebates

Filed under: Electronics,Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 9:24 pm


TurboTax Deluxe(BOSTON – January 22, 2015) – Following a public outcry from regular TurboTax Deluxe users who learned that the popular tax preparation software’s maker had stripped the program of key functionality this year, Intuit today apologized and somewhat reversed course by offering a $25 rebate to purchasers to partially cover the cost of having to upgrade to a more expensive version.

Without clear advance disclosure that its flagship product had changed and could no longer help users easily report all income from investments, self-employment, and rental property (Schedules C, D, and E), the company had sought $30 to $40 in upgrade fees disclosed partway into the program in order to restore its original functionality.

“Intuit offered a full apology but only a partial refund. They should be providing free automatic upgrades this year, and not requiring users to remember to send in for a rebate possibly months from now after they file their taxes,” commented Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky. “The rebate doesn’t even cover the full cost of the upgrade in many cases.”

As of today, customers have posted over 1500 one-star reviews of TurboTax Deluxe on Amazon. And competitors like H&R Block have already offered disgruntled TurboTax customers their tax software free.

Dworsky launched a media blitz on January 6 to warn the public about the crippled TurboTax software, and to pressure the company to give all affected customers automatic free upgrades to restore the product’s full functionality. Until now, Intuit was only informally offering free or discounted upgrades to buyers who called to complain.

To save the company money, Intuit has narrowly defined who can get the $25 rebate. To qualify, customers have to had filed their 2013 income taxes using TurboTax Deluxe, and filed their 2014 return using either TurboTax Premier or Home & Business. And by using a rebate that can’t be submitted until one’s taxes are filed, the company will benefit from those who forget or can’t be bothered dealing with rebates.

UPDATE: Intuit has clarified whether you have to e-file or not to qualify for the rebate. If you e-file both the 2013 and 2014 return, their website can automatically validate your rebate request. If you paper filed, they will have to process the request manually by having you call their 800 number.

Intuit is not new to controversy or nickel-and-diming tactics. In 2008, it added a $9.95 fee to print or e-file a second return from TurboTax, but quickly rescinded the charge following a storm of criticism. And for years, it has arbitrarily “sunset” (deactivated) the online downloading and electronic bill payment functions of its popular Quicken checkbook software thus requiring consumers to buy a new version of the program every three years.

• • •

January 12, 2015

More TurboTax Pricing Games

Filed under: Computers,Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:42 am

  TurboTax DeluxeOur trusty mouse caused a little bit of a stir with last week’s story about Intuit yanking out key functionality from TurboTax Deluxe, and selling it back to customers via a $30 – $40 upgrade charge. There are now over 1400 one-star reviews on Amazon with consumers fuming over the changes and charges.

Game 1:

In the course of testing TurboTax Deluxe 2014, we discovered something curious with respect to the price they were charging for upgrades. If you needed to enter detailed information about investment transactions, for example, the program threw up this roadblock and advised that you would have to upgrade to “Premier” for an extra charge of $30.

$30 Upgrade to Premier

When going back to that section subsequently, on occasion the program would change the price for the required upgrade:

*MOUSE PRINT:

$25 upgrade fee

The fee dropped from $30 to $25. Going back another time, however, it was back up to $30. There was no rhyme or reason for the varying prices. Also, in the self-employment income section, the user is alternately presented with either a $30 or $40 up-charge to go from TurboTax Deluxe to “Home & Business.” Maybe Intuit is testing various price points to see what amount will be most palatable for users.



Game 2:

Another strange pricing disparity cropped up last week on the TurboTax website. When we first checked prices for downloading the desktop version from their website on December 25, this was the pricing shown:

ttpricing-12-25small

TT Deluxe was $59.99, with federal and state forms included.

Roughly two weeks later, on January 9th, it looked like things had changed.

*MOUSE PRINT:

TT prices 1-9

Now it says that for $59.99 you seemingly only get the federal return because it says “state additional.” Clicking on the state additional link does not exactly clarify matters.

state additional

Well, which is it, Intuit? Is state included or not? There is a big difference between “state additional” and “additional state.”



Game 3:

And one last example. In the pricing charts above, buying TurboTax directly from Intuit seems to give customers a $10 discount off what appears to be the regular or list price. According to both Amazon and Target, however, the “list price” for each of the four editions of TurboTax 2014 is $10 lower than Intuit represents. For example, while Intuit says that TurboTax Deluxe is regularly $69.99 but is now on sale for $59.99, Amazon and Target say that $59.99 is the list price for TurboTax Deluxe to start with. Hmmm.

• • •

January 6, 2015

Warning for TurboTax Users

Filed under: Computers,Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:17 am

 

INTUIT STRIPS TURBOTAX DELUXE OF SUPPORT
FOR KEY TAX FORMS

Many Buyers Will Have to Make Costly Upgrades

(Boston) — Regular purchasers of Intuit’s TurboTax Deluxe, the top selling desktop tax preparation software program, are in for a nasty surprise this year. The company has stripped the program of key functionality to easily report income from investments, self-employment, and rents, thereby requiring affected users to upgrade to more expensive versions.

“What a clever ploy. Yank out key parts of the program that people have used for years, and then charge them more money to get back the missing pieces,” commented ConsumerWorld.org founder Edgar Dworsky. “Imagine the reaction of perhaps millions of regular TurboTax users who may learn partway through doing their taxes that they have to pay an upgrade fee just to get the same functionality they’ve always enjoyed. They are not going to be happy.”

The full interview sections (Q&As) for filling out Schedule C (self-employment income and all expenses), Schedule D (investments), and Schedule E (rental and partnership income) are no longer in TurboTax Deluxe ($59.99 list). The complete Q&A Schedule D (with importation of brokerage data) and Schedule E are now only available in their “Premier” and higher editions ($89.99), and the full Schedule C is only available in their “Home & Business” version ($99.99). In-program upgrades from TurboTax Deluxe will cost users an additional $30 to $40, as the warning below indicates, when, for example, trying to enter investments.

*MOUSE PRINT:

$30 upgrade warning
Upgrade notice and roadblock in program when users try to enter investment income


Consumers are already voicing complaints. The product has gotten hundreds of one-star ratings on Amazon, with many posting negative reviews and expressing outrage.

Company executives say the changes were made to provide “consistency” between their online and desktop product lines. They are quick to point out that the raw forms for Schedules C, D, and E can still be filled out manually in “forms mode” in TurboTax Deluxe, but they don’t recommend it. The company acknowledges that the full question-and-answer section for filling out these forms is missing, and that by using forms mode, validation checking is not done, and taxpayers cannot file their taxes electronically.

Dworsky believes that Intuit did not do enough to alert regular purchasers of the product to the changes in advance, thus depriving them of the opportunity to shop for competing products or to buy the right product to start with. Many consumers, he says, have been using TurboTax for 10 or 20 years and just naturally grab the one they have always used.

*MOUSE PRINT:

While Intuit provides an online and back-of-package checklist of which version is best for which types of taxpayers, it is essentially similar to the one they used last year when there was full inclusion of all the schedules, and thus it is easily overlooked or misunderstood.

A more attention-grabbing disclosure like this mockup, Dworsky suggests, would not have been missed:

TurboTax Change Notice mockup

In the wake of complaints, Intuit is quietly offering free upgrades to some aggrieved users. Dworsky, however, is calling on them to do that for everyone automatically because of the abrupt changes, both as a goodwill gesture and as clear notice of the changes henceforth.

Meanwhile, recognizing an opportunity to grab market share, H&R Block, makers of H&R Block Deluxe, a competing program, is offering affected TurboTax users who have already purchased the program (Basic or Deluxe) a free copy of their software, which they say has not been crippled. To get it, consumers need to email a copy of their invoice, name, address, phone, and Windows or Mac designation to SwitchtoBlock@hrblock.com .

Intuit is not new to controversy or nickel-and-diming tactics. In 2008, it added a $9.95 fee to print or e-file a second return from TurboTax, but quickly rescinded the charge following a storm of criticism. And for years, it has arbitrarily “sunset” (deactivated) the online downloading and electronic bill payment functions of its popular Quicken checkbook software, thus requiring consumers to buy a new version of the program every three years.

Your COMMENTS are welcome below.

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