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April 21, 2014

Buy a Box of Cheerios, Relinquish Consumer Rights?

General Mills Backtracks After Consumer Backlash

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

 The New York Times last week published an eye-opening story about General Mills, the big cereal maker. It noted that after being stung in court by a consumer class action, the company updated its legal terms to say that any beef you have with the company can only be pursued through informal negotiations or mandatory arbitration — no lawsuits (other than small claims) allowed.

It announced these changes at GeneralMills.com, in fine print at the top the page:

*Mouse Print:

General Mills

The key part of the new legal terms provides:

*Mouse Print:

In exchange for the benefits, discounts, content, features, services, or other offerings that you receive or have access to by using our websites, joining our sites as a member, joining our online community, subscribing to our email newsletters, downloading or printing a digital coupon, entering a sweepstakes or contest, redeeming a promotional offer, or otherwise participating in any other General Mills offering, you are agreeing to these terms.

ANY DISPUTE OR CLAIM MADE BY YOU AGAINST GENERAL MILLS ARISING OUT OF OR RELATING TO THIS AGREEMENT OR YOUR PURCHASE OR USE OF ANY GENERAL MILLS SERVICE OR PRODUCT (INCLUDING GENERAL MILLS PRODUCTS PURCHASED AT ONLINE OR PHYSICAL STORES FOR PERSONAL OR HOUSEHOLD USE) REGARDLESS OF WHETHER SUCH DISPUTE OR CLAIM IS BASED IN CONTRACT, TORT, STATUTE, FRAUD, MISREPRESENTATION, OR ANY OTHER LEGAL THEORY (TOGETHER, A “DISPUTE”) WILL BE RESOLVED BY INFORMAL NEGOTIATIONS OR THROUGH BINDING ARBITRATION, AS DESCRIBED BELOW.

So, merely printing a coupon for a GM product, “liking” them on Facebook, or perhaps just buying a single package of Cheerios, Yoplait yogurt, Gold Medal flour, or a can of Green Giant peas will automatically mean that you give up your right to individually sue the company, and cannot participate as a member of a class action lawsuit.

The company is letting people opt-out of these provisions, but once you use any of the companies’ websites or print another coupon, for example, you are on the hook again.

While one could interpret the language of their agreement to only be triggered when a consumer uses their websites, downloads a coupon, or otherwise interacts with the company, the broad nature of the restriction — possibly being triggered by a purchasing a product — will surely come under legal scrutiny. How can you be held to an agreement you never saw or actually agreed to?

When asked to comment on the company’s new anti-consumer policy, all the Jolly Green Giant would say is:

However, the company had a change of heart over this past weekend, cancelled the new terms including all references to arbitration, and posted this statement on their blog:

“As has been widely reported, General Mills recently posted a revised set of Legal Terms on our websites. Those terms – and our intentions – were widely misread, causing concern among consumers.

So we’ve listened – and we’re changing them back to what they were before.

We rarely have disputes with consumers – and arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled. Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful.

But consumers didn’t like it.

So we’ve reverted back to our prior terms. There’s no mention of arbitration, and the arbitration provisions we had posted were never enforced. Nor will they be. We stipulate for all purposes that our recent Legal Terms have been terminated, that the arbitration provisions are void, and that they are not, and never have been, of any legal effect.

That last bit is from our lawyers.

We’ll just add that we never imagined this reaction. Similar terms are common in all sorts of consumer contracts, and arbitration clauses don’t cause anyone to waive a valid legal claim. They only specify a cost-effective means of resolving such matters. At no time was anyone ever precluded from suing us by purchasing one of our products at a store or liking one of our Facebook pages. That was either a mischaracterization – or just very misunderstood.

Not that any of that matters now.

On behalf of our company and our brands, we would also like to apologize. We’re sorry we even started down this path. And we do hope you’ll accept our apology. We also hope that you’ll continue to download product coupons, talk to us on social media, or look for recipes on our websites.” –Kirstie Foster, Director of External Communications

Nothing like bad press to convince a company to do the right thing.

Lost in the controversy about mandatory arbitration is the other thing that General Mills just did — they changed their privacy policy. The new little ditties they added include their collection of information about you from social networks and other third parties; how they combine that data with their own information to target market to you; and that if your browser sends a “do not track” command to them on your behalf, they will ignore it.

When asked to comment on their privacy policy changes, all the Pillsbury Doughboy would say is:

• • •

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.

• • •

March 31, 2014

No Joke, Sears Advertises Customers’ Complaints

Filed under: Humor,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:39 am

 For inexplicable reasons, until recently, Sears maintained a page on its “Shop Your Way” website that was automatically populated with customers’ reviews and comments. The result of this automation was that unflattering comments about Sears’ products and practices got published and promoted as if they were ads, along with the positive ones.

*MOUSE PRINT: Happy April Fools Day week, but these ads are no joke. These negative ads were recently culled from the Sears page containing all product ads.

 


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• • •

March 24, 2014

Muscling In On Your Wallet

Filed under: Health,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:15 am

muscles

• • •

March 17, 2014

When Hotwire’s $25 Off Promotion Gives You Nothing Off

Filed under: Internet,Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:50 am

 Pierre K. recently wrote to Mouse Print* complaining about an offer he had seen on Hotwire.com’s website.

It promised “$25 off your next booking with our app.” The fine print only said:

“Minimum $100 hotel booking. Limit one coupon per user. Valid 12/30/13 to 03/31/14.”

Since he was about to book an expensive particular hotel stay in Denmark — over $300 when checking the price on Hotwire’s regular website — our consumer installed their app to save $25. To his chagrin, when he searched for that same hotel on the app, nothing came up.

He started a chat session with a Hotwire agent who explained that the $25 off offer only applied to what are called “Hot Rate” hotels — those places that won’t tell you the name of their hotel until after you reserve the room and pay in advance. Pierre wanted a specific hotel whose name he knew, and had seen on the regular Hotwire website. He would never have wasted time installing an app if the $25 he was promised did not apply to that hotel. Here is a portion of the chat transcript:

*MOUSE PRINT:

{Pierre} The only restriction I see is “Minimum $100 hotel booking. Limit one coupon per user. Valid 12/30/13 to 03/31/14.”

{Hotwire Drew} I understand, however, you won’t be able to find any Standard Rate hotels on the mobile app, that is why you do not see any results on the app when you searched for a hotel.

{Pierre} wait… so to get the discount I have to use the app, but the app doesn’t find any hotels that can use the discount? how can I use the promo code on the computer then without going through android?

{Hotwire Drew} To get get the discount you have to use the app only and will not be transferred to your computer, also, the app should show you results if there is some available for your search.

{Pierre} this is false advertising. Nowhere does it say in writing on the website or the app that it’s only for Hot Rate hotels. It simply says on hotels over $100.

Pierre persisted for a while longer with the Hotwire agent, but got nowhere. Mouse Print* contacted the PR firm that represents Hotwire asking them why the company didn’t more clearly state the limited nature of the $25 offer. We also asked if they were going to change the website to more clearly disclose the terms of the offer.

No response was received, and the website remains unchanged. Pierre has moved his travel purchases to Travelocity.

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