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Consumer Reporters & Advocates in Media

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February 1, 2016

What are Sprint and Nielsen Hiding?

Filed under: Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:26 am

Last week, Sprint issued a press release touting results of a Nielsen study that found on average, that the Sprint network provided faster download speeds than T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T.

One of the comparison charts they included was this:

Sprint chart

While this chart shows the relative comparison between the cell brands, something important is missing.


The label on the Y-axis (going up the left and right sides) is missing or has been deliberately stripped off. (Remember your high school math teacher warning you to be leery of graphs that didn’t start at zero?)

If the figures on the Y-axis were shown, it would disclose what the actual average download speed was for each of the cellular networks — an important fact for consumers to be aware of. Is Sprint providing average speeds of 50 Mbps (really fast) or only 5 Mbps (really slow)? And what about the other companies and how do those speeds compare to home Internet speeds?

So, we asked Sprint to provide the speeds for each company, but they declined.

“We are not providing speed scale for the other chart per Nielsen’s request that we not share this data.” — Sprint Corporate Communications

They did provide a second chart showing the relative difference between the four carriers.

carrier comparison

In this one, Sprint and T-Mobile are shown to be only five percent apart. The first chart above, however, makes the difference appear much more extreme.

Hmmm. What’s going on here? Was it really Nielsen that didn’t want this information disclosed, or was it Sprint? (If, for example, Sprint promised a particular download speed to customers, and this study of 70 million downloads proved they weren’t meeting the advertised speed, that could spell a big problem for them or the other companies if they made similar promises.)

So… we asked Nielsen to provide the missing average speeds that they found for each carrier. And despite repeated requests, they would not provide the information nor provide an on-the-record reason why. Why are they hiding this information? We may never know.

To at least put some of the results in context, in the early months of the study, T-Mobile commanded the top spot for fastest downloads in the Nielsen study. It is probably not coincidental that their drop to last place began when, in November, the company introduced unlimited free downloading of video services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO.


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November 16, 2015

Jos. A. Bank Drops “Buy 1 Suit, Get 4 Free” Promos

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:18 am

For years, Jos. A. Bank has advertised suits “Buy 1, Get 2 Free” all the way up to “Buy 1, Get 4 Free”, but that practice has come to an end. It is not being discontinued because some sharp Attorney General went after them for using inflated regular prices as a means to be able to offer all the free items, but rather because sales were dropping.

Shoppers may have come to view their suits as poor quality, because after all, how could anyone give away three suits for nothing if they were really $700 suits? No store could. The company’s frequent BOGO ads even became fodder for this great Saturday Night Live skit:

Click || to stop

The Washington Post reports that just last month, the company ran its last BOGO sale, and explains why the new owners made the change.

So what’s their new way of advertising? Here is how they promoted their Veteran’s Day sale on television and online.

Jos. A. Bank

They are reverting to the tried and true “percent off” and 2-fer type sales.

Alan A. wrote to us to share what he observed in a Jos. A. Bank store in Illinois. He was interested in buying “Travelers shirts” which were on sale for 50% off. He found identical shirts some marked with the regular price of $60 and others marked $79. Being of sound mind, he selected the cheaper one, but it rang up at $79 before the discount. After a bit of a tussle, he was able to get half off the $60 marked price.


JAB shirt 1

JAB shirt 2

Sure enough, the regular price used to be $60, and now it is $79.50. Had the regular price remained at $60, a two for $99 sale would not have looked as attractive.

During our consumer’s visit, he encountered a similar problem with a pair of khaki pants. They were marked $75, but rang up at $99 (before the sale discount of 40% was deducted).

What’s the explanation other than the manipulation of regular prices in order to seemingly offer big discounts? No, that really appears to be the explanation. The checkout clerk said the store hadn’t yet finished repricing the goods (presumably only in one direction — up).

Now, a month after Jos. A. Bank discontinued their “Buy 1, Get 3 Free” promotions, sales plummeted even further. This is yet another example demonstrating that shoppers like to be fooled into believing they are saving a bundle when they really are not. (Witness J.C. Penney bringing back deep discounts off inflated regular prices after the use of honest regular prices caused sales to drop.)


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November 9, 2015

This is How Sears Treats “Family and Friends” ?

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:22 am

One of the best sales (historically) at Sears is their “Family & Friends” promotion, which began yesterday and runs until Tuesday night online.

Sears Family and Friends

Seems pretty simple. You get an extra 5-20% off even sale prices, plus an extra 10% back in points. But note that there is a little “see details” link at the bottom. Clicking it displays the following disclaimer:


Family and Friends details

For anyone counting, that disclaimer is over 1500 words and almost six feet long! No shopper has the patience to read that, and as a result may well wind up without all the savings or bonuses expected depending on what they buy and how they pay.

To make matters worse, the extra 10% back in points offer is potentially misleading. The big print is perfectly clear that Shop Your Way members get a bonus of an extra 10% back in points. On a large purchase, like a $1500 television, that is $150 in points, good for $150 in other merchandise. Nothing to sneeze at. And most of the small print reiterates the unqualified bonus points back offer. But, near the end, there is a mention that 10% back in points requires the use of a Sears credit card and is limited to only the first $500 of purchases.

A Shop Your Way representative said that the 10% back offer is for credit cardholders only. But, a representative said that the 10% back in points promotion is a separate offer from the 10% back credit card offer, but warned that those bonus points do NOT show up when you checkout. Well, which is it? We wrote to a Sears PR person about this whole situation, and he responded just before midnight on Sunday:

“It appears there was an inadvertent error with a Sears friends and family online ad. The ad has been updated. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

And lo and behold, apparently sometime before midnight after the first day of the sale was over, Sears changed its website. All references to an extra 10% back in points in that ad were removed.

revised F&F ad

And they shortened their disclaimer to just under three feet!

A hat-tip to Sears for making the correction. But now the bigger question… for everyone who made purchases relying on that advertisement, will Sears make good and give them an extra 10% back in points as promised?

Stay tuned.


• • •

November 2, 2015

Lime-A-Way: Money Back (Not) Guaranteed

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:57 am

Lime-A-WayRecently, MrConsumer needed to clean some pavers that had a cloudy white stain on them. At the supermarket, he was attracted to Lime-A-Way bottles because of a sticker promising a full price rebate just to try the product. He could not read the terms of the rebate because the sticker was really a plastic envelope and one would have to tear along the perforation lines to remove the sticker and reveal the details that were inside.

After coming home, MrConsumer broke the seal to discover the rebate had actually expired about two months earlier. Drats.


Lime-A-Way Try Me

MrConsumer then checked the Lime-A-Way website, and right there on the homepage was a money back guarantee if you were not satisfied with the product’s performance.

Since in fact it did nothing to remove the cloudy white stain from the pavers, MrConsumer enclosed the receipt and the guarantee form from their website and sent it off to the company. A few weeks later, a surprise came in the mail:

lime-a-way envelope

It said “Return to Sender. Offer Expired. Box Closed.”

In fact, according to the form that was mailed in, the money back guarantee didn’t expire until December 31, 2015.


Lime-A-Way deadline

Two refund attempts… two failures. So we wrote to the PR folks at Reckitt Benckiser to ask why they didn’t put the expiration date of the “try me” rebate on the outside of the package so shoppers could see it in the store, and how is it that their P.O. box to accept refund requests through the end of the year was closed. Their UK headquarters forwarded our request to their US office, and no further response was received from the company. However, curiously, the Lime-A-Way website has been changed, and no longer has a money back guarantee.


• • •

October 19, 2015

The Macy’s Columbus Day Sale that Wasn’t

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

About fifty years ago (yikes, how time flies), MrConsumer discovered Macy’s big “Whale of a Sale” on Columbus day. Van Heusen button down shirts were $1.99 and Levi’s were about $6. These were crazy deals, even back then.

Five decades later, Columbus Day sales are not what they used to be. But, this year Macy’s advertised $49 button down shirts for $5.99 — not bad, given 50 years of inflation.

Macy's 5.99 shirts

So MrConsumer hightailed it down to the big, flagship Macy’s store in downtown Boston in search of those shirts. Walking in circles around the men’s department led nowhere. Three salespeople who were shown the ad looked like they never knew these shirts were on sale. A fourth paced the store in search of them. Having no luck, she finally called the department manager. The manager indicated to her that this was a national ad and this store didn’t carry them. What? An advertisement that is distributed locally does not have that merchandise available locally?

More incredible is the fine print footnote in the Macy’s circular:


Macy's yes we got no bananas

What? A disclaimer that says we may not have what we advertise? As a friend is fond of saying, “I have lived too long.”

We asked Macy’s to comment on the non-availability of any $5.99 shirts and how they believed that their small disclaimer could overcome various advertising laws that require stores to have the goods they advertised. A PR spokesperson for the retailer replied:

The advertising that you referenced was noted as “clearance” merchandise, and the image shown was selected to represent the category (in this case men’s sportswear, sportshirts, knit tops and more – also evidenced by the range of original prices). As this is remaining clearance inventory – which varies by store based on sales in each location – we include the notation that the pictured items may not be available at your local Macy’s.

We don’t think that any reasonable consumer would expect to find THAT particular shirt, but clearly there is an expectation of finding SOME $5.99 shirts.


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