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March 30, 2015

Hertz Hides the Lowest Priced Cars

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

  It is not easy to find the lowest price on a rental car because companies don’t automatically incorporate discount codes into their displayed rates, so you have to keep trying different codes and different companies’ websites. And even when you think you have found the lowest price, some rental companies have some tricks up their sleeve to bamboozle you.

Case in point: A friend is coming to Boston this week to visit, and MrConsumer agreed to help him find the “best” car rental rate. After using a number of travel sites that compare the prices of various companies, it became pretty clear that Hertz was offering the lowest prices depending on which coupon code promotions you entered into their website.

Here is the top portion of the results search on Hertz’s webpage:

Hertz top 4

It seems pretty clear that the best price turned up by this search is $162 ($170.73 including taxes and fees). It even says at the top “The rates listed represent the best available rates based on the information provided.” So a booking was made for this $170 car based on MrConsumer’s recommendation.

After a little more poking around, MrConsumer learned that this $170 rate was not in fact the cheapest rate that Hertz was offering.

Here is the (almost) full list of cars and prices on Hertz’ website at the time the above four prices were extracted:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Hertz

Scroll down the list.

The nearly complete list appears just as it does above with the $162/$170 rate apparently the least expensive option. But if you scroll down to the bottom of the list, to the 10th car listed, a $153 rate appears! What, where did that come from?

It appears that Hertz deliberately creates the impression that the lowest rate appears first at the top of the list, but in fact tucks the best rate farther down the list. (Testing other rental dates and locations, the lowest price was not always on the bottom, but it was never the first, second, or third listing which appear in increasing cost order.)

Mouse Print* wrote to the PR folks at Hertz asking why they did this, whether they recognized the deceptive nature of this ploy, and if they were going to fix it.

The company did not respond.

Just imagine if Hertz can grab an extra $7 or $10 on each car rental by upselling customers one car class above the cheapest car… times how many million rentals a year…

• • •

March 16, 2015

FTC Sues DirecTV Over Misleading Ads

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:44 am

 Last week, the FTC sued DirecTV for deceptive advertising practices for their digital satellite television services.

In particular, the FTC said that their advertising didn’t make clear a number of key facts:

1. That the low advertised rate, such as $19.99, only applied to the first year of service, and that rates in the second year were typically $25 to $45 higher per month.;

2. That the consumer had to agree to a two year contract, and if they cancelled, they would be charged a $20 cancellation fee for each month remaining on the contract;

3. That the consumer’s silence after three free months of premium TV channels such as HBO or Showtime would be construed as their acceptance of continuing to receive those channels at an average of $48 extra per month — in essence, a negative option plan.

Here is a sample ad from their website as of the day after the lawsuit was filed:

DirecTV adClick ad to see actual size

Even at full size, you might not be able to read the fine print.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Near the $19.99 price: with 24-mo agreement Select package plus add’l fees.

Under “view all packages”: All DirecTV offers require 24-month agreement. Requires enrollment in auto bill pay. Select package or above. Additional equipment required & advanced receiver fees apply. Minimum 2-room set up required for free Genie upgrade offer. Select through ultimate packages.

The offer details link discloses that up to a $480 early termination fee applies.

As we have explained many times, it is not enough for advertisers to disclose key facts somehow, somewhere. It has to be “clear and conspicuous” disclosure. In the words of the FTC complaint, the agency contends that “disclosures are inadequate in terms of their content, presentation, proximity, prominence or placement such that consumers are unlikely to see or understand such disclosures.”

The FTC’s lawsuit did not emphasize a key point that consumers complain about online — the total cost of the service. Even in the first year of the contract, it is nowhere near $19.99 a month because of a multitude of added required fees and charges not clearly specified in their ads.

• • •

March 9, 2015

McAfee’s Rebate with Built-in Costly Time Bomb

Filed under: Computers,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:30 am

  Tiger Direct recently advertised an amazing giveaway: a PNY 128 gig USB 3.0 thumb drive and McAfee Multi Access free after rebate. A supposed $149 value for free!?

McAfee

How can they do this? The secret is in the rebate offer.

*MOUSE PRINT:

McAfee-2

You actually have to install the software and sign up with your credit card initially to automatically renew the service after the first year. You are not allowed to cancel the renewal until 10 months of service have elapsed.

Who is going to remember ten months from now to cancel this service?

Incidentally, the annual service sells for between $69.99 to $99.99.

• • •

February 23, 2015

Hey Costco, Where’s the Fine Print?

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:12 am

  It may sound odd for a consumer advocate to ask a company to provide more fine print, but that is exactly what MrConsumer had hoped Costco would do.

Costco has had Tempur-pedic memory foam mattresses on sale for the past several weeks, and seemingly only making them available on its website. It is hard enough making the right decision about a mattress when you can actually try out several in the store. Imagine trying to buy one online almost blindly. That’s why having detailed specifications can help the prospective buyer make a more informed decision.

On Costco’s website, there are four different models of Tempur-pedic mattresses ranging in price from $1399 to $1899. MrConsumer wondered what the difference was between them. So might any purchaser, right? So he clicked the “compare” button on each to create a handy chart to find out.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Costco Tempur-pedic

That was helpful, wasn’t it? Every column has the identical description. The product page for each does have more information, but is mostly marketing mumbo jumbo like “TEMPUR® support layer: A thick TEMPUR® support layer provides body aligning support,” and “millions of individually adjusting TEMPUR® cells that adapt and conform to your unique shape and body weight.” And descriptions similar if not identical to this appear for all the mattresses.

Memory foam mattress shoppers should be given easy access to details like the firmness, overall thickness, composition of each layer, and how thick and dense each one is. A memory foam mattress is not all memory foam. The bottom six or seven inches is often a high density foam that does not have the conforming qualities of memory foam. It is simply a base. That’s why knowing how thick the actual memory foam layers are is so important.

Costco has buried some of this information or just not provided it.

And wouldn’t it be nice if the product names could be referenced at the manufacturer’s website and at competitors’ stores. Just to try find the Tempur-Contour-Select at Tempurpedic.com, for example.

Incidentally, if you think that clicking the specifications tab will reveal everything you need to know, think again. All four beds just say this:

Tempur specs

So, Costco, if you are actually interested in selling mattresses, give us some real data to work with and not useless comparison charts.

• • •

December 15, 2014

Click vs. Brick Follow-up

Filed under: Computers,Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:14 am

 Last week, Consumer World presented the results of its survey of prices on a retailer’s website compared to the prices charged for the same item at its brick-and-mortar store locations. The prices were not always the same, and web prices were not always lower.

To emphasize the point that you always have to check prices in both places, online and in-store, here is an example of the inconsistency week to week of pricing between the two.

In the original story, we showed a huge price difference on a Dell computer at Staples.com versus at Staples stores:

Staples week one prices

Just before Black Friday, the price online was $429.99, but in-store it was $180 higher — $609.99!

Fast forward to last week, December 7. The price differences reversed.

*MOUSE PRINT:

in-store week 2

—–Versus—–

week 2 online

This time, the in-store price was $130 lower than the online price. Go figure.

As we said, there is no rhyme or reason to the price variations. You can’t predict whether the online price will be cheaper or more expensive than the in-store price, so you have to check both each time.

• • •
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