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October 5, 2015

Small Business Saturday Stunner

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

Shop SmallSince 2010, American Express has promoted the Saturday after Thanksgiving as “Small Business Saturday.” It is designed to get shoppers to “shop small” and patronize small retailers across the country, particularly those that accept the American Express card.

As an inducement from the very beginning, AMEX has offered their cardholders a $25 statement credit if they spent at least that much at a participating store. In 2013, they dropped the rebate to a mere $10, but made up for it last year by offering three $10 credits if one shopped at three different stores.

That was then, and this is now. For 2015, the company quietly dropped a bombshell on bargain hunters. Buried in a set of frequently asked questions, was the news.


Small Biz Saturday

No statement credits this year.

It was great while it lasted, but it had to have cost the company millions and millions of dollars. It was one of the most generous promotions that any cardholder could take advantage of once a year, and it will be missed.


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September 28, 2015

When “Cotton” is Not 100% Cotton

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

50-50 cotton/polyesterThere are many people who insist on buying only 100% cotton clothing. Some say they can even tell by the feel against their body if a garment is a blend of cotton and polyester or all cotton. MrConsumer is not that discerning. But, he is sensitive if a product suggests that it is all cotton, but in fact it is not.

Many shoppers buy relatively inexpensive unadorned tee shirts at Michael’s and A.C. Moore, two very large crafting chains. During a recent sale, MrConsumer picked up several at both stores. Depending on the color (apparently) some shirts had a primary label on the top inside just under the collar that said “Heavy Cotton” while others said “Ultra Cotton.”

Heavy - Ultra labels

One might say “great” these are all cotton tee shirts and look no further. But, lifting the brand label to expose the washing instructions and fiber content of three different “Heavy Cotton” colored tee shirts revealed an unexpected surprise:


Heavy Cotton variations

Even though each shirt had the same “Heavy Cotton” label, the actual fiber content varied from 50-50 cotton/polyester to 90-10 to 100% cotton. There was no rhyme or reason to what “Heavy Cotton” meant in any particular case. The shirts also had a cellophane sticker on them with the words “preshrunk cotton.”

A similar problem was discovered with shirts labeled “Ultra Cotton” :


Ultra cotton variations

Again, depending on which color shirt you picked up, those labeled “Ultra Cotton” were either 50-50 cotton/polyester, 90-10, or 100% cotton.

The concern is several-fold: shoppers seeing the terms “Heavy Cotton” and “Ultra Cotton” could easily believe these shirts are all cotton. For the more inquisitive shopper who happened to pick up a shirt marked “Ultra Cotton” and noted that it was 100% cotton, that person might reasonably conclude that other shirts marked “Ultra Cotton” were 100% as well.

Mouse Print* asked the manufacturer, Gildan, some very pointed questions about their labeling practices, such as why shirts labeled with a particular name like “Heavy Cotton” or “Ultra Cotton” were not consistent in their fiber content, and did they understand how those labels could mislead shoppers. We also asked how the company’s labeling practices square with federal law that prohibits misleading fiber content labels, and how they square with their own code of ethics that says that the company “will not make false or unsubstantiated representations about the quality or value of our products and services.”

Their Director of Corporate Communications replied, in relevant part:

Gildan is committed to compliance with all regulatory requirements, including the detailed requirements of the many countries where our products are sold. Gildan is also committed to its customers’ satisfaction.

The Heavy Cotton and Ultra Cotton® names are sub-brand names we use to differentiate between collections within two distinct categories of products.

Our labels display clearly all information required to allow consumers to make an informed purchase decision, including fiber content, country of origin, size, care and wash instructions.

Spin aside, the company is capable of playing it straight as evidenced by this “Heavy Blend” label found on one of their sweatshirts, but for whatever reason they don’t use it on these tee shirts.

Heavy blend

The lesson here, as in so many other consumer contexts, is “don’t assume” that what you see is what you’ll actually get without more detailed checking and double-checking.


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September 21, 2015

Upgrade iPhone Yearly Forever for $15 a Month?

Filed under: Electronics,Retail,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:07 am

  To promote the launch of its “iPhone Forever” plan, Sprint is only charging $15 a month for the just introduced iPhone 6S along with the privilege that lets customers get a new iPhone every year. That is less than half the monthly cost for Apple’s own upgrade plan.

Sprint Forever

This means you are basically paying $180 a year to have the latest iPhone. For people who always must have the latest phone, this could be quite the deal … except for the fine print.


iPhone Forever terms

Besides learning that this is a 22-month lease and that you are responsible for [edited] insurance, what may have looked like a given to some — that you would only pay $15 a month and get annual upgrades forever — that monthly charge is only guaranteed for the first phone. What is not stated here in the headline, but also required, is that you trade in a smartphone when you first sign up for the plan.

According to a Sprint telephone representative, one year from now if you want to trade up to the iPhone 7, you must trade in the iPhone 6S, sign a new 22 month lease, and make monthly payments of the then current rate. She said you will owe nothing on the remaining 10 months of the original lease.

Like “unlimited,” “forever” means whatever the cell companies choose to define it as.


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September 15, 2015

Credit Cards Cutting Back on Benefits

Filed under: Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:16 am

  Consumers who ignored the flurry of “update” notices sent by a number of credit card issuers this summer may be in for a rude surprise this fall when some longstanding benefits disappear from popular credit cards.

For example, collision damage waiver, and half a dozen other travel and purchase benefits including 2-5% back in points at Sears and Kmart will be removed from the Sears platinum MasterCard issued by Citi as of October 1. Bank of America is eliminating five benefits on its Better Balance Rewards MasterCards as of November 1. And Discover, as of last month, removed from its cards benefits for lost or delayed luggage, travel insurance, and emergency roadside service. (See chart below.)

“Credit card issuers have used a host of benefits to attract customers to their cards, but now they are quietly removing many of them,” explained Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky. “Some customers may be in for quite a surprise when they go to use one of these benefits but only then discover that it no longer exists.”

Most of the MasterCard changes were made by the card company itself last year for their standard, gold, and platinum cards, but the cuts are only being implemented now by some individual banks. MasterCard says it evaluated which benefits cardholders preferred and actually put to use for everyday transactions in deciding what set of core benefits to offer and which to drop. For these basic cards, the new core benefits funded by MasterCard only include Extended Warranty, Price Protection, Identify Theft Resolution, and lost card services. Individual banks can supplement the core benefits with other perks, or even buy back deleted ones.

A Visa spokesperson said it had no plans to reduce benefits on its cards. AMEX did not respond to inquiries.

At the same time that they are reducing benefits, some of the card issuers say they are adding or improving some perks. For example, FIA Card Services, a unit of Bank of America that issues credit cards for Fidelity Investments, is expanding its “extended warranty” benefit on certain cards. Starting in November, it will double a manufacturer’s warranty up to two additional years (up from one year) for warranties of 24 months or less.

Sears MasterCard claims that as of October 1 it is improving “Extended Warranty” and “Price Protection” on its platinum cards, but PR representatives at neither MasterCard nor Citi could provide any details of the enhancements.


Credit Card Benefits Changes Summer/Fall 2015
credit card benefits

Before making a critical purchase, cardholders are urged to check with their card issuer to ensure that a particular benefit traditionally associated with their card is still in effect. For example, don’t assume you still have automatic collision damage waiver protection when renting a car, counseled Consumer World.

Upper tier cards like World MasterCard, World Elite MasterCard, and Visa Signature tend to offer more benefits than basic cards. Many of the eliminated benefits are still available on them and on many basic cards that have opted not to adopt the changes (yet).


• • •

August 10, 2015

Walmart’s Got the Lowest Priced Unlimited Cell Plan?

Filed under: Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:13 am

  Joe S. wrote to Mouse Print* last week about a Walmart television commercial for cell service that he thought was misleading. Here’s the commercial (and listen very carefully to their lowest price claim):

It says “and at $29.88, it is the lowest price unlimited plan that includes 4G LTE.” That is an unambiguous, unqualified lowest price claim.

But wait, there’s some hard-to-read fine print.


Walmart lowest claim

The fine print qualifies the blanket lowest price claim saying that it is the lowest priced among the offerings that one can buy at Walmart. That is a far different, and narrower claim, and certainly not what any reasonable consumer would understand listening to the commercial.

So we wrote to Walmart’s PR folks and asked two questions:

1. Do you recognize how a viewer could misconstrue the oral claim in your current commercial to mean that your $29.88 plan is the lowest priced 4G LTE plan IN THE MARKETPLACE because you do not qualify the claim?

2. Will you change the commercial, such as by saying “OUR lowest priced plan” instead of “THE lowest price plan”?

Walmart did not respond.

And just in case some of you are saying that maybe their claim is true that they are the lowest price in the market. Nah. Boost Mobile just announced a switching promotion to offer a $20 plan with unlimited talk, text, and data, with 2.5 gigs of high speed LTE data.

Boost $20 plan

Now it is not as if we were asking Walmart to do something difficult — change one word in the commercial so it wouldn’t be deceptive. And it is not as if they had never done it properly before. Here’s a similar commercial from last year where they clearly say orally that this plan is “our lowest priced family unlimited plan.”

You have decide what it says about a company that won’t fix a misleading advertisement when it is brought to their attention.


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