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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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October 12, 2015

Kiss Your Written Warranty Goodbye

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:55 am

warrantyFor decades, federal law has required manufacturers that guarantee their products to include a written warranty on or in the box containing the product. Retailers have also had to make available a physical copy of all warranties for review by prospective purchasers right in the store.

That is all about to change because of a revision of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 that was just signed into the law on September 24. The amendment, called the E-Warranty Act of 2015 directs the Federal Trade Commission to revise its rules within one year to allow e-distribution of product warranties.


Manufacturers will now be allowed to merely include a link on or in their product packaging directing the purchaser to the warranty on its website. To accommodate those without Internet access, manufacturers must provide a telephone number or physical mailing address to contact the manufacturer to obtain a copy.

Similarly, retailers will no longer have to have physical copies of all warranties in a binder for customers to review before purchase, but can alternatively provide access to them electronically in the store.

Is this good for consumers? MrConsumer says absolutely not! Why should I as a purchaser have to jump through hoops just to get a copy of the manufacturer’s warranty for the product I just purchased? It should be there right in the box. Period. If they don’t provide you with a copy of the warranty in the box, aren’t you less likely to know you even have one and less likely to use it? And who do you think that is going to benefit?

This past June, Consumer World conducted a spot-check of 20 online stores which revealed that they failed to post the warranty electronically on their websites for four-out-of-five items checked. Under current FTC rules, online sellers either had to post the actual warranty on their website or tell customers how to obtain it. So while the idea of making warranties available electronically may be forward thinking, if stores or manufacturers don’t actually do it, thanks for nothing.

If there is any bright side to this new law, it is that the FTC can now fix an oversight in the recent review of its warranties rules, and require online sellers to post the actual product warranty for everything they sell (rather than be able to direct shoppers to the manufacturer).


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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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