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May 22, 2017

Understanding (or Misunderstanding) Reward Credit Card Offers

Filed under: Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:46 am

MrConsumer received an email from one of his favorite stores, Christmas Tree Shops, advertising a new rewards credit card. It seems to pay back 1%, 2%, and 5% in various categories and then they throw in some type of “$10 reward certificate” for every $10 in regular rewards that you earn.

Christmas Tree Offer

So, I am trying to figure out what kind of $10 reward certificate this is because it sounds too good to be true. I bet it is really more like a coupon — get $10 off a $50 purchase — I said to myself.

Maybe the fine print will explain it.


*Reward Certificates are issued in $10 increments with your billing statement. Restrictions and exclusions apply, see Reward Certificate for details.

Thanks for nothing.

Clicking through from the email to their website does not offer any clearer explanation. In fact, it repeats the same exact claims and footnote.

Only after clicking “apply” and then “rewards terms and conditions” do the full details come up.


Reward Dollars will automatically be redeemed for Christmas Tree Shops andThat! Reward Certificates when the below threshold is met. Reward Certificates are issued in $10 increments via your monthly billing statement. $10 Reward Dollars = $10 Christmas Tree Shops andThat! Reward Certificate. … Once a Reward Certificate is issued, your Reward Dollars balance will be reduced by the number of Reward Dollars used to obtain the Reward Certificate(s).

So, it appears that the 1%, 2%, and 5% reward earnings are called “reward dollars” and when you accumulate $10 in reward dollars they automatically convert those into “reward certificates” good for purchases at Christmas Tree Shops, Bed, Bath and Beyond, etc.

There is no bonus of a separate $10 reward certificate for every $10 in rewards that you accumulate.

How did you, dear reader, understand this offer? Did you think that you got some type of extra $10 certificate for every $10 in rewards that you accumulated? Or, did you understand that all reward earnings were converted automatically to reward certificates when you had reached the $10 level of earnings? Add your comments below.


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May 15, 2017

Burger King Got Caught in a Whopper

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:17 am

A Maryland woman caught Burger King in a whopper. She discovered that the fast food chain, perhaps nationally, was overcharging customers who used one of the company’s “buy one, get one free” coupons for a Croissan’wich.

bogo coupon

She did a meticulous but limited investigation by first buying two Croissan’wiches with a buy one, get one free coupon, and then one minute later on a separate receipt, buying a single Croissan’wich. She should have been charged the same amount on both receipts because she only was paying for one in each order.


Burger KIng receipts

The receipt on the left shows that she was charged $2.99 when she used the BOGO coupon, while when she bought just one Croissan’wich without a coupon, she was only charged $1.79 — $1.20 less.

This woman repeated her tests in a Maryland Burger King as well as one in Washington, DC. The results were the same, although the prices differed. She was charged more for a Croissan’wich when she used a coupon than when one was purchased sans coupon.

So, she is bringing a class action lawsuit against Burger King hoping to get restitution for everyone overcharged.

The Federal Trade Commission has advertising guidelines right on point when a seller offers a second item free upon purchase of the first item:

(b) Meaning of “Free”. (1) The public understands that, except in the case of introductory offers in connection with the sale of a product or service (See paragraph (f) of this section), an offer of “Free” merchandise or service is based upon a regular price for the merchandise or service which must be purchased by consumers in order to avail themselves of that which is represented to be “Free”. In other words, when the purchaser is told that an article is “Free” to him if another article is purchased, the word “Free” indicates that he is paying nothing for that article and no more than the regular price for the other. [emphasis added] Thus, a purchaser has a right to believe that the merchant will not directly and immediately recover, in whole or in part, the cost of the free merchandise or service by marking up the price of the article which must be purchased, by the substitution of inferior merchandise or service, or otherwise.

We asked the law firm representing this consumer if the Croissan’wich happened to be on sale when the test purchases were made, and thus that might explain why she was charged the non-sale price for the first one when using a BOGO coupon. The answer was that they did not believe so. We also inquired whether this alleged overcharging was happening with other coupons, like buy one Whopper, get one free. Same answer — not to their knowledge — but they are investigating further.

Mouse Print* wrote to Burger King’s PR folks asking for their side of the story. The company did not respond.


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May 7, 2017

Staples.com Keeps Warranties Secret and That Could be Costly to You

Filed under: Computers,Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 7:32 am

Two years ago, Consumer World conducted a spot-check of 20 major Internet retailers to see if they were properly disclosing the manufacturer’s warranty on their websites for the products they sell.

Two-thirds of the sellers surveyed posted no warranties whatsoever for any of the items checked. Federal Trade Commission rules require online sellers, on or near the product description of items over $15, to either post the actual warranty or tell customers how to obtain a free copy from the seller.

At the time, for the five items checked at Staples.com, none had the actual warranty language disclosed nor a statement of how to obtain it, and the length of the warranty was only sometimes disclosed.

From a practical standpoint, how might this affect a shopper? Case in point: Last year, MrConsumer assisted two friends who were in need of a new desktop computer. He wound up recommending a Dell that was on sale at the time at Staples for between $400 and $500. Current version of product listing:

Dell 3650 Dell specs

Fast forward 10 months later, and one of the computers needed to be repaired. Upon calling Dell, my friend was informed there would be a charge equivalent to approximately half the cost of the computer because in-home service was not covered in the warranty. What? A desktop computer weighing nearly 20 pounds has to be disconnected and mailed to Dell to be repaired? You bet.


Dell Mail-in

Sure enough, on the Dell website, the warranty that came with this desktop computer was mail-in only. Who would ever expect anything but in-home service for a desktop computer under warranty?

So we asked several Staples’ PR folks to explain why they were not complying with federal law and disclosing product warranties right on their website, and why they were not at a minimum even clearly disclosing that in the case of this computer that the warranty was mail-in. We also asked now that Staples was sensitized to this issue, what steps they would take to comply with federal law and be more explicit about the type of warranty that comes with their products.

Their response: [this space intentionally blank since Staples did not reply to three requests for this information.]

The lesson, of course, is to never assume anything about a product’s warranty and to demand to see it before you make a significant purchase.


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May 1, 2017

Tide+ Provides 20% More Loads?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:17 am

How could it be? Two 92 ounce bottles of Tide+ detergent are side by side on store shelves, with one claiming it gets 48 loads and the other says 59 loads.

Tide  +

The cap explains that the bottle on the right above is new and gets 20% more loads per jug.

Tide 20% more loads

Don’t even try to decipher the small print under the 20% claim (hint: they used a slash when they should have used a semi-colon).

The secret to how they squeezed more loads into the same size bottle is partially disclosed in fine print on the back.


Tide 48 load
Tide 59 load

In small print, we first learn that the number of loads claimed is for “medium” size washing loads, which really appears to be a euphemism for small loads. But by examining the pictures of the caps shown, one learns the other trick of sorts that P&G used to get more loads out of the same size bottle. They changed the dosing. Where previously, filling the cap to line 2 gave you 48 medium loads, they now instruct users just to fill the cap to line one to miraculously get 59 loads — 20% more.

Similarly, the dosing changed for large loads from filling the cap to line 4 previously, to now filling it to only line 3. Curiously, for “full” loads, they still recommend filling the cap to the fifth line. And in so doing, users will achieve no increase in the number of loads at all.

That actual number of large loads per bottle, incidentally, is only a bit more than 21 according to P&G for both the old and new bottles. Twenty-one loads when the front of the bottle promised 48 or 59 loads? Nice. But, unfortunately, this is a game played by all detergent makers — promote the largest number of loads possible based on the smallest amount of clothing to be washed.

We asked P&G whether they accomplished the claimed increase in loads merely by changing the dosing instructions to use less, or whether they changed the formula making it more concentrated. In a series of emails, their PR spokesperson replied in part:

We further concentrated the formulas of Tide Plus Downy, Tide Plus Febreze, Tide Plus Bleach Alternative and Tide Cold Water so that you can use less liquid per dose but maintain the same cleaning power.

For medium and large loads, the new dosing provides 20% more loads per bottle than before.

We rebalanced the formulas we’ve been discussing and we did so in order to 1) continue to provide an outstanding clean and 2) ensure we could continue to provide the added benefits of each formula with the same dose as our “regular” formulas.

We have not changed the recommended dose for HE Full Capacity … [because] 1) these HE washing machines continue to get larger and require more cleaning power for larger loads… and 2) we know most consumers do not dose at HE Full Capacity for “all” loads on a regular basis.

So, it seems like P&G accomplished getting more loads out of the same size bottle by a combination of introducing a more concentrated formula and by recommending using less.

What still remains a mystery is why those fill lines inside the cap are so darn impossible to find and read.


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April 24, 2017

Does Prevagen Really Work?

Filed under: Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:19 am

Everyone has seen the TV commercials for a pill made from a chemical originally found in jellyfish. But you may not remember the product’s name nor what it is supposed to do.

The product is Prevagen and it is supposed to improve your memory.

Here is one of their ads from 2014:


What the commercials don’t disclose is that the Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General’s office recently sued the makers of Prevagen alleging they did not have reliable studies to back up their claims.

In particular, the commercials assert that it is a chemical found in jellyfish that is the magic ingredient to make your brain work better. The FTC and NY-AG say that the company’s own studies show that this chemical never actually reaches the brain! (See the court filings.)

And the FTC has gotten complaints about the product. Here are some of them.

The company, Quincy Bioscience, released a statement vehemently denying the allegations. In part it says:

“Prevagen is safe. Neither the FTC nor the New York Attorney General has alleged that Prevagen can cause or has caused harm to anyone. And hundreds of thousands people tell us it works and improves their lives.

Quincy has amassed a large body of evidence that Prevagen improves memory and supports healthy brain function.”

So who and what is a consumer to believe?


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