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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.

• • •

February 16, 2015

Shussh, Don’t Say That in Front of the Kids Smart TV

Filed under: Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:21 am

Samsung Smart TV Smart TVs are getting smarter. And maybe too smart for our own good.

Originally, smart televisions had the ability to display Internet websites because you could switch to a crude built-in browser. Now they can make recommendations of what you might like to watch, and can even understand voice commands.

But, there is potentially a dark side to this technology. A look at Samsung’s privacy policy supplement for smart televisions contains some unexpected surprises.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition. [color emphasis added]

So if you enable voice commands, what you say is captured and is sent to a processing company on the Internet. Be sure not to discuss how you plan to cheat the IRS or commit murder when the TV is on, lest your plans become evidence that could be subpoenaed.

And if you’re watching some steamy pay-per-view movies, Samsung may be tracking your viewing based on what functions you have enabled on the TV.

*MOUSE PRINT:

…if you enable the collection of information about video streams viewed on your SmartTV, we may collect that information and additional information about the network, channels, and programs that you view through the SmartTV.

This data collection is supposedly only used to provide you with a better viewing experience, but who knows what really happens to all that data. And if you opt into “SyncPlus,” advertisers are told what you are watching so they can target ads and offers specifically to you.

So this is the future of television… the big screen that you’re watching is also watching (and listening) to you.

After last week’s brouhaha, Samsung clarified its Smart TV policy, saying:

If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some interactive voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service provider (currently, Nuance Communications, Inc.) that converts your interactive voice commands to text and to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Samsung will collect your interactive voice commands only when you make a specific search request to the Smart TV by clicking the activation button either on the remote control or on your screen and speaking into the microphone on the remote control.

Is that an improvement?

And now Samsung Smart TV owners are complaining that the company is inserting advertisements in the consumer’s own content or content they paid for.

• • •

February 9, 2015

McDonald’s Pay with Lovin’ Promotion

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail,Sweepstakes — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:40 am

  McDonald’s unveiled a new promotion at the Super Bowl whereby random customers entering each of their restaurants will be selected to have their meal on the house if they demonstrate a bit of “lovin'” such as by hugging their kids, calling their mother to say I love you, doing a dance, etc.

McDonald's

The official rules state exactly how the promotion works. Each day at the predetermined time, the first customer to enter through a designated door, will be an unofficial winner. After they place their order, they will be approached by a manager who will tell them their order is free if they perform a particular lovin’ act.

As with any sweepstakes where money might change hands, the first rule is always “no purchase necessary.” This is because most sweepstakes are played in the context of a purchase (such getting a Monopoly game piece affixed to drink cups at McDonald’s). So game promoters are required to tell customers how to play the game free such as just by asking for a game piece, or by submitting a request for one by mail.

Paying a price for the chance of a prize is the definition of a lottery, which only the state and charitable organizations are allowed to operate. So how does McDonald’s present the “no purchase necessary” entry rules for this promotion?

*MOUSE PRINT:

The unofficial winner will be notified by the Lovin’ Lead that they are an unofficial winner after placing an order at the counter [emphasis added] or if the unofficial winner begins to leave the restaurant without placing an order at the counter. Participants do not need to make a McDonald’s purchase of any kind to be deemed an unofficial or official winner.

That is certainly a little bit awkward for the person not intending to make a purchase. So to play without paying, you have to go up to the counter, and loiter a little, or place a really big order (since it will be free if you win) but then tell the cashier you were just kidding, and begin to walk out?

From a practical standpoint what non-purchaser is going to go through this ridiculous charade for a chance at a prize? No, not even MrConsumer.

This is a fun and imaginative promotion. And it certainly is understandable why they don’t want to tell a customer when they first walk in that they have won for fear the customer will place an order for dozens of free meals. But McDonald’s really should be offering a more practical no purchase necessary method for playing the game.

Oh, incidentally, just by walking into the store, you have pre-agreed to resolve any disputes by arbitration. What, you didn’t go online before ordering your Big Mac to learn this? And some would (rightfully) say that this part of the rules is more troublesome and surprising than the no purchase necessary part.

• • •

January 30, 2015

Intuit/TurboTax Caves to Consumer Pressure

Filed under: Computers,Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:11 am

  After three and half weeks of stringing criticism from customers and the media, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax Deluxe, threw in the towel on January 29. The popular tax preparation software had been stripped of key functionality in a ballsy and blatant money-grab to extract an extra $30 to $40 in upgrade fees from regular users. The company is now going to offer free automatic upgrades to TurboTax Premier and Home & Business from within TurboTax Deluxe — the very thing we first called for back on January 6.

The company also vowed to restore all the missing pieces to TurboTax Deluxe next year.

Intuit president Brad Smith posted this apology on his Linked-in page:

Customers who already paid the $30 to $40 upgrade fee or who bought a higher edition of TurboTax will still be able to get a $25 rebate, but in many cases, it may not cover all their extra costs.

Intuit was taught a valuable lesson (again), but its history of practices designed to gouge its customers suggests it probably hasn’t really learned anything.

• • •

January 22, 2015

Intuit Offering Partial TurboTax Upgrade Rebates

Filed under: Electronics,Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 9:24 pm


TurboTax Deluxe(BOSTON – January 22, 2015) – Following a public outcry from regular TurboTax Deluxe users who learned that the popular tax preparation software’s maker had stripped the program of key functionality this year, Intuit today apologized and somewhat reversed course by offering a $25 rebate to purchasers to partially cover the cost of having to upgrade to a more expensive version.

Without clear advance disclosure that its flagship product had changed and could no longer help users easily report all income from investments, self-employment, and rental property (Schedules C, D, and E), the company had sought $30 to $40 in upgrade fees disclosed partway into the program in order to restore its original functionality.

“Intuit offered a full apology but only a partial refund. They should be providing free automatic upgrades this year, and not requiring users to remember to send in for a rebate possibly months from now after they file their taxes,” commented Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky. “The rebate doesn’t even cover the full cost of the upgrade in many cases.”

As of today, customers have posted over 1500 one-star reviews of TurboTax Deluxe on Amazon. And competitors like H&R Block have already offered disgruntled TurboTax customers their tax software free.

Dworsky launched a media blitz on January 6 to warn the public about the crippled TurboTax software, and to pressure the company to give all affected customers automatic free upgrades to restore the product’s full functionality. Until now, Intuit was only informally offering free or discounted upgrades to buyers who called to complain.

To save the company money, Intuit has narrowly defined who can get the $25 rebate. To qualify, customers have to had filed their 2013 income taxes using TurboTax Deluxe, and filed their 2014 return using either TurboTax Premier or Home & Business. And by using a rebate that can’t be submitted until one’s taxes are filed, the company will benefit from those who forget or can’t be bothered dealing with rebates.

UPDATE: Intuit has clarified whether you have to e-file or not to qualify for the rebate. If you e-file both the 2013 and 2014 return, their website can automatically validate your rebate request. If you paper filed, they will have to process the request manually by having you call their 800 number.

Intuit is not new to controversy or nickel-and-diming tactics. In 2008, it added a $9.95 fee to print or e-file a second return from TurboTax, but quickly rescinded the charge following a storm of criticism. And for years, it has arbitrarily “sunset” (deactivated) the online downloading and electronic bill payment functions of its popular Quicken checkbook software thus requiring consumers to buy a new version of the program every three years.

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