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September 12, 2016

Amazon’s Pooled Inventory Increases Chances for Fraud and Altered Seller Ratings

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:39 am

AmazonNot everything sold on Amazon comes from Amazon. It has “marketplace” sellers too. These are independent third party companies that contract with Amazon to include their offerings in Amazon’s product listings and pay them after they are sold. Some of the marketplace sellers will ship goods directly to shoppers from their own warehouse. Others will use a service provided by Amazon called “fulfillment by Amazon.” In those cases, the outside sellers send their inventory of the item to Amazon to be warehoused by the Internet giant. Amazon then apparently pools or commingles those goods, if the seller so chooses, with its own inventory of that item and with the same item sent in by other sellers too.

So, when you buy an item from Amazon, you may never know the actual source of it. Items with the same UPC code are generally warehoused together but may well have come from different places.

In an ideal world, this is would probably be considered good inventory management. In the real world which is inhabited by some number of crooks, this can be problematic.

Some categories of goods are more likely to be counterfeit (designer handbags) or be bogus (prepaid telephone cards), for example. When these items are stored in a pooled inventory, you the consumer have no way of knowing who actually provided that item to Amazon.

Now how is this a problem for shoppers? If you wind up with worthless goods, as our reader David B. did, you may have a fight on your hands with the marketplace seller who claims to only sell legitimate goods or with Amazon itself. And the problem may also manifest itself in a different way for shoppers.

Here is the rating of one marketplace seller on Amazon (Note: this seller is being used as an example and is not to suggest that this company did anything wrong. It may in fact be a victim.):

marketplace seller

With a 100% rating and a good number of reviews, as a shopper you would feel confident in doing business with this marketplace seller. However, if you look at the actual reviews, a different picture is painted.



There are actually 15 one-star reviews for this seller alleging the receipt of prepaid cards with invalid PINs, broken or missing contents inside the box, etc. Those 15 one-star complaints out of a total of 49 reviews for this seller amount to just over 30%. Yet, Amazon says there are only 34 ratings, thus giving this seller five stars with a 100% rating. What’s going on here?

Each of the one star reviews is crossed out with a notation from Amazon:

Message from Amazon: This item was fulfilled by Amazon, and we take responsibility for this fulfillment experience.

Apparently all the items that this seller was down-rated for came from Amazon’s pooled inventory of goods since the company used “fulfilled by Amazon” to ship out the orders. And Amazon didn’t want to brandish this seller with bad ratings when those goods may actually have come from a source other than this seller. This is completely understandable, but there are some downsides. See Amazon’s strikethrough policy.

We asked Amazon why they eliminate the one-star ratings from the calculation of a seller’s total rating when the seller uses fulfillment by Amazon (“FBA”). An Amazon spokesperson replied:

“For FBA orders, Amazon takes responsibility for fulfilment-related issues. When a customer leaves negative feedback that mentions the fulfilment experience of an FBA order, the Seller can request that feedback be struckthrough. This doesn’t affect the Sellers rating because FBA is a fulfillment service provided and operated by Amazon.”

Huh? This makes it sound like Amazon denies tinkering with sellers’ star ratings.

The company did not reply to other questions about whether they refund complaining consumers in full, and whether they understand that artificially increasing a seller’s rating can potentially mislead shoppers.

Our advice: don’t rely on the summary rating for marketplace sellers. Read reviews in full on their full website (not app) to see if the particular seller deals in items that have a high risk of fraud.


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August 29, 2016

Walmart Drops Price Match Guarantee in 100s of Stores

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:44 am

Since May, Walmart has been quietly discontinuing its price match guarantee (“Ad Match”) in hundreds of stores nationwide. This is a marked change from a policy the company promoted for years in TV commercials like this:

When one goes online to Walmart.com these days to read their terms of their policies, this is all they say about matching prices in stores:


Check with your local store for additional details on the price match policy.

Walmart spokesperson John Forrest Ales told us recently that “more than 200 but less than 1000” stores are affected nationwide. He said that in place of the price guarantee, they are instituting “long term rollbacks.” That means that thousands of items, mostly groceries and consumables, are going to have lower everyday prices, with no set expiration date. Large blue signs are being posted in stores where Ad Match is no longer available.

Walmart sign
from WhatsYourDeal

How can you get around the discontinuation of their price match policy? You can still use their Ad Match app to scan your store receipt and automatically be entitled to any lower prices the app can find. Secondly, their price match policy still applies to purchases at Walmart.com and stores not participating in the new lower prices campaign.


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August 22, 2016

Lowe’s Pulls Misleading TV Ad After We Cry Foul

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:41 am

Recently, Lowe’s began advertising what appeared to be a great sale on major appliances — 20% off. Here is the advertisement that ran during the 60 Minutes broadcast last week:

Click play button.

Seems pretty straightforward and unambiguous, right?

Oh, but then there’s some hard to read fine print (and our video quality doesn’t help matters). So, here is a close-up:


Lowe's commercial

And if you still can’t read that, here is what it says:

“Valid 8/10 – 8/23. Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Amana, GE, LG, Samsung, Frigidaire, Electrolux and Bosch brands limited to a maximum 10% discount, unless otherwise shown. See store for more details and more exclusions. US only.”

Huh? First we’re seemingly told that the only restriction on getting 20% off appliances is that they have to sell for over $395. Then we learn that virtually all the most popular appliance brands are excluded from the 20% off sale and are only 10% off?

Incidentally, the online disclaimer lists additional brands that don’t qualify for any discount at all off the regular price:


Online exclusions

So what brands are the full 20% off? For common major appliances, the Lowe’s website for a Massachusetts store only lists these additional brands: Haier, Hotpoint, Premier, Sharp, and Tappan. All of them that displayed the regular Lowe’s price (not MSRP) showed only a 10% off discount. Interestingly, despite the ad’s disclaimer, some models of the excluded brands were indeed at least 20% off.

According to enforcement policy of the Federal Trade Commission it is actually considered an unfair or deceptive practice for the big print to giveth and the little print to taketh away:

Advertisements often contain fine-print footnotes or video superscripts that attempt to disclaim, limit, modify, or explain claims made elsewhere in the ad. Advertisers cannot use fine print to contradict other statements in an ad or to clear up misimpressions the ad would otherwise leave.

Last Monday morning, Consumer World contacted the Lowe’s headquarters about these issues and to also ask if they would pull or revise the advertisement. It was not until Wednesday afternoon that we got the news that the company saw the light and yanked the ad. They said “there was a misstep in the editing process” and would modify it by adding “up to 20% off” in the headline. We suggested that that still would not fully remedy the problem, so some additional suggestions were made.

By Friday, true to their word, Lowe’s added the words “up to” to the commercial but did not take any of the other suggestions offered:

Lowe's revised ad

Consumers watching TV have a right to be told the straight poop about any offer and not have to freeze the picture to read almost unreadable fine print. As noted in the press release we issued last week about this matter, we have filed complaints with the FTC, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office.

We welcome your thoughts in the comments.


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August 15, 2016

Free Furniture Promo Tied to Election Turnout

Filed under: Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:43 am

The latest gimmick to get shoppers to buy furniture during the summer doldrums comes from Bernie & Phyl’s, a small Massachusetts furniture chain. They are offering to refund the price of all furniture you buy until August 22 if the turn out for the 2016 presidential election equals or exceeds 75%.

Bernie & Phyl's

With a particularly contentious election at hand with what some would call two polarizing candidates, it is far from clear if we will have a big turnout or a small one.

But maybe history should be our guide.


According to the United States Election Project from the University of Florida, whose data will determine the official turnout for purposes of this store promotion, since 1948 when they started keeping track of these statistics, there has never been a turnout even close to 75% or more.

election turnout

MrConsumer has always railed against promotions that incorporate chance into the offer because that comes pretty close to the definition of an illegal lottery: paying a price for the chance at a prize.

So, if you need furniture this August, look for the best deal and don’t count on the election results to turn your purchase into a freebie.


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August 1, 2016

Getting a Price Match is Like Pulling Teeth

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:40 am

Office Depot/Office Max had a crazy low price ($1) last week on the gel pens that MrConsumer loves. But since he lives right across the street from Staples, he decided to pick them up there and get Staples to match the price.

Uni-ball $1

Staples only had five-packs and these were four packs. So, I decided to call 1-800-Staples to see if their phone ordering/website customer service department could put through the order. Staples did carry the four-pack online, the same as OD/OM.

Staples’ regular price is $8.49 for this item and I wanted three of them, so I knew I probably would have a fight on my hands because under Staples’ 110% price guarantee, they will not only match the price, but also deduct 10% of the difference from the competitor’s selling price. And on three packages, this is going to cost them an arm and leg — about $25.

Uniball Staples

I called the 800 number for Staples and asked for a 110% price match. I told the rep that he had to look at the OfficeMax/Depot ad front page, but instead he looked at their website and couldn’t find the $1 item. After leading him by the hand subsequently to the circular, he put me on hold to see if he they would match (beat) the price.

He returned to the phone maybe 10 minutes later to say that they would not because the item has to be “available for delivery” and he said this was not. I challenged him to show me where in their price match policy it says that. And after 10+ minutes on hold again, he returned to the line, and sheepishly admitted he could not find such a rule and would honor the price match. (They do have rules about whether shipping is free or not, however, but he did not mention them.)

In this case, I pointed out that both OD/OM and Staples provide for online ordering for free in-store pickup, so shipping was equivalent too.

The bill with the 110% price match came to 75 cents plus tax for three packages. But this whole transaction took 45 minutes on the phone.

Uni-ball match

Through the years, MrConsumer has observed that stores promote their price guarantees in a big way, but some seem to encourage their employees to search for loopholes to deny the match to the customer.

As a side note, in reviewing the Office Depot/Office Max fine print, that company uses mouse print 10 pages away to disclaim plain English representations on the front page of their circular. Right beneath the ad for the gel pens it says that you can order online for free store pickup, seemingly referring to everything at least on that page, if not the whole circular.

Office Depot

But on page 10, in a print footnote, the company says the opposite.


“Price and offers available in-store only 7/24/16-7/30/16 (unless otherwise noted)… and are not online or by phone, including orders for in-store pickup. [emphasis added]”

Well, which is it? Can you order online for in-store pick up or not?


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