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July 27, 2015

T.J. Maxx Sued for Phony “Compare at” Prices

Filed under: Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:51 am

  Two California consumers are suing T.J. Maxx for using deceptive price comparisons on their price tags. [See lawsuit.]

T.J. Maxx price tags looks like this:

TJ Maxx pricetag

It shows a higher “compare at” price and the lower T.J. Maxx selling price. Average consumers, like the plaintiffs, might believe they were saving that amount of money on the items they were buying because the same item or a similar item was selling elsewhere for the stated higher price.

As it turns out, T.J. Maxx defines “compare at” on their website (and they say on signs in their stores) in a bit of an unexpected way:


What do we mean by “compare at”?

The “compare at” price is our buying staff’s estimate of the regular, retail price at which a comparable item in finer catalogs, specialty or department stores may have been sold. We buy products from thousands of vendors worldwide, so the item may not be offered by other retailers at the “compare at” price at any particular time or location. We encourage you to do your own comparison shopping as another way to see what great value we offer.

T.J. Maxx seems to be saying that its “compare at” prices are merely estimates and not actual prices that it has found for comparable merchandise in the marketplace.

This does not square with state or federal guidelines that seem to require substantiation that a reasonable number of sellers are actually offering a comparable in quality item at the stated “compare at” price.

In T.J. Maxx’s defense, the actual selling price for their merchandise tends to be as low or lower than some of the best prices being offered elsewhere for the same item. And, in many of the cases that we checked, the compare at price that T.J. Maxx uses is conservative and sometimes less than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.

For example:

Nautica luggage

In this case, Nautica claims the list price of the 20-inch (not 21-inch as T.J. Maxx asserts) suitcase is $320. T.J. Maxx says the “compare to” price is $140, and they are is selling it for $69.99. Who knows what other brand is comparable to this particular item, but this very item sells for no more $99.99 at other stores.

So real life savings are $30 rather than $70 (at least for an identical item).

None of this excuses the company, however, for using estimates instead of basing its “compare to” prices on actual products and their real prices in the marketplace.


• • •

July 13, 2015

With New LED Light Bulbs, Be Careful Watt You Buy

Filed under: Electronics,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:13 am

  Light emitting diode (LED) light bulbs are poised to become the bulb of choice for many shoppers. With a recent price drop announced by GE, it is predicted that LED light bulbs might in coming years make compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) obsolete.

But not all LED bulbs are created equal.

Here is a conventional incandescent 60-watt bulb and its CFL equivalent:

60-watt incandescent     cfl

The conventional 60-watt bulb has a life of about 1000 hours, and is rated at 870 lumens (the brightness or amount of light it gives off). But the CFL uses only one-quarter of the electricity (15 watts), lasts eight times longer, and produces slightly more light — 900 lumens — at least initially. That CFL cost a dollar or less.

The new GE bulb, called the GE LED Bright Stik, comes in packs of three at Home Depot for $9.97.

GE Bright Stik


While it uses one-sixth of the electricity of an incandescent, and a third less than the CFL, it only provides 760 lumens of light versus 870-900 lumens for the other two. It also provides a paltry 15,000 hours of life — short for an LED.

It appears that GE has sacrificed longevity and light output for a lower price. Compare the specs of some of its competitors:


60-Watt Equivalent LED Bulb Comparison
“Conventional” refers to bulb shape

As you can see, prices and specs vary widely. The point of this comparison is to show that you shouldn’t assume that all LED bulbs of a certain wattage equivalent provide the same amount of brightness or have the longest possible life.


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June 8, 2015

The Price They Advertise is Not the Price You Pay

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:08 am

  Enough is enough. Isn’t it time that cell and cable companies stopped advertising seemingly low monthly prices for their service, while tacking on a multitude of junk fees, undisclosed charges, and taxes that significantly boost your bill?

Recently the Huffington Post did an exposé, using Verizon FiOS’ new pick your own channel bundle for $74.99 as an example. When you added all the other charges, you actually had to pay over 60% more than the advertised price.


Huffington Post
Click to Enlarge

There were equipment/HD fees, FDV administrative fee, broadcast TV fee, regional sports fee, franchise fee, USF fee, federal/state/local taxes, etc. There could also be installation fees, activation fees, and early termination fees depending on the offer.

Verizon is certainly not alone in tacking on all these fees. Comcast and Time Warner are equal opportunity offenders, as are the wireless cell companies.

Is it any wonder that these types of companies rate low in customer satisfaction surveys and on trust indices?

Maybe there needs to be a requirement, like airfares, that a single all-inclusive price must be the amount advertised, and not these bait and switch prices.


• • •

June 1, 2015

Get Rewards with Plenti (of Strings Attached)

Filed under: Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:48 am

  A new unified rewards program named Plenti was recently introduced by a number of retailers. The concept is simple, and actually kind of smart on the face of it: instead of separate loyalty programs, these stores use the same card to allow shoppers to earn points that get deposited into a single account. Then, the points can be redeemed at participating members’ stores for discounts.

But wait, there was some almost illegible fine print on the screen for a mere three seconds.


“You cannot use points with all participating partners or at all locations.”

Huh? Isn’t that the point of the program to earn points at member stores and then be able to redeem there?

For example, here is AT&T’s Plenti ad.


AT&T Plenti

In case you can’t read that, it says that you can’t currently use points at AT&T.


In fact, according to the Plenti site, you can only redeem Plenti points at Macy’s, Rite Aid and participating Exxon and Mobil stations.

So, if you like to collect points just for the sake of collecting them because you don’t shop at the above retailers, knock yourself out at AT&T, Nationwide Insurance, Direct Energy, Enterprise, National, Alamo, and Hulu.

And as with any discounts, there are “plenti” of other earning and redeeming exclusions.


• • •

May 18, 2015

Ambiguous 2-Fer Offers

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

  Everybody loves a bargain, and when a company offers a second product free or at reduced price, that can be an attention-grabber.

The problem is that too often companies advertise 2-fer offers that are ambiguous at best, causing the shopper to jump to a conclusion about pricing that might be erroneous.

Example 1:

4.95 checks

Okay, what are these people offering? Is it two boxes of checks for a total of $4.95 and you get a third box free? Is it merely buy one box for $4.95, get a second box free? Or is it $4.95 for each box, and if you buy two, you get the third box free?


The answer in this case: This is a straight buy one box for $4.95, get another one free. (That’s an amazingly low price until you factor in mandatory handling charges of $3.45 per box.)

Example 2:

49 cents checks

Now, what’s this deal? Is each book of checks 49 cents? Is one box 49 cents when you buy two other boxes for $13.44 each? Are two boxes $13.44 period?


The answer when you clickthrough to their website is that this is a buy one for regular price offer, get the second box for 49 cents. So, apparently the first box is $12.95.

Incidentally, two many of these cheap check printers do not disclose how many checks are in a box. If memory serves correctly, it was standard practice to get eight books of checks in a box, or 200 total. Now some sellers only provide 150 checks, and others only 100.

Example 3:

Staples paper

So cases of paper are $4.99 after rebate at Staples “when you buy two.” So do you have to buy two cases at regular price and then get the third for only $4.99? Or are two cases $4.99 total? Or are cases $4.99 each, but you have to buy two of them to get that price?


In this example, unlike the check ads, the stated price is meant to apply per item. So, paper is $4.99 each case, but you must buy two to get that price each.

With these three examples, you have to wonder if sellers ever look at their offers to make sure that they are clear and unambiguous.


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