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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 8, 2016

Comcast’s Inside Wiring Plan Excludes Most Inside Wiring!

Filed under: Electronics,Telephone,Thanks for Nothing — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:55 am

One of the ways that telephone and cable companies try to make extra money is to pitch inside wiring plans to their customers. For about $5 a month, these plans typically promise to fix the cable or telephone wire in your home or apartment should it cause a problem with your service. Normally this would be the owner’s responsibility. Most consumer advocates say not to fall for the scare tactics and save your money because inside wiring rarely goes bad on its own.

Last week, the Washington state attorney general went one step further. He sued Comcast, a large purveyor of these inside wiring plans because of alleged deceptive tactics they used to sell these policies. The lawsuit accuses Comcast of misleading 500,000 Washington consumers and deceiving them into paying at least $73 million in subscription fees over the last five years for a near-worthless “protection plan” without clearly disclosing its significant limitations.


Here is how Comcast promoted its plan before the Washington AG began investigating. (Here is how the plan it is currently presented.)

It says in part:

“Comcast offers a comprehensive Service Protection Plan (SPP), eliminating any concerns about being charged additional fees for service calls related to inside wiring. … Hassle-free replacement and repair of defective customer inside wiring.”

When one checked the fine print terms and conditions of the Service Protection Plan as originally promoted, the introductory paragraph even reiterates the promise:

“Inside wiring covered under this plan is owned by the customer or a third party and is defined as wiring that begins at the “Demarcation Point,” which begins 12 inches outside the customer’s residence and extends to the individual phone jacks, cable and Internet outlets and extensions in the home.”

Digging deeper into the terms however, reveals the truth (emphasis added below).


Comcast fine print

Maybe 90% of the wiring inside a home is behind walls, and it is excluded! Thanks for nothing, Comcast.

Things get worse, according to the WA-AG’s complaint.

[While] Comcast claimed the SPP covers all service calls related to customer-owned equipment, it does not cover any actual repairs relating to customer equipment. It simply covers the technician visiting the customer’s house and declaring that the customer’s equipment is broken.

Comcast also marketed the SPP as covering service calls relating to Comcast equipment and wiring outside a customer’s house. However, these issues are already covered for free by Comcast’s Customer Guarantee promises.

The Washington AG is seeking $100+ million in his lawsuit.

For its part, Comcast issued the following statement:

“The Service Protection Plan has given those Washington consumers who chose to purchase it great value by completely covering over 99 percent of their repair calls. We worked with the Attorney General’s office to address every issue they raised, and we made several improvements based on their input.”

Incidentally, it is believed that Comcast marketed its service protection plan the very same way nationally… so you probably have not heard the end of this yet.


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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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July 25, 2016

As Seen on TV: Philips Airfryer — Only $49.95?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:29 am

In infomercials and on a website, Philips is advertising a kitchen appliance called the Airfryer, which uses hot air to “fry” food. They call it an “oil-less fryer” but you really have to add some oil to food like freshly cut french fries for it to work.

The ads for the Airfryer offer it at a price of $49.95 with a 30-day “risk-free” trial… and if you don’t like it, you can get your money back.


Airfryer TV ad

But is $49.95 the real price of the item?


fine print

In type only slightly larger than this, at the bottom of their website, the truth is revealed. The price of the fryer is not $49.95 — it is four times that — $199.80 because you are required to make three more payments of $49.95 if you want to keep it. Yet, to many, the price of the appliance looked like it might have been $49.95 total.

Adding insult to injury, it costs 25 bucks to ship this unit to you, and that is not refundable if you return it.

It’s no accident that Philips hides the real price of the Airfryer, but do they have to get cagey about what your $49.95 really buys you?


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July 18, 2016

Red Robin’s Birthday Burger Blunder

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:40 am

Red RobinJohn G. is member of Red Robin’s loyalty program. He went to their Evans, Georgia restaurant earlier this month to collect on his free birthday burger that the plan promises.

When the bill came, he and his wife were surprised that only $4 had been deducted for his burger, rather than the full price. Of course, he questioned the discrepancy. The manager explained that the restaurant’s computer system applies only one promotion banked in his account to each meal purchased, and the promotion that gets applied is the one that will expire the soonest.

In other words, in John’s case, his account had a free birthday burger coupon that expires the end of July, but it also had a $4 off coupon that expires in early July, so it would get applied first. John was also told that as a program member he could have gone into his account to rank/prioritize the coupons in a different order, so the free burger coupon would have been the first one used.

John says, “unless one knows what ‘reward ranking’ is, the average customer doesn’t understand that he has to keep track of offers presented to him.”

We checked the fine print on the company’s website for the loyalty program, and it is completely contrary to what he was told in the restaurant as to the order the discounts are applied to a member’s bill.


How does Red Robin prioritize their rewards?

We do rank them in the order of highest value, but now you have the ability to choose which one you crave!

And in their terms and conditions, it says this:

If you have earned more than one Reward, just present your Program Card or your telephone number associated with your Account to your server with your form of payment, and our Program system will apply the highest ranked Reward that you have earned to your bill.

Reward Redemption Order (Rank)
•5 Visits in 5 Weeks, $20 Reward on 6th visit
•Birthday Burger — The Birthday Burger Reward includes any of our more than 24 fire-grilled gourmet burgers but does not include extra patties, extra cheese, styles or Red Robin’s Finest Burgers.
•Every 10th Item Free

In both places it clearly says that the coupon with the highest value gets applied first, which makes total sense. Yet that is not what happened to John in practice. So we wrote to the PR folks at Red Robin to get a straight answer of which policy is the real policy, and what happened.

“There are a number of factors that go into Red Robin Royalty’s reward rankings and we are unable to comment on this specific situation without a deeper investigation and additional information. While rewards are almost always ranked based on value, there are certain caveats; for example, a free birthday burger reward excludes Red Robin’s Finest burgers and non-burger items. If a guest orders an item that does not qualify for the birthday burger reward, despite it being ranked higher on their account, the system would look to redeem the next eligible reward.” —Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews spokesperson

John says he didn’t order a “forbidden on your birthday burger” so we are no more clear on what actually happened in this case than John is. The manager, incidentally, did finally figure out how to give John his free burger, but the whole incident left a bad taste in his mouth.

We agree with John that consumers should not be placed in a position to remember every offer that is sent them and be required to juggle them in one’s account before trying to use a particular offer. Restaurant diners should be allowed to merely say “please use my birthday burger coupon” or be able to print it and that should be the end of it.


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