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March 10, 2014

Sleepy’s Unbeatable, err… Unreadable Price Guarantee

Filed under: Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:31 am

sleepy's price guarantee From the lost archive of unpublished Mouse Print* stories, circa 2007:

Mattress buying has always been a tricky proposition. You can’t easily compare prices and models of mattresses because bedding manufacturers assign unique style names to each store that sells its products.

That fact alone makes taking advantage of a store’s advertised price guarantee almost impossible.

Assuming you could find the exact same mattress elsewhere (or a comparable one if they allowed it), the Sleepy’s chain seems to make a pretty generous offer — they beat any competitor’s price by 20% or the bed is free.

*MOUSE PRINT: The guarantee, pictured above, exactly as it appeared [in 2007] on Sleepy’s homepage, has virtually unreadable fine print that substantially diminishes the guarantee’s coverage.

We will meet any price on any Stearns & Foster®, Internet, TrueForm®, Tempur-Pedic® or BodyDiagnostics® models. * Applies to same or comparable mattresses prior to delivery. Excludes closeouts, special purchases, exchanges, floor samples, warranties, discontinued & one-of-a-kind items. Must present competitor’s current ad or invoice.

They partially exclude two popular brands, Stearns & Foster and Tempur-Pedic, as well as any price you find online. Even in its TV ads, Sleepy’s promoted its price guarantee but failed to orally disclose its limitations.

Further, our trusty mouse is always irritated by any guarantee that promises to beat a competitor’s price by X amount, or you get the product free. What store in their right mind would rather give away a product completely free rather than merely reduce its price marginally below a competitor?  That’s a guarantee that only sounds good until you think about for a minute.

Fast forward to 2014. Today, Sleepy’s price guarantee is nowhere to be found on its website. But, it is still appearing in some newspaper ads, under the same basic terms, but we’re happy to say in larger type:

Sleepy's

• • •

March 3, 2014

Tide Detergent Double Downsizes AND Raises Prices

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:03 am

  Procter & Gamble recently decided to make certain varieties of Tide detergent more costly for shoppers. Based on a Wall Street Journal story, the company appears to be raising prices an unheard of three ways simultaneously.

It seems to be passing on a straight list price increase of about 13% to retailers on Tide+ products. But it is also downsizing the product AND apparently diluting it (or making you use more).

Note to readers: We use the words “seems to,” “apparently” and “appears to” because P&G has used “pr-speak” (a.k.a. “spin”) in response to very pointed questions about these changes, as noted at the end of this story.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Tide

Tide+ varieties with special scents, fabric softener, etc. are being downsized from 100 ounce jugs to 92 ounces — an 8% drop in contents.

But, not content to raise the price AND put less product in each bottle, you are now going to get fewer loads per bottle than even an 8% drop in contents would work out to.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Tide

The traditional 100-ounce bottle was enough for 60 loads according to the package, while the new 92-ounce product only provides 48 loads. So an 8% drop in contents somehow translates into a 20% drop in the number washes you get. Huh?

That sounds like P&G is somehow diluting the product and/or making you use more per load. A look at the back of the bottle reveals the secret.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Tide

According to the old bottle, you could get 60 medium-size loads of wash done by filling the cap to line 1. With the new bottle, you are instructed to fill the cap to line 2 for the same medium load and advised you will only get 48 such loads when used this way. Being told we have to use more to get the same job done suggests that the product has been diluted. Alternatively, we are simply being told to use more so we finish up the bottle faster. Medium load users in fact will be using more detergent per load if they follow the manufacturer’s recommendation, but large load users will be using the same amount. (Line 3 in the new cap is where line 2 was in the old.)

We asked P&G to explain these changes with very explicit, pointed questions. Here is how the company responded:

*MOUSE PRINT:

1. Why is Tide downsizing from 100 ounce to 92 ounce jugs?

With the introduction of the new Tide Plus Collection, we have standardized the load sizes across variants (previously there were 5 differing load designations per same size bottle based on the variant) to make shopping the line easier.

2. Are you in fact also raising the price to retailers of Tide+ products? If so, by an average of about how much?

I cannot share our pricing strategies. The significant performance innovation behind this new introduction will carry an average 13% list price increase (on a cost per load basis) but it is important to note that it will be retailers that set the price that consumers pay.

3. How is it that an 8% drop in contents (from 100 ounces to 92 ounces) results in a 20% drop in loads in each bottle (60 loads down to 48)?

This is not a direct correlation; we have upgraded the formulas which has impacted dosing.

4. Is the product the same formula, for Tide+ Febreze, for example, in both the 100 ounce and new 92 ounce size?

We are bringing significant innovation behind the launch of The Tide Plus Collection, providing a one wash wow with even more of the performance and fabric care benefits consumers expect from Tide

5. Have you diluted the product necessitating having to use more, or are you just telling consumers to use more than before for the same size load? (Old instructions: fill to line 1 for medium loads; new instructions: fill to line 2 for medium loads.)

We have updated the usage to align with the formulation and the increasing size of wash loads. — P&G Fabric Care Communications/Corporate Media Relations

The bottom line is this: Getting less detergent in the bottle, having to use more product per load, and paying a higher price at the store means consumers are really being taken to the cleaners.

• • •

February 24, 2014

At Sears, Hoops, Fine Print, Stamina, and Nagging Needed to Save the Most

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:18 am

Sears frig  Saving money on major appliance purchases is no longer easy. You cannot simply look at a sale circular and be assured you are getting the lowest price. You now have to combine savings offers and strategies, and then fight to get what you were promised.

MrConsumer finally broke down and decided to order a new refrigerator he had been eyeing at Sears. The one he selected was the only non-water/non-ice model available and the only side-by-side that could fit through his back door. (Most online specs ignore protrusions on the back of refrigerators like water pipes and metal jutting out that can add up to an extra inch to the stated width.)

The model was regularly $1299.99 (an inflated price because the list price for the Whirlpool version is only $1199.99), advertised on sale for $899.99 in Sears’ weekly flyer. This was the lowest price it had been advertised for in the recent past. There was, however, a small print footnote.

*MOUSE PRINT:

“Advertised savings are valid in-store only.”

Good thing, as it turns out, because the online Sears.com price was $809.99! The website was offering an extra 10% off appliances $499.99 and up.

MrConsumer remembered that there had a been a high-value dollars-off coupon floating around the Internet, and sure enough he found it: $35 off a $300 or more purchase. When that was factored in, the price dropped to $774.99.

Sears had just begun offering free delivery for online customers, so that saved another $69.99.

Since Sears has been heavily promoting its “Shop Your Way” rewards program, MrConsumer checked the list of available coupons, and lo and behold found this way to get $50 back:

$50 back

And as Ron Popeil always says, “but wait, there’s more.” When it comes time to pay for the item, the question is whether to use a 2% cash back reward credit card, or use the Sears MasterCard. After assuring that the Sears card doubled the manufacturer’s warranty, thus adding an extra year of coverage for free, the choice was simple because:

sears

*MOUSE PRINT:

The footnote did not say “in-store only” so the offer should be good for an online purchase to save an extra 5%.

Lastly, knowing that websites like ebates.com and FatWallet.com offer cash back rebates when you shop using their links to merchants, MrConsumer checked how much they were giving back. Both were offering a generous six-percent rebate. Ca-ching.

All these savings are great in theory if you really get them. And that’s the problem. Other than getting the refrigerator for the $774.99 price after deducting the $35 coupon, no other savings were realized automatically as promised.

The extra 5% off for using the Sears card never materialized. Only after two calls to customer service, and then requesting a supervisor, did Sears provide a credit of $41.67. The 6% back from FatWallet didn’t get credited in full because Sears appears to have manipulated the sale price to be close to $200 below the actual sale price. That will be another fight. And the $50 back in points that were promised took two phone calls to get. It was, however, mouseprint that prevented this rebate from properly being added to MrConsumer’s order.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Shop Your Way

So despite electronically clipping the $50 in points coupon and adding it to one’s Shop Your Way account, Sears provides an additional fine print link that also has to be clicked to “apply” the coupon to your order. Who knew? And would most people catch that inconspicuous link?

Adding insult to injury, of course, two days after the sale was consummated, Sears offered a $50 off a $300 appliance purchase coupon. Under the Sears price adjustment policy, MrConsumer should get the extra $15 off (the difference between his $35 off coupon and this one). That only took two additional phone calls to square away.

So, to recount all the promised savings:

Discount off regular price:     $400.00
Online only discount:           $90.00
Online only free delivery:      $69.99
$50 off a $300 purchase coupon: $50.00
5% discount using Sears card:   $41.67
50,000 ($50) points credit:     $50.00
1% in regular points:           $7.75
6% FatWallet rebate:            $45.60
=======================================
Total savings:                  $755.01 

Is all this worth it, you ask? For veteran bargain hunters, it is all part of the game. For regular folks, few would have the patience to deal with all this detail, the problems, and the follow-up.

Finally, from the “too-good-to-be-true” department, only after MrConsumer made the purchase of the refrigerator, did he decide to check Consumer Reports’ ratings. Of the 74 side-by-side models tested, the sister model to his came in 73rd place. Grrrr.

• • •

February 17, 2014

Can You Believe Sears’ Presidents Day Sale Prices?

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:50 am

 For Presidents Day, Sears advertised a big appliance sale, and really was one of their best sales of the year. They were promoting 35% off Kenmore appliances, which is their most generous across-the-board discount on this brand.

Sears 35% off

Poking around the Sears website, MrConsumer was curious to see if Sears was really giving this generous of a discount on all Kenmore major appliances. Checking some refrigerators, some times they were $20 or $25 or so less than a full 35%, and sometimes they over-discounted by that much.

Moving onto slide-in gas stoves, similar to what MrConsumer owns, he found this.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Sears 35% off Kenmore

The actual discounts for these ranges were not even close to the claimed 35% off. Thinking that possibly the extra discount would be added when the item was placed in one’s cart, MrConsumer added that $1259.99 range on the left.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Sears $100 higher

Shockingly, the price became $100 higher –$1359.99 — making its discount the same as the other three shown — only 15% off.

Nothing in the original advertisement indicated the discount on Kenmore appliances was “up to” 35% off as they disclosed for other brands. And there was no asterisk indicating that some Kenmore appliances were excluded from the sale. Given the nature of this advertisement, it is perfectly reasonable for a consumer to believe that any and all Kenmore major appliances were being offered at 35% off.

After running the “35% off Kenmore” appliances claim for several days, Sears finally heard the whispers of Honest Abe Lincoln and George “I cannot tell a lie” Washington, and changed their advertising to “up to 35% off”:

up to 35% off

And they even fixed the price on that slide-in range back to the promised $1259.99.

UPDATE: On Presidents Day itself, one day after correcting their advertisement, Sears sent an email to customers once again promising a full 35% off Kenmore appliances:

Sears 35 repeated

So much for Honest Abe.

The bottom line is, unfortunately, that you have to double check every price and every savings claim to ensure that you are really getting what was advertised.

• • •

February 10, 2014

The 24-Hour Airfare Reservation Cancellation Rule Revisited

Filed under: Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:01 am

airplane Last week, we scolded JetBlue for not being as generous as some other airlines if a consumer wants to cancel a ticket purchased within the past 24 hours. JetBlue follows the federal rule to the letter, and only grants a full refund for tickets bought at least a week in advance of the flight and is cancelled within 24 hours of purchase. Delta and US Airways, on the other hand, don’t impose that seven-day in advance restriction. They let you cancel within 24 hours of purchase, irrespective of the actual travel date, and get a full refund.

Mouse Print* checked with a few other airlines to see what their policies were and learned that American Airlines seemed to have a strange application of the federal rule.

Here is the actual federal rule from the Department of Transportation, requiring each airline to adopt a customer service plan that covers certain things, including:

*MOUSE PRINT:

“(4) Allowing reservations to be held at the quoted fare without payment, or [emphasis added] cancelled without penalty, for at least twenty-four hours after the reservation is made if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure;”

Most people would read that to say whether the customer merely makes a reservation OR actually purchases a ticket, and they cancel within 24 hours of making that reservation, they are entitled to do so without penalty (as long as the reservation was made at least seven days in advance).

That is not how American applies the rule. If you buy a nonrefundable ticket on their website at 10 am today but decide at noon that you want to cancel the reservation, American will charge you a $200 penalty/fee. If, on the other hand, you merely want to make a reservation today and lock in the price shown, they will allow you to do that without having to purchase the ticket until 11:59 pm the next day.

They take the word “or” literally in the federal rule, and interpret the rule to require them to EITHER hold a reservation free for 24 hours OR provide a refund for purchased tickets cancelled within 24 hours of the transaction. They chose the former.

What does the Department of Transportation say about such an interpretation? They agree!

*MOUSE PRINT:

8. Does a carrier have to offer a consumer the opportunity to either “hold a reservation for 24-hours without payment” or to “cancel a reservation within 24 hours without penalty?”

No, a carrier is not required to offer both options. But if a carrier accepts reservations without payment, it must allow the consumer to cancel the reservation within 24 hours without penalty, and if the carrier requires payment with a reservation, it must allow the consumer to cancel the payment and reservation within 24 hours and receive a full refund.

Wow. How anti-consumer.

The lesson is that there is no blanket 24-hour right to cancel airline reservations, and therefore you have to check each airline’s policy before you buy.

• • •
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