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April 22, 2019

Wayfair Called Out on Exaggerated Savings Claims

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:45 am

Wayfair, the large online seller of home goods, had its big “Way Day” sale on April 10th and 11th, promising the “lowest prices of the year” and “up to 80% off.” In the process of checking it out, we discovered often exaggerated savings claims and misleading price comparisons, and not just on Way Day.

Wayfair Way Day

 

Perusing those six categories, some of the discounts seemed too good to be true. For example:

Wayfair memory foam mattress on Way Day

Here they’re claiming this store brand memory foam mattress is on sale for $349.99, marked down from what looks like their $2,100 regular price. That’s 83-percent off, seemingly saving shoppers $1,750!

Many other items were advertised at 40 – 80% off, with some discounts so large as to raise questions about the legitimacy of the savings claimed. To check this out, Consumer World conducted a spot-check of a dozen deeply discounted items from the six categories featured above on April 10, 2019 – the first day of Wayfair’s Way Day 36-hour sale.

Here is the cart with those 12 items:

Wayfair Way Day cart

Scroll down the list.

You’ll see the amazing discounts above that Wayfair was offering.

But the question was, when the Way Day sale was over, would all these items revert to the higher price shown? Or, would you save almost as much if you delayed your purchase or missed the sale and returned later? To find out, we went back the day after the sale ended, April 12, to check the prices of the same dozen items.

Wayfair day after cart

Scroll down the list.

One item we checked was that memory foam mattress pictured at the top of this story. It was on sale during Way Day for $349.99 and was still on sale right afterwards and only slightly higher — $376.99. So customers who purchased that item on Way Day when it was said to be 83% off, really only saved a mere $27.

Wayfair mattress after Way Day

 

All the items went up in price right after Way Day, some by only a little and some by much more. This certainly suggests that the company did lower its everyday prices for the sale and it was a good day to shop there.

But none of the items in our spot-check reverted to the stated crossed out price (the “strike-through price” like the $2,100 reference price for the mattress). In fact, while Wayfair’s claimed savings on Way Day for the items in the sample averaged 71% off, the actual savings on Way Day compared to Wayfair’s everyday prices right after the sale only averaged out to be a 16% discount.

*MOUSE PRINT:

What Wayfair does in their product listings for many sale items, and not just on Way Day, is make it appear that their own regular price is being cut by crossing it out and claiming it is now being offered at an often large percentage-off discount. The trouble is, this is not how Wayfair’s discounts actually work.

Take the mattress pictured above, for example. Is the $2,100 strike-through price really their regular price? Wayfair buries the answer in a 42,000-word page of fine print accessible through an inconspicuous “terms of use” link. Its strike-through price is really the list price or the highest price they ever offered the item, according to that disclosure.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Wayfair terms

The Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Against Deceptive Pricing says that comparison to a high list price or regular price that is rarely charged can mislead buyers as to the discount they actually receive.

Various states have similar false advertising laws. For example, in Massachusetts where Wayfair is headquartered, the company appears to run afoul of state consumer law by not “clearly and conspicuously” stating the basis for its price comparisons and discount claims. Simply put, under the attorney general’s regulations [940 CMR 6.05], when sellers advertise an item as “X% off”, it automatically means the discount is off the seller’s own regular prices – just the way a shopper would understand the claim. If sellers intend the savings claim to be a comparison to any other type of price, they have to finish the comparison — X% off what — such as by stating “83% off list price.” Similarly, putting a line through a higher price suggests it is the seller’s own regular price that is being reduced unless it is labeled otherwise. Wayfair’s product listings fail to make these critical distinctions and disclosures.

And Wayfair has an additional burden. List price comparisons are not even allowed under Massachusetts law unless the seller can demonstrate that a reasonable number of sellers in its trade area actually offer the goods at the stated list price.

We asked Wayfair to comment on our findings and their pricing policies. The company did not respond to two inquiries.

In our view, shoppers are misled when retailers make illusory savings claims based on inflated regular prices rarely if ever charged or by making comparisons to list prices that virtually no one ever pays. Why can’t sellers just play it straight?

Consumer World is turning over its findings to the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General and other relevant agencies.

The spot-check of prices done by Consumer World is limited in scope, and cannot be used to project the average actual savings on all items during Way Day nor the number of items that did or did not revert to the claimed reference price.

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April 15, 2019

Fly to Hawaii for $6 Roundtrip?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail,Sweepstakes,Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:10 am

Arby’s is running a promotion offering 10 lucky people the chance to buy roundtrip tickets to Hawaii for only $6.

Arby's contest

There are two opportunities to enter the sweepstakes: last Friday, and today (April 15th) at noon Eastern time. You will be flown first to Los Angeles, spend a night in a hotel, and then the next day, you will be whisked off to Honolulu in either first or business class. All for only $6. What a deal.

Except for one thing in the official rules.

Mouse Print*:

official rules

Your flights to and from Hawaii have to occur on the same day – April 27th. That’s right. Your day in Hawaii starts out with six hours on a plane going there. Then visiting an Arby’s to try three of their new sandwiches and be in a television commercial. And then another six hours on a plane back to the mainland.

As their ad states, “no volcanoes, no pineapple farms… just you, sweet buns, tender meat.”

So, if this is your idea of a fun vacation, hope you’re one of the first five today to win the trip. And here’s one additional consumer tip: You can save the $6 on the ticket by entering the promo code “Aloha.”

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April 8, 2019

Sometimes Dental Discount Plans Can Be Cheaper Than Dental Insurance for Procedures

Filed under: Health — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:54 am

MrConsumer had a root canal that recently developed an infection and root tip surgery (an “apico”) was recommended as a possible remedy.

Not wanting to inflict pain on my pocketbook also, I asked if the dental office manager would be willing to charge me the “allowed” Blue Cross dental insurance price for the procedure despite the fact that my policy only covered preventive work like cleanings, exams, and x-rays. She said she would and added that by contract with some insurers, dentists are required to only charge the allowed amount to patients in such cases. Whether that is true or not, I don’t know, but I’ll take the discounted price, thank you very much.

I asked for a breakdown of what the “cash” (no insurance) price would be versus the Blue Cross price.

Apico price comparison

With my current insurance which would pay nothing toward the procedure, the full amount I would have to pay is $900 less than the cash (uninsured) price. Wow, what a savings.

But, I happened to ask if this endodontist accepted any discount plans. A discount dental plan is not insurance but rather a membership you can buy that offers a set of predefined prices for dental procedures that are 10% – 50% less than the uninsured cash price. Some well known insurance companies like Aetna and Cigna offer such plans, and independent firms do too. The plans vary in price, but for a single individual you would pay between $100 and $125 a year for one.

To MrConsumer’s everlasting delight, the office manager said that they accept Cigna Preferred Network Access. She gave me their pre-negotiated discount prices for my procedure:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Apico discount prices

This discount plan was $400 less than the Blue Cross price, and $1,300 less than the cash price. Yikes, what a savings.

So MrConsumer bought the Cigna discount plan using a percent-off promo code, which brought the price down to $99 plus a $20 administrative fee. And the plan went into effect the very next day, with no waiting periods for major procedures.

So, as we have all read that sometimes buying prescription drugs using a discount card rather than your health insurance might save you money, such is also the case with dental discount plans. Many dentists do not accept any of these plans, so this may not be a solution for everyone facing high dental bills.

Where do you find these plans and which dentists accept them? Just go to DentalPlans.com . [If you use this link, you will receive a 15% discount, and get an extra month free, as will MrConsumer.]

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April 1, 2019

Does Poland Spring Water Really Come From a Spring?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:05 am

Here we go again. A lawsuit, originally filed in 2017 (but recently amended) against Poland Spring maker Nestle has been given the green light to proceed by a federal court.

Poland Spring

Plaintiffs allege in a 325-page complaint that Poland Spring water is not “100% natural spring water” as the label claims because it doesn’t really come from a natural spring. Rather, they say, it is groundwater that comes from a series of man-made springs. They contend the original Poland Spring in Maine ran dry in the 1970s.

For its part, Nestle says that Poland Spring water comes from eight different springs in Maine that meet the FDA’s definition of “spring water.”

…water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth may be “spring water.” Spring water shall be collected only at the spring [with] a natural force causing the water to flow to the surface through a natural orifice. –FDA regulations

Their website seems to protesteth a little too much for an innocent company by providing detailed information about the source of their water, including a map.

The judge in the case wasn’t buying some of the company’s arguments. For example, lawyers for Nestle asserted with a straight face in a prior hearing that the result of a previous lawsuit about the true source of Poland Spring water put the current plaintiffs on notice that the company’s claims might be false (and thus they can’t now contend that they were duped). This argument ranks right up there with a standard legal defense used by company lawyers in false advertising cases — “No reasonable consumer would believe the outrageous claims made in our advertising.”

So, it will be up to a court to decide whether the billions of dollars consumers have spent for Poland Spring water over the years was based on a false premise.

Hat tip to TruthinAdvertising.org for the lawsuit link.

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March 25, 2019

Cheez-it Cheats-it on Whole Grains

Filed under: Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:32 am

Snack foods don’t have a good reputation when it comes to healthfulness. So, it is no wonder that their manufacturers often try to come up with ways to make them seem healthier.

A few years back, Kellogg came up with a way to make Cheez-its appear to be a more healthy snack. They introduced “Whole Grain Cheez-its.”

Whole Grain Cheez-it

Some packages said “whole grain” others said “made with whole grains.” But the problem was in the fine print.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Listed first in the ingredients statement on the side of the box was plain old “enriched white flour.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest sued Kellogg back in 2016 for deceptive practices and false advertising.

The lower court said the box was not misleading. So, the plaintiffs decided to let the chips fall where they may and appealed the case. And the appeals court this year reversed the lower court and ruled:

“Whole Grain” and “Made with Whole Grain” statements are “misleading because they falsely imply that the grain content is entirely or at least predominantly whole grain, whereas in fact, the grain component consisting of enriched white flour substantially exceeds the whole grain portion.”

“…a reasonable consumer should not be expected to consult the Nutrition Facts panel on the side of the box to correct misleading information set forth in large bold type on the front of the box.” … “Plaintiffs plausibly allege that the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredients list on whole grain Cheez-Its—which reveals that enriched white flour is the predominant ingredient—contradict, rather than confirm, Defendant’s ‘whole grain’ representations on the front of the box.”

So the case is being sent back for a full trial.

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