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December 25, 2006

Return Policies: Big Surprises in the Little Print

Filed under: Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:26 am

‘Tis the season to return some of those unwanted holiday presents, and for those who had not previously checked the seller’s return policy, surprises await.

Here are some of the most strict (and occasionally obnoxious) policies out there:


Late Returns
We can accept returned merchandise for up to 30 days from the date you originally received it. Unfortunately, items received after the 30-day return period cannot be accepted for a refund, and your package will be returned to you. If we receive the same late return package a second time, we will keep your merchandise and no credit will be issued.

JC Penney does not like women to “borrow” a fancy dress for a weekend wedding or other special occasion, and then return it the following Monday. So they put a  return tag on each of these dresses, presumably in a very conspicuous spot, and it cannot be removed without jeopardizing your return:

Special Occasion Dresses must be returned in their original condition with the “return tag” in place.

At, if you return items that qualified for free shipping, the value of the shipping will be deducted from your refund. [It is unclear whether Amazon really makes this deduction in practice.]

If you return any items from an order that received FREE Super Saver Shipping, the original shipping savings associated with the returned item(s) will be deducted from the refund amount unless the return was due to our error.

At Best Buy, if you bought a computer on Black Friday as a Christmas present, your return rights evaporated more than two weeks ago:

Holiday Return and Exchange Policy
Gift purchases made November 1 through December 24, 2006, qualify for the extended return and exchange policy.

  • Desktop and notebook computers do not qualify for the extended return policy.


• • •

December 18, 2006

Wells Fargo Gift Cards: The Perfect Gift*?

Filed under: Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:30 am

Wells Fargo Gift Card Gift cards are all the rage, and Wells Fargo says they have sold a million of them in just over a year.

Unlike store specific cards, the Wells Fargo card is a prepaid Visa card good anywhere Visa is accepted.

They call it “the perfect gift,” and tout its benefits on their website.

*MOUSE PRINT: What they don’t highlight are the many possible fees and quirks of the card. Those details are buried in their FAQs and separate 4000-word terms and conditions statement.

Information about fees is scattered over both documents, and they include:

  • Purchase fee: $2.50
  • Online shipping/handling: $2.50
  • Reissue fee (for balances remaining after three years): $7.50
  • Manual check issuance fee (to get remaining balance on card): $15.00
  • Monthly maintenance fee after one year: $2.50
  • Lost card replacement: $7.50
  • Foreign currency conversion fee: 3%

Card nuances:

  • Split tenders: if the item you are purchasing costs more than the amount you have left on the card, you may or may not be able to use the gift card in addition to some other form of payment to cover the balance.
  • Using the card at gas stations can pose a problem:

If you use your Card to purchase gasoline, we recommend that you pay inside the station, not at the pump. If you were to pay at the pump, the electronic terminal at the pump may be programmed to confirm that you have sufficient available balance on your Card to pay for an average purchase of gas. Before you are permitted to pump gas, many pumps seek an authorization for $75 and this amount could increase from time to time (“Preauthorization Request”). If you have an insufficient available balance on your Card to cover the Preauthorization Request, your attempt to use your Card at the pump may be declined. If you have a sufficient available balance on your Card to cover the Preauthorization Request, you will be permitted to continue your transaction at the pump. However, if the dollar amount of your actual gasoline purchase is less than the amount of the Preauthorization Request that we approved, a “hold” on your available balance may automatically result equal to the difference between the two amounts. Once the merchant sends us the final amount of your actual gasoline purchase, we will remove the “hold” on your available balance for any additional amount exceeding this final amount. This may take 3 to 7 days and during this period you will not be able to use any balance subject to this “hold.” TO AVOID A DECLINE OF, OR A HOLD ON, YOUR AVAILABLE BALANCE ON YOUR CARD, WE RECOMMEND THAT YOU PREPAY FOR YOUR GASOLINE INSIDE THE STATION.

  • Restaurants and travel businesses (hotels, car rentals) may authorize more than the actual purchase price of services, causing your card to be rejected if insufficient funds are on the card.

Many of these fees and inconveniences are inherent problems of many brands of gift cards or prepaid debit cards. And we probably should be thankful that Wells Fargo does not charge some fees that others do, such as for calls to customer service. The bottomline is that you might never know of these fees and inconveniences if you didn’t take the time to read all the mouse print.

• • •

December 11, 2006

Quaker Oats: Reduces Cholesterol by 75%* ?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:58 am

Quaker packageScientific studies have repeatedly proven that eating oatmeal regularly can help reduce your cholesterol. So, it is not surprising to see Quaker Oats making such health claims.

They say “it’s a unique whole grain food that goes in and actually soaks up excess cholesterol and removes it from your body.”  And, referring to the quaker pictured on the package, “your cholesterol trembles just at the sight of him.” [Newsweek ad, October 16, 2006]

How much can you lower your cholesterol? Here’s their chart:

Quaker chart 1

The chart makes it look like the drop is dramatic from week one to week four — about a 75% reduction.

*MOUSE PRINT: In their “representative” sample, cholesterol was only actually reduced from about 209 to 198 — a drop of only 11 points, or about 5%.

How can that be because their chart makes it look like a huge drop?  For the answer, you have to go back to high school math. Remember when the teacher said you always have to start the y axis (the left side going up) at zero on any chart or you will give people an erroneous impression?  Well, you have just been skewed by Quaker.

Creating a chart that does start at zero would look like this:

Quaker chart 2

In this chart, one can clearly see the actual point drop in overall cholesterol is rather small. That is not to say that dropping 11 points is bad. Lowering your cholesterol is a good thing. 

What isn’t good is giving the casual reader a misimpression of the effectiveness of eating oatmeal as a means of lowering one’s cholesterol. 

• • •

December 4, 2006

Discount Airfares: The Not So Fine Print*

Filed under: Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:02 am

Chuck Cohen, a writer for the Christian Science Monitor, makes fun of the airlines’ often ridiculous restrictions on deeply discounted airfares in this humorous article, appearing on December 1, 2006:

Backstory: The Not-so-Fine Print on Those Discounted Airfares

A fictional $99 fare to Paris comes with some, ahem, unexpected restrictions.

Great $99 roundtrip airfares from Chicago to Paris! (Some restrictions apply.) 

* All seats are shared.

** Travel must begin on a Tuesday and end on a Wednesday, unless it is a nonleap year, in which case it must begin on the flight captain’s birthday and end on his wedding anniversary, unless the captain is not married, in which case travel must wait until a full moon or Pamela Anderson starts dating Bill Moyers … again.

*** Fare will be paid in drachmas obtained at the current rate of conversion or the rate determined by a panel of economists chosen by the airline who are familiar with the Greek monetary system, and who are resentful of Bill Moyers dating Pamela Anderson and have vowed to take it out on any passenger flying from Chicago to Paris for $99.

**** One free bathroom visit per flight.

Story continued at The Christian Science Monitor.

• • •

November 27, 2006

eHarmony’s Free Trial: For Dating Blindly Only*

Filed under: Internet,Uncategorized — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:55 am

eharmony large We have all seen the TV commercials for eHarmony, an online matchmaking service, with psychologist Dr. Neil Clark Warren. He touts the free personality profile offered on his website that matches you to potential mates based on 29 key dimensions of compatibility.

With 12 million members, surely your match might be among them. So it was great news to read their newspaper ad about 10 days ago promoting a free weekend to “try eHarmony for free.”  “All weekend long you’ll be able to communicate with people you’re matched with for FREE!”

Buried in the “help” section was a “special notice” sure to disappoint many:

*MOUSE PRINT: “FastTrack and Photos are only available during the free weekend if you are a paid subscriber.” [website 11/17/06]

So, if you find the person of your dreams on paper, you will have no idea what they look like. Pardon the shallowness, but looks do matter. Now, since it is “free communication” weekend, you can simply ask for a picture, right?  Not exactly.

“Free communication” is a term of art used by eHarmony, and refers to an anonymous, structured communication system (“guided communication”) that uses sets of pre-defined questions that can be sent to the potential love of your life. You must go through four stages of “guided communication” before you get to more “open communication.” You cannot use “Fasttrack” that bypasses the canned questions and permits more opened-ended, but anonymous emails.

So, it appears you neither get to see nor really communicate instantly with your matches during the “free” weekend. For that, you need to subscribe to eHarmony for fees ranging from $59.95 (one month) to $251.40 (year).

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