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December 31, 2007

Retail Ads: What Were They Thinking? (Part 1)

Filed under: Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 7:24 am

We begin 2008 taking a lighter look at some advertising that just makes you shake your head and go “huh?”.

1. Walgreen’s “Web Exclusive”:


*MOUSE PRINT: How can it be a web exclusive if the smaller print indicates you can order it in the store, online, or by telephone?

2. Building #19 — Why price goods the conventional way?

bldg19shirt.jpg bldg19jeans.jpg

Building #19, a surplus and salvage chain in New England and a favorite of MrConsumer, is known for their quirky ads. This one really makes you do a double-take (and some arithmetic). Jeans priced by the number of belt loops it has? Shirts by the number of buttons? Huh? Why not, if it is a bargain.

Part 2, in two weeks.

• • •

December 24, 2007

Retailers’ Return Policies: The 2007 Fine Print

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 7:03 am

Over the last few years, retailers have been busy tightening their return policies to reduce the incidence of both fraudulent returns and those made by consumers taking advantage of the store. Here are the links to major retailers’ policies, and all their fine print.


Holiday Return Deadlines and Restocking Fees Jan. 31 (most items shipped 11/01 through 12/31). 15% restocking fee on open computers. Additional rules may apply.
Best Buy January 31 for purchases November 1 or later; 15% restocking fees on certain opened items.
Circuit City January 25 most items; Jan. 8 for 14 day items including computers; some 15% restocking fees.
Costco No deadline (but 90 days for TVs, computers, cameras, port. music players, cell, projectors)
Kohl’s No deadline (with receipt) 180 days from purchase; 25% restocking fee on furniture.
Marshalls January 5 (for purchases Oct. 28 – Dec. 5).
Office Depot By January 25 for furniture and technology purchased November 15 or later. By January 10 for items purchased November 1 or later. Fees apply if opened or used.
Sears 90 days; 30 days home electronics, mattresses; 15% restocking fee in many categories.
Staples No deadline for office supplies. (January 6 for electronics & furniture bought since Nov. 23)
TJ Maxx January 5 (for purchases Oct. 28 – Dec. 5).
Target 90 days from purchase (15% restocking fee on portable electronics, digital cameras, camcorders; specially marked clearance items only qualify for current sale price).
Toys R Us 90 days (45 days for unopened electronics, video products, collectibles, more). For online orders, postmark by January 4th.
Wal-Mart 90 days (15 days [PCs, portable players], 30 days [cameras], or 45 days [PC accessories.])

Many happy returns.

• • •

December 17, 2007

ID Vault: Million Dollar Protection Policy?

Filed under: Computers,Finance,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:30 am

With so many phishing attacks and incidents of ID theft occurring, many consumers are leery of entering into any financial transactions online.

Where there is fear, however, there is also a business opportunity to allay those concerns. Enter ID Vault. It looks like a thumbdrive that you plug into an available USB port on your computer. It stores your usernames and encyrpted passwords, and automatically transmits them securely when you log into a financial or retail website. It can also determine if you are visiting a real site, or a scammer’s copy. Bottomline: it protects you.

They are so sure of their technology that they offer a “$1,000,000 Guarantee” that promises to cover your losses if your login credentials are stolen and used fraudulently. Quoting from their press release:

Consumers can now bank, shop and invest online with total confidence, knowing that even if their personal information were stolen while using ID Vault, GuardID will reimburse them for any losses up to $1 million.

“We are so confident that ID Vault 2008 will protect consumers from online identity theft and fraud, that we put our money where our mouth is, and will refund any losses consumers incur, up to one million dollars, when using ID Vault,” said Jerry Thompson, CEO of Guard ID Systems.

And on their website, here is the big print of their $1,000,000 Guarantee:

ID Vault guarantee

Of course the devil is in the details.

*MOUSE PRINT:  The company may have led you to believe you will have more coverage than they actually will provide (depending on the circumstances). They will only cover you up to $100,000 per account, not $1,000,000 as you might have expected.

“Should we determine that the account was exclusively accessed online using ID Vault prior to the theft of your account credentials, we will reimburse any direct loss, up to $100,000 per individual account and up to a maximum of $1,000,000 over the lifetime of your ID Vault subscription and subsequent renewals.”

In a sense, that is like buying a million dollar fire insurance policy, but only being able to collect $100,000 per fire. Granted, if you are lucky enough to have a millon dollars, and spread it out over 10 different accounts, then you would indeed be qualified to be reimbursed for $1,000,000.

The restrictions in the policy also require you to be 100% faithful to ID Vault as the means of logging into your accounts. You cannot access them on your work computer, or anywhere else, unless there is an ID Vault attached. (And they will compare your financial institution’s records of your accesses with the list of accesses tucked inside your ID Vault. If they don’t match exactly, you lose the coverage.) 

So, what may seem like a simple $1,000,000 guarantee promoted in advertising, is in fact full of strings and loopholes, as any other insurance policy would be.

• • •

December 10, 2007

Sears: “Ready in 5” Guarantee Revisited

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 7:31 am

Last week, Mouse Print* examined the speedy delivery guarantees of three major retailers for shoppers who order online but want to pick up the merchandise in-store.

The policy from Sears was simple and straightforward:  scan your confirmation at the store kiosk, and if your goods are not handed to you in five minutes, you get a $5 coupon toward a future purchase:

Sears in 5

And there was no fine print. Or so it seemed.

On Friday around 6 pm, “Mr. Consumer” ordered an item online at for in-store pick up. By 8 pm, no confirmation email had yet been received. By the next morning, the confirmation had arrived, and I took it to Sears in Cambridge, MA at 7:15 am. Promptly upon scanning the receipt’s barcode at the pick up kiosk, a Sears employee appeared and scrutinzed the confirmation. He seemed puzzled, but retreated to the backroom to fetch my goods.

Up on a video screen above the kiosk a list of customers appears along with the amount of time they have been waiting for their goods to be hand-delivered. My name was there with the minutes and seconds ticking off — 2 minutes and 12 seconds, 3 minutes and 30 seconds, 4 minutes and 51 seconds. At this point it felt like it was going to be my lucky day and it was. The clock stopped at 5:29, indicating the order was complete. A few seconds later, I was handed my package, but no $5 coupon. I asked for it, and mere seconds later was handed one.


Similar luck was not had by some others, unfortunately. A few hours before I ordered my item, I placed an order for a friend in Lincoln, NE who agreed to pick up the item at his local store. On Saturday morning he trotted over to his Sears and encountered 20 people ahead of him in the pick up area. Once he scanned his confirmation, the time ticked off and kept ticking for nearly 35 minutes.

Being the smart consumer that he is, he asked for a $5 coupon. Sears personnel explained that that store didn’t give out compensation for slow deliveries and they showed him some paperwork to back up their position.

I contacted the national customer relations department of Sears on his behalf to find out how it was possible that his store was exempt from the 5 minute/$5 guarantee. The customer service representative explained that the “Ready in 5” guarantee was a “pilot program” and that not all stores participated. I pointed out that there was no disclosure on their website that this was a limited offer, and even mentioned that while on hold waiting to talk to her, the non-music on hold was interrupted by Sears promoting the 5 minute guarantee, again with no restrictions stated. She refused to provide a $5 coupon to compensate my friend for the long wait.

The worst MOUSE PRINT* is the fine print that is missing — leading the consumer to believe one thing, when something else is really the case.

• • •

December 3, 2007

Etailers’ Promise: 1 to 24 Minute Pickup Guaranteed

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 7:19 am

The latest fad in Internet customer service is to promise super fast delivery of any order placed online for in-store pickup, or you get some money back as compensation.

Best Buy, Sears and Circuit City all offer the guarantee, but the details vary greatly.

Best Buy

Store Pickup Guarantee
Ready at the counter or $10 off your order.
Order at® and we’ll have it ready in 1 minute after you present your confirmation email or you get $10 off. (5 minutes for larger items)


Choose Store Pickup and wait for your email confirming the pickup is ready. Present your confirmation email or a valid order number to the Customer Specialist at the pickup counter, and in 1 minute we¿ll have your order prepared for pickup. Larger items, such as Major Appliances, Furniture and TVs over 20″, require up to 5 minutes. If we fail to meet our promise, we’ll credit your order up to $10. One minute starts after you have presented your photo ID, purchasing credit card and your confirmation email or valid order number to us, and when Best Buy enters your order number into our computer system. Best Buy will track the time, which will end when you have the product in your possession. Wait time in line and the time to print your receipt not included. All credits will go back to the credit card or Gift Card used on the purchase. Orders less than $10 will be credited up to the amount of the purchase. Eligible only for customers who present their confirmation email or a valid order number at the counter. Orders where non-physical credit cards are used as payment (including but not limited to virtual or one-time use credit cards) are excluded from the guarantee. See a Customer Specialist for details.


Sears 5 minute guarantee


Circuit City

Circuit City pick up guarantee

*MOUSE PRINT:  See frequently asked questions

Circuit City’s ambiguous policy is the most confusing because it may really offer nothing to the shopper unless they cannot find your item at all. Say you order on Saturday evening, and go to the store Monday to pick it up. Clearly 24 minutes have long since come and gone based on the time on your email confirmation. You go up to the counter, hand in your paperwork, and then what?  Should the item be handed to you instantly because it is still on the conveyer belt since Saturday?  More likely, it is going to come down the conveyer after a few minutes, or you will be asked to go to the large item pickup area, where again you will wait while they fetch your item. Does that qualify for compensation under the guarantee?  The store will probably deny your request.

In short, each chain has a very different policy and you might expect a bit of fight in some cases to get them to part with the money or gift card if they don’t comply with their guarantee.

Finally, don’t forget to take your stopwatch!

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