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November 26, 2007

Wal-mart Secret Specials: How Low Can They Go?

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 7:11 am

A number of retailers upped the ante this past Black Friday by posting “secret” items on their websites for purchase in-store. They were secret because they were not in the printed flier, and you had to know to visit their site to get the details.

Wal-mart advertised secret items for sale on Friday and Saturday, such as these:

Wal-mart secret sale

One item that will always draw crowds is a cheap laptop, and at $388, many people will likely turn out. When you click on the “branded” laptop, it tells you it could be a Dell, HP, or Toshiba. Wal-mart must want to keep you guessing as if brand doesn’t matter. So you get to the store at 4 a.m. hoping to score some kind of computer, but it wasn’t to be your day. Why did you lose out?  You didn’t read the fine print:


Wal-mart black laptop

Minimum of ONE computer per store???  Come on (in both senses of the phrase).

Well, maybe you would do better on one of the cheaper items, like the newly released DVDs for $12. Surely they will have a bunch of those.

wal-mart black DVDs

*MOUSE PRINT:  Nope, they say they might only have one.

They were more generous on clothing items, and on Saturday’s secret sale, they actually had a minimum of two PS3s, Dyson vacuums, and a Kodak printer.

There was one other noteworthy disclosure in the ad:


Wal-mart black limit 

If you can’t read that, it says “limit 1 per household”. Given that they might only have one item in a category, they could just as well have said “limit 1 household per item.”

• • •

November 19, 2007

Sears: The Price is (Down) Right (Confusing)

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

Once upon a time retailers advertised the price one had to pay to purchase goods on sale. Today, in the spirit of this self-service economy we live in, you now have to figure out the price yourself.

Here is an ad for a five hour “doorbuster” sale at Sears last Saturday. [Click it for a larger view.]  What price do you pay?

Sears Sony small  

The price you see, $1899.99, is not the price you pay because for once the small print contains good news. The fine print says “save $800”. So does that mean you actually pay $1099.99?

*MOUSE PRINT: The additional fine print says “after $300 price drop and before $500 instant savings. So, doing the math, the real price is $1899.99 minus $500 = $1399.99, ignoring the $300 price drop that is already figured into the $1899.99 large type displayed price.

Is $1399.99 the real price?  According to the Sears website, it is not.

sears sony web

The web ad seems to say the price is arrived at by subtracting both $300 and $500 from the $1899 price, bringing the selling price down to $1099.

In fact, both on the web and in the store, their checkout system rings up $1399.99 for this Sony TV. The web price was an error. However, that’s not the end of it. If you decline the financing, it appears that you qualify for a 10% rebate when you use your Sears credit card. (See last paragraph of the ad’s fine print.)

But the 10% applies for “home theater purchases over $799”. Is this a “home theater” purchase?  It certainly is part of a “home theater” purchase. It is promoted right within the borders of the TV itself. And it does not say with purchase of a “home theater package”, which would imply multiple items had to purchased.

Who knows, then, what the final price of this TV is?

Why do stores, not just Sears, make their pricing so confusing?  There are a number of reasons, including the fact that Sony is believed to be a manufacturer that requires its retailers not to advertise a price below a certain number established for each product (“minimum advertised prices”). That forces retailers to advertise “non-prices” leaving the math to you.

Also, in a couple of states, when an “after rebate price” is advertised, the product must be sold by the retailer at that price (and the store has to worry about getting the rebate money from the manufacturer). So, to avoid that hassle, you will often only see before rebate prices.

The bottomline is that this is confusing to customers (and store personnel), who often will overlook a good sale because they cannot easily discern what the right price is.

P.S. To their credit, some Sears stores have honored the erroneous web price of $1099 for some customers.

• • •

November 12, 2007

Consumer Reports Gift Subscriptions: $18 ?

Filed under: Business,Uncategorized — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 7:46 am

The December issue of Consumer Reports comes to subscribers wrapped in a full page offer for one year gift subscriptions to the magazine at a bargain price. “Best Gift Under $20” the headline claims:

CU gift subscription offer small

If you quickly fill out the postcard with the gift recipient’s name, you might be surprised come January when the bills arrives. It won’t be for $18.

*MOUSE PRINT:  The first subscription is actually $26 and only additional subscriptions beyond that are $18.

CU gift offer string

In effect, the offer is really “buy a subscription at regular price, get additional subscriptions at only $18.”

Why couldn’t they just say that?

[Shameless Plug: Consumer World can lead you to a deal to get a year of Consumer Reports for less than $18 without having to buy anything else!]

• • •

November 5, 2007

Dial Soap: The Incredible Shrinking Bar

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:57 am

Once upon a time “bath size” bars of soap were all five ounces. Most have now been downsized to 4.5 ounces.

The latest move, however, is to go even smaller. Dial for Men is a prime example.

*MOUSE PRINT:  The 4.5 ounce bar is now 4.0 ounces — over 10% smaller.

dial soap small

OLD                                      NEW

So these three packs are 12 ounces instead of the old 13.5 ounces, but still priced the same.[Click picture to view net weight statement.] 

Downsizing is a sneaky way to pass on a price increase because you are getting less for your money but may not catch the change. As is typical for many downsized products, the manufacturer diverts your attention from the net weight statement to something else “new”. In this case, they are calling it a “new grip bar” because ridges have been carved into it.

I suspect it will still slip out of your hand when wet and sudsy, so wouldn’t you rather have that half-ounce back?

• • •

October 29, 2007

Verizon: When “Unlimited” Doesn’t Mean Unlimited

Filed under: Computers,Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:44 am

Verizon unlimited broadband No one wants to have to watch the clock or keep track of kilobytes downloaded when surfing the net while traveling, so when Verizon offered “unlimited” broadband access for your laptop via its cell towers, many consumers signed up.

From a 2005 press release announcing a promotion for its BroadbandAccess service, Verizon said:

Because of Verizon Wireless’ number of customers, network footprint and experience in deploying a national wireless broadband service, customers can take advantage of unlimited BroadbandAccess for $59.99 monthly access with a two-year customer agreement.

The problem was that “unlimited” did not really mean unlimited.

*MOUSE PRINT: The downloading of movies and playing online games were not allowed. And there was an undisclosed cap on monthly usage which could trigger termination of your account. The service was primarily intended for web browsing, email and intranet access only.

Unfortunately for Verizon (and fortunately for consumers), the New York Attorney General started investigating the promotion, and learned that some 13,000 customers nationwide had had their services terminated for excessive use of the unlimited service they purchased.

To settle the case, Verizon agreed to reimburse terminated consumers some $1 million in costs for their equipment, and pay $150,000 to the NY-AG. [Settlement announcement from the New York Attorney General.]

Currently, on the Verizon Wireless website, the service is being marketed specifically for web browsing, email and intranet access, and all references to unlimited use have been removed:

verizon broadband updated

Their terms and conditions now explicitly state what activities are prohibited and what the cap is on usage.

For its part, Verizon said:

“We are pleased to have cooperated with the New York Attorney General and to have voluntarily reached this agreement,” said Howard Waterman, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless. “When this was brought to our attention, we understood that advertising for our NationalAccess and BroadbandAccess services could provide more clarity.”

Putting aside the PR BS, let’s hope this is a lesson not only to Verizon about how it promotes its services, but also to other providers who also promise “unlimited” service but in fact have undisclosed usage caps.

[Disclosure: Edgar is a new member of Verizon’s Consumer Advisory Board and receives a small grant to help operate .]

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