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October 12, 2009

When Buying Pink Stinks

Filed under: Health,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:07 am

pinkribbonIf you have been seeing pink ribbons everywhere in the past two weeks it because October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is designed to raise the public consciousness about breast cancer, the importance of early detection, and to encourage women to do self examinations and get mammograms. No doubt, this is an important and worthy undertaking.

Companies have joined in to help raise money for various breast cancer organizations typically by promising to donate X cents or X dollars for every product sold bearing a pink ribbon. A maximum donation is often stated in the advertising. So many companies have joined in doing these promotions dubbed “cause marketing”, that store shelves and ads are filled with pink ribbon items.

Some women with breast cancer are now speaking out about the commercialization of their disease. They don’t like the fact that some companies appear to be profiting from their pain.

“Many breast cancer survivors like Zielinski find themselves conflicted over this little powerful ribbon. Some survivors feel companies are exploiting breast cancer, marketing themselves as philanthropic outfits that care about women when what they mostly care about is the pink ribbon’s enormous ability to boost profits. Some just feel overwhelmed by the constant pink reminder, especially in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, of a disease that has forever altered their lives.” — Sick of Pink, Boston Globe Magazine, October 4, 2009

Poking around the Internet, Mouse Print* discovered that Buy.com was promoting its own very pink “Breast Cancer Awareness Store.”

buypink

Among the items being sold there are pink luggage and even pink flash drives from PNY.  In many cases, there is no specific disclosure of how much money of your purchase will be donated to breast cancer causes.

*MOUSE PRINT: Some items just say, “Portions of the proceeds of the sale of this flash drive go the Susan G. Koman for the cure foundation.”

The site also did not appear to say whether it was actually Buy.com or the products’ manufacturers who were making the contributions.

*MOUSE PRINT: A public relations representative for Buy.com when asked by Mouse Print* replied:

“As part of Buy.com’s National Breast Cancer Month Promotion, the participating manufacturers are making the donation when each item is sold.”

While manufacturers need retailers to promote pink products in order to donate the sums they have promised, some consumers might erroneously have believed that this retailer was also making a contribution derived from the profit on the sale of these pink items.




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October 1, 2009

Hidden Fees Discovered for “Free” Windows 7 Upgrades

Filed under: Computers,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:34 am

win7upgrade Since June 26, retailers and computer manufacturers have urged shoppers to buy computers already on store shelves loaded with the much-maligned Windows Vista operating system because they would qualify for a free upgrade to Windows 7 when it was released in October. As it turns out, Mouse Print* has learned that some computer purchasers will be asked to pay shipping, handling and other junk fees that total between $11 and $17 to receive their “free” upgrade disks.

Here is a part of a typical advertisement promising a free upgrade to Windows 7:

win7lenovo3

However, when visiting various computer manufacturers’ websites specifically set up for processing Windows 7 upgrade requests, some consumers will learn for the first time about the possible fees (that are often buried in a FAQ section or under Terms and Conditions):

*MOUSE PRINT:

The Details: “The Windows 7 Upgrade license is free for qualifying PCs. Only materials, shipping, handling, and fulfillment fees may be included in the cost of the upgrade program. If any fees apply, the amount will be presented to you prior to final submission of your order. At that time, you will have the opportunity to opt out before final order submission.” [from Lenovo terms] [Emphasis added]

“There is no charge for the Windows 7 Upgrade Option Program from HP; however, shipping, handling, and other fees (including taxes depending on local and state laws) might apply depending on the retailer or reseller where you purchased your eligible computer.” [from HP FAQ] [Emphasis added]

win7dellglobe2
Dell ad 9/30/09. [Dell FAQ]

Dell told Mouse Print* that it is not going to charge any fees to US customers, despite disclosures to the contrary on their website and in recent newspaper ads (like the one above).

Both HP and Sony told Mouse Print* that they negotiated with big retail chains offering them the opportunity to allow their customers to receive completely free upgrades. Neither would provide a list of which retailers signed up, nor what retailers had to pay or agree to. Retailers say the manufacturers decided on pricing. So they are each pointing fingers at the other claiming the other is responsible for setting the shipping charges if any. Who’s caught in the middle? The consumer, who may not know until after purchase, whether they will have to pay high shipping and handling fees.

No manufacturers’ site linked from the official Microsoft Windows 7 upgrade page lists upfront the specific total charges that consumers will incur for shipping/handling/fulfillment, nor which retailers have agreed to “eat” the shipping charges and which have not. You often have to begin filling out the upgrade request form, sometimes with personal information including the serial number or part number of the computer you have purchased before the shipping costs are revealed. Lenovo is one of the few manufacturers that discloses their fee in the first step of the upgrade process.

Despite the near complete lack of price disclosure, Mouse Print* has learned some of the charges that some consumers will face:

Manufacturer Shipping Fees for “Free” Upgrade to Windows 7
Acer/eMachines/Gateway $0
Compaq $0 for most buyers; others pay $12.99 for first kit
Dell $0 for US online and retail purchasers
HP $0 for most buyers; others pay $12.99 for first kit
Lenovo $17.03 all buyers
Sony $0 for some buyers; $14.99 for others
Toshiba $0 for most buyers; $11.25/$12.99 for others

Now to the retailers. There generally is little or no disclosure by retailers and etailers in their advertisements that some purchasers may have to pay substantial delivery charges to obtain their “free” upgrades, let alone the actual price that will be charged. Of course, some stores’ customers won’t have to pay any charges, but the consumer cannot tell the difference between sellers that fail to disclose the charges and ones that legitimately are not making their customers pay. Staples appears to be the only major retailer that clearly states separately for each computer in its circulars when customers will have to pay for shipping.  Spokespeople for Amazon.com, Costco, Best Buy, and Office Depot told Mouse Print* that their customers will not be charged shipping and handling fees.

So what’s a consumer to do?  If you have already purchased your computer, you can go on the manufacturer’s website to register for the “free” upgrade.  During the registration process, manufacturers will eventually disclose the actual shipping cost, if any. If you have not yet purchased your computer, there is no real way to know whether purchasing it at retailer “A” versus at retailer “B” will result in a truly free upgrade (except those noted above).

And one last bit of bad news.  Some customers who purchased computers since June 26, the start of the free upgrade qualification period, will not qualify for a free upgrade to Windows 7 no matter what, and different procedures and costs apply to purchasers of boxed Windows Vista:

*MOUSE PRINT:

  • Computers with Windows Vista Basic are excluded from the program;
  • Computers with Windows XP (except for the Professional Vista version downgraded to XP) are also excluded.  That means virtually all purchasers of netbooks will not get Windows 7 free.
  • Purchasers of boxed Windows Vista software versions higher than Basic since June 26 must process their upgrade requests through Microsoft at a cost of $9.99 for shipping and handling.

No doubt, the charges that some computer purchasers will be asked to pay for their “free” upgrades will come as a big surprise.




• • •

September 21, 2009

Fat Chance: Get a “Free” Month of Weight Watchers

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

Weight Watchers just started a new advertising campaign promising a free month of service.

In two different TV commercials the company promotes a “free month”. In one, this is what the narrator says:

“In the time it takes you to watch a bad reality show, you can learn to switch off hungry and lose weight. Right now Weight Watchers is offering a whole month free. Join and get a month of unlimited meetings with online tools so all you need is 45 minutes a week, to take control, turn hungry off, and turn weight loss on. The free month offer is only available for a limited time, so join today. Hurry registration is free too. Weight Watchers. Stop dieting, start living.” [red color added]

*MOUSE PRINT: In the first TV commercial, the fine print disclosure on the screen for approximately three seconds says:

*Must buy first month of monthly pass to get free second month. Automatically renews each month until you cancel. Not available in AZ, HI, AR, TN and other nonparticipating franchise areas. Offer ends 10/17/09.

In another TV commercial, the company promotes a free month of Weight Watchers online:

wwtv

*MOUSE PRINT: As the announcer is saying “sign up now and get one month free” a fine print disclosure in the commercial reads:

*Must purchase a 3 month subscription to Weight Watchers Online to get your 4th month free.

Finally, here is the promotion for a free month as it appears on the homepage of their website:

wwfreemonth

*MOUSE PRINT: The footnotes on the Weight Watcher’s website tell the full story and disclose this (actual size):

wwfootnote

The offer is really “buy one month, get one free” or “buy three months, get the 4th month free.”  That is far different from the impression created that the company is giving away a free month period.  “Get a free month” and “Buy X months, get one free” are two completely different offers. The TV commercials make no oral disclosure at all about a purchase requirement.  All they talk about is getting a free month. 

Particularly for a program that is not selling food, but rather just offering meetings and guidance, the concept of getting a month free without strings is certainly plausible.  (Bally gives away one or two months free every winter, with no purchase requirement.)

Can’t companies play it straight and stop advertising “FREE” but somehow forget to clearly mention the required “BUY” part of an offer in the same breath?

[The Vice President of Public Relations for Weight Watchers International did not respond to a written request for comment for this story.]




• • •

September 14, 2009

GM’s 60-Day Satisfaction Guarantee

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

gm60day

Starting September 14, General Motors is offering a 60-day satisfaction guarantee on any new 2009 or 2010 Chevy, Buick, GMC or Cadillac purchased between now and November 30th. The president of GM in a TV commercial says, “and if you’re not 100% happy, return it, we’ll take it back.”

You must keep the car for at least 30 days, and then you have another 30 days to return it. Don’t expect to get 100% of your money back, but pretty close.

*MOUSE PRINT: Among the many requirements are these:

  • Buyback Price means the actual price you paid to the Participating Dealer for the Eligible Vehicle itself (after any rebates, discounts, employee discounts, or supplier discounts) plus applicable sales taxes you actually paid.
  • The Buyback Price does not include the costs of any taxes (other than sales taxes), licensing, titling or registration fees, insurance, dealer installed accessories, aftermarket products or add-on equipment (other than factory options ordered with the vehicle), dealer fees of any kind, ancillary products including without limitation extended warranties or service contracts, finance charges, any negative equity (the amount by which a loan on a trade-in vehicle exceeds the dealer’s purchase price for the trade-in) or any other expenses incurred by the Buyer in relation to taking delivery of the Eligible Vehicle.
  • Your Eligible Vehicle’s odometer must not have more than 4,000 miles since the Delivery Date.
  • Your Eligible Vehicle must have been registered and insured in the Buyer’s name since the Delivery Date.
  • Your Eligible Vehicle must have no more than $200 of damage as determined by GM or GM’s agent. Such damage may include, without limitation, internal or external scratches, scrapes, dents, odors, rips, burns, etc.
  • Your vehicle must NOT be registered to a business, corporation, partnership, utility, federal, state or local government, rental car company or any other organization;
  • You cannot return an Eligible Vehicle and repurchase a vehicle you traded-in when you purchased the Eligible Vehicle;
  • You cannot trade in an Eligible Vehicle and then repurchase it later.
  • You cannot sue GM over this program — arbitration only.

All in all, GM’s offer is advertised in a straightforward manner, and the “details” are consistent with the promises made and are not unreasonable (but for getting zero back on dealer-added options, accessories, and extended warranties).

========================================

See post below for update on the T-Mobile fee for paper bills.




• • •

September 13, 2009

UPDATE: T-Mobile Delays/Rethinks Fee for Paper Bills

Filed under: Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 8:44 am

T-Mobile just announced that it is delaying and rethinking its plan to charge customers a $1.50 a month fee to receive a paper bill via the US Mail. The company apparently heard the yells and screams of customers, and word that a class action lawsuit had been filed.

Here is the official announcement on the T-Mobile message board:

Paper Bill Charge T-Mobile Statement

T-Mobile is committed to encouraging customers to make the move to paperless billing. It’s a great alternative to paper and better for the environment.

Since the announcement we’ve heard everything from kudos to concerns about the move to paperless – especially from our customers who today are receiving paper bills at no charge.

So, we’ve decided to not charge our customers a paper bill fee for now. Instead, we’ll be taking more time to determine the fairest way possible to encourage people to go paperless.

Customers can still visit my.t-mobile.com to sign up for paperless billing.

We thank our customers for their patience and appreciate people letting us know how they feel about this important topic.




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