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November 26, 2012

Can’t Companies Learn from Their Mistakes?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:44 am

Just about a year ago, we wrote about Save-a-Lot, a limited assortment grocery chain, that was promoting their Facebook page. They promised to give shoppers a $5 coupon to use at their supermarket if you “liked” them. See our story, “Save-a-Lot’s Deceptive Facebook Promotion.”

Only after you “liked” them, did they disclose that the coupon was really buy $25 worth of groceries, and get $5 off.

So, we pointed out this omission to them, and after a little pestering, they quickly updated the promotion to clearly disclose that this was a $5 off a $25 purchase coupon.

Fast forward to November 2012. On the homepage of Save-a-Lot, they were giving thanks to their shoppers saying “To give thanks and help you enjoy this season with your family, we are giving you a $5 coupon.”

Save-a-Lot homepage

When you click on that ad, you are taken to the company’s Facebook page, where the promotion is shown again:

Save a Lot Facebook

And when you “like” their Facebook page, you discover this:


Save a Lot

Yep, same old thing… you have to buy $25 worth of groceries in order to save the $5.

How could a company that was called on the carpet just a year ago for the very same deceptive practice not learn how to tell their customers the truth upfront about their $5 off coupons? We immediately notified the company of the recurring problem, but heard nothing. About a week later, we contacted them again, and were informed that they changed their ad right after receiving the first email:

Save a Lot

When we replied to the company with the hope that they do it correctly and legally next year, their PR person replied:

“Legally the information is posted on the offer once the click through is made and the offer itself is not misleading. However, we understand your concern for it on the banner, as our desire is never to intentionally confuse our customers.” — Save-a-Lot Spokesperson

It is amazing to me that companies believe because they disclose a key fact or limitation SOMEWHERE that that is sufficient and legal notice to the consumer.

• • •

November 19, 2012

Would You Let a Company Impersonate You on Facebook?

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:28 am

Lowe’s just sent out an email to shoppers on its mailing list inviting them to participate in its “Black Friday Showdown.” Doing so will give you an opportunity to preview 16 Black Friday specials and win them if you “like” Lowe’s on Facebook.

Lowe's Black Friday

Sure, why not, thought MrConsumer.

Upon reaching their Facebook page, you discover that not only does Lowe’s want a “like” in exchange for your chance at winning all those prizes, they also want to install a Facebook app that will let them post messages as if they were you on Facebook.


Lowe's Facebook app

Excuse me? You want me to allow you to probably send advertisements about Lowe’s to my friends but make it seem like I wrote those messages? I don’t think so. You can keep your 16 prizes.

On closer scrutiny of their Facebook page, however, there is a way to have your cake and eat it too.


Lowe's posting exclusion

Many people may have overlooked it, as did MrConsumer, but there is an option to control to whom the Lowe’s app would send their advertisements. As shown above, it defaults to sending those incognito ads to all your friends. However, you can change the setting so that Lowe’s only sends them to just you.

Mouse Print* asked Lowe’s to comment on their use of this questionable means of advertising, and here their response:

Lowe’s is not posting on behalf of the user without the user taking action and opting to share information. If a customer chooses to not share, then the app will not post any information on behalf of the customer. It is completely user initiated.

Lowe’s Facebook app and its ability to communicate is done in the same format as many other apps like it and is compliant within Facebook’s terms and services. The app notifies a user before they install it that it will post on content. However, it is important to note that the customer at that point has the ability to adjust who within their network will see the post. For example, it can be adjusted by the consumer so that no one can see any posts from this app should they choose. Again – this is standard protocol used by many brands.

To be clear, the only time the app actually does post is when the user chooses to ‘share’ their winning product on their Facebook wall. It will not post automatically. — Public Relations Manager, Lowe’s

This type of advertising just seems like it is overreaching.

In fact, similar invasions are becoming commonplace not just on Facebook, but when you download free apps to your smartphone. See Exposing Your Personal Informatio​n – There’s An App for That .

• • •

November 12, 2012

Choice Hotels: That Room Safe Could Cost You

Filed under: Business,Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:06 am

A regular Mouse Print* reader, Bob, recently returned from a cross-country car trip and wrote to complain about what he calls the “hotel safe scam.” Here’s his story:

You check into a hotel, and you are asked to initial a registration form in several places and then sign it. You initial to accept the hotel’s rate. You initial to acknowledge the non-smoking policy. And again for the no-pets policy. Some hotels also ask you to initial the “optional” safe fee. Then you sign at the bottom.

People are tired, distracted, in a hurry, or perhaps their English isn’t so good. If you stay in enough hotels, it all becomes routine. Many consumers just do as they are asked without reading.

The safe fee is usually $1.50 per day, but sometimes a different amount. Supposedly, it’s for the use of the safe. In some cases, I found the safe locked and unusable, but that made no difference to the charge.

An “optional” fee is rather extraordinary. The hotel form often says that you can ask for the fee to be removed. Some say they will remove the fee up to 60 days later. If you ask up front that the fee be removed, some tell you to ask again at checkout. In every case, when I insisted that the fee be removed, it was, although I had to ask twice sometimes.

The safe fee is a hidden-in-plain-sight scam. The hotels expressly tell you about the fee and rely on inertia to get your money. The hotels know that most people won’t notice or won’t object. Checkout at most hotels doesn’t require any action by a consumer. The hotel often slips a bill under your door, and you can leave without stopping at the front desk.

Sure enough, some Choice hotels tack on a “safe with limited warranted” charge of $1.50 a day onto your bill:


Choice safe charge

Mouse Print* contacted the PR folks at Choice Hotels to ask for an explanation of this charge and why they chose a sneaky way to raise the cost of a hotel room. The company did not respond.

The lesson here is clear: don’t blindly initial all the Xs on that card when you first register at a hotel, and scrutinize your bill for “optional” charges that the hotel might tack onto it.

• • •

November 5, 2012

T-Mobile’s “Unlimited?” 4G Service

Filed under: Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:42 am

Few services advertised as “unlimited” are truly unlimited. And T-Mobile continues to be a case in point.

When T-Mobile began advertising “unlimited” data on its cellphones in April 2011, the fine print indicated that only the first two gigabytes were truly unlimited. Any use beyond that would be slowed down or “throttled.” And of course, that fact was not as prominently disclosed as their unlimited claims.

Fast forward to September 2012. T-Mobile published full page ads with a new unlimited claim:

T-Mobile unlimited

However, at the bottom page in almost unreadable type was this:


T-Mobile unlimited fine print

Not obvious on its face, the new unlimited plan is not considered “Ultra” or “Premium” where customers’ data transmission speeds will be given priority when traffic is heavy. That could put those on the new unlimited plan in coach and thus they may not experience the same fast speeds.

Beyond that, on T-Mobile’s “test drive” website, the company seems to proclaim a list of benefits to those who select the new 4G unlimited service (note: graphic has been compressed to fit this page):


The top-listed benefit is the ability to create a wi-fi hotspot so that data can be shared with other devices nearby such as a tablet. However, when clicking on that benefit, one discovers that this is NOT a benefit of the new unlimited 4G plan.



NOTE: MrConsumer is a member of Verizon’s Consumer Advisory Board, and often criticizes that company for its advertising missteps.

• • •

October 29, 2012

Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Guaranteed to Fail in 7 Years

Filed under: Business,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:17 am

Kidde alarmTo help prevent illness and death, some states require carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in various parts of your home.

Kidde is one of the large, recognized brands of smoke alarms and other fire prevention products. Certain of their carbon monoxide detectors, however, come with conflicting promises and warnings.

In the manual’s introduction for one of their basic carbon monoxide detectors, it reassures customers they have made a good choice:

“Thank you for making Kidde a part of your complete home safety program. With proper installation and use, your new Kidde CO alarm will provide you with years of dependable service.”

Buried on page 8, however, is some starting news:


Kidde 7 years

A similar disclosure appears in fine print on the box itself. On one hand, the company seems to take safety seriously and doesn’t want to give customers a false sense of reassurance that their detectors are working when they have really lost the ability to sense carbon monoxide. On the other hand, one would not normally expect to have to throw out a $25 to $70 product after only seven years.

What’s going on here? The answer is that carbon monoxide detectors do indeed have a limited life. Inside many detectors is an electro-chemical cell that reacts in the presence of carbon monoxide. It tends to be very accurate. But, over time, the chemical can degrade and its performance is diminished. Accordingly, a national safety standard for carbon monoxide detectors published by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) requires that manufacturers build in a warning system to alert consumers that the unit is no longer functioning properly.


8.1 The unit (including the sensor) shall have a specified lifetime of at least 3 years from the date of manufacture, or from the date the unit is placed into service.

38.1.6 The unit shall indicate end-of-life, based on the manufacturer’s specified lifetime, with an end-of-life signal (see 3.11). This signal shall be triggered either by an internal timer or by a self-diagnostic test(s).

3.11 END-OF-LIFE SIGNAL – An audible signal, differing from the alarm signal, intended to indicate that the device has reached the end of its useful life and should be replaced. … The end-of-life signal shall repeat once every 30 – 60 seconds ±10 percent. — UL 2034, Standard for Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Alarms.

So, no matter what brand of carbon monoxide detector you buy, the unit will automatically commit suicide at the end of its useful life.

Note: MrConsumer is a member of UL’s Consumer Advisory Council.

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