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October 14, 2019

Both Cascade and Finish Claim They Are the #1 Recommended Dishwashing Detergent Brand

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:53 am

In the dishwasher detergent marketing wars, two major brands — Cascade and Finish — are each claiming they are the most recommended brand.

Cascade says it’s the #1 brand:

Cascade

*MOUSE PRINT:

The fine print qualifies the claim to say that Cascade is the #1 recommended brand in North America by more dishwasher brands. According to a current TV commercial, those brands are KitchenAid, Maytag, Whirlpool, Kenmore, Samsung, Electrolux, and Frigidaire.

Finish says it is the world’s #1 recommended brand:

Finish front panel

*MOUSE PRINT:

The detailed fine print, which only appears on the back of the package, says that “more dishwasher brands recommend Finish products worldwide than any other brand.” Presumably, Finish has more than seven international brands that recommend it.

Both brands qualify their claim even further with the following phrase:

*MOUSE PRINT:

co-marketing disclaimer

What exactly is this co-marketing agreement that both brands mention. It sure sounds like they each made a deal with dishwasher manufacturers to promote each others’ brands. We asked both P&G (Cascade’s maker) and Reckitt Benckiser (RB), Finish’s maker, to explain, and indicate if any money changed hands in return for the recommendations. RB did not respond, but a spokesperson for P&G declined to say if they pay for recommendations saying in part:

“Co-marketing agreements” are common throughout the industry, and acknowledge the relationship that is in place that allows us to collaborate, test and innovate in partnership with dishwasher manufacturers. … The typical basis for manufacturer recommendations is their testing of our products in their machines. The relationships we have with industry partners vary, and are largely based on mutual value creation, capability and technology – aimed at giving the consumer the best possible experience. Given the partnership and confidentiality agreements we have in place, we’re unable to share any specific terms of agreements.

Well, that clarifies it. Despite this, both Cascade ActionPacs (with Clorox or Oxi) and Finish Quantum and Powerballs all rank in the top six dishwasher detergents tested by Consumer Reports, with only a point or two difference in score. Kirkland Signature (pacs) from Costco ranks number one, at one-third the price of Cascade.




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October 7, 2019

New Amazon 4-Star Stores Charge Full List Price to Non-Prime Members on Some Items

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:47 am

Amazon 4-Star StoreAmazon has begun opening small brick and mortar retail stores called “Amazon 4-Star.” The stores only feature products that are rated four stars or higher and that are new and trending or bestsellers. One just opened last week in Natick, Massachusetts, to join the ones already in Manhattan, Denver, Seattle, and Berkeley. So MrConsumer paid a visit to the new store.

The company installed electronic shelf tags that allow it to change prices on goods multiple times a day just the way they do online. Worse, they are using an unusual type of dual pricing on some of those tags – one price for Prime customers who pay $119 a year, and another price for the rest of us.

Here’s a book they had at the store.

Amazon in-store book

The electronic price tag shows a Prime price of $20.99 and a “price” of $34.95. The store says that non-Prime customers would pay $34.95.

Looking up that book at Amazon.com provides a surprise.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Amazon book on website

It shows that $20.99 was not a special Prime members only price, but a price that anyone could order it for. Worse, it says the list price of the book is $34.95 — exactly what the Amazon store was charging non-Prime customers. Since when does Amazon sell anything at full list price?

Here’s another example.

Amazon store instant pot

This Instant Pot is $79 for Prime customers only, and $99.95 for everyone else. But a quick look at the website reveals…

*MOUSE PRINT:

Amazon online Instant Pot

Everyone pays $79 online for the Instant Pot and it is not a Prime exclusive item or price. The $99.95 they are charging in their brick and mortar store is full list price.

A third example is here.

While many items in the store have this dual pricing system, most have a single price on them. That single in-store price appears to match the online price. The store will not price match Amazon.com’s web price for non-Prime customers.

We asked Amazon’s PR folks why they use a dual pricing system, and why in the world this famous discounter is charging full list price on some items to non-Prime customers. The spokesperson was not able to reply in time for publication, but we will post the response when it is received. And surprise, they did not provide us with a statement. But, we found an inconspicuous disclosure now on the Amazon website:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Amazon FAQ

The lesson here is not to assume you are paying the regular Amazon.com price at their retail stores. Do a quick check online to make sure you are not overpaying.




• • •

September 30, 2019

Tribune Newspapers Blur the Line Between Advertising and News

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:05 am

Several prominent newspapers in the Tribune family are now devoting entire sections of their websites to product reviews. Sounds great – a good consumer service. The problem is that the articles amount to a form of advertising because the papers get paid for each product sold, and they don’t disclose that fact to readers upfront.

Here is a screen capture of the product review section from the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago Tribune consumer reviews

Scroll down the list.

Some of what they cover are important topics such as “The Best Men’s Slipper,” “The Best Baby Bath Toy,” “The Best Nipple Pasties,” and “The Best Cake Pop Maker.” These certainly are the type of reviews that shoppers are clamering to read, MrConsumer opines sarcastically.

A full page of stories/reviews also appear in the consumer review section of the Sun Sentinel (Florida), the New York Daily News, the Baltimore Sun, and other Tribune newspapers.

Here is an excerpt of the men’s slipper story, as an example. Note that the links to the three “best” slippers all go to Amazon.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Chicago Tribune Slippers story excerpt

Scroll down the story to see links.

Those links are affiliate links where Amazon (in this case) pays a small commission if a reader buys any of those slippers. Hovering over the link reveals a “tag” used by Amazon to identify the affiliate so it knows whom to compensate.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Tribune affiliate link

That commission on each sale is shared between both the newspaper and the service that provided the reviews, BestReviews. Tribune Publishing is a majority owner of BestReviews. The review company says it strives to be 100% objective because it buys all the products it tests. But the company admits it doesn’t really test all the products it writes about.

*MOUSE PRINT:

“For some product categories we solely use research and consumer feedback to create the information in our review.”

If you didn’t realize that the newspaper publishing these stories makes money via those links, that is no accident. The paper only discloses that financial connection at the very end of each review.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Chicago Tribune disclaimer

Federal Trade Commission guidelines for both product endorsements and native advertising (where advertising looks like regular editorial content) require clear disclosure if there is a financial connection between the parties, and that advertising content that looks like regular articles be clearly labeled. Whether the Tribune has violated the law is up to the FTC to decide, but we think they could do a better job of disclosing at the top of these articles that both the company that wrote the stories and the newspaper that publishes them make money if readers make a purchase through the provided links.

We asked editors at the Chicago Tribune, the Sun Sentinel, and the Tribune entity that distributes these stories some very pointed questions about their review section. None of the three responded to our inquiries.

The use of affiliate links in traditional media stories seems to be increasing. So (unfortunately) you have to look carefully to see if a website posting a story about a particular product might also be recommending it because they have a financial incentive. If so, take that into account.




• • •

September 9, 2019

NBC TODAY Show Caught Up in Diet Pill Scam

Filed under: Health,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:39 am

NBC’s TODAY Show has innocently gotten caught up in a diet pill scam that Consumer World discovered.

I was recently on a local television station’s website (CBS 19) and saw what might be an interesting story about Kelly Clarkson losing 105 pounds.

CBS 19 ad

Upon clicking the box, you are taken to what looks like the TODAY Show website where the story becomes even more intriguing because of the headline — “Kelly Clarkson Forced to Lose 105 Pounds by NBC Producers.” According to the story, producers of “The Voice” were requiring Clarkson to lose at least 50 pounds and if she did not she would lose her role as head coach on that program per the terms of her contract. Her lawyer was unable to negotiate a compromise.


View full size

Ellen DeGeneres apparently caught wind of the controversy and recommended a particular product to Clarkson to help her lose weight.

The TODAY Show writer of this story then describes her own test of that product. And with that, MrConsumer realized he had been duped. This whole story was really an advertisement for Keto 101 weight loss pills. But why had the TODAY Show become involved with something shady like this?

*MOUSE PRINT:

The answer is, they didn’t. The promoters of these diet pills apparently hijacked the format of the TODAY Show website and created their own phony story using the TODAY logo. The URL (Internet address) of the web page was diet.healthy-service.com rather than today.com. In fact, they even changed all the TODAY menu links to their own ordering page.

Pill URL

As with many of these product promotions, there was a long list of phony consumer testimonials near the end followed by a free trial offer of a 30-day supply of these pills. Just pay $4.95 for shipping, they claimed. But the ordering page had its own hidden gotchas.

order form

*MOUSE PRINT:

terms expanded

Only when you expand the offer terms section do you learn you will be charged $89.99 for pills if you don’t cancel during the trial period because you have been enrolled in a membership plan with automatic shipment of refills every month.

As if that is not bad enough, if one looks at the complete terms and conditions section, you learn that although they are sending you 30 days worth of pills, the free trial is only 14 days. And the free trial period begins on the day you place your order and not when you receive it. So it is possible that your free trial period could expire before you even get the product.

*MOUSE PRINT:

terms highlighted

We notified the folks at the TODAY Show about their website being appropriated by these pill pushers. They responded that “the problem is they are very hard to track down… [I’ll] send them to our legal department, so they could get some type of cease and desist action going.”

It should be noted that the above fake TODAY Show web page was just one of four variants that we found, all using similar tactics and slightly different pill names. What’s particularly bold about these fake sites is that they are using the real names and look and feel of actual TV news sites as noted in our main story, rather than made-up names like “Health News Today” as they used to.

Reader beware!

If you have been a victim of one of these look-alike major media sites, please tell us in detail what happened in the comments.




• • •

September 2, 2019

Some Coupons Have Secret “Start” Dates

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:41 am

Hellmann's $1 couponOn Saturday, August 24, MrConsumer went to Price Rite supermarket because they had Hellmann’s mayonnaise on sale for $2.49 with a store-issued coupon.

But MrConsumer also had a $1 off manufacturer’s coupon that had just come that week in the coupon inserts. So that 30-ounce jar of mayonnaise would only cost $1.49.

When checking out, the $1 store coupon was deducted without a problem. But the manufacturer’s coupon would not deduct. A store clerk (erroneously) argued that one cannot use two coupons on the same item. As most veteran shoppers know, virtually all supermarkets will accept both a store-issued coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item.

When I pressed the issue a bit more, the coupon was rescanned and an odd error message came up on the screen… words to the effect that the start date was not met. No one knew what that meant, and store personnel went back to the line “you can only use one coupon per item.”

Dissatisfied and disappointed, I wrote to the supermarket’s customer relations department and asked (in all caps) that someone from upper management contact me about this issue. To my surprise and delight a district manager called me and was puzzled by what had happened, suggesting that it was only reasonable for them to accept the manufacturer’s coupon since the supermarket would be reimbursed for it. I photographed the coupon and emailed it to him so he could experiment with it if necessary.

A couple of days later, he emailed back the surprising results of his inquiry.

Secret *MOUSE PRINT:

Previously unbeknownst to him and the rest of the shopping world including me is that some manufacturers code a hidden “start date” of sorts into the barcode. Presumably, this is to limit the effective period of the coupon and also to try to prevent fraudulent redemptions.

This coupon was slated to be in the RetailMeNot coupon insert in Sunday’s paper, August 25th — the day after I tried to redeem it. It appears that Unilever put a start date of August 25th on the coupon to coincide with the newspaper’s publication date. What this multi-billion dollar corporation didn’t realize is that Sunday newspapers and the inserts in them are often available the day before on Saturday. And what they further were oblivious to was the practice of coupon inserts being delivered to homes in bags along with the upcoming week’s supermarket circulars days in advance. For example, I normally receive my bag of ads on Tuesday or Wednesday for supermarket sales that begin on the coming Friday or Sunday.

The Price Rite manager shared these findings with me, and instructed store personnel in his district to always accept a valid store coupon plus a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item, and to accept manufacturer’s coupons that are redeemed prior to their hidden start date. Kudos to him.

Consumer World then wrote to Unilever, the maker of Hellmann’s, to ask why they use hidden start dates. We explained to them that coupon inserts are often received by shoppers a day or days in advance, and asked what were they going to do to remedy the coupon rejection problem they unwittingly created?

We’ll post their answers as soon as they respond.




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