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January 20, 2020

Thanks for Nothing: CVS, Aldi, and Kmart

Filed under: Humor,Retail,Thanks for Nothing — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:52 am

We once again look at various advertised offers that seemingly promise a good deal… at least until you do a little more investigation.

Example 1:

Last month on December 8, CVS advertised “lowest prices of the season” on 500 count bottles of CVS ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and apirin — bottles were only $9.79.

CVS lowest prices of the season

There’s just one problem. Two weeks earlier, Consumer World’s “bargain of the week” featured a sale on some of the same CVS pills when they were only $5.

*MOUSE PRINT:

$5 CVS Ibu

Thanks for nothing, CVS.


Example 2:

Plant-based burgers are all the rage now with the two leading brands, Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger, finding their way into chain restaurants and the meat counter at your favorite store. When MrConsumer saw that super discounter Aldi was now carrying Beyond Burger he got excited expecting to finally find them on sale at an affordable price.

Beyond Burger at Aldi

*MOUSE PRINT:

Here they claim that their price for Beyond Burger is “budget-approved.” But a closer inspection of the ad reveals that for $4.49 you only get two burgers with the package weighing a total of only eight ounces. Even organic beef is cheaper — $4.49 for a full pound (in this large package).

Thanks for nothing, Aldi.


Example 3:

At one of the Kmart stores that was not going out of business at the time, they were having a clearance sale on some items.

Kmart clearance

Wow, what a deal. Thanks for nothing, Kmart.




• • •

January 6, 2020

So You Think You Can Return Any Amazon Purchase to Kohl’s…

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:52 am

Amazon Returns at Kohl's

Kohl’s made a brilliant move last year by making a deal with Amazon to accept their returns at all Kohl’s stores.

According to the Kohl’s press release, the customer can simply visit a Kohl’s store and bring in an item without a box or label, and the department store will box it up and ship it back to Amazon for free.

MrConsumer decided to return a recently purchased and unopened box with a Quicken disc inside. The Amazon website indicated it qualified for “free returns” because it was “sold and shipped by Amazon.”

Quicken from Amazon

So, the day after Christmas, MrConsumer went to his nearby Kohl’s and got in the returns line. Once at the counter, he was told he had to go to the special Amazon returns desk at the back of the store. So he went back there and got in line again. I showed the clerk the Quicken package and my original sales receipt. He explained that I needed to show him a QR code — one of those new-fangled barcodes — and the only way to get that was for me to use my cellphone to process the return on the Amazon website, and choose Kohl’s as the dropoff location.

The Kohl’s website explains the process for making an Amazon return, which MrConsumer admittedly had not checked beforehand.

*MOUSE PRINT:

HOW TO MAKE AMAZON RETURNS AT KOHL’S STORES

1. Begin your return with Amazon’s Online Return Center
2. Select the Kohl’s Dropoff option
3. Amazon will email you a QR code
4. Bring the item(s) you’re returning to a participating Kohl’s store and show the QR code on your smartphone to a Kohl’s associate in-store
5. Kohl’s will pack, label and ship your return for free

Amazon Returns are now accepted at all Kohl’s stores (excluding Anchorage, Alaska). Return eligible Amazon.com items to Kohl’s stores and save yourself time and money. What could be more convenient?

So, I found a quiet spot and began to process the return at Amazon.com, but when I got to picking the dropoff location, there was no “Kohl’s dropoff” option. And most of the other alternatives required me to pay $7.21 to ship the item back.

Amazon return options

I then went back to the Amazon return line, waited again, and finally got up to the counter. I showed the clerk my cellphone indicating there was no Kohl’s option for dropoff. He couldn’t quite explain the problem other than to say if the item came from a third-party seller, it did not qualify for return at Kohl’s. (It didn’t, it came from them directly — “sold and shipped by Amazon.”) He handed me a slip with a UPS location where I could pay to return the item to Amazon.

The product listing for Quicken explicitly said for this item there were no shipping charges to return it and I could pick the shipping method.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Amazon free returns

Grrr. I went home and got online to try to do the return on my desktop computer. There was indeed a free return option, but it was not at Kohl’s, not at a nearby Whole Foods, and not at the UPS desk at Staples right across the street. It was at an “Amazon Hub Locker Plus” — inconveniently located one or two towns away that I would have to drive to.

We asked both Kohl’s and Amazon why this item could not be returned to Kohl’s and why despite promising a free return shipping option there was none. Kohl’s didn’t respond to multiple requests. However, an Amazon spokesperson explained that most Amazon customers will have at least one free return option, but she would not otherwise respond directly to our questions on the record.

So Amazon returns to Kohl’s are not quite as simple and all-inclusive as the advertising suggests. MrConsumer wrongly assumed one could just walk in with the item and the original sales receipt — just like returning a Kohl’s item to Kohl’s.

We hope both companies will endeavor to be more clear and upfront about the limitations of free return options.




• • •

December 9, 2019

Advertising Masquerades as Program Content on TV Talk Shows – Part 3

Filed under: Business,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:55 am

For the past two years, Consumer World has been investigating TV talk shows that present what looks like a typical informational segment, but in fact the program is quietly making money by airing it. In essence you are watching an infomercial — advertising masquerading as regular program content. (See our first two stories, one about the truth behind “deal” segments on morning TV, and the other about doctors as product experts on television.)

Another prong of our investigation focused on a segment from the CBS daytime show, The Talk. In this March 2018 segment, a dermatologist conducts a beauty care quiz with the co-hosts and the audience.



After several general questions, the dermatologist casually mentions a particular product line, No7, and discusses the benefits of it. The program host then introduces a consumer in the audience who tells of her positive experience with the product. Only in the credits at the end of the program is there a momentary disclosure that No7 sponsored part of the show.

*MOUSE PRINT:

No7 sponsorship

So this segment which appeared to be a regular part of the program was really an infomercial of sorts. Marketers call it “product integration.”

There are several legal issues here. Was the doctor paid by the company to tout its products and was that consumer in the audience a plant?

To answer the first question, we did a little digging. On The Talk‘s website, CBS offered this description of that beauty segment:

*MOUSE PRINT:

"we teamed up"

And on the doctor’s own social media account, we found her thanking the manufacturer for selecting her to be their dermatologist spokesperson for No7:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Doctor thanks No7

As for the audience member who touted her results using the product, we can find no independent information about her. However, what are the odds that sitting right there in the front row was an average consumer who just happened to try the product and liked it? In all likelihood, both the doctor and audience member were paid by No7 for the appearance. And that triggers the FTC’s guidelines governing testimonials and endorsements, which require clear disclosure if those people were paid for their comments. No such disclosure was made on the program.

Equally if not more important is the lack of disclosure to the viewing audience at the time the segment was airing that it was actually sponsored content — in essence an advertisement — rather than a regular program segment. They disclosed the sponsorship only in the credits at the end of the program. Under the FCC’s “payola” rules, if a program’s producers receive payment to feature a product, that fact must be disclosed to viewers during the program.

Also, whenever someone creates content that looks like the other material that surrounds it, but is really advertising, this is called native advertising. To keep viewers of TV shows and readers of news websites properly informed about the commercial nature of these types of offerings, the FTC’s native advertising guidelines require clear, up-front disclosure. And that is often missing or obscured.

After seeing this segment on The Talk, Consumer World contacted the West coast head of broadcast standards at CBS to remind the company of the various disclosure requirements, and ask what the network was going to do to correct the problem. Not long thereafter, the segment was quietly removed from the CBS website. And eventually, we got a reply:

“I have been advised that we have reviewed our practices and procedures and have reiterated to those involved the importance of transparency, and adhering to the applicable guidelines. You may have seen some changes on our product integrations on THE TALK, as well as some of our other programs.”

This segment on The Talk is but one example of the secret commercialization of content on TV talk and information programs. Over the years, we’ve seen other sponsored segments with often poor disclosures on The Doctors, Rachel Ray, Steve Harvey, and other shows. We hope that the FTC will direct some of its enforcement efforts to the television networks that engage in these sneaky practices.

Next week we check out a segment on the Dr. Phil show that just aired a few weeks ago.




• • •

December 2, 2019

Hey Clif Bar, Where’s the White Chocolate?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:42 am

A California consumer sued the maker of Clif Bars for misleading practices alleging that their “White Chocolate Macadamia Nut” Clif Bars had no white chocolate.

Clif Bar

A quick scan of the ingredients label confirms that omission.

*MOUSE PRINT:

INGREDIENTS
Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Rolled Oats, Soy Protein Isolate, Organic Cane Syrup, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Rice Flour, Macadamia Nuts, Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Oat Fiber, Organic Soy Flour, Cocoa Butter‡, Organic High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Organic Cocoa Butter‡, Sea Salt, Soy Flour, Barley Malt Extract, Soy Lecithin, Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant).

The consumer argued that the FDA has specific regulations of what constitutes white chocolate, and this product didn’t meet that standard.

The company asserted that the term “natural flavor” in tiny print on the front of the package, along with the ingredients statement should have put the reasonable consumer in a position to understand there was no white chocolate in this product.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Clif Bar natural flavor

The judge dismissed the lawsuit saying that although the consumer properly alleged there was a misrepresentation, it may not have been reasonable to have relied just on the big print.

Give me a break.




• • •

November 25, 2019

Old Navy Sued Over Fake Sales, Inflated “Regular” Prices

Filed under: Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:45 am

Everybody loves a bargain, but it has to be a bona fide price reduction from a real regular price. Using inflated regular prices that are rarely if ever charged to make the current sale price look like a deal is not only misleading, but illegal.

And so, one woman from California and one from New Jersey recently filed a class action lawsuit against Old Navy for this exact practice.

In one example in the case, the West Coast shopper bought a pair of jeans like this when they were advertised at $15 — 50-percent off the regular price.

Old Navy skinny jeans

*MOUSE PRINT:

Her lawyers conducted extensive research on Old Navy’s pricing practices, and discovered that the jeans she bought were offered at the full “regular” price of $29.99 for only 12 days over a 486-day period prior to her purchase. So the deal she thought she getting was really no deal at all.

The lawsuit seeks disgorgement of their ill-gotten profits, and an injunction against further misleading sales and discounts. Cases like this have gone both ways in California. Sometimes consumers win, and sometimes stores do. We’ll keep you posted.




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