Archive for June 2010

This Item is on Sale Scam

30 June 2010

I was reading a customer complaining over at Consumerist about her recent experience at Target.

She was picking up some diapers for her son when she noticed that the 54 count of Huggies Size 4 overnights were on sale for $18.99. “Nice!” She thought, until she looked on the second shelf and saw that the 64 count was sold at the same price – $18.99.

I see this all the time. All a company has to do is slap the word sale and boom, a certain segment of the population will buy it without actually comparing it to other items on the shelf.

To all of you students out there who think you’ll never use calculus or advanced algebra once you graduate, boy are you wrong.

In some cases it’s impossible to tell if you are being scammed at all. For example, which is a better deal:

a) a dozen small eggs for 1.49
b) 18 large eggs for 2.69
c) 8 jumbo eggs for 2.50

If you answered at all, you are wrong. It’s impossible to tell without knowing what the eggs weigh.

To make cheating on eggs and similar products less likely the European Union bans the selling of eggs and ­other products such as oranges and bread rolls by the unit; instead they must be sold by weight.

Until now, Britain has been exempt from EU regulations that forbid the selling of goods by number. But last week the EU voted to end Britain’s deal despite objections from UK members [Daily Mail].

In fact, grocers are not permitted to put the number of units alongside the weight. That will make it difficult for shoppers who need exactly a dozen hamburger buns but will now have to estimate how many are in the package.

I myself am in favor of the weight versus the unit count, although I do not see the problem with having the unit count alongside the weight as well. I’ve tried for years to figure out which eggs are actually cheaper. But unless you carry a gram scale into the supermarket – it is really a difficult proposition.

The Overdraft Scam

29 June 2010

I’m sure almost all of you have had this experience: you have, let’s say, $500.00 in your bank account. Then you mis-scheduled your payments where the following three checks come in: $470.00, $40.00, and $22.00.

This is what always happened: the bank would pay the largest check first leaving you with only a $30.00 balance thereby forcing the next two checks to bounce. But you may object. Why can’t the bank pay $470 and then process the check for $22.00? Certainly there’s enough money for that. Well, according to the bank rule of paying the largest balance first, they always assure themselves of the maximum overdraft fees. Here’s how it works:

They pay $470 leaving thirty bucks. Then they attempt to pay the $40 check and since there aren’t enough funds they bounce that check and whack you with $30.00 in overdraft fees.

Now you have no money in the account and so they bounce the $22.00 check as well generating another $30 in fees. This leaves you with two bounced checks instead of one.

If banks weren’t such predators and paid the lowest amount in checks first, then consumers would not have spent $17.5 billion last year in overdraft fees.

Because of such scams newly enacted legislation prevents banks from automatically charging you a $35 overdraft fee if you happen to try to buy a 50 cent candy bar without enough cash in your account. The new rules say that the banks have to get you to opt-in to such overdraft programs.

In the past few months I received a number of calls from my credit card providers offering me the fantastic chance of opting in to allow them to extend me credit beyond my available balance.

When I logged into my Chase online account I saw this great opportunity to let them charge me $35 for an over-drafted can of soda.

Wow! Who would want to lose this important feature? Hurry now!

debit card overdraft opt-in

As that great economist and US Vice-President, Dan Quayle, once said: “Bank failures are caused by depositors who don’t deposit enough money to cover losses due to mismanagement.”

Although I generally favor little government intervention in business, there is no moral justification for the way that banks reorder transactions to generate cascading overdraft fees.

Distribution Is More Important than Advertising

25 June 2010

First, a disclaimer: I do not drink bottled water. I use filtered water using the same process most of the major brands use: reverse-osmosis. Almost all bottled water is either filtered tap water or water from springs that are usually less healthy than New York tap water. In fact, some bottled water is merely unfiltered tap water.

You may be interested to learn that US consumers spend more on bottled water than on iPods or movie tickets, although sales have fallen in the past few years due to environmental concerns and the bad economy. New York, Illinois and Virginia state governments have banned bottled water at public events and in state offices. Some eco-conscious companies like Cisco and Google have removed it from their corporate campuses as well.

I will not discuss why consumers would pay up to 10,000 times more for bottled water than what they can get in their own homes; I want to discuss who gets the major share of the 50 billion bottle per year sales in the US and why.

The top two sellers in the US, Aquafina from PepsiCo (launched in 1994) and Dasani from the Coca-Cola Company (launched in 1993), both originate from municipal water systems. But they did not start the bottled water business. There were hundreds of smaller, family-owned companies that were operating for more than a century. For example, Mountain Valley Water (launched in 1871) became the first bottled water to be available coast to coast in 1928.

But despite hundreds of companies, bottled water was barely a business in 1976 when the makers of a small green bottle opened an office in New York. By 1988 Perrier had 80% of the imported bottled water market by convincing restaurant owners that they could make more money touting bottled rather than tap water to their patrons.

So the two big Cola bottlers were decades late to the party. In addition, most of the century old bottlers were selling water from natural springs, while Coke and Pepsi were merely selling filtered tap water. But being first or having a superior product is not what drives a market.

As much as advertising and packaging are important to sales, nothing pushes consumer purchases as shelf-space. Advertise all you want, make it look pretty, but if your product is not in every supermarket, on the right shelves, you are not going to turn over product.

If there is one thing that Coke and Pepsi have, it is distribution. By tapping into their large network of bottlers, they have immediate access to the same shelf space at every supermarket in the country. If a new type of drink comes along, say goat-juice, as disgusting as it may sound, if Pepsi and Coke put it on their shelves then you can take it to the bank that those particular brands of goat-juice would outsell anyone else.

And with a little bit of advertising and the right packaging, it could be a national drink in short order.

By the way, Nestlé is the world’s largest water bottler by virtue of having many more brands, such as Poland Spring (3rd in sales), Deer Park, S. Pellegrino and Perrier. Nestlé as well has great distribution powers.

iPad Uses Slave Labor

14 June 2010

Foxconn is the trade name of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., a Taiwan firm with operations in China that is arguably the largest manufacturer of electronics and computer components in the world. Almost every major company in America contracts with them: Apple, Microsoft, Motorola, Amazon, Cisco, Intel, Dell, HP, etc. and Foreign companies as well: Sony, Nintendo, Nokia, and many others.

How does Foxxconn snag so many manufacturing contracts?

Actually, the answer is quite simple: slavery.

They can produce Mac minis, iPods, iPads, iPhones, motherboards, PlayStations, Wiis, Xboxes, cell phones, kindles, and routers cheaper than anyone else. To do that they require their workers to put in 11- to 12-hour shifts, six or seven days a week amid fumes and dust and constant harassment. No one can talk while working and you better have strong kidneys because restroom breaks are severely limited.

The working conditions are so difficult that there has been a spate of worker suicides at the plant (Between Jan 2010 to May 2010, twelve Foxconn employees attempted suicide, ten succeeded), according to Bloomberg News.

Now one would think that a big company like Foxconn would take measures to prevent such things from happening again. Perhaps better working conditions, fewer hours, better pay? They did better than that: they installed nets near worker dormitories to catch them should they jump. Now that is smart business. Spend a few hundred on nets and keep the price of manufacturing steady and cheap.

Apple did investigate but found most of the charges baseless. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has said a number of times that Foxconn “is not a sweatshop.” Could that be because T.C. Gou, the brother of Foxconn founder Terry Gou, plans on opening 100 stores to sell Mac computers and iPod music players in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, by the end of next year?

I am not a person opposed to outsourcing; however when the outsourced workers are actually company slaves, I believe it is time for American companies to switch to other sources and vet those sources better.

It is time American consumers demanded that the products they buy be slave-free.

LifeLock -When You Become Victim of your own Scam

3 June 2010

You have probably seen this ad, or heard this guy on the radio offering his social security number and then challenging scamsters to try and steal his identity.

lifelock ad

But now if you visit their website, you will not see that dare offered anymore. According to Threat Level | Wired.com the company’s CEO has been a victim of identity theft at least 13 times.

In March the company was fined $12 million by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive advertising.

A careful reader at the Lifelock website will notice their disclaimer: “Due to New York state law restrictions, the Service Guarantee is not offered, applicable or available to residents of the state of New York.”

If the company’s own CEO cannot protect his identity, then obviously they cannot protect yours.

Chalk this up as another scam company.