Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nothing is Free: That's the Reason They Ask for Your Credit Card Number

Angry young woman with a phone via Shutterstock

“Nothing is Free,” a employee in a message on my Facebook page after I complained on their Facebook page when I couldn’t get any satisfaction via the phone. I didn’t need her snarly comments on my Facebook page after they did a number on my daughter. Allow me to explain, while my husband and I were away on business, my daughter sends me an excited email about this company that was giving away free nail polish by saying it was better than OPI. I was at one of those hotels were they use dampeners to make you pay $20 for Internet service, which made our connections infrequent.

About all I got out of the message was that it felt like a sham. Been there, was ripped off and had nothing to show for it. She assured me it was the real deal and she could get a sample box for postage and handling only. After getting the sample, she could decide if she wanted to continue to receive monthly boxes. Well, I am sure you all can guess what happened.

She got her sample box quickly with relatively small bottles of polish. They might be as good as OPI, but half the size. Imagine my surprise to have an angry daughter inform me a week later that the company charged her 19.95 for nothing. She didn’t order anything else.  

Once we reached customer service, they denied all responsibility and relied on a small card inside the box to inform future customers that their account would automatically be billed 19.95 every month no matter what they checked on their initial order. My daughter’s box did not come with such a card.

I asked Mary the customer service representative what would happen if we returned the not requested box as refused according to postal guidelines when it did arrive. She informed me that nothing would happen and they would continue to bill her bank account 19.95 per month for returned, unopened merchandise. I see postal regulations do not apply to Julep.

I went online and found hundreds of complains against the company. Many former customers had cancelled their membership according to company guidelines and were still billed $19.95 a month.

I never received the follow-up call from the manager as promised. I imagine that is how most irate customers are treated. Tell the upset person that the appropriate person to handle the situation is gone and they will call back later. The call never comes.

Whenever any company wants your credit card number for something free, be suspicious. What they want is to charge you for future merchandise. Another complaint against Julep alleges that once people called to cancel their membership the company immediately charges them that day for another shipment immediately saying they could do nothing about it.

Hogwash, when someone tells you he or she can do nothing about it. I worked in customer service and I could charge back items or give people credit.  I could also give free shipping and rush items. I also worked retail where I could accept returns, make refunds or even discount items. When someone tells you that he can do nothing about it, he means is he isn't going to.

Julep gets my 2013 award of Worst Customer Service and they had to go some to beat the Atlanta Marquis Marriott. If not being helped, ignored and lied to wasn't enough of a disservice. There is also online heckling with Julep. Really, is this the face of customer service?

There are places my family repeatedly visits because of great customer service. I think it is only fair to recognize these companies when I spend so much time pointing out bad service.They are not in any particular order.
1.       Panera’s
2.       Massage Envy
3.       The Melting Pot
4.       Krogers
5.       Kohls
6.       Mike’s Car Wash
7.       Miyagi’s Japanese Restaurant (This is a local restaurant.)

I have never engaged in an argument with the employees at any of these places. They provide courteous service and an excellent product. By doing this, they get more of my money, they get shout-outs. I’ll even buy gift certificates to give to friends and families from these companies. This is the result of good service.

I will also admit that these companies never offered me something free to get my credit card number. They occasionally have sales, but nothing is free in the memorable words of the Julep employee.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hidden Vacation Cost

Hopefully, unexpected travel expenses do not have you settling for a luggage dolly bed.

I just came back from vacation and am still reeling from surprise costs. Let me warn you about a few.
·         Car rental- that great 19.99 dollars a day is only the starting price. We rented a car for four hours to see my son at his base. It was $75 total. At first, they tried to charge me for two hours because we showed up thirty minutes early.
·         Parking can put a dent in your budget. My conference was at the Atlanta Marquis Marriot, which charges $32 a day for parking. However if you want a valet to park your car. expect to tip him around ten to twenty dollars.  I guess you can see why we didn’t keep the rental car. Think your parking is too high. Some hotels even put boots on the car to prevent the owners from driving away after finding out how expensive the parking is. Your car is hostage.
·         Taxes on your room and dining. Hotel and restaurants charge higher taxes to make money on the tourist. Our room ran $30 dollars in taxes alone. That would put it at a 20% tax rate.
·         Luggage-every piece of checked luggage runs about $25. Southwest allows you to check your first suitcase free. Some airline credit cards allow you to do this too.
·         Overweight luggage.  A couple of ounces may inflate your $25 checked luggage fee into a $50 charge. They measure and weigh the bags. Check out your airline site to make sure your bag qualifies.
·         Sky Caps- those sweet gentlemen who allow you to check in at the curb work on tips only. The airline does not pay them. Suggested tip is five dollars a bag. If they get you a better seat, then tip more. They may not offer this service anymore since airlines figured out they could charge more for particular seats.
·         Better seats on the plane cost. Do not assume if you bought tickets at the same time that your family will sit together.  Planes are traveling fully loaded, and are often double booked. They count on at least five people not making the flight. With this in mind, airlines have you pay $10-$30 a person to sit together or load earlier.
·         I discovered with Air Tran business class you could check two bags free, you get to load first and deplane first and free cocktails. In coach, these services would cost you an additional $80 while the upgrade to business class is $69. A definite plus.
·         Tipping hotel personnel is usually an unexpected charge. Think you can roll your own bag behind you? I thought that too. I found my bag whisked away from me put on some baggage rack and I did not see it again for thirty irritating minutes until the hotel staff member brought it. He stayed until tipped.
·         Ticket tax. Did you think the theme park ticket was expensive? You probably didn’t count on taxes either. Your $95 Disneyworld tickets jumps to $102 with tax.
·         Think your kids are growing up fast? They are growing faster than you think when buying tickets. Universal allows the kid label only up to the age of nine and even then, tickets are $89. I watched a clever employee asked a small statured child how old he was before a parent could intervene. Children will volunteer their ages and at times inflate it too. Try to explain that to the cashier.
·         No fridges in your hotel room. Check twice on this. Places that usually had fridges, such as  Super 8 and Motel 6 found they could now charge you extra for a fridge in your room, even up to $20 a night. Even if the website states that you should have a fridge in your room, you may not. Insist on your fridge.
·         Internet- while many places from Staples to McDonalds offer free Internet often your hotel will charge you from $15-$20 a day. To make your need for Internet urgent, signal dampeners in the hotel mess with your smart phone connections.
·         Everything in the hotel is expensive from $6 bottles of water to $10 egg salad sandwiches. Plan ahead. You can bring your own water and snacks to your room.
·         Cruises are probably the biggest culprit of the switch and bait promotion. I tried to book a cruise online with the Royal Norwegian line that offered a 3-day holiday cruise through the Bahamas for $179. I could not book it online when I called the booking agency the $179 inflated to almost $600. I didn’t book. They even included possible price increase clause even after you pay in case the cost of fuel goes up in the intervening time.  Disney Cruise Line while not cheap on the initial glance does not add on fees.
·         Never underestimate food. You are probably heading for a tourist destination. Even a Big Mac or a Whopper usually runs a $1 higher. If you can find a Cici’s pizza buffet, you can really save money.
·         If you’re lucky, your hotel may offer a free breakfast. Take advantage of this. Otherwise, head out for breakfast because it will be the cheapest meal of the day. Try for a late lunch to take advantage of lunch rates. Dinner can be snacks or casual to avoid the staggering dinner rates.
·         Alcohol and ice cream is where you really see price inflation spiral out of control. Most hotel bars do think $9-$11 is an average price for a drink, even beer or wine. You can always bring alcohol to your room, but not ice cream. Many gift shops and pushcarts carry a variety of ice cream, which is cheaper than the parlors.
If you know of any sneaky charges I didn't mention. I would love to hear about them.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Unexpected Values

Every now and then, we discover items that do the job of a more expensive item at half the price or less. My first example of this is the Catalina swimsuit collection at Wal-Mart. Yes, I did say Wal-Mart. Catalina is proven swimsuit brand. Their suits don’t get wet and become transparent as some cheap brands do. It also keeps its shape. Currently, there are retro styles that allow you to be stylish while covering the parts you’d like not to share with the public. There are suits that feature secret slimmer panels too in a variety of sizes. I bought two pieces for a tankini for $25.  Since we are in the middle of summer, the suits might be even less.
The second cost saver is a product that does two jobs, make that three at once. Dove Go Fresh body wash with nutrium serves as body wash and lotion. A little bit does the trick, especially if you have soft water. Lather up your legs and use it has shaving cream. A typical 24-ounce bottle can run between five and seven dollars. Consider the fact you are using one product instead of three, which is a savings of almost four to six dollars. Dove is also very generous with coupons too. I can usually find at least a dollar coupon for this product.
My last product is probably the best buy. Ever create a free website? It’s all fun and games in the beginning until you need help. You fill out tickets for help that never comes. Sometimes the help ‘answer’ you get is no help due to it not making any sense. It may have undergone three translations before it even reached you. A few friends of mine bragged about how easy Weebly was to use, so I was game to try. I downloaded it and started designing away.
As fate would have it, I experienced a power failure or an unexpected shutdown while working on the website. Normally that would result in everything I had done up to that point disappearing. Weebly automatically saves everything.  In the last week, I came across a couple things I didn’t understand how to do. I contacted help and within twenty-four hours, I had easy to understand instructions that fixed my problem.
My last problem was I accidentally deleted my blog page. I totally wiped out the last eight blogs. I filled out an urgent request on this one since I was hosting a tour. Weebly rebuilt my site in less than four hours.  An amazing support staff is behind each Weebly website. They are so much better than the people we actually paid at my old job who never showed up even when expected.
Weebly has a variety of features. You can check out my Weebly site to see a few. www.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Extreme Couponers Backlash

Have you ever seen the episode of Bones, where the grocery store owner, irked by extreme couponers, resorted to chasing one out of the store, causing her to hide under a semi, which dragged her to her death? I doubt any store manager would go that far. When arrested the man explained the extreme couponers were ruining his business two ways.  First, it eats into his profit margin to offer double coupons. The manufacturer gives the face value of the coupon while the store provides the price of the double.
It also annoys people to get behind someone who has a hundred or more coupons. Sure, she gets $300 of groceries for $20 dollars, but the three people behind her, who would have paid full price for everything, often get aggravated and decide not to shop there again. The cashiers spend more time checking out one person when they could have checked out five. This also cuts into the profit margin.
So what are stores doing about it? Plenty, at least on the East Coast and the Midwest; those on the West Coast may still offer double coupons. Not so here in the Midwest; in fact, we have signs posted everywhere that warn people that only two coupons for the same item can be used. 
Sunday newspaper theft is another fallout from extreme couponers. Remember those coupon pads or dispensers in the stores? Often the EC person will lift the whole pad or keep pulling them out of the dispenser until there are no more.

Manufacturers have changed their coupons too. Offering much less off making the coupon of little value even when doubled. If you had a good coupon and noticed a great sale for that item. There is a chance the shelves have been cleared by an extreme couponer. Some stores will give you a rain check if you ask.

Clearance items get a pass on coupons. I had a coupon for $1.25 for deli chicken that had been
 marked down to 2.99 because it was a day old and not eligible for a coupon. The cashiers do not honor coupons on clearance items, but the computer checkout does.
Another casualty from the extreme couponers craze is the 3 for $9 is no longer $3 if you buy one. You have to buy the three, five or ten specified to get the reduced price. This is when it helps to shop with friends or relatives.
If you have an electronic store coupon on your loyalty card, you can combine it with a manufacturer’s coupon. I bought Hydra razors where I had a buy one get one free coupon for and I had an electronic coupon too. After both discounts, the two set of razors that retailed for $16.98, ended up costing $3.50.
This is another version of coupon stacking, when you use the store coupon and the manufacturer coupon. The store coupon is indicative of a sale while the manufacturer coupon cost the storeowner nothing.
     With storeowners putting the brakes on savings due to people who go coupon crazy, it makes it more expensive for all of us.   What can we do to balance expenses? Check your ads. I do not buy all my groceries at one place. You can use free apps like Shopping Scout. I do not recommend paying for an app because you spent $10 a month right from the start.  Check the ads. I found asking around helps too. On a recent grocery trip, I asked where the $1.79 hamburger was and I found out it was at another store.
Don’t be afraid to shop out of the box. I often buy cleaning supplies and condiments at the Dollar Tree. Luxury or ethnic foods are available at Big Lots for a fraction of the price. Do not overlook the Dollar General, which often carries name brands. Alcohol, dairy, eggs, bread and produce are much cheaper at Aldis. Watch the ads because many big name stores will have loss leaders like the $1.79 hamburger.
Plan your trips accordingly since driving all over town will burn up gas. A trip to the bank might have you stopping by the nearby Walgreens to grab the packs of $1.99 water. Speaking of Walgreens, they have signs that tell you to ask for coupons. On a recent shopping trip, using the Walgreens sales with the coupons the store provided, I  left paying half of the original price.
Extreme Couponers, enjoy your time out west. I have a feeling your days are numbered.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Product Review: Pledge Multi-Surface Cleaner

Product Review: 
Pledge Multi-surface Cleaner
Housework is not my favorite activity. I don’t have a cleaning caddy of various supplies. When I break down and decide to do it due to losing something or possible visitors I can’t find the supplies I need. I might find a few, but not all.
This is where a Pledge multi-surface cleaner is a lifesaver. I can wipe down my stove, the counters, the glass tabletop and even the wood cabinets with the same product. The most amazing aspect about is that it works better on glass than all the glass cleaners I used previously.

Pledge Multi-surface cleaner can clean your laptop or your television screen. You can use it on your wood furniture or floors. It even works on granite counters. It is more economical to buy one product than a half dozen, which often spill before they ever get used.
A 9.7 bottle sells for around $5 in most stores. This is higher than many cleaners are, but you can usually find coupons for it. I bought mine with a buy one get one free coupon. You can spray the solution on a cloth and wipe to be even more saving. It also eliminates pet dander. Overall, it’s a win-win scenario.

I give Pledge Multi-surface cleaner

Try it for yourself.