Category Archives: Consumer News

Mother’s Day gift ideas

flowers - gerber - assortedMother’s Day is just around the corner, and now is the time to cash in on savings. Flowers are one of the easiest and best gifts for most moms. My mom loves flowers, and gets them whenever she can come up with a reason to get them. I’ve been the receiver, “Just because.” So, of course they are to of the list for Mother’s Day gifts. Hopefully she’s not reading this.

ProFlowers is my favorite go to florist. They deliver all over the United States. I think they deliver a good product. I will say I have received a few bad bunches, mostly roses, from the company. I complained and was offered another bunch or a refund. The company’s customer service is top notch.

I’ve heard people grumble about these flowers, so let’s be clear upfront. The flowers arrive in a box. The receiver has to cut the stems and put them in water. Sometimes you get a vase. Sometimes you don’t. It depends on the promotions and whether the giver paid for one if it wasn’t free.

If that’s not for you, call a local florist where your mom or loved one lives. Do not order the arrangement online. Call and request certain flowers and a dollar amount. You usually get a better bouquet than just ordering the standard one online. If you develop a rapport with the florist over the years, they will take care of you each time. Make sure you ask about shipping, because it’s often up to $10 extra.

Shipping with ProFlowers is a bit expensive. It’s like $12 which seems like a ripoff, but it is what it is. You are going to pay for it most places.

The company is running all sorts of deals right now. I saw 20% off on Facebook. I’ve gotten VIP emails, and there is a LivingSocial deal. You pay $15 for a $30 discount. To figure out which offer will give you the most savings, pick out an arrangement ahead of time and figure out your budget.

If your budget is around $50, the LivingSocial deal will probably offer you the most savings. If you are going to spend $100, try the 20% off deals.

People always worry, as competitors have done this, that the daily deal site offers are more expensive than ordering normally off the website. While there is a special website for the deal, ProFlowers.com/livingsocial, I compared the prices and they are about the same.

You are only allowed one LivingSocial deal per email address or registered user.  So, a hubby and wife may need to buy the offer to take care of both moms.

If you live in town, how about picking out the arrangement yourself. Costco sells beautiful flowers for less than $20. They have exotic looking ones with bright colors and roses. You can pick them up last minute, too.

I tend to buy something that lasts. While the arrangements look better than a potted plant, I think plants are a better option because they will show your mom love week after week.

You can even buy an exotic looking potted plant by going with an orchid. They are beautiful plants, and you can get a decent one at Costco or a big box home improvement store for less than $20.

It’s not the size of the gift, but the beauty of it. Get one that will last for weeks and months to come.

 

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Dispose of old medication this weekend

Prescription medicationsSpring weather will finally arrive this weekend, which makes it a great time to do some spring cleaning. Grab your expired medication and get it destroyed for free. Old medicine should not be thrown in the trash because it can contaminate our drinking water and environment. That’s why the Drug Enforcement Administration is teaming up with law enforcement agencies across the country to help you properly dispose of your old medicine.

In the last five years, the program has discarded over 2 million pounds of expired or unwanted medication. This helps the environment and also the community. Pill popping is becoming a problem in many parts of the country. Thieves have even broken into homes where they know there are pain medications stored. That’s why it’s important to get rid of old medication the proper way.

The event will happen across the country this Saturday, April 27 from 10 AM until 2 PM. Click here to find a location near your home.

 

Earth Day freebies

sunset mtnIf you’re willing to help keep the Earth green this Earth Day, you can keep that green money in your pocket. Businesses are offering freebies to help celebrate this environmental holiday.

Caribou Coffee is offering a free coffee of the day when you bring in a reusable mug / cup. Some stores recently closed so check to make sure your location is still open before you waste gas to get there. Now that wouldn’t be green!

You can also visit a National Park for free. This offer runs through April 26. The Park Service said that with 401 parks across the country, every American is less than 100 miles from a park. Click here to find one nearby.

The Body Shop is giving away a free 8.4 oz Earth Lovers Cucumber and Mint body gel with a purchase.  The coupon code is 3Minute or print off the coupon for an in store purchase. The gel is part of a college YouTube promotion to get students to cut their shower to just three minutes. The Body Shop said if everyone took the 3 minute shower challenge, the average person would save nearly 50 gallons of water per shower. Studies show a typical shower uses roughly 7 gallons of water a minute.

Grab those plastic bags and recycle them at the Disney Store to receive a free reusable tote bag. There will be 200 bags available per store. The bags are made from 80% recycled materials.

Pottery Barn Kids is giving away free seeds for kids to plant. The offer will be valid while supplies last. The store is also having a sale on lunch bags and storage containers. If your family is acting in a green way, enter a photo for the chance to win one of three $100 gift cards to Pottery Barn Kids. Details on the store’s Facebook page.

If freebies are not for you, how about donating / recycling an item so someone else can get a free item? We replace sneakers yearly if not more often. What do you do with all your old pairs? There are three great ways to get rid of those old sneakers that are collecting dust in your closet.

Nike offers a “Reuse-A-Shoe” program. You can dropoff your shoes at U.S. Nike and Converse stores, and they are recycled. The shoes are ground down and used in sports facilities and in new shoes. More than 1.5 pairs of shoes are recycled each year. If you don’t live near a dropoff location, you can mail your shoes to: 
Nike Grind Processing
3552 Avenue of Commerce
Memphis, TN 38125

If you want to help someone in need, Soles 4 Souls might be the organization to donate your old shoes. The organization started after the 2004 tsunami that hit Southeast Asia. Click here for a list of dropoff locations.

One World Running promotes awareness of health, fitness, and nutrition by giving sneakers to underprivileged communities. Click here for a list of dropoff locations.

“There’s an app for that” wedding

Our wedding. Destin, FL.

Our wedding. Destin, FL.

Last year at this time I was frantically finalizing all the details of our wedding. Flash forward a year and I’m being asked my opinion about certain wedding planning websites. Planning a wedding takes organization and patience. I carried around a journal type notebook as I went vendor to vendor to get price quotes. Apparently, I am far from a 2013 bride because “there’s an app for that.”

The wedding industry has gone mobile. It makes sense because every other industry is dealing with the rise in popularity of smartphones. A quick search on my iPhone brings up 1,999 apps so you can organize your wedding at your fingertips.

The survey was for a wedding website, and there were many questions about my use of mobile apps. Obviously, this is the next frontier of wedding planning.

Using an app never really crossed my mind. I was so overwhelmed by all the details and spreadsheets I had for addresses, RSVPs, gifts, and costs that I never thought about an app. I was in information overload and struggled to keep track of everything on a big computer screen. Perhaps if I had a tablet it would make more sense.

wedding websiteIn fact, I didn’t even use the website tools that many sites provide to organize items like your budget and checklist reminders. I simply used the websites to search for reviews of vendors and to create a website for our guests. I kept my checklists on Word documents and my figures on Excel documents. Nice and simple. Just like the wedding.

Plus, while I was meeting with vendors I often looked on my phone for other suggestions or answered phone calls. Since I had a destination wedding, I was juggling many appointments that were crammed into my three day visit to the town before the wedding. I needed my phone for other things. I couldn’t use it to take notes on an app. My handy paper journal worked just great.

While an app wasn’t a part of my wedding plan, it’s something to consider especially as these apps advance and become more sophisticated and user friendly. It might make your life easier. Most brides are looking to cut down on the stress.  That help may be within reach. After all, there’s an app for that. 

Too late to give J.C. Penney a second chance?

J.C. Penney logo

Courtesy: jcpenney

When was the last time you visited the J.C. Penney Company? I couldn’t even remember the last time until I stumbled in recently for my own research purposes. The department store has topped the headlines recently for its changes and lackluster performance.  If you’re like me and thought the store didn’t sell clothing you’d like, I encourage you to think again. I was shocked at the money-saving offers inside.

The news hasn’t been good for the struggling retailer for quite some time. The company’s adjusted net loss for the fourth quarter was $427 million or $1.95 per share. Those are far better numbers than the dismal year end statistics. For the year, jcpenney reported an adjusted net loss of $766 million or $3.49 per share.

Ron Johnson, chief executive officer of jcpenney said, “Sales and customer traffic were below our expectations in 2012, but as we execute our ambitious transformation plan, we are pleased with the great strides we made to improve jcpenney’s cost structure, technology platforms and the overall customer experience.”

He went on to talk about the changes for 2013.

“Combining a new marketing campaign focused on style and value, incredible new brands and updated merchandise, with continued enhancements to the customer experience both in our stores and on jcp.com, we are working towards reconnecting with our core customer while attracting new customers to jcpenney.”

Joe Fresh

Courtesy: jcpenney

The company’s marquee fashion line this spring includes Joe Fresh. The store touts it as “highly anticipated.”

Whether you know the Canadian apparel brand or not, you should give the store a fresh look. I was shocked by the low prices on a recent visit. I wasn’t there to browse the racks for clothing for myself, but I couldn’t help but take a second look because of the low prices. I bought a long sleeve workout shirt for less than $10. These shirts typically retail for $20-30. Even at Marshalls or T.J.Maxx you’ll pay $20.

The store has a unique approach to checking out with centralized registers in a kiosk in the middle of several sections and near the doors. It’s easy to find, and not hidden in a department like many department stores. The cashiers scan your item and payment method on a mobile device.

More changes are expected throughout this year, with The Associated Press reporting changes to some home departments as early as this Friday. The article said half the stores will have several boutiques within the home department that will feature an array of products. This will create a store within a store shopping experience.

The last straw for some shoppers was the flip flopping on sales and coupons. While all the changes have turned many customers away including loyal shoppers, it may be worth giving the store a second chance. Ok, maybe it’s a third and a fourth chance when you consider all the changes.

No doubt consistency is important to shoppers. People want to know what to expect every time they walk into a store. I don’t like surprises in store policy or procedure. Consistency keeps me coming back. I think it will take a long time for jcpenney to regain customer trust and confidence due to all the changes, and it may never happen.

While it may take some time before the store is back on solid ground,  I suggest you give the store another chance if your bottom line is important to you. Go in knowing your prices so you’re not caught up in the ever-changing pricing and sale structure. Just browse around. You may be surprised at the low prices you find especially at this time of year when the clearance racks are full.

Until a few weeks ago, the store wasn’t even on my radar. It hadn’t been in at least a decade. I always drove past it at the mall. I never thought about it. I don’t think I’ll shop there for all my clothing, but I might just add it to my list of places to check for cheap workout clothes especially if I’m in a bargain hunting kind of mood. You might want to act fast, because it’s unclear if the store and these bargains will survive. To do that, many opinions needs to change.  

Google Reader shutting down – alternatives to try before July

Google ReaderGoogle Reader is disappearing this summer, so it’s time to start experimenting with other RSS readers. These aggregators are a great way to customize a news feed. While switching to a new provider may sound like a headache, it’s really not that difficult.

Google says it’s getting rid of its reader program because usage declined. The company is putting all its energy into a few products so it can make the user experience better for the remaining programs.

While you have until July 1 to make the switch, many people are not waiting. More than 500,000 Google Reader users switched to Feedly, which is also the product that I chose.

feedly

You simply allow Feedly access to your Google Reader account like you would any other app on Facebook. It takes just seconds to import your files.

I think this process is easier than exporting your information on Google Takeout. I tried this as well, and it creates a zip file with your contacts and feed information. However, I’m not sure how you import this into Feedly at this point. I’m not a computer whiz, so I opted to let Feedly do the accessing and work for me.

Feedly is all about enhancing the user experience. The company added new servers and created 10x more bandwidth to deal with the influx of users. Also, the company wants to hear about your experience on the new site and new releases will be pushed out weekly. It looks like this is one company hoping to capitalize on another one that’s fading away.

feedly picturesYou can select  how you want to view your content. You can do it in a list format or with pictures.

Of course, Feedly is not the only option for former Google Reader users. It depends on what you are looking for as some options are only available in a mobile format. Let me know what you choose and your experience as Google Reader users being looking for other options. 

 

Cashing in on your savings

coins, money, dollars, tightMany high yield savings accounts of just a few years ago are now low yield savings accounts. I get just .75% on my account that brought in yields of 2 and 3 percent just a few years ago. The rate continues to drop, leaving me to wonder if it’s time to find a better rate. According to the going rate on Bankrate, a yield of 1% or less is average, but BancVue advertises it can increase your yield through its product Kasasa.

Community banks and credit unions throughout the country are joining the program, and even if a bank in your zip code isn’t part of the program you can join and bank online.

To get a higher yield, you often need a higher balance. This program is trying to change that with no minimum and ATM fees that are reimbursed for its high yield checking account.

There are more than 350,000 consumers with a Kasasa checking account, and they’ve earned more than $70 million in interest this year.

The rates vary by bank or credit union you choose, so shop around. I couldn’t find the rates on the company’s site, so it may take some phone calls. The company told me the highest rate is offered at Pelican State Credit Union and it’s 4.01%. That’s in Louisiana. The company also sent me a handful of banks and credit unions offering rates in the 3% range.
There are high interest options out there. You just have to look a little harder to find them.
What do you think of investing your  money in a smaller, community bank that may or may not be in your neighborhood all so you can earn 3-4% on your money?

Bank of America to pay you for paying off your balance

piggy bank, moneyThere’s been a mandated push in the credit card industry to get people to understand the costs associated with carrying a balance. Credit card statements now make it very clear how much interest will cost you. Now, one bank is voluntarily rewarding people for making good decisions.

Bank of America’s new Better Balance Rewards card pays you $25 per quarter or $100 a yer for making more than the minimum payment on your credit card and for paying on time each month.

The APR is 0% for the first 12 closing statements and then it will be between 11.99% and 21.99%.

It’s free money so I’m not going to argue with that, but is $100 really going to make a difference in someone’s debt? No, but perhaps it will encourage them to make the right budget choices to pay more than they are required each month.

Perhaps a better incentive is to encourage people to pay off a percentage of their bill each month so they put a bigger dent in their balance. Then again, this is an offer from a bank that is in the business of making money on the interest from your unpaid balance.

It’s a step in the right direction, and perhaps an option for people looking for an incentive to pay off their debt. However, you always need to weigh the pros and cons of any financial product before you decide it’s right for you.

Free credit score?

money layeredWhen consumers get their credit report for free, some are surprised it doesn’t contain their credit score. The three digit score is a staple in the consumer financial industry, yet it doesn’t come with our free credit reports. It’s mystifying, but the excuse has always been that as long as your report is clean your score will be good. Many consumer advocates are trying to change that, and introduced in Congress the Free Access to Credit Scores Act to make the score available for free with your credit report.

A solid credit score will earn you cheaper rates on mortgages, bank loans, credit cards, and possibly even insurance premiums. Yet, companies want consumers to pay $10-15 for their score. Your other option is to enroll in a “free” trial that ends up costing you money.

To get a so-called free credit score, you’re often enrolled in a trial for credit monitoring services that can be costly. Enrolling in these programs may not even give you a meaningful score. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found about one in five consumers may not even get the score they would if they obtained it from a lender. The consumer watchdog advises against paying for credit monitoring.

Under this proposed law, the free score would be a reliable score actually used by lenders rather than an “informational” score. You would have access to all scores from the previous year that are stored in your file, and information accessed about your creditworthiness.

Currently, you are entitled to a score if it results in adverse action like denial of a loan.

While this is debated in Congress, now is a great time to remind you about your free credit report. You can access it through Annual Credit Report.

Hopefully we are one step closer to seeing our score as well as our report.

Related links you may like:
1 in 5 credit reports have mistakes
When you can see your credit score
Fixing a mistake on your credit report

Tweet your way to customer satisfaction

airline lineThere is an art to complaining, and I’ve always tried to emphasize that to consumers who call me for help. If you don’t approach the situation properly, you may be your own worst enemy and end up with no resolution. How the times have changed. I started out in the business teaching people how to complain properly in writing, and then with online disputes, and now it’s turned to social media disputes. If used effectively, Twitter and Facebook are great tools to get customer satisfaction.

Facebook and Twitter have evolved into sounding boards and real time reflections of a company’s customer satisfaction. Companies are beginning to realize they need to manage their social media pages. Some businesses are better than others in dealing with this new frontier in customer service.

Recently, I put social media complaints to the test. We were flying back to Kansas City, and of course it was snowing in Cleveland. Many airline sites now allow you to track the history of your plane, so you can see if it’s on time or delayed in another part of the country. I noticed that our plane was delayed in Canada and still had to go to New York and New Hampshire before making its way to Cleveland. Based on the available data, I knew our plane was going to be four to five hours late.

I called the airline and tried to use the old fashioned version of customer service. After waiting on the phone for a half hour, I got a representative who offered me no help. She just repeated what the computer said. The plane was on a short delay, even though digging deeper on that same computer system showed at least a four hour delay based on all the cities that plane had to visit before Cleveland.

There was another plane leaving for Kansas City just two hours after our scheduled flight. I asked for seats on that plane. I was told that wasn’t possible.

Out of complete desperation, I got on Twitter and shared my travel story making sure I mentioned the airline. Within minutes, I got a direct message from the airline asking me for my reservation #. I sent it back to the airline, and they asked if I wanted to get on the 8 PM flight. Within 30-40 minutes, I had two seats on the 8 o’clock flight.

Once it was resolved, I tweeted my satisfaction showing the airline I appreciated what they did.

When we arrived at the airport to depart Cleveland, we saw long lines of frustrated passengers trying to rearrange their flights with customer service. People were waiting in line and on the phone. I wanted to get on the loud speaker and tell all those people to hang up and get out of line and get online. Sharing your travel nightmare on Twitter or Facebook is quick, easy, and the best way to get customer satisfaction.

Airline social media pages are full of customers who are asking for help, and full of responses from the airlines. While many airlines monitor their social media page, some companies don’t respond to these types of complaints. Some consumers say their complaints are even erased from some Facebook pages.

I think companies need to improve their social media response efforts, so the expectation of a response is more uniform. That being said, customers also need to improve their attitudes toward companies.

I’ve always found that you’re more likely to achieve a resolution if you put aside your deepest hatred for the company. Keep a level head, and share your story in a concise and friendly manner. Don’t be accusatory or sarcastic. Just use straight-forward language and sell yourself as an appealing and appeasble customer.

Next time you have a problem, try social media. You might be surprised at the response.