Tag Archives: Business

“Thank you for your business”

What a week of contrasts — thankfulness and greed. Just hours after we finished our Thanksgiving meal with family and gave thanks to all we have in our lives, people lined up to rush into stores to grab a good deal. Some people fought to get what they wanted. Thanksgiving has become Black Friday or Gray Thursday. Whatever you call it, corporate greed and survival is the focus on a day we’re supposed to be reflective and thankful for what we have.

Black Friday camper.

You can’t just blame the stores. Shoppers are so desperate to gobble up the doors they line up a week early.

This holiday, the stakes are higher than ever. Stores are desperate to pad their bottom line, as Internet businesses are making it tough for retail stores to keep their doors open. I think some retailers will disappear before the next shopping season if their sales are not good. Stores have all sorts of gimmicks and promotions to get you to shop like Thanksgiving day doorbusters and price matching policies even for Internet stores and prices. That’s an unprecedented move as retailers are desperate to keep their doors open.

Gordon Square. Cleveland, OH

It’s not just corporations looking to keep their doors open, but small businesses as well. The mom and pop stores of the world. The ones opened by your neighbors who live in your community and support it when their business thrives. Saturday, the corporate credit card company American Express, is promoting “Small Business Saturday.”

It’s a way to get you to support your local business. The ones that are the framework of your community. For every $25 you spend at a participating AmEx small business, you’ll get a $25 statement credit. It’s a free $25. A nice incentive to support your local stores.

I stopped in a few the other day, and I must say it opened my eyes to the unique gifts and good people behind these storefronts that I buzz by every day. You really can find gifts you won’t find anywhere else. You may pay a bit more for your gift, but you get so much more.

Service anyone? When was the  last time you got service at a store? It’s a rarity at a big business. Free gift wrap and packaging? It’s just part of the standard package at a small business. Check one out this weekend. I think you’ll be surprised.

I got a surprise from a local business this week — unrelated to holiday shopping. I needed three tire valve caps to keep the air pressure in our tires. I went to Lakefront Automotive Parts in Cleveland to pick up the caps. I like walking in there because the staff is friendly and always willing to help you find what you need. You’re in and out in less than five minutes and get service with a smile.

The salesman told me they didn’t sell just three caps. They came in a packet of 100. I was willing to accept it and go someplace else. Then, he grabbed the package off the shelf. He opened it up and handed me three. He said, “We’ll get you next time. Have a great day.”

I offered to pay and he refused. The cost  would have been less than a $1, but it didn’t matter. It was the gesture that will remain in my mind. He went out of his way to make sure I was a satisfied customer. It’s something you hardly get anymore. Such a small thing, but it left a big impression on me. It’s the small things in life that leave the most lasting impressions.

Don’t forget to Shop a store this holiday that truly is thankful for your business.

About these ads

Is Walmart worried?

Walmart continues to up the ante with its series of commercials about it offering low prices. First, it was steaks. Then, groceries and back to school items. Now, it’s cell phones and even a campaign to send in your receipt to see the price differences for yourself.

Business and marketing analysts say Walmart is no longer considered the cheapest retailer, and they’re worried about their stake. It’s an interesting situation for the world’s largest retailer.

Quality is an issue for the retail giant, so they began running ads comparing their steaks to Kansas City steaks. They did a blind taste test to see if people could really tell the difference between a KC steak and a Walmart cut.

Then, they began local ads that compared their grocery prices to the giant in that area. In our case, it was Giant Eagle. While Giant Eagle had the highest prices in a comparison I did for NewsChannel 5, Walmart’s prices were not the cheapest. Also, couponers are loyal to Giant Eagle because they say prices are cheapest when they use coupons and shop the sales. Giant Eagle doubles coupons. Walmart does not.

Now, Giant Eagle is trying to get you thinking about purchasing their $45 a month cell phone plans. It’s working. It got my husband’s attention. He said, “Can you really get a cell phone plan with unlimited everything for $45 a month?” The answer is yes, but how good is the service?  The coverage map shows good coverage for the non-Android market, but far less coverage for the Android market. There’s very little Straight Talk coverage in the western half of the United States.

While the coverage map looks spotty, I talked to an IT professional who uses Straight Talk and loves it. I’ll talk more about that option Thursday.

In select markets, Walmart is now asking you to send in a copy of a competitor’s receipt to see how much you could have saved if you shopped at the retail giant. In  Albuquerque, Atlanta, and Chicago area, you can take a picture of a receipt and within 24 – 48 hrs., Walmart will let you know how much you would have saved if you shopped for similar products at Walmart.

The receipt can’t be more than seven days old. Comparisons will only be for similar grocery, health and wellness, beauty and consumable items.  If you buy private label or items like produce or meats that vary by weight, they will not be included in the comparison.

While Walmart is not including coupons and loyalty cards in their in your face advertising campaign for groceries, loyalty cards and special deals and pricing will be considered in the receipt comparison. Coupons will still not be considered because Walmart says it’s hard to decipher on a receipt if the coupon is a manufacturer or retailer coupon, and receipts don’t always make it clear which item they were used to discount.

The giant retailer is also offering dollar deals to compete with dollar stores. Marketing experts say that’s cutting into their profits as well. Dollar stores are expanding and growing. Some now offer groceries. Walmart wants you to think it offers products at an affordable price.  That’s an interesting move considering quality is something the retailer is trying to stress with its steak commercials.

What do you think about Walmart’s ads and push to sell you on its products and quality? Click comment below.

Customer service is just a phone call – I mean a flight around the world — away

Time is money, and I’ve wasted a lot of time sitting on hold today. At least March Madness is on to help pass the time. Too bad, the overseas operator thought I was speaking another language when I joked with her about March Madness. She had no idea what I was saying or what that meant. The language barrier also made it difficult for her to fix my complicated issue, but these issues may be fixed by next March Madness. Or, maybe a few March’s from now.

Tonight, I called two American companies about account problems. For the airline business, I sat on hold for a minimum of 20 minutes and then spent twenty minutes on the phone trying to get answers. Then, I turned around and called another number for the same company. I was told the wait time was 3 minutes, and it actually took more than 30 minutes. Maybe that was lost in translation too. Still waiting to see if this solves my problem.

The call to the department store was answered quickly, but that overseas operator was impossible to understand through his thick accent. He had trouble understanding me through my thick English accent, too.

I’m so tired of the overseas robot operators. In general, they repeat what you say and spell everything — A as in Alpha — because of the language barrier. They repeat the same pleasant phrases that flash before them on the computer screen to assure the customer of their foreign concern and understanding.

Despite the repeated concern, I rarely get my problem solved on the first call. It takes multiple calls, including tonight.

My multiple experiences in one day made me think back to a recent ABC News “Made in America” segment. It mentioned that companies are moving these overseas call center jobs back to America because it’s cheaper. These big businesses are finally realizing we can’t get our problems answered. The report said it’s because we used to call an operator for help resetting a password, but now we can that online ourselves so now our calls are for more complex issues. That means a longer phone conversation, and more calls to get an adequate answer.

After tonight, I’ve decided the American movement is not happening soon enough. I’ve been on hold so long I had enough time to write a blog post BEFORE my call was answered. At least I got something out of this hour wait.

There are apps that call you back when the customer service representative gets on the phone. FastApp is a great service. I previously tested it and it really throws the customer service rep for a loop when they’re told to wait on hold while the app calls you. Most of the companies I tried it on had American call centers, and tonight I had to call more specific numbers, so it wasn’t of use. However, it’s something to keep in mind. Use it when you can.

To every big business, my message is clear. Please bring these overseas call center jobs back to America. Save me some time and money and save yourself some green too by bringing that job back to the red, white, and blue.

 

Change your mind on a purchase: Rights under cooling off rules

Ever buy something and later regret it? It’s called “Cooling Off” when you later decide a purchase was not the right decision for you. For many items bought at a traditional store, there is a standard 30 or 60 day return policy. What about a gym membership or other contract item? You have rights under the law to cancel after “cooling off” for certain purchases.

The traditional “cooling off” period is three business days (Monday – Saturday).

In Ohio, this applies for the following types of transactions:

  • door-to-door sales
  • a purchase you make at a place that is not a company’s regular place of business like a home improvement show
  • credit and debt counseling services
  • prepaid entertainment agreements like a health spa, dance studio, dating agency, or martial arts school. It does not include prepaid tanning or prepaid plans for cell phone services.
  • home equity loans or mortgage refinancing
  • business opportunity plan where a buyer pays a seller for rights to offer, sell, or distribute goods or services
  • hearing aids — you actually get up to 30 days after it’s delivered
  • if you buy something from a telemarketer you can cancel until you sign a written agreement confirming the sale. Be careful with this one because you might have to fight to get it enforced because the federal law is worded a bit differently. See below for more on that. If the telemarketer is out of state, you might have trouble cancelling. These days, most calls are recorded so I’d ask just to make sure.

To cancel, send a certified letter or hand deliver it to the business. Make sure you request a copy of the final cancellation. The contract ends the day the letter is postmarked.

Along with the state law, federal law also protects you for purchases of $25 or more. You have until midnight of the third business day to cancel the contract.

Under the federal Cooling off Period there are some exemptions: services you purchase in an emergency like bug removal, repairs or maintenance on your personal property unless purchases go above what you requested, transactions entirely made by phone or telephone are exempt from the law, vehicles sold at a temporary location if the business has at least one permanent place of business, arts and crafts sold at fairs or locations like shopping malls, civic centers, and schools.

When in doubt, ask before you sign about you right to cancel.

Does your newspaper deliver all the ads?

Newspapers are shrinking as papers cut back on content, but some subscribers are noticing the ads are shrinking too. Ads are the reason many people get the Sunday paper so they know where they can save money. You may not be saving as much money as you could because your paper may not be delivering all the ads.

Advertisers practice what’s called ad zoning or zone advertising. This is when they target certain zip codes for certain ads. It’s sometimes based on store location or its performance.

The question is — how fair is that since we all pay the same price for a paper? Should every home delivery customer get the same paper with the same money-saving ads?

When a NewsChannel 5 viewer took her case to the stores, she says she was told to pick the ads up at the store or view them online. Why should some customers have to do extra legwork just to find the sale deals?

This also happens with coupons. They are regionally different and sometimes even within a region. They don’t seem as varied, though, as this zone advertising with the circulars. Plus, I think this is slightly different because customers are not getting circulars for stores down the street from their home for reasons beyond their control.

Plus, it’s easy to get coupons online by visiting one or two sites. You don’t need to print off a ton of pages to find the deals like you do if you don’t get the circular. It’s a lot harder to compare prices and find good deals when the 7 or 10 page ad for several stores is missing from your paper.

What do you think? Click comment and weigh in below.

Consumer agency announcing credit card changes in Cleveland

There have been many changes to credit cards in the past few years. The most noticeable change is on your bill. The new format makes it easier to see how long it will take you to pay off your balance / debt and the interest you will pay. More credit card changes will be announced in Cleveland on Wednesday as officials with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) come to town.

It’s a big week for the CFPB as the Senate is expected to vote on the first ever director on Thursday. I was at the confirmation hearing for former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray in September. The committee recommended confirmation, but a full Senate vote has been postponed for months as several dozen Republicans vow to block any nominee. They admit it’s not Cordray they are blocking, but the entire agency that Republicans feel is too powerful.

Despite the director roadblock, the agency continues to get input from consumers and industry. The input is leading to changes.

Agency releases data on credit card problems
The agency took complaints for credit cards first because the agency says it’s the most widely used financial product and historically there have been a large number of complaints.

The agency just released its first review of credit card data collected from July through October 2011. Less than half the calls to the agency resulted in a formal filing of a credit card complaint. The CFPB says most of the calls resulted in general feedback or consumers were directed to informational resources to answer general questions.

“When consumers contact us, we get a snapshot of how the consumer finance markets are working,” said Raj Date, Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the CFPB. “And we are learning that there is a lot of consumer confusion about credit card terms. We will continue to work with consumers, credit card companies, government agencies, and others to improve consumer education and ensure CFPB’s regulation, supervision, and enforcement efforts are effective.”

In 74% of the complaint cases, the card issuer reported full or partial resolution to the problem. In almost 20% of the cases, there was no relief.  The important number — 71% of the time the consumer agreed with the resolution.

The top complaint categories include billing disputes, APR / interest rate, and identity theft, fraud, or embezzlement.

Patterns in credit card data
While the sample was unscientifically collected, the CFPB found a pattern of complaints. It says consumers are struggling to understand the terms of credit cards and products like debt protection services.

Secondly, there is a pattern of third party fraudulent charges on consumer credit cards. The complaints have revealed recurring scams. In some cases, the information has been passed along to authorities to investigate.

Third, some complaints do not match the facts from the credit card company however most card issuers have been willing to resolve the issue.

Let your voice be heard in Cleveland Wednesday night
Officials with the CFPB will be in Cleveland Wednesday to announce improved disclosure forms for credit cards. It will be called Know Before You Owe and follow similar initiatives for mortgages and student loans. 

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, four people briefed on the still announcement said the agency will propose a more user-friendly credit card agreement as well as an “owner’s manual” for cardholders so they know what to do when their card is lost. Bloomberg reports that it’s sources say the use of this simplified form will be used voluntarily by credit card companies. The sources were not named in the article as the announcement is still not public.

It wouldn’t be surprising if this simplified form is announced, as it follows the other Know Before You Owe announcements. The agency is creating a simplified mortgage form, and taking consumer and industry comments, so you know what you’ll owe when you sign up for the loan.

Thus far, the agency has focused on making financial products easier to understand for the average consumer. Legal lingo and confusing terms and conditions have been removed from forms already reviewed. The mortgage forms that have been revamped clearly display the terms and conditions of the loan in an easy to follow format. There are few words, but lots of focus on the actual numbers and likely cost of the loan.

I’ll be at the announcement at 11 A.M. and will bring you updates on NewsChannel 5 and via social media: Twitter: JennStrathman / Facebook: JennStrathman.

Later in the day, the CFPB wants to hear from you. At 5:30 P.M. local leaders and CFPB leaders will be holding a town hall meeting at the Cleveland Public Library at 523 Superior Avenue N.E. to hear what’s on your mind as it relates to financial products.

CFPB wants to hear about more than just credit cards
While credit cards were the bureau’s first focus, it recently began accepting complaints for mortgages and other home secured loans. By the end of 2012, it will accept complaints on even more financial products.

Related links you may like:
Consumer bureau opens – what it means for your money
Weigh in on mortgage forms 
Checking your credit report
Best rewards cards
Are credit cards a thing of the past on college campuses?
Can’t return an item at the store – return it with your credit card

Most loyal companies – did your favorite business make the list?

How loyal a customer are you? Costco recently raised membership prices, with the basic fee rising by just $5. It’s not a lot of money, but I heard the shoppers behind me comment about it as they walked past customer service on their way out the store. The fee got some press, but it probably won’t change loyalty because customers know Costco saves them money and offers a good warranty and return policy.

Not surprising that Costco ranked high in Temkin Group’s most loyal company ratings. Temkin is a customer experience research and consulting group that bases the rating on feedback collected by consumers.

Here’s a look at the top 10 loyal companies:

1. Amazon

2. Kohl’s

3. Costco

4. Lowe’s

5. Sam’s Club

6. USAA

7. BJ’s Wholesale Club

8. Target

9. JCPenney

10. Walgreens

Most of these are retail establishments, with the exception of USAA. The top rated airline is Southwest ranking 19th overall. Vanguard is the top rated investment company ranking 20th. TriCare is the top rated health care company ranking 21st overall. At 22nd, is the top rated hotel Hyatt.

Click here to see the entire list of 143 companies

Temkin also has forgiveness ratings, trust, customer service, experience, and web experience ratings. Not surprising, many of the top loyal companies also did well with customer service.

Better Business Bureau launches app in Apple store

Want to file a complaint against a business on the go, or want to find out what others think about a business at the last minute? The Better Business Bureau launched an Apple Store app that allows you to access their database of more than 4 million businesses on the go.

You’ll be able to search for local businesses by name, phone, URL, or category, your current zip code, state, city, or location. The search results can be displayed in list or map views. The app works on the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

BBB testing customer comments / reviews for businesses

Feel strongly, good or bad, about a business? Now, you can have your voice heard by posting your feelings on the Better Business Bureau’s website.  The pilot program is being tested in 10 cities including Cleveland.

The BBB will review the comments to make sure fake ones don’t slip through, and they will be edited for foul langauge. The business will get 24-48 hours to respond to the comment.

Greater Cleveland BBB President, David Weiss, said, “We’re also limiting reviews to consumers who actually had an experience with the company. If you don’t like what your employer pays you, that review is not going to be posted on this site.”

Some of the comments already appearing include, “Have received great service every time I visit.”  Another customer wrote the following comment under another business profile, “You have to be prepared to be annoyed. These people need a class on how to operate a business.”

The BBB says this will give consumers another option beside filing a formal complaint. The comments will become part of the business’s profile on the BBB site.

Borders liquidation sale means last minute changes

Borders is set to start the liquidation sale Friday, but I learned late Thursday night that they are anything but prepared.

I walked into my local Borders around 9 ET, to see a liquidation sounding man talking to a Borders employee with a clipboard. The liquidator type said he was a contractor and gave orders about details of the liquidation to the store employee.  This liquidator was the only sign of a big sale starting Friday. If I wasn’t paying attention, I could have walked by the guy, because other than that conversation it was business as usual Thursday night.

The liquidator mentioned the cafe would be one of the first things to go. If you are in the market for a coffee mug or other cafe type merchandise, you may not want to wait long for that deal to get sweeter because the sale in the cafe may not last long. That is IF that type of product even goes on sale depending on who runs the cafe.

There was mention of a flash sale Friday afternoon, whatever that means. The liquidator sounding man mentioned that the “other stores” didn’t even know about it yet. I’m assuming that means the other local stores the liquidator is working with for the sale.

The liquidator type talked matter of factly rattling instruction after instruction. I couldn’t believe this conversation happened in the front of the store where everyone enters, exits, and browses books. I stood there for a few minutes and nobody noticed. Perhaps the Borders employee was too busy taking notes, and the liquidator was too busy pretending he was a robot.

It made me feel bad for the employees who are about to lose their jobs. They did nothing wrong. They’re just collecting a paycheck, and now the end date of that check is uncertain. Until that date arrives, they are reporting to a higher boss that wants them to clean out the store. So, if you attend the liquidation sale be nice to the employees. It was clear from what I witnessed they’re just taking orders.

30 Borders stores may be spared. Books-A-Million is trying to take over the lease of 30 stores, although it’s still unclear which ones.