Tag Archives: shopping

Extreme changes to eBay coupon policy limiting resale

The controversy over extreme couponing practices continues. This time, eBay is the target of the anger. For years, couponers have sold their surplus coupons on eBay, but the website is making changes to its policy that will make it harder to make money. Just like when a grocer changes its coupon policy, there is outrage.

Under the new policy, sellers will be restricted to a monthly maximum of coupons valued up to $100 or 25 valid, unexpired, original coupons. The limit you reach first will be the one that is enforced. Previously, couponers sold multiple coupons under one listing. You’ll still be limited to 25 coupons even if they are all sold in bulk under one listing.

If you have a coupon for a free product or a buy one get one free (BOGO) offer, you can’t sell it. Those are some of couponers favorite coupons.

The changes start September 1, and any listing that violates the new policy will be removed. Also, the seller could have their buying and selling privileges restricted or suspended.

Couponers are sounding off on eBay’s community forum saying their business will shut down and they’ll lose money. It’s a big reversal in policy, but it’s one some advocates say is long overdue because the rules have been bent for years.

Most coupons say they are void if sold or transferred. To get around the fine print, eBay sellers put a disclaimer on their postings. It often said the coupon price was not for the value of the coupons but for the seller’s time spent clipping the coupons. The disclaimer outraged ethical couponers. For a story I did on this issue in 2011, the Coupon Information Corporation said, “The CIC said disclaimers “prove that the seller / auctioneer knows that their illicit coupon sales are inapropriate, wrong.”

There’s always been a push for eBay to police the coupon selling, but it never happened until now.

What do you think of the changes? Join the conversation by commenting below. 



17.7 million Borders gift cards are worthless

borders booksGift cards are a popular gift despite the fact that many go un-redeemed. Most of the time the cards don’t get used because consumers forget about them or lose the card. Stores going out of business are another problem, and a court ruling isn’t giving consumers much hope that their gift card is worth anything when a store closes.

There are more than 17.7 million Borders gift cards that were never used and a judge decided those customers will not get a refund. There are many reasons for the decision including issues over paperwork and whether it was filed in a timely manner.

The value of the unused cards is estimated at over $210 million. That’s a lot of money that consumers invested in a defunct company. It raises questions about whether a gift card is really the best gift. It’s a debate we have every holiday season as analysts predict which stores may be defunct within six months.

I still think gift cards are a good idea if you have no others. If you get one and don’t feel you’ll use it, then sell it. There are several sites like Gift Card Granny and Plastic Jungle that allow you to sell and buy cards at a discount. As soon as you hear about a store closing or liquidating its goods, sell fast so you don’t lose your money.

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.  

Registering for your wedding

Chef Wes

My husband using some of our new kitchen tools.

If you’re having a summer or fall wedding, this is a good time to start thinking about creating a gift registry. It’s a great time to reinvigorate your fiance, and get them involved in the planning. My husband loved registering and checking out all the kitchen gadgets. The key is to give your guests choices.

First, you need to choose where to register. I suggest shopping the stores before you choose one. Go to two or three and figure out if they have what you’d like to have in your home.

Look for products in a wide variety of price points as every guest will have a different giving level especially if your guests are from different parts of the country. Having lived in several parts of the country, I’ve realized there are huge differences in price points for weddings. Some of it’s personal, but a good chunk of decisions are regional.

When you’re browsing the store, it can be overwhelming because you’re deciding on so many things. What kind of dishes, pots and pans, or mixer do you want for the next 20 years?

Be realistic. It’s easy to get carried away and register for items that you’ll never use. We had a few on our list, that we’ve used once in six months. I tried repeatedly to get some removed from our list, but my husband insisted we would need it. I just rolled my eyes and let him relish in the fun of registering. He is handy in the kitchen, and the last thing I wanted to do was discourage him from planning and cooking.

The stores all offer different programs. They want you to sit through their speech about the pros and cons before they allow you to register. One store even wanted to follow us through the store to make suggestions. Luckily, we convinced them otherwise telling them we already did a site survey and knew what we wanted.

Some stores give you cash back on a percentage of the purchases made from your registry. Others, give you nothing for bringing dozens of your friends and family to their store to shop. Also, consider shipping and handling. Many stores will charge you for it online while others give you free shipping for orders over $99. Bed Bath & Beyond will only ship for free if you find a promotional code or if you go to the store and don’t find the item you need.

We registered at Macy’s and Bed Bath & Beyond, and by far the majority of our guests bought items at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Once all the registering is done, sit back and relax. It’s like Christmas everyday as you get close to the wedding and have gifts arriving. I laughed at some that arrived in huge boxes with a small kitchen gadget in them. Another one arrived with cups wrapped in just a few pieces of paper. Needless to say some were broken and we called for replacements.

Finally, keep track of everything as you receive it. It gets confusing as the gifts start piling up. We waited to send thank you notes until after our wedding so we could send notes with our wedding pictures on them, and I think some guests would have prefered thank you notes as the gifts arrived. I say this because when you send something you always wonder if the recipient got it. We had people asking if we received gifts, and I felt bad when they inquired. It’s just something to consider when you’re figuring out the best way to thank someone.

Just make sure you take the time to write a thank you note at some point. I can’t tell you how many weddings I went to where the bride and groom never said a word about the gift. I don’t want a big pat on the back, but I want to know you received it and put it to use.

Fashion trend: rent a dress for a wedding or event

little borrowed dressHow many times have you gone shopping when you had an event or wedding to attend? The damage is often $75-100+ just for that one event. You might wear that dress a few more times, but not too much fearing someone will see you in the same dress at a future event. For men who are shaking their heads, let me introduce you to how women think. Next time they want to spend money for a new outfit, how about suggesting that they rent? It’s been a trend for men for quite some time with tuxedo rentals, and now it’s hitting women’s fashion.

I considered renting bridesmaid dresses for my wedding, but I was running out of time so I decided against it. If you have time, it may be a money-saving option to try. The site, Little Borrowed Dress, rents and sells bridesmaid dresses for $50-75. There are just a few styles to choose from, but dozens of colors. The styles are designed to fit and flatter a variety of shapes and sizes without alternations.

If you are nervous about the sizing, you can visit the showroom in New York City. For all the other bridesmaids who don’t live in NYC, a second rental is sent for free with every dress just in case the first one doesn’t fit.

I think it’s still a little risky if you don’t always wear the same sized dress.  The dresses are shipped two weeks before the wedding which is very last minute if the dresses don’t fit. The company promises to make it right if the dresses don’t fit, but as a bride that’s one element of surprise I don’t need. I was already worried with dresses that I knew were sized for the women. 

Rent the Runway is another option if you’re in the market for an evening gown. My friend used this site, and loved her dress. She had some problems with sizing, but got the company to overnight her a new dress just in time for the big event. It was a little  nerve wracking as it was down to the wire, but she got the dress of her dreams.

Finally, consider shopping a friend’s closet. Chances are you can find a new outfit for free for your next event.

What do you think of this trend? Would you rent a dress? Join the conversation by clicking comment below.

Will consumers pay a fee to swipe their credit card?

Credit card cash registerWill the cost of swiping plastic get more expensive starting this weekend? It depends on who you ask.

On Sunday, January 27, businesses who take Visa and MasterCard can begin imposing a surcharge on consumers who use credit. This new fee for consumers is being called a “checkout fee.” It can only be applied to credit cards, and not debit cards.

The surcharge can’t be more than the amount the business typically pays to accept credit cards. That fee ranges from 1.5% to 3% of the transaction amount.

While stores will have the ability to charge this fee, the National Retail Federation told me consumers don’t need to worry about this fee because the majority of businesses will not pass it on to the consumer. The Retail Federation called it “propaganda from the credit card industry.”

This all stems from a lawsuit settlement involving the retail industry and the credit card giants. The suit is still being debated in court, but these fees would start on Sunday. The retail industry filed the suit to bring down swipe fees. The NRF says the intent was not to pass the charge onto consumers.

“Surcharging therefore would run 180 degrees to the intent of the suit,” the NRF said in a statement. “While there can always be exceptions, merchants in general have no intention of surcharging.” According to the NRF, they don’t know any business that’s passing this charge along.

Business exclusions
Even if a business wanted to pass along the fees, the NRF said that would be difficult due to state and credit card laws.

The settlement won’t trump state law. In ten states, laws prohibit these fees. You won’t have to worry about these fees if you live in the following states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The second reason the NRF believes very few stores will charge these fees to consumers deals with the cardholder rules. In a phone conversation and prepared statement sent to me, the NRF said Visa and MasterCard rules require retailers to handle all credit card transactions the same way in all their stores. Therefore, a chain that operates in one of the ten states which prohibits the surcharge, won’t be able to apply the surcharge to any of its stores. The same would apply to regional chains with a store in one of the prohibited states.

Courtesy Visa

Courtesy Visa

However, Visa has a different view on how the state exclusions impact this fee. The Frequently Asked Questions section for Visa states the following, “If a merchant is prohibited from surcharging in one state, Visa’s rules do not prevent the merchant from surcharging in other states that allow the practice.”

I think if a merchant actually did this, consumers would be outraged. Those who live near the state line would simply shop in the other state. This could cause all sorts of problems for businesses and governments who might lose a tax base. I think there is far too much to lose for the big stores to create an unlevel playing field for consumers. Stores are already trying all sorts of marketing techniques to get consumers to spend their money in stores rather than online. This could be a disaster for a store.

The NRF said American Express agreements reduce the number of stores who could charge this fee even more. The settlement says that if you surcharge Visa and MasterCard the same must happen with AmEx. The NRF said the AmEx agreement prohibits the fee.

With all these exclusions, the NRF said very few stores could charge this fee.

I think the most likely candidates for this fee are mom and pop stores where these fees cut too deep into their bottom line. However, the NRF said they don’t even think that will happen because it will be too time-consuming and costly to to re-configure their computer system to accommodate the change. Time will tell. I think at best this will be hit or miss.

Disclosure is key
You will know if a business is charging a checkout fee. For retail stores, there needs to be a sign at the entrance and point of sale. If you are shopping online, the homepage will disclose the fee. The disclosure will have lots of fine print. For the consumer, the most important thing to look for is the amount of the surcharge. Your receipt will also disclose the dollar amount of the surcharge.

The settlement is still pending in court and appeals have already been filed.

If we ever even see these fees, they may be delayed. The stores need to give MasterCard and Visa 30 days notice.

If you see a store charging this fee, let me know on Facebook and Twitter. Would this fee make you shop somewhere else or use cash? Join the conversation by clicking “comment” below.

Retail stores need more inventory to stay relevant

hiking boots 2Stores are working hard to prevent showrooming, where a customer goes into the store to touch and feel a product and then returns home to buy it cheaper online. Some retailers are price matching online prices hoping you’ll buy in the store rather than online. While it hurts local business owners when you buy online, I find it’s hard to avoid. Recently, two in-store experiences left me no choice but to purchase the products I wanted from online retailers.

My husband and I are taking a vacation to New Zealand this spring, and we need hiking boots. I’m not used to hiking boots so I wanted to try them out for fit and comfort. I walked into Dick’s Sporting Goods, and found just a few options. Of the three I liked, the store didn’t have any in my size. So, I took a picture and went home to search online.

hiking bootsI waited to purchase the boots until my husband was ready. A few weeks later, my husband and I went to the same sporting goods store in another town. This store had even fewer choices. There was only one boot that fit my needs, and once again it wasn’t in my size.

My husband tried two pairs, and again neither one was in his size.

Why bother driving to a store to try on shoes? They obviously don’t have a good selection of inventory. Dick’s Sporting Goods even offers free shipping and returns on its shoes. There is no incentive to go into the store anymore.

Buying shoes online is tricky if there’s not free shipping both ways. You have to weigh the costs and benefits just in case that shoe doesn’t fit properly. Many retailers are beginning to offer free return shipping including Amazon on certain Prime purchases that are fulfilled through Amazon. If you are looking for a specific shoe, it may not fit these specifications for free returns. I recently bought a pair of boots that did not have free return shipping, and it cost me $15 in postage to send them back. I still saved $55 buying through Amazon compared to other e-retailers, so sometimes it’s worth the cost of return shipping to buy online.

Courtesy Apple

Courtesy Apple

I had a similar experience with electronics. We needed two phones, and only one was in stock in the store. We went to the store thinking it would be easier than online since we had to port our phone numbers and open an account with a new cell phone carrier. It was another wasted trip. The store was no help, and couldn’t even place our order online for us.

We went home and ordered the items we needed. With this, I will admit the online systems was not perfect. The online ordering system told us we could only ship the smartphones to a nearby store (not the one we visited). I placed the order, and then got an email ten minutes later telling me the items were not available and we needed to call customer service. It took two more calls to customer service before they found the phones we needed. The option of home shipment wasn’t available previously, but the second customer service got it to work.

It took a few phone calls, but it still took less time than it would to drive to the store. Plus, I didn’t have to pay for gas.

I try to find reasons to shop in stores knowing local owners are dependent on my business. However, without adequate inventory and customer service it’s hard to argue with the ease of online shopping.

Share your experience by clicking comment below.

Free shipping for the holiday

Courtesy: FedEx

Courtesy: FedEx

If your shopping isn’t complete, the shipping deadline for holiday items is approaching. As a last push to get you to shop, an estimated 2000 retailers will participate in Free Shipping Day on Monday, December 17.

The Free Shipping team put together a handy list of shipping deadlines by retailer. Some say standard shipping orders placed by December 20th will arrive in time for the holiday. The  majority list earlier dates including December 16th and 17th.

It’s amazing the differences in shipping when you order from different companies. Continue reading

Consider Facebook to buy that perfect gift this holiday

Facebook GiftsStill undecided about a gift? Look beyond the traditional retailers and online shops. Consider the social network, Facebook, to find that perfect present. The company is adding a “gift” section, and you don’t even need the receiver’s address. The return policy is unique too.

Here’s how it works. You pick out the gift, and your friend is notified. Then, they enter their shipping information. If they don’t like the gift, they can trade it for a gift they’d rather enjoy. That’s perfect for the person who doesn’t give you any clues about what they might like for the holidays.

Before you can see the gift options, you need to enter your friend’s name. You can send everything from whoopie pies to whiskey rocks. There’s a lot of food and beverage options, but also a magazine subscription, fun quirky items like a harmonica necklace, gifts for the home or kitchen, bath and body products, kids items, fashionable things, kids products, and items that give back. You can give actual products or some are simply for gift cards.  The majority of products appear to be under $50, and the sender is charged for shipping if applicable.

It’s shopping for the lazy person who already is spending a lot of time on Facebook. It’s also a way for Facebook to make even more money, and get you to stay on its site longer.

Will you try Facebook Gifts? Click comment below.

Return policies: some naughty, some nice

shoppingHave you started your holiday shopping yet? When deciding what to buy, also consider where to buy. Some return policies are more generous than others.

Kohl’s has a very generous return policy. It’s called “Hassle Free Returns” and is quite hassle free. The policy states, “You can return any item, anytime, for a full refund with a receipt. No receipt? No problem. You’ll get a Merchandise Credit good toward anything in the store or online. At Kohl’s, hassle-free is more than a policy. It’s a promise.”

That’s an amazing policy in this day and age where stores are cracking down on returns. Part of it is hte cost to the retailer and risk of fraud. I also think they’re trying to eliminate people like me. People who change their mind. I’ve changed some of hte stores I shop because of their poor return policies that clearly burn a busy consumer.

I’ll admit I buy a lot and return a lot. I don’t like to shop, so I’m on a mission when I hit the stores. Sometimes I buy something and later think twice about it once I get it home and have a clearer mind. I’ve experiecned first hand the need to get back to the store ASAP to return it or I’m out of luck.

I think Dillard’s has one of the tougher return polcieis for a department store. You need to have the tags attached, which I’m fine with, and the item must be returned within thirty days of purchase. I’m used to three months at other department stores and this return policy burned me pretty good this summer.

I bought a jacket, but ended up returning it because it was linen and I was worried it would be a wrinkled mess by the end of the day. I really liked the color yellow, and looked for another one that wasn’t linen. I found one with the help of an associate. We had to order it to get the right size, and when it arrived I wasn’t sold. It seemed big and wasn’t cut the way I hoped. I got busy with a million other things planning our wedding and kept meaning to take it back, but kept forgetting.

It’s my fault. I should have made it a bigger priority, but again I’m so used to a three month return policy at other department stores. I waited and finally found some time to get it returned after our wedding in August. That’s when I learned about Dillard’s 30 day return policy. I was shocked. Now, I’m stuck with an expensive jacket that I’ll probably never wear. What a costly mistake.

Just pay attention this holiday especially if you are buying for a woman because woman’s sizes are all over the map. There is no consistency.

J.Crew won’t let you return some sale items even within 30 days and with a receipt. I’m not talking about super big discounts. All sales were final at a recent 30% off sale I shopped. There were signs near the clothing alerting shoppers to this caveat, which I appreciated.

Forever 21 won’t return jewlery. All sales are final. The cashier told me at the register, and it certainly piqued my curiosity when the woman asked if I was familiar with the return policy? Again, at least it’s brought to the shoppers attention.

Some stores even limit the number of returns you can make each year.

For the holidays, many stores have an extended return policy through mid or late January.

Returns are not that big of a deal for some items. It seems I’m returning clothing most as I change my mind later. Everything looks good in the store. If you’re going out on a limb with a gift or buying clothing, consider the store’s return policy.