Category Archives: Consumer Issues

Amazon & Pop-Secret Redux

You may recall that I recently wrote about Amazon’s delivery of a roll of industrial “contact paper” in lieu of the 6-pack of Pop-Secret Popcorn that I had ordered. Amazon had informed me, in the way that Amazon does, that I could not return the roll of paper but that it would re-send the popcorn I had originally ordered.

Well … the box came, it seemed a bit heavy, but, again, I was prepared to accept that popcorn weighed more than I expected. And, again, I opened the outer box and, again, nestled inside was the Pop-Secret-branded box containing … wait for it … another roll of industrial contact paper identical to the previous one. To quote Dave Barry, I am not making this up. I promise.

Here is the replacement popcorn:

It turns out that Amazon’s website is not programmed to deal with a repeat failure of this nature. Trying to communicate locked me into an endless loop. The site “believed” I was trying to return the popcorn that it had recorded as being delivered and rejected the return of a food product. So even though the Online Returns Center said you could return a “wrong item,” in fact you can’t in these circumstances. The computer thinks you received replacement popcorn and that, as the saying goes, is the end of that.

Well, not quite. I contacted the always reliable American Express on whose card the popcorn had been charged. An astonished but cooperative agent credited the popcorn charge back to my account. Eventually, I assume Amazon’s computers will “discover” that they haven’t been paid for the popcorn and inquire of me about it. Or not. To paraphrase Melania, I really don’t care.

But, I still want the popcorn. We love popcorn. Rightly or wrongly, we believe it’s a “good for you” snack. We eat a lot of popcorn. Sometimes we eat too much popcorn. Sometimes other do. In fairness to Amazon, it does seem clear now that the problem is not with Amazon but with Pop-Secret itself. So, I sent this message to Pop-Secret using the sense of humor for which I have become unjustly famous:

Houston, we have a problem. You should first read the part of this related to Amazon: https://shiningseausa.com/2018/11/23/black-friday-american-commerce-amazon-best-buy-cvs-whole-foods/   Amazon rejected my attempt to return the item & said it was shipping a new order of popcorn. That replacement order arrived 2 days ago. See attached photos. Clearly, there is a breakdown in the “food chain” somewhere. Since the inner boxes in the shipment bear your logo and are sealed when they arrive, it seems likely that the problem rests with you, not Amazon, though one would hope they’d wonder why the contents of a popcorn order shift around inside the box and weighs a lot more than popcorn. In any case, Amazon has no mechanism for returning or even addressing a 2nd delivery of the wrong product so I had no choice but to dispute the original charge. Maybe that will get their attention. Meanwhile, all we wanted was a reliable supply of your delicious popcorn for the holidays; our local market often runs out. We are frustrated and no longer amused by this strange business. I cannot begin to explain how rolls of industrial tape get into sealed Pop-Secret branded boxes. Perhaps you know. So that’s the story. Bizarre but true. Look forward to hearing from you.

After a brief silence, Pop-Secret responded:

We are sorry to hear about your experience with Pop Secret and we really appreciate you letting us know about it. We will pass this information and your comments along to our Quality Assurance Team, and also keep a record of it. [Somehow, I didn’t find this reassuring.]

Unfortunately, we are unable to explain why you rec’d the item you did through Amazon. [Very not reassuring] I will have the Sales & Marketing staff review and follow up with Amazon as best they can into this matter. [Really not reassuring]

We are sending a few free product coupons your way believing that you will have a great experience with our product next time. [Nothing like belief in the face of hard contrary evidence to make one feel right again] Thanks, again, for letting us know about this. You can expect the coupons to arrive shortly. [Shortly, eh] .… Please let us know if you have any further concerns or comments.

Unable to leave bad enough alone, I did have “further concerns or comments:”

You understand, I trust, that this happened twice, spaced a couple of weeks apart. My first reaction, as evidenced by my blog post, was that this was an Amazon problem, but when it happened a second time, in exactly the same way, I concluded it most likely was a problem that originated at Pop-Secret. I doubt, for example, that Amazon actually packages your 6-pack product into Pop-Secret branded boxes. That activity must occur where your product originates. Amazon then takes your branded boxes and puts them in Amazon boxes for shipment to its customers.

I appreciate the offer of coupons but I would like to know how the investigation ends. I plan to write about this again in my blog and want to be fair, and accurate.

Four days have passed and no reply. Now, we all know from past experience that, rightly or wrongly, I have a problem with being ignored. Sooo, I am recounting this saga here, fairly and accurately, as promised.

What happens next, the human mind may never imagine. Perhaps the promised coupons will arrive and they won’t say “good only on Amazon.com.” Maybe nothing will happen. Meanwhile, find something more useful to do with your time.

Black Friday & American Commerce at Work (herein of Amazon, Best Buy, CVS & Whole Foods)

Black Friday is here and America is ready for a shoppingpalooza to end all paloozas. It seems like a good time to remind everyone, with full expectation of being ignored, about how the American shopping experience can sometimes go wrong.

First, Amazon. The funny (in a perverse way) part. I have written twice about Amazon’s practice of waste in its inappropriate packaging choices. https://bit.ly/2PQ7VTp and https://bit.ly/2DVS4fR That part is not funny. Anyway, I was slightly surprised by the weight of the package that arrived supposedly containing a precious order of Nature’s great food: popcorn. But I had ordered a box of six boxes of six packs each, so it was, I thought, possible that popcorn could weigh that much. The item is depicted here:

Delicious! Since I had foolishly consumed our supply some days before, I was delighted to receive this package.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened the outer shipping box, and saw inside a box bearing the brand name of PopSecret wedged tightly into the outer box. Yes! Amazon is doing better! So, I slit open the top of the inner PopSecret-labeled box and saw this:

As best I can tell, this product is: Oracal 631 Matte Vinyl Roll 12 Inches by 150 feet – Black by Oracal

I would have understood if Amazon had shipped the wrong brand of popcorn or maybe even if it had sent another food product altogether. But Vinyl Tape instead of popcorn? Is this stuff arrayed on the shelves together? Does no one check these things before they ship?

We will never know the answer to those compelling questions. But we do know is that Amazon knows a bad move when it sees one and, as I have experienced in past product mix-ups, it advised me to just keep vinyl tape and it would ship the popcorn at no extra charge. Of course, the estimated delivery date is a week from the arrival of the tape, making a slight mockery of the Prime delivery for which I pay an annual fee. And the product listing for the popcorn now shows “Currently Unavailable,” so we could be cruising toward a losing situation. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I have laid in a supply of popcorn from the local market.

Moving on to something more concerning, I recently visited the local Best Buy on Broadway in New York City. Its website showed it had a software package for photo editing that I wanted to buy. And, I wanted to buy it right now! After reviewing the package for compatibility issues. So, I walked the half mile or so to the store, asked the young man on the phone at the information booth in front whether the software was downstairs. He nodded yes and continued his conversation.

To make a long story shorter, I walked around each floor of the store twice. No photo editing software to be seen. I did see one, yes, one other customer who was engrossed in playing with one of the electronic devices. I saw at least six Best Buy employees moving around the store, some of them speaking into walkie-talkies. I thought I would trick one of them into asking if I needed help by spending some time with the most expensive cameras. I showed serious interest, looking through view finders and manipulating the dials. No takers. Bottom line: I walked around the store acting like a confused consumer looking for something specific and not one of the employees asked if they could help me find something. I left.

I don’t know where the management was. Maybe one of the Best Buy people I saw was the management. In any case Best Buy, which is in direct competition with Amazon and many others for mostly commodity-type products, is running a losing operation based on this admittedly small sample size of its performance. Maybe I have it backwards though; the store was empty because everyone but me knows how bad the service is. Time will tell.

Now to get serious for a moment. A good while back, I wrote a post about a service failure related to a product branded by CVS Pharmacies  https://bit.ly/2DTcAgY

That little essay concluded with this:

“One thing is certainly true. I will not be ignored. And, thus, we are here, using the only tool at my disposal to try to shame CVS into responding to my documented complaint about a product sold under its brand. This is not the end of this saga but the beginning. I intend to file complaints in the near future with the Better Business Bureau and such other consumer protection agencies in New York City as I can find. CVS, this could all have been avoided if you had just acted responsibly.”

Not being one to make idle threats, I did what I had said and, finally, the sleeping giant awakened. Recall that I first contacted CVS in June 2018 about the damage caused by its product that had melted against the bathroom wall. My complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs apparently got their attention. A CVS message to the BBB took the issue back to Medline Industries that handles such things.

After the usual form apologies and assurances about how seriously they take the quality of their products and “value others input,” Medline, in October,  told me this was the first such complaint and that “the issue is considered to be isolated.” Then,

“It is likely that the issue occurred due to harsh conditions such as high heat and humidity in the storage area. All sanitary napkins, diapers and most food products are printed using the same technology that is used for this product and under normal conditions this issue does not occur. It is our recommendation that packages such as this should be kept in a drawer or cabinet where the exposure of the product to harsh conditions is minimal.”

My English translation of the Medline message:

“We don’t deny the problem occurred, but it’s your own fault because of the “likely … harsh conditions” in your bathroom (high heat and humidity) which are not “normal conditions” for a bathroom so you need to seal the product in a heat and humidity proof drawer or cabinet which we are sure, without investigation, you can readily find to protect this product that cost less than $3.00. While we would have to recognize there is no warning about “harsh conditions” on the package, you are surely aware of the famous old saying, “buyer beware,” so take ownership of your trust, however misplaced, in our branded products and go have yourself a lovely day in the harsh conditions in your bathroom.”

Oh, yes, CVS did not refund the price of the product, presumably because the whole thing was my fault for maintaining “harsh conditions” in my bathroom. Nothing more to say, except that this decision has cost and will continue to cost CVS a vastly larger, though in the scheme of its business, an insignificant loss, in diverted business to its competitor at … Amazon.

To end on a more positive note, in keeping with the season, we recently ordered, in person at the local Whole Foods store, a cake for an event. We wrote on a note the message that was to be iced on the cake. It was not a hugely expensive cake but it was a nice one for our small group. We were told to pick it up at 10 am on the date of the event. We arrived on time and were met with “what cake?”

It took all of two seconds for the assistant manager, who happened to be in the bakery section that day, to direct the staff to prepare the cake immediately, with the prescribed icing and “there will be no charge.”

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how it is done. It’s called customer service. No arguments, no excuses, just fixed it. Done and done.

Have a happy holiday weekend. Shop until you drop, if you must. Keep your guard up and stay safe.

CVS Customer Service Fail

Back in 2014, I was very impressed with the CVS drugstore chain’s decision to stop selling tobacco. It was the first national retail pharmacy chain to stop selling tobacco products in all its stores with a claimed loss of $2 billion in sales. That’s a lot of money. And a lot of tobacco. Good for CVS. The company later reported that the decision was associated with a measurable reduction in cigarette sales in areas where CVS had at least a 15 percent share in the retail pharmacy market. https://bit.ly/2MCbzP7

As a regular user of CVS’s pharmacy services, I also buy a lot of other merchandise from their stores. One of the items I bought in June of this year was a package of cotton “rounds.” It looks like this, Beauty 360 being the CVS house brand:

Here is an email I sent CVS about the ensuing problem with the packaging:

The rounds come in a plastic tube designed to be opened at one end to remove the rounds as needed. I placed this package on a rack in my bathroom such that the package rested against the wall. … The package literally dissolved in the humidity of the bathroom and stuck to the wall. I have tried soaking it to scrape it off to no avail. It just damaged the paint.

I can only assume this has happened to others, but in any case, since it is CVS’s brand product, I look forward to your advice as to how to remove the plastic from the wall without damaging the wall. As renters, asking the building to do this could prove very expensive.

There ensued a short series of emails in which CVS asked me to return the product, which they would replace. I did. On July 6. They didn’t. By emails, CVS indicated they were testing the product to verify what I had reported. Weeks passed. More emails were exchanged in which I told CVS that I was not prepared to wait indefinitely for a response as to how the plastic could safely be removed from the wall. Silence.

I always wonder what goes on behind the scenes in large companies like CVS. Its stores are ubiquitous in the Washington area, where I previously lived, and in New York City. The company was reasonably quick to respond to my initial complaint but then, perhaps faced with confirmation of the validity of my complaint, decided to simply ignore me.

One thing is certainly true. I will not be ignored. And, thus, we are here, using the only tool at my disposal to try to shame CVS into responding to my documented complaint about a product sold under its brand. This is not the end of this saga but the beginning. I intend to file complaints in the near future with the Better Business Bureau and such other consumer protection agencies in New York City as I can find. CVS, this could all have been avoided if you had just acted responsibly.

 

Amazon Strikes Again

I don’t want to be seen as having some kind of crazy consumer’s vendetta against #Amazon, because I don’t. But I do believe that a company of Amazon’s scale has an obligation to conduct its business with some regard for its environmental impact. It appears to be failing at that and, given all the threats to the environment by the Trump administration and companies that place corporate interests ahead of the planet’s welfare, this warrants a call-out.

In an earlier post, I complained about what I saw as wasteful packaging procedures involving the use of boxes significantly larger than necessary to move the items in question. Since then, I have placed an order for eight items from Amazon Prime Pantry. The Pantry is the name @Amazon chose for grocery-like items that it now sells. “Grocery-like” is my term but is generally accurate for this service, except that there are many items “located” there that are also sold in drug stores like CVS.

Here is what I found when I opened the enormous box:

The photos tell the story. I was stunned at the size of the box used to ship the eight items which, together, occupied 2040 cubic inches (just shy of 1.2 cubic feet) of space. The box holds 4663.75 cubic inches of space (2.7 cubic feet), more than twice what was necessary for the items in question. The remainder of the space was filled with 4” x 7” plastic air bags, 85 of them!

I understand that it is sometimes unreasonable to expect the packaging to match precisely the combined size of the contents, but that was not the case here. Not even close. This and the package covered in the previous post are not the only times I have seen this.

Compare this photo of a recent coffee order received from Keurig, where the seven boxes almost exactly fit the outer box:

Amazon must do better at operating consistently with the interests of the planet and not just to maximize profits, though one would think that wasting packaging material on this scale leads to higher than necessary costs. You would think self-interest would drive the company to operate more efficiently. Maybe it would if enough customers complained. Amazon, don’t make me come down there!

Sleight of Hand by MLB and Facebook

The Washington Nationals are fighting for their 2018 lives from six games behind Atlanta or Philadelphia (varies by week as to who is in first place). Today, the Nats finish a 4-game homestand against Atlanta and they are down 2 games to 1. The final game of the set is today, playing as I write. To my complete surprise, the game is not being broadcast by MLB-TV through normal channels. Instead, as so cleverly put by MLB-at-Bat, to which I subscribe along with MLB-TV so I can watch the Nats games while living in New York City, the game is being live-streamed on Facebook as part of what is called the MLB-Facebook “partnership.” See screenshot below:

So, I did what I was prompted to do, but not my phone. I did it on the larger iMac screen. And, well, well, what do we have here but a collection of mandatory “free” subscriptions to various streaming services, including a demand for full credit card information even while  being assured that the card will not be charged.

 

Depending on which viewing option you select, you are presented with a mandatory signup for a “trial membership:”

Not a chance. If I wanted my credit card information in the hands of random streaming services, I would seek them out. MLB is using its “partnership to try to leverage fans into these services. I might not have been so offended by this abuse if, in announcing that today’s game would only be available by streaming on Facebook, MLB had disclosed that viewing the game that way would require opening a “free” account with a livestreaming service other than MLB-TV.

It seems likely that this scheme will induce some fans to sign up for these streaming services and on that basis MLB and Facebook will record the scheme as a win for them. What they will not count are the fans like me who are deeply disturbed by this game-playing with subscribers. This deal ranks right down there with what I was told a year ago – that I could purchase post-season tickets only if I also bought a block of tickets for the next season. I rejected that ridiculous proposal as well and added it to the reservoir of resentment against MLB teams’ manipulative schemes to force people to buy tickets.

As a fan, I want the Nationals to prosper and be competitive and also want the game of baseball to succeed. But, MLB is flirting with the limits of greed already, with obscene player salaries, sky-high ticket prices and concession stand charges that can kill your appetite faster than a cold plate of greasy nachos.

Something Amiss in AmazonLand

This may seem trivial in comparison with the latest Trump administration outrage, but given that he (and his right-hand grifter Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency) continues to do everything in his power, and not, to destroy the environment, it seems important to point out issues that can be solved by simple exercise of private willpower. When our leadership, with the apparent support of 90 percent of Republican voters, (per New York Times today) is committed to turning the world’s natural resources over to private exploitation, we must encourage every possible act of environmental offset as possible.

Thus, I note that I recently ordered from Amazon, my generally “preferred” online vendor of stuff, a set of five “button batteries.” They are each smaller than a dime, fit easily onto a small piece of cardboard, as shown in the featured photo above and hard to find now that Radio Shack is largely a thing of the past (the nearest “authorized dealer” is 66 miles from my apartment). They only cost $6.99 at Amazon so ….

The big deal here is that the card on which the batteries are set out measures 2.125 inches by 7.25 inches. The cardboard is thinner than the cardboard used in pressed and folded shirts (or used to be). As the photo shows, the box in which Amazon shipped this item was filled with 14 pockets of air-filled plastic to “protect” this piece of cardboard. The box in which it arrived, strapped with the usual Amazon-branded tape, measures 10.125 inches long by 7.125 inches wide by 5.25 inches high. That is, for those who have forgotten their math, is 378.74 cubic inches of container to hold a virtually indestructible item occupying just under .8 cubic inches of space.

Now, to be fair to Amazon, this item actually came from another supplier, like the bazillions of suppliers with which Amazon has contracts to provide its listed items directly to consumers. But, the costs of this excess packaging must inevitably be passed on to Amazon and thus ultimately on to the consumer. That’s bad enough, given the very limited choices I had to obtain this item, but the environmental costs of the waste inherent in this approach to distribution are also passed on to me and everyone else in ways we cannot detect but are necessarily quite real.

Amazon, as the big boy in this scenario, is responsible for the waste committed by its supplier community in fulfilling orders obtained by Amazon. There is a perverse incentive of some kind working here because it would be in the economic interest of the suppliers to save money on packaging. Amazon needs to decisively compel its suppliers to use the most efficient methods of packaging available. In the case of the button batteries, a small padded envelope would have sufficed.

If There Were No TSA …

Everyone seems to have a “security checkpoint story,” either something they experienced or an incident they observed. This has led to calls for the abolition of

the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), privitization of the airport security process and other “solutions” to preventing the use of an aircraft as a terrorist weapon, all of which approaches are intended to reduce the inconvenience and, occasionally, humiliation that occurs, especially when one is running late for a flight.

The problem may be getting worse. TSA announced a few weeks ago that it had finished rolling out enhanced screening of carry-on bags at airports across the country. https://bit.ly/2H3HMvR. The new process, according to TSA, requires travelers to:

place all personal electronics larger than a cell phone in bins for X-ray screening in standard lanes. In addition … TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate other items from carry-on bags such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine. Travelers are encouraged to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered to ease the screening process and keep the lines moving.

Somewhat curiously, I haven’t heard much about the new system causing problems, despite its having been started last summer. Perhaps, contrary to the teachings of experience, air travelers are indeed “organiz[ing] their carry-on bags and keep[ing] them uncluttered to ease the screening process and keep the lines moving,” as TSA has asked.

The TSA Administrator said that “these enhanced screening measures enable TSA officers to better screen for threats to passengers and aircrew while maintaining efficiency at checkpoints throughout the U.S….Our security efforts remain focused on always staying ahead of those trying to do us harm and ensuring travelers get to their destination safely.”

Well, they better had, because, as a result of the bizarre gun culture that pervades  American society, the greatest danger appears to come, not from terrorists, but from ordinary air travelers packing heat, ready to defend themselves and others from any threat, real or imagined. I say this because it is reliably reported that in just the first week of April, TSA discovered 64 firearms in carry-on bags at airports around the United States. Of those weapons, 52, or 81 percent, were loaded and 13, or 20 percent, had a round in the firing chamber.

This, despite the fact that TSA may assess civil penalties of up to $13,066 per violation per person for carrying prohibited items on an aircraft. https://americansecuritytoday.com/tsa-finds-63-firearms-carry-bags-last-week-learn-videos/ This, despite the fact that incidents of “out of control” passengers seem to be on the increase.

Were it not for the vigilant screening efforts carried out by TSA, and assuming the first week of April was typical, there is a chance that someone on your flight will be armed with a pistol with live rounds in the chamber, ready to shoot at … what? A provocation by another passenger? A rude flight attendant? At altitude, in a pressurized cabin.

Think this is  overstatement? In fact, the year 2017 set a record for weapons discoveries; according to TSA records:

  • 5 million (771,556,886) passengers traveled through 440 federalized airports in 2017, a rate of more than 2 million a day;
  • A record setting 3,957, firearms were discovered in carry-on bags, an average rate of 76.1 firearms per week, or . 10.8 firearms per day;
  • 3,324 (84 percent) of the total firearms discovered were loaded; and 1,378 (34.8 percent) of the total had a round chambered;
  • The most firearms discovered in one-month – 31 – were in August at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), but in total, firearms were intercepted at 239 airports.
  • The 2017 total represents a 16.7 percent increase in firearm discoveries over2016’s totalof 3,391.

https://www.tsa.gov/blog/2018/01/29/tsa-year-review-record-amount-firearms-discovered-2017

There’s more. The 2017 cache of intercepted weapons went well beyond mere pistols. A sample of other items includes:

  • A checked bag with an ammunition box with three live ground burst simulators, two live M83 smoke grenades, and one inert practice grenade — Palm Springs International Airport (PSP).
  • A live flashbang grenade in a carry-on bag — San Diego International Airport (SAN).
  • A live smoke grenade — Raleigh–Durham International Airport (RDU).
  • A one-pound bottle of gun powder in a checked bag at the Ketchikan International Airport (KTN).
  • Five one-pound bottles of gun powder in a checked bag — Boise Airport (BOI).
  • A ten-ounce container of gun powder in a checked bag — Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC).

This, my fellow Americans, is one small part of the regime we have allowed to develop in our country. So, next time you are tempted to complain about the security process at the airport, try to remember what you have read here. I don’t like going through security any more than anyone else, but without it, we’d all probably be killed by some “patriot” with a Glock 9mm in his briefcase.