MONEY freebies

How to Get Free Pancakes Tuesday, Courtesy of IHOP

Maple syrup runs down the side of a short stack of three pancakes at the International House of Pancakes.
Torin Halsey—AP These handsome fellows can be all yours on March 3 for the extremely reasonable price of free.

National Pancake Day, yet another made-up food holiday, is Tuesday, March 3. That means IHOP customers get a free short stack of pancakes.

Tuesday marks the tenth anniversary of National Pancake Day, an annual event in which IHOP customers get free pancakes and millions of dollars are raised for charity. This magic combo easily makes Pancake Day one of our favorite fake holidays of the year.

Getting free pancakes is simple enough. All you have to do is head to a participating IHOP—the vast majority play along—and ask for a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes. Easy as that.

In exchange for your free breakfast, IHOP will ask you to consider giving a donation to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals or another designated local charity. For the 2015 edition of its National Pancake Day giveaway, IHOP hopes to raise $3.5 million for charity. The flapjack franchise has raised nearly $16 million in Pancake Day-related charitable donations since 2006, when the marketing stunt began.

MONEY Odd Spending

‘Spocking': The Weird Way to Ruin Money and Pay Tribute to Leonard Nimoy

To honor Leonard Nimoy and the iconic character he played on Star Trek, all you need is a $5 Canadian banknote and a black marker.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier was a prime minister in Canada from 1896 to 1911, and his face is featured on the Canadian $5 bill. Apparently, some feel his face also resembles Leonard Nimoy, the instantly recognizable actor who served as Star Trek‘s Spock, and who died last week.

Starting a few years back, someone thought it would be funny to take older versions of Canada’s $5 banknotes and artfully add some black ink to the profile of Laurier—darkening and extending the eyebrow, sharpening up the tip of the ear, scratching in a dark bowl-shaped helmet full of hair—so that the resulting image looked like Spock. (Another version of this game turned Laurier’s mug into Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series.)

Now that Nimoy has passed away, fans of the actor and the highly logical Vulcan he played on TV and the movies are being encouraged to “Spock” their Canadian $5 bills in tribute. The “Spock Your Fives” Facebook page—yes, there is such as thing, founded in 2008—has heralded the “revival” of Spocking Fives. As you’d guess, word of this curious activity has spread on social media, like so:

The parody Twitter account @PMLaurier—yes, there is such a thing—recently wished “Adieu to the great Leonard Nimoy” in a Tweet that showed one of the manipulated bills, noting that he was “Honoured so many Canadians thought we looked alike and would ‘Spock’ their $5 bills.”

As for where and how, exactly, the idea of “Spocking” currency first began, the “Spock Your Fives” Facebook page only has this to say: “The origins of this mysterious tradition are shrouded in secrecy, although it is widely believed to be totally awesome.”

MONEY Customer Service

The Insulting Names That Businesses Call You Behind Your Back

150225_EM_WhatBusinessesCallYou
Lasse Kristensen—Shutterstock

Ever wonder how casinos, car dealerships, restaurants, pay TV providers, and online marketers refer to customers in private? The answers aren't pretty.

You may think you are a living, breathing, thinking, three-dimensional human being. To online marketers, however, you might just be classified as “waste.” That’s one of the revelations in a new report from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Many online marketers use algorithmic tools which automatically cluster people into groups with names like ‘target’ and ‘waste,'” the researchers explain. Those viewed as “targets” based on their personal data and online history are deemed worthy of retailer discounts and deals. On the other hand, because the majority of bankruptcies come as a result of medical expenses, “it is possible anyone visiting medical websites may be grouped into the ‘waste’ category and denied favorable offers.”

It’s insulting enough that your worthiness as a person and potential customer is being judged by some computer algorithm. And yet the words chosen for these groups we’re lumped into make this sifting process more impersonal and insulting still.

The study got us thinking about all the other disdainful, mocking, or otherwise insulting ways that companies have been known to refer to the paying customers and clients that, you know, keep these businesses in business. Even as you essentially pay the bills for these operations, you might be thought of as little more than …

Muppets
In 2012, the very public resignation of Greg Smith from Goldman Sachs revealed that the firm’s executives sometimes referred to clients as “muppets.” Apparently, in the U.K. the slang term is applied to someone who is ignorant or clueless and easily manipulated. In certain circles, an investor might also be dubbed an ostrich, pig, or sheep depending on if he, respectively, buries his head in the sand no matter what’s happening in the market, is overly greedy, or has no strategy and does whatever someone else tells him.

Bunnies, Grapes, Squirrels
Behind the scene at car dealerships, customers who are bad negotiators and easy for salespeople to push around and talk into deals are sometimes known as “bunnies” or “grapes,” presumably because they’re just waiting to be pounced on or squeezed, respectively. A “squirrel,” on the other hand, is a hated species of customer who hops from salesperson to salesperson with no sense of loyalty or thought to who should get the commission.

Dogs, Fish, Bait, Whales
These are all terms used in the world of gambling and casinos, and they generally refer to players who are losing or are likely to lose—to the house, but also to the shark sitting across the table. A “whale,” of course, is a high roller who bets big, and who therefore will probably lose big money at one time or another. For that matter, in the restaurant industry, “whales” are super-wealthy customers with so much money they don’t blink when running up bills into the tens of thousands at overpriced eateries where, for example, a Bud Light costs $11.

Campers, Rednecks
Also in the sphere of restaurants, these are two kinds of customers that seriously annoy the employees and owners. A group of “campers” camps out at their table for hours, eliminating the opportunity for a new party to run up a tab, while a “redneck” is another term for a cheapstake or stiff who doesn’t tip—perhaps because they’re not city folk and aren’t familiar with tipping etiquette.

The N Word
Some waitstaff not only refer to their customers using racial epithets, but they’re also dumb enough to put these derogatory terms in print on diners’ receipts. Examples have popped up in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia, among other places. And yes, the incidents have resulted in lawsuits and people getting fired. On the flip side, some horrible restaurant customers have been known to leave insults (including the N word) instead of tips for their waiters.

Fat
Among the other popular, not particularly creative insults left on receipts is some variation of “fat”—“Fat Girls” and “Pink Fat Lady,” to name a couple specific examples.

The C Word
Yes, some angry Time Warner Cable customer service agent apparently went there, recently renaming a customer as “C*** Martinez” in a letter after she reported a problem with her service.

Assorted Expletives and Insults
The C word episode followed on the heels of multiple reports of agents at Comcast—Time Warner Cable’s equally hated pay TV competitor and would-be partner if the much-discussed merger ever takes place—renaming subscribers things like “A**hole,” “Whore,” “Dummy,” “Super B*tch,” and such. (Only whoever did the renaming at Comcast always used letters instead of asterisks.) There’s a good argument to be made that the absurd pricing and policies installed by pay TV providers are at the heart of why “customer service” agents so often hate subscribers, and why the feeling is mutual.

A Sad Person, a Hateful Mess
You’d think that New York Knicks owner James Dolan—a no-brainer to appear on a wide variety of Worst or Most Hated Owners in Sports in Sports roundups—would have developed a thick skin after years of criticism for astounding ineptness and mismanagement at the helm of one of sport’s most valuable franchises. But Dolan’s response to the recent criticism of one New Yorker who has been a fan of the team since 1952 shows otherwise.

“I am utterly embarrassed by your dealings with the Knicks,” the fan, Irving Bierman, wrote to Dolan, pleading with him to sell the team so that “fans can at least look forward to growing them in a positive direction.” Instead of taking the criticism constructively and thanking Bierman for watching the Knicks for 60+ years, Dolan responded via email by calling him “a sad person,” “a hateful mess,” “alcoholic maybe,” and likely “a negative force in everyone who comes in contact with you.” Dolan finished up the screed by telling Bierman to “start rooting for the Nets because the Knicks dont [sic] want you.”

While certainly extreme, Dolan’s message speaks to the disdain with which some sports owners and certain league executives seem to regard fans—who are supposed to root loyally and pay up for the product as a matter of blind faith, and never to question or criticize. For Dolan’s sake, let’s hope he never listens to sports talk radio. He probably wouldn’t like the ways that people refer to him.

MONEY Shopping

5 Ways Department Stores Are Fighting For Your Business

Sears store in the mall
Keith Beaty

Macy's, Target, J.C. Penney, and other stores are getting creative in their quest to boost sales, or at least stay alive and relevant, in an increasingly crowded and complicated marketplace.

The all-purpose American department store is “dying.” We’ve heard this for years, to the point that the retail category is not unlike the old man in the classic Monty Python scene who is loaded up on a cart of corpses despite his protest, “I’m not dead!”

Yet while we’ve witnessed the collapse of Radio Shack and various teen fashion retailers, as well as the larger struggles of malls as a whole, the old-fashioned department store is, well, not dead yet. In fact, this week, a round of earnings reports revealed generally good sales performances in the fourth quarter—and during the all-important holiday period in particular—from Dillard’s, Target, and Kohl’s, among others. Sears sales were down for the 11th quarter in a row, but even its report was viewed as decent because the company lost significantly less than it did in the same period a year prior. J.C. Penney surprisingly posted a loss for the quarter as well, though comparable store sales were actually up 4.4%.

Even with the mostly positive earnings reports, Target’s failed expansion in Canada, as well as the trend to shutter more and more Target, Sears, Macy’s, and J.C. Penney stores in the U.S., demonstrates that while department stores are alive, they’re hardly kicking butt.

To avoid being written off for dead alongside Radio Shack, here are a handful of strategies you’re going to see more of from department stores:

Trying out new store models. This week Macy’s announced intentions to create a new off-price retail brand that would compete with discounters like TJ Maxx and highly successful “fast fashion” chains such as H&M and Forever 21. Meanwhile, Kmart is testing out a smaller store format, and Target is expanding its “Express” small-store model to more markets. Walmart has been going small too, with more non-supercenter “market” locations. Overall, the strategies show that the large department stores and discounters acknowledge that the one-size-fits-all approach is flawed, especially when the size in question is a hulking big box store.

Pushing web sales hard. Target offered free, no-minimum-purchase shipping for all online purchases throughout the 2014 winter holiday period. The move helped long-struggling “Tarjhay” increase digital sales by 30% for the year as a whole. Now it looks like Target is doubling down on its e-retail offensive, with this week’s decision to cut the minimum-purchase threshold for free standard shipping from $50 to $25—a change that undercuts Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart, among others.

For its part, the world’s largest retailer is well aware that more shoppers are “omniconsumers” who make purchases via all channels, and it’s trying to win their sales at every turn. “No doubt business is going increasingly mobile and increasingly online,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told the Associated Press recently. “We don’t really care how the customers want to shop. We want to be in the position to serve them in any of those ways.”

Going old school with marketing. While virtually all retailers are seeking to juice web sales to compete with the likes of Amazon, J.C. Penney is trying to achieve this goal in an old-fashioned, seemingly unorthodox way. Starting in March, the department store that’s undergone several (mostly unsuccessful) makeovers in recent years will start mailing its oversized catalog to customers yet again. And one reason why they’re using this tool is that consumers are more likely to order merchandise online with a catalog in front of them.

Going invasively new school with sales pitches. Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, and Lord & Taylor are among the major retail chains that have taken the potentially creepy step of deploying wireless beacons that detect shoppers’ precise locations inside stores and send them info via smartphone about discounts, promotions, and special events.

Discounting in ways old and new. Discount-heavy Kohl’s, where you can “save” $2,136 on a $242 shopping excursion, and where no one in their right mind pays full price for anything, had an especially strong holiday quarter with 3.7% growth in sales, beating expectations of 2% to 3%. One thing this tells us is that the age-old sales tactic of “price anchoring,” in which “regular,” “original,” “suggested,” and “compare to” list prices are inflated so that the inevitable discounts seem all the more impressive, remains a surefire way to sucker shoppers into buying.

On the new frontier of discounting, Target is testing out a strategy from the playbooks of supermarkets and drugstore chains, quietly launched a rewards program mobile app in beta. Members get 10 points for every $1 they spend at Target, and 5,000 points can be traded in for 5% off your next total purchase at the store. For now, the program, called REDperks, is available on an invitation-only basis, and only in select markets.

MONEY TV

Nickelodeon Thinks You’ll Pay $6 a Month for a Netflix for Preschoolers

Blue's Clues
Nick Jr. Blue's Clues

If you think your toddler needs more screen time—and if you somehow don't already have more than enough child-friendly streaming options—Nickelodeon has the product for you.

This week, Nickelodeon announced that it is launching a new app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, available at Apple’s App Store starting March 5. The app will be a subscription video service called Noggin—the same name of the cable TV channel that was a predecessor of Nick Jr.—and it will offer as much ad-free viewing of “Blue’s Clues,” “Little Bear,” and other preschooler fare as your little one’s eyeballs can handle, at a price of $5.99 per month.

As Variety noted, “Nickelodeon continues to grapple with ratings declines at its traditional TV network, owing to viewers seeking video content on new kinds of screens.” In a recent week, Nickelodeon’s ratings among kids were down 35% compared to the same period a year ago. So you can’t blame the Viacom-owned network for trying to do something to boost its audience and revenues.

But who is going to pay $5.99 a month this service? Starting at just $2 more monthly, you can be a subscriber to Netflix, which has plenty of content for children of all ages—it’s even been adding reboots of kids’ shows like “Care Bears,” “Magic School Bus,” and “Inspector Gadget”—as well as movies and shows for adults. The vast majority of consumers who are intrigued with streaming already subscribe to one or more service, such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video (free for Prime members), or Hulu Plus, all of which have sections full of kids’ content. There’s also plenty of free kid-friendly streaming video out there (PBS Kids, for example). Finally, if you have a pay TV subscription that includes Nickelodeon, as most packages do, you can download the Nick Jr. app for free and watch unlimited, ad-free full episodes of “Dora the Explorer,” “Bubble Guppies,” and such.

It’s unclear, then, why all that many families would need to pay another $6 a month for yet more preschooler streaming content.

If there’s a parallel in the industry, it’s CBS All-Access, the subscription streaming option that also charges $5.99 per month—and that many observers assume will fail. At least the CBS product is targeting adults, most obviously folks who are big fans of the network’s shows, such as “The Good Wife” and various versions of “CSI” and “NCIS,” as well as older programs like “Brady Bunch” and “Star Trek.”

CBS All-Access has some hope of attracting grownup subscribers who are picky about what they watch and who like CBS’s programming. But how many preschoolers do you know are picky about what they watch? Most of the kids we know are more than happy to be allowed to watch something—anything—on the iPad while their parents enjoy their meal at the restaurant.

MONEY Hollywood

Fifty Shades of Grey Box Office Already Tops 7 Best Picture Nominees Combined

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
Chuck Zlotnick—Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection Fifty Shades of Grey

In light of the glaring disconnect between the movies celebrated at the Academy Awards, and the movies that people actually pay money to see, the critique that the Oscars are out of touch seems more valid than ever.

The one overarching criticism of the 2015 Oscars isn’t exactly a new one. People have been complaining for years that the Academy Awards—who gets nominated, and who eventually wins—are generally too snobby, too elitist, and just plain too out of touch with mainstream American culture and the movie-going masses. This year, the near absence of minority nominees was especially glaring, noted by host Neil Patrick Harris’s joke that the night’s purpose was to honor “Hollywood’s best and whitest—sorry, brightest.”

“Members of the Academy have simply grown too old to appreciate, understand or even notice pop culture,” noted one USA Today column, citing data indicating that Oscar voters are not only past their prime (median age: 62) but also are overwhelmingly male and white.

As one film expert explained to the New York Times, the 2015 show gives much credence to the critique that the Academy Awards are snobby, and perhaps are growing increasingly irrelevant:

“It’s sad, but most people have to finally accept that the Oscars have become, well, elitist and not in step with anything that is actually popular,” said Philip Hallman, a film studies librarian at the University of Michigan. “No one really believes anymore that the films they chose are the ones that are going to last over time.”

For one indication of how out of touch the Oscars are with what fans want to see in theaters, look no further than how the current most popular film, Fifty Shades of Grey, compares at the box office with the Academy Awards’ darlings. Best Picture winner Birdman has taken in a total of $37 million in domestic ticket sales, while Boyhood—universally regarded as the runner-up in the category—did about $25 million at the box office in 2014. Together, that’s $62 million, or about two-thirds of the $94 million in revenues that Fifty Shades of Grey made in just four days around President’s Day weekend.

Overall, in less than two weeks, Fifty Shades of Grey has surpassed the $400 million mark in global ticket sales. Remove American Sniper—the one Best Picture nominee with truly blockbuster sales, to the tune of $320 million and counting—and the box office take of Fifty Shades already handily trumps that of the remaining seven Best Picture nominees combined. (Collectively, they’ve earned roughly $300 million in ticket sales, per BoxOfficeMojo.com.)

Based on this disconnect of the movies the Academy wants to celebrate and the films that the public actually wants to see, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that TV ratings for the show were exceptionally lackluster. The number of viewers dropped 16% compared with the year before, making for the fourth worst performance in four decades. Twitter usage related to the awards was down as well, by about 6%. Insult to injury: The show’s most tweeted moment didn’t feature a movie star or a new film, but was Lady Gaga singing a medley from The Sound of Music.

In the aftermath of the 2015 Oscars, which opened with a musical number in which Jack Black—star of Kung Fu Panda, Kung Fu Panda 2, and (soon) Kung Fu Panda 3, mind you—bashes Hollywood for focusing on box office results and pushing sequels and superhero films, James Gunn, writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy, took to Facebook to defend comic book movies and, by extension, popular movies in general.

“The truth is, popular fare in any medium has always been snubbed by the self-appointed elite,” Gunn wrote on Monday:

“What bothers me slightly is that many people assume because you make big films that you put less love, care, and thought into them then people do who make independent films or who make what are considered more serious Hollywood films… If you, as an independent filmmaker or a ‘serious’ filmmaker, think you put more love into your characters than the Russo Brothers do Captain America, or Joss Whedon does the Hulk, or I do a talking raccoon, you are simply mistaken.”

Perhaps The Lego Movie—like Guardians, in the top five at the box office in 2014, but mostly snubbed at the Oscars—had the best response to the Academy’s elitism. The film was featured in what had to be the show’s Most “Awesome” Performance, with an wild and energetic version of “Everything Is Awesome” by Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island. And in the middle of the song, dancers handed out “Oscars” built with yellow Lego bricks to the audience.

The move could be viewed as just some clever product placement, much like the movie itself. But it also might have sent a little message, along the lines of: Members of some elitist “Academy” aren’t the only ones who get to give out awards. Heck, anyone can make their own awards and hand them out however they please.

Isn’t that essentially what we’re doing when we plunk down good money to buy tickets to a movie?

MONEY Odd Spending

Brilliant Guy in Massachusetts Is Selling Snow for ‘Only $89′

snowball wrapped in brown paper
Phil Ashley—Getty Images

Originally marked down from $99! The price includes overnight shipping anywhere in the U.S., and each package includes enough snow to make about a dozen snowballs.

New England—and Boston specifically—has way more snow than it knows what to do with. Boston has received roughly 100 inches of snow this winter. And it’s not even March yet. And guess what the forecast calls for on Tuesday? Yep, a few more inches of snow.

Boston has had so much snow that in early February the city started considering special approval by the EPA to dump it in the ocean because snow removal teams have been running out of places to put it.

It’s amid this scene that a Massachusetts man got the idea that he could do his part to get rid of some of the snow—and make some profits while he’s at it. The service, ShipSnowYo.com, started as something of a joke, but by mid-February it had reportedly sold around 100 16.9-oz. plastic bottles filled with snow, which were frozen in dry ice and shipped around the country, at a cost of $19.99.

By the time the bottles arrived at their destinations, they were most filled with pure New England water, not snow. But Waring insists that the recipients didn’t mind much. “They understand that we want to clean up Boston, so even if it does arrive as water, they get a kick out of it,” Waring explained to Boston Magazine.

Nonetheless, ShipSnowYo has since begun offering a new product that’s “Guaranteed Snow on Arrival!” This package includes 6 lbs. of snow collected courtesy of Winter Storm Neptune, which dumped 20+ inches in parts of Massachusetts. The “Limited Supply” snow comes in a thick Styrofoam container and is shipped overnight, at a cost of “$99 Now Only $89!”

Waring told Boston.com that the $89 package yields enough snow to make 10 to 15 snowballs. “It seems to be corporations paying for the $90 product as a funny gesture, where the $20 one is regular consumers,” he said of his customers.

What’s next for Waring? Look for a bigger, 10-lb. snow package to hit the market at a price of $119. Presumably, such a product would be more appropriate for larger snowball fights in Florida, Arizona, or wherever else they’re shipped. And the entrepreneur says that he might try a slightly different moneymaking idea next autumn. “Maybe I’ll ship some fall foliage,” he said.

MONEY freebies

Krispy Kreme Is Giving Away 1 Million Free Donuts on Tuesday

Krispy Kreme donut production line
Lightworks Media—Alamy Krispy Kreme donut production line

To celebrate the opening of its 1,000th shop on Tuesday, Krispy Kreme is giving away one glazed donut to the first 1,000 customers in each location.

Tuesday is not the deliciously wonderful fake holiday known as National Donut Day (which takes place in June). But it’s a pretty good runner up. If you’re one of the first 1,000 customers at a participating Krispy Kreme donut shop on Tuesday, you’ll be rewarded with one glazed donut, free of charge.

The promotion is being held to celebrate the opening of a new Krispy Kreme location in Kansas City, which will be the donut chain’s 1,000th location around the globe. The Kansas City location will open at 6 a.m., and there is sure to be quite a long line well before dawn. That’s because the first person in line will get one dozen donuts for free, once a week for a year. The next 99 people in line, meanwhile, receive a dozen free donuts once a month for 12 months. The first 150 folks in line get commemorative T-shirts as well.

Krispy Kreme isn’t limiting the celebration to Kansas City, however. The company has 1,000 locations in 24 countries around the world, and all participating stores are giving away 1,000 donuts to the first 1,000 customers. A thousand locations multiplied by 1,000 donuts equals a Dr. Evil-ish 1 million donuts.

The promotion is not valid in grocery stores, and as the Consumerist pointed out, some locations might decide not to participate because of “stingy or joyless managers who chose to not take part.” But surely most Krispy Kremes will play along, and collectively they’ll give out something close to a cool 1 million donuts. If you want to score your free donut, it’s probably best to hit your nearby Krispy Kreme early on Tuesday morning.

MONEY kids

Shocker! Tooth Fairy Surveys Can’t Be Trusted

girl holding up tooth
Getty Images

The big lie about the Tooth Fairy—one of the big lies anyway—is that the reports about how much a child gets under the pillow after losing a tooth are meaningful.

According to the just-released Original Tooth Fairy Poll from Delta Dental, losing baby teeth has gotten significantly more lucrative for American kids. The survey, based on input from more than 1,000 parents around the country, indicates that the average gift left by the Tooth Fairy for a lost tooth was $4.36 in 2014. That’s up from an average of $3.50 in 2013, representing an increase of about 25%.

Based on the data, kids who live in the South have more valuable teeth than their counterparts nationally: They average $5.16 per tooth left under the pillow, compared with $4.16 and $4.68 in the Northeast and West, respectively. Children in the stingy Midwest, on the other hand, receive only $2.83 per tooth on average.

The poll is being presented as a positive economic indicator, with the idea that the Tooth Fairy becomes more generous hand in hand with households getting raises and a surging stock market. “Kids are benefiting from the recovering U.S. economy,” the press release announcing the poll states.

It should be somewhat worrisome, then, that another Tooth Fairy payment study has it that the amount of cash kids get for losing teeth has been on the decline. The Visa Tooth Fairy Survey shows that American children received an average of $3.70 per tooth in 2013—not far off from the Delta Dental estimate of $3.50—but in 2014 that figure dropped 8%, to $3.40. That’s nearly a full $1 off the Delta Dental figure for 2014.

The results of both surveys are in agreement that the Midwest pays the least for lost teeth, but in the Visa poll, it’s the kids who live in the West, not the South, who are most spoiled with premium payments under the pillow. Children in the West average $3.60 per tooth, according to the Visa survey, followed by the South and Northeast (about $3.50), with the Midwest at the cheap end ($3.10).

Why are there such disparities between the two surveys? Among other reasons, outliers, in the form of households that pay big bucks for baby teeth. A few years back, for example, instances of tooth rewards hitting $20 and sometimes even $50 a pop began surfacing. “Only” 3.6% of Visa survey respondents said the Tooth Fairy Left $20 or more in 2014, a fall from 6% the year before. The most common gift, named by one-third of those polled, was just $1. So the outliers sure seem to sharply skew the average upward, far above the median or typical Tooth Fairy payment.

A large portion of respondents in both polls, meanwhile, said that the amount of cash one had on hand had a big influence in how much (or little) was left under the pillow. It also must be mentioned that a decent portion of those polled won’t remember exactly how much was left each time the Tooth Fairy visits, and/or that they’re fairly likely to recall the Tooth Fairy being more generous than she was in real life.

All of which indicates that Tooth Fairy payments—and surveys about Tooth Fairy payments—are pretty darn random. Shocking, we know.

MONEY online shopping

Target Undercuts Amazon and Walmart With Easier Free Shipping

Target sign
Mike Blake—Reuters

Target just cut its minimum purchase requirement to receive free shipping in half, from $50 to $25. That's $10 less than what you have to spend at Amazon or Best Buy for free shipping.

Target has a long history of being in the crosshairs of Amazon, what with the world’s largest e-retailer routinely undercutting Target’s prices, combined with a wide range of strategies to woo moms in particular away from “Tarjhay” with speedy one-click shopping. Perhaps Amazon’s most deadly weapon—causing trouble not only to Target, but nearly all brick-and-mortar retailers—is Amazon Prime, the subscription program that provides free two-day shipping, among other perks, in exchange for a $99 annual fee. Above all, what Prime membership does is dramatically increase one’s spending at Amazon.com because nearly all purchases made on the site will ship for free. And the purchases made at Amazon.com are purchases that are no longer taking place at Target, or via another retailer.

On Monday, Target went on the offensive by tweaking its own free shipping policy, with the hopes of stealing some business back from Amazon, among others. The new shipping policy, Target boldly claims, “Will Change Your Life,” presumably in ways not unlike how Amazon Prime is known to dramatically change one’s spending habits and errand schedule.

The new policy grants free standard shipping (3 to 5 business days) on all Target.com orders of $25 or more. Previously, the purchase threshold for free standard shipping was $50. The minimum purchase requirement for free shipping at Walmart.com, for instance, is set at $50, while Amazon and Best Buy offer free shipping on most orders if the total is $35 or more.

Clearly, the move gives Target a little leg up on the competition, and it could very well start a free shipping pricing war among retailers—a war that would obviously benefit shoppers. But how big of a deal is Target’s policy change really? And is there a prayer it could actually change your life?

The truth is that Target’s new policy won’t affect its best customers at all. That’s because the most loyal Target shoppers are highly likely to be in possession of the Target REDcard, a debit or credit card that providers the user with 5% off on all Target purchases, as well as free, no-minimum-purchase standard shipping on all online orders. What’s more, Amazon Prime subscribers who are happy with the service aren’t likely to be wooed away by Target.com—which has fewer items for sale than Amazon (who doesn’t?), and whose free shipping is slower than that of Prime.

The consumers being targeted by Target’s policy change, then, are those who aren’t regular Target shoppers and don’t subscribe to Prime, or those who do subscribe to Prime but have been thinking that maybe the annual membership fee isn’t worth it. Also, for Target’s offer to seem truly compelling, you must be someone who would regularly want to make online purchases of $25 but not over $35. Once you’ve hit the latter price point, after all, you can get free shipping from Amazon or Best Buy alongside Target, so Target’s free shipping is a wash.

All that said, there are probably some consumers who will view Target’s new policy as an appealing alternative to Prime and Amazon.com in general. Just as Target’s decision to offer a free non-minimum-purchase shipping promotion during the recent winter holidays gave its web business a boost, the retailer will certainly juice e-retail sales by cutting its free shipping purchase threshold in half. Some tiny portion of shoppers will probably “change their lives” by placing a few more small-money orders at Target.com now that shipping is free.

It seems unlikely, however, that the policy change will move the needle much in Target’s ongoing battle against Amazon, nor will it cure Target’s larger problems, including its failed expansion in Canada and the fading of its reputation among shoppers and the industry as retail’s cheap-chic darling.

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