MONEY online shopping

How to Beat Online Price Discrimination

different price stickers
Feng Yu—Alamy

A new study found that major e-commerce retailers show some users different prices or a different set of results.

Do you think you can find the lowest prices by shopping online? Think again.

A new study by researchers at Northeastern University confirmed the extent to which major e-commerce websites show some users different prices and a different set of results, even for identical searches.

For instance, the study found, users logged in to Cheaptickets and Orbitz saw lower hotel prices than shoppers who were not registered with the sites. Home Depot shoppers on mobile devices saw higher prices than users browsing on desktops. Some searchers on Expedia and Hotels.com consistently received higher-priced options, a result of randomized testing by the websites. Shoppers at Sears, Walmart, Priceline, and others received results in a different order than control groups, a tactic known as “steering.”

Overall, the study confirmed what we’ve known for a long time: Online prices are all over the map, even for the same products. Search results can be influenced by a whole bunch of factors, including your search history, what kind of device you’re using, and where you’re located. For example, two years ago Orbitz was found to be “steering” Mac users towards more expensive hotels. Staples charged different prices for staplers based on where the shopper lived.

A majority of Americans think this kind of price discrimination is illegal. Sorry, it’s not.

Rather, as the Northeastern researchers explain, it’s a bedrock economic principle: Merchants should always try to establish “perfect price discrimination,” whereby a customer is always charged the absolute most he is willing to pay for any given product. Some customers are “elastic,” meaning they have very high price ceilings; others are “inelastic,” and if the price of a product increases just a little bit, they won’t bite.

In brick-and-mortar days, retail assistants might have profiled well-dressed customers as price-elastic and subtly directed them toward more expensive merchandise. Coupon-clippers might have received different treatment. Now, thanks to the Internet, retailers can make much more accurate guesses about how much different customers might be willing to pay, by using cookies to track buying patterns across the web.

Of course, retailers say this isn’t discrimination so much as using the tools and technologies at their disposal. “Presenting different booking paths and options to different customers allows us to determine which features customers appreciate most,” Expedia spokesman Dave McNamee told the Wall Street Journal.

Fortunately, you can play this game too. Here’s how to make sure you see the cheapest prices when you shop online.

Delete your cookies. Retailers use cookies to track you and collect information about your preferences. If you want to see unaltered prices, delete cookies by clearing your browsing history.

Browse privately. The problem with deleting your cookies is that information they contain might also work in your favor—remember that users logged into Orbitz or Cheaptickets sometimes saw lower prices than shoppers who were not logged into the site. So look at products using a “private” window, which will not send the website any information about you. See if the price is higher or lower in that mode. (On Google Chrome, go to “File,” then “Open Incognito Window.”)

Wait. Be inelastic. Put an item in your shopping cart, but don’t buy it. Some online retailers will cut the price to close the deal.

Use tools to price-watch. Try CamelCamelCamel.com, which sends you an alert when the price drops on an Amazon product. When MONEY tried it, the price of a vacuum fluctuated between $212 and $268 over the course of a month.

To bargain-shop like a pro, read MONEY’s feature about how to snag the best deals online.

MONEY halloween

4 Reasons Your Halloween Candy Just Got More Expensive

Hershey's chocolate bars
Scott Olson—Getty Images

Some candy-market watchers say Ebola is partly to blame.

Hey, all you trick-or-treaters, don’t be surprised if your candy haul is a little bit lighter this year. The cost of Halloween just went up. The consumer price index for candy and gum rose 2.1% in September, the biggest increase in three years.

The price jump shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Hershey’s—maker of Reese’s Cups, Kit Kats, Kisses, and the eponymous bar—announced an 8% price hike back in July. Mars soon followed suit with a 7% hike on its products, which include M&Ms and Snickers bars. Both candy manufacturers blamed the increases on the rising cost of doing business.

“Over the last year key input costs have been volatile and remain at levels that are above historical averages,” Hershey’s President of North America Michele G. Buck said in a statement. “Commodity spot prices for ingredients such as cocoa, dairy, and nuts have increased meaningfully since the beginning of the year. Given these trends, we expect significant commodity cost increases in 2015.”

Still, until recently the candy index stayed low. Here are 4 developments that may account for the change.

1. Ebola fears caused a temporary spike in cocoa prices. The world’s No. 1 producer of cocoa, Ivory Coast, is surrounded by Ebola-stricken countries. So is the world’s No. 2 producer, Ghana.

Jack Scoville, a vice president of the Price Futures Group, said some market watchers were afraid that if Ebola spread to either country and sickened the laborers who prepare the cocoa harvest, that could spell trouble for the chocolate industry.

“There was a very legitimate fear that the harvest and the merchandising could be disrupted. That spiked prices from $3,050 [per ton] to almost $3,400 in a matter of 10 days,” Scoville said.

Thankfully for everyone involved, neither Ivory Coast nor Ghana has experienced any outbreaks. And the price of cocoa has dropped back down, to around $3,100.

That said, even if Ebola fears don’t change the price of your Halloween candy, Valentine’s Day is another matter. “It takes some time to get the cocoa beans into an exportable position, to process the beans into cocoa and process the cocoa into candy bars,” Scoville explained. “If [Ebola] does become an issue—which is becoming an increasingly big ‘if’—it would be more of an issue around Valentine’s Day or Easter.”

2. A trade spat with Mexico has driven up sugar prices. While the rising cost of cocoa is probably the main reason candy prices are up, sugar has gotten pricier too.

U.S. sugar producers have accused Mexican sugar producers of “dumping” in the United States, selling sugar at subsidized prices that unfairly undercut domestic manufacturers. As a result of the dispute, wholesale sugar prices have risen 40% since March, according to Tom Earley, economist and trade policy specialist at Agralytica.

The trade dispute has yet to be resolved.

3. There’s a lag time before candy gets more expensive. While the retail price of candy remained relatively steady until recently, the cost of raw cocoa has been rising for the past several years:

Source: International Cocoa Organization

Still, it’s not surprising that it took a while for you to see the price hike at your grocery store, said Annemarie Kuhns, agricultural economist at the USDA Economic Research Service.

“With the foods that require more processing, there’s a longer time between the change in the price at the commodity level and a change in the price at the retail level,” Kuhns said. “They have more leeway to change their profit margins, and they’re not as quick to change their prices.”

4. Newly prosperous Asian consumers want more chocolate. If you want to know why the commodity price of cocoa is rising, look to Asia. Consumers there are hungry for Hershey’s. Over the past several months, manufacturers have built additional processing facilities in Indonesia to meet the rising demand in China and Southeast Asia. That demand is driving up the cost of chocolate for everyone.

“Over the past year or two, as incomes have risen, [Asian consumers have] discovered chocolate tastes good, and they want more,” Scoville said.

Well, American trick-or-treaters can understand that much.

MONEY Gas

Surprise: Gas Costs Less Than it Did a Decade Ago

The price of regular gasoline dropped to $2.659 per gallon at the Hi Tech Fuels station on Brainerd Road and other stations in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014.
The price of regular gasoline dropped to $2.659 per gallon in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. John Rawlston—AP

But you may still feel like you're paying more. Here's why.

Gas prices have been plunging lately. For consumers, that’s great! It’s more money in your pocket.

Gas now averages $3.07 a gallon nationwide, down from $3.60 in June and $3.30 a year ago. That’s billions of dollars of savings for U.S. households.

But gasoline is one of the few products whose prices we vividly remember. Behavioral economist Daniel Ariely once explained:

For the several minutes that I stand at the pump, all I do is stare at the growing total on the meter — there is nothing else to do. I have time to remember how much it cost a year ago, two years ago, and even six years ago.

Gas may be cheaper today than it was a year or two ago, but I’ve heard several people recently say, “Sure, but I remember when it was $1.50 a gallon!” That nostalgia makes us think we’re still paying a fortune at the pump.

But several other things have changed lately that affect the real price of gasoline:

  • The average car has a much better fuel economy today than it used to.
  • The average American is driving less than they used to.
  • Average nominal wages are higher today than they used to be.

You have to adjust for all three improvements to show the true price of gas, and the real impact it has on our wallets.

When you do, the real price of gas is lower today than it was a decade ago, and about the same as it was in the early 1990s:

Source: Department of Transportation, Energy Information Agency, Bureau of Labor Statistics. The formula used to calculate this graph is: (average gas prices/average hourly wages of nonsupervisory workers) * (annual miles driven per capita/average MPG of passenger cars).

One of the most important forces in economics is that people adapt. And that’s what you’re seeing here.

Gas prices surged in the early 2000s, so auto companies started building more fuel-efficient cars, which consumers demanded (as did new regulations).

Fuel-efficient cars used to be dinky little toys that you’d be embarrassed to drive. That’s changing. GM GENERAL MOTORS CO. GM -1.2137% CEO Mary Barra commented last month: “The customer has that expectation. It’s not an ‘or’, it’s an ‘and.’ They’re expecting to have winning vehicles, but also to have the fuel efficiency. It becomes a business priority.”

Consider: A 1999 Chevy Suburban got 18 miles per gallon and had 290 horsepower. A 2015 Suburban gets 23 miles per gallon with 355 horsepower.

High gas prices also likely played a role in pushing families from the suburbs into the cities, where commutes are shorter. As Reuters reports: “In 2010, a total of 80.7 percent of Americans lived in urban areas, up from 79 percent in 2000. Conversely, 19.3 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas in 2010, down from 21 percent in 2000.”

I’m not a fan of forecasts, because they’re pretty much all wrong. But here goes: Over the next 20 years we’ll see moderately higher gas prices combined with much better fuel economy. Taken together, this chart — with all its adjustments — won’t look too much different two decades from now than it does today.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change,” Stephen Hawking said. And we are.

For more on this topic:

Morgan Housel has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors, and has a disclosure policy.

MONEY identity theft

4 Reasons Why You Should Shop at Stores That Got Hacked

141020_EM_CCBreachStores
Mike Blake—Reuters

Almost half of all consumers surveyed are afraid to shop at retailers like Target. They shouldn't be.

This post was updated with news about Target’s new free shipping offer.

Retailers are gearing up for the holiday shopping season, but one thing has some consumers spooked: According to a new survey by CreditCards.com, 45% of respondents say they are less likely to shop at stores that have suffered a data breach, such as Target, Home Depot, or Michaels. Almost 30% say they will “probably” avoid stores that have been hacked, and 16% claim they “definitely” will.

While it’s hard to believe that half of all shoppers will actually skip the sales at major retailers come holiday season, Target did suffer a 5.5% decline in transactions last year after its data breach.

But shoppers, you’re being silly. You don’t need to avoid stores that have been hacked. Here’s why.

1) If someone steals your credit or debit card number, you have very limited liability.

You’ve got at least one reason to thank Congress: The Fair Credit Billing Act and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act cap how much money you’ll lose if someone steals your credit or debit card. If someone steals your card number but not your actual card — which could happen during a data breach — you are not liable for any fraudulent transactions. Read: You won’t lose any money. Just be sure to report any fraudulent debit card charges within 60 days of receiving your statement.

The rules are a little different if someone steals your physical card. With credit cards, you still won’t need to pay anything if you report the loss before a thief uses the card. Otherwise, your liability is capped at $50. With debit cards, you’ll only pay up to $50 if you report the theft within two days, or up to $500 if you report the theft within 60 days of receiving your statement.

There’s another reason to prefer credit over debit. When someone makes fraudulent charges on your credit card, you can challenge the bill when you receive it. But when someone else uses your debit card, that money comes straight out of your account, so it could take a little bit longer to recover your funds.

And if you’re really afraid, just stash the plastic. CreditCards.com reports that 48% of shoppers say data breaches have made them more likely to spend cash.

2) Avoiding these stores won’t protect you from the scariest kinds of identity theft.

When someone steals your credit card number and spends your money, that’s considered “existing account fraud.” Banks and credit card companies have gotten pretty good at identifying abnormal spending patterns, so you’re likely to catch existing account fraud early, and your liability is limited.

But if someone steals your Social Security number, opens a new credit card in your name, provides a new billing address, and runs up big charges, it might take you a while to notice. That’s called “new account fraud,” and it’s a real headache.

To catch new account fraud, check your credit report three times a year. It’s not hard to do, and it’s free. Your report will show all your accounts and debts, as well as your payment history. Check to make sure all of the information is accurate and all of the accounts actually belong to you. (Go. Do it now. Did you catch a problem? Here’s what to do.) If you’re afraid that your social security number has already been stolen, you can put a free fraud alert on your credit file to let lenders know or freeze your credit so that no one else can open new accounts in your name.

But you don’t give out your Social Security number every time you swipe your credit card, don’t worry about going shopping.

3) Safer cards are on the way.

Are you sick of all these data breaches? So are businesses — after all, they’re the ones on the hook for fraud, not you. That’s why Visa and Mastercard are sending out new “chip-and-pin” cards. These cards have embedded microchips, which are more secure than magnetic stripes. If you’ve ever traveled abroad, you might remember what chip-and-pin technology looks like; Europeans have been using this system since the 1990s. While not foolproof, these cards are a great improvement. President Obama signed an executive order last week requiring that all government credit cards use chip-and-pin technology.

Practically speaking, chip-and-pin cards won’t do much more to help consumers at point-of-sale — remember, you have limited liability. But starting Oct. 1, 2015, the liability will shift to whichever business has the oldest technology. If credit card companies don’t update their cards, they will be liable for any fraud; if retailers don’t offer chip-and-pin terminals, they’ll be on the hook. So everyone has an incentive to make payment systems more secure, which is ultimately in consumers’ best interest.

4) Retailers that got hacked are working harder to win back your trust.

Guess which retailer is installing chip-and-pin technology in all of its stores and on all of its branded cards — Target!

Guess which retailer offered free credit monitoring to all its customers — Target!

Guess which retailer just started offering free shipping — Target!

Given that there have been 606 data breaches already this year, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, you can probably expect more to come. But the retailers that have already been hacked are beefing up security and offering free identity theft protection services to consumers, so you’re probably safer there than everywhere else.

If that doesn’t put your mind at ease, here are some more steps you can take:

 

MONEY Fast Food

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Fast Food Drive-Thru

Smile on drive-thru sign
Jerome Wilson—Alamy

Among other curiosities, we've found out where and when drive-thru service is quickest, why Starbucks will have more and more drive-thrus, and why Chipotle may never have a single one.

Here are some fascinating factoids that’ll make for great conversation the next time you’re waiting on line at the drive-thru—and that perhaps will even influence what you order.

The drive-thru is getting slower. OK, so maybe this is one part of the drive-thru experience that doesn’t come as a total surprise. But the latest version of an annual study from QSR Magazine (QSR = quick serve restaurant) confirms that wait times at the drive-thru are on the rise. Last year’s study indicated that the average drive-thru wait time hit 181 seconds, up from 173 seconds the year before. According to the new study—an expanded version that incorporated 23 quick-serve restaurant brands, up from just seven in 2013—the average wait time reached a record high of 203 seconds. (Perhaps that’s why people were so excited about McDonald’s one-minute drive-thru guarantee.)

Midafternoon is when drive-thrus are fastest and friendliest. The wait at the drive-thru for breakfast tends to be mercifully brief, with the average clocking in at 175 seconds. This is understandable considering that breakfast orders tend to be small and simple, typically one person ordering coffee and a breakfast sandwich on the way to work. Not only do menus expand during lunch and dinner hours, but orders are more likely being placed for two or more people, and the customizable options multiply (for instance, the choice of sauce with a customer’s nuggets or dressing with a salad). As a result, orders are more complicated and time-consuming to get ready, explaining why drive-thru lunch orders average 214 seconds, while dinner takes up the most time of all, 226 seconds. Overall, the optimal time of day to hit the drive-thru is the mid-afternoon “snack” period, when wait times average 173 seconds—and when, per the QSR survey, 33% of customers rate the service as “very friendly,” the highest percentage of any order time.

The first drive-thru opened in 1947 (and it wasn’t a McDonald’s). By the World War II era, carhop service for drive-up restaurants serving burgers and other fast-ish food was common. But it wasn’t until 1947 that the first drive-thru opened, reportedly at Red’s Giant Hamburg on Route 66 in Springfield, Missouri. Red’s closed in 1984, so the award for the longest-running burger drive-thru goes to the original In-N Out Burger. It opened in 1948 in the Los Angeles area, and yes, it was based on the unique concept of a drive-thru hamburger stand using a (then) state-of-the-art two-way speaker box.

The first drive-thru-focused chain opened in 1951 (and it wasn’t McDonald’s). It was Jack in the Box, another California-born concept created to take advantage of the burgeoning car culture. The original Jack in the Box was in San Diego and was drive-thru-only, offering motorists hamburgers to go for 18¢ apiece. While most Jack in the Boxes now also have indoor dining areas, roughly 85% of the orders at its 2,250 locations are either drive-thru or to-go. Jack in the Box is also credited with creating a rather self-serving fake marketing holiday, National Drive-Thru Day, which is celebrated every July 24.

McDonald’s didn’t have a drive-thru until 1975. The fast food brand most closely associated with the drive-thru—and fast food in general, for that matter—had no drive-thru until 1975, when the company’s first was launched in Sierra Vista, Ariz. By that time, McDonald’s already had 3,000 restaurants worldwide and was opening locations in Nicaragua, the Bahamas, and Hong Kong.

Drive-thru design heavily influences what we order. Those appetizing photos of combo meals are prominently featured on drive-thru menu boards for a reason: They are there to upsell customers and make the ordering process simpler—and quicker—according to restaurant experts. Photos distill the components of an order faster than even the briefest of descriptions, and pictures of combo orders are generally placed dead center on well-lit drive-thru menus because that’s usually where the customer’s eye goes first. Restaurants even find some benefit in making drive-thru customers wait a bit in line, with the so-called “car stack” of three or four vehicles allowing each party ample time to take in what’s on the menu and be better prepared for placing orders quickly. The next drive-thru innovation could very well be touchscreen ordering, which allows customers to personalize orders without occupying the time of a restaurant employee; as a bonus to eateries, consumers tend to place higher-priced orders when using touchscreens.

Wendy’s has quickest service, Chick-fil-A is most accurate. While the data changes a bit from year to year, the 2012 drive-thru study indicated that the average wait time for a Wendy’s order was just 130 seconds, the quickest in the field and more than one minute faster than Burger King. Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A was tops in terms of accuracy, getting 92% of orders correct. Overall order accuracy among all drive-thrus in the 2014 study was measured at 87%; Burger King accuracy was only 82%.

Drive-thrus are increasingly important to Starbucks. Starbucks is known mostly as a spot for enjoying the unrushed (read: slow) café experience, but nowadays 40% of Starbucks locations have drive-thrus for speedy on-the-go “refueling” transactions. What’s more, Starbucks CFO Troy Alstead has said that going forward, 60% of new Starbucks opened will have drive-thrus. Having largely exhausted the potential to expand further into downtown locations where drive-thrus would be problematic or impossible, Starbucks is placing an emphasis on “off-highway kinds of locations” and “some of the remote areas around the country,” Alstead said, to reach out to new customers. It certainly doesn’t hurt that drive-thrus allow Starbucks coffee shops to speed up service, thereby serving more people and hiking per-store profits. “We have fantastic economics through our drive-thrus,” said Alstead. “We’re providing a great experience to our customers who are on the go, they’re moving fast, they want that ability to stay in their car and experience Starbucks at the same time.”

Panera studied drive-thrus for 10 years before opening one. The fast-casual restaurant category, which has become a phenomenal success due to its mix of speedy service, customizable orders, and fresher and higher-quality fare, has been fairly reluctant to pull up to the drive-thru, so to speak. Why? One reason is the fear that the drive-thru cheapens the experience figuratively and literally, the latter because orders taken away in the car are prone to getting soggy or are otherwise less appealing than food fresh eaten on the spot. Panera Bread, one of the earliest players in the fast-casual space, reportedly studied drive-thru options for a decade before finally introducing one in 2005. That was only after the company settled on a design that would hide drive-thru operations from the regular counter-serve customers (they didn’t want to disturb or distract anyone), and after developing special packaging that ensure “food integrity” in drive-thru orders.

Chipotle is a drive-thru holdout, and may never give in. Experts in the field have said that a drive-thru would destroy the Chipotle experience, in which customers look at employees face-to-face, eyeball all the ingredients in front of them, and customize exactly what they want in their burrito or bowl. The question of if or when it will add a drive-thru comes up again and again, but thus far Chipotle hasn’t gone there. And based on how successful Chipotle has been without offering drive-thru service, it hardly seems to need it.

MONEY Shopping

You’ll Never Guess What Store Sells the Most Vinyl Records

Urban Outfitters Store in Herald Square, NYC, 2014.
Urban Outfitters Store in Herald Square, NYC, 2014. Patti McConville—Alamy

It's the same store known for selling supposedly hip, intentionally offensive clothing—and then apologizing in mock surprise when people are offended.

It’s Urban Outfitters, the clothing chain that recently received grief and load of media attention by marketing a seemingly blood-stained—or was it just vintage and discolored?—Kent State sweatshirt, (The store has also in the past has sold controversial, ill-conceived designs such as a T-shirts with slogans like “Depression” and “Eat Less” and bottles that look like they hold prescription drugs.) Urban Outfitter stores have been selling vinyl records for years, in a campaign that’s been so successful it’s drawn imitators trying to attract hipster music lover customers. You can get vinyl with your kale at some Whole Foods stores.

Now Urban Outfitters is claiming to be the biggest seller of vinyl records in the world. “Music is very, very important to the Urban customer,” CEO Calvin Hollinger said in a meeting with analysts this week (HT: Buzzfeed). “In fact, we are the world’s number one vinyl seller.”

At first glance, it might seem odd for a youth-focused apparel retailer to be in the business of selling music—especially one using technology that was considered old-fashioned and dying in the 1980s. But when you think a little deeper about vinyl records, and who’s interested in them, the sales category makes more sense. For one thing, records tend to have a longer shelf life than fast fashion. No matter how many fashion cycles pass, people will still want to listen to (and buy) the music of the Sex Pistols and Bob Marley and the Ramones. It doesn’t take up a whole lot of space in a store to hold a few hundred records, and the same customers who enjoy flipping through the albums are likely to be put in the mood for browsing other merchandise.

What’s more, in many parts of the country, there are no record stores left, so Urban Outfitters is the only option left—a surprisingly good option, as many skeptics have found. “I kept finding more and more crates full of more and more records,” one Village Voice writer stated regarding a shopping venture to Urban Outfitters last summer. “And pretty decent ones! And not super expensive (generally between $10 and $20).”

Perhaps most importantly, even as streaming has crippled sales of CDs and digital downloads, vinyl record sales are on the upswing. Nielsen data shows that for the first six months of 2014, vinyl LP sales were up 40% compared to the same period of a year prior. What’s behind the surge in vinyl?

“Ask any number of your friends who collect and listen to vinyl records, and there’s a good chance they’ll tell you vinyl just sounds better than anything else,” a recent Motley Fool post summed up. There’s also the hipster factor, combined with nostalgia and the collectability of classic and obscure record album covers. “In short, vinyl is cool.”

Also interesting: Starting in 2008, an event dubbed Record Store Day has been celebrated every April, in which more than 1,000 independent stores in the U.S. have special promotions and roll out new albums on vinyl for sale. The 2014 edition of Record Store Day was the most successful ever, with sales up 58% over the previous year’s event, and up 91% compared to the previous week, according to Rolling Stone.

Last year, a Record Store Day imitation event was added to the mix, and its second incarnation actually takes place this Saturday in select stores. Something tells us it won’t be quite as successful as Record Store Day, however. It’s called Cassette Store Day.

MONEY Food & Drink

Nostalgia SURGE! Cult Favorite Foods & Drinks Back from the Dead

Twinkies Chocodile
Hostess

Fueled by nostalgia—and often, outcries on social media—the snacks, sodas, and beers you haven't been able to buy for years are making big comebacks.

There’s no mystery as to why malls play old Christmas songs, why retro products and brands pop up regularly in the marketplace, and why advertisers are constantly trying to evoke memories of our youth. But if anyone had any doubts, the results of a study published over the summer by the Journal of Consumer Research show that we’re more likely to spend money when we’re in a nostalgic mood.

Consumers are also, we know, more prone to buying stuff when it hasn’t been available in quite some time, and when we get the idea it may disappear again because it’s a limited-time offer. The periodic resurfacing of the McDonald’s McRib is a great example of how this strategy can work over and over to successfully drum up sales—for a product that, remember, was discontinued from the regular menu because not enough people liked it.

These varied forces have combined to fuel a surge in sales for products ranging from cheap old-school beer (featuring retro bottles, cans, and logos) to re-releases of old-school sneakers, Nike Air Jordans in particular. And these forces are also fueling a surge in discontinued food and drink products being brought back from the dead, including, well, SURGE.

The highly caffeinated citrus soda brand was brought back by Coca-Cola this week due to popular demand. The masses spoke in the form of a Facebook page with more than 140,000 Likes that demanded its return to the marketplace. And then they took action by buying up the first batch in its entirety within hours of it going on sale at Amazon.com.

Here are a few other food and drink products that disappeared for a while, only to resurface to the rejoicing of more than a few cult fans.

Hostess Chocodiles
At one point, sellers on eBay were asking as much as $90 a box for these chocolate-covered Twinkie treats, and buyers paid $17 for a single Chocodile. That was back during the dark days, when Chocodiles weren’t available in the vast majority of the country. In July Hostess announced it was bringing the Chocodile back nationally, by way of some hyperbolic statements from the company’s CEO. “In the past Chocodiles seemed to be shrouded as much in mystery as in chocolate, inspiring an obsession among fans that was truly the stuff of legends,” said William Toler, president and CEO of Hostess Brands. “Now, fanatics will once again be able to satisfy their cravings and a new generation will be able to experience the magic for the first time.”

BK Chicken Fries
Over the summer, around the same time Burger King was dramatically scaling back availability of Satisfries, its low-calorie French fry, the fast food giant brought back decidedly less healthy Chicken Fries to the menu for a limited time. The breaded-and-fried chicken strips were on the menu from 2005 until they were discontinued in 2012. But after online petitions and Tumblr pages pleaded for their return, BK relented. “On peak days we’ve seen one tweet every forty seconds about Chicken Fries, many of them directly petitioning, begging, for us to bring them back,” Eric Hirschhorn, Burger King’s Chief Marketing Officer North America, said in a statement. “When you have guests who are this passionate about a product, you have to give them what they want.”

Ballantine IPA
The hipster cult status of PBR has caused the Pabst Brewing Company to take a hard look at the beer brands it owns and see if should start brewing any of its discontinued old-school beers—which, perhaps, might also gain a following with hipsters. That’s essentially why Pabst relaunched Schlitz in 2008, and then reintroduced Schlitz vintage “Tall Boy” can a few years later. And it’s why the company is bringing back Ballantine IPA, the 136-year-old brew produced for decades in Newark, N.J., credited as America’s first IPA. It helps that the craft beer revolution has made hoppy IPAs extremely popular.

General Mills Monster Cereals
For most of the year, shoppers can’t find Boo Berry, Count Chocula, and Franken Berry in the cereal aisles of any supermarkets. But then sometime in late summer, their dormancy period ends like that of a pumpkin spice latte, and they’re suddenly available again just in time for the ramp-up to Halloween. This year, the cereals feature new designs from DC Comics artists, being sold side by side next to cereal boxes with retro characters and logos from the 1970s and ’80s. Count Chocula and Franken Berry are also being sold in select stores in Canada this season, which is unusual. “No more trips across the U.S. border to stock up!,” a General Mills post promised.

Last year, General Mills made monster cereal fans extra happy by bringing back two rare products, Frute Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy, which hadn’t been sold in more than two decades. Alas, it looks like the two cult favorites are not returning to stores this season, prompting fans to voice their disappointment with comments on the company blog.

Something tells us we’ll be seeing both Frute Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy again in the future. In today’s nostalgia-ridden world, no brands really die, not even when they feature monster characters that are undead.

MONEY Tech

Sorry, iPhone Fans, Surveys Say Apple’s Not That Cool

140919_EM_CoolTech
Street style photos featuring Samsung Galaxy Note 4 at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2015 at Lincoln Center on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Donald Bowers—Getty Images for Samsung

Despite iPhone mania around the world, Apple's "cool factor" is supposedly on the decline.

For the most part, reviews of the iPhone 6 glow with praise. Pre-orders of the new iPhones shot through the roof. Stories from around the globe on Friday showed lines stretching for blocks outside Apple Stores, filled with shoppers willing to brave cold temperatures, monotony, and discomfort just so that they could hand money over to Apple and the wireless provider of their choosing.

In light of the extent to which fans are going to score the new iPhone, Apple must universally be regarded as the coolest consumer tech brand on the planet, right? Well, maybe not.

The results of a new Reuters/Ipsos poll actually give the coolness edge to Android over Apple. Survey respondents typically come to that conclusion because of the perception that brands like Samsung (which uses Android as its operating system) have taken the lead in innovation, especially in terms of larger smartphone size. Lately, Samsung has been mocking Apple in ads, accusing the iPhone maker of playing catch-up and basically imitating larger “phablet” gadgets that it brought to the market a couple of years ago. In the Reuters survey, more people were of the opinion that Apple has grown less cool than Android over the last two years (16% versus 11%). And while 50% of respondents said Android had grown cooler over the past two years, a slightly smaller percentage (48%) indicated Apple increased its cool factor.

Earlier this year, a brand preference study from ConsumerMetrix rated Samsung as the top tech brand among consumers. Apple was rated fifth (after Sony, Microsoft, and HP, believe it or not), and researchers noted that ratings fell in particular among its “core affluent and younger demographics,” and that the “weak performance may be attributed to its relative lack of new product introductions.”

Bear in mind that the ConsumerMetrix study was obviously conducted before Apple introduced the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, that survey participants were from the U.S. and Europe, and that Android has a far bigger share of the market in Europe than it does in America. By the summer of 2013, nearly half of all smartphones sold in Europe were Samsungs.

The question arises as to which came first: Have people been buying Samsungs and other Android devices because they think they’re cooler and more innovative than Apple? Or are they saying that Samsung is cooler simply because that’s their brand of device, and they want to feel like they made the cool choice?

In yet another survey, this one conducted on the behalf of Chegg, the discount college textbook sales and rental site, around the time of Apple’s unveiling of its new devices, American high school and college students seem to have concluded that “Apple is losing its cool factor among its technology contemporaries.” When asked what tech brands were “cool,” more students felt that the word applied to Amazon (72%) and Google (71%) than Apple (64%). Three out of ten students decreed that Apple is “smug,” more than half (55%) felt that Apple’s new phones are “more style than substance,” and one quarter agree with the idea that Apple may have lost its edge.

What’s especially interesting about the Chegg study, which originally had a headline suggesting that “Apple [Is] Losing Its Cool,” was that it was quickly undercut by the folks who published it (supposedly by mistake). The results are no longer to be found among Chegg’s press releases. Why? Chegg admitted that the headline didn’t really match the results, especially data showing that 36% of students would “probably” or “definitely” be buying the new iPhone. “A third of students saying they’re definitely or probably going to buy the phone to me didn’t jibe with Apple losing its cool,” Chegg’s Usher Lieberman explained to Investors Business Daily. “What should have been the headline is that a third of students are planning on buying the phone.”

That’s the headline that truly matters to Apple as well. It doesn’t really matter if some people think that Apple is uncool or is somehow losing its edge. Money and action speak louder than words and opinions, and clearly Apple devices are cool enough to make fans wait in lines for days and pay astronomical prices just to get their hands on the new iPhones. Apple’s gotta consider that behavior to be very, very cool.

MONEY Travel

The Hardworking Person You’ve Forgotten to Tip

Tip at Marriott hotel
Jeff Greenberg—Alamy

A new initiative from Marriott nudges travelers to tip their housekeepers.

American travelers are a pretty generous bunch. Virtually everyone tips restaurant staffers — 97%, according to a recent TripAdvisor survey. More than 80% of Americans tip taxi drivers, and 79% tip bellhops. Skipping the tip makes Americans anxious: 23% report feeling guilty when they don’t tip, and one in three Americans has tipped someone even when the service was bad.

But when Americans travel, they sometimes forget to tip the people who clean up after them: hotel housekeepers. Americans are less likely to tip housekeepers than other service workers; more than 31% report that they don’t tip hotel maids at all, according to TripAdvisor.

Now Marriott wants to offer a reminder. In a partnership with Maria Shriver’s nonprofit advocacy group, A Woman’s Nation, the hotel chain has launched a new initiative to place envelopes in hotel rooms where customers can leave “tips and notes of thanks.”

“Hotel room attendants often go unnoticed, as they silently care for the millions of travelers who are on the road at any given time,” states Marriott’s press release. “Because hotel guests do not always see or interact with room attendants, their hard work is many times overlooked when it comes to tipping.”

How much money should you leave? The American Hotel and Lodging Association, an industry trade group, recommends tipping housekeepers $1 to $5 a night, depending on the level of service and cost of the hotel. The Emily Post Institute concurs — its website recommends a tip of $2 to $5 a day.

Other important etiquette rules: Leave the tip every day, to ensure that whoever cleans the room that day gets the money. And be sure to put the cash in an envelope or leave a note next to the money saying “thanks” — any good housekeeper will be afraid to take cash if she’s not sure it belongs to her.

Even though hotel bills are getting bigger, the people who clean the rooms still make a pittance. During the first half of 2014, travelers paid an average of $137 a night for hotels in the United States, up 5% from last year, according to Hotels.com. On average, maids and housekeepers in the traveler accommodation industry make just $21,800 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — below the poverty line for a family of four.

Which leads some people to ask — why doesn’t Marriott just pay its workers more, instead of asking customers to do it? For a $20.6 billion company MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL INC. MAR 0.0146% , that’s a fair question. But for now, if your manners compel you to tip the taxi driver, the bellhop, and the concierge, don’t forget to leave a few bucks for the housekeeper, too.

MONEY

New iPhones Sell for $2,000 on eBay, Asking Prices Hit $6,000

Customers waiting in line for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus
Customers wait in line outside Apple Inc.'s Ginza store ahead of the launch of the company's new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Apple's redesigned iPhones with bigger screens goes on sale in Japan on Sept. 19. Yuriko Nakao—Bloomberg via Getty Images

People are paying double the retail price of the new iPhones because they can't bear the thought of having to wait a few weeks to own one.

At around 11 a.m. EST Monday morning, 19 bids had been submitted to an eBay auction of an iPhone 6 Plus Space Gray 128 GB. It was unlocked (so the owner wouldn’t necessarily be tied into a two-year contract), and it was confirmed to be shipped on the first day the new iPhones are available for purchase, Friday, September 19.

With about 30 minutes left in the auction, the price for the phone hit $1,900, which wound up being the winning bid. That’s astronomical compared to what most people think of as the list price for such a unit, $499. But the $499 price tag is a subsidized rate you get in exchange for being locked into a two-year contract with a wireless provider. The true retail price for an unlocked version of this unit is $949, which makes the premium bidders were willing to pay seem slightly more reasonable. Still, $1,900 is double the list price!

And what does the buyer get for paying such a premium? Essentially, all the buyer gets is his hands on the phone a few weeks earlier than he would otherwise. Apple pre-orders for the new iPhones broke records, with some four million orders placed during the first 24 hours they were accepted.

Because of the early surge in demand, consumers who haven’t already placed their orders are now typically being forced to wait at least until October to possess the new iPhone 6. And the wait for the new gadget’s big brother, the larger-screen iPhone 6 Plus—which measures 5.5 inches, compared with 4.7 inches for the regular iPhone 6 and 4 inches for the 5S—is even longer. Apple is warning that shipping on new orders will be delayed three or four weeks, and CNBC reported that certain orders (specifically, the iPhone 6 Plus from AT&T) won’t be available for shipping for five or six weeks.

For some people, that’s just too long to wait. So they’re turning to eBay and Craigslist, where there are plenty of eager sellers willing to part with their freshly ordered gadgets if doing so means quick and sizable profits. The Wire noted that last Friday, when iPhone preorders were first being accepted (and were apparently difficult to place due to strong demand), eBay listings for the devices hovered up around $2,000. One 64GB iPhone 6 Plus appears to have sold on eBay last Thursday for $3,950.

As of Monday at midday, a search for “iPhone 6″ at eBay returned more than 130,000 results. The variety of listings, including locked and unlocked models featuring different permutations of colors, memory, and wireless providers, generally ranged in price from $700 to $1,500. One bold seller had a flat asking price of $6,000 for a gold unlocked 64 GB iPhone 6—the regular one, not the larger 6 Plus.

To some consumers, paying a handsome premium for a hot new device is no crazier than waiting in line overnight, perhaps for weeks, to get one. In both cases, there’s a price being paid, either in one’s time or one’s actual money.

Speaking of waiting in line, that apparently is still a feasible strategy for those who “need” a new iPhone this week and don’t want to pay through the nose for one via eBay. “Additional supply of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will be available to walk-in customers on Friday, September 19 at 8:00 a.m. local time at Apple retail stores,” explained an Apple statement about pre-orders issued on Monday. “Both models will also be available on Friday from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, additional carriers and select Apple Authorized Resellers.”

How many “walk-ins” will be able able to buy new iPhones on Friday? That remains unclear. Certainly, at the busiest, highest-profile Apple Stores like the one on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, you probably don’t have a prayer unless you’re already camped outside the store. For quieter locations selling the iPhones starting on Friday, it appears possible that you’ll be able to walk in and buy one, though it’s advisable to get on line early and expect big crowds. Also, the pickings may be slim, so you might not get the exact model or color you want.

Alternately, you could do the sane, mature, and responsible thing and deny yourself immediate gratification. Just order exactly what you want and wait a few weeks for it to arrive, without paying a premium to sketchy online sellers, and without losing any sleep waiting outside for a store to open. Or, God forbid, stick with the phone you have.

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