Can you say: price fixing?
Costco and online sellers like 1-800 CONTACTS would love to sell you cheaper contact lenses. But in recent years, the country’s biggest contact manufacturers have instituted minimum prices for their products that make it impossible for retailers to offer them at lower price points.
In testimony before Congress last summer, the Consumers Union declared such policies “uncompetitive” and tantamount to price fixing: “Consumers are denied more affordable alternatives. They pay more than they need to, and sellers who would like to make those affordable alternatives available are denied the opportunity to do so.”
The manufacturers are taking advantage of a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established that it was legal for price floors to be set in certain situations. The one stipulation is that the manufacturers must not be “actively coordinating prices among themselves or with retailers,” as Marketplace put it. It’s impossible to prove that Johnson & Johnson, Alcon, Bausch & Lomb, and other big sellers are conspiring to set prices, yet all have instituted unilateral pricing, which means that retailers aren’t allowed to sell their products below a certain price. The net result is that stores and online sellers can’t discount the vast majority of name-brand contact lenses on the market, so there’s no point in consumers shopping around.
Earlier this year, the Utah legislature passed a bill that would prohibit the setting of price floors on contact lenses. It’s worth noting that online discounter 1800CONTACTS.com backed the bill and just so happens to be headquartered in Utah.
The big contact lens companies followed by suing Utah in federal court, and the latest news is that an appeals court declared the law unconstitutional, blocking it from being enforced. Essentially, the court has said that the contact lens manufacturers are within their legal rights to mandate a price floor.
Novartis, owner of the Alcon brand, has argued that price minimums are necessary to combat “showrooming,” the nickname for the practice in which consumers scope out prices from one seller—often, the optometrist’s office where they receive prescriptions—before shopping around and getting the product at a cheaper price elsewhere, typically online. “Eye-care professionals incur the cost of studying and appraising the new technology, but online and big-box retailers do not,” the company wrote in defense of price floors.
Costco, which says the price minimums have forced it to charge prices that are 20% higher than they would have for some contacts, warned that if eye care professionals don’t have to compete on price, they will “leverage their control over prescriptions and brand selection to also control and monopolize contact lens sales.” The result wouldn’t be bad just for Costco; it would negatively affect consumers too.
For the time being at least, the discount retailers—and by extension, consumers seeking contacts at lower prices—are on the losing side of the battle.
Low-price fashion retailer H&M is aggressively recruiting employees, offering up to five weeks paid vacation.
Walmart aims to go head to head with Amazon's most potent sales tool.
A new fast-shipping subscription service with the codename “Tahoe” is expected to be launched by Walmart this summer. On Wednesday, Walmart confirmed to Fortune, TechCrunch, and others that the service will cost $50 per year—half the price of an Amazon Prime membership—and cover free shipping within three days of orders being placed.
The service, which hasn’t yet been given an official name publicly, will be offered on an invitation-only basis for the time being. A subscription won’t cover shipping on all items available for purchase at walmart.com. Free shipping will be included with roughly 1 million items at Walmart, but that means 6 or 7 million other potential purchases at Walmart’s website aren’t covered in the free delivery deal. It’s unclear whether some or any groceries will be available with a subscription either.
During the beta test period, Walmart will be soliciting feedback from participating subscribers. Based on how things go, the final subscription product could be tweaked before being made available to the general public. For that matter, Walmart could decide to pull the plug on the whole operation depending on how the tests go.
What is clear, though, is that Walmart’s new service takes direct aim at Amazon Prime. Amazon’s $99 annual subscription service, which includes free two-day shipping and unlimited streaming of videos and music, has proven to be a remarkably powerful sales tool for the world’s largest e-retailer. It turns out that members, seeking to get the most of their subscription payment, tend to dramatically increase purchases at Amazon once they sign on—which means they’re less likely to buy goods from other physical or online retailers.
Retailers have periodically introduced shipping deals to better compete with Amazon. Earlier this year, Target cut its free shipping threshold to $25; Amazon requires a $35 minimum purchase for non-Prime customers to get free standard shipping. Now, Walmart is undercutting Amazon as well, with a free shipping subscription offer that’s half the price of an annual Prime membership.
It should be noted, however, that Walmart’s shipping will be slower than Amazon Prime—three days versus two. And as mentioned above, Prime comes with extras like Amazon’s Netflix-like Prime Instant Video streaming that Walmart’s service lacks.
Walmart will test a subscription shipping service to compete with Amazon Prime — at half the price.
Crooks are exploiting the auto-reload feature
Credit card hackers are targeting Starbucks gift card and mobile payment users around the country — and stealing from consumers’ credit cards — with a new scam so ingenious they don’t even need to know the account number of the card they are hacking.
Criminals are using Starbucks accounts to access consumers’ linked credit cards. Taking advantage of the Starbucks auto-reload function, they can steal hundreds of dollars in a matter of minutes. Because the crime is so simple, can escalate quickly, and the consumer protections controlling the transaction are unclear, Starbucks customers should consider disabling auto-reload on the Starbucks mobile payments and gift cards.
The fraud is a big deal because Starbucks mobile payments are a big deal. Last year, Starbucks said it processed $2 billion in mobile payment transactions, and about 1 in 6 transactions at Starbucks are conducted with the Starbucks app.
Maria Nistri, 48, was a victim last week. Criminals stole the Orlando women’s $34.77 in value she had loaded onto her Starbucks app, then another $25 after it was auto-loaded into her card because her balance hit 0. Then, the criminals upped the ante, changing her auto reload amount to $75, and stealing that amount, too. All within seven minutes.
“I don’t know why Starbucks would recommend people do auto-reload when this crime is so easy,” she said.
The trouble started at 7:11 a.m. on Wednesday when she received an automated email saying her username and password had been changed, and if she hadn’t authorized the change, she should call customer service. She tried, but the number she called notified her an operator couldn’t answer until 8 a.m.
“Whoever did this knew the right time to do it,” she said.
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You'd be surprised how much money you'll make off these everyday items
It seems that nothing is too head-scratchingly weird to be placed up for sale on eBay. But what if I told you that you could earn some extra cash on eBay by selling common household items that most of us toss without a second thought?
This is definitely an example of one person’s trash being another’s treasure. Selling what is typically considered garbage can net you a few hundred dollars a year from eBay and have you rethinking what you throw away. Did you know that you could make money selling:
1. Old Computer Software
If you have software for computers you replaced years ago, you may be able to sell them for extra cash on eBay. That’s exactly what I did when I discovered a bunch of old software in my junk storage drawer. Think no one is interested in your 2003 Microsoft Word software? Think again. That’ll sell for $15 to $30 on eBay. And that’s just one example. The amount of software out there is vast, so it’s impossible to provide a lot of specifics for what will sell. However, it doesn’t take long to check. Seriously, it’s a potential gold mine. Pull out those old disks and check away.
After being convinced that I needed to part with some of my beloved magazines, I jokingly implored my husband to check on eBay to see if anyone would buy them. I was surprised to find out that I could make money selling my old issues, and I started cleaning house!
Which magazines sell? The specific magazines and the prices they will sell for vary. For instance, one back issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray sold for $5, while a group of 11 magazines from 2008 to 2011 sold for $19.99. We’re not talking rare or vintage stuff here, just regular issues that people are selling after reading them. Spend a few minutes on eBay looking up your magazines and you could be ready to sell and make some money too!
3. Empty Makeup Containers
Specifically, the empty makeup containers of a specific high end brand, M.A.C., are in high demand. They are popular because of the retailer’s “Back to M.A.C.” rewards program where customers can exchange six empty M.A.C. makeup containers for a free lipstick. At $16 a pop, people are looking for ways to get their pricey lipstick for less. Empty M.A.C. containers sell anywhere from $5 to $40 depending on the number for sale and the cost of shipping. If you use this brand, it’s an opportunity to score some extra cash. If you’re looking for a way to get your M.A.C. for less, well, here it is.
So there you have it, six examples of common household trash items that can be sold on eBay for a few hundred dollars per year. I’ll be looking for others because I’m sure there are more. That’s my type of recycling.
How would you like to make $5 to $10 for selling one coupon? Sounds crazy, right? But there’s a market for these recyclable bits. Some coupons seem to sell at a premium. For instance, a 15% coupon from Pottery Barn, or other high end stores, regularly sells for $9.99, and a $25 coupon sells for $14.99. Coupons for many other retailers like Macy’s, Target, Home Depot, and more sell well too. The beauty of this is all you have to do is wait for them to show up in the mail and sell what you’re not using. Doing this once a month could probably net you an additional $50–$75 a year.
5. Empty Egg Cartons
To think I felt good about myself because I made a point of placing my empty egg cartons in the correct recycling bin for trash pickup. Who knew I could give them new life and bring people joy (and earn some extra cash) by selling them on eBay?
Like the cardboard tubes above, egg cartons seem to be wanted by the arts and crafts crowd. It’s not uncommon for a stack of empty egg cartons to sell for $10 to $20, and it doesn’t seem to matter if they are cardboard or foam. They are easily stackable and won’t take up much space while you collect enough to sell. By saving my cartons (and taking my parents’ empties), I should be able to sell a few stacks a year.
6. Paper Towel and Toilet Tissue Cardboard Tubes
I know, right? Who would have thought that people would pay money for the cardboard tubes of spent tissue? The people who are selling them on eBay and making money, that’s who! It seems that these recyclable goodies are popular for arts and crafts projects.
To cash in you’ll need to stock up before you sell, saving at least 35 empty tubes. So grab a bag, toss in those tubes, and let them add up. Depending on the size of your family and how quickly you go through rolls will determine how often you can sell on eBay. It’s not uncommon for empty cardboard tubes to sell for $10, $20 or $30. That’s pretty good for something that is literally tossed in the recycling bin.
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Big retailers will happily match competitors' prices if you ask the right way
My family has been trying to save money these past few years by avoiding unnecessary purchases on everything from clothing to toys to electronics. There are times, though, when things break, clothes wear out, or we otherwise find ourselves heading to the store to fill a new need. Best case scenario in this event? Paying the lowest price possible. Over time, I’ve discovered a few tips and tricks that get us the best price matching and adjustments at a number of popular retailers.
If you find a lower price on something you bought within seven days of purchase, you can take advantage of Target’s price-matching policy. Just bring your receipt to guest services and proof of lower price (from places like Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy) via website or printed ad. Price adjustments may also be made before you buy. Note: Any purchases made online are exempt from Target’s price-matching policy.
I’ve searched Walmart’s website for pricing and headed to the store only to find the item more expensive on the shelf. In this event, you can request a price match in most U.S. states at the register. For other adjustments, bring proof of price to customer service and make sure the item is identical and in stock at the competing store. Walmart also offers its Savings Catcher to compare your receipt with local competitor pricing. If there’s an opportunity for you to save, you’ll get the difference back on an eGift Card.
Price adjustment requests can be made within 14 days at Macy’s stores nationwide. Money is refunded to your original form of payment, whether cash, debit, or credit. Price changes are only made if the original purchase was made without a coupon, and you must take your item(s) back to the store for the adjustment.
Good news! If you find an item you just bought for less at a competitor’s store, Nordstrom will meet that price provided it’s the same color and size. Alternatively, if the same item you bought goes on sale at a Nordstrom store within 14 days of your purchase, you can easily get the extra taken off your order by bringing your receipt to customer service.
5. GAP, Old Navy, Banana Republic
Keep your receipt to get a one-time price adjustment within 14 days of your purchase. Any items you bought using coupons, promotions, or other discounts (clearance, final sale, etc.) are not eligible for changes unless the promotion was free shipping. In addition, price adjustments for items sold online cannot be made in physical store locations.
6. J. Crew
Think fast, because J. Crew gives you just seven days from purchase to take advantage of its one-time price adjustments. Items must have been bought at their original prices (no clearance or final sale) and you’ll need your receipt. The same policy stands with J. Crew’s Factory outlets.
My husband and I recently bought a new refrigerator at Lowe’s. I noticed it was $3 less at a local competitor, so I asked about the 10% Price Match Guarantee, and we ended up saving an additional $3 plus $120 on our purchase. The store gives customers a full 30 days to compare prices at local stores and websites — impressive. Just keep your receipt and bring proof of better pricing to customer service.
8. Home Depot
Not to be outdone, Home Depot offers similar 10% in-store price matching. This policy, as it goes with many retailers, does not extend to “discontinued, clearance, obsolete, seasonal, or distressed merchandise” at competing stores. Online purchases earn the matching only, minus the additional percentage back.
9. Office Depot
For adjustments at Office Depot, just make sure the item you’re requesting a change on is both new and identical at the store across town (or online). You can ask for price matching before purchase or within 14 days of receipt. The store will even match Amazon and Reliable, though third-party retailers are excluded from this policy.
Likewise, you can request price adjustments at the time of sale or within 14 days of purchase at Staples stores. This policy excludes any local special events, like grand openings, anniversary sales, and liquidations. In the case of items with free versus paid shipping, Staples will match if both are on the same terms. However, if the store offers free shipping and the competitor’s lower priced item does not, shipping charges will apply to the overall matching equation.
11. Toys “R” Us, Babies “R” Us
I bought my daughter a camera at Toys “R” Us earlier this year and was able to get it for the lower Amazon price by asking at customer service. The store’s Price Match Guarantee is simple and straightforward. It’s valid on in-store purchases only, limited to two items (if you’re purchasing several identical toys), and the store’s online prices are matched provided they aren’t special “online only” promotions. Exclusions include Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals; clearance, closeouts, and flash sales; as well as any pricing that is low due to typographical errors.
12. Bed Bath & Beyond
Any pricing that’s lower at direct competitors or online retailers like Amazon will be honored at Bed Bath & Beyond stores. This excludes club stores like Sam’s Club, BJ’s, etc., in addition to pricing that’s low due to clearance, closeouts, or limited time quantities. Better yet, a manufacturer’s coupon can be used in combination with the price match for even more savings.
To get an adjustment, keep your receipt for two weeks after buying anything (original price or sale) from Kohl’s to see if the price is lowered. Items bought on Buy One, Get One (BOGO) are excluded from this offer. Kohl’s also matches competitor pricing provided you provide a dated ad — in-store only — with identical merchandise.
14. Best Buy
Electronics behemoth Best Buy “won’t be beat on price” — so you know you can get a good deal. At the time of sale, the store will match local store and online pricing in addition to online retailers like Amazon, B&H Photo Video, Crutchfield, Dell, HP, Newegg, and TigerDirect. Preordered or backordered an item? If its price drops, you will automatically get the lower price. You can also request price adjustments within 15 days of purchase with receipt.
15. Dick’s Sporting Goods
I actually live in the town where Dick’s Sporting Goods first opened its doors in the late 1940s. Their Winning Price Guarantee applies to identical items sold at local retail stores. Simply bring in the print or online ad to get the match at the time of sale. Exclusions to this policy include rebates, coupons, clearance, closeouts, BOGOs, and out-of-stock items.
I had no idea that Amazon offers price-matching. But there’s a catch; it’s only on televisions and cell phones. All other items on this giant online store are exempt from the policy. Though there’s no information about formal price adjustments on the site, I’ve found several personal accounts for how to get a deal. The process involves signing into your Amazon account, clicking the help button, and then chatting with a representative about the change in price you’ve seen to get your refund. The blogger in the above scenario has only tried this approach within a week of purchase.
In the end, I’ve learned that no matter what or where you’re buying, it never hurts to ask about a retailer’s price matching or adjustment policy. The worst answer you can get is “no,” and usually you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the extra dollars you’ll have left in your pocket. Every little bit counts!
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If it were possible and practical, most people would never set foot in a car dealership when purchasing a vehicle.
Accenture surveyed 10,000 people in the U.S. and a handful of other countries about buying cars, and the results show that most consumers aren’t exactly fans of the standard car dealership experience. In fact, three-quarters said that “if given the opportunity, they would consider making their entire car-buying process online, including financing, price negotiation, back office paperwork and home delivery.”
Some cultures are keener on purchasing via the web than others. Overall, the poll showed that Chinese, American, and Brazilian drivers are “more interested in online digital experiences than other countries,” specifically countries in Europe. For instance, 75% of Brazilians and 90% of Chinese would buy a car in an online auction, versus 45% of Germans and just 35% of French.
The survey findings didn’t reveal all that much about why consumers don’t seem to think it’s important to make the big-ticket purchase of an automobile the old-fashioned way, in person at a car dealership. But anyone who has bought a car probably has an idea about why online purchasing is appealing. For many, buying a car at a dealership is too much of a confusing, high-pressure, unreasonably long process. It’s easy to see how it’s preferable to haggle over prices and options and review the fine print at one’s leisure in front of a screen rather than surrounded by salespeople and their “let me talk to the manager” games. After all, a classic negotiation tactic is walking away from the deal on the table, and walking away from an online offer is as simple as ignoring an email.
For another indication of the degree to which consumers don’t like the traditional car-buying experience, check out a recent survey conducted for Autotrader. Of the 4,002 consumers polled, only 17 said they like the current car buying process just as it is. The rest said they “want significant changes, particularly in the test drive, deal structuring, financing paperwork and service phases.” Many said they’d like to see the nitty-gritty of deals conducted online rather than in person. For instance:
Consumers indicate that they would like to see a big change in the way they go about negotiating the deal structure. Of those who liked the idea of online deal building, over half, 56 percent, want the ability to start the negotiation on their own terms—preferably online—and 45 percent would like to remain anonymous until they lock in the deal structure.
Nearly three fourths of consumers, 72 percent, want to complete the credit application and financing paperwork online. The key factors driving this desire are to save time at the dealership (reported by 72 percent of those who favor online paperwork) and to have less pressure while filling out paperwork (reported by 71 percent of those who favor online paperwork).
There’s no big mystery as to why car dealerships and automakers are reluctant to make online vehicle purchasing more practical and readily available. Doing so would put car sales staffers out of jobs and likely result in lower profits for automakers and dealerships. Let’s not forget that one of the supposed purposes of car dealerships is to provide a place for consumers to kick the tires, test-drive vehicles, and (hopefully) get good insights and advice from employees. A car is a major purchase, and a good car dealership will help steer you in the right direction.
Nonetheless, there’s considerable pressure to change the often-maddening experience—to make it quicker, more transparent, less stressful, and less complicated—and some auto brands are becoming more open to online purchases.
“There aren’t too many things out there anymore that you can’t buy in an online way, and it’s really automotive that’s lagging pretty much every other industry out there,” Doug Murtha, Scion’s brand chief, acknowledged in a recent Bloomberg story about how the Toyota-owned brand is attempting to make car purchasing “Feel More Like Buying an iPad.”
Most customers have been able to use Scion’s new options to buy a car in less than two hours—less than half the usual time suck—and the goal is to get the process chopped down to under an hour. Meanwhile, some Auto Nation dealerships in South Florida have been attempting to make it possible for shoppers to seal the deal on a new or used car in a Domino’s-delivery-like 30 minutes or less, thanks to customers doing much of the browsing and completing of paperwork online in advance.