TIME Amazon

Amazon’s New Prime Day Will Be a Massive ‘Global Shopping Event’

Mark your calendars: It’s on July 15

Amazon is turning 20 next week, and to celebrate the online retail site is launching Prime Day, a global shopping extravaganza for Prime members.

The company has whet the appetite of shoppers around the world by announcing that on July 15 there will be “a global shopping event, with more deals than Black Friday” — the biggest shopping day of the year that happens after Thanksgiving. Much like Black Friday, deals will start at midnight, and new discounts will be offered as often as every 10 minutes, Amazon said in a statement. The event will be open to Prime members in the U.S., the U.K., Spain, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Canada, and Austria.

Not a Prime member? Clearly, this is the time Amazon wants to woo you into the fold, and a 30-day free trial of Prime has been offered: “If you’re not already a Prime member, you’ll want to join so you don’t miss out on one of the biggest deals extravaganzas in the world,” said Greg Greeley, vice president of Amazon Prime.

Getting shoppers to become Prime members is a push that has yielded benefits for the company. A recent ComScore report revealed that “Prime members make twice as many purchases as nonmembers, and they spend 40% more per transaction.” Last week, the company expanded its one-hour delivery service Prime Now to parts of central London, marking the company’s first expansion of its speedy service outside of the U.S.

MONEY online shopping

Paypal Will Let Users Opt Out of Robotexts

eBay Inc. Illustrations As The Company Announces Earnings Figures
Bloomberg via Getty Images Paypal will formally split from eBay on July 6, 2015.

The new policy makes clear that “you do not have to consent to receive autodialed or prerecorded message calls or texts".

PayPal has backed down on its robocalling and robo-texting policy.

The online money company sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on Monday saying it will change its terms of service to clarify when it will use automated calls or texts, and offer an easy way for users to opt out of them.

The change comes just days before the policy was to take effect as PayPal formally splits from eBay.

Earlier this month, I wrote a story calling attention to PayPal’s upcoming terms of service, in which the company granted itself broad rights to robocall or robo-text consumers for almost any reason, at any telephone number the firm could connect to a user.

The new policy is much more specific. Gone is the “at any telephone number that you have provided us or that we have otherwise obtained” language. Also gone is language saying use of the service grants PayPal the right to use texts or calls to market products to consumers.

The new policy indicates PayPal can use autodialers in three specific situations: to contact consumers to collect a debt, to investigate fraud or to provide notices about account activity. The policy then makes clear that “you do not have to consent to receive autodialed or prerecorded message calls or texts in order to use and enjoy PayPal’s products and services,” and provides an opt-out link.

The notice also makes clear that PayPal can only use automated tools for marketing purposes if it obtains additional express written consent.

“I commend PayPal for taking steps to honor consumer choices to be free from unwanted calls and texts,” said Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “The changes to PayPal’s user agreement recognize that its customers are not required to consent to unwanted robocalls or robotexts. It clarifies, rightly, that its customers must provide prior express written consent before the company can call or text them with marketing, and that these customers have a right to revoke their consent to receive robocalls or robotexts at any time. These changes, along with PayPal’s commitments to improve its disclosures and make it easier for consumers to express their calling preferences, are significant and welcome improvements.”

After my initial story, the FCC sent a letter telling PayPal that its terms “raised serious concerns,” and would potentially violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. An FCC official met with PayPal’s legal team last week, which led to the change.

“We greatly appreciated the opportunity to share with you … our sincere regret for any concern or confusion this updated provision has caused the (FCC) or our customers,” the letter said. It was signed by Louis Pentland, PayPal’s general counsel.

A notice about the change will be emailed to PayPal users soon, the letter said.

In reaction to the initial report about the change, PayPal said consumers could opt out of robocalls and texts, but it wasn’t initially clear how to do so. Also, the firm had told a customer weeks earlier that no opt out was available. When PayPal consumer Robert Pascarella questioned PayPal about the terms of service on the company’s Facebook page recently, he requested an opt-out for the provision and was shot down.

“Regrettably, there isn’t an opt-out option to certain items within our User Agreement,” PayPal wrote on Facebook.

Read next: Our National Robocalling Nightmare May Soon Be Over

Thanks again to Ed Hasbrouck for initially calling attention to the issue …. several years ago.

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MONEY Banking

Think Twice Before Linking Your Bank Account to an App

Naver Corp.'s Line Mobile Apps As SoftBank Said to Seek Stake
Bloomberg/Getty Images

Consumer protections limit your liability in case of fraud -- but you need to act quickly.

Consumers routinely share their online banking passwords with third-party apps that help with everything from budgeting to tax preparation. Apparently banks would like this to stop. JPMorgan Chase posted this notice on its website in April:

“If you give out your chase.com User ID and Password, you are putting your money at risk,” says a page titled Guard Your ID and Password. “Some websites and software offer tools to help you with budgeting, managing accounts, investing, or even doing your taxes. But if you’re giving them your chase.com User ID and Password, you could be responsible for money you might lose as a result.”

That’s no small threat. In other words, if one of those third parties gets hacked and a criminal takes your money, you could lose it all.

The page goes on to advise consumers who’ve already shared their passwords to immediately change them — and of course, not give the new login information to the third party.

The warning is broad, but popular sites like Mint.com, which perform item-by-item analysis of consumers’ accounts, stand to lose the most if consumers heed the warning. So I asked Mint what it thought about Chase’s post.

Holly Perez, a Mint spokeswoman, said the warning was not really new. Several banks have language in their user agreements telling consumers not to share login information with third parties. She’s right. Here is language from Capital One’s agreement:

“Sharing your Capital One access credentials (with third parties) may represent a breach by you of applicable [agreement or terms and conditions),” it reads. “One of the reasons that Capital One prohibits this type of sharing is that we may not have any information regarding the use of or security environment around this sensitive information at any third party. If you choose to share account access information with a third party, Capital One is not liable for any resulting damages or losses.”

Chase’s new posting is probably the result of the recent increase in high-profile hacks, Perez speculated.

Trish Wexler, a senior vice president at Chase, agreed, and pointed out that similar language was present in the Chase user agreement long before the April post: “If you disclose your Card numbers, account numbers, PINs, User IDs, and/or Passwords to any person(s) or entity, you assume all risks and losses associated with such disclosure.”

Wexler said the post was not aimed at any particular third-party service, and she did not know of any incident which led to the post. It was published out of a desire to put that provision of the user agreement into plain language. She also said the post should not be interpreted as Chase telling consumers not to use any specific service, such as Mint.

“Our job is to make sure consumers can make their own choices based on all the available information,” she said. “Clearly customers want to be able to use services like this. They need to understand there are risks associated with giving out their user name and password, be it to a third-party service or a neighbor.”

What the Law Has to Say

Those risks aren’t completely clear, however. Federal banking regulations concerning unauthorized electronic funds transfers are very consumer-friendly. Consumer liability for losses is capped at $50 or $500, depending on how quickly a consumer reports fraud once it is discovered. Even negligence doesn’t increase the consumer’s liability, banking regulators have said. For example, even writing a PIN code on a debit card doesn’t increase the consumers’ liability if the card is stolen and used to make withdrawals.

“Negligence by the consumer cannot be used as the basis for imposing greater liability than is permissible,” the rules say. “Thus, consumer behavior that may constitute negligence under state law…does not affect the consumer’s liability for unauthorized transfers.”

The rules go on to say that banks cannot impose additional liability on consumers.

“The extent of the consumer’s liability is determined solely by the consumer’s promptness in reporting the loss or theft of an access device. Similarly, no agreement between the consumer and an institution may impose greater liability on the consumer for an unauthorized transfer than the limits provided in Regulation E.”

Chi Chi Wu, a banking regulation expert with the National Consumer Law Center, said consumers victimized by theft of credentials from a third-party site would enjoy the same protections as a consumer who divulged their passwords to a hacker.

“The same principles apply,” she said.

Of course writing a PIN code — or falling for a phishing email — is not a direct parallel to intentionally sharing login credentials with a third-party site. Until there is a high-profile test case, it’s hard to say what might happen. For any consumer hit by such a crime, there’s certain to be a big hassle, even if a bank ultimately refunds their money – out of a legal obligation, or free will.

The bottom line for consumers: You don’t want to be that test case. Be extremely judicious when handing out your banking credentials. If you do, be vigilant about what happens inside your bank account. Roughly speaking, you only have two days from the time a fraud appears on your regular statement to report it and be protected by the $50 liability limit. Otherwise, the limit is $500. And if you wait 60 days, the limit is … unlimited. So your real worry should be spotting and reporting fraud promptly.

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MONEY deals

Amazon’s New ‘Treasure Truck’ Will Sell One Discounted Item Daily

150625_EM_AmazonTreasureTruck
Darren Hendrix Amazon Treasure Truck

The goods will run the gamut of merchandise sold by Amazon.

If residents of the greater Seattle area spot a giant brown Amazon package on wheels in the coming days, it’s not a hallucination. (Well, it’s probably not a hallucination.)

The world’s biggest e-retailer is introducing something called the Treasure Truck. It’s a basically a standard delivery truck tricked out to look like a typical Amazon package—oversized Amazon logo and icons, brown cardboard box appearance, thick black line encircling the whole thing.

Starting this weekend, the truck will set up shop somewhere in Seattle—that’s the only location, for now at least—and offer a single item for sale. The goods will run the gamut of merchandise sold by Amazon.

“Each day the truck drives around Seattle parking in neighborhoods filled with but one highly desirable item exclusively for you,” the ad posted by Amazon on YouTube explains. Among the first items for sale at deeply discounted prices are paddleboards, professional knife sets, and porterhouse steaks.

Amazon doesn’t seem to expect all that many customers to walk up to the truck and impulsively buy inflatable paddleboards or steaks like they might pick up a fish taco or a Sno-Cone. Instead, the idea is that people will use Amazon’s mobile shopping app to scope out where the truck is and what’s for sale that day, and then purchase and pick it up later.

Why this process is any easier than using one’s Amazon Prime membership and having the item delivered to your home is something of a mystery. Presumably, you’d be able to get the goods sooner—you know, in case the immediate emergency need of a paddleboard arises.

From the consumer point of view, the main draw is that the prices are supposedly phenomenal. The item on sale on Saturday, the Solstice Bali inflatable paddleboard set, is priced at $99 on the Treasure Truck, nearly 80% lower than the retail price of $477. Another item coming soon, the Firmstrong Beach Cruiser bicycle, will be priced at $99 too. Amazon says the list price of this item is $299, but it looks like the bike is sold fairly regularly for around $200. Even if Amazon is exaggerating how big the discounts are, it sure looks like the deals are pretty terrific.

On the other hand, the selection and availability leaves something to be desired—just one item for sale daily, in just one city.

 

MONEY online shopping

The Confederate Flag Is Getting Some Interesting Reviews on Amazon

tattered confederate flag
age fotostock—Alamy

"Is the other side of this flag a Nazi Swastika?"

On Monday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds. “For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble,” Haley said. Yet at the same time, she said, in light of the way the flag has been used by some as a symbol of hate—most obviously, by the suspect in last week’s deadly shooting in a historic black church in Charleston—”the flag is a deeply offensive symbol” that must be removed from the capitol grounds in Columbia.

Soon after Haley’s announcement, Walmart, Sears, and Kmart stated that they would stop selling flags and other merchandise featuring the Confederacy’s “Stars and Bars.” As of Tuesday morning, however, there was no sign of e-retailers Amazon and eBay following suit with bans of their own. Tens of thousands of items featuring the Confederate flag design remain available for purchase at the sites.

[UPDATE: Well, that didn’t take long. By Tuesday afternoon, Amazon and eBay both announced they were removing Confederate flag merchandise from their sites.]

Considering that there’s a tradition for sarcastic and faux Amazon reviews to be used as bullhorns for political opinions—see the reviews of Wendy Davis’s Mizuno sneakers or Paula Deen’s books—it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people are weighing in on the Confederate flag controversy with new reviews. In many cases, they’re not only bashing the merchandise and the sellers, but also Amazon itself for facilitating the sales of what many deem to be a symbol of hate, racism, and intolerance.

Dozens of reviews have been added at Amazon.com over the last few days for one Confederate Rebel Flag in particular. Sold by a company called Rhode Island Novelty, the three-foot-by-five-foot polyester flag—made in Taiwan, priced at $5.74 (down from the “list price” of $45)—has drawn loads of one-star reviews and comments such as the following:

BAN IT…I just feel it symbolizes hatred toward minorities

Boycott the American version of a swastika. Whatever individual meanings it could have, there is no denying its ugly message.

If your [sic] a racist then this is the flag for you.

Worked great not only as toilet paper but really gets a fire going as well.

It’s offensive that this flag is on Amazon, I will not order another thing from Amazon until these things are taken off.

As Quartz pointed out, reviewers have been adding their two cents to the Q&A section for the item as well, with users entering sarcastic queries like, “Is the other side of this flag a Nazi Swastika? I only have one flag pole to show my pride in defunct nations based on racism.”

While the majority of new reviewers take aim at the Confederate flag merchandise and the sellers of such goods, some are defending the “Stars and Bars,” or at least the right of people to buy and sell the items. “This flag does NOT stand for racism and it’s NOT a rag,” one commenter stated. Another commented, “My husband and I both shop at Amazon all the time and if they STOP selling the Flag I’ll no longer shop here.”

Read next: 7 Things You Probably Had No Idea Amazon Sold

MONEY credit cards

3 Things You Should Never Buy With a Credit Card — and 1 You Always Should

wedding cake
Keller & Keller Photography—Getty Images/StockFood

Beware the "snowball effect".

From time to time we bring you posts from our partners that may not be new but contain advice that bears repeating. Look for these classics on the weekends.

Credit cards shouldn’t scare you; when used correctly, they’re actually the most rewarding form of currency available today.

Seriously, when’s the last time you were rewarded with airline miles for using cash?

And while it’s highly recommended that everyone should apply for a credit card as early as possible to begin the process of building credit, there are a few things you should simply not charge to your card. Generally, these are big-ticket items that might take you a long time to pay back. And when it takes you a while to pay back a credit card purchase, eventually you end up paying interest. A lot of it.

The single easiest way to fall into credit card debt is to make a big-ticket purchase and spend the next several months paying it back in very small increments. That’s what they call the “Snowball Effect” — wherein you make minimum payments, half of which go to interest – and it’s a legitimate credit killer.

The trick to staying out of credit card debt is to make small, semi-regular purchases and pay the entire balance every month.

With that in mind, here are three things you should avoid paying for with your credit card … and as a bonus, one purchase we ALWAYS recommend using a credit card for.

Hospital Bills

NEVER put your hospital bills on a credit card. Medical bills are expensive as it is; the last thing you want to do is add high interest fees to those bills, too.

The fact of the matter is you can get on a payment plan with lower interest rates if you need to pay back your medical bills over time. Credit card interest rates range anywhere from 10% to 30%; you can get a much better rate through a payment plan initiated through the hospital. So take the time to sort this option out before sticking it all on your credit card.

Student Expenses

Student debt is brutal, but the fact of the matter is student loan interest rates are, by and large, a lot lower than the average credit card interest rate. So it’s highly recommended that you don’t charge off some or all of that student loan payment since, ultimately, you’ll end up paying a lot more in the long run.

Along those same lines, it’s not recommended to charge your tuition bills. It’s MUCH cheaper (OK, maybe “cheaper” is the wrong word here — how about “less expensive”?) to take out a student loan or apply for a scholarship than it is to simply swipe your way through school.

Think about it: the average yearly cost to attend a public university is $22,261, according to CNN Money. Add 15% in interest to that and that’s another $3,300 — IN INTEREST ALONE.

Sorry for yelling, but hopefully you get the idea here: Keep the big-ticket items — especially the ones with lower interest options — off of your charge card.

Your Dream Wedding

Unless you’ve got a feeling your wedding gift-pile will be something akin to Henry Hill’s in Goodfellas (i.e. a pile of envelopes stuffed with cash), then it’s probably a good idea to scale back that dream wedding you had in mind to something more manageable.

I’m not married and I’m certainly not a relationship counselor, but it can’t be a good idea to begin your first days of marriage swamped in debt because you decided to fly in your entire extended family for a destination wedding.

Getting hitched is a celebration of love, not luxury. Stay within your means when planning your wedding and you’ll be more likely to enjoy your party.

That said, if you need to go into debt to fund the open bar, then we’ll make an exception.

(Just kidding. Kinda of.)

So, while we recommend putting the plastic away for the above purchases, there’s still one HUGE category of items we always recommend using your credit card for:

Online Purchases!

Why? Well, the dirty secret your bank doesn’t want you to know is that most credit card issuers offer better identity theft protection than that of the biggest banks. Not only that, but in the event that your credit card account is hacked, the damage will usually be limited because your credit card accounts aren’t synced with your personal bank accounts, savings accounts, etc.

Besides, the only credit card networks worth applying to have purchase protection, so you’re covered in the event of fraudulent charges. Not so with your debit card…

By using your debit card online often, you’re increasing the chance of foul play.

So you see, credit card purchases are actually recommended in some cases — especially if your card offers you cash back, rewards or miles.

Just be sure to keep the most expensive purchases — the ones that no matter how you slice it are simply out of your reach — off your charge card. By doing so, you’ll save yourself the burden of interest fees and debt for years to come.

Read next: 6 Perks a Sparkling Credit Score Will Earn You

This was a guest post written by Jason Bushey. Jason works at Creditnet.com

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MONEY online shopping

Paypal’s Robotexting Plan Faces Backlash

Robot hand holding tablet with frowny face
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Getty Images (2)

The move could flaunt consumer-protection laws.

When eBay cuts PayPal loose this summer, users of the new digital money giant will find they’ve agreed to new terms of service that take effect July 1. Those terms include PayPal giving itself the right to robocall or robo-text members at any phone number the firm can find, for just about any reason — from debt collecting to advertisements to opinion polling.

The fine print also says PayPal can pass along the same rights to its affiliates. Here’s the language, in black and white, from the company’s website:

You consent to receive autodialed or prerecorded calls and text messages from PayPal at any telephone number that you have provided us or that we have otherwise obtained . . . . (PayPal) may share your phone numbers with our Affiliates or with our service providers, such as billing or collections companies, who we have contracted with to assist us in pursuing our rights.

Given that both the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (which created the Do Not Call list) and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ban most robocalling and texting, this seemed in direct opposition to consumer protections granted Americans by Congress. And the FCC has made clear that the “existing business relationship” exception that applies to the Do Not Call list doesn’t give companies the right to robocall consumers. They must acquire written or oral consent. Could a change in terms of service constitute such consent?

How Consumer Advocates See It

So I contacted the National Consumer Law Center to ask about it, and lawyer Margot Saunders reminded me that consumers can consent to all sorts of things — including consenting to getting robocalls from debt collectors and advertisers. Critically, however, this consent is not a waiver or rights, she said, and it can be withdrawn at any time.

At least, that’s her opinion. But it’s not what PayPal has told at least one customer. When PayPal consumer Robert Pascarella questioned PayPal about the terms of service on the company’s Facebook page recently, he requested an opt-out for the provision and was shot down.

“Regrettably, there isn’t an opt out option to certain items within our User Agreement,” PayPal responded. When he objected, PayPal posted directions for closing his account.

PayPal did not return a request for comment by deadline.

When I pointed out this all-or-nothing response to Saunders, she decided it was important enough to file a petition with the Federal Communications Commission and ask for a ruling. In a draft letter provided to Credit.com that will be signed by several consumer groups and delivered this week, the National Consumer Law Center will ask the FCC to “clarify that withdrawal of consent for auto-dialed calls cannot be grounds for terminating a contract.”

That petition will also ask the FCC, which administers the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, to beat back a number of industry requests that consumer groups say could weaken the Do Not Call list. The FCC will vote on a declaratory ruling June 18 that looks to affirm consumer-friendly provisions; FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed, for example, that consumers be able to withdraw consent to receive robocalls at any time (industry groups have argued that consent should be permanent).

While the PayPal corporate structure is new — this summer, it will be permanently separated from eBay, which acquired the payments giant in 2002 — the robocalling language is not really new. It is derived from eBay’s terms of service, which back in 2012 added the right to contact consumers “at any telephone number … you provide to us or from which you place a call to us, or any telephone number at which we reasonably believe we may reach you,” according to Practical Nomad blogger Edward Hasbrouck.

EBay did not respond to a request for comment.

Hasbrouck had created a stir about the fine-print robocalling issue even earlier, in 2009, when he noticed it in his American Express terms of service.

For now, there’s not much consumers can do, other than the drastic step of closing their accounts. Given PayPal’s immense market reach — it has 160 million users worldwide — that’s not a practical option. We’ll keep an eye on the FCC vote and let you know what happens. You keep an eye on your cellphone bills. Why? The PayPal / eBay terms of agreement also includes this warning: “Standard telephone minute and text charges may apply if we contact you.”

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MONEY Budgeting

8 Cost-Cutting Wedding Hacks

jar of wildflowers at wedding location
Alamy

Newlyweds share how they saved on the big day.

With the average cost of a wedding soaring to $31,213 in 2015, couples need to get creative to save … without compromising too much on their vision.

But just how do you cut corners and still throw a fun and fabulous affair?

Well, the couples in this story pulled it off, and then some, from finding gorgeous invites that cost less than the postage it took to mail them to creating a dessert table that was flat-out free—and the talk of the party.

See how they did it—and which tips you might want to steal when it’s your turn to walk down the aisle.

My Ultimate Wedding Venue Hack

“We chose a city-owned historical site—the Newland Barn in Huntington Beach, Calif.—as our wedding venue.

Since these types of locations are considered nonprofits, they’re not able to hike up rental prices due to popularity and demand. We saved at least $10,000 by getting married there.”
—Danielle Estrada, 27, La Verne, Calif.

My Ultimate Wedding Flowers Hack

“We bought our flowers wholesale from a site called FiftyFlowers, spending around $150 to $200. That bought us 2,000 stems, including carnations, daisies and baby’s breath. We had over 250 guests—and still had flowers left over.

I recruited eight of my bridesmaids, and using floral tape, pins and ribbon, we made all of the bouquets and centerpieces ourselves. It was so much fun, and I had multiple people tell me how much they loved the flowers.”
—Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, 26, St. Louis

My Ultimate Wedding Invitations Hack

“My husband and I had a traditional wedding for under $20,000, which is unheard of in New York City. One big way we saved was by Groupon-ing our invitations and save-the-dates.

Groupon often has ads for Vistaprint—even if the deals aren’t public, you can search for a coupon code. Our invites and save-the-dates were completely personalized and great quality—and we ended up spending a whopping $35 on both. The postage to send them cost more!”
—Kimberly Miller, 31, Long Island, New York

My Ultimate Wedding Planner Hack

“I priced out having a day-of coordinator, which would have cost me between $1,000 and $3,000. To save money, I asked my friend Jackie, who works in event planning, to do it instead—and she gave it to us as our wedding gift.

Not only did she save me money, but she was a total pro! She even set up a mimosa bar for all of my bridesmaids while we were getting ready.”
—Katie Schafer, 35, Birmingham, Mich.

My Ultimate Wedding Linens Hack

“We got married on the beach in Florida, and I ordered all of my linens right off Amazon. It was so much cheaper than renting them!”
—Kristen Liddicoat Vanselow, 40, Fort Myers Beach, Fla.

My Ultimate Wedding Budget Hack

“Instead of creating a traditional registry, we asked to receive money as a gift through a site called Honeyfund. With the money we received, we were able to pay off the wedding expenses and our honeymoon!”
—Kai Yaniz, 31, Tampa Bay, Fla.

My Ultimate Wedding Dessert Hack

“We got married at a campground outside of San Francisco, and did a lot of things ourselves. We asked friends and family to bake their favorite cookies, and set that up as a dessert table, instead of spending a ton of money on a traditional cake.

It really brought our guests together, and people were asking for the recipes. I had one friend ask, ‘Who is James because I just ate all of his peanut butter cookies?!’”
—Jenna Megalizzi, 37, San Francisco

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MONEY Internet

Why Companies Think .sucks Web Addresses Suck

Trademark holders have until the end of May before someone else has the right to buy their .sucks domains and make them live.

MONEY Shopping

Why Stores Can’t Sell You Cheaper Contact Lenses

Contact lenses
Getty Images

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.

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