MONEY Shopping

Now You Can Return Stuff to Sears Without Getting Out of Your Car

Sears Returns
Mel Evans—AP

A new service from Sears promises shoppers that they can make returns and exchanges in less than five minutes, without ever having to step foot outside the car.

For old-fashioned brick-and-mortar-based stores, it’s hard if not impossible to compete with the cut-throat pricing and convenience of online shopping. The strip malls and shopping centers of America are littered with shuttered stores once occupied by iconic retailers like Barnes & Noble, Staples, and yes, Sears. This week, Sears shares plummeted when news hit that the struggling retailer needed a $400 million loan from its CEO, Eddie Lampert—actually, the loan came by way of a hedge fund Lampert owns—to stay on track with plans to, well, not totally go out of business.

Also this week, Sears announced a new service that will hopefully make it a more appealing shopping option compared with online and physical store competitors alike. Earlier this year, Sears rolled out In-Vehicle Pickup as an option for its Shop Your Way app, and now customers can not only do curbside pickups of purchases without going inside stores, they can do exchanges and returns as well.

In recent years, grocery stores and select chains such as the Container Store have introduced drive-thru and pickup services targeted at today’s harried, on-the-go consumers, who can pre-order merchandise online and then swing by to pick it up—without having to actually “go shopping” for the goods inside, and without ever having to get out of the car.

To take advantage of Sears’s new service, the customer requests a return or exchange at the Sears website, and after getting an email confirmation heads to the selected store to handle the physical transaction. Once you’re in the parking lot, you use the app to alert the store you’ve arrived, and Sears guarantees a store associate will appear within five minutes to complete the return or exchange. A YouTube video explains further:

Obviously, Sears prefers that customers keep the merchandise they purchase rather than return or exchange it. But a good return policy is incredibly important in helping retailers drum up sales in the first place. Shoppers are more likely to make purchases when they know it’ll be quick and easy to return or exchange the merchandise. And once items are bought, they tend to stay bought. So long as customers don’t take advantage of the system, generous return policies generally benefit stores even more than they do shoppers.

One of the biggest reasons for the success of online sellers such as Zappos (which is owned by Amazon) is that they are renowned for terrific customer service, especially when it comes to easing the return process—complete with free shipping in both directions. Shoppers like anything that makes their lives easier, and the ability to conduct purchase pickups, returns, and exchanges from the comfort of one’s car certainly qualifies.

MONEY Shopping

Surge Is Back! These 10 Sodas Should Be Next

Surge, the '90s soda with a cult following, has finally been revived. But why stop there? Here are 10 other soft drinks that need to make a comeback.

For years, the people of the world have clamored for the return of Surge, Coca-Cola’s 1990’s response to Mountain Dew. The xtreme-styled soft drink, discontinued in 2002, was revived this week after a dedicated Facebook group of fans—143,000 strong—convinced the soda-maker to reintroduce their favorite product.

That’s great for Surge lovers, who bought up all of Surge’s new stock within hours, but what about fans of other sodas that were killed before their time? Here are our picks for 10 soft drinks that need to make a comeback.

  • Coca-Cola BlāK

    Coca-Cola Blak
    Chris Rank—Bloomberg News

    Everyone loves coffee. Everyone loves soda. In 2006, Coca-cola put that together into one can’t-miss idea: What if we released a coffee soda? The result was Coke BlāK, a carbonated beverage that tasted just like bubbly iced coffee and packaged in a fancy glass bottle. It lasted all of two years before it was given the axe. How did it taste, you ask? Amazing. Or at least my high-school self thought so, and I didn’t even like coffee back then. Pepsi also tried its hand at a coffee cola, Pepsi Kona, in the ’90s, but gave up on the drink soon after its release. Now that coffee is more of a dominant force in our society than ever, it’s time both beverages made a comeback.

  • Pepsi Holiday Spice

    Pepsi Holiday Spice
    Tim Ereneta via Flickr

    Pumpkin spice is all the rage right now, but Pepsi was bringing this holiday flavor to soda as far back as 2004. After a brief disappearance from the market, which prompted at least one petition from fans calling for its return, Pepsi brought the drink back in the form of the slightly spicier Christmas Pepsi. That too disappeared, leaving a huge spicy hole on convenience store shelves.

  • Josta

    A bottle of Pepsi's new Josta drink
    Richard Drew—Associated Press

    PepsiCo’s Josta may have been one of the first real “energy drinks” to hit American shores, and definitely the first to be made by a major soda manufacturer. Released in 1995, Josta included guarana, now an energy drink staple, and competed with the recently revived Jolt soda for caffeine-happy customers before it was dropped a year before the new millennium.

    Why did it fail? Based on fan descriptions, Josta sounds like an acquired taste. From SaveJosta’s website:

    [Its flavor is] very difficult to describe. It’s safe to say it was one of the most uniquely-flavored beverages ever sold in the mainstream sodamarket (sic). It is fruity and berry like, with a bit of dark spices and the astringent bite of guarana berries. The color is a deep red, almost brown.

    I initially didn’t know what to make of it, but after a couple bottles fell completely in love.

    Considering the drink was released (and discontinued) around the same time as Surge, which targeted a similar demographic, and the fact that it was produced by Coca-Cola’s main rival, one could see Josta enjoying its own triumphant return. The soda even has a the requisite grass-roots lobbying group, although their recent petition to bring back Josta had fewer than 100 signatures at press time.

  • dnL

    dnL—the 7-Up logo upside-down—was an attempt to get parent company Cadbury Schweppes in on the xtreme drink craze. Unlike its parent brand, which tried to court an un-cola image, dnL was everything 7-Up was not: caffeinated, neon green, and marketed as an even more hip/cool/rad version of Mountain Dew. The soda’s official website, archived here, invites interested consumers to “Check It” and promotes dnL’s affiliation with the extreme snowboarding game SSX 3. After lagging sales, which Cadbury Schweppes America’s CEO blamed on the product’s poor fit with the 7-Up brand, dnL was discontinued in 2006.

  • Sprite Remix

    Sprite Remix
    Coca-Cola—Getty Images

    Compared with Coke, which repeatedly (and sometimes catastrophically) experimented with new flavors, Sprite has always been relatively stable. But in 2003, Coca-Cola decided to change that by releasing Sprite Remix. Remix came in three flavors—Tropical, Berryclear, and Aruba Jam—and each commercial featured plenty of record scratching and reminders that this wasn’t your parent’s soda, man. Soon it wasn’t anyone’s soda. Sprite Remix was cut in 2005.

  • Coke-Cola Lime

    Coca-Cola Lime
    Alamy

    Don’t even start with me about how this soda still exists, because Diet Coke Lime, which I believe was kept around just to taunt me, is a but a pale shadow of the magic that was real actual regular Coke Lime. It was tangy, it didn’t have that metallic Diet Coke burn, and even though it only lasted from 2005 to 2006, those were some good times. Also, the bottle’s green and red branding looked pretty darn cool.

  • Pepsi Twist

    Pepsi Twist
    John Brown—Alamy

    This lemon-flavored cola seemed like a great idea, but apparently never quite caught on. It had an initial run from 2000 through 2006—enough time to disturb most of America with a string of strange commercials—before being dropped. Twist briefly reappeared for the 2008 NFL season before disappearing again from shelves.

  • OK

    Coca-Cola's new OK soda
    Ted Thai—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

    OK soda might be one of the strangest soft drinks every brought to market. As BuzzFeed recounts in its history of the failed brand, Coca-Cola decided in 1993 that it needed a product that would connect with cynical Gen-Xers who didn’t want to drink anything made by the “the man.” The solution? Make a soda just as ironic and disaffected as its target demographic. OK adopted a faux-nihilist/dystopian advertising campaign that, among other slogans, included:

    “What’s the point of OK? Well, what’s the point of anything?”

    “OK soda says ‘Don’t be fooled into thinking there has to be a reason for everything'”

    “It’s OK for you to think I’m not OK but I am”

    In the end, sales weren’t OK. The soda never made it out of test markets and was discontinued in 1995.

  • Orbitz

    Orbitz soda
    Sean Nash via Flickr

    In 1997, Orbitz soda hit shelves, wowing consumers with its weird little balls that never sank to the bottom of the bottle. That’s not actually enough to sell soda though, at least long term. A weird early-internet marketing campaign, centered around “Planet Orbitz” and what TIME called a “cough-syrupy taste” didn’t help matters. After a year, Orbitz the soda was gone, but it lives on through its URL, Orbitz.com, which now directs to the popular travel site of the same name.

  • Crystal Pepsi

    Bottles of Crystal Pepsi are seen in a bottling factory in 1992.
    Pepsi-Cola—Associated Press

    Crystal Pepsi was only around for about a year in its original form, and then for another brief aborted reboot, but you wouldn’t know it from the absolute fervor around bringing back the clear beverage. And that’s all it was, really; just clear cola. But Pepsi made an impression with some crazy early advertising, including a 1993 super bowl spot featuring Van Halen’s “Right Now.”

    The drink didn’t meet sales goals and it was canned soon after, but then quickly reappeared as a citrus soda known only as Crystal. That flopped too, and now Crystal Pepsi only exists in the memories of its seemingly infinite fans. Those people were whipped into a frenzy last year when a hoax-site called the Wall Street Sentinel reported an early 2014 comeback. That rumor was debunked, however, and the world still yearns for another clear soda that tastes like Pepsi—or Coke, we’re not picky. Change.org is filled with Crystal Pepsi revival petitions, like this one, but without a coherent movement the soda seems far from a return.

MONEY Shopping

Why Urban Outfitters Won’t Stop Offending People

Urban Outfitters has made a habit of tasteless products. Can they ever go too far, or is any publicity good publicity?

The world awoke this morning to yet another clothing-related scandal, courtesy of Urban Outfitters. The Philadelphia-based brand, which traffics in try-hard hipster clothing, released what might be its most tasteless creation yet: a Kent State University sweatshirt adorned with what appears to be blood stains. Kent State University was home to the 1970 massacre in which four students were killed and nine others wounded by National Guard soldiers.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 11.25.29 AM

The thing is, this isn’t the first (or second, or even third) time Urban Outfitters has caught flak for selling horrible products. Making extremely offensive clothes has been almost synonymous with the company’s brand. Before Kent State, there was a top covered front-to-back with the word “depression.” Before that, another Urban Outfitters shirt featured a star that appeared nearly identical to the insignia Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany. (More recently, Zara pulled a shirt from its shelves for the same reason.) And before that there was the infamous “Eat Less” shirt, which prompted One Tree Hill star Sophia Bush to boycott the store in protest of what she saw as a “pro-anorexia message.”

So is Urban Outfitters run by a bunch of jerks? Perhaps, but—and this is an important but—they’re jerks with business sense. Urban Outfitters Inc, the company that owns Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain, and Bhldn brands, recently announced record quarterly sales of $811 million. If courting controversy was bad for the bottom line, Urban wouldn’t be doing it. That begs the question: Is any publicity good publicity, as the saying goes, or will the company eventually suffer if it goes too far over the line?

Kit Yarrow, PhD, a consumer psychology expert and professor at Golden Gate University (and MONEY contributor), believes being repugnant is (regrettably) a good business strategy, especially for clothing brands that target a younger audience. “I think they get encouragement to keep doing it because they do get a lot of attention for it,” said Yarrow. “It’s offensive and a little bit tasteless, but shock value just can’t be underrated these days. In some ways it’s a little bit appealing to consumers to connect with a store that’s on the edgier side, and that’s one of the ways the store tells consumers they’re pushing the boundaries and aren’t your parents lame old store.”

Another factor that may reward an offend-first strategy is that millennials, Urban Outfitter’s core demographic, are especially difficult to reach because they’re constantly bombarded with stimulation and advertising. According to Yarrow, it may take something truly shocking to break through all of the noise. A bloodstained sweater referencing an event most young people only vaguely know about might be what it takes to bring the Urban Outfitters brand to the forefront.

Yarrow doesn’t think the company will suffer for its Kent State gaffe. “If they apologize in any way, and a half-hearted apology is their typical pattern, then they’re partially forgiven,” she explained. Sure enough, the company was quick to post a completely unbelievable mea culpa on Twitter soon after the story broke.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 11.25.45 AM

Short of expressing explicit prejudice (and even then, there are exceptions), it’s hard for Urban Outfitters or any brand to offend so badly as to experience serious financial harm, Yarrow said. She pointed out that Chick-fil-A has persevered, despite its opposition to gay marriage. American Apparel was ultimately forced to demote CEO Dov Charney after repeated allegations of sexual harassment began to interfere with business, but he is still at the company as a consultant and is paid the same salary as when he was chief executive. CNN reports the company’s financials are improving.

The one thing Yarrow thinks consumers won’t forgive is a failure to push boundaries. Abercrombie, another millennial-focused clothing brand, has had its own share of scandals, but she believes its recent sales troubles have more to do with the company’s perceived arrogance and willingness to rest on its laurels. “One girl told me last week ‘They [Abercrombie] haven’t done a thing differently in a decade,’ ” said Yarrow. “Not being daring is more offensive to Gen Y-ers.”

MONEY health

How the Flu Shot Became the New Doorbuster Deal

Flu Shots
Yagi Studio—Getty Images

Pharmacies are using coupons and early season promotions in an aggressive competition to give flu shots to more Americans. The hope is that these efforts give their overall sales a shot in the arm.

Take a look at any chain pharmacy in your neck of the woods, and odds are it’ll be advertising special deals on flu shots. The trade publication Supermarket News recently rounded up a list of promotions showing that retailers are getting “creative” to encourage more customers to get flu shots. CVS promises shoppers that they’ll get a free flu shot (with most insurance plans), as well as a “shopping pass” valid for 20% off non-sale merchandise on the day you’re vaccinated. Safeway knocks a flat 10% off your grocery bill when you come in to get a flu shot. Target is waving a deal of 5% off your total purchase on the day you get a flu shot, which can range in (retail) price from $24.99 to $49.99. Get vaccinated at a Giant Food store and you’ll be rewarded with a coupon book good for savings of more than $30.

What’s more, just as retailers are constantly expanding the Christmas season with promotions and ads that start earlier and earlier every year, pharmacies are trying to beat the competition to the punch by pushing flu shots long before flu season is on the radar of consumers. Walgreens, which is utilizing a “Get a Shot. Give a Shot.” marketing campaign to win over consumers’ flu shot business—money raised helps poor children around the world get vaccinated—announced back on August 19 that all of its stores, health care clinics, and Duane Reade locations (which it also owns) were armed and ready to administer flu shots. Rite Aid actually beat Walgreens by a week, informing customers that flu shots were available at all of its stores starting on August 12, more than two weeks before Labor Day weekend.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with stores encouraging Americans to protect their health by getting flu shots. The CDC recommends annual flu vaccinations for almost everyone ages 6 months and up.

Yet it still seems fair to question the motivation of the flu shot peddlars. You don’t have to be a cynic to see that retailers promote flu vaccinations and other health-minded initiatives at least partly out of self-interest. When CVS stopped selling tobacco products, it was regarded first and foremost as a win for the health of all Americans, but it has also come to be seen as a savvy business move that’s helped the drugstore chain stand out from competitors in the marketplace and boosted the company’s stock price significantly.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that flu vaccinations are very profitable for drug makers and drugstores alike. Sales are increasing rapidly in the age of Obamacare and increased coverage too. Forbes reported in 2013 that the number of flu shots administered by CVS had more than doubled the previous year. For the first quarter of 2014, immunizations at Walgreens were up 34% compared to the previous year. In early September, Meijer Pharmacy announced that it expects to administer 30% more flu shots this season compared to a year ago.

An increase in flu shots means an increase in shoppers, who are especially likely to browse the aisles and buy stuff when they’re given a coupon for discounted merchandise that day. So in a way, flu shots are not unlike loss leaders or Black Friday doorbuster deals: They’re handy for helping retailers to draw loads of customers inside stores. Only with flu shots, pharmacies aren’t losing money each time one is sold, which is often the case with deeply discounted “doorbusters.” Drugstores must also like establishing the idea in the minds of consumers that a store that’s good for vaccinations is also probably a solid go-to resource for nearly all of the customer’s health needs, preventive care in particular.

Varying advice on when flu shots should be administered may raise some eyebrows as well. No one gets more than one flu shot (at least not on purpose), so there’s a natural incentive for pharmacies to try to get their needles into the shoulders of shoppers before the competition does. But is getting a flu shot while it’s still summer a good idea?

Rite Aid certainly thinks so. “Getting a flu shot as soon as it is available is the single best way to protect yourself and others against the flu,” Robert I. Thompson, Rite Aid executive vice president of pharmacy, said in a press release.

“The best time to get a flu shot is not October, but actually before or soon after school starts,” Meijer Drug Store Vice President Nat Love said in a statement. “Once classes begin, kids can literally bring viruses into your home every day, and it becomes difficult to keep influenza from spreading throughout the whole family. There is no expiration date to receiving a flu shot, so the sooner you get your flu shot, the better chance you have of staying healthy.”

As for the CDC, its recommendations for timing are as follows: “Vaccination optimally should occur before onset of influenza activity in the community. Health care providers should offer vaccination soon after vaccine becomes available (by October, if possible). Vaccination should be offered as long as influenza viruses are circulating.”

That would seem to settle that. Only it doesn’t because not everyone is on the same page. Dr. Mark Dowell, an infectious disease doctor at Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases, recently told the Casper Journal (Wyoming) that because a flu shot’s efficacy starts wearing off as early as four months after being injected (perhaps sooner if you’re over 65), you could be asking for trouble by electing to being vaccinated before October 1. “If you get your flu shot too early,” Dr. Dowell said, “you may run out of protection before the peak flu season hits in Wyoming.”

It also seems worth pointing out that, at times, marketers seem guilty of stretching the truth in order to give customers the hard sell on flu vaccinations. “Following a second straight severe flu season in the U.S., and one which impacted younger adults in particular with increased hospitalizations, health officials are encouraging early vaccination to help protect against influenza this season,” a Walgreens statement released in August explained. Indeed, the CDC verifies that the flu hit young people particularly badly in 2014. But overall, it was not a “severe flu season” like Walgreens suggests. In fact, despite the brutally cold winter, cough and flu medicine sales from giants like Procter & Gamble were weak, indicating fewer people were sick.

And, ostensibly, a big reason fewer people were sick is … because they’d gotten flu shots!

So go on and get your flu shot. But go in with your eyes wide open, understanding how the game is played.

MONEY Family

Walmart Swears Your Kids Want This New Smartwatch for Christmas

Vtech Kidizoom Smartwatch
VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch courtesy of VTech

Parents: Don't have a heart attack. It's not the Apple Watch kids are supposedly demanding.

Well, at least not yet. But that may only be because the freshly introduced Apple Watch isn’t on sale until early 2015.

Though critics have voiced plenty of concerns about the new Apple Watch—you still need a phone to use it, battery life is limited—the assumption is that young people especially will be eager to strap on the fancy, futuristic new gizmo and see what it can do. This, in turn, has caused some to rally parents to put up a united front and just say no to kids having Apple Watches, which will sell at retail for a hefty $350 after all.

Lots of kids will have smartwatches anyway—and they’ll get them even before their parents are noodling around excitedly to see what their own Apple Watches can do. According to Wal-Mart, which just released its “Kid-Approved Holiday Toy List,” one of the top gifts young children crave under the tree come December 25 is something of a knockoff of Apple’s hot new gadget. The VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch just entered the marketplace, and after consulting hundreds of children, Wal-Mart claims that it will be one of the hottest toys of the season. VTech lists the product as best for kids ages 4 to 7, and it sells for the comparatively low price of $60.

What does VTech’s Smartwatch do? Mostly, it takes photos and video and can be used for a few games. It has a touch screen, and, yes, it has a clock (50+ different designs) with an alarm and a timer. It doesn’t have Siri or the ability to track your heart rate or communicate with others, so there shouldn’t be any confusing this watch with the Apple offering.

Early reviewers of the device—many of them mommy bloggers who say upfront that they were given one free to test and write about—rave about it, for the most part. A PCMag.com review rated the Kidizoom at four out of five stars, with strong marks given because it’s easy and fun and takes decent videos and photos, but it loses a few points because of limited memory (a few minutes of video and you’re tapped out) and battery life that didn’t live up to what’s promised.

Yet all things considered, there’s good reason to be a little skeptical that kids will make this one of the hottest toys of the season. And if it does wind up being a hot holiday gift, who knows how long this device will actually hold a child’s interest?

Then again, who knows about any of this? A few years back, there was plenty of skepticism about the idea of buying tablets for kids, but before you knew it gadgets like the Leapfrog LeapPad tablet were in high demand around the holidays.

Bear all of this in mind when determining whether or not to purchase the supposedly “Kid-Approved” new smartwatch as a holiday gift. And if you do buy one, good luck convincing your kid that the VTech smartwatch is just as good as Apple’s when its smartwatch goes on sale to the public a few weeks after Christmas.

MONEY Shopping

What Has the World Come to When Dunkin’ Goes Dark and Guinness Goes Light?

Guinness Blonde
courtesy of Diageo

Guinness, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Dunkin' Donuts are trying to win over new customers by taking a sharp break from their core mission. They should be worried about alienating their core customers in the process.

Everywhere you look, it seems, there’s a major brand introducing a new product, service, or store model that’s more or less the opposite of what the company is best known for. Taco Bell, famous for cheap, indulgent, down-and-dirty Mexican food, is trying to woo foodies with an upscale “premium” taco restaurant. Starbucks, which became a phenomenon for its personalized, barista-made (and slow) approach to rich, dark caffeinated beverages, recently announced plans for a series of small express stores where the focus will be on speedy takeout rather than the laid-back café experience. JetBlue, born with the principle that all passengers should get the same high-quality service, introduced a VIP business class called “Mint” over the summer. Wal-Mart, the blue-collar favorite that has always focused first and foremost on cheap prices, has dramatically expanded into a realm normally considered the domain of elites and picky foodies: organic foods.

And now Dunkin’ Donuts, a stalwart purveyor of light, sweet, mainstream coffee, is introducing a dark roast blend, while also playing up to niche dieters by adding almond milk to the menu. Meanwhile, the rich, dark, iconic Irish stout Guinness is going in the other direction with a light new Blonde American Lager.

For some, Guinness’s move is tantamount to sacrilege—if not for selling out its Irish roots with a beer for the “American” audience (that’s made in the U.S. too), then for producing the lighter beer itself, which few have tasted but some have compared to Bud Light—in certain respects anyway.

Why are Guinness and these other brands risking the possibility of alienating their core customers? What’s behind this trend of straying in the opposite direction from what made these companies successful to begin with? Do these moves represent a smart expansion of the brand or an identity crisis? The answers largely depend on whether consumers deem the new products and services as brilliant and appealing or as puzzling, weird, and perhaps even desperate.

Dr. Edward Tauber, who coined the term “brand extension” in 1979, told AdWeek that the best brand extenders have three things in common: “The brand should be a logical fit with the parent brand; the parent should give the extension an edge in the new category; and the extension should have the potential to generate significant sales.”

Some might argue that the efforts mentioned above aren’t logical expansions for the parent company. They may even turn off some regular customers. But expanding a brand in the opposite direction—while remaining in the same product category—is a lot more logical than heading off in some random, nonsensical fashion. You may not be keen on Guinness’s brand being applied to a light beer for Americans, but at least pale lagers and dark stouts are both beer. When Heineken introduced a brand of shoes, AdWeek voters listed it among the worst brand extensions of 2013.

When Dunkin’ Donuts announced the addition of a dark roast, the reaction was more It’s about time than What in the world are they thinking? “We saw an unmet demand for a dark roast product that had a bold flavor but a smoothness that’s often associated with Dunkin’ Original Blend,” John Costello, Dunkin’ Brands’ president of global marketing and innovation, quite logically explained to the Wall Street Journal regarding DD’s new dark roast.

Today’s executives aren’t satisfied simply by reaching a large group of customers with a stable set of tried-but-true products and services. In our fast-moving, constantly changing marketplace, brands feel compelled to hunt, relentlessly and shark-like, for the business of every consumer, at every opportunity.

For decades, the majority of fast food chains were content to do the vast majority of their business during the lunch and dinner hours. Then someone realized that formula was writing off plenty of hours of the day in terms of sales potential. Hence, the increased marketing of fast food “snacks,” meant to be consumed in the odd “day parts” in between normal meal breaks, as well as late-night specials and a huge push for breakfast

Similarly, a few years back Starbucks realized that it was overlooking a huge market by sticking exclusively with darker roasts—40% of coffee drinkers prefer lighter, milder roasts—so the Blonde roast was introduced to fuel growth among folks who otherwise wouldn’t be Starbucks customers. Thanks partly to its ability to expand the customer base, Starbucks seems to be winning the coffee wars, with same-store sales growth that’s surpassed competitors like Dunkin’ Donuts.

Wal-Mart’s organic foods push is an indication that the world’s largest retailer had gotten tired of allowing Whole Foods to dominate the space. The expansion into healthier foods wouldn’t seem to be all that controversial—Wal-Mart promised shoppers that they’d save 25% or more compared to similar products—yet even this move is not without risk. During the mid-’00s and beyond, Walmart was criticized for betraying blue-collar shoppers by raising prices and getting rid of “rollback” specials in an attempt to keep pace with Target and other, more upscale competitors. What’s more, there’s a significant portion of consumers who aren’t fans of organic foods. According to a recent Gallup poll, 15% of Americans say they “actively try to avoid” organic foods. Why? Perhaps because they assume such foods cost more or don’t taste good. And it’s safe to assume folks who feel this way are far more likely to shop at Wal-Mart than at Whole Foods.

MONEY deals

The Apple Store Is Now the Last Place You Should Buy Your iPhone

customer carrying Verizon bag
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images

For the best deal on a new iPhone, avoid the company that actually makes the device.

UPDATE—5:12 P.M.

In the past, it didn’t really matter where you bought your iPhone. It would cost the same upfront, and you’d be presented with the same plan and pricing options almost anywhere you went to make the purchase.

Over the years, however, retailers and providers have periodically offered discounts and other perks—trade-in and sign-on bonuses, special gift cards, etc.—to set themselves apart from the competition and win the business of more iPhone customers. This week’s unveiling of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus has been accompanied by particularly compelling deals from Sprint and Verizon, among others. And what makes these deals especially interesting is that they can’t be had by consumers buying directly from Apple.

In other words, all of those people camped out at the Apple Store in anticipation of buying the new iPhone are waiting at the wrong place if what they want is the best deal. (Admittedly, the most fanatical Apple fans aren’t waiting in line for days in order to get a good price—they’re in it for other, mostly illogical reasons.)

Sprint rolled out two special deals for the new iPhones: an unlimited talk, text, and data plan for $50 per month with either the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus; and an “iPhone for Life” plan that includes all of the above plus a free iPhone upgrade every two years, at a cost of $70 per month for the iPhone 6 16GB. Note that the latter is a lease: You’re technically paying $20 monthly for the phone, plus $50 a month for the service plan. Because it’s a lease, when you upgrade, Sprint gets to resell the old phone, not you. Also, note that for both of these deals, customers pay $0 upfront when signing up. (The lease option costs $0 upfront for everyone, and for the $50/month plan, Sprint gives new customers a credit up to $300 for trading in an old phone, which should cover the initial cost of a new iPhone.)

Finally, note that for now at least, these offers aren’t available from Apple. “Both the Sprint Simply Unlimited Plan – unlimited data, talk and text for $50 per month – and the iPhone for Life lease option ($20 for 16 GB iPhone 6) are available through Sprint branded stores, sprint.com and Sprint telesales,” a Sprint spokesperson clarified to MONEY via e-mail. “At this time, iPhone for Life Plan is not available at Apple stores.”

T-Mobile, meanwhile, announced that starting September 17, it’ll beat any old phone trade-in offer from Sprint, AT&T, or Verizon by $50. Verizon Wireless promises a $200 gift card for customers who are trading in an iPhone 4 (or later model) and are signing up for a new two-year contract. The credit essentially offsets the $199 upfront cost of the iPhone 6. AT&T just announced that new and existing customers will get a $100 bill credit when registering a new iPhone for service by September 30.

What all of these deals have in common is that they’re not available to shoppers who buy iPhones at Apple Stores or Apple.com. Apple has its own trade-in programs and promotions, but ironically, the iPhone’s manufacturer offers the worst deals of all. Go into an Apple store on September 19 (assuming you can fight through the crowds) and you’ll be able to pick up a brand new iPhone 6 starting at the carrier-subsidied price of $199. Apple also offers the AT&T Next program, in which customers can upgrade their phone as soon as once every 12 months.

And… that’s about it. The company offers a recycling program where customers can get money off their next purchase or an Apple gift card in exchange for old Apple hardware. Unfortunately, this program pales in comparison to similar initiatives from Verizon and T-Mobile. An iPhone 4 in good condition will get you $60 from Apple, compared with $200 from Verizon—and even more from T-Mobile, which again will match competitor’s trade-in offers and top it by $50. There are many other options for selling an iPhone on your own that’ll net far more cash than what Apple would offer.

[An Apple spokesperson later contacted us to point out that Apple stores offer services that carrier locations do not, such as setting up a customer's iPhone to connect with iCloud, downloading their favorite apps, and otherwise helping iPhone buyers get comfortable with their devices.]

The new iPhones are officially on sale as of September 19, and preorders are being accepted starting September 12. We understand that buying an iPhone at an Apple Store is part of “the experience” for some consumers. Just bear in mind that by doing so, you’ll likely be paying a price beyond the time you spent waiting in line.

Related:
Apple Pay Is Here—And There’s One Big Problem
Why Only Apple Has What It Takes to Disrupt Our Wallets
Watch Apple’s Big Product Launch in Less Than 2 Minutes

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MONEY Smart Shopping

3 Tricks to Help You Snag the Best Deals Online

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Claire Benoist

New 'dynamic pricing' models make it tougher to find bargains online, unless you know how to beat the system. Use these strategies to beat back price bots.

There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of shopping for a product online and discovering that one site sells the item for 20% less. But perhaps you’ve noticed that snagging that kind of deal isn’t as easy as it once was?

Increasingly, online retailers are employing complex pricing algorithms that take into account factors like an item’s popularity and what competitors are charging for it. Sometimes the systems also factor in data about you—such as where you live, when you shop, how often you’ve visited the site, and what you’ve bought in the past.

The result? You might see prices for an item fluctuate by 15% to 20% in a short period, says Rafi Mohammed, author of The 1% Windfall: How Successful Companies Use Price to Profit and Grow. And the amount you’re charged could very well be different from what your friend will pay.

So-called dynamic pricing has long been used by airlines and hotel chains, which index prices to supply. But now both dynamic and differential pricing (based on who’s buying) are becoming “extremely common” in all aspects of online shopping, says Columbia Business School professor Robert Phillips. Amazon, BestBuy.com, and Walmart.com are among the e-tailers that cop to using these tactics. Beat back price bots with these tricks:

Be a secret shopper

If a retailer knows what you tend to buy and when, it can use that info to jack up the price on items you’re likely to pay more for, says Christopher Elliott, author of Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals. So you generally want to tell merchants as little about yourself as possible.

Most of what sellers know about you comes from “cookies,” small files sent to your browser by each site you visit. These relay info about your habits to other sites you surf.

You could delete your browser’s cookies—“clear browsing history” in the settings menu—before you shop. But this may erase info that could help you in the pricing wars (a shoe e-tailer, for example, may market better deals to someone who often shops at Zappos).

So first try opening a “private” window on Firefox or an “incognito” window on Chrome or turn on “private browsing” in Safari, all of which let you surf without saving cookies. That way, you can compare the prices a retailer offers when it doesn’t know who you are with those it offers when it does.

Also, use multiple browsers or devices. “A different IP address can turn up a different price, even if you’ve cleared cookies,” says shopping expert Andrea Woroch. Digital Folio, a real-time pricing site now known as Cartbound, offers a demo on YouTube: A site rep pastes the URL of a TV costing $199 at Walmart.com on Firefox into Chrome—where it’s priced at $168.

Play hard to get

“Customers who are loyal are the least price sensitive, so it makes sense to charge them more,” says Phillips.

Hesitating on a purchase shows your willingness to go elsewhere and may get a retailer to sweeten the pot. Web research firm Baymard Institute found that 68% of online shopping carts are abandoned after initial click-throughs. Retailers are desperate to convert those carts into sales, so in many cases they’ll offer a better deal to get you to buy, says Phillips.

Coupon site Rather-be-shopping.com found 17 well-known retailers (including Bed, Bath & Beyond, Macy’s, and Williams-Sonoma) that offered coupons (ranging from 20% off to free shipping) to customers who left their carts.

Don’t want to pay full price on those towels from Pottery Barn? Log in to your Pottery Barn account and put them in your cart. Within a few days, you may get an email offering them at a lower price.

Arm yourself

There are a few tools you can use to benefit from price fluctuations.

Camelcamelcamel.com, for example, lets you create price watches on Amazon products. (See the chart below for an example of how dramatic price fluctuations can be over a 30-day period.) You are alerted to changes and can browse products with the biggest price drops.

Another smart tool is InvisibleHand, a browser extension you can install on Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Whenever you land on a page selling a product, it automatically searches the web for the lowest prices on the item.

These tools can help you stay a step ahead of the retailer, says Woroch. “It’s not always easy, but you can save a lot of money in the long run.”

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