Monthly Archives: April 2008

Wal-Mart Photo Processing At The Impossible Price Of 9 Cents A Print ? Don’t Bet On It.

screenshot from walmart.com

Order 4″ x 6″ prints of your digital photos at walmart.com for only 9 cents each.

Impossible you say?

You’d be right. In fact, it appears that nobody ever paid 9 cents for a photo printed at Wal-Mart, regardless of how long they were willing to wait for it, or whether they picked it up or had it delivered.

Now, is it just us (we’ll admit to not always being the sharpest tool in the shed), or is this deceptive and illegal advertising ? Is this what you expect from Wal-Mart ? You be the judge.

Walmart’s online photo processing is actually provided by Hewlett-Packard’s Snapfish service, rebranded with the Wal-Mart name. If you choose the 1-hour processing option, Snapfish transmits your photos to the Wal-Mart store you select, where they are printed by Wal-Mart’s in-store minilab using FujiFilm equipment and FujiFilm photo paper. If you choose one of the two less expensive options, your photos are processed by Snapfish. They were reportedly processing these photos using Noritsu equipment and Kodak photo paper, but it appears that they may now be using FujiFilm equipment and paper for these orders also. Depending on the option chosen, Snapfish ships them to your local Wal-Mart store for pick-up within a few days, or mails them to your home.

Snapfish rebrands their website and processing service for many different retailers, not just Wal-Mart. Uploading your photos to the Wal-Mart/Snapfish website, and having them delivered to your local Wal-Mart, or to your mailbox, is certainly convenient. And we’re sure that regardless of whether Snapfish or Wal-Mart prints them, you’ll get good quality photos.

It’s interesting to note that whether your prints are processed on a Noritsu or FujiFilm minilab, the hardware was probably made by Noritsu, since they also supply hardware to FujiFilm. That’s what you call market penetration. In the automobile industry, that would be like Toyota supplying the engine and chassis to Honda for them to produce their cars with.

We can understand the “snap” in Snapfish, but why that name? Why not snapturtle.com, or snapdog.com, or snapcat.com, or snapcow.com, or snappy.com, or snapit.com, etc., etc., etc. There is a type of fish called the Red Snapper, but is there also a fish called the Snapfish? And even if there is, why choose that name? Just curious. After all, there’s a ton of strange names that have become popular Web destinations… ebay, google, yahoo, etc. We guess Snapfish is OK. Strange, but OK. Actually, in the Web universe, the rule seems to be the more ridiculous (and the shorter) the name is, the better the chance of success.

As shown above, Wal-Mart advertises 4″ x 6″ prints as low as 9 cents each. The problem is that there is no way to actually get them for 9 cents. The most expensive 1-hour option, with processing and pickup at a Wal-Mart store is 19 cents a print. The process-by-snapfish and pick-up at Wal-Mart option is 15 cents a print. The least expensive option, processed by snapfish and mailed to your home, is 9 cents a print, plus shipping. Shipping charges range from 14 cents a print (total cost of 23 cents a print) when ordering 10 prints, to 5 cents a print (total cost of 14 cents a print) when ordering 100 prints. We checked the cost for orders up to 600 prints, and it never dropped below a total cost of 13 cents a print, including shipping.

There appears to be no way to actually get 4 x 6 prints, in any quantity, for the advertised price of “from 9 cents” each. That holds true even if you are willing to pick them up at a Wal-Mart store, and even if you are willing to wait a week, or forever, for that matter.

Now, it’s perfectly acceptable for them to be charging for shipping. After all, they do have to pay for postage. But is it fair (or legal) to advertise the 9 cent per print price, when you can’t actually get them for that amount, even if you are willing to wait a week, and pick them up at your local Wal-Mart? We don’t think so.

…And don’t forget to add the sales tax, which is added to your total, regardless of the pickup or delivery option you choose.

Maybe we could swallow their pricing claims if they charged 9 cents a print when you choose in-store pickup (in days, not in 1-hour). The fact of the matter is that for either of their least expensive processing options, you’ll pay a total of 15 cents a print, plus tax (based on an order of 50 prints… even more per print for small orders).

We think a retailer such as Wal-Mart, who is the largest retailer in the world (as well as the largest private-sector employer in the United States), should be more forthright in their advertising.

Get the picture?

The true cost of printing your photos at walmart.com should be coming into focus now.

– RoutingByRumor

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Filed under Business, Consumerism, Deception Engineering, Digital Photography, Hewlett-Packard, Money, Retail, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Scams, Shopping, Walmart, Your Money

What Are They Smoking Over At Blockbuster, Inc.? (2)

…because whatever it is, I want some.

Previously, we wrote about how Circuit City Stores, Inc. was basically, a dead company walking. We believe that the management of Circuit City irreparably damaged their company and their brand, by their really, really dumb decisions. Not only were they terrible choices from a business perspective, but they also proved that the company lacked a conscience and a soul. Circuit City sealed their own fate just over a year ago. We wrote that we would never again set foot in a Circuit City store, and that vow applies regardless of who buys the company, or what they might rename it. We think the American public feels the same way about Circuit City. They’re done.

Article continued here.

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Oh Great… Just When I Feel Like Having Arroz Con Pollo, They Announce Rice Rationing !

J. Howard Miller's World War II poster

J. Howard Miller’s (see obituary) World War II era poster

Global warming, mad cow disease, Iraq, disappearing honey bees, $4.00/gallon gasoline, the real estate slump, food riots around the world, a recession here in the U.S. (despite what Washington may be telling you), and now rice rationing ?

Check your calendar. Is it 2008, or 1942 ?

I’ve lost my appetite. Forget the rice. I’m going to buy some Soylent Green. Speaking of Soylent Green, maybe we can have Charlton Heston investigate this rice shortage. Oops, too late.

…And you do need a balanced diet, so get some Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow, too.

You have to wonder why Costco and Wal-Mart (Sam’s Club) would choose to ration rice purchases, rather than let market forces control demand and price. Rationing tends to induce panic buying. This is a bad omen, coming at a time when corn is in short supply because of the demand created by ethanol production.

What’s next ? Sending military advisors to Vietnam, to help the rice paddy farmers ? We’ll call it a “police action”. Maybe they can dust off “Rosie The Riveter” and have her star in a new campaign to eat potatoes, and the government can start issuing rice coupons.

I can see it now… McDonald’s running TV commercials advertising their “Freedom Fries”. Bags of “Patriot Chips” on store shelves. People throwing popcorn at weddings. Boycotts of Chinese restaurants that serve rice. Food manufacturers promoting rice-free products. The price of potatoes quadrupling overnight. Runaway wheat prices. Supermarkets using armored cars to deliver rice to their stores. “Rice lines” at the supermarkets, and “rice riots” in the streets. Soccer moms fighting in the cereal aisle over the last box of Rice Chex. Rice-free Fridays. “Black market” rice. Even/Odd day rice rationing. Flour rationing. Bootlegged rice. $5.00 or $10.00 loaves of bread (which isn’t such a huge jump, since many premium breads now sell for close to $4.00 a loaf). And don’t forget the inevitable Congressional hearings into the rice shortage, with farmers and wholesalers invoking the fifth amendment. Northerners might even discover what Southerners already enjoy, grits. The USO starts an anti-rice campaign, encouraging Americans to send potatoes to servicemen instead, with the catchy phrase… “Send a sack to our boys in Iraq” (inspired by “Send a salami to your boy in the Army” (youtube) …featuring Jerry Lewis at Katz’s Delicatessen, NYC, from “At War With The Army“.) Also see this blogger’s raving about Katz’s Delicatessen, a New York City landmark. (While we’re on the subject of movies and Katz’s Delicatessen, here’s the classic scene from “When Harry Met Sally”, starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. It was also filmed in Katz’s Delicatessen.)

You’re walking down the street, and some guy steps out of a dark alleyway. Pssst… hey bud, youz wants to buy a bag of Basmati, real cheap?

$4.00/gallon gasoline will pale in comparison.

– RoutingByRumor

photo courtesy of Kobako / Wikimedia

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What Are They Smoking Over At Blockbuster ?

What are they smoking over at Blockbuster ?

…because whatever it is, I want some.

Previously, we wrote about how Circuit City Stores, Inc. was basically, a dead company walking. We believe that the management of Circuit City irreparably damaged their company and their brand, by their really, really dumb decisions. Not only were they terrible choices from a business perspective, but they also proved that the company lacked a conscience and a soul. Circuit City sealed their own fate just over a year ago. We wrote that we would never again set foot in a Circuit City store, and that vow applies regardless of who buys the company, or what they might rename it. We think the American public feels the same way about Circuit City. They’re done.

It’s over for Circuit City. We’re as surprised as anyone that they are still in business today. If someone pays a nickel for the company, they’re paying about five cents too much. Besides, we think that buying Circuit City at this juncture, with the hope of turning it around, is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Aside from being an incredibly stupid business decision, any company that tries to breathe new life into Circuit City is also being terribly inhumane. We think the best and most compassionate thing at this point would be euthanasia. We’ve already said our goodbyes and gotten over Circuit City.

As incredible as it seems, Blockbuster is actually talking $1 billion for Circuit City (see “Is Circuit City Up For Sale?”, Businessweek, April 8, 2008, and “Blockbuster Weighing Options To Fund Circuit City Bid”, Reuters, April 21, 2008). Reminds us of eBay’s $2.6 billion purchase of Skype. If I was a Blockbuster shareholder, I’d be running for the nearest exit right about now. About the only idea in the past 100 years more ill-conceived than Blockbuster’s interest in Circuit City, was Circuit City’s interest in DIVX. Consumers quickly drove a stake thru the heart of DIVX.

This whole thing reminds us of a comment that Sun Microsystems’ Scott McNealy once made about the then-proposed merger between Hewlett-Packard and Compaq… “It’s like two garbage trucks backing into each other in slow motion. (Beep, beep, beep…thunk)”. (see story at news.com)

If we may employ a railroad analogy, what we have here is the Circuit City Express. It’s heading down a steep grade, picking up steam, and the the bridge over Recession Gorge is dead ahead. Nobody involved seems to have noticed that the bridge has been washed out. The railroad did have experienced people who were familiar with the dangers on this route, but they were all replaced with employees who now earn just above minimum wage. Smart move. Inexperience notwithstanding, the bumpy ride over the last few miles should have tipped off the crew that something is very, very wrong.

On the one hand, you have Blockbuster, who thinks that this train is a good investment at $1.3 billion. On the other hand, you have the geniuses at Circuit City, who are scoffing at the paltry offer. Nobody seems to realize that what they are bickering over is an impending train wreck. Blockbuster is offering the passengers a way to get off the train, and the passengers are turning their noses up at the offer. It’s hard to tell whose judgment is worse. The employees that the railroad booted off the train a few miles back don’t realize how lucky they are.

Meanwhile, back in Dallas, Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes is sitting in his office, reading a book about an optimistic locomotive, and keeps repeating to himself “I think I can… I think I can”. Perhaps Mr. Keyes should put down the book, and check to see if they have this DVD at Blockbuster.

It’s too late for this to be an April Fools joke, so we’re guessing that Blockbuster is actually serious.

With our sincerest apologies to the late Richard P. Feynman

Surely you’re joking, Mr. Keyes !

– RoutingByRumor

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Prestone “Quick Fill” Pre-diluted Antifreeze: 50% Ethylene Glycol, 50% Chutzpah

If you think the price of gasoline is high, you should check out the price of automotive antifreeze. It makes gasoline look cheap.

Hey Mr. Wizard (aka Don Herbert), it’s time for a chemistry lesson.

Monoethylene glycol (MEG), 1,2-ethanediol, IUPAC name: ethane-1,2-diol, has the molecular formula C2H4(OH)2.

Diethylene glycol (DEG), 2,2′-oxybisethanol; 3-oxa-1,5-pentanediol, IUPAC name: (2-hydroxyethoxy)ethan-2-ol, has the molecular formula C4H10O3, and is one of the oligomers of ethylene glycol.

DEG is an unwanted side product formed during the production of EG from ethylene oxide. It appears to be present to some degree in all EG-based antifreezes.

All this reminds us of the phrase “Better living thru chemistry“, an often cynical variation of DuPont’s former advertising slogan, “Better Things for Better Living…Through Chemistry”. The use of the alternate slogan often refers to the problems created by man’s use or abuse of chemical technology. In the 1980s and ’90s, corporate identification with the word “chemical” fell out of favor because of environmental and human disasters such as the Bhopal Incident, and a concern that chemical production or use was increasingly being linked to cancer in humans or damage to the environment . Many chemical manufacturers dropped the word “chemical” from their names, for example, a ficticious “Acme Chemical Corporation” opting instead for “Acme Technologies”.

Historically, antifreeze was sold full-strength only. The consumer would mix it with water to achieve the required level of freeze protection. You would find a chart on the jug that told you what level of protection you would have for different ratios of antifreeze and water. The lowest freezing point was not at 100% antifreeze, as you might expect. It was somewhere around a 50% concentration. Then, a few years ago, we started seeing pre-mixed or pre-diluted antifreeze appearing on store shelves.

Full strength antifreeze (as opposed to the 50/50 antifreeze/water mix that is now widely sold) is almost pure ethylene glycol (EG), consisting of up to 96% MEG, and perhaps a few percent DEG. See the ingredient list in Prestone’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Worldwide demand as well as high energy prices have driven up the price of ethylene glycol, which is also used to produce “PET” plastic (ie: soda and water bottles), polyester fabric, and many other industrial and consumer products.

Ethylene glycol is synthesized in a process that involves converting ethylene to ethylene oxide (EO), and then a chemical reaction between EO and water to produce ethylene glycol. The hydrocarbon feedstock (raw material) used to produce EG’s precusor, ethylene, is usually natural gas, so you would expect natural gas prices and energy costs in general to affect the price of EG.

But textbook knowledge of the chemistry behind antifreeze production, and a knowledge of commodity prices still leaves us unable to explain not only the unprecedented rise in antifreeze prices, but also the marketing strategies used by manufacturers such as Prestone.

Prestone , originally owned by First Brands (which is now The Clorox Company also see Clorox’s history), is currently owned by Honeywell (formerly known as Allied-Signal, AlliedSignal, the Signal Companies, Allied Chemical and Dye Corp., Allied Corporation, etc., etc., etc.) You need a scorecard to keep track. Read more at Wikipedia.

A few years back, we can remember buying a gallon of full-strength Prestone for two or three dollars. The last time we bought a couple of gallons of Prestone in 2005, I believe we paid six or seven dollars a gallon.

We recently purchased two one-gallon jugs of full-strength Prestone antifreeze. We saw it priced as high as $15.00 a gallon in some stores, and ended up buying it for the bargain price of $12.00 a gallon. The same store was also selling Prestone’s 50/50 pre-diluted “Quick Fill” product for $11.00 a gallon. Since we’re a very good shopper, we’ll make the assumption that the price we paid is about the best you will find the full strength Prestone for, and that the pricing differential between the two products is reflective of the difference in the wholesale cost of the products to retailers.

But wait a minute… One product contains a gallon of full-strength Prestone for $12.00, and the other product contains a half-gallon of Prestone and a half-gallon of water for $11.00. Shouldn’t the jug that’s 50% water be a lot less expensive, say about half the price? We smell something fishy here. Since you would expect the half-gallon of water to be worth almost nothing (certainly less than one cent), why is the price differential only $1.00 between full-strength and half-strength Prestone ? It can’t be that the cost of the plastic jug or the transportation costs to ge it to the store make up most of the value of the product. After all, you can buy some brands of gallon jugs of windshield washer fluid for about a buck! Could it be that the folks at Prestone / Honeywell came up with a way to drastically increase the price of their product? By drastically, we mean almost double.

Since the retail price for a gallon of the full-strength Prestone was $12.00, and the retail price for a gallon of the half antifreeze/half-water product was $11.00, that equates to paying $5.00 for a half-gallon of water (or $10.00 for a gallon of water, since that’s what you’d get if you bought two jugs of pre-diluted Prestone). The two gallons of “Quick-Fill” (or 50/50) pre-diluted Prestone will cost you $10.00 more than buying one gallon of full-strength Prestone and supplying your own gallon of water).

The danger to consumers is not only to their wallets. If the high cost of antifreeze causes some vehicle owners to skimp on the amount of antifreeze they add to their cooling system (vehicle manufacturers generally specify a concentration is 50% antifreeze / 50% water), they not only sacrifice freeze protection, they risk damage to their engine’s water pump and corrosion to the cooling system and to vital engine parts. Repair bills could be very expensive. You might even need a new engine.

We guess another way of looking at it is that you’re paying $10.00 for a gallon of water, versus $12.00 for a gallon of full-strength antifreeze. Something stinks, and it’s not the ethylene glycol, which actually has a sweet smell. That’s why animals are sometimes poisoned by spilled antifreeze. They like the smell and the taste.

Is this price gouging, clever marketing, greed on the part of Prestone (and other companies), or something else that we haven’t thought of ? Since retailers seem to be stocking mostly the half-strength Prestone (and other brands of antifreeze), we think that the “convenience” of pre-mixed antifreeze that they are touting is really little more than a way to charge almost the same price for a product that costs about half as much to produce. We guess that qualifies as both clever marketing AND greed. Actually, we believe it’s yet another example of “Deception Engineering“, which always results in the consumer paying more, getting less, or both.

What we find particularly interesting is that Prestone’s method of giving the consumer less (exactly 50% less, in this case) is 180 degrees opposite from how many consumer product manufacturers have accomplished it. With many items such as detergent, bleach, dishwashing liquid, and the like, there has been a trend to label products with phrases like “ultra”, “concentrated”, etc., and charge much more for a smaller package that promises the same or more “loads”, “uses”, etc. Our experience and the calculations we’ve done have told us that when a manufacturer makes such a change, the consumer generally gets less value for their dollar. Therefore, we avoid such products when possible, opting for the “standard” strength, concentration, etc. In the case of Prestone, it’s not possible to manufacture an “ultra” antifreeze, since their product was already 100% (or nearly so) active ingredient. What they did instead, was to water it down, cutting the concentration in half, keep the package size the same, charge almost as much, and hope that consumers will buy the claim of a more convenient product. We wouldn’t be surprised if they phase out the full strength version of Prestone antifreeze completely, since “Quick Fill” Prestone nearly doubles their profit margin. Kinda reminds us of Coca-Cola’s red herring, “Smooth Serve” 1.5 liter bottles, another attempt at trying to convince the consumer that less (in this case, 25% less, since the standard bottle was 2 liters) is actually more.

Smooth Serve? Quick Fill? Yeah, right. Just how stupid do we consumers look?

Perhaps the most troubling part of all this is that while manufacturers in general have gone to great lengths to reduce plastics used in packaging, and to reduce their packaging costs, Prestone and other antifreeze manufacturers have done exactly the opposite. Now, to get the same amount of antifreeze, which is a poisonous (read about EG poisoning here), environmentally and biologically hazardous substance, you must buy twice as many jugs. This means that they have doubled the amount of plastic needed for their packaging, doubled the amount of fuel required to transport their product to retailers, and doubled the environmental impact of that transportation. It seems to us that the tree huggers at Prestone can’t be too concerned about the environment, let alone the consumer. Apparently, profit comes first, even before protecting the environment, before conserving non-renewable natural resources, and before their customers. What’s the opposite of “green“?

Perhaps we need legislation mandating that manufacturers are required to produce goods that consume the least amount of resources possible, particularly with regard to non renewable or non biodegradable materials used in their products and packaging. Nations around the world have enacted laws to limit or eliminate the production and use of ozone-depleting CFCs. Nations are now realizing the importance of curbing the production of greenhouse gases. Some cities are now banning the use of plastic grocery bags. Governments mandate minimum fuel economy standards for new vehicles. Perhaps more regulation of manufacturers is needed to limit environmental impact, and how natural resources are used, particularly in the chemical manufacturing industry.

While we can’t do without antifreeze, at $11.00 or $12.00 a gallon (and much more at some retailers), we can do without the convenience (and extra cost) of pre-diluted antifreeze, thank you very much. I think we would even save money if we diluted the full-strength Prestone with a gallon of Perrier. We I could drink any that’s left over (not the Prestone… The Perrier).

Often, comparing different package sizes or strengths of a product to determine which is a better value is a difficult process. We think that comparing the Prestone products we’ve discussed is, as they say, a “no-brainer”.

All this makes us wonder just how much that $15.00 jug of Prestone actually costs them to manufacture.

Perhaps we were wrong in our initial estimate. Perhaps the formula is closer to 1% ethylene glycol, 99% chutzpah.

– RoutingByRumor

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Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Business, Cars, Consumerism, Deception Engineering, Energy, Energy costs, Environment, Money, Personal, Retail, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Scams, Shopping, Shrinking Products, The Economy, Your Money

Still Waiting For Your Rebate Check From Eagle Technologies For Products Purchased At Micro Center ? Don’t Hold Your Breath !

WARNING TO CONSUMERS

WE RECOMMEND AGAINST PURCHASING PRODUCTS SOLD OR MARKETED BY THIS COMPANY

THEY HAVE A HISTORY OF DENYING VALID REBATE SUBMISSIONS AND/OR NOT PAYING VALID REBATE CLAIMS IN A TIMELY MANNER

We’ve written previously about the Micro Center chain of computer stores. We’ve also written about companies who play games with consumers when they try to claim a rebate. We like shopping at Micro Center because of their competitive prices and great selection, but we don’t like getting screwed when we try to get a rebate check for something we’ve purchased there. Micro Center needs to stop doing business with manufacturers who make it difficult or impossible to submit and receive rebates for products purchased at Micro Center. We consider a retailer’s advertisement of a product rebate to be a non-revocable contract with the purchaser, and we believe the courts will have the same opinion. Just as you expect to pay the advertised price, you expect to receive the advertised rebate in a reasonable amount of time and without unnecessary hassles.

Back in December 2007, we purchased two different Eagle Tech (Eagle Technologies) products at Micro Center, both of which offered rebates. We should have been suspicious, because the rebate offers had the most complicated and time consuming set of terms we’ve ever seen. To make matters worse, it’s pretty obvious that the people at Eagle Technologies do not have an impressive command of the English language, because the rebate form was full of grammatical errors and obviously writen by someone whose first language was probably Chinese. There are a lot of people in California. Couldn’t they find a native English speaker to proofread their rebate offer?

Here’s a verbatim example of what I’m speaking about…

We are not responsibility for any of non received check, Lost mail, Expired rebate check, Forgot deposit check issues. [sic], [sic], [sic], [sic] and [sic]” !!!

For those who have no idea what all the [sic]s mean, check out this article from Wikipedia.

Eagle Technologies / Eagle Tech is located in City of Industry, California. It’s an unusual place with an unusual name. (As an aside, if you visit the McDonald’s in City of Industry, you won’t be able to get a Big Mac or a Happy Meal. Here’s why!)

Eagle Tech requires you to first file your rebate claim online, then print out a form and mail it using an envelope that you paste their address label and barcode onto. Then you wait for several months while they “age” your claim (like it was a piece of cheese, I suppose), go thru several phases, including “submitted”, “received”, “approved”, “check printed”, etc. Are they joking? Is this a contest or a rebate offer?

Our rule of thumb is that the longer you have to wait, the more hoops you have to jump thru, and the more conditions in a rebate offer, the less likely it is to be legitimate, and the less likely you are to ever see a rebate check. We would certainly advise you not to make he same mistake we made, and to avoid Eagle Tech products, which include their CONSUS, ARION (or maybe it’s ORION), VOLTAS, FORTE, DRAGON and NEPTOR lines of computer products. Certainly don’t buy any of their products if you are depending on a hassle-free rebate experience.

It’s unfortunate that some retailers and manufacturers have to resort to these games. Certainly, there are many ethical companies that offer rebates that are easy to submit, and which are processed promptly. Sadly, Eagle Technologies does not appear to be one of them. So we wait… and hope. Will our rebates eventually arrive, or will Eagle Technologies declare bankruptcy first, as many companies that never fulfill rebates have done in the past, leaving their customers screwed and without recourse.

Here’s another Eagle Technologies customer’s horror story about their rebate experience. And here’s a forum string containing comments from customers who haven’t seen their Eagle Tech rebate checks.

And talk about long waits, that’s exactly what Eagle Technologies will have if they expect us to purchase any of their products again.

File this article under…

Eagle Tech Rebate Rebates

Eagle Tech Computer Rebate Rebates

Eagle Technology Rebate Rebates

Eagle Technologies Rebate Rebates

Micro Center Rebate Rebates

Rebate Fraud

Rebate Scams

Rebate Games

Deceptive Rebate Tactics

Rebate Hell

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