Tag Archives: Consumerism

Unilever Is Shrinking It’s Products. Don’t Be Fooled.

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Johnny Carson as “Carnac The Magnificent”

Another Shrinking Product:

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise

Carnac The Magnificent” was that all-seeing, all-knowing clairvoyant character played by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Carnac was able to devine the answers to questions given to him in sealed envelopes which his sidekick, Ed McMahon always explained, had been stored in a hermetically sealed mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnalls’ porch since Noon, yesterday (see “Carnac The Magnificent” on youtube.com).

Today, Ed McMahon might have trouble placing those envelopes in Hellmann’s mayonnaise jars. Like many other food products, the jars of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise (and I would guess, Unilever’s Best Foods Mayonnaise, as it is known “West of the Rockies”) are shrinking. Apparently, Unilever, the owner of the Hellmann’s and Best Foods brands, felt it was no longer able to continue selling the standard quart sized jar of mayonnaise. I think that the benchmark quart-sized jar of Hellmanns Mayonnaise was untinkered with as far back as anyone can remember. Lately, the container or package sizes that many food products have traditionally been sold in, whether it’s pound, liter, gallon, half-gallon, quart, pint, or dozen sized boxes, jars or bottles, are becoming extinct. Manufacturers use downsizing alone, or in conjunction with price increases and/or less expensive formulations, to raise the true cost of their products. You know, I could swallow the fact a little easier if they didn’t have to resort to deception engineering in an attempt to hide the fact that they’ve downsized their products.

George Bush told us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It was one of the justifications for the United States’ decision to invade Iraq. Those weapons have never been found in Iraq (see Iraq in the CIA‘s World Fact Book). Has anyone thought to look under the jars of Hellmann’s and Best Foods Mayonnaise in Saddam’s palaces?

That’s right. I said UNDER the mayonnaise jars, not in them.

In what appears to me to be an effort to deceive consumers, Unilever, the company that makes Hellmann’s and Best Foods Mayonnaise, has redesigned the jars (at least on their Hellmann’s brand) to hide the fact that they now contain less product. Unilever has used deception engineering to design a jar with a deeply concave bottom. I don’t think there’s a single legitimate reason for this, other than to make the jar appear to contain more mayonnaise than it actually does. You could probably hide half of a tennis ball under these jars. What was previously their 32 ounce (1 quart) jar is now 30 ounces, a reduction of almost seven percent. They have also switched from glass to plastic jars in recent years. I don’t know about you, but I prefer glass. I also believe glass jars (for any product) are more environmentally friendly. I doubt that most manufacturer’s packaging choices are driven as much by environmental factors as by cost, and plastic bottles and jars are currently less expensive than glass. Plastic bags are cheaper than paper bags, so most supermarkets prefer to use plastic despite the environmental impact.

To make matters even worse, we have noticed that our last few jars of Hellmanns Mayonnaise did not taste or look the same as it always did. It’s not as stiff or thick a consistency as it always was. I thought this was just my imagination until I started finding complaints posted on the Web about Unilever making changes to the Hellmanns Mayonnaise recipe. The postings I’ve read say that Unilever has acknowledged changing their recipe. This is blasphemy. What is wrong with the people at Unilever? They were apparently not content with giving consumers less in terms of volume, so they screwed with the recipe too? How much do you want to bet the recipe change was done to save Unilever money? Shortsighted, and just plain dumb, if you ask me. They must have geniuses running the company. When you have a product as successful and as instantly recognizable as Hellmanns Mayonnaise, you don’t mess with it. It’s an American classic (or at least it was). Perhaps nobody at Unilever cares. They’ll just run the brand into the ground, and sell it to another company when it’s no longer profitable. The financial analysts will proclaim what a great strategic business move it was, and Unilever’s Board of Directors will approve a salary increase for the CEO, who will fly the coop anyway, for an even higher paying job at another company.

Getting back to Iraq, if I were Saddam, I might have been tempted to hide any nerve gas, plutonium, anthrax, or other weapons of mass destruction I had under my Hellmann’s Mayonnaise jars. Honestly, who would think of looking there? The UN weapons inspectors were busy searching underground bunkers, military facilities and chemical plants. Placing those weapons under the Hellmann’s jars would have been the ultimate shell game.

Can’t find your car keys? Is one of your children missing? Unable to locate that remote control? Look under your jar of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise.

Trying to get rid of some dirt? Don’t sweep it under the rug. Put it under the jar of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. Kids… did you get a report card that you don’t want your parents to see? You know where to hide it.

Those nice people at Unilever must have thought they could get this one past consumers. I mean, who ever looks UNDER the jar?

We do.

You might want to thank Unilever for being considerate enough to lighten their jars of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, and making them so much easier to carry. If you’re in the USA, you can contact Unilever at the number printed on the label, 1(800) 418-3275 with your comments. Don’t forget to say “Thank You”. You can even speak to them in Spanish, since the label says “Se habla Espanol”. Tell them “Mucho Gracias from RoutingByRumor”, por favor. Also, ask them why the name of their Mayonnaise changes when it travels over the Rocky Mountains. My guess is that it has something to do with atmospheric pressure.

And next time you’re shopping, you might want to buy another brand that still comes in a full quart jar, and which still tastes as good as it used to.

To summarize, in my opinion…

– Jars of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise are now smaller.

– You get less Hellmann’s Mayonnaise for your money.

– Hellmann’s Mayonnaise does not taste as good.

– Hellmann’s Mayonnaise consistency has changed.

– The Hellmann’s Mayonnaise plastic jar does not protect it’s taste, quality or the environment as well as a glass jar.

– The Hellmann’s Mayonnaise packaging is deceptive.

– Unilever has lowered the quality and quantity of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise.

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Filed under 9/11, Consumerism, Deception Engineering, Environment, Iraq, Military, Money, Politics, Retail, Routing by Rumor, Scams, Shopping, Shrinking Products, Terrorism, The Planet, War, Your Money

New Balance Athletic Shoes – Made In USA? Yeah, Right!

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New Balance CM473KO

OK, I’ll admit it again… I’m a skeptic.

This is a continuation of my discussion about the disappearance of American manufacturing jobs, and the lengths that companies will go to in an effort to sugar-coat the fact that they have shipped their manufacturing overseas. See my previous post, Made In USA? Yeah, Right! Today, I’ll look at The New Balance Athletic Shoe Company, of Boston, Massachusetts. According to their Internet domain name registration, they are located at 61 North Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02134. Could someone explain where they came up with a name like “New Balance”? Is that a place (like “New Mexico”)?, a state of mind?, an allusion to better posture?, a reference to a new corporate reincarnation (as opposed to the (old) Balance Shoe Company? All of the above? None of the above?

Where does the name Nike come from? In Greek mythology, Nike was the goddess of victory. Where does the name Adidas come from? That one is a bit more obscure. Adidas is a contraction of “ADI (Adolph) DASsler“, that company’s founder’s name. Bet ya didn’t know that one! But remember, long before people were wearing Nike and Adidas, there were Keds! And although a bit off-topic, what do Adidas, Pepsi and the defunct chain of department stores called E.J. Korvette’s have in common? Find the answer here.

I’ve been wearing New Balance shoes since back when they really were making them in the USA. But today, it seems, most of their shoes say “Made In China”. The New Balance shoes that do say “Made In USA” say so on stickers affixed to the tags inside the shoes, but not on the shoes per se, and not on the box the shoes come in. I’m highly suspicious that their shoes labeled “Made In USA” are being made “lock, stock and barrel” in China, and that little manufacturing, other than perhaps inspecting them and placing a “Made in USA” sticker on them is actually being done in an American factory, by American workers.  According to this article in Fortune Magazine, 75% of New Balance shoes are made in China and Vietnam.  Perhaps an even more interesting aspect of the Fortune article are the shoes that many of those Asian factories produce on their “Third Shift” or “Ghost Shift”.   These shoes, produced in New Balance’s  foreign factories, aren’t exactly counterfeits, but they aren’t exactly genuine New Balance shoes either.  It’s an intriguing problem that companies such as New Balance face when moving their production offshore.  It also makes you wonder whether moving their production offshore might not be costing New Balance more than they are saving in labor costs.  Then there’s New Balance’s other problem, the  “Henkee”.

nb-1.jpgLet’s start with the box the shoes come in. It appears to be made in China. On the bottom of the box there is a logo and a few characters next to it, printed in (Mandarin?) Chinese. Well, let’s give New Balance the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps only the box is made in China.

Upon opening the box, I find a hang tag attached to one of the shoes that proclaims that New Balance is “Committed to American Workers”. Really? Almost hilariously, it also says “Solidaire des Travailleurs Americains”. I thought we speak English in America. Mon Dieu! (Je parle tres, tres peu Francais, mon ami.)

The back of the tag enigmatically states “New Balance has proven that high quality, width-sized athletic footwear can be made by Americans for discriminating consumers. We are proud of this fact“. Now, I know this is probably just paranoia on my part, but it only says that they’ve proven it. It doesn’t actually say that THIS pair of shoes was made by Americans. Perhaps I’m taking their wording too literally. I’m sure that a closer inspection will prove that I’m all wrong about this.

The inside of the hang tag has the following message in both English and French. I guess that’s because, as we all know, the official language of the United States is French…

These shoes have been produced by the New Balance team in one of our five U.S. factories. Unfortunately, we are not able to obtain all materials and components for these shoes in the U.S. either because they are not available, or because economic or quality considerations dictate foreign sourcing. The Federal Trade Commission has attempted to determine what it means to say a product is “made in” the U.S. We believe most consumers think “Made in U.S.A.” means that real manufacturing jobs were provided to U.S. workers in order to make the product. These shoes were made by U.S. workers using U.S. and imported materials. Where the domestic value is at least 70%, we have labeled the shoes “Made in U.S.A.”. Where it falls below 70%, we have qualified the label referencing domestic and imported materials. This determination is based in part on the FTC’s survey of consumers. The FTC’s analysis of the “Made in U.S.A.” issue can be found at FTC.gov or for a copy, write to New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc., 20 Guest Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02135. Attn.: Communications”

Since this pair of shoes does say “MADE IN USA OF IMPORTED MATERIALS”, I think we can safely say (based on New Balance’s own statements) that the domestic value is below 70%. How far below 70%? Could the “domestic value”, meaning the percentage of it’s value produced in the United States be .00001% ??? Could it mean that little was done in the United States other than attaching the tag I quoted from, above? Call me skeptical. Call me a disbeliever. Accuse me of being too logical. The fact is that New Balance doesn’t actually tell you how much of their product is made in America. Their explanation of the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines are very educational, but I think that New Balance is trying to mince words. It’s probably just skeptical me. I’m sure once I take a look at the shoes themselves, I’ll be convinced they were “made by Americans”.

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The label affixed to the inside of the shoes has a lot of information printed on it. There’s the shoe’s size, width, model number, a barcode and some other numeric data, which probably indicates to New Balance where and when the shoes were manufactured. Interestingly, the label does not say where the shoes were made. That information is contained on a sticker, which is affixed to the label, which is affixed to the shoes. That sticker says…

“MADE IN USA OF IMPORTED MATERIALS

FABRIQUE AUX E.-U.

A PARTIR DE MATIERES IMPORTEES”

I wish I was more fluent in French. It would come in handy when reading the labels inside shoes that are “Made in USA”.

Now, what kind of an idiot do I look like? I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but there are at least a few neurons firing. Why would New Balance print a label that does not state the country of origin, only to add a sticker that says “Made in USA”? My guess (and probably yours) is that they can’t legally import a product into the United States that says “Made in USA”, even if they add the qualifier about imported materials. In my opinion, New Balance is taking advantage of the FTC’s ambiguous guidelines regarding what can be identified as being made in the United States. Call it fine print, mouse print, weasel words, or whatever you wish. This loophole is used by many companies, although some will actually break down which components of their product are foreign made, and which are produced in the USA. I wish New Balance went at least that far, stating, for example, “Uppers and insoles made in USA, all other components made in China”, but they do not break down which components are imported, leading me to believe that the shoes are pretty much manufactured entirely in China. Actually, they don’t even say where the components were imported from.

Are you wearing a pair of New Balance shoes that say “Made in USA” on the tags inside? Go ahead… Take off your shoes and closely inspect the tag. Go ahead. No, really… I’ll wait. Go ahead. (RoutingByRumor taps their feet and whistles a few notes while waiting for you.)

Nice socks. You must be a very religious person, considering those holey socks. ROFL. Now look closely at those tags in your shoes. Does the tag actually say “Made in USA”, or is there a sticker that says “Made in USA” that is stuck to the tag? See! Exactly as I suspected. Whew. Eeeeeeeeewwwwww. Better put those shoes back on now. Thanks.

Perhaps I have this all wrong. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions about where New Balance shoes are actually made. If New Balance wishes to provide specific details about exactly how much of their product is made in the United States, I’d love to add that information to this article. Are all the components sewed and glued into a finished product in the USA? I’d hope so, but I sincerely doubt it.

If my suspicions about New Balance’s labeling practices regarding their “Made in USA” products are correct, they would certainly qualify for induction into RoutingByRumor’s Hall of Shame.

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Filed under Adidas, China, Consumerism, E.J. Korvette, Employment, Greek Mythology, Keds, Labor, Life, Money, New Balance, News, Nike, Pepsi, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Retail, Routing by Rumor, Scams, Shopping, Your Money

Shrinking Products – Pay More, Get Less !

This is the first installment of what will be a continuing category of articles from RoutingByRumor. We will be documenting the most egregious examples of popular consumer products that are shrinking, being downsized or otherwise reduced in quantity or quality by manufacturers often employing “deception engineering” in an attempt to hide the changes from consumers.

Shrinking Product # 1 – Scott Toilet Tissue

Perhaps the most visible and distressing shrinking product category is paper products. Paper manufacturing requires large amounts of energy and water, and transportation costs represent a larger portion of the finished product’s price than most products. Because of their weight and bulk, paper products are particularly vulnerable to increased energy, transportation and raw materials costs.

The result has been ever decreasing quality and quantity of tissues, toilet paper and paper towels, to name just a few paper products. One of the largest manufacturers, Scott / Kimberly-Clark of Neenah, Wisconsin, has responded by a series of price increases and successive product downsizing.

Focusing on one Scott product, toilet tissue, we will examine some of the tactics Scott has employed in am attempt to camouflage the fact that you are paying much more for much less. One of Scott’s flagship products is the 1000-sheet roll of tiolet tissue. In the last few years, the retail price of a 1000 sheet roll of Scott toilet paper has roughly doubled, from about 45 cents (US) to about 90 cents. But the price increase only tells part of the story.

While Scott still advertises (in my opinion, deceptively) that it still contains 1000 sheets per roll, a roll of Scott tissue is substantially narrower and shorter than it was a few years ago. Since I started keeping track, the size of each individual sheet has gone from 4.5 x 4.4 inches (19.8 square inches), to 4.5 x 3.7 inches (16.65 square inches). Each time Kimberly-Clark has downsized the roll of ScottTissue, it has shrunk by almost ten percent. While I am not absolutely certain about this, I believe that if you go even further back in time, the standard toilet paper roll was 5 inches wide. I believe the tissue is substantially thinner, and in my opinion, much lower quality than it was previously. Another attempt to hide the reduction in quantity is to wind the roll on a much larger diameter paper tube, and to emboss the tissue, adding bulk without adding paper, so the outside circumference of the roll appears larger. Another indication of the decreasing amount of tissue on each roll is weight. Pick up a 6-pack or 12-pack of toilet paper these days, and it feels like it weighs perhaps half as much as it did a few years ago (some other brands are even worse).

In my opinion, the most insidious part of this is not that you are paying more per roll. It’s that because you are getting less in each roll, they are forcing you to buy more and more rolls (assuming that your consumption remains constant). It’s like the oil companies figuring out how to produce gasoline that provides lower and lower miles-per-gallon, forcing you to fill up more often, on top of the fact that the price-per-gallon keeps going up! Reducing a product’s size or yield masks the true extent of a price increase.

You are paying about double, but qetting 15-20% less than you did a few years ago, of a product I believe is substantially lower in quality. While Scott does not disclose the percentage of recycled fibers in their toilet tissue (or in any of their other products, to my knowledge), I have to believe their toilet paper is either made from 100% recycled paper, or it is made from predominately recycled fibers. I base this conclusion partly on the fact that when it comes in contact with water, it disintegrates instantly. I believe that is an indication that the length of the cellulose fibers is extremely short, and indicative of recycled fibers.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes. Without getting too graphic, I believe the efficacy of Scott toilet tissue has decreased substantially as a result of Scott’s tinkering with the recipe, if you will. Certainly, there is a lower limit, at which a product’s size, quality and value will drive consumers to choose a competing product. My guess is that for some consumers, that limit has already been reached by Scott / Kimberly-Clark. I guess manufacturers try to find out what that limit is, without exceeding it.

Here’s some photos of the “Incredible Shrinking Roll” of ScottTissue.

(Note that the most recent wrapper below no longer unequivocally says “Made In USA”, but rather states “Made in USA of domestic and imported materials”, and fails to provide further details as to what percentage of the product is domestically sourced.)

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1000 sheets @ 4.5″ x 4.4″ = 137.5 square feet scott-45x40.jpg
1000 sheets @ 4.5″ x 4.0″ = 125 square feet

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1000 sheets @ 4.5″ x 3.7″ = 115.2 square feet

LATE BREAKING NEWS…

Dateline: June 8, 2008

CVS Stores has just beaten Scott Paper in the race to create the world’s smallest roll of toilet paper.  Read all about it here.

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under Consumerism, Energy, Energy costs, Environment, Home, Kimberly-Clark, Life, Money, News, Personal, Retail, Routing by Rumor, Scams, Scott Tissue, Shopping, Shrinking Products, The Planet, Uncategorized, Your Money

Sandisk Sansa vs Apple iPod – And The Winner Is…

We purchased an identical set of Sandisk Sansa m240 (1GB) MP3 players in November, 2005. These alternatives to the iPods that most of the world has fallen in love with were less expensive than an iPod of the same capacity, and had some nice features such as an FM radio and voice recorder.

I had problems with the m240s as soon as I started loading music onto them. There were two issues in particular that were particularly problematic. Some album tracks would play in the wrong order (with shuffle turned off), and when I loaded a large number of albums or audiobooks, many files would disappear. They were there when you viewed the contents of the players via a PC, but once you disconnected the sansa from the computer, it could not find the tracks. The shuffled track issue might not be the end of the world when you’re listening to your favorite album, but it is unacceptable when you are listening to audiobooks. Some audiobooks have more than 1,000 tracks, each of which are a few minutes long.

I communicated the problems I was having to Sandisk’s tech support people, who assured me that firmware updates would solve my problems. They did not. I went back and forth with Sandisk via their website, via e-mails and by phone over a period of about six months. I spent hours upon hours editing the ID3 tags in the albums, podcasts and audiobooks I was loading onto the Sansa, to no avail. It did not matter whether files were .mp3 or other formats. The Sansa would still shuffle some tracks. I tried applying several firmware updates. I tried resetting the Sansa. I tried loading different files. I tried using a different USB cable. Nothing helped.

Dealing with their support people was frustrating and infuriating at times. They seemed to be in denial when it came to the issues I was reporting, despite the fact that I found other Sansa owners on the Web who posted identical issues with their Sansas. I would provide Sandisk with details on how to reproduce the problems I was experiencing, but couldn’t get them to acknowledge the problems. They had me doing things that they should have been doing themselves, like preparing sets of test files and sending them to their tech support people. I also came away from the experience questioning whether Sandisk designed and produced the Sansa product line in-house, or whether they are branding someone else’s players with the Sandisk name. I say this because Sandisk seemed to be unable to address problems with the Sansa. It seemed to me like they may be dependent on a third party for resolving those issues. Overall, I would rate Sandisk’s support as poor.

I guess they finally had enough of my calls and support requests, because a senior technician that I was dealing with finally acknowledged they did not have a fix for the problems. They offered to replace my players with another Sansa model, the e250 (2GB), which they assured me would solve the problem. I took them up on their offer, but while I was waiting for them to send me the replacement Sansas, I found reports that owners of those Sansas had posted to various websites, indicating that there were problems with the
Sansa e200 series also. (Actually, Sandisk doesn’t even handle product returns. They have you send the defective products to a third party.)

When I received the replacement players, I decided to sell both of them rather then open the packages and see for myself whether I’d have the same problems with the e250’s as I did with the m240’s. I had little faith in their tech support, and just wanted to find another brand of MP3 player that worked correctly. I was not impressed with the quality of Sandisk’s support, and upset about the amount of time wasted trying unsuccessfully to resolve the problems with their product.

I’ve always been an IBM-compatible PC and Microsoft DOS/Windows computer user. I’ve never owned or used an Apple Macintosh, but I was aware that Mac devotees consider Windows-based PCs to be inferior to the Mac. Status symbols have never been real important to me. I also tend to root for the underdog, whether it’s in politics or MP3 players. I don’t like to pay a premium just so I can have the most popular brand of anything. On the other hand, I knew there were reasons why people love their iPods, and I knew that the iPod’s popularity wasn’t just because of the Apple mystique, but because of the design superiority of Apple products.

I considered buying one of the Microsoft Zune MP3 players which had just been released, but was unimpressed with them. I thought the (first generation) Zune was expensive, large, ugly, received lukewarm reviews, and it was (at the time) version 1.0 of a Microsoft product, which I’ve previously mentioned should always be avoided.

 

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I ended up buying a second generation Apple iPod nano (2GB) in November, 2006. I feel like kicking myself for not buying an iPod in the first place. I’ve had no significant problems with the nano in the year since I bought it. Sure, there are some minor problems I’ve come across, mostly involving Apple’s iTune’s software, rather than with the software inside the nano (the firmware). To be fair, there are iPod owners that have posted some serious problems on various websites, so the iPod is not completely problem-free. However, everything you read about the iPods are true. They have better user interfaces than the competition, whether it’s a scroll wheel model like the nano, or one of their newer touch screen devices such as the iPod touch. Apple is known for their superior design features and the materials they use in their devices, such as aluminum cases. I did give up the FM radio and voice recorder features of the Sansa, which the nano does not have, but I gained an audio player that works correctly. I would have preferred the nano to have an easily replaceable battery, but none of the iPods have easily user-replaceable batteries. Apple wants you to return the iPods to them for battery replacement, if it becomes necessary. Fortunately, there are alternatives… do-it-yourself replacement battery kits, and third party service companies that do iPod repairs and battery replacements.

Now, I want one of the new third generation iPod nanos that play video, and come in memory capacities up to 8GB. Then again, the iPod touch would be even nicer. Maybe Santa will bring me one for Christmas. I guess Apple has spoiled me for anything else, because I would probably never consider purchasing another brand of audio or video player.

So, as you’ve figured out by now, in the Sansa vs iPod contest, as far as I’m concerned, the clear winner is: The Apple iPod.

Who knows… Maybe my next computer will be a Mac.

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Filed under Apple, Consumerism, iPod, iPod nano, iPod touch, Life, Microsoft, Money, mp3 players, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Portable music players, Routing by Rumor, Sandisk, Sandisk Sansa, Shopping, Technology, Your Money, Zune

The National Do Not Call Registry – An American Success Story

Ah… Peace and quiet. Brought to you by your friends at the United States Federal Trade Commission via their National Do Not Call Registry. Undeniably, one of the greatest inventions since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876.

Americans who have registered almost 150 million phone numbers on the DNC Registry can’t be wrong. People were fed up with what the telemarketing industry had done to the telephone system in the United States. Families were being harassed every day of the week by telemarketers who would ring your phone all day long, usually hanging up without saying a word (known in the industry as “abandoned” calls), usually the result of the irresponsible use of predictive dialing. Even if they did stay on the line long enough to speak to you, nobody wants to be annoyed twenty times a day by unsolicited sales pitches. If this occurred on your home phone, it stole your time and your peace of mind. If the calls came in on your cellphone, they also stole your money, since most cellphone subscribers pay for all incoming calls.

The telemarketing industry succeeded in hijacking the American telephone network, arguably the most reliable and most advanced telecommunications network in the world. The statistics are as staggering as they are disgusting. Companies out for a quick buck were abusing the American public by putting in place infrastructure at nearly 9,000 call centers around the country that could dial hundreds of millions of calls per day, many of which would be abandoned. If you or I constantly placed calls to strangers and hung up as soon as they answered, I can assure you the police would be knocking at your door in no time. Yet here was an industry (outbound telemarketing), which, according to this 2002 document at FTC.gov, employed over a half-million individuals (in outbound telemarketing alone) and which was expected to grow to over $400 Billion a year (by 2006), doing essentially the same thing, but on a grand scale… and getting away with it. I think the telecom carriers that provided facilities and calling capacity to these telemarketers are just as culpable as the ISPs and bandwidth providers that profit from the activities of spammers, turning a blind eye to the problem in the name of profit.

Indeed, placing your number on the Do-Not-Call Registry does work. Unsolicited calls to RoutingByRumor’s phone numbers have been virtually non-existent since they were added to the DNC list. And when that rare unsolicited telemarketing call does come in, I do two things. I inform the caller that the number they dialed is on the DNC Registry, and I file a complaint with both the FTC and my state’s Department of Consumer Affairs.

If you haven’t done so already, add your number to the do-not-call list. You can join the Do Not Call Registry here. You’ll be glad to know that since the government recently decided to make the National Do Not Call Registry permanent (see this article and read the legislation here), your number will not be dropped from the list after five years, as was originally planned. You will not have to re-register a phone number you’ve already placed on the Registry.

Fortunately, the free-for-all is over. The greed and irresponsibility of telemarketers and the businesses that employed them has destroyed their industry. While the law still permits unsolicited telemarketing calls in some cases, such as on behalf of political campaigns, charities and for telephone surveys, hopefully those loopholes will soon be eliminated. Now all those former telemarketers can look for legitimate, respectable jobs.

Maybe what the world needs now is a Worldwide Do-Not-Email Registry that will do for the spam problem what the Do-Not-Call Registry did for the phone system in the United States.

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Filed under Cellphones, Consumerism, Home, Life, Money, News, Routing by Rumor, Technology, Telephony, Your Money

Still Waiting For That Rebate Check? Don’t Hold Your Breath If Staples, Symantec or Parago Are Involved !

I’m a sucker for almost anything that comes with the promise of a rebate, particularly technology products. The phrase “FREE AFTER REBATE” is music to my ears, even though this is never quite true when you take into consideration the sales tax, postage, and other costs associated with filing the rebate claim.

Rebates were the one saving grace for a retailer that I thought was otherwise worthless, CompUSA. Most of the CompUSA stores in the USA have closed within the past year, and  I suspect they will disappear completely in short order. The funny thing is, I’ve never come across anyone who was sorry that a CompUSA store closed. I’ll usually hear comments like “I can’t believe they lasted as long as they did”.

I’ve been running into a problem receiving rebates I’ve qualified for on a number of products I’ve purchased at Staples stores recently. Most often, they have been rebates on software titles from Symantec. The common thread with all of the rebates I’ve had trouble getting my rebate checks for is that they are fulfilled by a company called Parago. Quite frankly, I have a pretty good nose for this stuff, and I smell a scam. It wasn’t always this way. In the past, Symantec rebate checks always arrived quickly and without a problem. I could always depend on receiving my check within a few weeks, which was much quicker than many other manufacturer’s rebates, but things have changed.

I meticulously follow the requirements of each rebate offer. I’ll include the UPC barcode, proof-of-purchase seal (if applicable), cash register receipts, product registration requirements, proof that I qualify for rebates available only to owners of previous versions or competitive products, etc, etc. I double and triple check everything, including the offer expiration date. Then I make copies of everything I submit. I double check the postage and the addresses.

At least half of the time, I’ll get a postcard from Parago telling me that I did not qualify for the rebate, listing one or more bogus reasons. Funny, but when I check my copy of the material I submitted, I do qualify for the rebate, and I’ve submitted whatever it is that they say was missing from my submission.

Read this: “The Great Rebate Runaround”, published by Businessweek.

Here’s a story about Parago posted by another consumer, who has had the same experience with Parago.

Here’s another.

I’ll call the phone number listed on the postcard, and I’m forced to navigate thru several menus before I can press the appropriate key and speak to a real live human being (or wait on hold until one is available).

Each time I’ve called about a rebate submission that was rejected,  the person taking my  call will take a few seconds to look over whatever records they have on their computer screen, and then announce that it was their mistake, telling me I will receive my rebate in a few weeks. Sure enough, about a month later, my rebate arrives.

What’s going on here? Let me take a guess. I think that either the retailer, in these cases Staples, or the manufacturer, in these cases usually Symantec, or more likely the rebate processor, which in every case has been Parago, has figured out how to make money. Conveniently manufacture a bogus reason to disqualify the rebate claim, and hope that the customer doesn’t pursue the matter. If the customer does complain, just say “oops, our mistake… so sorry… we’ll get that check out to you in a few weeks”. If this is indeed what is happening, it’s fraud, and it’s a crime. Could you imagine how much money is at stake if even a small percentage of the rebate submissions never get paid out? And this is on top of the fact that most rebates are never claimed by consumers to begin with.

Here’s an article on zdnet.com, that discusses the fact that Parago has actually patented ways to reduce the number of rebates it has to pay out to consumers. This is disgusting. It’s like being admitted to a hospital that has patented ways of killing it’s patients. It’s like a restaurant that tries to give their customers an empty plate. You can’t get away with it for very long. I think the fulfillment industry is going to destroy itself, just as the telemarketing industry did, by abusing the public to the point that legislation was passed which created the U.S. Government’s Do-Not-Call list. Americans who were sick and tired of being harassed by telemarketers have placed almost 150 million phone numbers on the DNC Registry. Telemarketers killed the goose that laid the golden egg. They have nobody to blame but themselves. The government recently decided to make DNC list registrations permanent. Good !

It appears to me that job #1 at rebate processors like Parago is not to get your rebate check to you quickly. Rather, their first and highest priority seems to be finding any way possible to avoid honoring a rebate offer. Who in their right mind would want to do business with a company whose goal, it seems,  is to cheat you out of what they owe you? If a lot of companies offering rebates were being honest with their customers, I think their products would carry stickers such as this…

“$50 MAIL-IN REBATE, BUT WE WILL DO EVERYTHING WE CAN TO ENSURE THAT YOU WON’T QUALIFY FOR THE REBATE”.

Manufacturers or retailers who employ rebate processors that attempt to prevent as many consumers as possible from collecting their rebates are shortsighted indeed. It’s not the consumer who stands to be hurt the most by these practices. It’s the manufacturers themselves, and the rebate fulfillment companies who are destroying the consumer’s trust in rebate promotions. Successful companies don’t have to pinch their customers to make a profit.  Throwing up as many barriers as you can, forcing your customer to jump thru hoops and clear hurdles before they will get their rebate is simply not good business.  These types of practices are a sign of greed or desperation, by companies that are willing to sacrifice future income and goodwill in the name of a fast buck.  It’s simply not the way an ethical company operates.

Now I know what you’re saying. You’re saying “why should we believe anything that RoutingByRumor says. Who the hell is RoutingByRumor anyway?” In that case, don’t take my word for it. Parago holds at least five U.S. patents, which can be viewed here. Among them is Patent # 7,146,328, which contains a number of claims, including the following…

“Rebates offer cash back to consumers who fulfill a set of requirements after purchasing a product bearing a rebate. By requiring post-purchase activities, the rebate offerer attempts to reduce the number of successful rebate claimants. Breakage occurs when a product bearing a rebate is sold, but the rebate is not successfully claimed.”

“Breakage refers to any event that prevents a rebate transaction from being completed, for example, denying based on bad verification materials such as receipts or UPC symbols, denying based on improper purchase dates or purchase price, or slippage from checks issued but not cashed.”

The patent also boasts that Parago’s system “provides opportunities for breakage”. Based on my experiences with Parago, I’m surprised it doesn’t say that their system “guarantees that breakage will occur”.

I have sent complaints to both Staples and Symantec about the difficulties I’ve had with rebates processed by Parago. Sadly, but not surprisingly, neither Staples or Symantec responded to my complaints. My guess is that retailers like Staples, and their vendors, such as Symantec, actually want Parago to mail out as few rebate checks as possible. If this is not the case, then they need to contract with a different fulfillment company. In my opinion, if companies like Staples and Symantec are involved in this practice in an attempt to avoid having to pay valid rebate claims, they should be prosecuted. I believe that a rebate offer is a contract between the buyer and the party offering the rebate. A class action lawsuit might be in order. Perhaps it’s time to stop buying products offering rebates.

If Parago CEO Juli Spottiswood (see nbpca article), Staples CEO Ron Sargent (see Forbes article), or Symantec CEO John Thompson (see Forbes article) wish to comment on this article, RoutingByRumor will post their comments here. If you click on the links to the Forbes articles above, you can see the incredible compensation these CEOs receive, made possible by your purchases and by all those rebates you thought you were getting, but never received.

If you have experienced this or similar problems trying to collect a rebate, post the details of your experience here, or e-mail them to me. If I receive a response to my complaints to Staples or Symantec, I will post the details, but I’m not holding my breath.

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Filed under Consumerism, Free Stuff, Home, Life, News, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Rebates, Retail, Retailers, Scams, Shopping, Technology, Your Money

If You Think The Pay Is Low At Wal-mart…


mean-walmart-face-2.jpg
image from grokdotcom.com (click here)

If you needed any proof that RoutingByRumor has it’s finger on the pulse of America, here it is.

Two days ago, I posted a piece on this blog entitled “Made In USA? Yeah, Right”. In it, I discussed the fact that we are becoming dependent on China for everything from clothing to automobile parts. Last week, I posted a piece entitled “The Walmartization of America”, in which I discussed, among other things, cheap merchandise, imports from China, and the hard working Wal-mart employees that don’t earn a decent salary.

Well, today’s local newspaper (12/13/2007) carried a Reuters article with the headline “Senator Says Wal-Mart Sells Products From Sweatshops”. I don’t know about you, but I was shocked and taken aback upon reading that headline. Totally flabergasted. In fact, I’m still in denial. Wal-mart selling sweatshop merchandise? I’m sure that Kathy-Lee is as shocked as I am. The article reported that Senator Byron L. Dorgan, (D) – North Dakota, held a news conference yesterday, at which he released a report by the National Labor Comittee, a human rights organization.

The report highlighted conditions at a company in China that employees 8,000 workers and manufactures Christmas ornaments sold by U.S. retailers, including Wal-mart. It indicated that those workers earn as little as 26 cents an hour, half of the legal minimum wage in China. And you thought our minimum wage was low?

The Reuters article went on to quote a Wal-mart spokesperson as saying that they have a “rigorous ethical standards program”, and were investigating NLC’s claim. If the National Labor Committee’s report is true, I guess Wal-mart might have to add some rigor to their already rigorous ethical standards program. And if the NLC’s report is true, then “Always Low Prices. Always.” (Wal-mart’s former advertising slogan, which has been replaced with “Save Money. Live Better.”) might as well have been “Always Low Pay. Always.”, not only for Wal-mart’s employees, but also for their supplier’s employees.

I had an Uncle who was a CPA, and who was the family’s source of wisdom and advice on all things financial. One day, many years ago (long before I became a cynical blogger), I was bragging to him about some bargain I had gotten on something, the specifics of which I’ve long forgotten. My Uncle sat me down, and said “RoutingByRumor, you get what you pay for“. (OK, I just made up the RoutingByRumor part, but the rest is historically accurate.) Of course, he was right. So, don’t expect to buy anything, at Wal-mart or anywhere else, at an incredibly low price, without there being a catch. Maybe the catch is that the workers that made it earn 26 cents an hour.

I came across this fascinating article from Fast Company about Wal-Mart. Although it’s from four years ago, it is very interesting reading. It puts a lot of the criticism of Wal-mart into perspective.

Here’s some other websites dedicated to Wal-mart issues…

WalmartWatch

WakeUpWalmart

(e-mail me if you would like your Walmart-centric website added to this list)

Never one to underestimate the lowest common denominator among my fellow human beings, or ignore the value of Google, I did a Google search on “walmart sucks”. Google returned the expected stuff, like this, and this. But the real surprise came when I did a whois search at networksolutions.com for the domain name “walmartsucks.com”.

Here’s the domain registration data that Networksolutions returned…

Registrant:
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
(DOM-1582466)
702 S.W. 8th Street
Bentonville
AR
72716-0520
US

Domain Name: walmartsucks.com

Registrar Name: Markmonitor.com
Registrar Whois: whois.markmonitor.com
Registrar Homepage: http://www.markmonitor.com

Administrative Contact:
Domain Administrator
(NIC-14300985)
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
702 S.W. 8th Street
Bentonville
AR
72716-0520
US
domains@wal-mart.com
+1.4792734000
Fax- +1.4792775991
Technical Contact, Zone Contact:
DNS Management, Wal-Mart
(NIC-14570620)
DNS Management, Wal-Mart
805 Moberly Ln., M31
Bentonville
AR
72716-0560
US
dns@wal-mart.com
+1.4792734000
Fax- +1.4792775991

Created on…………..: 2003-Nov-18.
Expires on…………..: 2011-Nov-18.
Record last updated on..: 2007-Dec-10 16:01:47.

Domain servers in listed order:

L4.NSTLD.COM
A4.NSTLD.COM
F4.NSTLD.COM
G4.NSTLD.COM

I guess that gets filed under “damage control”. I don’t know if Wal-mart did this pre-emptively, or if they bought the domain from someone who registered it first.  Unfortunately, there are so many TLDs (top level domains) like .com, .org, .net, .us, etc., and so many ways to spell “I hate you”, that this really is an exercise in futility. It’s like trying to stop the tide from coming in by using a bucket to empty the ocean. But I commend Wal-mart for trying.

It appears that Walmart would not have been able to sue someone who registered the walmartsucks.com domain name, either to collect damages, or to gain control of the domain name. I found the following passage on a FAQ for bloggers about trademark issues, published by the Electronic FrontierFoundation (EFF)

I want to complain about a company. Can I use their name and logo?

Yes. While trademark law prevents you from using someone else’s trademark to sell your competing products (you can’t make and sell your own “Rolex” watches or name your blog “Newsweek”), it doesn’t stop you from using the trademark to refer to the trademark owner or its products (offering repair services for Rolex watches or criticizing Newsweek’s editorial decisions). That kind of use, known as “nominative fair use,” is permitted if using the trademark is necessary to identify the products, services, or company you’re talking about, and you don’t use the mark to suggest the company endorses you. In general, this means you can use the company name in your review so people know which company or product you’re complaining about. You can even use the trademark in a domain name (like walmartsucks.com), so long as it’s clear that you’re not claiming to be or speak for the company.


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