Macy’s joins the ranks of stores offering free shipping and free returns

Online shoppers, rejoice! Macy’s is now among the stores offering free shipping and free returns by mail.

In a previous post, I listed other stores offering this benefit. Now, Macy’s has gotten into the game. Previously, Macy’s typically offered free shipping with a purchase of $99 or more, but those wishing to return items without going to a Macy’s store had to pay a shipping fee. Not any more. Now, you can use the prepaid label enclosed with your purchase to return the item by UPS.

There are a few exceptions. You can’t take advantage of the free returns by mail if you live outside the United States. In addition, “free returns exclude gift cards, food, gourmet gifts, lamps, wall art, mirrors, furniture, mattresses and area rugs,” notes the Macy’s website.Macy’s doesn’t seem to put a time limit on returns — its website says items can be returned or exchanged at any time.

Since JCPenney’s merchandise has gone downhill, Macy’s has risen to the top of my shopping list, alongside Kohl’s. So, I am happy to see this new feature offered for the company’s online shoppers. To see a long list of companies offering free shipping and free returns, check out my previous post.

What’s your favorite store offering this service?

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Product review: Why I chose the UNII makeup palette

Several years ago, I grew tired of having a dozen different eye shadow containers, so I purchased a Mary Kay® makeup palette to corral them in one place. The palette allowed me to snap the uniquely shaped Mary Kay eye products in and out and see all the colors available to me at a glance. Now, however, there’s a problem: Mary Kay has changed the shape of its eye shadow containers, so the new ones won’t fit in my palette. So, I set out in search of a new solution.

Conduct an Internet search for the words “makeup palette,” and you’ll find several different designs. Some, like these Sephora makeup palettes, already come with the colors selected for you, and they don’t seem to offer you the option of replacing a color when it runs out. Mac Cosmetics allows you to build your own palette, but its product is expensive: $48 for a palette with four colors. Plus, you’re locked into using only that company’s eye shadows.

After searching for more customizable options, I discovered the Z Palette, which allows you to mix and match eye shadows from different manufacturers. Its magnetic base allows you to insert and remove products easily, and metal stickers are included to help adhere products that come in nonmetal pans. The Z Palette comes in a variety of sizes, including some that are big enough for large blush and powder tins, as well as makeup brushes. Some buyers may also like its clear lid.  The downside? The Z Palette is made from a cardboard-type materials. While this makes the product recyclable, it made me worry about its durability. I didn’t want to pay $14 to $25 (plus shipping) for something that would not hold up well over time.

Finally, I found the UNII makeup palette. At $29 plus shipping, it wasn’t exactly cheap, but its design and flexibility made it the best option.

The UNII palette's packaging offers many helpful tips about how to use the product.

The UNII palette’s packaging offers many helpful tips about how to use the product.

The plastic case appears to be durable and easy to clean.

The plastic case appears to be durable and easy to clean.

The UNII palette is made of hard plastic, giving me confidence that it will stand the test of time, even if tossed into a purse or duffle bag regularly. It should also be easier to clean due to its construction.

Note the thumb grip on the left side. It can be repositioned anywhere on the palette.

Note the thumb grip on the left side. It can be repositioned anywhere on the palette.

The UNII palette can hold makeup and tools from a variety of manufacturers, and it comes in six colors: pink, lavender, turquoise, black, white/clear and pale yellow. While you can’t see through the lid, it does have a mirror on the inside that spans the width of the case, making it easy to apply makeup on the go. Like the Z Palette, it uses a magnetic base to attach your makeup products and includes stickers you can use for pans not made of metal. The UNII Palette has a neat magnetic thumb grip that can be placed anywhere on the inside of the palette, making it easy to hold the palette with either hand. I also like the rolled-edge clasp that securely closes the palette.

How’s UNII’s customer service? Great! I emailed a question about the product before purchasing it and received a quick response. The product shipped promptly after my order, and UNII sent me an email with a a few tips to keep in mind when my product arrived. My UNII palette was packaged in a classy box that included more helpful advice. After unpacking it, I found the product to be attractive and well made.

The UNII’s biggest limitation may be its size. At 5.4 inches long and 2.8 inches wide, the interior may not hold all of your makeup products.

The palettes come in several different colors.

The palettes come in several different colors.

For me, this is not an issue, because I only intend to use it for eye shadow. It would take more than one palette to accommodate my blush, powder and/or lip products. It also may not be big enough to store all your makeup brushes. You could buy multiple palettes to house all your makeup, or use the palette as an on-the-go solution for makeup touchups or short trips.

If you buy two palettes or more, UNII ships them for free. Shipping for my one palette was a reasonable $4.

Have you tried UNII or another customizable makeup palette? Please share your experiences.

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Made in the USA: Paper towels

This post is one in a series designed to help you buy American products. Today’s topic: paper towels. Here’s a look at some that are manufactured in the United States of America:

Scott® brand paper towels are made in America. The Kimberly-Clark corporation tells me it manufactures them in various facilities across the United States, including sites in Chester, Pennsylvania; Jenks, Oklahoma; and Beech Island, South Carolina.

Bounty paper towels are made in a variety of locations. The manufacturer tells me that these include Mehoopany, Pennsylvania; Albany, Georgia; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; and Oxnard, California.

CVS Earth Essentials paper towels are made in the USA, according to the CVS website. They are made from 100 percent recycled content.

Viva paper towels come from American plants in locations such as Jenks, Oklahoma; Marinette, Wisconsin; and Beech Island, South Carolina. These locations were provided to me by a company representative.

Sparkle® paper towels are also made in the USA. A company spokesperson tells me they are manufactured in Hey Heather. Sparkle is manufactured at facilities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Oregon.

As I find other brands of paper towels designed for household use that are made in the USA, I will add them here. If you are aware of more, please post a comment. Be sure to check out my previous posts on items made in the USA:


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Which men’s dress shirts are really wrinkle-free and require no ironing?

I admit it: I hate ironing. I’m not that good at it, and it’s a time-consuming chore that I seem to keep procrastinating about. For this reason, I try to avoid buying clothing that requires ironing.

Since my husband wears dress shirts to work everyday, his attire could quickly add up to a lot of ironing if not carefully selected. Therefore, I try to make sure any new dress shirt he purchases or receives as a gift is a “no-iron” shirt. Many manufacturers label their shirts in this way, but “wrinkle-free” shirts are definitely not created equal. Based on my experience in the laundry room, here are the best wrinkle-free shirts, along with others that don’t live up to the “no-iron” promise.

Best wrinkle-free, non-iron dress shirts

  1. Croft and Barrow “non-iron” dress shirt: Look for the words “non-iron” in the shirt’s tag, along with 100 percent cotton construction. This shirt looks great out of the dryer. We currently own only one, but it has performed well. These typically retail for around $35.
  2. Stafford Performance Super Shirt: This has been the go-to dress shirt brand in our home for several years, and we own several. When they are on sale, you can get one for around $24. These are 55 percent cotton and 45 percent polyester. There are several varieties of Stafford dress shirts; look for “super shirt” on the label.
  3. Staff0rd Signature non-iron dress shirt: We recently took a chance on this product in the Stafford line, and it paid off. This shirt is 100 percent cotton, which some buyers may prefer over the construction of the super shirt. It feels a bit more substantial than the super shirt, but it doesn’t require ironing, either. You can get this one on sale for about $30.
  4. Van Heusen Lux Sateen shirt: There are a variety of Van Heusen shirts; this is the only one I can vouch for as living up to the “wrinkle-free” label. It is 55 percent cotton and 45 percent polyester. These range from $20 to $25 online.
  5. Arrow Premium Collection shirt: I had trouble finding a link to these online, but snatch one up if you find it in a store. This shirt has a nice weight to it and looks great coming out of the dryer. It is 100 percent cotton.

Shirts that don’t measure up

  1. Chaps classic fit shirt: We recently tried some Chaps dress shirts because they offered more patterns and colors than the brands listed above. While they say “wrinkle-free” in the label, these are not no iron-shirts. Technically, they can come out of the dryer with no wrinkles, but the fabric is not smooth and crisp enough to avoid ironing. These are 60 percent cotton and 40 percent polyester. On sale at Kohl’s, they cost about $27.
  2. Van Heusen poplin wrinkle-free shirt: It may have been better for the manufacturer to label this one “wrinkle-resistant. You will not want to wear it in public without ironing it first. I won’t buy this one again. These shirts are 65 percent polyester and 35 percent cotton. They retail for about $25.
  3. Arrow Classic Fit wrinkle-free shirt: With 65 percent polyester and 35 percent cotton, you would think this (like the Van Heusen shirt above) would come out of the dryer read to wear. Unfortunately, this one requires ironing, too. Also, it is a bit thinner than the Arrow premium shirt I recommended above. There are other Arrow shirts with “classic fit” in the name that have a different fabric blend; those I have not tried. This one was on clearance at Kohl’s for $18 in February 2014.

No dress shirt will ever look as good out of the dryer as one that you’ve had pressed professionally or that you’ve ironed yourself, but the options above are the best I’ve found to-date. I’ve also found that minimizing the amount of other laundry that is in the dryer with the dress shirts reduces wrinkles. For example, I no longer dryer heavier fabrics or a lot of other clothes with my dress shirts. Use caution, however, when using dryer sheets with small loads of dress shirts, as they can leave oily looking stains on the fabrics that are difficult to remove. I recently started using laundry balls as an alternative. You could also try using just 1/4 of a dryer sheet.

I’ve given you my opinions, but I would love to learn from you: what is your go-to make and model for wrinkle-free dress shirts, and which ones do you avoid? What laundry secrets have you discovered to minimize wrinkles in this type of clothing?

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Drug lockbox: a convenient way to keep medications out of children’s reach

My husband and I are licensed foster parents, and one of the safety requirements we must meet is that all of our prescription and over-the counter medications must be kept locked up at all times, along with all of our vitamins. So, we can’t keep medications in an unlocked kitchen cabinet, in a dresser drawer or even on a high shelf.  We tried keeping them in a locked linen closet, but this proved inconvenient, so I set out in search of a better solution.

Finding a medication lock box on the Internet sounds simple enough, but I struggled to find a solution that met our family’s criteria. I wanted something large enough to keep all our medications and vitamins in one place, but I didn’t want to spend more than $30 on it. I found locking personal safes, train cases for makeup and cash boxes, among other potential solutions. Then, I discovered the LockMed website.

LockMed offers several types of medication lockboxes, as well as locking bags suitable for securing your medication while traveling. I debated between the medium-sized drug box and the large one, which comes in two varieties: one with a combination lock and one with a key lock. At $24.99, the large Lockmed box was only $2 more than the medium one, so I chose the bigger size. Shipping was a bit steep at $8.50, pushing my purchase a bit over my $30 goal.

LockMed shipped my medication storage box quickly. It arrived promptly and was well-packaged. I was pleasantly surprised at how well-made it is. I felt like I took a risk ordering from a company I had never heard of, so I was relieved that the product was what I expected. It has a sturdy metal exterior that is easy to wipe clean, and a nice velvet interior to keep medications from sliding around.

Warning: As the LockMed website notes, this is not an indestructable box. Someone determined to access your medications could probably find a way to break into it or any similar box. I will be using the box with infants and toddlers and storing it out of their reach; so, it is a suitable solution for me.  If you are worried about medication theft by older children or adults, you may wish to consider other solutions and read LockMed’s tips for keeping your medications safe.

LockMed is not the only medication lockbox on the market. After my initial search, I discovered additional products online. Amazon offers a medication case for $24.95 with free shipping, but it is considerably smaller than the LockMed box. A larger box sold on Amazon costs more than the one I bought from LockMed and is still smaller than mine. Another website offers a small box for just $8, but charges $13 to ship it, making it a poor value. Sears sells a medication wall safe that may offer more security than any of these lockboxes, but it only holds seven bottles up to 4 inches tall, and it costs $60.

In the end, there may be no solution that keeps a determined thief from accessing your medications. For me, the LockMed box offers an affordable solution for a home with young children, since it will be stored out of their reach.

How do you keep your medications secure?

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Getting the most out of online product reviews

When you’re shopping for a particular item, online reviews can be a valuable tool in helping you select the best brand or model, even if you’re going to buy it in a local store instead of on the Web. However, not all reviews are created equal, and a product’s overall star rating may not tell the whole story. Consider these tips to help you weigh reviews appropriately.

Look for reviews from verified purchasers. Many websites allow anyone to post a review, whether they bought the product from that website or not. The danger with this is that there are some people who get paid to post positive or negative reviews on behalf of certain companies. By seeking out verified reviews, you can be sure the person praising or criticizing a product actually bought it. For example, on the Best Buy website, look for the “verified purchaser” graphic beside a review. You’ll see the term “Amazon verified purchase” on Amazon’s website. Photo and video store B&H uses a “verified buyer” graphic.

Sort the reviews by newest first. Some websites, like Amazon, feature at the top of a product page the reviews that have received the most “votes” for being helpful. In some cases, these reviews may be several years old. Look for a tool that allows you to sort reviews to show the newest ones first, and start reading there. Why? Product suppliers and manufacturing processes may change over time, so a product everyone loved a few years ago may be going downhill today.

Read more than one page of reviews. If this is a product you will be spending a considerable amount of money on, you want to make a wise decision. I recommend reading at least 25 reviews total from at least three websites to make sure you are gathering enough data on the product. This can be especially important if the sites you visit do not have verified reviews. If you have a limited amount of time, read mainly negative reviews to identify the potential downsides of the product.

Look for trends across websites. Even in the positive reviews, you may find some negative comments. If you see the same comment repeatedly, this can alert you to a potential flaw in the product. Assume what the reviewers are saying is true, and ask yourself if you can live with the flaw.

I’m convinced online reviews have saved me hundreds of dollars and many headaches by steering me away from products that looked great but weren’t. Which website do you find has the most helpful reviews?

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Amazon’s amazing customer service

Amazon has received accolades in recent years for its customer service, including awards from J.D. Power and Associates, the National Retail Federation Foundation and The Temkin Group, a research and consulting firm focused on customer experience. This week, I got to see firsthand why Amazon earned these high ratings.

I recently purchased a mop cover from Amazon. I took a risk when I bought it, because it was difficult to tell from the online listing whether it was the right one for my mop. I decided to take the $7 plunge and purchase it, figuring I could return it and get some of my money back if it was not the right fit.

Unfortunately, the mop cover was too small for my mop. I went into my Amazon account to initiate a return, but the only return shipping method offered was the United Parcel Service (UPS). The cost of sending it back via UPS would have taken a big chunk out of my refund amount. I emailed Amazon on Monday afternoon to ask if the company could add the postal service as a return option, so I could reduce my shipping costs.

I received a reply to my message within an hour. The customer service representative told me, “Because the cost of returning this item would be prohibitively expensive, there’s no need to return it. You’re welcome to keep, donate or dispose of the item –whichever option is most appropriate and convenient for you. To help you with this, I’ve requested a full refund in the amount of $7.47 to your original payment method.”

I was very pleasantly surprised. I expected Amazon to tell me UPS was my only option. Instead, the company gave me all my money back, without putting me to the trouble of returning the item. This is excellent customer service.

I realize Amazon is a huge company that can afford to eat $7.47, and I may not get a refund in similar circumstances in the future. But the company did not have to give me a refund at all. I’m the one who ordered the wrong product, and the responsibility to return it was mine.

Amazon’s gracious response in circumstances like these is sure to enhance customer loyalty and keep it high in the rankings of class-leading customer service experiences.

Have you had a great customer service experience recently? Please share it here.

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Customer service is slipping at Kohl’s

In a previous post, I commended Kohl’s for making things right when a Christmas shipping snafu led to the delayed arrival of my sister’s Christmas gift. Unfortunately, it seems that snafu was the start of a trend for Kohl’s. Since then, two more orders I’ve placed have not gone well, either.

On Dec. 21, I placed an order for three sweaters and a tank top, taking advantage of some great pre-Christmas prices. According to the Kohl’s order status system, my order should have arrived by January 6. On January 7, I clicked the “tracking” link in my order status, and it showed Fedex had received shipping information for these items on Dec. 27, but the log reflected no other activity. Kohl’s simply showed the order as “shipped.”

I called Kohl’s on January 7 to inquire as to whether the items had truly shipped. This was my first experience using Kohl’s telephone-based customer service. My call was answered promptly by a pleasant customer service representative, and I explained the situation. She asked if I had contacted Fedex about the order, and I said “no.” I told her if I called Fedex, they’d probably tell me what I could see on the screen: that the company received shipment information for the order but apparently never picked it up. She offered to cancel the order, issue a refund and then reorder for me at the same price any items that were still available from my order. Two of the items were still available, and one sweater showed online availability in a different color. Unfortunately, while I could see the sweater online in a different color, the representative’s system did not reflect this availability. So, I was only able to reorder two of the items. Ironically, I had applied to this order my $25 Kohl’s credit from its Christmas-time apology to me; I was told this amount would be credited to my credit card.

During that same phone call, I brought up a problem with an order I’d placed on Dec. 26. This order contained a pair of shoes and a pair of pants. I had received the pants, but not the shoes. On Dec. 29, Kohl’s sent me an email indicating it had cancelled the shoes from my order, but the order status on Kohl’ showed as “partially shipped,” making me thing maybe the company intended to send the shoes when they were back in stock. The representative confirmed the shoes had been cancelled automatically by the ordering system because they were no longer available. It is frustrating that the system did not know at the time of my order that the shoes were not available. Then, I could have spent those 11 days between the order date and the day I confirmed the order status looking for a replacement pair of shoes.

Overall, I had a good experience with the Kohl’s customer service representative who assisted me with these two problems. The call took 20 minutes, and the representative was very polite throughout the experience.

I hope my three most recent Kohl’s orders are not a sign of things to come and only represent a string of bad luck for Kohl’s. The company should improve its ordering system to prevent orders for out-of-stock merchandise and to alert customer service staff when an order is scheduled for shipment but never shipped.

What have your recent shopping experiences at Kohl’s been like?

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Product review: The best oven mitts I’ve ever used!

They may not be the most exciting item you’ll ever purchase, but oven mitts are an indispensable part of a cook’s daily routine. Whether your preparing a roast for your family’s dinner or baking cookies for an office party, quality mitts protect your hands from the high temperatures you encounter when removing items from the oven.

In the past, I’ve mainly used cotton oven mitts. I liked them because they were easy to toss in the washing machine. But I found that over time, that washable fabric started to wear thin from its trips to the washer, eventually resulting in heating make its way through the mitts way to quickly. I tried some cotton mitts with silicone insets, but they didn’t fare much better. Another problem with cotton mitts is that they can pick up permanent stains, despite washing.

Finally, I decided it was time to give silicone mitts a try, and I picked one of the highest-rated designs on the Chef’s website: the OrkaPlus silicone mitt with a cotton lining. Doubtful as to how well it would work, I only ordered one at first. The OrkaPlus quickly proved its worth. It reliably protects my hands from heat, and it’s easy to wipe food off the outside of the mitt. The mitt’s grip area can be harder to clean, because it has tiny silicone “ribs” that help you grip pans securely. Thankfully, the entire silicone mitt is dishwasher safe, and I’ve found the dishwasher does a good job of cleaning those grips.

Inside, the OrkaPlus silicone mitt has a cotton lining that spans the length of the glove. This is easy to remove and can be washed in the washing machine.

According to the Chef’s website, the OrkaPlus mitt is waterproof, even in boiling water. I have not put that claim to the test, however.

The mitt is available in red, green, blue, purple and charcoal hues on the Chef’s website. Amazon offers all those colors as well, plus a raspberry shade.

There are a couple of downsides to the mitt. The first is that it is only available in one size, and that size is rather large. People with small hands may find it too large to be practical, but it has worked fine for me, even though it is loose on my hands.

The other downside is the cost. One OrkaPlus mitt sells for $15.95 at, meaning a pair will cost you about $32. By comparison, you can get a pair of cotton oven mitts for less than $5 at discount stores. But I submit that the OrkaPlus will pay for itself over time. It offers much more stain resistance and durability than cotton mitts, and one pair of OrkaPlus mitts is likely to outlast several pairs of the cotton variety.

Do you have a favorite kitchen product you want to tell others about? Please leave a comment with your product recommendations.

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Kohl’s makes things right after Christmas shipping snafu

As a bargain hunter, I target “Cyber Monday” (the Monday after Thanksgiving) to complete most of my online Christmas shopping. I’ve found that’s when you can get the best prices and free shipping with a low or no minimum purchase. In 2013, part of my Cyber Monday purchasing included Kohl’s.

On Monday, Dec. 2, I placed my order of two items. I’ve found Kohl’s free shipping to be somewhat slow, so I wasn’t concerned when the items had not arrived by the end of the week.  In fact, the order confirmation email I received from Kohl’s said the items should arrive between Dec. 5 and Dec. 12.

On Sunday, Dec. 8, I received an email with the following message from Kohl’s: “Due to severe weather plaguing our distribution centers, we’’re experiencing slightly longer order processing times. We’’re in the process of shipping all of our orders as soon as possible, but a few shipments may arrive at the end of, or just after, designated delivery time frames.”

“Fair enough,” I thought, and I appreciated the warning.

On Saturday, Dec. 14, two days after the original order delivery window had ended, I received an email from Kevin Mansell, the chairman, president and CEO of Kohl’s. It said (in part), “I apologize for not delivering your purchase within the time period we communicated. While there were factors beyond our control, like weather,  I take full responsibility and we are in the process of expediting orders to ensure timely delivery before Christmas.”

The best part of Mr. Mansell’s message? It included a $25 store credit I can use at Kohl’s anytime before the end of 2014, either in the store or online. My entire Christmas gift purchase from Kohl’s totaled a little less than $30.

The $25 credit strikes me as a classy move. Only a $25 pre-tax purchase is required to use it, so it’s basically like getting $25 of merchandise free. Kohl’s didn’t have to do this, and if you think of the number of Cyber Monday orders  that were placed, the credit probably cost the company considerable cash. If Kohl’s credited 10,000 shoppers at $25 each, it spent $250,000 on its apology. I’d guess the number of credits exceeded that significantly.

My order finally arrived on Monday, Dec. 16, two weeks after I placed it and in plenty of time for Christmas.

Kudos to Kohl’s for doing all it could to make things right. Shoppers like me won’t likely forget its tangible appreciation of our business.

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