Monthly Archives: January 2012

When deal falls through, Living Social offers proactive customer service

If you’re looking for a good deal on activities, lodging or food, you can find it on Living Social. In November, I discussed a glass-blowing experience I enjoyed at a deep discount thanks to one of the website’s offers.

A few days ago, I got a glimpse of how the company handles deals that fall through, and I found its customer service impressive.

In November 2011, I purchased a voucher for smoothies at a local retail chain. At the time of purchase, Living Social required me to specify at which location I would use the voucher.

Then, last week, Living Social notified me that the location where I planned to get my smoothies was no longer in operation. I didn’t even know this because I’d been in no rush to use the voucher. Living Social offered me the choice of using my deal at one of the chain’s two remaining locations or getting a refund. I chose the latter, and the company emailed me back the same day to say it had processed my refund request. The refund showed up on my credit card within three days.

I’m impressed by Living Social’s handling of this experience. The company saved me the hassle of going to the smoothie store and finding out it was closed, and it gave me options for resolving the situation. Once I made my choice, the company acted it on it immediately. These are hallmarks of a company that cares about its customers.

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Customer review: Metal photos—a disappointing purchase

In a previous post, I highlighted the great deals available on Groupon. While most of my Groupon buys meet my expectations, a recent purchase of two items given as Christmas gifts ended in disappointment.

Full Metal Photos ran a special deal before Thanksgiving for its 8” x 10” prints at a 64 percent discount. As its name implies, the company prints photos on aircraft-grade aluminum instead of paper, stating that the smoother a surface is, the better the image quality will be. Full Metal Photos says its final product is vibrant with “spectacular” detail and “unbelievable” image depth. I was hoping for an image that seemed to “jump off” the printed surface, and the sample images on the company’s website looked quite promising.

Photo submitted to Full Metal Photos

As a person who has worked often with professional printing vendors, I know the images I submitted to Full Metal Photos were high-quality files. Each photo was taken with a Canon digital SLR camera, and each JPEG file I uploaded to the company’s website was at least 6.5 MB in size. One of the photos is shown here–click on the image above to enlarge and see how sharp it is. The Full Metal Photos upload tool rated my image quality at 100 percent. Unfortunately, the results I got were not vibrant or spectacular.

Photo received from Full Metal photos

Neither photo seemed sharp when printed on metal. One of the photos, taken on a sunny day with blue skies in the background, also disappointed in color quality (see Full Metal photo at right–click to enlarge). Skin tones took on a pinkish, grey tint and the entire photo was considerably darker than the original.

I found the image shown here so disappointing that I asked Full Metal to reprint the photo. While the company promptly acknowledged my reprint request on Dec. 11, they let the redo fall to the wayside, and I had to send two follow-up emails to actually get the reprint completed. It didn’t arrive at the recipient’s home until a month later, well after Christmas had passed, even though I’d emphasized that the item was a Christmas gift. I have not seen the reprint, so I can’t comment on whether it was an improvement over the original.

While the durability and potential quality of photos printed on metal is appealing, the end result of the first two prints left a lot to be desired. When Full Metal Photos runs another Groupon special, I’d recommend you let the deal pass you by.

Have you had a good or bad experience with metal photos from this company or a different one? Please share your experience.

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How to stop receiving junk mail and telemarketing calls

If you’re like me, you view most of the sales offers you receive in the mail as a nuisance which adds to your recycling pile. Telemarketing calls present the unwelcome challenge of trying to politely end a conversation quickly with someone trying to sell something you don’t want.

You can greatly reduce your piles of junk mail and the number of telemarketing calls you receive by taking advantage of these three tools:

1.  National Do Not Call Registry: The federal government offers a website where you can register your home and cell phone numbers to alert telemarketers that you don’t want their calls. Just go to the registration page, enter your phone numbers and email address, and then click on the confirmation links that arrive in your email inbox. Telemarketers then have 31 days to remove your numbers from their calling lists. If they call you after that time period passes, you can register a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.donotcall.gov.  Once a number is on the list, it remains there permanently—unless it is reassigned to a new customer after an account is closed.

2.  Direct Marketing Association (DMA): Register on the DMA’s website, and you can choose which companies you wish to receive catalogs, magazine offers and other sales pitches from. There’s an option to block all offers, or you can select certain vendors from which you want to receive materials. Your marketing choices apply to the 3,600 companies that belong to the Direct Marketing Association and remain in effect for three years.

The DMA website also provides a link to a site maintained by the nation’s three leading credit bureaus—that site offers you the opportunity to stop receiving credit card and insurance offers.

  • Important note: Keep in mind that companies you do business with can still send you catalogs and offers or place telemarketing calls to your number, even if you block them via the methods above. To stop receiving sales pitches from these businesses, you must contact the company directly and ask to be removed from its marketing lists. Also, calls from political organizations, charities and survey companies are not blocked by the “Do Not Call” list.

3.  Privacy Notices: Pay close attention to those annual privacy notices you receive from companies you do business with. They may be mailed to you as a standalone document or be included in a billing statement. These notices offer you the opportunity to limit how your information is shared with affiliated companies who may solicit your business by phone or mail. Follow the steps outlined in the notice to limit the sharing of your information.

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Where to buy women’s shoes in hard-to-find sizes

If you wear a size 6, 7 or 8 ladies’ shoe in a medium width, consider yourself fortunate. You can walk into almost any shoe or department store and find a wide selection of styles, colors and fabrics to choose from. Shoe shopping can become a chore for women who wear larger sizes, especially sizes 11 and up. Those who need narrow or wide widths can also encounter shopping challenges.

Thankfully, there are some shoe retailers who care about customers with large and hard-to-find shoe sizes. Three of them make shoe shopping especially easy by providing free shipping and free returns, allowing you to order and try on shoes without shelling out $8 or more each way for shipping:

Endless.com: This is a company from which I’ve ordered the most hard-to-find sizes. They offer very quick shipping, with delivery in two business days. If the shoes don’t fit you well or aren’t what you expected, you initiate your return online and print a prepaid UPS return label from the Endless website. Affix the label to your package and drop it off at your nearest UPS location. I’ve found Endless processes returns and refunds the purchase amount to my credit card very quickly. Endless is owned by Amazon.

Zappos: Another place to find a wide selection of large, narrow and wide shoes is Zappos.com, another company owned by Amazon. Like Endless, Zappos offers free shipping both ways for shoe purchases. Returns of Zappos purchases also begin online. While Endless focuses primarily on shoes and accessories, Zappos also sells a wide range of other items, including clothing and housewares. This may explain why it takes them longer than Endless to process returns and credit your account.

Shoebuy.com: My final source for hard-to-find shoes with free shipping and free returns is Shoebuy.com. Shipping here is not as quick as Endless; it can take up to 10 business days to receive your shoes if you choose the free shipping option. One benefit of Shoebuy is that you can often find a promo code to apply to your purchase. Zappos states on its website that it does not offer coupon or promo codes. I just sent back my first Shoebuy order, so I can’t comment yet on the speediness of their return process.

You can get an extra discount at Shoebuy and Endless by shopping through Ebates to get cash back. Zappos is not an Ebates participating retailer.

If you can’t find the shoes you want at these sites, there are others offering hard-to-find sizes for women online. However, most of them charge for return shipping or shipping both ways. This can add $8 to $23 to the cost of your purchase and/or return.

If you know of other sites offering free shipping and returns for large, narrow and wide women’s shoes, please post a comment with the details.

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NetTalk review: Bargain phone service starts off strong, then call quality plunges

My home is in an area where cell phone service is spotty. One minute, my cell phone has three signal-strength bars, then the next minute, I have zero bars in the exact same spot. In hopes of getting more-reliable calling abilities, I set out in search of a home phone service in December 2011.

My initial goal was to get a traditional landline phone because of its dependability during power outages. Unfortunately, the cost was quite substantial and not within my current budget. Next, I turned to my cable company, but I found out the $25 monthly price it advertises doesn’t include about $13 in monthly taxes and fees.

Finally, I investigated Web-based phone services. The price for Vonage seemed steep at $26 plus taxes/fees, so I chose to take my chances on another service called NetTalk. It got a solid review from PC Magazine, and customers on Walmart’s website also sang its praises.

At the time of my purchase, the device needed to establish service (the NetTalk Duo) cost $70, with a $9.95 shipping charge. I purchased directly my unit from NetTalk so I could have the assurance of a 30-day, money-back guarantee. The cost included one year of phone service, resulting in a monthly cost of about $6.67 for the first year. In future years, I’d pay only for the service itself, which is currently priced at $29.95 annually (plus tax). The service includes free calls to the U.S. and Canada, call waiting, caller ID and call forwarding.

My experience with the NetTalk Duo got off to a strong start. It was easy to set up, compatible with my Internet router and seemed to work well with the new digital cordless phones I’d purchased. Sometimes there was a one- or two-second delay in me being able to hear the people I called, but I was willing to live with that.

About three weeks after I began using the NetTalk Duo, the real problems began. I started to hear a noise while having conversations that sounded like someone trying to dial an outgoing number. It sounded like two or three buttons on the phone being pushed, even though I was the only person at home. The person on the other end of the call could not hear these sounds, but I found them loud and disruptive to the conversation. As the problem worsened, I had one incident in which the tone sound started and would not stop. I finally had to hang up to end the call; I couldn’t hear the person I was talking to at all.

I contacted NetTalk via its online technical support system and submitted a trouble ticket. I received a prompt response, and a technician sent a firmware update to my NetTalk device. When I reported back that the problem continued after the software was installed, I received a response which said, in part, “Unfortunately the issue you are experiencing is a VoIP issue called ‘DTMF Talk Off’ which affects many different VoIP providers. The vocal sounds made by you or the other party are being misinterpreted by the system as the push buttons on your phone, which it is making a misguided attempt to repeat. Women’s voices are particularly prone to this…”

Because my problems began and were reported within the 30-day, money-back guarantee window, I’m going to seek a refund from NetTalk and try another service. I’ll let you know how cooperative the company is with my refund request. In the meantime, I’ll begin a search for a new phone provider.

I’d like to hear from users of other Web-based (also known as voice over IP) phone services like Vonage, Ooma and NetTalk. Have you dealt with call quality issues, including those described here? Please share your good and bad experiences so we can all be more-informed shoppers.

Update: In October 2012, I gave up the battle and stopped using my NetTalk service. I could no longer tolerate the poor call quality. Now I am using the cable company’s VoIP phone, and only once for a brief moment have I heard any beeping sounds. Unfortunately, the monthly cost of this service is much higher than that offered by NetTalk.

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Where to find promo and coupon codes to save money online

I’ve been an online shopper for many years, and I always take advantage of special offers that can lower the costs of my order, including free shipping or discount codes available on a retailer’s website. But it’s only recently that I’ve developed the habit of actively seeking out promotional (or “promo”) codes for retailers before I place my order.

It’s easy to get many promo codes and special offers delivered to your inbox. Just sign up for the email newsletters and sales ads offered by retailers like JCPenney, Kohl’s and Inkjetsuperstore.com. But even if a retailer hasn’t recently emailed you a promo code, you may still be able to find one online. The fastest way to do this is to type in the retailer’s name and the words “promo code” into a search engine. For example, searching “JCPenney promo codes” reveals a list of websites claiming to have these valuable codes.

Sites I’ve found to be reliable in delivering promo codes that work include Retailmenot, Dealigg, and DealsPl.us. When checking for codes on unfamiliar sites, I avoid those that require me to click a link to “reveal” the discount code, as I worry this could initiate a viral attack on my computer. While there are times I cannot locate a code to apply to my deal, I am able to track one down most of the time.

Promo codes aren’t just for clothing, shoes and printer cartridges. The other day, I saved $6.50 off the purchase of water filters for my refrigerator by using a promo code I found online for ABT, an electronics and appliance reailer.

To maximize your savings, remember to use promo codes in combination with other rewards programs, such as Ebates. Also, be sure to do some online price comparisons for the item you are purchasing; in some cases, you may get a lower price without a promo code by purchasing from a different retailer.

Have you found other reliable sources of promo codes besides those listed above? Please share your sources so others can learn and save!

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Get two free items at CVS this week

There are some good deals out there for CVS shoppers now through Saturday, Jan. 14:

  • M&Ms and Snickers single-serving products are free with the CVS Extra Bucks program.
  • Honey Nut Cheerios and other General Mills cereals are 3 for $6 after Extra Bucks, and there’s an online coupon available at Coupons.com and Smartsource that will take another $1 off the price of two.
  • A 100 count bottle of CVS Vitamin D is free with Extra Bucks.

If you’re not familiar with Extra Bucks, check out this overview I posted a while back. Also, remember drugstores are notorious for high prices on many items, so know your buy prices when shopping at CVS, Walgreens and similar retailers.

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Service, products going downhill at Kodak Gallery

While I didn’t live among dinosaurs, I am old enough to remember the days when film cameras were your only option for capturing life’s memorable moments. Back then, Kodak developed a reputation as the “gold standard” for film processing and delivered reliable results in the form of beautiful prints.

My fondness for Kodak continued into the digital era. Instead of printing photos at a drugstore kiosk, I uploaded files and ordered photo prints from the online Kodak Gallery and was rarely disappointed. I even purchased photo mugs, self-designed calendars and other products sold by Kodak’s website. A few years ago, I printed digital photos at a local drugstore instead of through Kodak and was very disappointed in the quality, reaffirming my decision to stick with Kodak Gallery.

Unfortunately, the last few months have changed my opinion of Kodak. The company finds itself in the midst of well-publicized financial troubles, and I wonder if these are affecting the quality of its products and service. Three different incidents involving Christmas gifts have changed my opinion of the photography giant.

First, a recent visit to my mother’s home revealed that the Kodak digital photo frame my sister and I gave her for Christmas in 2009 wasn’t working. With some testing, my sister verified the problem is the frame and not the power adapter. The warranty expired after a year, so our $100+ frame is now useless. It displayed beautiful photos while it worked, but a life expectancy of less than two years is not acceptable for a product of this type.

On Christmas Day 2010, my mom received a Kodak wireless printer from my father. It worked fine for a while, then began having problems recognizing her home network, meaning the only way it would print was when my mom strung a USB cable across her desk to reach the printer on the other side. Multiple calls to Kodak ended with the company sending a refurbished printer as a replacement. They promised to send a new one when one became available, but after three months of waiting, my mom still has not received one. Replacing a faulty product that’s still under warranty with a refurbished model does not deliver the type of customer service I expect from a large company like Kodak.

Finally, this Christmas, I created my annual family-photo-filled calendar as a Christmas gift for my dad. I ordered it well in advance of the holiday shipping deadline, and the tracking number provided showed it would arrive by Dec. 15. When it didn’t arrive by the 17th, I emailed Kodak and asked them to ship a replacement, but the customer service representative refused and said the item would arrive by the 23rd. A day or two later, I initiated an online chat with another Kodak representative, and he agreed to ship a replacement. In the end, both calendars arrived, and the differences in color between the two were quite striking. I compared them page by page. One version appeared to have been printed when the ink supply was reaching the end of its useful life; some photos were streaked, and the background on the pages was much lighter than those on the other calendar. On the other hand, the colors in the second calendar seemed oversaturated, with too much red in several of the photos. Neither was of the quality level I am accustomed to receiving from Kodak.

The old saying “three strikes and you’re out” seems appropriate for my business relationship with Kodak. I am going to turn to another company for my photo prints and gifts. Which one would you recommend?

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Bad coupon experience a reminder to “know before you go”

Happy 2012 to all! Now that the rush of the holidays is over, I’ll be back to posting detailed blog entries on a regular basis. In addition to coupon codes and sale deals like those offered at Christmas, I’ll post information on other ways to save money and avoid customer service headaches.

For me, 2011 ended with a disappointing customer service experience at Meijer, a grocery store chain serving Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan. I don’t normally shop there because I live closer to another chain store, but I went to Meijer because it sells a brand of yogurt my regular store does not. I had a set of coupons expiring soon, and I wanted to take advantage of the store’s double coupon program to get a good deal.

The yogurt was $1 per container, and my coupons had a face value of 50 cents off two containers. When the coupon was doubled, my final cost would be 50 cents per container, a great deal for Greek yogurt. I grabbed 12 containers of yogurt, pulled six coupons from my folder and headed to the self-checkout lane. As I scanned the first couple of coupons, I watched the monitor to be sure they were doubling. Then, I scanned the remainder, paid the checkout total and left.

When I got to my car, I looked over my receipt and realized only two of the six coupons had been doubled. I went back into the store and asked the customer service staff why this was the case. The woman who assisted me explained that Meijer only doubles the first two coupons for a set of like items. So, whether I bought two yogurt or 20, only two coupons would be doubled, unless I purchased the containers in separate transactions. She said Meijer mentions this in the fine print in its newspaper ads.

This experience was a good reminder to me to review the coupon policies of stores at which you rarely shop before heading there to make a purchase. However, when I checked Meijer’s coupon policy online today, I couldn’t find a mention of the limitations on double coupons; in fact, there’s no mention of double coupons at all. Another page on the site states the store doesn’t regularly double coupons at all, information that should be included in the coupon policy itself. This is poor customer service; even a shopper who attempts to be informed can’t easily find accurate information on the store’s website.

To be sure you know all the provisions of a store’s policy, call or stop by the customer service desk before you begin filling your shopping cart. Ask about specifics that apply to your shopping scenario, such as a limit on the number of coupons you can use or when those coupons will be doubled. Also, find out if you are allowed to use a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item.

What “lessons learned” have you experienced while couponing? Please share your advice so others can avoid the same headaches.

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