Monthly Archives: February 2012

Cash in on national deals this week with Living Social

If you’re a bargain hunter like me, you may search for deals on goods, services and activities through websites like Groupon and Living Social. While these sites typically offer discounts for local businesses, they can also be the source of deals from national retailers. Finding those national offers may require you to look outside your local area, though.

On Living Social, click the “More cities” link at the bottom of the left-side navigation menu to see deals offered across the country. Here are some national deals to check out in the next couple of days:

Visit the Greater Los Angeles page to get designer clothing and accessories for half price at

Head over to Atlanta to get a deep discount on a canvas print of your favorite photo. Go to Tucson, Arizona for a similar deal from a different company.

Shop in Louisville, Kentucky to get 80 percent savings from Vistaprint.

Need a stainless-steel water bottle? Get one for half price with this Green Bay, Wisconsin deal.

Most of these deals expire Wednesday, so act quickly if you’re interested. Later this week, I’ll post some national deals from Groupon.

Always read the terms and conditions of these deals before you buy to eliminate surprises. Pay attention to the deal’s expiration date so you don’t miss out on your bargain.

Check out my previous posts on Groupon and Living Social if you’re not familiar with these websites.

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Photo comparison: Shutterfly vs. Snapfish vs. Mpix vs. AdoramaPix—which online photo prints have the best quality?

Numerous websites offer to print your digital photographs and ship them to your home—but which of those sites offers the best photo quality? As I mentioned in a previous post, Kodak Gallery has long been my go-to site for all things photo, but a recent decline in customer service sent me in search of a new business partner.

It is hard to take a good picture of photo prints, but here are the photos I ordered (click on image to enlarge):
Top left: Snapfish; top right: Mpix
Bottom left: AdoramaPix; Bottom right: Shutterly

I decided to put four photo-printing sites to the test: mainstream competitors Shutterfly and Snapfish, along with two other companies whose names may not be as familiar to you— Mpix and AdoramaPix. Mpix says it is the largest professional photography lab in the United States. AdoramaPix is affiliated online camera store Adorama.

The process

I selected five photos I took on a Canon digital SLR camera. Four were outdoor shots taken on a cloudless day, while the fifth was an indoor shot taken with a flash in mediocre lighting conditions. Before submitting my orders, I used Adobe Photoshop Elements to crop and adjust lighting in the photos. When placing each order, I used the companies’ default ordering options for color correction. When ordering from Mpix, I selected the more-expensive “pro quality” prints; they’re reviewed by color correction technicians and printed on premium paper.

After the photos arrived, I asked four people to review them: two men and two women. I presented the reviewers with one photo at a time, laying the four versions of the photo in a grid pattern for them to compare. I asked the reviewers to look for clarity and color accuracy. I also asked them to choose the the version of the photo they’d most want to put in their own photo album. I reviewed the photos on my own as well, following the same process.

When the reviewers were complete, I gave each company one “point” for each time its photograph was selected as the winner in its group. Then, I totaled the points.

Here's the photo I submitted to the companies for printing.

Here’s the photo I submitted to the companies for printing.

The results

Snapfish received the most votes, with a total of 16 out of a possible 30 points. Reviewers who favored this company’s prints said its photos were clearer and brighter than the others. One reviewer said he was willing to settle for less-than-perfect color in the Snapfish prints because of their sharpness.

Mpix came in a strong second, with 12 points. Reviewers who picked its prints felt they did a better job of delivering true skin tones and vibrant colors.

AdoramaPix finished a distant third, with only two votes. Shutterfly received no votes.

Other considerations for the frontrunners

Snapfish and Mpix had equally fast shipping. I ordered from both companies on a Thursday and received my order two days later.

Snapfish is the clear winner on price. Its prints cost 9 cents each, while the pro-quality version I ordered from Mpix cost 29 cents each. All prints were 4 x 6 inches in size.

Mpix charged $3.00 to ship five photos. Snapfish charged $2.46 to ship 30 prints.

Both companies get high marks for their communication with the customer. They promptly confirmed receipt of my order and notified me when the order shipped. Mpix and Snapfish also provided tracking numbers for my photo print packages.


Both Mpix and Snapfish offer solid-quality photos, but reviewers rated Snapfish the best by a modest margin. Its lower prices for prints and shipping cement its position as the winner of this photo comparison.

Stay tuned for future comparison tests pitting Snapfish against other competitors.

Update: I recently completed a digital photo calendar comparison pitting Snapfish against York Photo.


Filed under Customer service, Saving money

Netflix delivers solid customer service, despite its PR flubs and changes

Netflix, an online video rental and streaming service, made headlines in 2011 when changes to its subscription plans triggered customer outrage. As a public relations (PR) professional, I saw a lot of ways Netflix could have handled the situation better. While its changes led many customers to cancel their accounts, Netflix did not lose my business.

Before the firestorm, I’d found Netflix to be a reliable company with strong customer service. My experience hasn’t changed, and a couple of recent moves by the company have reinforced my commitment to Netflix.

My main interest in Netflix is renting and returning DVD movies by mail. I originally subscribed to Netflix to take advantage of its vast selection of classic films, but I also watch newer releases from time to time. The movies I rent from Netflix consistently arrive quickly. When I get an occasional “bad” DVD that skips or stops, Netflix makes it easy to report the problem and receive a replacement.

This week, a DVD I wanted to rent wasn’t available in the Netflix shipping center closest to my home, so it will take a few extra days to arrive. Netflix notified me it was shipping the next movie on my wishlist immediately, so I wouldn’t have to wait for my next DVD. The company gave me this extra DVD for free, even though I’d used up my DVD allotment for this billing period. Around Christmas, Netflix gave me an extra free rental as a holiday bonus.

New Netflix customers can sign up for a DVD-only plan or streaming-only plan for $7.99/month. Plan that combine both options start at $15.98/month. Netflix makes it easy to change plans by logging into your online account. You can make the changes effective immediately and pay a pro-rated amount for the current billing cycle or let the changes take effect when your new billing cycle starts.

In addition to movies, Netflix offers many television shows, including series from decades past, like Magnum P.I. and The Muppet Show. If you like to watch streaming videos, you can do so with your Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 or other Netflix-enabled device. You can also watch movies and TV shows on your computer.

Unlike other DVD-rental services, you don’t have to leave home to take the movie back, and you can keep it as long as you’d like.

Does Netflix cost too much? That’s a call only you can make. What I can say is the company delivers solid customer service to its subscribers with convenience and easy account management. That’s worth $8 a month to me. After all, you can barely buy one box-office movie ticket for that price.

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Count your coupons before shopping at Walgreens

Walgreens is not my favorite place to shop. I find the structure of its rewards program frustrating, and it can be tough to find sale items in stock. In fact, in a previous blog post, I explained why Walgreens’ Register Rewards program isn’t worth the effort.

Occasionally, though, I ignore my own advice and shop at Walgreens to cash in on a good deal. A recent shopping trip brought trip to light a part of the Walgreens coupon policy I was not aware of, and it’s one you need to know before you shop at this drugstore: “The number of manufacturer coupons, including Register RewardsTM manufacturer coupons, may not exceed the number of items in the transaction. ”

Say I am buying two tubes of toothpaste that are on sale and want to use a manufacturer’s coupon on each. I’ll need to purchase another item in that trip to use a Register Rewards coupon, and it needs to be an item to which I don’t intend to apply a manufacturer’s coupon.

Non-sale items at Walgreens can be expensive, so buying something extra just so you can use another coupon may not be a wise financial choice. Before you shop at Walgreens, check out the sales ad and count your coupons so you won’t overpay for items at checkout.

Other notable provisions of the Walgreens coupon policy:

  • You can use one manufacturer’s coupon and one Walgreens store coupon per item, unless this is prohibited by the wording on either coupon.
  • The total value of your coupons can’t exceed the total purchase price of your items. If a coupon’s value exceeds the sale price of the item, Walgreens will only deduct the actual cost of the item from your transaction.
  • Walgreens accept coupons printed from the Internet as long as the barcode is clear and scannable.

You can view the full Walgreens coupon policy online.

Have you encountered a similar policy about the number of coupons vs. the number of items at another store?

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Where to find substantial savings on brand-name batteries

From singing stuffed toys and toddler learning tables to MP3 players, alarm clocks and remote controls, the demand for batteries around your home may seem endless. The cost to run all those gadgets can add up quickly, with a four-pack of brand-name AA batteries costing as much as $5.50 or more at your local drugstore.

If you’re willing to buy batteries in bulk and wait for a good deal on shipping, you can find substantial savings by purchasing batteries online. I got good pricing and service from a website called Medic Batteries. Check out these price comparisons:

AA batteries: Walgreens sells a four-pack of Duracell alkaline AA batteries for $5.49 online ($1.37 each), while Walmart sells a 24-count package for $10.97 (46 cents each). At Medic Batteries, you can get a set of 48 for $18.72 (39 cents each).

AAA batteries: Walmart sells a pack of 20 AAA Duracell alkaline batteries for $12.97 (64 cents each).  You can get 24 Duracell Procell AAA batteries for $10.08 at Medic Batteries (42 cents each).

9-volt batteries: The high cost of 9-volts led to my initial discovery of the Medic Batteries website. Five Rayovac 9-volt batteries cost $9.97 on the Walmart website ($1.99 each). Medic offers a 12-pack of the Rayovac UltraPro 9-volt batteries for $15 ($1.25 each).

Not every product sold by Medic Batteries offers you a great deal. If you’re looking for rechargeable batteries, Medic may not be your best bet; the company offers a limited supply of these. Also, the company’s pricing on some types of Energizer batteries may not beat what you can find elsewhere. However, if you buy quantities larger than those listed above, your cost per battery typically decreases—consider ordering with a friend to get better bulk pricing.

On a typical day, you have to spend quite a bit of money on the Medic Batteries website to qualify for free shipping. Sign up for the company’s e-newsletter, and you’ll occasionally receive free shipping offers. I recommend waiting for one of these, then ordering all the batteries you think you’ll use in the next year or two. This allows you to get the most bang for your buck. Avoid paying for shipping on this site, as doing so will reduce your overall savings per battery. Newsletter subscribers also receive promo codes that can wipe away most of the standard shipping cost.

Have you found better battery prices online or elsewhere? Share your tips to help others save.

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