Archive for the ‘Prices’ Category

Service of When Loyalty Goes Out the Window

Monday, February 11th, 2019

Photo: worthpoint.com

I used Tide detergent for eons as my mother also did until all of a sudden the price skyrocketed–it’s still in the stratosphere even on sale–and I realized that the world wouldn’t end and my clothes wouldn’t rot if I changed brands. I thought of this as I read Aisha Al-Muslim’s front page Wall Street Journal story, “Prices to Rise for Household Staples.” She reported that this is the second year in a row.

An aside: I knew Al-Muslim when she was a New York Women in Communications scholarship winner and look at her now!

The companies are Church & Dwight–Arm & Hammer cat litter and baking soda for example–Proctor & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Clorox Co. They are responding to increased costs of transportation, raw materials and “unfavorable currency swings.”

I wasn’t pleased to learn that Bounty paper towels and Charmin–the only brands I insist on–are on the list. Oh and Clorox 2, another favorite, is no doubt also.

Are you married to certain brands or have you seen sense and found alternatives that suit you just the same? Can you recommend a terrific substitute for Bounty, Charmin or Clorox 2?

Photo: chewy.com

Service of Comparative Value

Monday, December 12th, 2016

chocolates

Sometimes you can impact what you pay and other times you’re captive—take it or leave it.

How Sweet It Is

Waiting my turn at a well known NYC chocolatier I saw a pile of boxed chocolates—six pieces for $9—and noticed that when sold by the piece the salted dark chocolate caramels, that matched those in the box, cost $1.10 each.

I asked why six pieces bought individually cost $6.60 when the [undistinguished] box of six cost $2.40 more. The clerk looked surprised and mumbled that the $9 ones were in a box. I asked, “Wouldn’t you put my order in a box as well?” and he said he would.

I ended up buying 10 pieces, which he put in a much nicer box, [in my opinion], for little more money. The moral: Look around.

Wrap it Up

When a package is small enough to fit in the US Postal Service box Postage meter for Post about Value dec 2016container I use the do-it-yourself post office on my walk to work. There’s rarely more than one person ahead of me and most of the time it’s empty.

If you’ve never sent a package this way it’s easy. You do the work that a postal clerk would and you waste less time than waiting in a long line. Nevertheless, I object to the cost. The box [photo right] was a little over a pound. [I choose lightweight, unbreakable gifts.] I paid $6.95 to ship this small box and I saved the postal service the work of a clerk.

Juicy Value

Apple ciderAcross the street from the postal closet was the weekly farmer’s market where I bought half a gallon of fresh apple cider. Think of the number of apples that went into this sweet juice and the labor to turn the fruit into cider, pour it into the container and drive it to midtown Manhattan from the boonies and pay staff to sell it. The cider cost $4.00. I see more value in the apple juice than in postage.

Addendum

Postal clerk with packageI got weak in the knees later that day when mailing a large-ish box from a post office-with-clerk. It was so light I had no trouble walking it six blocks from home. [The box would never have fit in the package container mentioned above so do-it-yourself was out of the question.] When the clerk gave me the choice of postage it was then my legs buckled: $20.86 was the cheapest. And I had to wait in line 20+ minutes for the privilege.

Have you noticed pricing discrepancies when buying pre-packaged items versus by-the-piece? Am I out of it to think that $7 and $20 are a lot to pay for shipping lightweight boxes? When do you feel you are getting good value for your money?

More bang for your buck

Service of Make Your Prices Clear, Please

Monday, October 24th, 2016

Price tag holders

A friend—I’ll call her Leslie–who is up to date on all things restaurant and retail shared a complaint that I’ve grappled with myself for years: She wants to know what something costs without having to ask.

hip female shopperLeslie wrote: “I ventured downtown to the new Target on Greenwich Street [NYC]. There is a Chobani shop inside that sells food and yogurt. The staff is very personable; however there are no prices on food on display like dips.”

She continued: “I find having to ask someone for prices so annoying. There is a tiny candy shop on the Upper East Side that also sells ice cream. There are no prices on candy so you have to ask about everything…..and you know the prices will be inflated. I said to the owner the first time that I think it would be helpful to have the prices listed and he said ‘I don’t mind telling you.’ But I am one of those people who decides in my head what something should cost so I don’t like not knowing, meaning I wouldn’t ask if I knew something is priced ridiculously!”

Back to the Chobani experience, Leslie added: “Chobani guy says: ‘Enjoy the rest of your day’ to everyone as they leave…that gets tiresome too if you’re in the store for a while! I ordered half sandwich and half salad. Pretty good. But they don’t accept the Target Visa….meaning no discount like I get on everything else in the store. Strange!”

Prices markedLeslie concluded: “What is it with the oh-so-annoying response to everything ‘No problem!’”

When I go to an art, craft or antique show—or store–I also much prefer seeing what the prices are without having to ask. And you? Do you know why retailers and restauranteurs force people to converse with staff? Do repeated expressions–like “no problem”–irritate you as they also do me?

Chobani half salad half sandwich

Service of Reading the Fine Print and Your Emails: Amazon’s Subscribe and Save Program

Monday, September 26th, 2016

terms and conditions

I’m not a fan of automatic anything. When I buy OTC items from a drugstore website, I’m asked if I’d like a monthly order of shampoo, toothpaste, vitamins or makeup. No thanks.

So I didn’t know about Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program where people sign up to get repeat orders of staples like coffee or trash bags. It should be called Subscribe and Sometimes Save. It’s a great example of people signing up for something they haven’t looked into carefully and being duped into thinking they are always getting a good deal.

toothpasteAccording to Brian X. Chen in his New York Times article, “Subscribe and Save on Amazon? Don’t Count on It,” the company’s pricing model doesn’t always work out in the customer’s favor. “Any sticker shock, analysts said, may be the result of Amazon’s complex pricing system coming into conflict with consumer expectations of a traditional subscription.”

He wrote that Amazon “frequently adjusts item prices based on a sophisticated set of variables like supply and demand, time of day and prices offered by competitors.” He shared the insight of Jared Wiesel, a partner at consulting firm Revenue Analytics. It “is the company’s way of making it look as if you are always getting the best deal.”

chewing gumChen identified one customer who paid $10 for gum when signing up and was charged $100 on the repeat. “Prices of most items, including dishwasher soap and toilet bowl cleaner, changed frequently. As often as weekly, prices rose, dipped and rose again like a roller coaster. In extreme cases, prices for items like instant coffee and napkins jumped between 90 and 170 percent.”

  • A 30.5 oz tub of Folgers ranged from $6.64 in June to $12.50 in August.
  • Vanity Fair napkins moved from $7.94 in May to $21.46 in June/July and $15.36 in August.
  • More high/lows include an air purifier filter and humidifier filter, $18.06 to $33.24 and $$4.67 to $11.27 respectively.

Participants are given a chance to opt out. Amazon sends them an email 10 days before a delivery with the price they’ll be paying and they can cancel. I suppose not everyone reads them.

The trouble with the concept, according to Wiesel is: “I think they’ve violated the psychological concept of a subscription with their customers in changing prices like this. When people think of a subscription, they think of locking in a set cadence of receiving a good.”

Chen offers a solution: “If you truly want to save money on Amazon, one approach is to sign up for price alerts on Camel Camel Camel to get an email when a price drops to a desired amount. When that happens, manually reorder — yes, that’s an extra step — your instant coffee, toilet cleaner or lint rollers.” [Camel Camel Camel is an Amazon price tracker Chen explained.]

Why should Amazon change an eyelash on this or any other of its programs? In the last 17 months its stock price closed at a high of $800, more than doubling in 17 months.

Do you automatically receive anything from Amazon or any other company? Have you fallen for a deal that seemed great only to learn it’s more complicated—and not as great–as you first thought?

Camel

Service of Side Effects of Drug Prices

Monday, October 19th, 2015

 

High prices 2

I read about the fallout of dodgy if legal pricing practices by big pharma from three viewpoints in recent weeks causing both curious and predictable side effects.

James Surowiecki wrote “Taking on the Drug Profiteers,” in The New Yorker, about the infamous Martin Shkreli and concluded that the problem with Shkreli’s exploiting loopholes in the pricing of drugs is “not with the man but the system that has let him thrive.” Shkreli, who owns Turin Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 a pill because he could. This is “rent seeking,” that Surowiecki defined as “increasing profits not by adding real value for customers but by exploiting loopholes.” Daraprim, first sold in 1953, treats toxoplasmosis. After public uproar Shkreli lowered the price of the drug that among other things treats AIDS and malaria. 

Big pharma 1It’s not the only example of the rent-seeking model, he wrote, adding to the list Thiola, to treat kidney disease. The company that makes it is also owned by Shkreli. Last year the price increased “twenty fold.” A company called K-V Pharmaceutical increased the price for a shot that thwarts preterm births from $15 to $1,500. “There have also been alarming increases in the pries of common drugs like doxycyclene. Generic-drug makers have been merging with each other, leaving fewer competitors.”

Innocent people who are sick aren’t the only victims according to Michelle Celarier’s article, “Stuck in the Mud,” in the New York Post last week. She wrote about battered portfolios of some “hotshot hedge fund activists” and big pharma accounted for one of the headaches. She reported Bill Ackman of Pershing Fund’s “5.7 percent stake in Canadian pharmaceutical giant Valeant, which announced late Wednesday that it is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York and Massachusetts regarding pricing of drugs,” as one of the problems. “Valeant has lost 36 percent of its value since Aug. 1.” Pershing Fund is down $600 million as a result.

big pharma 3The Wall Street Journal dug a bit deeper into drug pricing. In “Valeant Probe Reprises Focus on Drug Pricing,” Jonathan D. Rockoff reported that pharmaceutical companies paid $3 billion + in fines in the last 10 years “to resolve pricing cases.” I can hear Jackie Gleason in his role in the “Honeymooners” referring to “a mere bag of shells.” According to Google, the global industry represents $300 billion a year.

The fines are largely due to overcharges to Medicare and Medicaid. According to the law, a company must offer Medicaid its best rate. Merck didn’t do that.with Zocor–a cholesterol lowering drug and a painkiller no longer on the market, Vioxx. Merck settled at $650 million. [But how much did it make?] Rockoff listed other examples in the past but you get the idea. Pfizer’s Wyeth division is currently being investigated for overcharging Medicaid for heartburn medicine Protonix.

That’s not all. Big pharma gives money to charities that in turn pay for the prescriptions of needy patients. Valeant spent $544 million in 2014 and anticipates $630 million this year. That’s legal. What’s not is when the charity directs the patient to a certain drug. That’s considered a kickback. Let’s get real: Who wouldn’t promote the products of a company that supports your charity/your job?

What do you think of a corporate model that takes advantage of loopholes to raise prices dramatically to make money to the detriment of its often desperate customers? Do you think relatively tiny fees act as the slightest deterrent to a corporation intent on making a profit by skirting the law? What about Valeant giving $millions to charity that comes back in business for its products?

loopholes

Service of It Must Be Good: It’s Expensive Part I

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

Napa Valley vineyards 2

I came upon two examples that illustrate the belief that some maintain: If something costs a lot the service or product must be good.

Here’s the first one:

Bottoms Up!

Vindu Goel wrote about one of the most valuable grapes produced in this country, cabernet cabernet s grapessauvignon from the Napa Valley. A bottle of the wine costs $100 vs. $25-$30 for a good one from grapes grown next door in the Lake Country, he wrote.

The price, according to Goel in The New York Times, “is based more on consumers’ belief in the superiority of the region’s grapes than in the inherent quality of the liquid in the bottle.” Master sommeliers such as Emmanuel Kemiji concur. Kemiji is one of 220 master sommeliers in the world and he observed that he would “find it nearly impossible to discern the true geographic origin of a well-made cabernet.”

[A friend hated it when her dad poured cheap wine into a fancy bottle for dinner parties and she would cringe when a guest complimented him on his choice and on the wine.]

Goel’s story, “In Vino Veritas. In Napa, Deceit,” is about more than this wine. It’s about a charming con-man, Jeff Hill, Hill Wine Company, who took investors and partners to the cleaners, which the title foretells.

I have been a discount shopper since the dark age so I tend to be less of a proponent of “if it’s expensive it must be good,” and more enthusiastic about something that appears wonderful at a reasonable price. Have you found yourself falling for or appreciating wine, or something else that is expensive, simply because it costs a lot? What else?

I will share an example in the world of healthcare in my next post.

cabernet s in a glass

 

Service of Rising Prices: Milk, Hair & Electricity

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Cow

Moo x 10

I’m the only one in my family who drinks milk. I love it. Usually I restrict my consumption of fat free to coffee but if the mood and dessert are right, I can’t resist a glass or two.

The news of a 60 cent per gallon price rise won’t affect me, but it will millions of families with thirsty children. According to a story Jeff Maher wrote for KXTV, the reasons begin with a current short supply of cheese leading to increased production with a subsequent need for more milk. Maher added that increased cost of feed last year meant smaller herds. This situation bumped up against a greater demand for milk in China. He doesn’t say anything about what the Chinese do with all that milk but in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Ruth Bender shed light with her story about the popularity of moo juice with babies in “China Needs Milk and France Has It: Brittany’s Dairy Farms Get Boost as Chinese Baby-Formula Maker Sets Up Shop.”

Maher expects milk prices to increase even further later in the year because of the drought in California affecting the alfalfa crop, cows’ dinner of choice.

Hair-raising prices

haircutThere’s one crowd that won’t notice the difference–those paying $1,000 or in that vicinity for a haircut. Lauren Lipton wrote about the haircuts as the industry felt enough time had passed since the economic downturn. Lipton noted one difference between the haircut mere mortals get and the one that costs a tidy amount more. In “Posh Haircutters Push the $1,000 Envelope” he wrote that some claim the expensive haircut will last three to four months vs. six to eight weeks for a standard cut. Guess your hair knows not to grow when you pay a lot to have it trimmed.

Price shock

Guest host Hilarie Barsky on the WOR 710 radio morning show lives in NYC and said she called Con Edison for an explanation about her stratospheric electric bill. She used less electricity than last year, she noted, and her bill was far higher. Best sit down when you open yours. We needed smelling salts. Articles, such as the one Alexi Friedman wrote for The Star Ledger, give me the shivers. In “Frigid winter sends electric prices soaring for NJ customers who switched power suppliers” he speaks about one customer who reported a 200 percent increase this January over last. And it’s not just for customers of secondary suppliers.

Any skyrocketing prices you’ve notice lately? Can you tell me what an $800-$1,000 haircut feels/looks like?

Break the bank

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