Archive for the ‘E-Commerce’ Category

Service of Swindlers You Invite Into Your Life

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

I’ve frequently covered scams that bombard us all. Just called DHL to report an email scam. Customer service confirmed that it was and that the company never sends attachments in emails. Good to know.

I keep getting an email supposedly from USAA in collaboration with the credit reporting service Experian telling me to click for a report. The USAA logo was out of register–a tip. Friends have turned off their phones they are so tired of robo calls that are up to no good. Fake Con Edison and Nielson have a crush on my home phone.

More chilling are the scams we reach out to. I’m so paranoid that I’m hesitant to download an online calendar. Once viruses galore infected my computer when I downloaded a faux AVG program–ironic as the real AVG attacks viruses!

Yuka Hayashi wrote “Scammers Find More Opportunities on Internet Marketplaces–Craigslist, eBay and social-media platforms are more lucrative than robocalls for fraudsters, study finds.”

According to Hayashi: “The study, conducted jointly by the consumer-education arms of Better Business Bureau and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority along with the Stanford Center on Longevity, was based on interviews of 1,408 consumers in 2018 who filed a fraud tip or report to the BBB between 2015 and 2018.” She reported: “Consumers filed 372,000 fraud complaints to the Federal Trade Commission reporting a total loss of $1.5 billion in 2018, with the number of complaints up 34% from 2017, according to tallies by the report’s authors.”

In addition, “On social media, 91% of the respondents said they initially failed to recognize fraudulent advertisements as scams and proceeded to engage, and 53% eventually lost money. On websites, 81% of respondents engaged and 50% lost money.”

Most are “online purchase” scams, Hayashi reported from Craigslist or eBay. Sellers get fake checks and then the scammer asks for a refund of an overpayment or the con either never sends goods or produces products of poor quality.

“Nearly half, or 47%, of the people who reported encountering online purchase scams lost money, compared with other prevalent types of schemes like “tech support” scams, where 32% reported losing money, and sweepstakes/lottery scams, where 15% became victims.”

One woman in the article lost $16,400 for a Tahoe deck boat that never came. She should have been suspicious, she told Hayashi, because she ignored the signs. While the consignment website she found through Craigslist was sophisticated, “a wire transfer that initially failed to go through and the lack of listing on yelp” were clear warnings. The website no longer exists.

We knew it wouldn’t be long before crooks invaded these businesses. The sites become so big policing them is impossible. Ebay claims it does. Craigslist didn’t respond to Hayashi.

When you identify a swindle, do you report it to the company or to the Better Business Bureau? Have you fallen for one you reached out to or clicked on? Have you thought twice recently before buying anything on sites such as Craigslist and eBay? Do you think it will eventually impact this way of doing business to benefit traditional retail and offline sales vehicles?

 

Service of a Cheating Heart: Match in Dutch with the FTC

Monday, September 30th, 2019

I had a crush on a boy in 11th grade. One of the girls I thought was a friend told me he’d asked about me when it turned out she’d made it up. I never trusted her after that [and clearly I never forgot]. The takeaway: Don’t fool around in matters of the heart if you want to keep a friend.

Match.com executives, adults I assume, never learned that lesson if the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] is on to something.

Dave Sebastian wrote “FTC Sues Match for Allegedly Tricking Users With Fake Ads– Online-dating platform allegedly offered certain guarantees but failed to provide promised services” in The Wall Street Journal.

The most damming allegation in the article was far worse than scamming people to join up and not giving them an easy way out. Match.com dangled hope to the lovelorn when there was none. “Until May 2018, Match sent emails to nonsubscribers that said someone had expressed interest in them, according to the FTC. But consumers, many of whom ended up purchasing the subscriptions, were unaware that the emails received could be from scammers, the FTC said in its complaint.”

And then Sebastian added: “The FTC said Match found that nearly 500,000 subscriptions were purchased within 24 hours of receiving an advertisement touting fraudulent communication between June 2016 and May 2018.”

Sebastian quoted the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Andrew Smith who told him: “We believe that Match.com conned people into paying for subscriptions via messages the company knew were from scammers. Online dating services obviously shouldn’t be using romance scammers as a way to fatten their bottom line.’ ”

Match owns Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid and other dating sites. I know people who have made magnificent matches via online dating services and am heartbroken to read that the mother company felt it had to cheat. If I’ve been to two weddings of couples who met this way and know several others with longtime relationships, didn’t a successful pioneer in this business have enough case histories to promote its services legitimately?

Have you tried an online dating service? Did it work out for you? If you never have, does knowing this make you be less likely to give it a try? Does it bother you that one of the top services cheated to get customers or is it par for the course for all businesses these days and worthy of no more than a big shrug?

Service of Counting on a Brand: Bye-bye Microsoft E-Library

Monday, July 29th, 2019

How do you know you can trust a brand to keep its products in business and parts available for as long as you need them? The question doesn’t apply anymore just to major appliances, motor vehicles, furnaces, solar energy technologies and gadgets like VCRs, CDs and DVDs. The subscribers to Microsoft’s E-Library know what it’s like to be left in the lurch. I heard about their loss on NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro and Josh Axelrod reported “Starting in July, Microsoft will be closing its e-book library and erasing all content purchased through the Microsoft e-bookstore from devices. Consumers will receive a refund for every e-book bought.”

I read traditional books but some of my best friends rely on e-books. I’d be irritated if I’d paid for a book and was left hanging at a crucial juncture when Microsoft pulled the plug.

Garcia-Navarro interviewed Aaron Perzanowski, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, who pointed out that losing a book you’ve annotated and use in your job is more than exasperating. Think of lawyers, teachers or academic researchers who have spent time to study a book and write themselves virtual Post-It notes on manuscripts. The additional $25 refund doesn’t make this customer whole, said Perzanowski who also wrote the book “The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy.”

“In a University of Pennsylvania Law Review article, Perzanowski found that users are often misled when they click the ‘Buy Now’ button, thinking that they’ve gained permanent ownership of digital content.

“‘You can go out and buy a car and you think you own the car because it’s parked in your garage,’ Perzanowski says. ‘But in reality – how it functions, who can repair it, what replacement parts are compatible with it – all of that is controlled through software code. And, so I think that line between the physical and the digital is getting increasingly blurry.’”

The culprit is a tool called Digital Rights Management or DRM software. “Your car, your smart home appliances, your home security system – all of these systems have software that allows for this kind of control over how the devices are used, and I think we’re going to see these same sorts of situations crop up in the context of physical devices that are being used in people’s homes.”

Have you lost the use of something you owned because there are no parts available to repair it or did you learn that, like the e-books you bought, you really didn’t own it at all? Do you factor in shelf life when buying things for your office or home or are you resigned to short-lived pull-by dates on almost everything but processed honey with its forever lifespan?

Service of Mi Casa es Tu Casa–Come on In!

Monday, June 17th, 2019

Daily we hear of hacking that’s happened either to a friend, big corporation or organization. It’s a form of break-in. I think it may have inured the public to the normalcy of loss of privacy that gorges on volunteer personal intrusions. Think such smart speakers like Alexa and Amazon Echo.

Maybe that’s why Walmart and Amazon have or are about to introduce a new wrinkle to their delivery services. In select markets, both will or do arrange for access to a customer’s home to put food in the fridges of the former and leave packages in a home, garage or car trunk in the latter.

Citizens of Kansas City, Mo., Pittsburgh and Vero Beach will be the first to officially invite Walmart delivery staff to put perishables in their refrigerators through a program slated for a fall launch called Walmart InHome. [The system was tested in New Jersey.]

In “Walmart Wants to Put Groceries Into Your Fridge,” Sarah Nassauer wrote “The workers will wear a body cameras [sic] clipped to their chests, allowing customers to watch live streams of deliveries being made while they aren’t home.” She reported in her Wall Street Journal article that they’ll have access to homes via a smart lock that connects to the Internet allowing a door to unlock remotely. Wallmart sells the device.

Delivery staff for the service must have worked for the company for at minimum a year. “Not everyone embraces the concept at first, but just as people have gradually accepted renting out rooms in their homes through services like Airbnb Inc, ‘people are very quickly comfortable with it,’ said Marc Lore, head of Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce business.”

The Amazon service, Key by Amazon, wrote Nassauer, is for Prime members in 50 cities. Fresh groceries aren’t involved. In another program Via Prime Now customers get orders from Amazon’s Whole Foods division on doorsteps.

Not every delivery business received the mega company’s stamp of approval. Sebastian Herrera reported last week in the Journal that Amazon is deep sixing its restaurant delivery service.

Would you be comfortable inviting strangers into your kitchen or your home, garage or car trunk when you’re not home? Do you think comfort level for this kind of trust may be higher in some parts of the country than others? Have privacy-breaking services like Alexa and Amazon Echo paved the way? What if you’re in a meeting or otherwise inaccessible when you need to unlock your front door remotely with no time to watch while the delivery person with body camera drops off your perishables? Do you think that this person—or the staffer who packs the order–will be trained to leave foods like tomatoes and bananas out of the refrigerator and on the counter?

Service of Untrained Staff and Insufficient Inventory Messing Up Food Orders

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

When you order food and don’t get what you want it can be hard to tell if it’s due to a lack of staff training or insufficient inventory. This is nothing new even though the millions who order all sorts of food online these days may think it is.

I ran into untrained staff causing stress when buying a bunch of sandwiches for office colleagues at a then novel Au Bon Pain years ago. It was so bad I eventually no longer asked “Can I get someone anything at Au Bon Pain?” when leaving the office to pick up lunch for myself. The takeout offered a choice of bread, meat and cheese for freshly made sandwiches. Inevitably I’d return with ham and brie on a roll when my colleague wanted ham and Swiss on a baguette as one example. Of some five orders three would be wrong. Drove me nuts. It happened because the staff didn’t know the difference between cheeses and breads and clearly the choices weren’t well marked and/or the staff wasn’t trained to ID the options.

Heather Haddon’s Wall Street Journal article rang bells. “Amazon to Whole Foods Online Delivery Customers: We’re Out of Celery, How’s Kale? Companies offering online grocery ordering and delivery struggle with services’ logistics” described customer experience with the online grocery and delivery system for select Amazon Prime members.

She wrote about what happened to Kelly Hills. The Massachusetts-based bioethicist  “ordered a sourdough loaf from Whole Foods recently but was offered a jalapeño cheese bread instead. Her so-called ‘shopper’—either a contract worker employed by Amazon or a Whole Foods staff member tasked with compiling delivery orders—had opted to put decaf coffee in her bag instead of whole roasted coffee beans, celery instead of celery root and a single seltzer flavor rather than a variety. ‘The substitutions are downright bizarre. It’s frustrating,'” Think of all the time wasted to return this stuff or the money lost to accept what you won’t use.

Haddon added that problems “are often amplified because daily operations at the two companies are still largely separate. Whole Foods employees said Amazon workers routinely ask for help finding items on shelves or elsewhere, distracting them from their own duties. Technology that tracks Whole Foods’s inventory is old, and officials have discussed updating it for years.”

Have you been impacted by poorly trained staff, insufficient inventory or other issues when buying food–or anything else–either in person or online? Why do you think the glitches happen? Do you usually accept the mistakes or do you take time to return or report them?

Service of the Custom of Traveling with the Goods

Monday, November 5th, 2018

I was 15 the first time I traveled alone internationally and my parents warned me to never accept a package or letter from a stranger who’d ask me to pop the missive in the mail when I got to my destination. Fast forward and airline agents for years now ask whether you packed your suitcase and if anyone has given you anything to take with you.

This custom has changed dramatically with the advent of Grabr, an online company that introduces travelers to shoppers in foreign countries who count on them to carry purchases. Customs charges are the responsibility of the traveler who is supposed to ask enough of the shopper to cover them. They negotiate the amount before the trip.

Wrote Andrea Fuller in The Wall Street Journal, “Grabr works like this: A shopper posts on Grabr’s platform that they’d like to buy an item, such as a new smartphone. A traveler who plans on visiting the shopper’s country then agrees to transport the phone for a delivery fee negotiated with the shopper. The traveler then buys the phone, packs it, and gives it to the shopper, who pays them back via Grabr’s system. The company earns a commission on each transaction.”

Some travelers pay for their trips. Grabr pays for others “in lieu of per-item rewards.” They “transport suitcases full of goods assembled by Grabr staff.” [The company says it is phasing out this part of the business.]

Duty free limits range from $300 in Argentina to $500, in Brazil, for example. “Travelers to those countries should owe customs 50% of the portion of the value of items over the duty-free limit,” wrote Fuller.

Kevin Hartz, whose company invested $250,000 in Grabr–it attracted $14 million in all–who had also invested in Airbnb which, in its infancy, faced doubts about the legality of home sharing, said about the concept: “This is just a matter of sentiment change.”

Grabr’s co-founders Artem Fedyaev and Darla Rebenok say the company’s terms of service require users to comply with customs.

In my experience, customs officers are smart. They know that a Gucci handbag costs many multiples of $450, should a traveler try to get away with the smaller amount on a customs document, and that people don’t travel with three smartphones and four laptops for personal use. If they don’t already know about Grabr, they soon will so there won’t be any savings at the customs counter for travelers-with-the-goods. I wouldn’t be surprised if customs duties in certain countries increase.

If you’re planning a trip to a country where electronics and other items are pricey, would you be interested to give Grabr a whirl? Do you believe a stranger will pay for the items you give them? Can you predict the success of the business model? Has customs ever stopped you—and have you had to pay up–in this or another country?

Service of Where’s the Milk? Confusion When Grocery Stores Move Things Around

Monday, October 8th, 2018

If you routinely visit a grocery store that’s being remodeled, you know your shopping expedition will take longer than usual while you search for the milk, favorite cookies or pasta. One of my favorite stores also keeps switching things in the meat department even though its renovations are over. There must be a good reason, other than to hope I become tempted by other items while looking for what’s on my list.

Expecting to pick up a bag of M&Ms at the checkout counter at a grocery chain? Soon some will have freezer cases placed in front instead. Heather Haddon wrote about the motivation behind major product location shuffles as stores prepare for increased orders placed online for in-store customer pickup. They hope these customers, as they wait for their order in the front of the store, will add a few major items–an ice cream cake, a few frozen dinners or bags of fries and veggies–rather than a pack of gum or a candy bar. She wrote about the displacement of impulse items and other anticipated changes in her Wall Street Journal article “E-Commerce Reshapes Grocery Stores.”

Americans spend $800 billion a year on food and drink, she reported, and supermarket chains don’t want too big a chunk going to Amazon and other giants. Haddon wrote: “E-commerce represents less than 5% of U.S. grocery sales currently, but food and beverage sales are growing far faster online than in traditional supermarkets. Forrester Analytics predicts that by 2022, the U.S. online grocery market will total $36.5 billion, up from an estimated $26.7 billion this year.”

According to Haddon, Walmart and Kroger are “spending tens of millions of dollars to acquire digital-ordering technologies, implement home-delivery systems and build thousands of store pickup points for online orders. Kroger, the U.S.’s largest supermarket chain, has hired or assigned nearly 19,000 workers to run an estimated 1,400 pickup sites for online orders, covering roughly half of the company’s stores.”

Haddon identified risks for the chains from the enormous upfront investment to irritating traditional customers who compete for goods whisked off shelves to fulfill online orders. Currently, supermarkets don’t have warehouses as Amazon does, though they may in future.

Meanwhile, “Clerks fulfilling online orders can clog aisles and checkout lanes or pick over the best produce, customers and grocery consultants say.” Haddon concluded “Through it all, grocers are struggling to find a balance between encouraging customers to place orders online and drawing customers into their stores.”

Do you shop for your groceries online? Are you tempted? It must be a time-saver to simply show up at a store and drive away minutes later with packages of groceries. Does the concept work for cities where people don’t usually own cars? Would you miss seeing what’s new in categories such as ice cream, frozen food, bakery and yogurt? Do you ever pass an aisle, see something like mustard or strawberry jam which reminds you you’re about to run out? How will internet ordering gain such purchases without irritating customers with popup suggestions?

Service of a Crack in the Surface of E-Commerce

Monday, September 10th, 2018

A Wall Street Journal article about traditional retailing and E-commerce made clear that those who see the latter annihilating traditional retail shouldn’t order the funeral flowers just yet. Some retailers of both luxury and discount goods are spending big bucks on their brick and mortar stores. In a second article the same day the Journal reported that WalMart has started to refuse to ship heavy items–because of the cost– by claiming they are out of stock. This approach may be temporary and therefore, potentially less significant in the long run.

What’s In Store?

Target was also a focus of John D. Stoll’s Wall Street Journal article, “Tiffany’s $250 Million Bet on a 78-Year-Old Store.” He wrote “It turns out that all over the ravaged retailing sector, companies are rethinking the mantra that the future is digital, and pouring money into actual brick-and-mortar stores.” Target plans to spend $7 billion. It doesn’t break down the superstore’s expenditures though “a spokeswoman said stores are an ‘incredibly important linchpin.’”

Why this confidence in physical stores? Stoll wrote: “Because the bulk of America’s retail is still done the old-fashioned way. Target has consistently increased online sales, but ecommerce represents less than 6% of its revenues. Online sales are closer to 7% at Home Depot but under 4% at Walmart.” Tiffany’s stores produce 90 percent of its revenue.

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ annual Consumer Insights survey showed weekly purchases from stores has risen from 36 percent four years ago to 40 percent in 2015 and 44 percent this year. Stoll wrote: “Retailers are smart to better integrate the physical shopping experience with people’s online habits, but now is not the time to give up on making stores better.” On a recent Wednesday, he reported, Tiffany’s new café in its NYC flagship had 1,000 on a waiting list for 40 seats.

Cupboard is Bare

So what about Walmart’s shipping policy? People need the products involved such as household cleaners, nonperishable groceries, pet food and cosmetics so they will buy them somewhere.

I marvel at how CVS often covers the cost of shipping heavy items with no minimum purchase required, in conjunction with a sale many times, and wonder how long the windfall will last.

Sarah Nassauer in her Wall Street Journal article wrote that the Walmart “has begun telling online shoppers that some products in its warehouses are ‘out of stock’ after the retailer changed its e-commerce systems to avoid orders deemed too expensive to ship.” Some suppliers were surprised. To address the policy they’ll “stock their products at more Walmart warehouses around the country to keep sales steady, according to an executive at a large food company.

“The shift is part of a test, Walmart said, to see if it can deliver more products via ground shipping, a cheaper option than air shipping, in two days or less.” Spokesman Ravi Jariwala “said shoppers shouldn’t notice a big increase in out-of-stock items because walmart.com will suggest similar products from nearby warehouses.”

Do you think retailers like Tiffany’s and Target are throwing away their money in this retail climate by upgrading their traditional stores? Is there an aura about some stores—like Tiffany’s—that compels shoppers to visit? Will retailers figure out cheaper ways of shipping heavy goods or will customers increasingly pick up in stores their online orders deemed too heavy/expensive to ship? Walmart says it’s a test but if profitable, don’t you think the “shortages will be permanent, potentially impacting online sales? When you buy online, do you stick to your shopping list more than you do when you’re in a store?

Service of Why Don’t You Say So?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Communications is often not our strong suit. The cost? Customers pay the price in wasted time and/or mistakes.

Taxing

I ordered an item online from a high end men’s store and noticed, in checking out, that I was charged tax. For clothing that costs $110 or less, New York residents don’t pay tax. While it wasn’t much, it irritated me that tax appeared on my bill but because it was the last day of a super sale, I approved the order and wrote customer service [which was closed on the weekend].

First thing Monday I got a response telling me that they will charge the correct total {without the tax} “when the order is ready to ship.” I was notified, but the tax was still there. So I whipped out another note–thank goodness for cut and paste and email. The correction was made.

Given that the store has a NY branch and that I assume more than one customer orders from NY, it would have been easier to note on the invoice that NY residents won’t pay tax for items under $110. Staff in billing should be similarly instructed….although I suspect that I may be the only one to care.

Check this out

I was having an annual checkup and on arrival dropped into the ladies room to wash the subway off my hands. There was a note warning patients not to urinate if they were having a sonogram. The office offers sonograms in a few parts of the body so out of curiosity I asked one of the technicians whether this directive applies to all sonograms. She said that it only applies to pelvic ones. So couldn’t that one word have been added to the warning?

Do it yourself and guess

I used the do-it-yourself package mailing system at the Grand Central post office. One of the questions is “Will your package fit in the bin?” which it would. When done, I tried to open the adjacent bin and it was locked shut. So I had to wait in line anyway to find out where to put the stamped package. An exasperated postal worker, who looked at me as though I was dumb, pointed in the direction of a large canvas container on wheels placed well below the counter where nobody would see it with nobody nearby to secure it, either.

Was there a note stating what to do with a package on the bin parked next to the scale/shipping computer? No. Was there a note above the hidden container that collected packages? No. US Postal Service customers take note: Bring along your ESP next time you drop by.

Cross street please

When a business posts its NYC address on its website, if on an avenue, please note the nearest cross street.  I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and I don’t always know this information. [See 666 Fifth Ave and 546 Broadway, in photo below.]

Have you noticed that increasingly few businesses put themselves in their customer’s shoes in planning websites or procedures by anticipating questions or sharing clear instructions in the first place? Do you have other examples?

 

 

Service of More Born Every Minute

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Sorry to have to share more scams for suckers but it’s important to get out the word.

Moving right along

Did you hear about the Douglas County, Georgia family that hired a moving company through Craigslist and with the exception of one box, lost all their worldly goods?

The movers had stolen the U-Haul truck [that the vehicle didn’t have the name of a mover painted on the side would have given me immediate pause]. According to Richard Elliot of WSB TV, after loading the truck the movers “appeared to be heading to the family’s new home in another county. But along the way, the homeowner said, the movers ditched her and vanished.” Estimated loss: $75,000. The box was recovered on a sidewalk by Cobb police two days later.

The homeowner was grateful. She’d said “If I don’t get anything back, I want that box, because it has all of our social security, birth certificates in it. It has death records from my mom and son,” she said, as well as the family Bible. The iPads and phones were missing from the box.

The naïveté of the customers made me sad: Most would have kept small electronic items and personal papers with them or stored them with friends. No wonder they were easy marks. I have to give it to the movers: They cleared the house in four hours. That’s lightening fast. Given my recent experiences in moving, I’d guess they didn’t pack or protect much; they must have tossed the furniture and other belongings in the truck.

Vote by hanging up

Have you been invited to attend a town hall meeting on the phone with a political candidate? Take care warned Catherine Fredmen on www.Consumerreports.org where she shared intel from David Dewey, director of research at Pindrop Security, a firm that sells anti-fraud detection technology to call centers and others.

If you’re enticed by scammers that take advantage of the season and you give your credit card number to donate to your favorite pol, “Not only have you handed over money to an unknown entity, you have opened the door to identity theft.” She advises if the call is unsolicited, don’t play ball.

Not playing around

Wrote Fredmen, “Scammers are after more than your credit card number. Instead, they glean personal information to build detailed profiles that can be used for sophisticated forms of identity theft that may not be immediately obvious.” Her example is VTech, a toymaker. She continued: “For example, scammers could exploit the VTech data breach, which compromised the profiles of 6.4 million kids around the world, to hack identities for years. Because kids have no credit history and their parents generally don’t check their credit reports regularly, the theft might not be noticed until the kids grow up and apply for a credit card or financial aid for college.”

Mobile wallets on the move

“Dewey put the security of mobile wallets to a little test,” such as Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, Android Pay and PayPal, added Fredmen.  “First, he secretly copied credit card numbers and expiration dates from a few colleagues at Pindrop. A little Google investigating revealed the answers to ‘secure’ identification questions (such as a colleague’s mother’s maiden name) needed to activate the colleague’s card under Dewey’s mobile wallet account. Within minutes, Dewey had strolled over to Whole Foods and bought lunch for the office—paid for by his unwitting colleague. (The colleague was reimbursed.)”

Are you familiar with these scams or potential breaches? Know of others?

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