Archive for the ‘Cost Cuts’ Category

Service of the More You Pay, the Less You Get—in Sneaky Ways

Thursday, May 30th, 2024

A sheet of Ansel Adams Forever stamps.

Who doesn’t notice subtle price changes that creep into a budget and/or manufacturer savings that impact quality? I’ve recently written about the July 14 Forever stamp price increase from 68 cents to 73 cents. It’s worth repeating.

I love paper—stationery on fine paper, wonderful wrapping paper, giftbags and napkins. While Trader Joe’s has some beauties at 99 cents a card, some are printed on a rich, textured linen like stock, I will occasionally spring for a $6.00 card if it is perfect for someone. But what I’ve found is that when I go to close the envelope on these extravagances the glue or adhesive doesn’t hold. I mentioned my frustration and annoyance to a friend who had the same experience. Trader Joe’s notecards close good and tight.

And what about socks? A friend works in a shop that sells cotton socks with charming motifs for $15 a pair. They feel wonderful, but they don’t last a year. She bought me a pair that I loved [photo below]. I hand washed them and never put them in a dryer, but it didn’t matter. Holes happened anyway. I thought it may have been a one-off, but she reported the same issue with the ones she bought for herself. [I never told her about my gift.]

This example doesn’t quite fit the theme, but I wanted to share it anyway. I called customer service when the hefty shipping charge wouldn’t go away on the invoice of an online purchase. I had reached the minimum required. The operator asked if I was buying a sale item. Answer, “Yes.” She replied, “then you must pay shipping.” I couldn’t find an email address to report my irritation but nevertheless mailed a letter to the marketing director suggesting that they state this policy clearly on the website. This had never happened to me before!

Do you have similar examples of sneaky marketing where you pay more but don’t get what you expect?

Hole in a $15.00 sock shortens its life to less than one year.

Service of Being Painted By the Same Brush

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

There are some companies set up so you can’t reach them and others you can contact but that don’t listen to sense: They see all customers as offenders. A grouchy or nutty customer or employee writes a terrible online review and the words glare back from the top of every Google search about you or your business. Just try to get rid of it even if insane and untrue. Same if a competitor trashes your restaurant or business on Yelp. Nightmare.

And now, a company you can reach but can’t reason with—Retail Equation—can forbid you from returning purchases or exchanging them to a particular store for a year according to its calculations, even if you’re innocent.

Khadeeja Safdar wrote “Retailers Crack Down on Serial Returners,” in The Wall Street Journal. I’m all for that: Cheaters and unreasonable customers are not my favorites. I recently wrote about 106 year old L.L. Bean’s tightening its generous return policy after too many abuses hurt their bottom line in “Service of Going Too Far: L.L. Bean Puts its Boot Down.” But with Retail Equation keeping track of returns and more for retailers, reasonable shoppers can be swept up in the fray and painted by the same brush as serial returners.

One Best Buy customer bought a bunch of cellphone cases as gifts for his kids, let his sons choose among the colors, planning to return the three they didn’t select. When he did his salesperson warned him that the returns would jeopardize future ones–and even exchanges–for a year even though he was well within the designated 15 day after purchase period.

He contacted Retail Equation that tracks returns for large corporations. His entire record showed returns of the three cellphone cases worth, in all, less than $90. The company refused to change its decision. According to Safdar the customer said: “I’m being made to feel like I committed a crime. When you say habitual returner, I’m thinking 27 videogames and 14 TVs.”

Safdar reported: “Stores have long used generous return guidelines to lure more customers, but such policies also invite abuse. Retailers estimate 11% of their sales are returned, and of those, 11% are likely fraudulent returns, according to a 2017 survey of 63 retailers by the National Retail Federation. Return fraud or abuse occurs when customers exploit the return process, such as requesting a refund for items they have used, stolen or bought somewhere else.”

WARNING: You could be on the Retail Equation’s black list if you return in store or online:

  • an expensive item
  • a significant percentage of purchases
  • something without a receipt
  • after the accepted period
  • things that are often stolen at that store
  • just as the store closes or
  • too many items at once

In addition to Best Buy, other stores that use Retail Equation to track returns are Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Sephora and Victoria’s Secret. If you want to protest your ban, you can call Best Buy at 1-866-764-6979 the Journal discovered when researching the story.

“It isn’t easy for shoppers to learn their standing before receiving a warning. Retailers typically don’t publicize their relationship with Retail Equation. And even if a customer tracks down his or her return report, it doesn’t include purchase history or other information used to generate a score. The report also doesn’t disclose the actual score or the thresholds for getting barred.”

I understand the reason for such a policy, but think it should be used judiciously and not be directed by a company that seems to treat every customer like a sleazy thief. Safdar didn’t say if the policy referred to gifts. What if you give your Aunt Millie a portable heater from Home Depot and her son had already bought her one? Who will be dunned and subsequently penalized for the return? Are customers supposed to keep unwanted items instead?  Have you been confronted with such a punishment? Does it make you think twice about using a vendor that resorts to such measures?

Service of Saving Money

Thursday, July 26th, 2012


Who doesn’t want to save money, especially these days?

My friend Clotilde, [she asked me to use this pseudonym], told me about how some in one industry are approaching this objective although she didn’t cotton to the approach. Clotilde heard the story on NPR. I read David Folkenflik’s coverage in “Fake Bylines Reveal Hidden Costs Of Local News” on

oldfashionednewsroomFolkenflik wrote that major newspapers in Chicago, Houston and San Francisco admitted that they published print and/or online items under fake bylines.

That’s the least of it. According to Folkenflik, “As was first disclosed by the public radio program ‘This American Life,’ the items in question were not written by reporters on the staffs of the papers at all but by employees of what is effectively a news outsourcing firm called Journatic.

“‘How do you get police blotters from 90 towns? It’s not easy. But that’s what we do,’ says Brian Timpone, a former television reporter and small-town newspaper owner who created what became Journatic six years ago.”

strapped-for-cashFolkenflik continued, “Journatic has dozens of clients, many of them strapped for cash but all hungry to serve up local news for their readers.”

Worth repeating: I’ve found that daily newspapers are turning to syndicated stories to fill their pages rather than to spend money for reporters to cover local business news.

Back toFolkenflik:  “‘It’s a short-term cost-cutting measure, and that’s all it is,’ says Tim McGuire, the former editor-in-chief of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who now teaches media business and journalism ethics at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. ‘It’s not a long-term solution to providing local news to people who want it.'”

Journatic has 60 employees and 200 freelancers but what most caught my friend’s attention was that the company hires 100+ people from abroad to write copy. One employee who rewrites the foreigners’  material told Folkenflik that these writers are paid “a pittance.”

Since I began to write this post, the Chicago Tribune, a Journatic client, suspended its relationship when it learned that “the company had published stories with fake bylines and that a writer there had plagiarized a story on TribLocal, the network of suburban papers and hyperlocal websites Journatic published on behalf of Tribune,” according to Julie Moos on The Tribune has brought in a former editor as a consultant to help “the outsourcing company on its processes and standards.”

Are cut-rate solutions like this better than nothing? Do you think such cost-cutting measures will help save newspapers? 


Service of the Pulse of Christmas 2010

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Here are some observations of this holiday season:

**I passed by a silent Salvation Army bell ringer yesterday and looked to see why he was quiet and if he was OK. He was texting.

**An officemate, Bambe Levine, told me about her happy experience at J. Crew. She went to return some boots last week and had 20 minutes to spend before her lunch date. Her heart sank when she saw a line that, in spite of a generous number of cashiers, promised to take at least 40. She asked a manager if she might leave the boots and return to wait in line after lunch. The manager said to her, “Let me take care of it,” and did so immediately.

**Meanwhile, I tried for several days to buy a gift at a boutique in Grand Central Station. Can’t go into too much detail as 1) the recipient reads these posts and 2) I don’t bash brands here. The staff was pleasant yet clueless. I hung around for over half an hour waiting for one to bring the size I requested from basement storage. Nobody seemed to realize that people have other things to do. Eventually, I told the cashier that I had to get back to the office and she suggested I return after work, which I did. The item wasn’t upstairs yet. She promised the basement retrieval man would call me. He never did. I gave it another try on Friday and this cashier couldn’t have been nicer, more apologetic, and she repeated how responsible the man is both before and after she found the gift in the back room. To sweeten my mood [my face wasn’t happy when I had to wait at the back of the line to pay], she gave me her employee discount.

**Unforgiving sticky price labels continue to plague gifts I buy. The hairdryer trick to dry the adhesive so I can scrape off the price works although it takes forever; burns my fingers and gets glue on the appliance. This year, the heat melted some of the packaging which is annoying. Simple solutions: Barcodes on sticky labels combined with prices clearly marked on store shelves just as they are in grocery stores.

**Garish, tasteless trees are the style in office lobbies this year-minus gifts for children that have been there for as long as I can remember. What a sad turn of events. Some tinsel is better than nothing. It could be June in the lobby of my office building where there’s not the tiniest nod to the season. Menorah lights and a simple wreath–I know just the place–would cheer.

xmas2010wreathsmall2**An anemone greenhouse/tree farm outside Rhinebeck, NY has traditionally sold beautifully decorated wreaths. Normally, if you don’t go early in the season, they sell out. We dropped by yesterday on a whim. They still had quite a selection, and the wreaths were slightly discounted.

**ABC TV covered the Santa letters program in “Sad Santa Letters Tell of Economic Woes, USPS Says. New York’s Operation Santa Chief Says More Letters This Year Asking for Coats, Food.” Pete Fontana, who directs the USPS New York Operation Santa, said: “Though many considered last year to be the toughest financially since the economic downturn, it appears that more people are struggling this year, both from the letters and the decreased amount of volunteers who sign up to fulfill some of the writers’ wishes.” There’s a website of participating post offices if you want to pick up a letter and fulfill the wishes of some of the neediest writers. Wouldn’t it be great to win the lottery in time to pick up all those letters and fulfill the wishes?

Any changes–good and bad–or observations to share about this holiday season?

Service of Double Checking

Monday, July 19th, 2010

I improve what I’ve written every time I reread the copy but there’s a limit to how much time I can spend on a project as nobody will pay for unlimited hours to edit and rewrite. Under ideal circumstances, I like an hour to pass before picking up and reviewing copy–overnight is even better. If in a severe time crunch and the copy is more than a memo, I ask another writer/editor to review it.  Being clear and error-free matters.

[I digress, but have you read books by some well regarded contemporary authors lately? It appears that nobody, not even their Aunt Sadie, an editor or even the author has read the book cover to cover before it goes to press looking, at the least, for facts repeated a few pages apart.]

I don’t bash brands on this blog, but the instances to which I refer are so widely known that I am making an exception.

I wonder what was going through Steve Jobs and the Apple tech team’s minds to put a flawed phone on the market when someone had to know the antenna would give trouble. Just as poor copy won’t kill anyone, [unless you are writing dosage and side effect information for potentially lethal meds or assembly instructions for parachutes or bombs], an imperfect phone won’t either [except if the caller is dialing 911 for help and touches the antenna on the rim, which causes a dropped call.]

This lack of double checking [or ignoring the results of someone who has] seems to be communicable. Where was it going on at BP before crews sank a pipe in water far deeper than standard? And now that the horse is out of the barn-or rather, the Lockerbie bomber is out of jail and back home in the lap of luxury–we find out that he isn’t as sick as the judge thought/was told and he may live another 10+ years. [Apart from nobody checking the doctor’s prognosis, since when should we care so much about the final days of a killer like this? But that’s another subject.]

At the same time as some think of serious double-checking as a waste of time, we have reporters postulating where Chelsea Clinton’s wedding will be. TV reporters are stalking passersby in Rhinebeck, New York to gauge whether locals think the wedding will take place there or, as Erica Orden in The Wall Street Journal wrote on Friday in “Rhinebeck Conspiracy Theory,” when she quoted a resident police officer, “My wife thinks this is a decoy location….” On Sunday, in the Style section, The New York Times had its own, slightly different version of guessing the where and when.

Do you think that we should apply the sharp brains being wasted on this fluff to double check what’s going on in so many crucial areas such as finance and the war, or do we need the frivolity to survive the consequences caused by the rampant lack of double checking, even by some in the media, our traditional watchdogs?

Service of Loss Leaders

Monday, February 1st, 2010

A loss leader draws customers. Retailers, restauranteurs–anyone, actually–expect to sell the item at a loss [or maybe not at all].

I got the idea for this post from the cover of the ThursdayStyles section of The New York Times on January 28. The construction of the bodice and bow at the waist of the featured gown by John Galliano for Dior did not allow the wearer to do anything but stand all night: Sitting either for dinner or scatological reasons would be impossible because the elements would attack–dig or slap–nor could you ballroom dance or be hugged while wearing it. The bow is too huge and stiff. So why bother design such a gown? The Galliano and Dior names–and the dress–were featured prominently in coverage of this year’s Paris haute couture shows so it served its purpose.

I was for a brief period in the food business. There I learned that desserts are loss leaders for restaurants because the ingredients are expensive and they are labor-intensive, therefore unprofitable, yet expected and fun to admire. Think of size 0 models and the self-consciously healthy who inhabit four star restaurants: They would never order the amazing pastries or sugary concoctions on display on silver trays or rolling carts. The lower end of restaurant chains feature desserts, even though dinner portions can be gargantuan. Much of the time even dessert-lovers hardly have room for coffee much less a sweet treat.

Retailers draw me inside with a window manikin dressed in a glorious pattern on a blouse which I know in advance won’t suit me. And I’m tempted by a fantastic pleated skirt on display although the ensuing dry cleaning bill would land me in bankruptcy. But while I’m inside the store, I buy a plain white blouse and simple pair of slacks–mission accomplished for the store!

One of my clients sold value-priced curtains and drapes. Nearly all their sales were of unimaginative weave and fabrication and in beige. Every market they would introduce wonderful, creative additions to the line that editors adored but most buyers were afraid to carry. Smart ones did because like the brightly patterned blouse, they’d attract customers who would usually buy something from the department.

Can you think of loss leaders you appreciate or have deliberately introduced to attract attention and sales?

Have businesses dropped visual treats and goodies to save money, while especially in this economy, they are necessary to attract customer interest and sales?

Service of Smart Cost Cuts

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Daily we read about and observe smart cost-cutting measures by people and businesses to help ride out the worst economic downturn in recent memory.

Some survival tactics like The New York Times selling one of its jewels–classic music radio station WQXR–are necessary. And the survival part is nerve-wracking. If cutting below the quick can happen to the newspaper of record, is anyone immune? What’s next? Scary.

I get the QXR move, but wonder what to think about the Times not paying to subscribe to other papers and magazines for its Metro desk-telling the staff to buy its own subscriptions. The memo, that appeared in The New York Observer,  offers the option to read the competition on line through the paper’s research department. Is wasting staff time a false economy?

Shopping in the back of your closet, creative gift-giving ideas and learning to cook and eating wonderful, imaginative meals at home all make sense.

In this context, closing down Gourmet Magazine doesn’t jibe, except the savings to Conde Nast are obvious. I read in the New York Post on Friday, October 9, that the editor-in-chief was paid $1 million a year and will get $5 million in severance–a chunk of change in any economy. I have talented, dedicated, brilliant editor friends who’d be happy to work for half that amount–perhaps less! I wonder if the staff was given the option of accepting lower salaries to save the magazine, but who can compete with $5 million?

For brands staying in business some cost cuts backfire. A favorite radio station is selling hour blocks of time, formerly devoted to creative programming, to alternative medicine or real estate sponsors who conduct humdrum, self-serving advertorials. In the short run, they generate income for the station as the sponsors pay for the time. My bet is that most of the audience turns the dial to another station or off. I do. I also worry about the talent: Will they be able to make ends meet on salaries based on shortened schedules?

A business that thinks it can get away with using inexpensive, insufficiently trained foreign labor in its customer service department or a maze of numbers to punch on the phone with a range of options, none of which fit your reason for calling, is making a mistake. You may be stuck with that brand for now, but you will never again buy it nor will your friends who will tire of your drawn-out horror story and never forget the brand’s name.

Have you come across business cutbacks that you predict will flop in the long run or intelligent ones that you admire?

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