Archive for the ‘Prices’ 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 It’s Only Five Cents More: Impact of Another USPS Price Increase

Monday, April 29th, 2024

Mostly older people mail traditional letters or pay bills by mail and mostly older people enjoy receiving traditional cards. One of the recipients of my Halloween, Valentine, holiday and birthday cards was a dear friend who died recently at 99. After she retired, she told me how much receiving the cards meant. I will miss her especially as I address those envelopes.

How long will I keep up the tradition of sending cards? I shared the news of the July 14 five cent price increase for a Forever Stamp—on top of two cents in January–with folks who use the mails. We will be paying 73 cents for one. I’ll no longer fork over chump change to mail 100+ Christmas/Hannukah greetings. I’ve pretty much stopped sending cards to younger people as I suspect they languish in unopened mailboxes for months and are an annoyance considered wasteful.

Cousin Deb responded to my stamp price increase news: “I will buy quite a few before that date. What a large leap in price!  As a senior, I feel that they are not so subtly telling us to go everything electronic. I am stubbornly still paying some bills by check, and I also like to communicate by cards and letters.

“But even though I never had any problems with leaving my mail out for the mailman to pick up, I now will be mailing them inside the post office. AARP has convinced me to do that.  And, making sure that I use a pen that is permanent black, like a fine point Sharpie. It is a major pain, as it is now too far to walk!”

For a while, after I read about the importance of using the right ink for writing a check, I was giving Sharpie pens to friends who mail checks.

Like Deb, I’m careful about where I put mail to be sent. I haven’t put a letter in a blue street mailbox in months. I am lucky that in my apartment building the trusty mail people pick up our letters from a box inside the building. Post offices near me aren’t convenient.

I have reasons for wanting the microfiche check images I get from my bank. The memo section on one in which my husband had written “downpayment,” was proof needed in a disagreement with a vendor. And I dislike the concept that a company or organization can suck out of my account any amount of money it cares to for as long as it wants. I also use the tiny check facsimiles as proof of charitable donations. Some less sophisticated yet needy organizations–such as local food banks–have no staff to send online or physical acknowledgements for donations.

Will you change your mailing habits as the cost of a first-class stamp gallops towards a dollar? Have you already done so?

Service of Fiddling with the Price

Monday, January 15th, 2024

Fiddle with the price, change it a few times in succession or cause a client to question your charges is the fastest way to lose a customer. I keep thinking of a used car salesman who declares, “Oh, you wanted a steering wheel with that?”

A friend fell victim to just such a potential flimflam regarding a beauty procedure. Her specialist left the place she’d used and she didn’t like the other operators. She tried another place in the same building that offered a Groupon discount. She went last month and was told that they would honor the same discount should she return this month–$46 instead of $95.

When she called for an appointment last week she mentioned she expected the Groupon rate as promised. But when she arrived the specialist pointed to the $95 charge on the pricelist and said she’d give her a 20 percent discount.

My friend said, “no that’s not what you told me-it’s $46.”

Then the operator asked for a screenshot showing the discount. As she had been the person who told her about the deal—and didn’t write it anywhere—my friend had nothing to show.

The operator ended up honoring the $46 and wrote on a loyalty card for next month: “$95 less 15 percent.”

My friend corrected her, reminding her that she’d said 20 percent earlier. She then revised the loyalty card.

But my friend has lost confidence in the shop. She wondered if the service provider thought she was stupid or a pushover. She tipped $5 less than the first time [and in my opinion, very generous especially under the circumstances]. Even with the 20 percent discount, the charge is higher than the original place, where they include the tip in the fee.

Do you think my friend should return to the second shop? Have you experienced a service that similarly slip slides around with its prices?

Service of Some Still Don’t Believe Americans Go Hungry

Monday, May 9th, 2022

Miche at Bien Cuit bakery, $15.00

I was at a gathering, tables groaning with delicious goodies, at which I heard: “I don’t believe there is hunger in this country.” The speaker refused to be convinced otherwise.

The comment nagged at me so I looked online for recent articles about hunger in America, [not that this person would have read any of them], and found none on Google since 2020. At that time there were plenty of reports of how the pandemic had made a terrible situation–that had been getting better–worse for many, especially children.

The nokidhungry.org website reports today that “according to the latest estimates, as many as 13 million children in the United States live in ‘food insecure’ homes. That phrase may sound mild, but it means that those households don’t have enough food for every family member to lead a healthy life.

$2.99 at Trader Joe’s

“The number of children living with hunger had fallen steadily over the past decade, but the coronavirus pandemic dealt a terrible blow to our progress as a nation – one that No Kid Hungry and other organizations will work to reverse during the long recovery ahead.”

So I changed my question to Google and wrote: “How has inflation impacted food banks?” I found a January 31, 2022 story on cbnews.com by Kate Gibson: “Inflation has more Americans counting on food banks to eat.”  It described the financial pressure that food banks are experiencing which, of course, impact those who depend on them.

I can’t believe I paid $1.99 for a grapefruit or $1.19 for a navel orange at Trader Joe’s. There are plenty of staples I buy there that haven’t increased in price such as a pound of penne rigate from Italy $.99; a pound of sweet Campari tomatoes, $2.99, [as much as $6 at other stores], or 16 ounces of plain Greek yogurt for $3.29. The last time I bought a butter substitute, Brummel & Brown, at a standard Manhattan grocery store, it cost $4-something. Last week I handed the cashier $5.00 and quickly realized that wasn’t enough: I paid $6+.  For the average family of four, that doesn’t have money left for food after paying rent and electricity, many of these items I buy regularly are luxuries.

Speaking of luxuries, I saw a stunning looking country bread at Bien Cuit in Grand Central Station for $15. I bet it’s tasty.

Do you know anyone who believes that there are no hungry people living in America? Are there many who think this? Can you share links to recent articles on hunger in America that I’ve missed? Are your grocery bills inching upwards or have you negotiated around the increases?

Trader Joe’s price: $.99.

Service of When Loyalty Goes Out the Window

Monday, February 11th, 2019

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?

Service of Comparative Value

Monday, December 12th, 2016

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 container 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

Across 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

I 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?

Service of Make Your Prices Clear, Please

Monday, October 24th, 2016

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.

Leslie 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!”

Leslie 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?

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

Monday, September 26th, 2016

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.

According 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.”

Chen 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?

Service of Side Effects of Drug Prices

Monday, October 19th, 2015

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. 

It’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.

The 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?

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

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

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 sauvignon 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.

 

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