The joy of Christmas shopping

Costco gave me a free copy of Maclean’s magazine today, with a cover story about the Canadian housing market: “Buy? Sell? Panic?” It took me 15 minutes to wrangle my refund and three salespeople had to help me.

I insisted on my rights under the voluntary code for scanner price accuracy

The magazine’s cover had a sticker that said $5.15. When I got back to the car, I noticed that my bill said $5.90.

On my return trip to the store, the greeter at the door said I had to find my original cashier. But she’d closed down and disappeared. The greeter sent me to another cashier, who wanted to give me the 75-cent overcharge.

No, I said, I’m entitled to get the item for free. The cashier tried to find the rules (they were downstairs) and then tried to give me a refund. But he couldn’t key it into his computer. He had to consult a third person before handing over the $6.72 (with tax).

That’s the trouble with voluntary codes. They’re not enforced, except by the customers. And how many of us want to spend 15 minutes or more to get back an amount under $10?

Anyway, I’ve been getting lots of mail from people who are shopping around these days and running into roadblocks. Feel free to add your own frustrating experiences.

Shop till you drop in China

Shopping in Shanghai

Maybe we’re not typical tourists, but my husband and I wanted to go to China to see the the historical sights. Shopping was not our main motivation, though we do like bargains.

Our tour guides kept dropping us off at government-owned stores and giving us unlimited time to buy. They made commissions on our purchases (as they admitted when asked), so they were in no hurry to leave.

On the same day we climbed the Great Wall of China, feeling very tired, our bus stopped at three handicraft stores. We were treated to demonstrations of how they made jade, silk carpets and cloisonne (enamel with wires separating the colours). After that ordeal, we were all complaining, even the avid shoppers.

So, I was happy to read this news item, which ran in the Toronto Star on Dec. 7.

Shop-till-you-drop tour ends with police batons

MACAU– Riot police were called in to calm down 120 Chinese tourists on a windswept beach, who’d had enough of an itinerary they said was too packed with shopping.

About two dozen police with batons and riot shields faced off with the tourists from China’s Hubei province for nearly five hours Tuesday night in Macau, home of the only legal casinos available to gambling-mad Chinese.

The tourists – among the 22 million annual visitors to the former Portuguese-run enclave – protested that their tour guides had taken them to too many shops and pressured them into buying things.

Besides the air, this is something else to clean up before the 2008 Summer Olympics.

More on cellphones and wireless data

Jamie Chadwick has an idea for a new business. Since cellphone plans are so complex, people need help finding the the best plan at the best price. He helps them do just that, in exchange for a chunk of their savings, at Save Cell Communications.

I’ve reprinted his letter and response to my questions below. But I wonder why such a business is needed. Aren’t mobile phone companies good at communications? Isn’t that their core expertise? Apparently not.

Meanwhile, reader Mike is upset with wireless data plans. He thinks they’re too expensive in Canada and not keeping pace with what’s going on internationally. I’ll let him get into the details, but I have an interest. I carry a BlackBerry and pay those bills myself.

Unlocking your cellphone when you travel

When my son went to Oxford University for a summer program in 2006, he had his cellphone unlocked. This allowed him to slip another SIM card, the memory chip that stores mobile numbers, into his phone in England and avoid high roaming charges.

Rogers Wireless, our provider, refused to help. It has a policy of locking cellphones, which helps cover the discounted prices paid by customers up front. However, a Rogers store sent us to a nearby kiosk at the Eaton Centre with a big sign, “we unlock cellphones.”

I did a column recently about Douglas Santala, who didn’t understand Rogers’ policy and got into trouble when he took two cellphones with him and his daughter to Europe. He wants Rogers to put warnings on all packages and pamphlets, letting people know their phones are locked.

While I was away, there was some good news about Verizon Wireless moving to open up its network to a wider selection of cellphones. This is part of a more open approach in the United States, but details have not been announced yet and consumer groups were wary of sky-high prices. Still, Consumers Union said it was a step in the right direction.

Do you think unlocking is inevitable? What’s your experience with using cellphones when you travel? What about having to buy a new phone when you switch from one carrier to another? Here are some opinions from my readers.