The joy of Christmas shopping

December 27 2007 by Ellen Roseman

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.

30 comments

  1. bylo

    Dec 28 2007

    Moe, what’s it going to take to make Future Shop stop such “sharp” marketing practices as (a) high-pressure sales of extended warranties, (b) high-pressure sales of cables and other accessories at grossly inflated prices, and (c) high-pressure sales of computers with extra-cost recovery CDs?

    Do we consumers have to refer such practices to the federal government for criminal prosecution under the Competition Act in order to get your attention?

  2. Jamie

    Dec 29 2007

    I went to Wal-Mart on Boxing Day before opened to buy a video game advertised in their flyer at a good price. They had TWO copies that were grabbed by the first customer. Everyone else looking for it (and there were many) were out of luck.

    I then selected some games out of their “value bin” that were vaguely advertised as “all value games half price”. My games were the same price and had the “value” sticker on them, but scanned at full price at the cash. I was informed “those ones mustn’t count”.

    It was a madhouse so I didn’t put up a fight like I normally would. The same staffer was dealing with another customer overcharged on DVDs (he ended up out of luck too). I left without those games and without the other item I was going to purchase.

    The previous year I was at the same Kingston Wal-Mart to buy some games, which were nowhere to be seen. They had had the games in the store previously, then moved them into the back room for the sale. How do I know? I complained to their service email and in person to the store manager after a promised phone call never came. The manager led me to the back to pick out what I wanted a few days later. They appeared back on the sales floor AFTER the half-price sale period was over. They had also removed advertised Boxing Week product from the sales floor in ’05 to the back room until after the sale was over.

  3. Jamie

    Dec 29 2007

    I have to laugh at the Future Shop reps posting on many sites advising to contact their 24 hr call/email centre. Anyone who has done so realizes how pointless it is.

    If it’s an issue that happened in a store, they either blow you off completely, or if you persist in an email exchange you will eventually get a “we’ve sent your issue to the store which will respond in 48 hours”. Often the store then never responds at all, and you’re back to being blown off by their call centre.

    The last time I went through this, I eventually got a response that the store had contacted me and we came to a mutual agreement – despite the fact I had never even heard from the store. I then got one saying my issue had been sent to the regional supervisor and I would get a response in 48 hrs. When I inquired why that didn’t happen, I got a “nothing we can do, you’ll have to contact the store” – the same as the very first response.

    After about 10 emails, greatly detailing my issue, I eventually heard from the store manager, who apparently had no idea why he was calling me, even though part of the conversation seemed to indicate he knew exactly what I had written in my emails to their “service” email.

    When something goes wrong, Future Shop/Best Buy is the absolute worst place you would want to deal with. It’s not possible to escalate your issue from the call centre, short of finding emails for head office on your own.

  4. Wade

    Dec 29 2007

    Jamie, your point is a familiar one.

    I stopped shopping at both Future Shop and Best Buy for exactly the same reason several years back.

    When I visited just to price out some cables for a new HDTV and ran into salespeople who could only muster an “over there” wave of the hand when I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I knew I’d made the right decision.

  5. Dale

    Dec 29 2007

    Not necessarily problems with Christmas shopping, but it appears that some companies out there must be doing SO well that they don’t want more customers or could care less if you want to do business with them.

    My brother wanted to get a new roof on his house and he’s willing to spend the money. Called a contractor for a quote – the contractor never called him back.

    I tried getting a service person to come service my boiler/heating system back in the fall so I wouldn’t have any problems this winter. One guy who was recommended set a day and time but never showed and didn’t return phone calls made when he hadn’t shown up.

    Guess what? NOW it’s not working. I’ve recently had problems with a heating/cooling company here in Toronto (Comfortzone 21 Degrees) that:
    a. could not fix the problem
    b. thought replacing $255 worth of parts and labor may fix the problem (it didn’t)
    c. never got back to me with quotes on service they suggested may solve the problem, or my wanting to REPLACE the entire system. (probably $5-6,000)
    d. left my existing equipment in a state of dis-assembly
    e. phone calls and faxes to the owner have resulted in broken promises to look into what happened and get back to me.
    f. an overcharge to my credit card
    g. several requests for info on their advertised 100% satisfaction guarantee have gone unanswered.

    Apparently they see nothing wrong with coming to your house, taking apart your equipment and then never returning to either fix it or put it back together.

    Another company is now on it, but this has resulted in my being without hot water since November.

  6. Jamie

    Dec 30 2007

    Apparently Future Shop has instructed their stores to post the above offer to refund the $99 recovery disc fee in the stores. However, the instruction is to be placed somewhere in the computer department, instead of at the front door where they would normally post price corrections. How many people who just bought a computer, and are likely angry at Future Shop for being charged the extra $100, are going to be back in the Future Shop computer department soon to see it?

    It appears they are doing the bare minimum to get this issue to blow over, and only after they realized it would hit the media.

  7. Jean

    Dec 30 2007

    I had been thinking about buying a Dell computer but now I’m thinking again. Products that break, endless hassles, deceptive advertising and communications, who needs that?

  8. Jamie

    Dec 30 2007

    re Ellen’s sticker price accuracy.

    Technically, the scanning code signage specifies “of a non price ticketed item”. Since the magazine was price ticketed, it would appear the store doesn’t have to comply with the free item/$10 off part. I know some will anyway, while others are quick to point that wording out and don’t.

    There are many, many complaints about retailers supposedly “committed to price accuracy” not honouring the policy posted on sites like redflagdeals and frugalshopper, which don’t seem to support the rosy stats on the Retail Council site.

    In the past week, a person in front of me was overcharged on multiple ticketed items at Zellers and I was overcharged (double) on non-ticketed items at Zellers. I was also overcharged twice on two visits to Blockbuster on ticketed items where it isn’t all that easy to get it corrected. Neither store conveniently adopts the voluntary code.

    This marked my return to trying to buy at Blockbuster from a year ago, when I was repeatedly overcharged at all three local stores. Sometimes, I left the store without the product when management wouldn’t honour the tagged/signed prices. I contacted service and spoke with the regional supervisor, who assured me it would be dealt with. The only change was to remove all the customer-facing register displays so you can’t see what is being rung up.

  9. bylo

    Jan 3 2008

    Ellen said, “I didn’t notice the distinction before now between scanned items that had a price sticker and those that had no price sticker.”

    Yeah, but that only underscores the absurdity of the situation. If you, someone who’s actually read the Code missed a nuance, then how can a store clerk or the typical consumer be expected to get it right?

    The Code should be something that can be expressed in a sentence or two, e.g. “If an item scans in at a price that’s higher than the sticker or the sign at point-of-sale, then the store must sell that item at the lower price, discounted by the lesser of $10 or the full price of the item.” Then, place a card or sticker with that verbiage prominently at each cashier station.

  10. bylo

    Jan 8 2008

    If you want to know where Future Shop got the “brilliant” idea of trying to shove recovery disks down their customers’ throats the answer apparently is from their overlords at Best Buy US. Best Buy, Circuit City Reps Push Unnecessary Recovery Discs

    Note that even Best Buy and Circuit City in the US don’t have the gall to charge $99 for this “service.” They do it for a more reasonably-priced $30.

    So Ellen you ought to ask Moe why they had to add $69 of insult to $30 worth of injury. Does he think that Canadians are that gullible? As I said before, is it going to take a criminal conviction under the Competition Act with possible jail time to get the executives at Canada’s retailers to wake up and smell the indignation coming from consumers?

  11. MH

    Jan 9 2008

    Prior to Christmas, in anticipation of a “Grand Opening Sale”, I went to Future Shop the night before the sale started to look at an advertised computer and to confirm stock availability. There were 6 or 7 units on the shelf.

    I lined up the next day with only 30-40 people ahead of me. There were several Future Shop associates “reserving” products for people in line. I spoke to one of them who took my order.

    When the doors opened, I was in the store and at the computer display within 1 minute of when the first person entered the store. To my surprise, the shelf was empty. A different associate, who was glad to offer us an inferior substitute product at a higher price, tried to tell me (and several other customers) that all the computers had already been sold. This was not at all credible.

    It is inconceivable that the stock could have disappeared within one minute of the store opening. If other customers beat me to the display, I would have seen them carrying away boxes. When I found and confronted the associate who supposedly reserved my product while I was waiting in line, he merely shrugged his shoulders.

    Furthermore, with approximately 20 stores in the GTA and a claim of 300 units available GTA wide, Future Shop should have had 15 units available. The quantity advertised was not provided.

    I emailed Future Shop and the response was that the store manager would phone me. When he did not, I took the initiative and phoned him. I found him to be unapologetic and extremely cocky. When I gave him a description of the associate who supposedly “reserved” my order, he essentially called me a liar by telling me that nobody of that description worked at his store. Needless to say, the issue did not get resolved.

    I decided to file a “bait and switch” complaint with the Competition Bureau. They were very prompt in replying: “We have reviewed your information and determined that the matter you have raised cannot be addressed by the Bureau at this time. The information you have provided will be recorded and entered into our database and it may be used to develop or support future enforcement activities under the laws we enforce.”

    If the Competition Act is not enforced, what is the point of having this legislation? I suppose Future Shop knows that they will not be prosecuted so they continue their deceptive marketing practices.

    With Best Buy/Future Shop (how this quasi-monopoly was allowed in the first place is another issue) controlling a majority of the consumer electronics segment, it seems that they believe they can operate by their own rules. Although it is difficult to avoid them, I can only suggest that consumers try to shop elsewhere. Use the Best Buy/Future Shop ads as a reference, since many other retailers will match a competitor’s prices.

  12. Ric

    Jan 10 2008

    Wal-mart has a published policy of selling magazines at the US price ( if shown on the magazine). As most of us now know, many magazines simply publish a “Canadian” price.

    While on a recent trip to Wal-mart. I noticed this practice had been taken up by the publishers of Consumers Reports. When I returned home, I called Consumer Reports and asked what the US price was for the magazine. It was $1 less than the published Canadian price.

    Interesting how the magazine that proudly represents itself as the magazine intended to protect the consumer is indulging in a practice to stick it to its Canadian readers.

    It is obvious that you cannot trust anyone these days!!

  13. Ric

    Jan 10 2008

    If you like to build and modify your own computers, you are probably aware of Tiger Direct. Recently I had the need for one of their products and after finding the price on their Canadian web site I decided to check their US website for comparison. To my surprise, I discovered that that in the case where you could find identical products offered, the Canadian price was 10 to 25 per cent higher than the US price.

    When I called their customer service number, I was told some nonsense about higher volumes in the US etc. I asked why I could not just get an account with the US operation and buy from them. They said that was not allowed!!

    Bottom line is this: Never assume that the collapse of the US dollar means better prices for us. It just means more opportunity for unethical companies to make more money.