Consumer Tech’s Financial and Shopping Special Edition

We know how online shopping for clothes, electronics, and financial services have become common place. Readers tell DFA that some of the most famous names in online shopping are now driving some dedicated customers back to brick and mortar stores because of sneaky, decidedly unfriendly, non-disclosed pricing gimmicks, unethical return policies and unpredictable, undisclosed rules.

So, be forewarned: FREE doesn’t always mean free… “no worry” free return doesn’t always mean free and, even when you pay extra to join an organization to get freebies, you may be walking into a trap.

For example, Amazon, the largest online store in North America, has quietly instituted a return policy that overrides its advertised “Prime” free returns, which costs from $73 to $99 a year. Customers who return “too many items” even if the items are defective or just don’t fit… and who knows how many a “few too many” are, nobody will tell… find themselves, in Amazon’s words, “suspended”. What does suspended mean, exactly? And where, when you’ve paid your $99 Prime fee, does it say that? Are you banned for life? Will they refund your $99  Also, some news organizations – including the NYTimes and Consumer Reports– are stating that Amazon’s and other online sites “Big sale” prices aren’t really sales, just prices that originally were pumped up so they could be marked down.

Lets look at Shoebuy, one of the largest footwear online stores. You’ll see  “no worries, free shipping, free returns” plastered all over its website. And that used to be true. But about 6 months ago they started charging a whopping $7+ “restocking fee” when you returned shoes.  So basically, what once was a great online resource, now does not offer free returns, especially troubling when you’re buying shoes that you cannot try on. And it’s especially galling when they used to offer true free shipping and returns, and continue to promote themselves that way.  So, guys, cross them off your buying list.

By the way, Amazon would not reply to our written questions except to guide us to a web page that wasn’t working, while Shoe Buy wouldn’t reply at all.

Costco, Target and even Walmart,  which have been adversely effected by the onslaught of seemingly cut rate pricing policies by Amazon and other online retailers,  have better return policies than they used to and are fighting back with competitive pricing both instore and online . And, of course you can go to their stores to argue about returns.

And here’s some good news online: up and coming, which offers discounts like other shopping sites on 1000s of products, clearly states what can or cannot have free returns, but also offers a smart way to shop other sites you love. When you use Jet Anywhere, you get back a percentage of what you spend as JetCash to put toward future Jet orders. has no subscription fee.

Beware of the low mortgage rates

For those consumers shopping for financial products like mortgages or car loans or refinancing their homes while interest rates are lower than ever, be advised that famous brands like Wells Fargo, Bank of America  and the ubiquitous Quicken loans, have charges – calling them access fees, research fees, special handling fees and more  –that replace those infamous “points” many of us have had to pay to qualify for a loan of any sort.

Also very troubling are the “Quicken” pre-approved loans which sucker you in saying oh “yes your credit score indicates” you qualify for any of our loans …car, mortgage, refinance and then just after you finish weeks of arduous form filling and questionnaires, you are told that the wonderful come on low rates has been jacked up for no particular reason.

And you need to even watch out for your local mortgage broker representing what seems like several loan company choices. While the come on here is that you are getting free representation helping you pick out a loan company, in fact we just experienced a situation where our friendly local broker, actually asked us to pay him cash under the table in order to make sure we qualified for a loan from a prominent National bank (and, FYI, we have exceptionally fine credit scores).

So the moral of the story is… the more things change the more they remain the same… buyer beware. Do the research, read the fine print. And if you find a retailer, online or otherwise, that you like… don’t assume their policies will remain the same when you buy from them a second time. Did we say read the fine print?

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