Tag Archives | Consumer Issues

Vertrue, the World’s Most Saintly Company

As I mentioned earlier today, I recently discovered that I was a newly-inducted member of something called SavingsAce, a discount club that had begun charging me $25 a month. I called it, canceled, and got my twenty-five bucks back. I also asked how I came to be a member, and the rep told me that I’d agreed to join in return for a $10 discount on a purchase I’d made from information provider Intelius. I had indeed made a purchase at Intelius, but remembered neither agreeing to join SavingsAce nor being offered $10 back. So I called Intelius.

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Online Merchants: It’s Not Our Fault Our Customers Are Chumps

Over at Cnet, Greg Sandoval has blogged about the post-purchase online marketing tactics that the U.S. government is currently investigating. These are the discount offers you get at checkout that involve you agreeing to a monthly charge that’s explained only in fine print. The “deals” are powered by marketing companies such as Affinion, Vertrue, and Webloyalty.

Sandoval has quotes from three of the merchants–Orbitz, Priceline, and United Online–insisting that the offers are sufficiently explained and that the companies don’t pass on customer information to third parties without permission. Which reminds me of a famous piece of video, also involving corporate executives apparently believing that insisting something makes it true:

Orbitz, Priceline, and United Online seem to be saying that if any consumers get confused by the offers and sign up without intending to, it’s the consumer’s own fault. But as Sanodval says, if it’s really true that the companies involved insert these offers into the sales process for their customers’ convenience, and that consumers understand what’s going on, the fix here is obvious: Have the shopper enter his or her credit-card number one last time to confirm acceptance of the offer.

I’ve  already stopped doing business with Orbitz after it slipped items I hadn’t asked for into my shopping cart and later told me it was doing so for my convenience. But did I mention that I recently found myself a member of something called SavingsAce, which costs $24.95 a month–and that I’m not sure how I got signed up? (SavingsAce is a program run by a division of Vertrue, one of the marketing companies under investigation.) I’m about to waste some time calling SavingsAce up and attempting to get my first twenty-five bucks back.

As I’ve said before, I hope that these sleazeball tactics disappear from the Web, one way or another. Legislation would be fine. But so would the merchants in question deciding that they’re driving away customers by treating them like stooges.


The Sordid World of Post-Purchase Marketing

Earlier today I was squawking about the sales tactics of PeopleFinder’s Stud or Dud? iPhone app: Once it has your credit-card info, it attempts to use a discount to convince you to sign up for various services that cost $24.95 a month, a price that’s mentioned only in fine print. As I did my grumbling, I didn’t realize that the U.S. Senate had been conducting a hearing on tactics of this sort, which are widely used by some of the largest e-commerce companies in America. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch has a good summary, and embedded this news report:

One of the companies that’s made millions off these shenanigans is Orbitz. Last March, I blogged about the related indignity that company puts its customers through: tacking travel insurance and limo rides onto their airfare purchases and forcing them to opt out (if they notice the charges) rather than opt in.

If you read every single word on every page during a sales transaction with companies that do this, you might avoid any unexpected charges. But dealing with this stuff makes an online sales transaction feel like it’s pockmarked with land mines that might go off at any moment. And it leaves me feeling like the e-tailers in question–some of who otherwise have extremely respectable sites–think their customers are patsies.

Isn’t a company’s reputation worth more than any few million dollars? Wouldn’t it be nice if corporate America quietly decided that treating consumers this way wasn’t worth it before the Feds force them to cut it out?