Sticker Shock At The Drugstore

This past weekend, my wife and I did something that we’ve talked about doing for years: taking what ended up being a 26 mile bike ride.  We have a good trail system around, and the end of one of the trails takes you all the way up to a nearby city.  We’ve taken the trail a number of times, but have always turned around.  We thought we’d finally give it a shot, so off we went.

It’s a pretty easy ride in terms of being on flat ground that’s covered in gravel (it’s a converted railroad bed), but it still felt good when we pulled into town.  I’m not normally one to undo the benefits of exercise with treats, but given that it was our first time, we thought we might wander into a nearby CVS and get a small treat.

We both love ice cream so we first wandered over to the freezers to look at their single serve ice cream treats.  I thought I was reading things incorrectly when an ice cream sandwich was $3.29.

Nope.  It was right.

A frozen Twix?  $2.99 as were most items.  The cheapest item, an ice cream sandwich type thing was $1.99.  Yikes.

No ice cream.

I started looking around the store, and I was unable to believe my eyes at the prices of things.

I don’t do much shopping in drugstores, but the everyday price of just about…everything…was crazy.

9 volt batteries for over $2.

Individual candy bars for $1.25.

A ten ounce bag of potato chips for $4.

At this point, I wasn’t looking to actually buy, I just wanted to see the prices.

The calamine lotion test

I decided to check things out from another recent experience that kind of acted as a trigger.  A few weeks ago, my son got bit up really bad by mosquitoes.  They like me, but they love him.  He probably had 50-60 bites on his legs and was complaining about itching.

Given that it was around bedtime, my wife ran out to the nearest store, which happened to be a Walgreens, and brought back a bottle (6 ounces) for $5.69.  I thought that seemed high, but whatever.

My wife mentioned it to her sister, who said that she had also gotten some that week, but had purchased hers at WalMart…and it was $2.19.

Astounding difference

So, while my wife and I were walking around CVS, I figured I’d see what their price was, if they were also 250% or so higher.

As it turns out, they weren’t.  They were over 300% higher.

Their price was $6.99.

My jaw just about hit the floor.

We ended up escaping with what I think was the cheapest items sold in the store, a couple of bags of generic gummy bears/worms.

On my way out, I noticed the area behind the counter that used to house cigarettes, which they just discontinued selling last week.  One of the things always mentioned since CVS announced this decision to stop selling smokes, is that they made over $1 billion in profit from them.

I commented to my wife that they must have decided to look to make up the lost profits by jacking up the prices of everything else.

I suppose there probably are deals to be found in drugstores, but my guess is that you have to take advantage of sales and coupons to actually walk away with any type of savings.  But if you pay full price at the drugstore, prepare to be gouged.

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Digital Transactions via Mobile Technologies

Mobile wallet and payment apps are being downloaded at an increasingly rapid rate. The popular mobile wallet app Isis is even becoming a preloaded app for some Android smart phones. Isis is one example of a successful payment app for smart phone users that has really taken off. There are also numerous banks that are to enabling their customers to make mobile payments from their bank accounts. It is becoming more and more prevalent for individuals to wave the back of their phone at the checkout counter. Mobile technologies are really changing the way consumers pay for goods and services.

How have companies successfully integrated the use of mobile technologies where digital transactions are concerned?

Strategic Partnerships

Some companies have developed strategic partnerships with brands. Jamba Juice partnered with a digital transactions support company and offered free drinks to customers using the endorsed application. Sales grew for Jamba Juice and overall sales increased as a result. The number of downloads for the app increased.

Hands-free Payments

eBay recently unveiled a new hands-free payment system where a person checks in as they enter the store just by having the device turned on. The store recognizes that the person has successfully checked into the store using Bluetooth technology. At checkout, the customers indicate that they are paying with PayPal and never have to use a card or swipe anything to complete the transaction.

White Label

Companies are now investing in white label options to provide this mode of payment processing to vendors. Companies can work with mobile wallet providers to develop their own custom payment solutions for their businesses. This approach speaks to a larger trend for companies where brands are trying to add convenience to the shopping experience for mobile users.

What are the benefits of doing transactions via mobile technologies from the perspective of the consumer and business owner?

This trend provides numerous benefits for the business owner. Business owners can run promotions around a product for users who agree to use a certain payment method to purchase goods. They can offer exclusive promotions virtually where users can save them to their mobile wallet for use and increase their overall sales.

Mobile transactions provide data. Timing the release of offers sent out to people according to the spending habits is possible. Tracking consumer data also allows the company to match an offer to shopping habits.

These mobile technologies encourage consumers to shop ahead. This means that businesses can allow users with certain mobile wallet services to pre-order whatever they purchase and schedule a pick-up time for their good.

Mobile technologies could be useful for businesses that want to better serve their mobile customers and create a better shopping experience. As the mobile wallet market grows, the smaller business may have an opportunity to cut their payment processing fees.

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

How Checking Our Grocery Bill Saved Us $14

My wife usually takes care of the grocery shopping.  On days when she does the shopping, I always come home and asked to see the bill.

It’s not because I’m checking up on her or that I’m questioning any of her choices, it’s just I have a pretty good eye for spotting errors.

And you’d be surprised how often I find them.

Just last week, I found a whopper that, had I not taken a look, would have cost us $14.

The Bill Seems High

My wife was talking about the grocery trip and how everything went (most notably, a worker from behind the deli counter offered my kids free ice cream…yum), when she commented that “the bill seemed pretty high”.

At $66, it was actually lower than usual, but it was also a smaller trip than most weeks, as they weren’t having great sales on many items we often stock up on, and we didn’t buy any meat or other ‘high priced’ items.

She showed me the bill, and I started looking through line by line when I noticed a line for $14 for cherries.

I incredulously asked her, “You spent $14 buying three-and-a-half pounds of cherries?”  We don’t usually buy cherries, even when they’re on sale, so this seemed crazy.

She ripped the receipt from my hand, looked, and said “No, I didn’t buy any cherries at all!”

What Fruit Most Closely Resembles A Cherry?

She started looking through the rest of the bill and noticed that there was no charge for another item that she had indeed purchased.

What fruit is small and red and could probably be mistaken for cherries by a rushed cashier?

Red grapes.

Red grapes were on sale for $0.99 per pound.  The cashier gave a quick glance, entered in the code for what he thought it looked like, and moved on.

Full Refund

My wife called the store (Meijer) and explained what had happened.  The person answering the phone apologized, gave my wife his or her name and logged it in a book, so that my wife can just go in, take the receipt, and get a refund.

The best part is that they said that they wouldn’t just give the difference, but that they’ll give us a refund for the full line item.

So, not only do we get the mistake corrected, we’ll also end up with free grapes.

All because we took the time to look through our bill.

Quite Frequent Though Less Costly

You might be wondering how often we find mistakes.  I’d say at least once per month.  Sometimes I’ll find that something appeared twice, only to find out that we only got one.  The dreaded double bar code scan.

Other times, we might find a missed store promotion that did not get applied, even though we purchased everything exactly as required.

Rarely does it work out anywhere near $14.  Usually it’s a mistake of a few dollars. I believe that the mistakes are honest mistakes.  I don’t think the cashiers have any interest in trying to overcharge or double charge.  I just think that most of the time they are going so fast trying to get through the many customers as quickly as possible that they make mistakes.

It’s our job as customers to make sure that we check for mistakes.  Ideally, we’d be able to catch the mistakes as they’re being rung up, so that my wife would have noticed the charge when the cashier entered it, but with two small children to manage, it’s not always possible.

So, if you can’t check in the store, make sure to check when you get home, otherwise it’s not the store making the mistake, it’s you!

Readers, what mistakes have you caught on your grocery or other store receipts?

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Someone Has To Buy That New Car That You Buy Used

One of the things that I enjoy reading and have even made mention is that the best decision when it comes to buying a new car is to buy a used car.  This offers a few benefits to your bottom line, including that it will be less money, that you’ll let someone else handle the massive up front depreciation, and so on.  I’ll stop there as that’s not the purpose of this article (but here’s a great article to read if you want to know more).

I agree 100% that this is the best financial decision for money savings, but the fact is that not 100% of people can follow this advice.

Nope, there has to be someone that purchases that car the first time.

Every used car out there, whether it be a gently used car that’s as good as new, or a rusted out beater, was once new, and someone paid the ‘new car’ price.

Think about that.

Next time someone tells you that they’ve got their eye on a new car down at the dealer, maybe you should hold off before advising them to buy a used car instead.

After all, that could be your next used car, and someone has to buy it, right?  Maybe you offer to drive them right down to the dealer…and in return, they give you a call when they’re ready to sell!

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Winners And Losers: Seven Years of Woot Purchases

Woot has always been a pretty nifty site to me.  They were the first and most popular site to offer one deal over one day.  They would put something up, and it would be available for 24 hours, or until it sold out, whichever came first.

They really got famous when they started their Woot-Off days, which were unannounced and would consist of deal after deal, at even lower prices, presumably to clear inventory from unsold daily days.  These often included what is now legendary among Woot followers, the Bag of Crap.  For $5, you got whatever they sent you.  In most cases, it was just as the title described, but people went crazy for them because every so often you could receive something like a flat screen TV, laptop, or a whole bunch of stuff.

I have tracked Woot for years, and have purchased a handful of things.  I just made a purchase on Friday of last week, during an event that was had sales of one-hour-per-item.  Right at the top of your account, they have a link where you can look at ‘Stuff You Bought’ and it gave me a full list.   The prices include shipping.

May 2007 – Dyson DC07 Low Reach Vacuum – $304.99

This was my very first Woot purchase as I’d just recently heard of the site.  We were weeks away from moving into our new home and we’d been looking at getting a new vacuum cleaner.  My wife-to-be had locked onto getting a Dyson, which typically ran for around $400-500.  When I saw this deal I jumped.

VERDICT: We still have this vacuum and it does great.  I’ve had to replace the hose, but that was through my own fault (I dumped part of a bag of sugar on the floor, tried to vacuum it up, only to find that it had landed in a wet spot, which led to the hose getting moldy on the inside).  GREAT PURCHASE!

November 2009 – Bag of Crap – $8

I purchased a Bag of Crap, having gotten in during the few seconds that they’re available, only to find out that I didn’t.  They oversold and ended up cancelling the order.

VERDICT: Never got it, but still kind of bitter.  STILL WAITING!

August 2010 – Five Gilmour Impulse Lawn Sprinklers – $9.47

We have an inground sprinkler system, but there are times when I want to do some very specific areas, so I’ll use the hose and sprinklers.  This particular year, I’d decided to do some overseeding, so this was an incredible deal, as just one is normally $9 at any of the big box stores.  These can daisy chain together so I’ve been able to use more than one at a time when needed.

VERDICT: One is broken but I still have four of these that I use occasionally.  For the price and what I’ve gotten out of them, this has been a GREAT DEAL!

November 2010 – Six LeakFrog Water Leak Alarms – $43.97

I’d been looking for some water alarms to place in areas where water might potentially leak, so when I spotted this deal, I jumped.  They’re easy to use (just put batteries in them, test, and go), and they’re cute, as they’re shaped like little frogs.

VERDICT: We have five of the six remaining, as one got ran through the washing machine.  They have definitely paid for themselves as two leaks were detected (one under the sink with a loose pipe fitting, and the other under the dishwasher, saving our subfloor and finished basement underneath).  GREAT DEAL!

May 2012 – HP TouchPad 32GB Wi-Fi Tablet – $199.99

I had wanted to get a tablet, and even though HP came in and out of the tablet market, I jumped on this deal.  Since it originally went for around $500, I fell into the trap of thinking I was getting a great deal.

VERDICT: When I first got it, I was pretty impressed and it wasn’t bad. Luckily, I bought a SquareTrade plan, because the touch screen went bad.  Once I had it replaced, it pretty much went into a drawer, as I realized quickly that the HP WebOS was a dud.  Eventually I pulled it out and installed Android over the top of it, which does make it useful, but I don’t get nearly enough usage out of it.  FAIL.

November 2012 – Canon EOS Rebel T3 Digital SLR Camera – $404.99

My wife indicated that she would like an SLR camera for Christmas, and I started saving to surprise her with one.  Every other deal I saw on this camera was for $500 or more, so when I saw this, I jumped on it.

VERDICT: She uses it all the time.  She has since gotten a second lens for it, as the one it came with was pretty basic, but it’s taken lots of great pictures for us of family, vacations, and other events.  GREAT PURCHASE!

January 2014 – Roku 3 Streaming Media Player – $69.99

I had wanted to get a streaming player to eventually get Netflix and also look at potentially ‘cutting the cord’ from cable.  This normally goes for around $100 so I nabbed it.

VERDICT: We use it for Netflix, and I’ve found a few other cool things that we use regularly.  The recent verdict regarding Aereo has curbed our interest in potentially cutting the cord.  This one is getting ranked slightly lower just because we don’t utilize it to it’s full capacity.  I probably could have gotten a version lower (the Roku 2) and saved some money, and gotten most of what we get today.  Still, it’s a PRETTY GOOD DEAL.

July 2014 – Hoover Power Scrub Carpet Washer – $94.99

Years ago, I had a steam cleaning device, and it was very useful.  It was very heavy, though, and poorly designed for cleaning it out, which was a problem with my two cats.  As much as I tried, eventually the thing got too clogged down with hair, and became useless.  I’ve been looking for the right deal since.  On Friday, I saw this, and after reading reviews that say it’s very lightweight, very easy to clean out, and that it does an excellent job, I took advantage of it.  A similar version sells on Amazon for $170.

VERDICT: We haven’t received it yet, so it’s TOO SOON TO TELL.

Overall

Not counting our recent purchase and the one I never received, we have FIVE wins and ONE loss.  I’d say that’s pretty good.

What has made the numbers work in our favor is that, if you look, I only purchase items which I was looking for anyways.  I know that Woot and other sites prey on those who purchase based on impulse, and I’d venture to guess that the ‘winning’ percentage for people who fall into those traps is probably much lower than 83%.

Readers, do you use Woot or a similar deal of the day site?  What are some of your wins and losses?

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Free Shipping Downgrades Make Amazon Prime Less Enticing

Is it just me or has Amazon free shipping gotten significantly worse over the past year?  If it indeed has, you have to suspect that this could very well be on purpose.  They are really making a push to get as many people signed up for Prime, so is it a conspiracy theory or just common sense that they would try to drive people to Prime by weakening the free shipping option?

I’m here to tell you that, for me, making free shipping worse will have the opposite effect for me.

Let me start off with some of the changes I have seen:

  • Increased minimum threshold – Last year, Amazon quietly raised the threshold on orders which qualify for free shipping from $25 to $35.  At the time, this didn’t bother me so much.  After all, the $25 threshold was around for many years, and since the price of goods has gone up, it kind of makes sense that they would have to raise the threshold to keep it in line.
  • Pseudo-exclusion of items to reach the threshold – Have you ever seen an Amazon item listed as an ‘Add-On Item’ and wondered what that was all about?  I’m here to tell you.  Amazon will not count that item toward the $35 threshold when calculating whether you qualify for free shipping.  Before, if you were $4 short, you could find an item for $4 or $5 and throw it in to get you over the threshold.  Now, if it’s an add-on item, it won’t qualify.  Basically, all of the items NOT marked Add-on items have to total $35, after which even the add-on items will be shipped for free.
  • Strange carriers – For awhile, we received items from FedEx, UPS, or the USPS.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen, we started getting Amazon orders from very weird sources.  People in unmarked vans would come down the street, stop in front of our house, and come deliver our package.   Amazon evidently started using third party logistics companies to handle deliveries.  I’m not going to lie, it was kind of creepy.
  • Sort of closing the ‘Subscribe and Save’ loophole – For items that people by on a pretty regular basis, you can order them with Subscribe and Save.  This will get you free shipping, even below the $35 threshold, and you get put on a recurring cycle where Amazon will ship the item to you every so-many months.  They give you 5% on top of it.  A common strategy was to order the item, have it shipped, and immediately cancel.  Now, I’ve noticed that when you place an order, they won’t ship you the first one right away, as they used to do.  The two things I’ve ordered have taken three weeks to ship. And they tell you this up front.  I would think that this is meant to discourage people from the ‘sign up and cancel’ tactic by making them wait, and probably has some element of ‘maybe the customer will forget to cancel’.
  • Slower shipping times – As of the time I’m writing this, I have an order that I placed eight days ago which qualified for free shipping.  Amazon has not, so far as I can tell, done anything for this order.  It’s still there in ‘Not Yet Shipped’ status.  To be fair, they still haven’t charged my card, but I’ve noticed that it seems to take longer and longer for Amazon to send your orders.

Now, before we go any further, let me just say that for most of the items above, I am not angry or upset at the changes.  From a purely business model, I get it.  They are in business to make a profit, and I’m not calling for them to be reversed.  I’m not even calling them unreasonable.  For the most part, they are reasonable.  However, from my perspective, as a consumer who used to have a lower threshold, faster shipping, and carriers whose first impressions don’t scream ‘ex-con’, then reasonable or not, they are noticeable changes to me as a consumer.  I’m entitled to note the effect of the changes on me just as much as Amazon is entitled to make the changes.

But this can all be solved with Prime, from what Amazon promises.  You don’t have the minimum order threshold. You get your stuff in two days, which maybe takes creepy van guy out of the picture.

Oh, and Amazon will tell you each and every time that you also get access to their streaming videos and such.

Sounds like a fantastic deal, so I guess it begs the logical question, why would these incentives make me less likely to gravitate toward Prime?

Here goes:

  1. The changes above reflect on Amazon as a whole – Amazon can make changes in the ‘free shipping’ world and hope that it makes their ‘Prime’ world more attractive, but I see beyond that and look at the changes as an Amazon perspective.  Amazon ‘free shipping’ is still Amazon, and by tweaking and making it less attractive, it weakens the entire brand.  At least in my mind.  That makes me overall less inclined to buy from Amazon, including purchasing Prime.
  2. I’m stubborn – Having things ‘taken away’ doesn’t sit well with me.  If a company starts giving you less product for the same price, I’ll call attention to it and I’ll also see if I can adjust my usage habits so that my per-use charge doesn’t go up.  In other words, I don’t just ‘roll over’ and take it.  I’ll put up a fight as much as it makes sens.
  3. I want to keep temptation at arms length – I know many people who proclaim that Amazon Prime is amazing, but when you get deeper into their shopping habits, you start to learn that they spend more because it’s so convenient.  That’s exactly what Amazon wants.  It’s $79 and there are costs involved for them to provide you the streaming content, the increased shipping, and such, but you know that they’re making that up and then some by increased sales.
  4. What’s to say they won’t devalue Prime? – If Amazon is willing to take away satisfaction from a group of customers, what’s to say that they won’t test the waters with Prime members?  Cable companies do it all the time, but the difference is that they have a more captive audience and can get away with it.  Still, don’t think that a company like Amazon might not test the waters to see just what limits their customers will accept.

I’m not saying that I will refuse to ever join Amazon Prime.  One day, you may read on this very blog that I’ve joined.  However, if that happens, it will not be because of the changes that they make to their free shipping policies.  It would be in spite of them.

Agree? Disagree? Experiences with Amazon Prime? Please share in the comments or social media options below.

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.