Shipping costs can surprise home shoppers
Detroit Free Press
Anyone who orders something off the Internet, TV or via a catalog usually expects to pay some sort of shipping and handling fee unless, of course, there’s a special promotion.
But did you ever get charged three or four shipping fees when everything you ordered was sent in one package?
“I’ve ordered many things off the TV before and never had this problem before,” said Blanche Mayer, 81, of Southgate, Mich.
She spotted a product called WaxVac on TV that promised to replace cotton swabs and gently suction dirt and wax from her ears. Mayer figured the cost with shipping would be less than $25.
Instead, the product that was supposed to clean her ears ended up cleaning out her wallet. She was talked into ordering more accessories. And she was charged $83.90, including all those unexpected shipping fees.
“Each item that was purchased was charged postage and handling,” Mayer said. She rattled off two fees at $4.99 and two others that were $13.98.
All told, we’re talking about $38 in fees for items that cost Mayer about $8 to ship back to the company. The ear-wax softening drops, disposable tips, brushes and main product were not heavy. “They were as light as a feather,” she said.
Consumer complaints about “shop-at-home and catalog sales” ranked No. 4 on the Federal Trade Commission’s Top 10 complaint list.
The top complaint was identity theft, followed by debt-collection complaints and then complaints about banks and lenders ranked No. 3.
We may be more comfortable about buying things at home. But there are some fees that will definitely get you angry, as Mayer was when she saw her bill.
In the past, I’ve heard other consumers complain about skin-care products that had more shipping charges on each item — even though all the products came in the same box.
David Torok, director of planning and information at the Federal Trade Commission, said a wide range of complaints falls into that shop-at-home category.
Types of complaints: All the costs aren’t disclosed, the product is never delivered, or the guarantee isn’t much of a guarantee.
But shipping and handling fees can be a trouble spot, too, particularly on health-care products.
Some “free” trial offers have ended up as “fee” trials — or deals that unexpectedly generate more fees by automatically signing you up for recurring shipments or services.
The trick here: Make sure you read each line of your credit-card bill every month.
And yes, it’s not always easy to spot bad deals.
“If you see a $7.99 charge on your credit-card bill, you might blow right by it,” said Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com in Birmingham, Ala., a website that provides credit-card information for consumers.
Hardekopf said he got stuck with one recurring charge program himself once and didn’t spot it right away.
The FTC has noted that some dishonest businesses often hide the terms and conditions of their offers in very small type or use pre-checked sign-up boxes as the default setting online.
Some companies may put conditions on returns and cancellations that are so strict it could be next to impossible to stop the deliveries and the billing.
Mayer’s bill notes that WaxVac can be returned for a full refund within 30 days of receipt. But here’s the trick in the wording on that statement — the refund is “less applicable postage and handling.”
Sure, they’ve got you for nearly $38 even if you ask for a refund — once they’ve added several nonrefundable shipping and handling charges to one order that arrives in the same package.
Product Trend has received a series of complaints from consumers who have contacted the Better Business Bureau. The BBB lists WaxVac as one of the alternative business names. Other business names or products from Product Trend include Stretch Genie, Wraptastic, Furniture Fix and Comfy Cushion.
According to BBB files, the company has a pattern of complaints concerning advertising, sales and customer-service issues.
The BBB report noted that some consumers have had a hard time ordering just one item because the review process is difficult and larger orders seem to be automatically placed.
Consumers also reported a hard time canceling orders.
Product Trend has a D rating on the Better Business Bureau’s grading scale of A-plus to F. See www.bbb.org.
The low rating is attributed to the length of time it has taken to resolve complaints, two complaints that were not resolved and the fact there were 281 complaints overall.
A representative from Product Trend did not comment on the fees or the Better Business Bureau report or Mayer’s case.
The most recent comment from a representative was that the company had “requested the recording of the call” to review it.