Consumer Reports Puts Companies on Naughty, Nice Lists
This year, Consumer Reports again lists the top and bottom corporate policies and practices. Although the alphabetical listings aren't meant to be an overall endorsement or criticism of the companies, they might offer a reason to consider one business or to think twice about another one.
AT&T (T) landed on the wrong side of the ratings divide after the Federal Trade Commission sued the company for its mobile data plans. Consumers who signed up for unlimited data found that AT&T would throttle back speeds by as much as 90 percent once they used more than a specific amount of data, according to the agency. Forget such activities as web browsing, streaming media and GPS.
Dillard's (DDS) department store chain, which recently got into hot water over its "don't be fat, be rich message" to girls, landed in naughty land for a different reason. It won't, as a matter of policy, offer price adjustments if you find the same product for less elsewhere.
Hearthware's NuWave infrared oven, sold though infomercials and some retailers like Walmart (WMT) and Bed Bath & Beyond (BBY), reportedly charges shipping fees that can exceed the prices of some accessories themselves. The issue, among others, got the company an F-rating from the Better Business Bureau.
M&T Bank (MTB) in the Northeast reportedly advertised free checking but didn't emphasize stringent requirements. When people didn't make the grade, they were switched to fee-based accounts, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which ordered the bank to return a total $2.9 million to 59,000 customers.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, Marriott (MAR) blocked personal Wi-Fi hotspots of patrons at the conference facilities of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville and forced them to pay as much as $1,000 per device for access to Marriott's own network.
Consumer Reports says that Overstock.com (OSTK) is not a place to buy a big-screen TV because the company allegedly won't take returns on sets larger than 37 inches (although Overstock.com's policy only specifically refers to sets with 50-inch and larger screens). If there's an obvious problem, refuse the delivery and note the issue on the shipping receipt, Overstock says. And if you can't tell until after you open the packaging and plug the set in, you have to deal directly with the manufacturer.
Spirit Airlines (SAVE) raised bag fees by $2 for flights between Dec. 18 and Jan. 5. As Consumer Reports wrote, the "low-priced carrier ... famously nickels and dimes passengers for everything aside from the basic ticket." In 2012, Spirit was also on the naughty list for charging a maximum of $100 to store a carryon in the overhead bin.
Consumer Reports took Victoria's Secret (LB) to task for requiring a scan of a government-issued ID for returns and exchanges in "select stores" to prevent return abuse. Actually, the consumer publisher wasn't quite right. According to the Victoria's Secret website, all its stores scan a government ID for an exchange or return.
User review website Yelp (YELP) landed a $450,000 from the FTC because its mobile app collected personal information from kids without permission of their parents, contrary to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act).
Finally, on the naughty list, jewelry chain Zales was ranked by CreditCards.com as having the highest charge card APR, at 28.99 percent. That compared to an average in-store-only card rate of 24.48 percent.
Now for the more pleasant news.
As of Oct. 1, pharmacy chain CVS (CVS) stopped selling tobacco products in its stores.
Credit card issuer Discover (DFS) will provide free FICO scores on monthly statements to its customers.
Esurance (ALL) sped up processing of claims in fender benders with its mobile app that allows policy holders to snap and upload some photos.
JetBlue (JBLU) has a 14-day price adjustment policy.
Sam's Club doubles the money back, or exchange the product and still refund the purchase price, on perishable foods that customers don't love.
Starbucks' (SBUX) tuition reimbursement program for full- or part-time employees won applause.
Event ticket seller StubHub (EBAY) shows buyers the full price of a ticket at the outset, rather than tagging on surprise fees at the end of a purchase.
Tesla Motors (TSLA) has an innovative procedure of directly sending software upgrades to the cars it makes.
UPS (UPS) has a new service that lets consumers pick up and drop off packages at various trusted locations so you don't miss an important delivery.
Whole Foods (WFM) will have its suppliers include mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients on their products, so you can see what you're getting.