Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Staples $15 off $15

There's a deal going now, as I write this. Load your cart with at least $15.01 worth of products and then enter the coupon code 25172 which deducts $15 off your order! Then, choose the site to store shipping method so you don't need to pay anything. I've just completed three orders that included: Crayola color pencils, Pilot G2 pens, paper trimmer, and paper clips (as a slick filler). That's over $45 worth of stuff, for about $3. An awesome day.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ukala Sydney High boot

  • Very good quality suede that feels thick and smooth.
  • The merino wool lining doesn't make your feet feel hot.
  • Depending on time and place, they may be stylish.
  • Much cheaper than very similar UGG boots.
  • The sole is made of a very lightweight foam so you don't have to expend extra energy while walking. It's also very smooth and has no grip.
  • The sole is lightweight, but it looks like the type that will erode quickly.
  • The fur sticks to your legwear for quite a while until it becomes matted down.
  • There is a seam running down the back that will eventually dig into your foot once the fur becomes thinner.
  • There is absolutely no arch support.
  • Although they're called "high" the reach to about 4 inches below the knee. 
  • The pink logo patch on the back is kind of tacky and childish.
As you must have read, I got these boots as replacements for the original EMU boots that became defective. Ukala Sydney is a new line of boots under the EMU brand. The boots definitely look nice, but they lack some basic features (e.g. an arch, smooth seams inside, heaver sole with more traction). They're not very practical either since they're made of seude which stains very easily. I recommend using a suede leather protector (spray) to prevent snow and snow-salt from leaving white marks (that don't come off, no matter what you do). In short, they're really not worth $79. As a free boot, sure, but otherwise no way.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What's the deal with a free trial?

If a company wants to sneak money out of you, probably the best way would be to offer you a free trial. You sign up with your credit card information, receive 14 days or 30 days of some premium service which may or may not be worth it, and then you cancel before you actually get charged. But what's if you forget to cancel? You get charged some enormous fee like $79. That's how they make money. There is absolutely no argument you can stand on if they charge you because you don't cancel. They make it even easier for themselves by this oh-so-nifty feature called "auto-upgrade" -- let your account upgrade to the paid membership without you lifting a finger! How cool is that?

Uh, not so cool. So what I suggest is this: Do sign up for free-trials whenever you want, but set yourself an alert/reminder on your phone, computer or other device (or a paper calendar) so you don't forget to undo the membership. If there's an auto-upgrade feature, turn it off. If they ask "are you really really really sure you want to turn off auto-upgrade" just say "yes I'm very very very sure."

So why sign up for these free trials if you will anyway cancel them? Two reasons:

  1. You get a taste of that premium service (e.g. free two-day shipping, access to more features, unlimited whatevers).
  2. Once you're in their system, you're more likely to receive more promotions. Now read below to see what happened to me.
Last year I was buying college textbooks on because they usually have excellent coupons that work on textbooks (most bookstores have coupons, but very few allow theirs to work on textbooks). My order was below the minimum required to receive free shipping, but I noticed a green running-man icon with a message on the side: Receive free 2-day shipping. Learn more! I click it and discover something called ShopRunner, which is a service that offers you free 2-day shipping for several stores, but you pay some huge amount each year for it ($79 -- which is still wayyyy more than the price of all my orders per year shipped). They do offer a 30-day free trial, so I signed up. I made sure to cancel before I was charged. 

A few weeks ago I got an email from ShopRunner saying something like "Oh, we miss you, come back back for a free full year on us!" I never would have received that had I not done the 30-day trial first! So now my freinds, family members and I are happily using ShopRunner (free 2-day shipping) at all sorts of stores like Toys R Us, American Eagle, Borders, etc. 

What's so cool about ShopRunner besides for the free shipping aspect? Many times, if you have a promotional code, it works for EITHER free shipping or a percentage/dollar amount off. Not both. But if you have ShopRunner, and the promo is for 40% off, you can get the best of both worlds.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Be a dope, it's fine!

Sometimes it really pays to act like a dope. Like you don't know anything. Immature, slow, stupid, foreign etc. These tactics work. Here's how to apply them to certain situations:

Remember my Amazon promotional credit story? So my account's got around $18 in promotional credit as of today. Their credit is divided into different categories and you can get promotions in either one or several of them. I have the $18 in each category, one of them being "Kindle editions". This means you can use the credit to buy e-books readable on Kindles and many other devices. I wanted to get an e-book version of a book that only was published electronically so I figured I can use my promos, right? Wrong. Apparently, as I later found out, the credit works only on e-books sold by Amazon, not by another publisher. Of course I only find out after I was charged.

They don't give you any "review your order" page when you buy e-books so I was charged as soon as I hit the Buy button, which isn't cool if you asked me. I get a charge for $3.99 instead of $0! I contacted them immediately and they explained that the book has to be sold by Amazon for me to be able to use the credit. After explaining, I donned my dopey mask.

Me: But I didn't know this before buying the book!
Him: Ok, so I can cancel your order if you'd like and you won't be charged.
Me: But see, so now I have $18 in credits and I never buy e-books so what am I going to use it on? I was hoping to use some of it now!
Him: I'm sorry ma'am blah blah blah policies blah blah blah. I can cancel your order if you'd like.
Me: Aww, so now I'm gonna be left with tons of promotional credit? (as if that's a bad thing)
Him: Let me contact the supervisor...
(supervisor shows up to the chatroom)
Sup: I can cancel your order if you don't want to be charged. (yeah, I know)
Me: But can you maybe refund me the $3.99 and then deduct it from my promotional credit?
Sup: What I can do is credit you the $3.99.

Conclusion: I am left with an e-book that cost me $0, without digging into my credit stash.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An EMU interaction

First, it's pronounced EEM-yoo. EMU is a manufacturer for all kinds of stuff like suede jackets and wool boots. Their boots look much like the UGG-style boots, but they're slightly cheaper. I bought a pear of  them last winter, retail price $99. I paid $79.20, but that's another story. A lot happened since then but basically I had issues with them. Here is the first email I sent to EMU: 

Last winter I bought the Women's Nelly Boot in black suede. I wore it maybe 15 times and I am extremely disappointed with what happened. You see, there is a hard seam running down the whole back of the boot, from the inside. The fur lining covers that but if you press your finger onto the fur, you can definitely feel that thick seam. After wearing it a few times, the lining (the white puffy fur/wool) became more matted down (which, I was told, is normal) and now the seam is totally coming through. It's so uncomfortable and the seam is digging straight into the back of my foot and giving me red bruises. This is not what I expected when I shelled out over $90 for "quality" boots. Something is wrong here. It's winter season again and I would have definitely bought another pair had this not happened. Now I'm stuck with uncomfortable and unwearable boots which have no use. Please tell me what can be done about that. 

After TWO weeks I get a reply saying that I need to officially fill in this whole complicated-looking claim form. The form had me provide pertinent and not-so-pertinent information, along with several photographs of the boots, the soles, and the area that has the problem. Ever try sticking a 18-55mm lens down the shaft of a boot to the heal? It doesn't work. I had to roll the boot shaft down and then use my feet and hands to keep it in place while I shot the picture. I completed the form and sent it back with my photos. A week later, which was today, I receive a nice email that totally overjoyed me: We have reviewed your case. Unfortunately, we no longer manufacture this product. We will be sending a replacement of similar value today.

That's no problem for me! She then sent me a link with a picture of the new boots and I must say they're quite acceptable. More than acceptable even. I can't wait to receive them! What do we learn from this, readers? Complaining gets you someplace, when you do it right :)

Another meaning of "ask"

Remember when I asked you all to ASK ASK ASK? Well, that referred to asking for refunds, discounts, etc. But here's another reason why you should exercise your right to ask. Ever been to a store where they had like every brand of the product you wanted, just not the one you were looking for? For an educated consumer like me and yourself, I can imagine you becoming frustrated. Especially when you have a coupon for Brand A and all the store carries is Brands B, C, D, E all the way through Z. Just our luck!

My goal was to purchase a leather conditioner and cleaner to use on my new Coach watch (that sports a white patent leather strap). I had researched the problem of "dye transfer", which basically refers to that ugly phenomena where colors of clothing seep into leather and make it their home. I had that happen to my Coach shoulder bag and it wasn't pretty, but at least it was only on the back of the bag, the part that hugs my hips. I didn't want this to happen to my white watch strap so I read online what can be done about it. Many people on the forums I read recommended two products by Apple Brand, a conditioner and a cleaner.

So I went to the shoe repair shop where they sell these leather care products. They had every type of item imaginable but of course no Apple Brand cleaner or conditioners. I asked the man if he carries them at all, and if so, when he will get them in. He told me that he doesn't sell this particular brand, "But you know what? My salesman is coming tomorrow at noon so if you let me know what products you want, I'll have him get them for me... and I'll give you a nice discount." Just what I wanted to hear. So I went online and found the product information for him. I hope to visit there soon and find the item!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Buy first, look last.

Of course you're supposed to first look at the price, and then buy (or don't, if you choose not to). But sometimes, the opposite order works to your advantage. When?

Lots of sites these days have a "lightning deal" feature (I borrowed the term from Amazon). These are deals that are available for a very short time only, but at a pretty good discount. Sometimes an amazing discount. Obviously, everyone rushes to buy them so by the time you've finished deliberating whether you want it or not, it's gone. And that shouldn't be happening to you.

What I suggest is this: Once you find out a deal is in the horizon, keep the page on which the deal will be displayed open in your browser, before the deal is available for purchase. If you know when the deal will occur, excellent. If not, refresh periodically. Amazon, for one, shows a countdown timer near the mystery item so you know when to be prepared. Then, as soon as the deal is announced, CLICK THE BUY BUTTON! Don't worry, you will still get to review your payments and stuff later. If you don't click Buy, the item will not be in your cart.

Once it's in your cart, most sites will not pull it out again, but just in case, hurry through the sign-in and checkout process. There will always be a page for you to review your order and hit "submit". Now is when you can think! Think if you want the item, if it's valuable to you, and if the sale price is worth it. Sometimes, the deal may appear awesome, but it isn't really. So double-check.

Once completed, there's just one more thing you ought to do: gloat.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Back again... with an Amazon success story!

Hi, I'm back after a pretty long hiatus. Anyway, lots has happened... I'm not sure what to say first!

Let me begin with a recent story, one that happened last week Thursday. Sometime during October I received an alert from announcing an Amazon MP3 $2 Promotional Code giveaway which anyone can earn just by tweeting a message. Of course I snatched up the opportunity. I watched as the $2 was added to my account. I then bought a song that cost $.99 and waited for the email receipt to show up in my inbox. When you redeem a song credit, the receipt total would normally show $0.00. This time, however, I noticed that they actually charged me for the 99 cents!

I immediately phoned customer service to find out what on earth happened there. Julie had no idea what was going on but she did assure me that she will credit my credit card for 99 cents. That works, and I hung up satisfied. The next day I wanted to download another song and I see that the rest of my Amazon MP3 credit is gone! I called them again and the John said he will give me a $2 promotional code that will expire in 2020. Great!

This Thursday I figured I'll redeem the two songs and my credit shows $0.00!!! What is wrong with their system?? It can't seem to hold on to my promotions! I called up a third time and spoke with I-forgot-who and really told her how frustrated I am. I can't seem to download a single thing because my promotions are vanishing faster than iPads on their release date. I was on the phone with her for like 7 minutes while I explained to her that I deserve some sort of remuneration for the frustration I had to experience. She understood, and then gave me $7 into every digital Amazon section: Kindle, MP3, Software, Apps for Android, and Instant Video! Plus, $7 in regular promotions that can be used to purchase any non-digital item sold by Amazon. So, in essence, I pulled $42 with minimal effort... all from a $2 promotion that went awry. Moral of the story: ASK ASK ASK for compensation. And be willing to stay on the phone for a while.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A limerick about cashback

I love splurging—but not at full price! 
So, a store that gives cashback is nice.
Using money I'll earn
From the sprees, I'll return
To that store and buy more in a trice.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Return of the Bath & Body Works hand sanitizers

A while ago I posted a review on the Bath and Body Works hand sanitizers (like Purell). I decided to revisit it today because of an experience that happened today.

I was in the supermarket today and picked up a chicken. When I touched it, I felt wetness on the outside of the wrapping. Of course that grossed me out because it might have been raw chicken juice (e.g. E. Coli, salmonella, etc.). I whip out my B&BW sanitizer from my purse (the scent was called Rockin' Cotton and it's a blue gel), and generously apply it to my hands. I almost passed out from the heavy assault on my nasal receptors.

When I got to the car, my hands still smelled even though it had long dried. What's especially annoying is that I had applied earlier today a different Bath and Body Works product: Dark Kiss body mist. The war between Rockin' Cotton and Dark Kiss was on! But our villainous Rockin' Cotton easily won the battle within seconds. Now I reek of Rockin' Cotton! B&BW should have more sense than that.

Let's say someone actually likes Rockin' Cotton, ok? The sanitizers obviously have much more of a potent scent than the body mist scents. Do they want people to buy sanitizers ($1.50, often on sale for $1.00) instead of body mist ($14) or eau de toillete ($29.50)? They would lose out in a big way.

So maybe if I mentioned to them about the strength of sanitizers, they would lower their intensity. What do you think? Oh, and by the way, the hand sanitizer effect isn't mitigated in the least by washing your hands with soap and water. It's equally as strong now as it was 3 hours ago -- blech!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Certain Dri - Does this antiperspirant really work?

  • It eliminates or drastically reduces sweating.
  • Applied at bedtime so you never get your clothing dirty.
  • Doesn't stain clothing.
  • Low cost in relation to its efficacy: about $4 to $7.
  • Lasts a while (at least 3 months).
  • Does not have to be applied every night.
  • Does not need to be re-applied after showering/swimming.
  • It stings and itches like crazy the first few usages.
  • Only begins to work after about 3 to 6 applications.
  • It cannot be applied immediately after showering or shaving.
  • Its consistency is that of water so it may drip down if over-applied.
  • It doesn't have a deodorizing ingredient so if you do sweat, you're not guaranteed to not produce an odor. (simple logic)
  • Hard to find in local brick-and-mortar stores (easily found online).
I've never heard of Certain Dri until this spring season. I had just run out of my usual antiperspirant (AP henceforth) and was looking to try something else. After researching quite a bit online, I found some nice reviews of Certain Dri. Since it's affordable, I figured it doesn't hurt to try (it did, as I learned later on!). I was so stunned by how well this product works. 

Certain Dri is unlike any other type of AP because it doesn't stay at the skin's surface, but rather is absorbed into the pores during the night when your sweat glands are pretty much inactive, unless you suffer from nightmares. That's also why it never washes off. Certain Dri takes a few days to kick in because it's building up a concentration. You might find yourself wishing you could claw out your armpits because of the itch. It's not dangerous and it will go away! It's particularly itchy/burny after shaving, so don't use it on those nights. If you find it too drippy, use a tissue pressed to the bottle as you apply it. To combat the lack of deodorant in this product, simply apply a deodorant in the morning or use a body mist. You can buy one that has no AP in it, as to not overdo anything. This way you don't sweat and you smell nice.

To test Certain Dri I decided to do some vigorous exercise. After rollerblading for 25 minutes in 80-degree weather last Friday, I did not feel an ounce of sweat under my arms. You might wonder how this can't be dangerous if you're blocking your pores. Aren't you supposed to sweat? The thing is, your body compensates for the clogged pores by your arms and instead the sweat will find any other area of your skin to make its entrance. You're not shutting down your sweat system. It's perfectly safe in that respect. 

Bottom Line: This product works! It's affordable! Ever wondered how Prez Obama can claim he doesn't sweat? Ten to one he uses Certain Dri.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Confessions of a Complainer

Once upon a time, a child loved to complain about things in hope of changing the world. She would find fault in all kinds of products, services, (people), foods, stores, etc. Anyway, this was before the technological era heralded the concept of email. So how was this child supposed to complain? To whom would the complaints be directed? She went with the times.

The child began to write letters by hand and mail them out (using a stamp) to the appropriate companies. Since the child's voice was rather youthful, calling the companies wasn't much of an option. Scorn would not have been appreciated. Writing was an excellent alternative to calling, and so that's what the child did.

Believe it or not, I actually did that as a kid. I wrote tons of letters spewing forth every problem I ever had with any product. Lids that wouldn't close, lids that were too hard to open, shampoo that was too runny, toothpaste that seared off my taste buds, toys that fell apart, fruit cocktail that didn't include 1 of the ingredients, etc. Were those fun times! I would sit waiting excitedly for return mail. Sometimes I actually got coupons or a canned response. But I was missing that human response. What a pity that I couldn't talk to those pea-brained reps myself. I was deprived of long, twisty-turny conversations with Raj and Mohatma. I didn't know about the feature on most sites called live chat! Imagine!

Has anyone ever done anything like that as a child?

Recent case studies (Gloating opportunities)

This post will highlight some of the most recent incidents where I've practiced what I preached. Maybe you can learn a thing or two (I certainly did), or perhaps you'll find some motivation to make that overdue phone call to Amazon. Here's what happened:
  1. I am a longtime buyer of Dole Cole Slaw that comes in a bag. You buy the stuff, add your dressing, and voila: you got yourself an excellent cole slaw (if you use my recipe, that is). Lately I noticed that the shredded cabbage pieces are very large. In fact, each piece was about 3-5 times larger than it has been in the past. I decided I'm going to call Dole. I issued my comment (I did not want to make this a complaint) and the guy said, "Thanks for letting us know. As our way of thanking you, we'll send you some coupons for replacement products." 
  2. On Friday I called Nestle (who owns Wonka candy) with a simple question: Why do they not produce the Tangy Taffy bars with crystal-like glitter on top, like they have in the past? The woman explained to me that they DO still sell them, but only in the cherry flavor. As a way of thanking me for taking the time to inquire, she also said that she'll mail me some coupons for different candy products. 
  3. I received a photobook I had ordered from Shutterfly. I'm glad I carefully screened the pages because two of them had a mistake. The printing didn't bleed to the edge of the paper. I definitely did not have them appear like that in my project. So I called today and a woman with an unpronouncable name added to my account a credit for a free photobook and free shipping! So in essence, I got $37 just for calling! I am so excited so she didn't simply say, "Ok, we'll reprint your book for you." because this way I can make a NEW book! And my heart won't bleed from the non-bleeding pages.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

General Statement about Buying #4

Basically, this post is an all inclusive word that might just be the most important thing you've seen all day:


People expect us to look for bargains. It's built into our nature as a human being, and nobody's immune. Why be the full-price payer when you don't have to? So what do I  mean by "ask"? Basically, this word should infuse you with enough confidence to feel the world is yours. Stores exist because of you, the buyer. Believe me, if you weren't shopping, they wouldn't be open. They want you. And they'll do (almost) anything to make sure you stay a happy buyer at their place. So now that we've established how valuable you are, read ahead to see what you can do with your special powers as a customer. 

Manufacturers, companies and stores all have stashes of funds and leeway for special circumstances. I'll give you an example. Last night I bought an item on Amazon and used my Amazon Prime Student to get myself free 2-day shipping. Being that the order was transmitted after midnight, the date was May 9. Two-day shipping, for anyone who can add, is the 11th. I check my order status today and see that the estimated ship date is May 13! Why? So I engage Raj from India in a livechat discussion and he says that it's because the item was out of stock. Um, it was not OOS when I bought it. So I told him that and he bored me with useless info that didn't help one bit. I innocently ask whether he can upgrade my shipping to 1-day (which normally costs an extra $3.99) to compensate. Of course he said "Yes" (well, not exactly yes but "I have changed your order to reflect 1-day shipping, at no cost"). See, that's the thing. Amazon will NOT go broke if they "wasted" their $3.99 on me. In fact, Raj encouraged me to come back soon! How do you like that?

What does this teach us? We ASK ASK ASK! Don't be afraid to ask for stuff like shipping upgrades, free samples, free shipping, free anything, replacement products (you heard about that already!), longer return periods, warranties, bigger refunds (remember the Ralph Lauren nightshirt story?), etc. Remember, the stores WANT you and their sole function is to serve you! Hopefully that's enough of an ego boost to combat any embarrassment you might experience while begging your way through buying.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

General Statement about Returning #1

Let's assume you buy an item and it breaks down an unreasonably short while after the purchase. The 90-day warranty of the store you purchased it at is long over, so you can't return it. What to do? 
  1. Contact the store where you purchased the item and ask for a refund. This should have nothing to do with their return policy. If an item is defective, there is no reason why you should have to live with it.
  2. Next, contact the manufacturer of the product and tell them about your defective product. If they get nasty on you, you have my permission to act that way, too. Mention to the company that you don't understand how they ensure customer satisfaction. As a last resort, remind them that if they don't honor their product, you will never again buy their items.
  3. Either the store or the manufacturer might ask you to return the product so they can send you a new one. That is your goal. They usually won't, especially if it's a heavy item and they rather not go through shipping fees. If they ask you to pay for return shipping, ask them why it's your fault that the item broke. 
  4. Sometimes, if you play this right, you may get a reimbursement and a new product (instead of just a new product - which you had originally paid for at one point). 
True example of this in action: I bought a nice, sleek digital scale on Amazon using gift cards (see this post about maximizing gift cards). It broke after 6 months of light use (we aren't a family of elephants), much to my dismay. I sent identical emails to Amazon and to Ozeri (the maker of the scale) saying: 

I purchased this scale and understand that this is out of the return period, however, I really do not think that a scale of such caliber should just stop working after about 6 months! We keep it perfectly safe and out of harm's reach and suddenly the scale began to go haywire. The numbers just dance on the screen and it turns on by itself and reads really weird amounts. If you stand on it, it either says EEEEE or just keeps flitting through numbers. I think it's ridiculous that this should happen so fast. It is not a battery issue because I have replaced them with brand new ones. 

Please let me know what you can do about this.

Within 24 hours I received an email from Amazon that they credited my account with the full $16.58 and another email from Ozeri that the sensor was broken and they'll ship me a new one. So in essence, I got a scale for free :)