Who Made Consumer Reports' First-Ever Naughty & Nice List?

While Santa and his pointy-eared, non-union laborers toil away at the North Pole, the editors of our more famous sibling publication Consumer Reports have compared their notes on a wide variety of companies’ policies on everything from guarantees to fees to refunds and distilled it down to the best and worst of the lot in their first-ever Naughty & Nice Holiday Shopping List.

Writes CR:

Now that the holidays are here, we thought this would be the perfect time for our first ever naughty and nice list, a collection of customer-service policies we like or loathe because they strike us as particularly consumer friendly or not so friendly. Consider it a pat on the back or a kick in the pants.

The full list is available over at the Consumer Reports site, but here are a handful of highlights of the nicest and naughtiest:

Nice:
L.L.Bean: 100 percent product satisfaction guarantee. Return anything at any time for any reason.

Zappos.com: Free shipping and free returns, including prepaid return label.

Costco: Open-ended return policy for virtually everything the warehouse retailer sells minus some home electronics, which come with a still-generous 90-day return period.

Orvis: For customer service the old-fashioned way, shoppers can call a toll-free number and speak to a human being without wading through an arcane automated menu system. Alternatively, Orvis offers live-chat with support staff, e-mail queries, and a guaranteed response time of two hours or less.

Publix: It’s no fun being sick, but if you need an antibiotic, the Florida-based supermarket chain will have its pharmacies dispense up to a 14-day supply for some of the most common generic ones free. All you need is a proper prescription.

Naughty:
Buy.com: No returns for “oversize” TV sets, defined as any model 27 inches or larger. If you fail to inspect set upon delivery and sign shipper’s release, Buy.com says it’s your problem and go deal with the manufacturer. Its website also lacks a phone number for customer contact.

Best Buy: Offers a 14-day grace period to return computers, monitors, camcorders, and digital cameras.

Spirit Airlines: The carrier, which pioneered “ancillary” fees among domestic airlines, charges for carry-on bags: $30 in advance, $45 at the gate.

Dollar car rental: It’s bad enough that companies force you to pay for gas you never use if you choose not to refuel the vehicle yourself. But Dollar is even more penny pinching by demanding customers present a receipt to prove that they filled up the tank within 10 miles of the drop-off location or face a fee to top off the tank and the labor required to do so.

Macy’s: Proving that high shipping fees are not necessarily a thing of the past, the department store chain calculates its freight charges on the dollar amount of the order, not the size and weight of the package. The base fee is $5.95 for orders under $25, to as much as $23.95 for those $300 or more. And that’s standard delivery.

United Airlines: No one wants to overpay on airfare, but you never really know whether you’re getting a rock-bottom price. As peace of mind, United offers customers a low-price guarantee. Find a lower fare on the company’s website for the same itinerary you already booked and not only will United give you the lower fare, but also a voucher good for 20 percent off your next purchase. But hold on. If you have a nonrefundable ticket–the type most people buy–and find a cheaper flight, United imposes a $150 “administrative” fee to make the change.

Adds the magazine:

While we’ve identified specific companies by name, we acknowledge that there are, of course, other large companies we haven’t singled out that have similar policies. And just because we mention a particular policy doesn’t mean we endorse–or dislike–everything else about that company or the way it does business.

As the holidays loom, who’s been naughty and who’s been nice? [Consumer Reports]