Shopping Without Asterisks

America lies in slumber as a new swath of rights are violated, our consumer rights. The right to a fair deal. Companies have a right to try to make a profit. We have the right to receive the goods and services we purchase at the price and quality level advertised, and the right to seek redress if these expectations are not met. You earned that money with your sweat, and now you’re just going to let someone take it from you?

We need to eliminate fees that are just costs of doing business tacked on the backend. We need contracts that are living and negotiable, without grossly lopsided clauses. We deserve straightforward shopping with upfront pricing, without asterisks, for safe products. But we can’t wait for Congress, or the next President, to feel like reviving the emaciated agencies of the FCC, FTC, and CPSC. It’s up to you to protect your consumer rights. Do your research. Ask questions. Knowing who to and how to complain when things go wrong. Get informed. Vote with your dollar. Your new policy? “It’s company policy,” is not a valid explanation for ripping you off.


Edit Your Comment

  1. gticlutchburn says:

    I make sure to inform any businesses attempting to screw me that its my “company policy” to raise as big of a stink as possible to get the customer service I deserve. That, or taking my dollars elsewhere.

  2. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    Often, standing up for your consumer rights conflicts with speed and convienience. Many people are willing to pay a “premium” to have a hassle free exeprience, even if they are getting screwed in the back end (after the purchase).

  3. Antediluvian says:

    Hear, hear!

    So Ben, you’re voting for Edwards today?

  4. Hell yeah Ben! The revolution starts at!

  5. kimsama says:

    @AlteredBeast: I know what you mean. But I feel that, as Americans, we tend to have a sense of entitlement and a lack of the ability to delay gratification that conflicts with the understanding of what we should actually be doing/achieving.

    “Pay now or pay later” is really and adage that people need to take a hard look at. Sure, we’d all love to immediately get what we want. But that’s turning us into a bunch of powerless, hormone- and lead-laced fatties who are constantly trodden upon by giant corporations who know our lack of discipline will make us come crawling back for more no matter what they do to us.

    It’s hard to do due diligence, but in the end, it is worth it. So is most of the stuff in life that takes time and effort (slow food, exercise, etc).

    Consumers of the world, unite and throw off your mandatory binding arbitration agreements!

  6. HRHKingFriday says:

    Also, pay attention to what companies you’re giving money to (I’m talking to non-consumerist-regulars here).

    I saw fast food nation and was disgusted at what they put in mcdonalds food. So, I haven’t been there in a few years. I wish everyone who bitched and moaned about starbucks (half of my office) would just stop going there. Sure, its the most convenient option, but if you hate it that much figure out how to get your coffee some place else.

  7. Kos says:

    Is Popken the Nader of the internets?

  8. ColoradoShark says:

    @CreativeLinks: Your comment has been reported to Homeland Security. Expect a visit shortly. Also, don’t worry about the black helicopters following you or that suspicious clicking on your phone.
    George Orwell

  9. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    So can someone explain to me all the ads that say “before savings”.
    All the electronics store are pulling that crap lately.

  10. Sherryness says:

    This piece a shining example of why I read every day! I couldn’t agree more – and agree that we all need to advocate for ourselves to protect our rights and our bank accounts.

  11. stevegoz says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: I believe it has to do with retailers, trade funds from manufacturers (well, the company that has its brand on the products, anyway, since no one makes their own stuff anymore), and agreements not to advertise a product below a certain price designated by the Apples and Sonys of the world. It’s why Fry’s, for example, would never sell iPods below their standard pricing but would thrown in some other sort of widget with the iPod to sorta give a discount on the product by giving you something free to go with it. Trade funds are essentially the payola of the retail industry….

  12. Imaginary_Friend says:

    We’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore!

  13. Ariah says:

    This should be called “The Consumerist Manifesto.” In any case, I love it!

  14. soulman901 says:

    We’re not going to take it.
    No, we ain’t gonna take it.
    We’re not going to take it, anymore!!!!

  15. Amelie says:

    @AlteredBeast said: “Many people are willing to pay a “premi…:

    I’d like an example, because as far as I’ve seen, we are often paying a premium price for product/customer service, that is anything but, “hassle-free.”

  16. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    @zouxou: A simple example is wires. USB, VGA, all those cables that are WAY over priced in retail outlets. A customer will go to Best Buy or CompUSA, and pay $30 for a cable to have it that day, instead of buying it through a site like monoprice for $5. You may say that those customers don’t know about the cheaper product online, but I know many who get that “gotta have it now” now itch regardless if they can get a better deal online (while supporting a “better” store).

  17. quagmire0 says:

    This is why sites like Consumerist are vital. The more popular this site becomes, the more crap that the companies will hear (often via their direct email or phone number. :) ) and hopefully the more they will respond to the public.

  18. Red_Eye says:

    For every person here, on this site, screaming they wont take it anymore there are 10,000 more saying

    bahhhhhh bahhhhhhhhh and moving with the flock….

  19. ncboxer says:

    @Red_Eye: But as those 10,000 get more internet savvy and start researching products online, what do you think comes up near the top of a search- sites like these that have horror stories.

    I just put a generic company name like Verizon in the search field at Google. That being such a large company, it had 112 million results returned. Consumerist was # 28.

  20. shan6 says:

    You got me fired up this morning Ben! I can’t wait to get out there after work and stand up for my consumer rights while some poor bastard of an uninformed clerk realizes that his bosses are in the business of f*cking people over.

  21. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    Another example is all those stories we see on here, of people standing up for their consumer rights. For instance, the 2 DVDs at Best Buy. How many customers would have taken the easy, hassle free way out? Either pay the price, buy Saw IV, or just walk out? By standing up for his consumer rights, the shopper in question (hopefully) changed the way the store handles similar cases in the future. But how many shoppers out there would go through the hassle he did?

  22. socalrob of the 24 and a half century says:

    I buy my cables on ebay. Im not paying Best Buys massive markup. My HDMI cable and Component Cable for the Wii were each $7 with shipping. They are $40+ and $20+ respectively in the stores.

    I think Ben is right though. I grew up in a neighborhood with the local butcher shop that was there for years. He knew my family and everyone in the local neighborhood. He had slightly higher prices but kept an immaculate business with excellent cuts of meat. And the service was worth it.

    If I am treated well I dont mind paying a higher price. I went to the Tiffany’s store in San Francisco. I was treated excellent by all the staff. I didn’t mind just dropping a few hundred on something at that point. I felt comfortable and like a person rather than a dollar sign.

    Just yesterday I was treated like a dollar sign at Fry’s Electronics. I went in for a bargain, but got a shoddy choice of crappy merchandise, returned merchandise or open box of all the parts I wanted. I ended up buying a *new* CPU and when I got home I discovered that it was opened, returned and labeled missing parts. Thats not new. The cashier just threw it in the bag without letting me look at it. So its my fault on that part, but I’m taking it back and raising hell.

    We are consumers. We have money. They need our money. If they have crappy customer service then dont go. Don’t say we expect something because we are americans, we expect it because like ben said, its our money. we don’t need them. we have the internet. I’d rather not talk to anyone in person than be treated like a dollar sign in person by someone who makes 7 bucks an hour and doesn’t want to be there.

  23. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    @socalrob: The thing is, many people are aware of better deals they can find online, but will opt to shop at brick and mortor stores in order to have the item that same day, or because they just happen to be at the store at. In the case of cables, there are often huge differences in price, so that might not be the best example.

    But there are shoppers out there who will complain about a store like Best Buy, but will buy an item there that costs $20 more than online, for the convienince of getting it that day. Just like those who complain about Wal-Marts practices, but go there because their paper towels are cheap.

  24. KathrynMxPx says:


    I couldn’t agree more, and here is further proof that many American’s have a need not only for instant gratification, but products that “make life easier”.

    I present to you all, the Col-Pop. It holds your drink and your chicken nuggets.
    The Col-Pop

    I usually love Gizmodo, but the fact that they titled this “invention” the “greatest fast food invention yet” is pushing it. (For that, I think I’d have to go with the fryer).

  25. ThinkerTDM says:

    I agree with you 100%. My wife and I have a policy at restaurants: if we are not greeted by our server and/or not given our drink order, we leave. We just get up and walk. We’ve done this about 6 times in the past 6 months. The funny thing is (maybe not so funny), no one asks why we are leaving.

  26. acasto says:

    I agree, the problem is though in people’s definition of acceptable service. I’ve come across many people that accept nothing short of kissing their feet.

  27. Snarkysnake says:

    *Note- This is not a “blame the victim” rant…*

    The reason that these giant companies can get away with “asterisk pricing” is that we have all become price shoppers to the exclusion of all else.This is one reason that WalMart maintains the fiction that they always have the low price on everything,all the time. Of course,this is absurd. WalMart has something shoddy at a low price point and we assume that the higher quality brand that we really want is the lowest price around. Bad call. We do not reward manufacturers (or their dealers) that have clear,transparent pricing up front. This is why lots of sheep still fall for the rebate shell game. Give me $20 up front and I will mail it back to you,I promise. This is stupid, but people are gulled into it every day. (This effectively shields inefficient companies from price competition because the completion rate on rebates is so low). Companies have learned that they don’t have to tell us the true price until we are about to close the deal (sometimes ,in the case of credit cards and EULA’s, after the deal is done). They know that we’re too lazy or stupid to do true price/value comparisons and they are taking advantage of that every day.

  28. j03m0mma says:

    @thinkertdm: Did you leave out a time limit there?

  29. RenardRouge says:

    If you don’t like a place, don’t go there. But also don’t complain when you run out of places to go. Companies are providing a product or service which is completely optional for you — you have the option of going without or to deal with it…or find a company that offers just what you are looking for. If you are courteous and respectful to cashiers/servers/managers/service reps/whoever, they will most likely respond in a positive way.

  30. alvindark says:

    long time lurker. first time poster.

    yes. we are consumers. this post, and the ethos this site exudes, emodies what we can best do in an age such as this.

    if you’re going to buy things, you may as well do it properly.
    its new urban combat and we only have our non-existent souls to trade.

    disrespect authority.

  31. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @thinkertdm: They’re not going to know why you are leaving unless you tell them. If you just get up and walk, for all they know you didn’t care for the decor, discovered you didn’t have time, forgot about a meeting, or whatever.

  32. ogman says:

    Yeah! I’ve been using a personal “company policy” for a while now. I’m picky about where I shop, I check out the support options before hand (no Bangalore Babble), I don’t sign up for longterm contracts (Dish HATES that!), and I read the return policies before I buy. I’ve saved a ton of money and eliminated a whole lot of hassles. Best of all when I stick to MY policies, I have the power, not the company.

  33. rjhiggins says:

    @thinkertdm: If nobody asks why you’re leaving, and you don’t tell the manager, then how will things ever change? Except you’ll run out of restaurants to go to…

  34. ElizabethD says:

    Popkin for President!

    Get your write-in pencils ready, kids.

  35. rjhiggins says:

    The American consumer has come to value the lowest price above all else, then wonders why customer service is so shoddy. In most areas you could buy your big-screen TV at a local store that actually cares about its reputation in the community, but it would cost more. So you go to Best Buy or Walmart and then are surprised that they really don’t give a crap if you’re happy or not, since there are millions of other customers out there and the only thing that counts is the bottom line.

    Of course, in some areas we often have few, if any alternatives: cable TV/Internet providers, airlines (depending on where you live and where you’re going), cell-phone service providers, etc. I find these near-monopolies particularly revolting.

  36. forgottenpassword says:

    No longer are companies being competative with decent prices, quality customer service, honesty, etc. etc….. Competition these days means who can trick or fool the customer the most.

  37. Trai_Dep says:

    Add to this:

    * Buy based on needs, not wants (avoid clutter or purchases you’ll regret later)

    * Shop for value, not price. You usually get what you pay for.

    * Buy local whenever possible. You’ll see your money again.

  38. Zimorodok says:

    I have to take issue with one thing — Companies have NO “right to make a profit!” They have a right to TRY to turn a profit, but if their business model is inefficient, outdated, or poorly-planned then tough! Someone will come along and do it better. Competition is the essence of free-market capitalism. Government doesn’t exist to prop up failing businesses (unless there’s a greater public good to be served; i.e. Amtrak, airlines after 9/11, etc).

    It’s the corporate entitlement attitude that “We’ve made money on this in the past so we should continue to make money on it in perpetuity” that has led us to RIAA lawsuits, ridiculous copyright terms, etc.

    Everything else in Ben’s piece is gospel though – right on!

  39. randombob says:


    Good call.

  40. econobiker says:

    Kill the *fees. I hate the phone company “government compliance recovery fee” or such. This should come from within the price billed or they should be able to provide a detailed breakdown of the line items for which the fee pays.

  41. Nighthawke says:

    @zimorodok: Concur on that line. Businesses have NO extra rights given to them in ANY WAY, SHAPE or FORM. If there were, everyone would have a little business in one way or another to take advantage, then we’d be back to square one. On the contrary, big business has to be more open to the public in the form of accountability. If someone tries to snow you on that, just throw that in their face and remind them that the difference between you and him/her/it is that how you are paid and who you work for.

  42. Zimorodok says:

    @Nighthawke: Well, corporations do appear to have the right to buy their own Congressman. Or at least rent one for a 2 or 6 year period.

  43. bohemian says:

    For the people that are uninformed and mill around like sheep it is our job to wake them up. Tell them about this site, inform them they don’t have to take the mandatory screwing some retailer is giving them.

    I consider refusing to give out my phone number and increasingly using cash at certain stores my tiny bit of civil disobedience.

    I pay cash, I have my own shopping bags – look out!

  44. man-or-llama says:

    @rjhiggins: Exactly! We bought our television from a local business – paid about $200 more but when we had a problem I just emailed the salesman. A few troubleshooting emails later they had a new set for us to look at and delivered it same day. The last thing I want to do in a situation like that is pack up the TV, drag it back to the big box store and hope that the next one is working.

  45. Okaasan says:

    Thank you, Ben. We need to be reminded that we are, in fact, consumers. And, as such, we have to work to preserve our own rights because no one else will.

  46. SaraAB87 says:

    If you are paying more for a quality product, as in the case with the butcher that carries a higher quality meat than the big box grocer but charges more its usually worth every penny. You get what you pay for when buying things like meat, sure you can get a lower price, but you also get a lower quality product. There is a difference between being frugal and paying for pure junk.

    Online shopping is almost ALWAYS cheaper. You also save money because it forces you to think about what you are buying and you are under no pressure from scammy sales clerks who will tell you anything to get you to buy a product. Also if you can’t have it now then it makes you think about whether or not you will want the item in a few days or a week when it arrives, which leads to buying less junk and more things that you actually need instead of just what you want. There is no instant gratification so ultimately you buy less and pay less.

    There are still many many people that don’t know about online shopping which explains why I was able to find many items at amazon this christmas that were not available for miles here and weren’t coming back in stock anytime soon.

    This is probably one of the best posts on this site yet.

  47. goodkitty says:

    With corporate consolidation of everything I don’t see how we’re going to have a choice in 20 years. Comcast ripped you off? Go to DirecTV. DTV ripped you off? Go to Dish. Dish can’t install for you? Don’t watch TV.

    Very quickly there aren’t going to be any options left. I’ve already attempted to follow ‘brand punishment’ by withholding my purchases from places that gave me sub-standard service. I found out that within a year I literally had blacklisted EVERY company that was national, and many regional locations. People don’t care.

    I’m truly shocked that most of the companies featured on this site even care. So a few thousand people get upset over some receipt check or another. Whatever. You’re 1% of their customer base. And you’ll forget about it in a few months or when they have their next sale.

    The RIAA shows us that not only is the concept of corporate ‘guaranteed’ profit a reality, but that if we push hard enough against our masters, we’ll even get slapped with legislation forcing us to pay, like Hillary’s proposed health care “tax”.

    But at the root of all of this isn’t merely greed, but something that dismays me more than anything… it’s apathy. Nobody cares, and nobody seems to be willing to care. I used to think Idiocracy was a second-rate comedy, now I’m thinking it was some kind of precognitive leap.

    Tell me where I can get cell phone service without the asterisks, or internet, or groceries, or anything else. I can’t figure it out, and pretty soon I’m going to stop caring too.

  48. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    Good post. I was going to comment sooner but I had to make sure I didn’t agree to mandatory binding arbitration when I signed up to comment :)
    @rjhiggins: Really. Tell someone why you’re leaving.
    @econobiker: Even more so – if it’s a mandatory ‘whatever’ fee, why isn’t it buried in the price (like gasoline taxes)??
    Or your electric or natural gas bill…look how inexpensive electric/gas is! (The ‘energy recovery’ or ‘fuel surcharge’ notwithstanding).

  49. nrwfos says:

    @goodkitty: ” I used to think Idiocracy was a second-rate comedy, now I’m thinking it was some kind of precognitive leap.”

    And I’m beginning to believe it’s the form of government we live rather than a democracy.

    @doctor_cos:” Really. Tell someone why you’re leaving.”

    Yes, be very sure to leave a message. You can leave a written message either on the table or at the host desk or at both. We could even have some pre-printed business card size messages made up with a rating system or reasons why you left you can check off and then leave for their understanding.

    “I chose to leave thei establishment because:

    1) no one came to serve within ___ minutes,

    2) no one cared to give us place settings and water within ___ minutes,

    3) _____ was rude

    4) (fill in your own complaint)”