November 23, 2010 in Business

Consumer Reports rates companies’ customer service policies

Becky Yerak Chicago Tribune
 
Associated Press photo

Shoppers wait in line at Costco in Mountain View, Calif. The retailer earned high marks in a naughty-and-nice list of companies based on its consumer-friendly return policy.
(Full-size photo)

The list

NAUGHTY

Verizon

Macy’s

CompUSA

Buy.com

Best Buy

Spirit Airlines

Dollar

SanDisk

United Air

DirecTV

NICE

Southwest Air

L.L. Bean

Zappos.com

Costco

U.S. Cellular

Orvis

Hotels.com

J&R Electronics

Walmart

Publix

CHICAGO – Just in time for the holidays, Consumer Reports has released a list of 10 companies that it believes have been naughty to shoppers, and 10 that have been deemed as nice.

The Naughty & Nice Holiday List is based on input from Consumer Reports’ reporters and editors who cover such areas as shopping, travel, hospitality and telecommunications. Consumer Reports notes that the Naughty & Nice Holiday List is based on specific policies and doesn’t reflect the company as a whole.

The naughty list

The 10 companies called out for naughty policies, in no particular order, are:

Verizon Wireless: Doubled to $350 the early termination fee imposed on consumers who cancel their smartphone contract after the 30-day grace period. Verizon kept the penalty at $175 for consumers with conventional cell phones.

Macy’s: 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 less than $25, to as much as $23.95 for those $300 or more.

CompUSA: For imposing restocking fees of “up to 25 percent” of the purchase price on any product the retailer decides doesn’t meet its return criteria.

Buy.com: No returns for TV sets 27 inches or larger. If you fail to inspect the set upon delivery and sign the shipper’s release, Buy.com says it’s your problem and deal with the manufacturer. Its Web site also lacks a phone number, Consumer Reports says.

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 carryon bags: $30 in advance, $45 at the gate.

Dollar car rental: Dollar demands that 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.

SanDisk: It’s a big fan of issuing rebates in the form of a gift card, which have no cash value and must be redeemed for merchandise.

United Airlines: Find a lower fare on the company’s Web site for the same itinerary you booked, and not only will United give you the lower fare, but also a voucher good for 20 percent off your next purchase. But if you have a nonrefundable ticket – the type most people buy – United imposes a $150 “administrative” fee to make the change.

DirecTV: The California-based satellite TV firm, which has more than 18.7 million subscribers, has a policy that extends a customer’s contract for another 24 months if new equipment is added. If you want to cancel your service, the penalty is an early termination fee.

The nice list

Southwest Airlines: Two pieces of checked luggage, no charge. And that includes bulky stuff such as golf clubs and skis.

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 still come with a 90-day return period.

U.S. Cellular: While the FCC proposes that cell carriers alert consumers about to exceed their plans’ monthly allotment of minutes, which could lead to significant charges, U.S. Cellular is giving its customers a heads-up.

Orvis: Shoppers can call a toll-free number and speak to a human being. It also offers live Web chat with support staff, e-mail queries and a guaranteed response time of two hours or less.

Hotels.com: The travel website never charges a fee to cancel or change a room booking.

J&R Electronics: The electronics superstore and e-retailer has a price-match policy with few caveats and fine-print exclusions.

Walmart: No receipt, no problem. Customers can return most items to a Walmart store for a cash refund (for purchases under $25), a gift card (for purchases over $25) or even exchange. There’s one catch: More than three such returns within 45 days requires a manager’s approval.

Publix: 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, for free. All you need is a proper prescription.

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