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The Consumerist

Kmart Ruins Christmas By Canceling Layaway Orders, Holding Onto Refunds

Tue, 2014-12-16 19:05
(Thomas Hawk)

(Thomas Hawk)

There’s an unhappy wind blowing toward Kmart right now, and it’s coming from the direction of disgruntled customers who say that after the retailer notified them of a Dec. 12 deadline to pay off layaway balances in order to have their items delivered by Christmas, the retailer has been canceling orders left and right, saying items are “out of stock.” Not only that, but some shoppers say they’ve been told their refunds won’t arrive until after it’s too late to buy new Christmas presents to replace the canceled layaway items.

We got an email from a Consumerist reader tipping us off to check out Kmart’s Facebook page, where indeed, the rage over canceled Christmas layaway items is in full effect.

Customers want to know, among other things, why items weren’t placed on hold when they they were put on layaway? And how does Kmart expect people to pull the money out of thin air — money they already paid to Kmart’s layaway program — to replace those gifts that won’t be coming? Shoppers have reported hearing anywhere from 3-5 days for their money back, or even up to 14 days in some cases.

Here’s one example:

What a joke this company is, sold products out from under our layaway contract. I even paid it off early before the deadline for Christmas and after I complained 2X they sent me a canceled layaway email, a week after I paid the layaway off! I talked to customer service and after they patronized me and talked to me like I was stupid they said it would take 7-14 business days to get my money back. That is way after Christmas, how does that help my child not having the gifts?

And another:

Shame on you, Kmart! You seriously need to re-vamp your online layaway program. What kind of company lets you put in your layaway online in mid November, pay it off online at the first of December, and then sends you an email a week AFTER you’ve paid it off to inform you that the items are ‘out of stock’, will not be delivered AND it will take 3-5 business days to refund your money? Good luck finding that item somewhere else before Christmas, eh?

Not over yet:

You guys are the absolute worst. I will no longer be shopping at Kmart, and Sears. I had 2 layaway orders, both placed early last month. Finish paying them, excited to get my son’s Christmas shopping done earlier than normal, only to be told all the items I’ve purchased are out of stock. How very professional of you. When I have items on layaway at another store, like Walmart, they take those items and put them back to prevent this sort of thing from happening. How absolutely ridiculous of your company. You’ve lost my business and the business of family, friends, and anyone else willing to listen to my complaint. Seeing as I now only have 10 days to find all these items for my son, my FULL refunds better be in my account very, very soon.

People are already using the “L” word:

To whomever is organizing the class action lawsuit regarding Kmart layaway – Please add me to the contact list, as I too have been duped. Notified of cancellation 9 days before Christmas, no refund in sight and no idea what to do about it. Way to ruin the holiday Kmart!

There’s been a generic reply so far, but it doesn’t seem to be going over too well:

“We are very disappointed to hear that you had to go through this experience with your layaway order. Please let us know if you do not see your refund within 5-7 business days,” Kmart responded to some posts.

But that doesn’t seem to be enough for many:

We don’t want to hear that you are sorry or let you know if there is any problem receiving a refund. You are avoiding our questions…. I want to know how this can happen????? How do you have something on layaway and pay on it and hold your customers money without holding the product also? I expect an answer. Not your generic reply that you have replied to all of us.

There are also all these other people: Not happy here, others ready to call the local news and there are even thsoe who haven’t even used layaway who are ticked off.

We’ve reached out to Kmart to get more information from their end on how this kind of thing could happen, and see how widespread it is. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.

In the meantime — did this happen to you? What kind of items did you purchase — toys, electronics, clothing? Send us your stories and emails from Kmart to tips@consumerist.com with the subject line KMART LAYAWAY.

T-Mobile “Data Stash” Will Let Some Customers Roll Over Unused 4G LTE Data

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:49

This guy is maybe a little too excited about Data Stash.

This guy is maybe a little too excited about Data Stash.

Here’s the latest piece of evidence showing that data is dirt cheap and we’re paying too much for it. T-Mobile announced today that it will start letting subscribers with plans of at least 3GB/month (1GB/month for tablet plans) begin rolling over any of their unused 4G LTE allotments into what it’s dubbed the “Data Stash.”

From everything we can tell, it’s effectively no different from rollover minutes that wireless companies used to advertise before everyone stopped talking on the phone.

Beginning in January, subscribers in Simple Choice plans starting with 4G LTE allotments of at least 3GB/month will start seeing any unused high-speed data added to their next month’s allowance, where it will remain until you use it up or until a year passes.

The 3GB/month minimum for smartphones not only eliminates the rollover option for 1GB/month customers, it also means that anyone who signed up for the pretty decent 4-for-$100 plan (4 lines at 2.5GB each) are not eligible for the Stash.

For those with tablet data plans from T-Mobile, the minimum plan for inclusion in Data Stash is 1GB/month.

While we applaud the fact that T-Mobile isn’t throwing customers’ data away and taking their money, we wonder if it will ultimately have any effect on how T-Mo subscribers use their data.

Assume that your average 3GB/month subscriber is only using 2GB each month. If that doesn’t change after the implementation of Data Stash, that user will have more access to more than a dozen gigabytes of LTE service come next holiday season. The user would presumably continue to maintain at that same level of unused data so long as Data Stash exists.

For some people whose data use can occasionally get near their monthly limit, there may be real value in a rollover plan like this, but for users who aren’t streaming video over LTE to their devices, it may be no different that AT&T and Sprint dangling the data carrot that will never be eaten.

FedEx Truck Rollover Spills Packages On New Jersey Highway

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:25

fedex_crashYesterday was the busiest shipping day of the entire year for the U.S. Postal Service and for FedEx, which could have made a tractor-trailer accident that happened early on Monday morning in New Jersey even more disastrous. While the driver sustained only minor injuries, the accident spilled packages across the highway and affected traffic for the rest of the morning.

The road, an exit ramp for I-287, remained closed for more than seven hours. As you can see in the screen grab above, FedEx employees were on the scene loading packages from the tandem trailer to other company vehicles. Yes, that’s a double load of packages at a crucial time of year for “The safety and security of our customers’ shipments, especially during this time of year, is a top priority,” a FedEx spokesperson told NorthJersey.com. Yes, it’s hard not to picture your own precious package there in the massive pile, but FedEx says that their workers grabbed the packages in order to “avoid” delays, so customers may not notice any problems at all.

The driver claims that he swerved to avoid a tire in the road. Police issued him two summonses for careless driving and for failure to maintain his lane.

Route 287 reopened after FedEx tractor trailer overturns in Mahwah, dumps packages [NorthJersey.com]

Appeals Court: Forcing Porn Stars To Wear Condoms Doesn’t Violate First Amendment

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:14

(Amy Adoyzie)

(Amy Adoyzie)

Even though many adults in non-monogamous relationships are using condoms, the porn industry has long held that using the prophylactic devices in sex scenes is a buzzkill. And in recent years porn auteurs have argued that laws mandating the use of condoms on XXX sets is a violation of the First Amendment. But yesterday, a federal appeals court said a rubber requirement isn’t enough to claim restriction of free expression.

The 2012 County of Los Angeles Safer Sex In the Adult Film Industry Act (better known as “Measure B”) requires the use of condoms when shooting actual sex scenes anywhere in the massive expanse that is Los Angeles County.

The adult industry — led by the Vivid Entertainment studio — has been fighting the regulation, arguing that it’s a case of prior restraint; that the county is prohibiting the filmmakers from fully expressing themselves under the belief that unprotected sex might negatively impact the public health of Los Angelenos.

In 2013, a U.S. District Court issued a preliminary injunction against some of the enforcement and fee-setting provisions, but allowed the core of Measure B — the condom and permitting requirements — to remain.

Vivid appealed to the Ninth Circuit, not only claiming First Amendment violations, but also arguing that because the lower court severed some portions of Measure B, it should have struck down the entire ordinance.

The appeals panel quickly dismisses [PDF] that argument, writing that “courts must respect the laws made by legislatures and, therefore, should avoid nullifying an entire statute when only a portion is invalid.”

This is especially true with Measure B, explains the court, as it contains a severability clause that explicitly states that just because one provision may be stricken, “the remaining provisions shall not be affected, but shall remain in full force and effect.”

As for the claim that the condom mandate restricts porn artists’ free expression, the court says that the requirement “survives intermediate scrutiny because it has only a de minimis effect on expression, is narrowly tailored to achieve the substantial governmental interest of reducing the rate of sexually transmitted infections, and leaves open adequate alternative means of expression.”

So basically, because it doesn’t prevent performers from still making explicit movies, it is not a prohibition of their Constitutional rights.

To back up its opinion, the court cited the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Erie v. Pap’s A.M., in which a Pennsylvania strip club attempted to fight a local ordinance banning public nudity.

In that case, SCOTUS held that, because the law in question allowed dancers to dance while wearing only pasties and G-strings, it was a “minimal restriction in furtherance of the asserted government interests” that “leaves ample capacity to convey the dancer’s erotic message.”

Interestingly, L.A. County is not the party trying to defend its own statute. Early on, when Measure B was first appealed, the county said that it would not fight an appeal but that it would enforce the ordinance if the court said it passed legal muster. And so it was the measure’s private sponsors who chose to fight the appeal on behalf of the county.

The question is now whether or not the county will actually enforce Measure B, which some opponents view as an extravagant use of county resources and funds. If so, the L.A. porn industry could move elsewhere, though a larger statewide condom requirement looms in the California legislature.

[via National Law Journal]

Comcast, Charter, TWC All Admit That Strong Net Neutrality Rules Won’t Actually Be The End Of The World

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:10
Sterling Davis

Sterling Davis

Every single one of the big ISPs has been spending the better part of a year telling both the government and the public that using Title II to regulate net neutrality would be so counterproductive, ineffective, and unlawful that it would ruin the whole internet for everyone forever. Their main threat has been that with tighter regulation, they will stop spending money investing in networks. But to their investors, company executives are telling a different tale entirely: Comcast, Charter, and Time Warner Cable have now joined Verizon in admitting that from an investment standpoint, Title II won’t really harm them or change much of anything at all.

Executive leadership from all three companies spent some time at a conference trying to “ease concerns” about the impact stronger regulation would have on investors, the Washington Post reports.

Participants at the conference of course asked the heads of the ISPs about their thoughts on the Obama administration’s call for the FCC to use Title II to create strong net neutrality regulation. If there’s one thing on earth executives hate, it’s scaring investors — and so all of them deflected concerns that strong regulation would be a problem for their businesses.

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge admitted that while he doesn’t really want Title II, as long as the FCC is careful only to apply relevant parts of the regulation (a process called forbearance, and one in which title II advocates are strongly in favor) then really, it’s no big deal. “It’s not like we can’t operate in that world and that we don’t want to, but we’d rather have a good regulatory regime than a complicated one.”

Time Warner Cable COO Robert D. Marcus, meanwhile, fielded a question about federal interference in price regulation if the FCC uses Title II, a concern that opponents of regulation have often floated. But, Marcus said, that’s really not a concern at all. He answered that, “No one, Title II proponents and opponents alike, have suggested that whatever the FCC does it should include any component of rate regulation.”

Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis hedged slightly more than his peers. When asked if Title II regulation would change the way Comcast runs its business, he answered, “I certainly hope not,” but continued, “the devil would be in the detail and it’s too speculative right now to sort of make those kinds of decisions.”

Angelakis stayed slightly more on-message with the “regulation is bad” theme than his counterparts, concluding: “We want to invest in infrastructure, we want to invest in broadband, we want that to be an important part of our legacy in terms of how we invest in and build these kinds of things and Title II just is unfortunately a negative,” without saying why.

Comcast, like Verizon and AT&T, has previously said that using Title II “would be a radical reversal that would harm investment and innovation.”

These admissions — that perhaps regulation won’t actually be the end of the world as we know it — come right after Verizon’s inadvertent honesty last week. The company tried to walk it back as soon as the headlines began to appear, but by then everyone — including FCC chairman Tom Wheeler — had heard the message.

Comcast, Charter and Time Warner Cable all say Obama’s net neutrality plan shouldn’t worry investors [Washington Post]

Airline Baggage Fees Bring In Nearly $1B In Three Months, Ticket Sales Still Top Revenue-Maker

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:59
(Rachel)

(Rachel)

All those baggage fees added so far this year appear to be bringing in the big bucks for U.S. airlines. A new report found that airlines brought in nearly $1 billion last quarter by charging customers for hauling their belongings. And while that seems like a lot of dough, it’s just a drop in the bucket for the industry.

The Department of Transportation’s latest new data regarding airline revenue and expenditures found the 27 U.S. airlines took in nearly $960 million for flying bags from July to September 2014, a fairly significant increase from one year ago, CNN Money reports.

The new figure represents a 9% increase – $79 million– from the same time last year.

But baggage fees, while continuously tacked on by companies, aren’t the bread-and-butter for airlines.

In fact, when you look at airline’s complete revenue, you’ll find that baggage fees are just a small fraction of the $45.3 billion airlines’ recorded in the third quarter of 2014.

Ticket sales represented the bulk of revenue for the industry, with the same 27 companies bringing in $34 billion in sales last quarter.

Transport-related earnings – including inflight sales, code shares between airlines, and associated businesses – was the second highest revenue-maker for the airlines, bringing in $7.2 billion.

Earnings from pet transportation, sale of frequent flier award miles to airline business partners, standby passenger fees and other public service revenues made up the third highest category for the airlines, bringing in about $1.1 billion for the third quarter.

As for the biggest expenditure, that belongs to fuel costs. Airlines spent about $11.4 billion on fuel for the third quarter.

Though fuel costs have recently begun to decrease, airlines say they actually paid 4% more during the third quarter of 2014 than they did during the same time period a year earlier. We’ll have to wait a few months to see how the recent, significant drops in oil prices impact the current quarter.

Still airlines aren’t exactly hurting, according to the U.S. DOT data.

For the third quarter, airlines recorded a net income of $3.1 billion, and increase of 0.47% over last year.

As for year-to-date net income, the 27 airlines have combined to make $7.2 billion, an increase of $2.2 billion from January to September of 2013.

Airlines get $1 billion from baggage fees [CNN Money]
3rd Quarter 2014 Airline Financial Data [U.S. DOT]

Toys ‘R’ Us Will Stay Open For 39 Hours Straight Leading Up To Christmas Eve

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:35

(ThatBeeGirl)

(ThatBeeGirl)

It’s no 100-hour marathon like Kohl’s is holding this year leading up to Christmas, and it’s not the four straight days of staying open its stores have pulled in the past, but Toys “R” Us is extending its holiday hours for last-minute shoppers again this year.

Most locations will be open for 39 hours in a row, from 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 23 until 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve the following day, Dec. 24, reports CNNMoney.

Those shoppers brave enough to be in New York City during the height of holiday pandemonium will have an even wider window for around-the-clock shopping, as the Toys “R” Us flagship store in Times Square is scheduled to remain open from 7 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17 to 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve a week later for more than 180 hours of shopping time.

To work all those extra hours, the retailer has hired 45,000 seasonal workers, while keeping expenses down by keeping the stores open for only 39 hours instead of multiple days at a time like in holiday seasons gone by.

One big advantage brick-and-mortar stores have over major online competitors like Amazon? You can run out to an open store at the last second, while there’s no “last second” on the Internet that will save you from ruining Christmas.

For those people – Dec. 19 is Amazon’s deadline for getting free shipping on items that are guaranteed to arrive by Dec. 24. Any later than that and you’re paying more for shipping or again, ruining Christmas. Just kidding! Christmas is about cookies, not presents.

Toys ‘R’ Us extends hours for last-minute shoppers [CNNMoney]

Eddie Lampert Blogs Mini-Manifesto About Why Sears Has Shed 200 Stores

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:03

(Scott Miller)

(Scott Miller)

Americans seem to love and hate their Kmart and Sears stores: our posts linking to unofficial but comprehensive closing lists have been very popular in the last few weeks. Americans apparently love to complain about their Sears Holdings stores, but don’t really want them to go away. Sears Holdings CEO and chief manifesto-writer Eddie Lampert recently took to the company’s blog to explain why the chain is getting rid of up to 200 stores.

Lampert wants us all to know that what he really wants is for Sears Holdings “to operate our stores both profitably and with excellence. Both, not just one or the other.” Or neither, as our readers have reported about some of the chain’s stores before it began its most recent turnaround effort.

Lampert compares massive large legacy Sears stores to another type of legacy real estate: phone company buildings. “[I]n virtually every city across the country, real estate owners and communities are trying to figure out what to do with large, windowless buildings that once held essential – now useless – telephone equipment to make landlines work,” he explains. Some of these buildings will become offices, apartments, or other things that are relevant to the modern world. That’s what Sears is doing by taking on roommates and subleasing space to other retailers like Whole Foods or Primark.

It doesn’t matter whether an area has a local Sears or Kmart store, Lampert assures us, because the company already has our contact information after badgering us into joining the “Shop Your Way” rewards program. “[W]hen we close a store we can retain a relationship with Shop Your Way members who visited the store – because we can now communicate with them and meet their needs in other ways on other platforms,” Lampert notes cheerfully, still apparently allergic to the word “customer.”

Moving Forward [SHC Speaks]

Roku And Comcast Finally Make Nice, Will Allow HBO Go And Showtime Apps

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:00

hbograbA personal anecdote, if you’ll allow… A few years back, I — ever a good son — bought my mother a Roku box for her TV (that I’d also bought her), only to find out that she, like millions of other Comcast subscribers, was not allowed to access the device’s HBO Go app because she’s a Comcast customer. But those darks days are coming to an end, now that Kabletown and Roku are suddenly buddies.

This is according to an FCC filing [PDF] from yesterday, in which an attorney for Roku tells the Commission that, as of Nov. 25, Comcast and Roku had concluded “several months” of negotiations “regarding a number of issues” and that Comcast had — among other, unspecified items — agreed to allow Comcast users to log into the HBO Go and Showtime Anytime apps on their Roku devices.

The letter makes no mention of specific dates and Comcast isn’t commenting on this story at the moment, but we’re hearing that more information is forthcoming as early as today.

Sources also tell Consumerist that while Comcast is not currently authenticating HBO Go and other apps on the Amazon Fire TV devices, it is actively negotiating with Amazon to make this happen.

So why the rush? A) Comcast needs to do anything it can to look good to consumers and, more importantly, to the federal regulators that are reviewing its deal to acquire Time Warner Cable. And B) Time Warner Cable already allows its customers to access these apps online, and if Comcast is going to take on those millions of customers, it can’t suddenly say “no more HBO Go for you” to everyone in the major markets — NYC, L.A. and Dallas — that it will dominate post-merge.

[via Recode]

Study: Tanning Beds Responsible For Average Of 3,234 Injuries Per Year That Send People To The ER

Tue, 2014-12-16 16:55
20)

(Plankton 4:20)

When the weather outside is frightful and the sun is nowhere to be found in the winter months, some people might turn to an indoor tanning bed to get their glow on. But beyond the chance for cancer from the exposure to ultraviolet radiation, there’s the risk of getting burned, bumped or bruised, says a new study on tanning bed use.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers say tanning beds are responsible for an average of 3,234 injuries every year that end with people going to the hospital emergency rooms each year.

That number excludes any kind of private physicians, urgent care facilities or people who treated themselves at home, notes the Washington Post.

Injuries included skin burns, fainting spells, eye injuries, lacerations, strains, sprains, bruises or dislocations, along with the fact that tanning in such beds increases the risk of skin cancers like melanoma at the same time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends against using the contraptions.

But because the data only includes ER visits, the health economist who conducted the study for the CDC says he thinks the real number of injuries is higher.

Women are more than four times likely as men to get hurt, with skin burns being the most common injury suffered during tanning. This, because women are more likely to go indoor tanning, the study says, especially younger adults ages 18-34.

There is some good news, however — the number of injuries dropped quite a bit during the period covered by researchers: In 2003 there were more than 6,000 acute injuries, a number that dropped as low as 2,000 in 2012.

Another 3,234 reasons to avoid tanning beds [Washington Post]

Court Affirms $151M Ruling Against Walmart For Making Employees Work Off The Clock

Tue, 2014-12-16 16:19

(Ben Schumin)

(Ben Schumin)

When employees claim that their employer systematically forces them to work through breaks or other times during which they aren’t getting paid, how far do they have to go to prove that this is not a fluke particular to just a few stores? This is the question at the core of Walmart’s most recent appeal of a 12-year-old lawsuit that could cost the company nearly $200 million.

In 2002, a former Walmart employee from Pennsylvania filed a class action against the retailer, alleging that workers were forced to work off the clock, through mandated break times, or through meal breaks.

Four years later, after a trial during which both sides presented testimony from employees supporting their respective stances, a jury here in Philadelphia sided with the plaintiffs on everything but the food break allegations and awarded Walmart $151 million in damages (plus millions in legal fees and costs) to more than 187,000 workers.

Walmart’s problem with the verdict is that it claims this was a “trial by formula,” in that instead of looking at all the incredibly specific instances in which breaks were missed or worked through, the court listened to the testimony and analysis of expert statisticians who reviewed Walmart time sheets and determined the extent to which workers were harmed.

The retailer’s own expert questioned this analysis, alleging that it failed to take into account things like people who clock in and out of a break even though they took one, or employees who voluntarily worked through breaks without being told to do so.

The Supreme Court shot down the notion of “trial by formula” in an infamous 2011 ruling that also involved Walmart. In that case, Wal-Mart v. Dukes [PDF], a few named plaintiffs had sued the retailer over allegations of sexual discrimination. A federal appeals court had ruled that a sample set of affected class members could be used to determine the company’s liability. The awarded back pay would be set by a third party and then multiplied by the number of members in the total class “without further individualized proceedings.”

Thus, according to SCOTUS, Walmart would “not be entitled to litigate its statutory defenses to individual claims,” and so it was determined that the class should not have been certified to begin with.

However, the PA Supreme Court held yesterday [PDF] that the appeal in the time clock case is different from Walmart’s claim of a “trial by formula” in the Dukes case.

The SCOTUS ruling in Dukes involved the belief that Walmart was being pre-determined as liable to a large class through mere extrapolation. But in yesterday’s decision, the PA Supremes said that Walmart was not being wrongly pre-judged, as “the evidence of Wal-Mart’s liability to the entire class for breach of contract and WPCL violations was established at trial by presentation of Wal-Mart’s own universal employment and wage policies, as well as its own business records and internal audits.”

According to the court, these records sufficed to support the claim “that there was an extensive pattern of discrepancies between the number and duration of breaks earned and the number and duration of breaks taken.”

“In our view, this was not a case of ‘trial by formula’ or of a class action ‘run amok,'” concludes the opinion for the majority of the court.

A dissenting opinion [PDF] from the lone justice siding with Walmart, states that the workers were “permitted to effectively project the anecdotal experience of each of six testifying class members upon thirty-thousand other members of the class at large, to extrapolate abstract data concerning missed and mistimed ‘swipes’ from 16 Pennsylvania stores to 139 others, to overlay discrete data taken from several years’ experience across a distinct four-year period, and to attribute a single cause to missed and mistimed swipes, all despite indisputable variations across store locations, management personnel, time, and other circumstances.”

Walmart tells the Philadelphia Inquirer that it disagrees with the court and “continue to believe that these claims should not be bundled together into a class-action lawsuit.” The retailer is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While the attorney for the plaintiffs says that the ruling “demonstrates that [this] type of shortchanging of workers at a mammoth employer should not be tolerated and that the justice system should provide some form of relief for low-wage workers, particularly through class actions.”

Amazon Extends Free Holiday Shipping Deadline, But Still Can’t Control Weather

Tue, 2014-12-16 16:18
(Zach Egolf)

(Zach Egolf)

With the countdown to Christmas officially in the single digits, procrastinators of the world had better get a move on ordering their gifts if they want them delivered by the holiday. That is unless you plan to shop with Amazon, apparently. The online retailer is giving those dragging their feet a little extra time by extending their free Christmas delivery. But, as we’ve learned in the past, just because the company says you’ll get your gift in time doesn’t mean it will actually happen.

Amazon announced Tuesday that customers now have until 11:59 p.m. EST on December 19 to order goods with free-shipping and receive them by Christmas Eve.

The new deadline gives customers one more day than they had last year.

But not all Amazon customers must adhere to the deadline in order to receive their packages in time for holiday festivities. Prime members, who receive free two-day shipping on a number of items, have until December 22 to place their orders.

And for the true procrastinators – those waiting until just hours before the holiday to buy gifts – Amazon offers same-day delivery in 12 major metro cities if orders are placed by 10 a.m. on December 24.

Same-day delivery is available in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

While the extended shipping deadlines at Amazon might buy consumers a little extra time, that doesn’t mean overwhelmed shipping companies and weather won’t throw a wrench in your last-minute gifting plans.

That was certainly the case last year when the perfect storm of last-minute purchases, bad weather and shipping companies overcome by demand left many spots under the Christmas tree empty.

In fact, a post-holiday report found that nearly one in three packages promised for Christmas delivery didn’t make it last year.

And while some Christmas miracles occurred, Amazon and other retailers had to issue oodles of apologies, refunds and discounts when packages didn’t make their appearance until after the holiday.

This year several delivery companies are hoping a proactive approach to the busy holiday season prevents a fiasco like last year. So far, companies such as UPS and FedEx have hired extra workers and warned retailers that they’ll face fines if their sales and promised holiday deliveries back up the shipping process.

But if you want to roll the dice with your holiday deliveries, keep in mind the following deadlines for Amazon:

Dec. 19: Free Shipping (order as late as 11:59 p.m. EST)
Dec. 22: Two-Day Shipping
Dec. 23: One-Day Shipping
Dec. 24: Same-Day Delivery (order as late as 10:00 a.m. local time)
Dec. 25: Buy Prime or send an Amazon.com Gift Card

Plenty of Time to Order Online: Amazon Extends Free Shipping Order Cutoff to Dec. 19 [Amazon]

Another Layaway Angel Swoops In, Pays $50K Worth Of Bills At Pennsylvania Walmart

Tue, 2014-12-16 15:52

(SchuminWeb)

(SchuminWeb)

In a season where there can be Grinches around every corner and bah-humbuggers just waiting to get ya, it’s always fun to hear about those layaway angels who go around paying off other shoppers’ bills all in one fell swoop. We’ve landed a big one today, folks — someone’s just paid off $50,000 in layaway items in Pennsylvania.

An anonymous donor known simply as “Santa B” dropped off the big check at a Mechanicsburg, PA yesterday morning, reports PennLive.com, surprising shoppers who were prepared to pay off their layaway balances.

One of the around 100 people who had their bills paid off said she was about to pay her $200 balance to pay for gifts for her daughter, when she found out a stranger had beaten her to it.

“It was definitely a surprise, and a blessing,” she said.

The manager of the Pennsylvania Walmart said Santa B is from around the area but doesn’t want to reveal his name.

“He said he wanted to help take care of folks –- to bring everyone a special Christmas,” the manager said..

The layaway manger spent the day calling customers to make sure they knew their layaway items had been paid for, and could now be picked up. Yesterday was the last day to pay off layaways at the store, making the angel’s move good timing.

“It’s not a record, but it’s certainly high,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman, adding that two similar donations of $51,000 and $59,000 happened yesterday in Florida.

“It’s amazing to see the random acts of kindness that happen at the holidays,” he said. “It’s incredible customers are coming in and wanting to help their neighbors by covering their layaway balances for the season.”

Previously this season in layaway angels: Layaway Angels Fan Out, Hit West Virginia And Tennessee

‘Santa B’ pays off $50,000 in layaway bills at Wal-Mart in Silver Springs Commons [PennLive.com]

December Recall Roundup: Nobody Likes A Melted Battery Charger

Tue, 2014-12-16 00:07

The Recall Roundup for December is not very merry, especially if you’re in the market for electronic devices. Here’s a collection of appliances and devices that could cause overheating and discomfort or actual property damage.

Home
Cost Plus World Market Modular Storage Bars – Mounting plate may fall out when things are actually hung from the bar. Injury hazard.
Folding Lounge Chairs (Ross Stores) – Chair may tip over or recline too quickly. Five falls reported in Ross stores, with a few minor injuries.
Venmar Ventilation Air Exchangers – Unit may overheat, posing fire hazard. There have been 30 fires in the U.S. and Canada, resulting in a total of $1.1 million in property damage.
Daesung Celtic Enersys Tankless Water Heaters – Risk of overheating. There have been 40 reports of overheated units, including two fires with property damage and some burned walls.
DD Brand Candles (Hobby Lobby) – Expanded recall. High flame can ignite things that are not candles. There have been 29 fire reports; nine with property damage and one injury.
Mohawk Rugs (Home Depot) – Do not meet flammability standard.
Daikin Streamer air purifiers – May overheat and catch fire.
Ethan Allen Harwood Floor Lamps – Risk of electrical shock. One user reported being shocked.

Toys
Hello Kitty Birthday Lollipop Whistles (McDonald’s Happy Meal Toy) – Pieces of the whistle may detach and be inhaled. There are two reports of this happening, with one child receiving medical attention.

Tools & Gardening
Bob-Cat Zero Turn Riding Mower – Steering control arm may break, and steering is important. There have been 22 reports of this part failing.

Electronics
Tectron 3-in-1 iPhone and mini USB Chargers – Fire hazard. Sold at school fundraisers. Two melted chargers reported.
Visonic Amber Personal Emergency Response Pendants and Kits (Life Alert) – Battery may drain faster than anticipated, and “low battery” status much shorter than users were told.
Olympus DS-5500 digital audio recorders – May overheat while charging. There have been three reports of overheating.
AP Specialties Power Bank Chargers (given as freebies at trade shows, meetings, and conventions) – May overheat and cause fires. There have been three overheating incidents and one fire that caused damage.
Goal Zero Sherpa rechargeable battery packs – May overheat, melt, bulge, or catch fire. There has been one fire and two cases of property damage reported, and one user reported becoming ill after inhaling fumes.
Lenovo Computer Power Cords for the IdeaPad B-, G-, S-, U-, V- and Z-series and Lenovo brand B-, G- and V-series computers. – May overheat, posing fire and burn hazards. There have been 15 incidents outside of the U.S. and Canada of overheated cords
HobbyZone Super Cub S Ready-To-Fly and Super Cub S Bind-N-Fly Power Supply and Charger – Battery may overcharge

LARGE_436A

Babies & Kids
Graco Umbrella Strollers – Fingertip amputation hazard.
Leatherman Children’s Leap Multi-Tool – Lock mechanism may release the blade instead. No injuries reported.
Dream On Me Recalls Incredible Play Yards – Rails may collapse, strangling child

Clothing
Open Vest Sweaters by Leith (Nordstrom) – Do not meet federal flammability standard.

Sports & Outdoors
Aqua Lung buoyancy compensators with SureLock II weight pocket handles -Handles may detach, posing a drowning hazard in an emergency
Ventamatic Cool Draft Misting Fans – Wiring is not grounded; fire and electric shock hazard. There have been two incidents, one of which included a user being shocked.
Black Diamond Equipment Whippet Ski Poles – Hand grip may come apart. There have been no reports yet of this happening in the wild.
Hoppe’s Semi-Auto Gun Bore Cleaner – Child-resistant cap of poisonous product is easier to open than anticipated. A child opened the bottle and spilled some on himself.
UVEX Bicycle Helmets – Chinstrap anchor may fail, causing helmet to slip down or off the head.
GCI Outdoor Stadium Seats – Back rest may fail. One user fell off the back of a set of bleachers and was injured.
Salsa Bearpaw Bicycle Forks – May break or bend

HBO Go Now On Amazon Fire TV Boxes (Not So Fast, Comcast Customers)

Mon, 2014-12-15 23:47

These are the pay-TV providers currently allowing HBO subscribers to access HBO Go on Amazon Fire TV.

These are the pay-TV providers currently allowing HBO subscribers to access HBO Go on Amazon Fire TV.

The Amazon Fire TV set-top box just got a lot more worthwhile for people wanting to add HBO to TVs without getting additional cable boxes. That is, unless you’re a Comcast customer.

Amazon announced today that HBO Go is now available for the Fire TV box and will be coming to the less-expensive, recently released Fire TV stick sometime this spring.

While this still requires that you have a basic cable subscription and a subscription to HBO (or that you have someone willing to lend you their login info), it can be a money-saver for people with multi-TV homes who don’t feel like paying the cable company for additional cable boxes.

Perhaps that’s why not every cable provider is on board yet. According to the HBO Go/Fire TV activation page, most of the major pay-TV players — DirecTV, Dish, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-Verse — are allowing customers to stream HBO Go this way, there are two huge omissions: Comcast and Charter.

Because you have have to use your pay-TV operator’s login info to access HBO Go, it’s up to each provider to determine which devices you’re allowed to watch the service on. As many a Roku buyer has learned over the years, not every provider is too eager to let people get a free add-on service that may take away the ancillary revenue of additional set-top boxes or lead to cord-cutting when HBO finally releases its long-awaited standalone streaming option.

GameStop CFO Says Company Will Weather Walmart, But Hints At Continued Store Closures

Mon, 2014-12-15 23:08

(Molly)

(Molly)

There are currently around 6,000 GameStop locations, meaning most people don’t have to drive very far to trade in a used game. But how will the company weather the two storm fronts of increased competition from major retailers and the shift toward digital downloads of games?

Fortune posed these questions to GameStop CFO Rob Lloyd, who tried to make the case that the company will do just fine while dropping the hint that the days of having a GameStop on every other corner might soon fade.

Months after beginning to accept used game trade-ins from customers, Walmart recently began selling these “certified pre-owned” (That phrase confounds me, as if one needs a certificate to verify that they are buying a used item) games, and that it intends to do so at prices that compete with GameStop.

Lloyd talks up GameStop’s massive 180,000 square-foot Refurbishment Operation Center in Texas, where the company makes all your used copies of Dragon Age 2 look new-ish again.

“You have to be able to refurbish the goods because 15%, maybe 20%, of what you get in trade in a store needs to be buffed if it’s a disc, or repaired if it’s a hardware system,” he explains. To not do that, or hand that to a third party means you are giving away a big chunk of that margin that’s important to the business.”

Not being able to refurb a game in-house is a “barrier to success” for competition says Lloyd, who claims that competition from Walmart, Best Buy and Target “hasn’t made a dent in our business.”

On the other hand, what could really ding GameStop is a future where most people buy their video games digitally. It’s already a popular way for PC gamers to shop, and it’s catching on among console users.

While GameStop does sell $800 million a year in download codes for full games and add-on content, Lloyd says that 90% of those purchases are actually done at GameStop retail stores. And though $800 million is a nice figure, it’s less than 10% of the company’s total revenue. But Lloyd isn’t freaking out.

“Our customers are used to coming to GameStop, even to a brick and mortar location, to buy downloadable content and buy digital,” he explains. “They do that in our stores because we help to make the product discoverable. We give advice to our customers.”

He also says that customers will want to use their trade-in games — or pay in cash — for download codes “because they might not want to put their credit cards on the Internet.”

Yet Lloyd acknowledges that bricks-and-mortar retail is shrinking, pointing annual closings of about 2% of its stores each year for the last three years. Additionally, many GameStop’s leases are for only 3-5 years, giving the company flexibility when it comes time to trim stores.

“As things move online, as shopping patterns change, we’ll manage our real estate portfolio accordingly,” says Lloyd.

City Seizes Decaying Bank-Owned House, Gets It Fixed Up

Mon, 2014-12-15 22:55

(jetsetpress)

(jetsetpress)

The city of Andover, Massachusetts has had it with abandoned, vacant buildings, especially those that are now bank-owned due to foreclosure. One three-unit apartment building had vagrants occupying the space, using the floors as a bathroom and turning the building into a biohazard. Having such a “disgusting” building on a main road made no one in the city happy, and the city found a private company to act as a receiver and renovate the building.

This is apparently a common issue in Andover, and the city has started seizing properties that have been abandoned. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a local owner letting the houses rot or an out-of-state bank: the owner must register with the city and name a local person or property management company in charge of taking care of the property. You know, basic things like checking for squatters and mowing the lawn.

The bank that owned this building apparently had no incentive to not let squatters break in and poop on the floors, so the city seized it. A private-sector receiver took over the building, securing it and investing $300,000 in making it habitable again. Now the

Ideally, the mayor says, the building would be sold as three condominiums instead of ending up in the hands of one landlord, since the city’s goal is to get formerly neglected properties into the hands of homeowners who will invest in their homes and neighborhoods.

‘Disgusting’ building restored, ready for families [Eagle-Tribune]

Why Does McDonald’s Have Such A Hard Time Wooing Millennials?

Mon, 2014-12-15 22:47
(dsuniaga)

(dsuniaga)

Does McDonald’s need to try to change the world to win back its customers? Mickey D’s, still reeling from reporting its steepest monthly sales decline in 14 years, has been reaching out to ad agencies and media companies looking for advice on what kind of charitable partnership it can work up to help it connect better with its customers (specifically “millennials”), the Wall Street Journal reports, citing sources familiar with the matter.

In response to flagging sales, McDonald’s has been trying all sorts of tactics to lure customers through its doors — from asking customers to submit weird questions about their food to reminding anyone who will listen what’s in menu items like Chicken McNuggets (spoiler: chicken) to explaining how the McRib gets made (it contains pork and is frozen). But McDonald’s doesn’t want just any old customers — no, it wants those elusive millennials, with their disposable incomes and status as pop culture’s tastemakers. So far, it doesn’t seem to be working out all that great. But why not?

Is it the food? The atmosphere? The awful slogans? The company’s social media efforts? McDonald’s clearly doesn’t know the answer, so it’s reportedly looking for help to create “a Big Idea” that “generates significant support for a charity” and “engages Millennials to support this charity by speaking directly to their philanthropic priorities and leveraging their behaviors and habits,” according to RFP documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

“We’re always looking for great creative ideas that will resonate with our customers and giving back to our communities is part of how we do business,” McDonald’s said.

The idea here being that if millennials are interested in helping people, and if McDonald’s can figure out the best way to play into those philanthropic leanings, maybe millennials will give the chain a collective blessing and everyone will go eat there again…? Or something?

In an effort to understand why “millennials” have abandoned the Happy Meals of their youths, we were wondering if you could help us out by taking the survey below. We’ll take a look at the results and report back in a future post.

Take Our Survey

McDonald’s Seeks Help Wooing Millennials [Wall Street Journal]

GM Fund Now Links Ignition Defect To 42 Deaths, 58 Injuries

Mon, 2014-12-15 22:40

(Listener42)

(Listener42)

The General Motors victim compensation fund approved four death claims last week, bringing the total number of confirmed fatalities linked to faulty ignition switches to 42 – officially tripling the number of deaths GM initially linked to the issue.

The Detroit News reports that the approved death claims, along with seven approved injury claims, makes last week the busiest for the fund since its first weeks of existence in August.

Compensation fund adviser Kenneth Feinberg says in his weekly report that 100 claims for compensation have now been approved – 42 for deaths and 58 for injuries.

Advisors for the plan have made 57 offers to victims and paid out 22 offers, the Detroit News reports.

So far, the victim compensation plan, which began accepting claims on August 1, has received 2,326 claims for injuries and deaths, 62 of which were submitted just last week.

According to the weekly report submitted by Feinberg, the number of death claims submitted increased by 11 from 239 to 250 claims, while those for serious injury increased by six from 150 to 156 claims. The remaining submissions were for less serious injuries.

Of the submitted claims 306 have been rejected, including 46 death claims. Another 568 – including 83 death claims – have been ruled deficient, while another 907 don’t have verifying information.

According to Feinberg only two of the initial 13 deaths linked by GM to the ignition issue have yet to seek compensation. However, he says they are expected to file. Of course, some of those 13 victims’ families did not know they were included among the acknowledged fatalities until after finding out from reporters.

Back in November, Feinberg caved to pressure from advocates and Congress and agreed to extend the claim submission cutoff to January 31, one month longer than the initial deadline of December 31.

At the time of that announcement, Feinberg said GM would send out additional notices to 850,000 vehicle owners.

Officials with GM previously said they expect to spend $400 million on claims, but that the figure could rise as high as $600 million.

When the fund was launched over the summer, GM said there would be no cap to the claims, but that compensation would be tied to the level of injury and loss experienced. An approved death claim is expected to result in an offer of compensation for at least $1 million, plus payments of $300,000 to surviving family members.

Consumers who suffered life-altering injuries could receive even more when the cost of lifetime medical care, lost earnings power and other factors are considered.

The plan also addresses consumers who faced less-severe injuries. Those who were treated at a hospital or an outpatient medical facility within 48 hours of the accident are eligible for a claim.

The formula for that claim is $20,000 for one night in the hospital; $70,000 for two to seven overnights, $170,000 for eight to 15 overnights, with a maximum of $500,000 for 32 or more overnights. Those treated on an outpatient basis could receive a maximum of $20,000.

The claimants are not obligated to accept the compensation, but if they do take the money they give up their rights to pursue legal action against GM with regard to the ignition defect.
The compensation program covers approximately 1.6 million model-year 2003-2007 recalled vehicles manufactured with an ignition switch defect and approximately 1 million model year 2008-2011 recalled vehicles that may have been repaired with a recalled ignition switch.

GM compensation fund approves 4 new death claims [The Detroit News]

From Guacamole To Coffee To Beef To Bourbon, Your Favorite Things Will Cost More In 2015

Mon, 2014-12-15 22:07

(Andrew McDaniel)

(Andrew McDaniel)

While the prices on certain things will inevitably decrease in the coming year — like the cost of my 1989 Daihatsu Charade or the amount of money I need to spend on shampoo — lots of things are expected to get pricier. Unfortunately, a number of these more expensive items are probably on many of your “things I really enjoy” lists.

DealNews.com has a rundown of more than a dozen items that will likely see a price hike in the coming year, some because they’re more in-demand, others because of resource shortages, and others because they are plane tickets whose pricing is a mystery.

The list is a big bummer to sybarites on a budget, as some of your indulgences are undoubtedly included.

There’s bourbon, which may or may not be experiencing a bona find shortage, but which has definitely seen increased sales in recent years. And when you have a higher demand on a product that takes years to age properly, prices are going to go up regardless of whether the shortage is real or manufactured.

To go along with your pricier bourbon, how about a more expensive steak or pork tenderloin? Or you could just enjoy that Bourbon Caramel shake from Red Robin. However you choose to pair your meat and booze, be prepared to pay more as the already soaring price of beef and pork will continue to rise.

And what party is complete without guacamole? Probably a lot of them if the predicted avocado shortage happens and prices rise in 2015. The higher cost of avocados was already one of the contributors to Chipotle’s first menu price change in years.

When dessert rolls around, we hope you don’t crave too much chocolate, because the world is apparently short on that too, with farmers in Africa taking a hit from too-dry weather and a fungus that wiped out a third of their crops.

If you can’t have chocolate, at least you’ll be able to enjoy a post-dinner coffee, right? Yes, but it will probably continue to cost you more, following a drought in Brazil.

And don’t plan on getting away from it all — at least not cheaply — as airfares are expected to continue to rise in price even while the cost of jet fuel sinks. Perhaps the mere threat of a federal investigation will start a price war among the tiny number of domestic airlines still operating, but until then don’t expect too many deals next year.

For the full list, check out DealNews.com.

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