Santa’s not the only one with a list. Consumer Reports released its annual “Naughty & Nice” list today, a way to highlight company policies and practices that deserve cheers or jeers.
The list is based on suggestions from the magazine’s staff as well as Facebook fans. The 100 nominees were whittled down to 10 naughty and 10 nice.
Tod Marks, Consumer Reports’ senior editor, says the companies on the naughty list have “hidden or tricky fees, fine print or generally unfriendly practices.” Those on the nice list “went the extra mile” to make sure their customers were happy patrons.
Consumer Reports stresses that this list is not an evaluation or rating of a company. It’s a thumbs up or down on a specific policy or practice.
“We have companies that we like a lot when we rate them, but they make the naughty list, and vice versa,” Marks explained.
In preparing this year’s Naughty & Nice list, Marks read a lot of the comments posted on the Consumer Reports Facebook page. He told me he noticed a lot of angst and aggravation.
“People are really ticked off because they don’t feel they have a voice,” he said. “When they want to get information or complain about something, they can’t get a live human being on the phone or they’re kept on hold for an inordinate amount of time. They feel like their complaints are falling on deaf ears."
Here are some of the companies that made the Nice list:
- Honda got a shout out for putting rearview cameras – a safety feature normally reserved for high-end vehicles – on most of its 2013 models. The cameras are now standard on all Honda trucks and SUVs, as well as the top-selling Accord and Civic.
- Publix, one of the top-rated supermarket chains in Consumer Reports surveys, won praise for its policy of giving customers an item for free if the scanned price at checkout is more than the shelf price or advertised price. Years ago, this was common practice at many supermarkets.
Many of the companies won praise for their generous return policy.
- OXO guarantees all its ergonomically-designed housewares. If you are not completely satisfied, return it for a refund or replacement.
- Safeway promises “fresh and delicious” produce every time. If you don’t like that mushy melon or bruised apple, bring it back for a refund or replacement.
- Red Wing Shoe Company offers an unconditional 30-day comfort guarantee. If you don’t like the way those shoes feel, bring them back for a refund or exchange, no questions asked.
- Nordstrom got a tip of the hat for its free shipping and free returns on all orders.
- Kohl’s made the list for its “No Questions Asked – Hassle-Free” return policy for all purchases, whether online or in-store. There is no time limit. The editors say such a generous policy is uncommon for middle-of-the road retailers.
Here are some of the companies on the Naughty list:
- Spirit Airlines offers super-low prices, but it landed here for its new fee – as much as $100 – for carry-on bags that won’t fit under the seat and must be stowed in the overhead bins. “That’s more than you would pay for a checked bag!” Marks exclaimed. The carry-on fee depends on when you let the airline know you’ll need the over-head bin space: in advance, at the airport or at the gate.
- Ticketmaster was cited for charging customers $2.50 per order to print their tickets at home. The editors said that charge is “especially hard to justify” since Ticketmaster will mail those same tickets for free if you book far enough in advance. The company says tickets are sent out a leisurely 10 to 14 days after purchase.
- Forever 21, the apparel store, got dinged for its return policy. If you return an online order to a retail location you can only exchange the item or get a store credit. But if you mail it back, you can get a refund. “It would be nice if the policy was consistent all around,” Marks said.
- CompUSA was called out for automatically adding a “free” download for antivirus software to some purchases. Consumer Reports shopped the site and found that it was not made clear this free subscription only lasted six months. If it wasn’t cancelled before then, there would be a charge of $49.99. “We have a pet peeve about those freebies that are automatically added to orders that force people to unclick the item so it’s not added to the shopping cart,” Marks explained.
- Tiger Direct.com got slammed for its restocking policy which is “vague” and has one of the highest penalty fees around. Among other things, Tiger Direct requires returned items to be in the same condition as when sold and in the original packaging. The company says all returns “will be inspected and products found to be non-conforming will be rejected or subject to a restocking fee” of up to 25 percent at the company’s sole discretion. It’s not clear what triggers that maximum fee.
Lessons to be learned
Tod Marks has been watching retail practices for decades, so he doesn’t expect companies to change their policies based on the magazine’s Naughty & Nice list. He does hope it encourages people to be better consumers.
“If nothing else, this exercise will show people how important it is to read the fine print and understand that companies do have very divergent policies,” he said. “It makes sense to understand them and be an informed shopper before you make the purchase."
Read the complete list of Consumer Reports Naughty & Nice List 2012