NEW YORK (MainStreet) Consumer Reports has put on its Santa hat and compiled its annual list of company policies that are naughty or nice.
"We put big-name companies under the glare of the magnifying glass during a hectic time of the year when folks are very vulnerable," said Tod Marks, senior editor for Consumer Reports.
"We wanted people to know that looking for a low price is just the beginning," Marks explained. "Consumers could pay more in the long run if they fail to read the fine print and are not aware of companies' policies."
The list runs the gamut from retailers to telecom companies and airlines. Some companies have been scorned for adding extra fees or restricting returns, while others have been praised for frequently sending out generous coupons or offering penalty-free flight changes, even at the last minute.
Consumer Reports certainly checked its list twice, but gathered data from the magazine staff's personal experiences, Facebook comments and companies' fine print.
Here's a sampling of five naughty company policies, followed by five nice ones. Consumer Reports emphasizes that they are in no particular order and are indicative of policies, not the companies as a whole.
Toys 'R' Us
At this store, Black Friday shoppers might have had to hand over more cash than usual this year, since the toy giant has suspended its price-match policy on the mega shopping day. It also turned its nose at price matching during the week leading up to Black Friday, beginning Novenber 25 and ending on Cyber Monday, which fell on December 2.
"One of the things that really jumped out at us was Best Buy's [returns] practice," said Marks. Apparently, the electronics giant requires customers to present a photo ID when making a return and then records information regarding each return in a database to detect any possible patterns. If returns seem suspicious, the store reserves the right to suspend a customer from returns for 90 days.
"I heard about some trouble that a customer ran into when he bought three sets of headphones with hopes to test them out and return two," Marks said. "He brought two back in original packaging, in pristine condition, but was then prohibited from returning anything else for the next 90 days."
The online retailer recently boosted its minimum requirement for its free Super Saver shipping on eligible items by $10, to $35. "I mean, this is a company that is the eleventh largest retailer with more than $61 billion in annual sales," Marks said. "I don't know what's in their heads, but this might be to get customers to sign up for Amazon Prime, which costs $79 a year. Do they really need to do that?"
The airline now prohibits preboarding for coach passengers with young children. According to the company's policy, "families with infants or with children who are under the age of 4 may board the aircraft when their group number is called."
Raymour & Flanigan
The retailer's deferred-interest credit card lets customers pay for purchases interest-free for a certain period of time. However, if the entire amount isn't paid off by the end of the promotional period, the high interest rate gets applied retroactively to the entire original balance.
"It can be brutal if you missed one payment and get interest charged back to day one," Marks said.
This company practice joins the ranks of Apple, Walmart and Best Buy, among others.
Bed Bath & Beyond
The retailer frequently sends 20% discount coupons to customers and even allows customers to bring in a receipt of a past purchase with the newly acquired coupon to get a price adjustment.
The store brought back its layaway program and eliminated the $5 administrative fee required to open the account. However, shoppers still need to put down $10 or 10% of the product's price, whichever is greater, and will get hit with a $10 cancellation fee if they change their mind.
The airline allows customers to modify an itinerary at any time. There's no penalty, and passengers are only required to pay the cost difference between fares.
"We really liked them, because their generous return policy allows customers to return any product at any time for any reason, even if the product has already been monogrammed," Marks said.
The consumer electronics and entertainment retailer has made waves with its social media strategy, using technology to communicate with customers and respond quickly to inquiries and issues.
--Written by Renee Morad for MainStreet