Category Archives: Shopping

EFF’s Handy E-Reader Privacy Chart

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, on whose Advisory Board I have the honor to serve, has released a very useful chart about how much your e-reader can spy on your reading habits — just in time for holiday shopping.

Posted in Shopping | 3 Comments

Final Sears Treadmill Delivery Disaster Post

Where is my treadmill?If you’re here because of the Running in Place, Before the Treadmill Ever Arrived, by David Segal in the New York Times’s Haggler Column, welcome.

To read my treadmill posts in order, just start with the first one, Why I Do Not Have A Treadmill (Sears Can’t Deliver). There’s a link to the next one at the end of each post.

In the days since the treadmill was actually delivered, I got my new receipt for warranty purposes, and I’ve had calls from four different live human non-robotic folks in the Sears delivery/fulfillment/mess-containment hierarchy asking if everything is OK. The last was the most interesting: it was from “Donna” in Sears HQ, who is apparently in charge of straightening out the delivery mess that someone in Sears has figured out they have (she made it sound as if this job predated my experiences). Donna started out by asking me who I had dealt with in a way that suggested something messy would roll downhill; I said most of the people I had dealt with had actually been very nice, they just seemed trapped in an evil system. According to Donna there is a way to stop the robocalls, and she seemed peeved that no one had trained front-line staff in how to do that. And she offered me a $100 gift certificate; perhaps I will have to set foot in Sears to use it, we’ll see.

Donna and I had a long chat, during which I think I learned that the call center operations are going to be repatriated from the Philippines, something I’ve read many other firms are also doing. And Steps Will Be Taken about delivery problems. On the one hand, it seems good that Sears is working on its delivery/fulfillment problems. On the other hand, there was one aspect of the conversation that I found very odd. I asked Donna — purportedly the person in charge of sorting this stuff out — if she’d had a look at the I Hate Sears website. If I were in charge of fixing something, the first thing I’d want to know is what the symptoms were. Donna said she hadn’t been able to bring herself to do that because of the term “hate”. Donna, if you are reading this, you really should go over there and see what all the commentators are complaining about.

Meanwhile, however, here is the full list of my treadmill-related posts:

  1. Why I Do Not Have A Treadmill (Sears Can’t Deliver)
  2. Monday Treadmill Update
  3. Tuesday Sears Update: Important Information About Your Treadmill
  4. On the Treadmill Treadmill
  5. Yup
  6. Sears Can’t Deliver Email Either (Updated)
  7. In Case You Were Wondering
  8. Sears Treadmill Saga Notes
  9. Sears Feels the Power of the Press
  10. A Quick Dispatch from the Treadmill Front
  11. The Grand Finale (Probably)
  12. The Consumerist
  13. Final Sears Treadmill Delivery Disaster Post

PS. While you’re here, look around. I also write about a politics, law, technology, and other things.

Posted in Shopping | 4 Comments

And Another Thing (No Boingo Wifi at MIA)

While I’m on a tear about bad customer service experiences (are we jinxed?) I should mention my unhappy discovery that Miami International Airport (MIA) has reconfigured its wifi services to try to milk the customer as much as possible. It used to be that you could get roaming access at MIA through Boingo, just as you can at almost every other major US airport. If you flew an average of once a month this was a good option — wifi on this end and that end of the journey, for about half the price of two day passes, plus access at random other hotspots here and there. If you had stopovers or connections Boingo just paid for itself further.

But now although MIA still boasts about having Boingo, it doesn’t. I called Boingo the other day to ask why they don’t serve MIA any more and Boingo said that I had to ask MIA, it was their decision.

The current wifi carrier list at MIA is:

BT Openzone
T-Mobile Polska
Tata Indicom

WeRoam is I think a placeholder for some other services, but Boingo isn’t one of them. Of the suppliers on that list, only AT&T is a US-based service, and it charges $19.95/month — about double what Boingo wants…if you can even find the very well hidden signup page for AT&T’s “premium” (includes airports) service. I got as far as this page and gave up when the “buy now” button produced a “not found” error.

No doubt many people will say I either shouldn’t bother, bring a book, or just accept being ripped off for $7.95 for one day’s wifi, even though that’s almost what Boingo charges for a month, just like I have to accept being ripped off for bottled water inside security. Yet it does seem like a remarkably customer-unfriendly move for MIA. I’ve emailed MDAD Deputy Director of Business Retention and Develoopment Miguel Southwell to ask about this, but I’m not hopeful. Hey guys, don’t you know that FLL offers free wifi throughout the terminal?

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The Consumerist

The Consumerist linked to and summarized my treadmill saga with a typically pungent headline, Sears Annoys The Crap Out Of Customer For Weeks, Still Doesn’t Deliver Treadmill.

[Next Installment: Final Sears Treadmill Delivery Disaster Post]

Posted in Blogs, Shopping | 1 Comment

The Grand Finale (Probably)

At about 9am, a big truck pulls up outside my house.

The other truck is AWOL, but the guys on this team decide to go it alone. Four guys wouldn’t fit on my staircase anyway, one of them says.

A bit after 9:30 the other team arrives. Apparently they had to go back en route to pick up an extra mattress, and didn’t get the call from the first team not to bother showing up.

So everyone pitches in and is busy screwing things in.

One piece goes in backwards at first, but they quickly get it right.

And by 10am….I have a treadmill:

I haven’t gotten a new bill yet, though, so perhaps this isn’t quite the last chapter….

[Next: The Consumerist]


Posted in Shopping | 6 Comments

A Quick Dispatch from the Treadmill Front

Where is my treadmill?A different Sears bot called last night to say we should expect delivery of our treadmill between 8am and 9am today. Last night we moved the dining table and the heavy sofa to clear a path to the staircase; this morning we made the bed so the room would look nice for the delivery people.

Yesterday I also got an email from telling me they were refunding my payment.

Dear Sears Customer, 
Thank you for your order with!
In regard to order number ##########, a credit in the amount of $#####.## was issued to your account today.  This credit was issued because of your cancelled order.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. 
This credit should be viewable by your financial institution within 72 hours.  If you have any questions, please contact your financial institution after that period to verify receipt of the credit to your account. Please note, your financial institution may have processing guidelines for posting credits that may impact the time it takes for the credit to be reflected in your balance.
If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail us at or call us at 1-800-283-6940.  We hope you visit us again soon at 
Karla G.
Sears Online Customer Care

(It’s odd that no one at Sears seems to have last names.)

I took this to mean that Sears has no other way to book what it sees as an ‘exchange’ of my non-existent treadmill for an actually existing one – that thing the rest of us call ‘delivery’. And I presume that I’ll have to sign a new credit card slip for the new treadmill when they deliver it.

This morning around 8:10 – just about when the other bot used to call – a human phoned to say they’d actually be here between 9am and 9:30.

I’m still hoping that the end may be in sight.

[Next installment: The Grand Finale (Probably)]


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Citizens Insurance Wants to Turn Me Into ‘Take Out’

Apparently, there’s still some chance to block Citizens Insurance company’s $350M part-loan part-giveaway program that involves a subsidy plan to use my premiums to pay private insurers to take over its policies. On the other hand powerful figures in the state GOP are lining up to support gifts to their friends.

My experience suggests the program isn’t necessary: although the program is not operating yet I’ve gotten my first letter of the post-hurricane season from a new, small, (fly-by-night?) insurance company called Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty (HCI) that has got me on its menu as “Take Out”.

“Take-out” is how Citizens refers to the policies cherry-picked by private insurance companies. And perhaps because I live relatively far from water and thus face less flood risk, I’m the cherry.

These letters follow a form. They have threats about how awful Citizens will be, threats founded in fact if skewed to the worst case. They are opt-out only: do nothing and I will be transferred to the new company about which I know nothing.

When I got the letter, HCI didn’t even disclose the terms of the policy they are offering me. Although the letter contains vague language about covering “other structures,” like gazebos, that I don’t happen to have, and mentions some “coverage options”, the real meat was supposed to be online. I was invited to go online to view financial info and see “a coverage comparison”. There is some financial information about HCI at Citizens’ “Take-out Companies” page, but when I visited last week, there was nothing about policy terms there. Checking back today, however, I find that there is now a summary coverage analysis document. Bottom line: very little difference — for now.

And of course there’s no reason to believe the premiums will be any less with any given company than with Citizens’: HCI is required to keep my policy for at least 10 years (unless they go broke first), provide “substantially the same coverage” as Citizens for the first three years, and limit rate increases to 10 percent per policy per year. Such comfort.

HCI’s homepage is not much use to me either. They tell me they are rated “A Exceptional” by Demotech, which is the rating agency for insurance companies too small to get a rating from AM Best. Looking at Demotech’s site, I find that “Exceptional” is only the third-best rating (everyone is waay above average here!), and means that according to some model (about which we are told nothing) Demotech thinks that 97% of the companies with this rating will be solvent 18 months from now. An A rating puts HCI in the top 70% of companies rated by Demotech. Yes, top 70%! (Not surprisingly, the Demotech ratings have been accused of being inflated.)

A little Internet searching tells me HCI just recently doubled in size by taking over policies from HomeWise, a failed insurance company. Was that before or after they got their rating?

Given that Governor Scott’s team, gripped by anti-government ideology, seeks to destroy Citizens Insurance by continually raising premiums and cutting coverage even though Citizens now has the $6+ billion reserves we always were told it would need to be solvent, I might actually be prepared to consider opting out some day despite my earlier reluctance. But I’d have to know what I was getting, and to have more confidence about the company I was going to than HCI has been willing or able to provide.

The track record so far for these insurance startups is sort of what I’d expect:

The granddaddy of onetime Citizens’ takeout companies, Poe Financial Group, was swamped with hurricane payouts and fell into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in August 2006 after storms caused more damage than it could cover. To pay for Poe, the state assessed everyone in Florida who buys homeowner or auto insurance. Lightning struck again with Magnolia Insurance, which was the biggest participant in a Citizens takeout program in 2009, the year before it went out of business. Another takeout firm, HomeWise Insurance Co., failed in 2011 and its policies were assumed by Tampa-based Homeowners Choice, which is the single-biggest takeout company participating in this round. Scott Wallace, the past president of Citizens Property Insurance, is now president of Homeowners Choice.

Looks like I’m opting out of this one too.

Update (10/11): Great article on some of the pros and cons of opting-out of Citizens from Tampa Bay Times. Where is the Miami Herald on all this? Fun fact: 30% of Citizens policy holders opted out last time letters went out — that’s a lot for an opt-out program. Citizens is cranking up the propaganda to reduce that number.

Posted in Econ & Money, Florida, Shopping | 7 Comments