Online purchases: avoid some common pitfalls
Almost-hidden extras and booking charges can drain your web-shopping wallet
Online shopping: you will most likely have been left perplexed at some of the offers and practices that proliferate.
Online shopping is supposed to be quick, easy and efficient. And it is, most of the time at least. However, it can also sometimes feel like it’s been designed to confuse, obfuscate and annoy. Or is that just me?
If you’re a regular purchaser of goods and services online, you will most likely have been left perplexed – and annoyed – at times at some of the offers and practices that now seem to proliferate.
Here are some things you might need to tread carefully with:
It’s a strategy you may already be familiar with, from back in the days when one well-known airline kept you on your toes when booking to avoid accidentally purchasing extras such as travel insurance. But it’s not the only one at it. Consider missed event insurance.
It’s undoubtedly useful for some people, who have a genuine fear that they might not be able to attend an event, and thus have need of insurance to cover the costs should they be unable to make it.
Currently on offer in Ireland from Allianz Global Assistance when you buy a ticket for a concert or sporting event via Ticketmaster, missed event insurance means you’ll get 100 per cent of the cost of the ticket price returned to you, if you can’t attend for any reason, such as illness or traffic delay. It covers costs up to €1,000, “but no more than the face value of your event ticket”.
For most people however, it’s an unnecessary expense – and one that they might inadvertently end up purchasing.
If you’ve purchased tickets on Ticketmaster.ie of late for example, you may be familiar with it. During the course of purchasing, you arrive at a section entitled “insure your tickets”.
If you’re keenly watching what you do, you should see this and skip over it; if however, you’re also watching Netflix and eating your dinner while doing so, it can be easy to sign up for this insurance without realising it.
According to the insurer, you will be presented with a “yes” or “no” button as to whether or not you want to buy the insurance, and “the only way you can add missed event insurance to your purchase is by selecting the ‘yes’ option” as, when you press nothing, it will default to no.
While a spokeswoman for Allianz says that only about 0.01 per cent of Irish customers who bought the policy so far this year actually complained about it, it declined to disclose how many people cancelled it - and yet it seems that a significant number of us are doing so.
The company is clearly aware of the chance of mistakenly buying the policy, and then looking to cancel it. Consider its response on its helpline, where the first sentence you hear is: “If you’re calling to cancel your missed event insurance”. Or how about, if you email the company – and you could be doing so about anything – you’ll get an automated response informing you: “If you have requested a refund of your insurance premium, please allow five to seven working days for your request to be processed.”
By signing up for your money off voucher at Debenhams.ie, you are also – potentially inadvertently – signing up to become a member of Complete Savings, for a 30-day free trial, and thereafter at a cost of €15 a month (€180 a year)
This brings us to another issue – having to wait for a refund of money you didn’t realise you had spent. And, of course, some people may not realise they ever bought it.
Allianz gives you a 14 days “cooling-off period”, standard in insurance, to cancel and get a full refund. However, the way in which it is sold may mean that many people will miss this deadline and it will turn up on your credit or debit card bill as “Allianz Tktmaster”.
The cost of the product is not insignificant. Typically, it depends on the cost of the ticket you’re insuring. Tickets for Taylor Swift’s June concert in Croke Park, for example, will set you back between €74.50 and €144, plus about €5 insurance per ticket, while tickets for a recent rugby match (€35) in the Aviva had a insurance premium of €3.27 a ticket.
But can you do anything about this other than complain to the company?
We checked with the Central Bank and they said that, if a consumer is unhappy with the service offered by a regulated firm, and unhappy with its response, it can raise its complaint with the Financial Services Ombudsman.
MONEY OFF VOUCHERS
You’ve bought something on Debenhams.ie, completed your transaction and you’re offered a €15 voucher off your next purchase with the UK retail giant.
Sound like a good deal?
Well it’s not an unusual occurrence to be rewarded for your purchase with an online retailer, what might surprise, however, is that Debenhams has linked up with an outside provider, Complete Savings, to offer it.
And not only that. By signing up for your money off voucher, you are also – potentially inadvertently – signing up to become a member of Complete Savings, for a 30-day free trial, and thereafter at a cost of €15 a month (€180 a year).
But what is it?
Operated by Webloyalty International, a Swiss-based company, Complete Savings offers Irish customers the chance of discounts with a range of retailers by linking up with well-known names like Debenhams, Ticketmaster and Irish Rail.
In 2016, according to its accounts, Webloyalty had turnover of some £14.6 million from its UK and Irish operations, and had more than 550,000 customers sign up for the company’s programmes.
According to a spokesman for the company, consumers are offered the chance to join the scheme once they complete an online purchase with one of its partner companies. Once a member, they will get “cash back at many leading online retailers”. It promises that you can save up to €300 a month – all for the princely sum of “only €15 a month” with the first month free.
“We will send your cheques to you automatically!” the company promises.
Of course if you spend enough online in general, maybe you will quickly make your €15 back; but there seems to be little guarantee of this, as it’s difficult to know what you’ve signed up for – until you have done so.
The spokesman says benefits include a 10 per cent cashback when shopping at a wide variety of stores, and up to 20 per cent off popular high street gift cards. Brands advertised on its website include Easons, Groupon, JD Sports, Dorothy Perkins, and Living Social.
But when asked for details on specific promotions, the spokesman said that the amount on offer is “influenced by the usage profile” and wasn’t forthcoming with any further details.
So if you don’t know what savings you’re going to make, you should tread carefully when considering it.
The other issue is the way consumers are introduced to the concept, and the potentially misleading ruse of offering a discount after you’ve just done business with a retailer, by signing up with another company.
The spokesman says that customers can only sign up through a “clear, four-step process”, which includes entering their name, address, email address and 16-digit credit or debit card details.
“Customers cannot join Complete Savings by simply clicking on our banner advertisement. They would always have to manually complete our sign-up page and submit it in order to become a member,” he says.
Debenhams, which says it first started its partnership with Complete Savings back in 2015, appears not to be concerned. When asked if it had concerns that shoppers may inadvertently sign up for the scheme, a spokeswoman said that they go to the sign-up page “where it is clearly stated that, in order to claim the offered cashback, you need to sign up to the Complete Savings programme”.
But it’s not like the company itself isn’t aware of it. In its most recent financial report, Webloyalty International says that, given the “nature of the product and services” it offers, “there will always be a number of complaints received by them”.
Identifying this as a potential reputational risk, Webloyalty says that the media could highlight “violations of notions of fair dealing with customers” and this could harm its brand and reputation in the UK and Ireland, “making it more difficult for the company to sign up new clients”.
This time it’s not about Ticketmaster, but rather another ticket operator Viagogo. As Conor Pope recently explained in his Pricewatch column Irish ticket buyers are getting caught unawares by the hefty charges imposed by concert reselling site, Viagogo.
The website has a section which details its fees; however, don’t expect much information. It simply says that it charges buyers “a service fee on top of the ticket price” but makes no mention of what that fee might be. It also adds the kicker that “service fee amounts may vary by event”.
When asked, Viagogo would not tell us its service fees. Alarm bells should go off for consumers when they’re not being told clearly how much something should cost. After all, this means that most consumers will embark upon their forage for tickets unaware of how much it might cost them.
The sales process involves four steps; first, you pick your tickets, then you enter your delivery information followed by payment details, and finally, you get to review it. And all the time there is a clock ticking down, and icons saying “Hurry Up! X other people are viewing this event.”
While the website does show the total cost, it’s in the top left-hand corner of the page rather than front and central, which means that some people may miss it, and it takes a couple of steps for it to show up.
And the charges are considerable. Consider two tickets for an upcoming Ed Sheeran gig in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork. On the day we looked at the site, you could buy two tickets for the princely sum of €158 and a “booking fee” of €55 per ticket (plus Vat). That’s a charge of 34 per cent.
As the tickets originally went on sale at €81-€91, you’re paying a mark-up of some 150 per cent for your tickets in total.
Or how about tickets for last week’s (sold out) Andre Rieu concerts in the 3Arena. Originally available from €45, Viagogo was selling them from €86. But when charges were added, the ticket price came to €121.22, with a €30 booking fee – again a charge of 34 per cent.
Sometimes, of course, these tickets will have sold out rapidly and will be unavailable elsewhere, which means you may be willing to pay a premium just to attend. But perhaps not quite the premium you will have to pay once service charges etc are totted up.