Consumer Reports: 2011 naughty & nice in customer service

By Andy Wise - bio | email

(WMC TV) - Some get praise wrapped in pretty colors.

Others get the proverbial lump of coal in their stockings.

Below is Consumer Reports' round-up of its 2011 "Naughty & Nice" list in customer service. The magazine compiles the annual list based on input from its reporters and editors, as well as from visitors to its Facebook page and from visitors to its sister site, The Consumerist (

These are the winners and losers who serve Mid-South consumers:


* AMERICAN EXPRESS. Consumer Reports gave AmEx high praise for being able to refund the full purchase price of covered items purchased with the card -- up to $300 -- when cardholders are unsuccessful in returning them to a merchant within 90 days.

* ORVIS ( Many e-tailers encourage customer questions by phone or e-mail.  But Orvis, an outdoors gear retailer, goes the extra step if a customer lingers on a product long enough, initiating dialog via live chat.

* CRUTCHFIELD ( Consumer Reports said the online electronics merchant offers help with installation, set-up, trouble-shooting 24/7 and tech support at no extra charge for the life of the purchase.

* COSTCO. A perennial "nice" winner on Consumer Reports' list. The chain has a generous return policy and provides free tech support for many of the electronics it sells. It automatically extends the manufacturer's warranty on TV's and computers to TWO YEARS from the purchase date.

* AMAZON.COM. The e-tailer has taken a stand against wasteful and hard-to-open product packaging.

* MICROSOFT. Consumers dissatisfied with a Microsoft software or hardware purchase from any retailer can send it back to Microsoft within 45 days for a refund, as well as a reimbursement of shipping costs up to $7.


* AIRTRAN. Consumer Reports docked the Orlando-based airline because its editors said the airline's discounted coach and sale-fare flights don't include the price of reserving a seat. CR's folks said if you wish to select your seat when you book online, AirTran will hit you with an extra $6 to $20 charge EACH WAY.

"AirTran allows our customers to pay for pre-assigned seating," said Ashley Dillon, spokesperson for both Southwest Airlines and AirTran, its wholly-owned subsidiary. "However, it is strictly an option for those customers who place significant importance on sitting together or in a premium seat location.

"Customers who do not wish to choose their seat ahead of time are not penalized as they can check in online 24 hours in advance of their flight and take their pick from the remaining seats. Southwest is reviewing AirTran policies and fees and will work towards alignment as the carriers integrate over the next few years."

* RADIOSHACK. Consumer Reports said the electronics retailer acknowledges that it sometimes charges different prices for the same item. When one of the magazine's readers shopped for an HDMI audio-video cable, the store price was nearly twice the online price. When asked why, a RadioShack customer service supervisor told the reader he couldn't do anything about the discrepancy and directed the reader to RadioShack's fine print on its website.

* VERIZON WIRELESS. According to Consumer Reports, Verizon Wireless told the Federal Communications Commission that it voluntarily provides ample warning to customers who are about to exceed their monthly allotment of minutes, messages or data, so it wouldn't be necessary for the feds to make such an alert mandatory. But CR caught Verizon admitting to something else. Two of the magazine's staffers who are Verizon customers were notified only after they went over their allotment. When they contacted Verizon, they said an agent tried to up-sell them a more expensive data plan. CR said a Verizon spokesperson acknowledged that its voluntary alert system isn't always reliable.

* SOUTHWEST AIRLINES (merging with AirTran). Consumer Reports said Southwest travelers who want to check in online earlier than the usual 24 hours before take-off will get popped with an extra $10 fee. It doesn't sound like much, but CR's point is travelers get dinged for doing the right thing:  checking in early and trying to improve their boarding positions.

"After being on Consumer Reports' 'nice list' in 2010 for our Bags Fly Free policy, Southwest Airlines is disappointed to be on this year's 'naughty list'," said Dillon. "Our Early Bird product is an optional product specifically designed for our customers who like the ease of being checked in online automatically and the guarantee of an early boarding position.

"At only $10, we feel this is an added bonus to those customers for which early boarding is a priority. As has been our policy for 40 years, our customers are able to choose whatever seat they want once they board their Southwest flight."

* GAMESTOP. Consumer Reports hammered the video game retailer for what it described as a "laundry list of conditions governing returns and exchanges." CR's editors singled out a particular proclamation in GameStop's conditions:  "We reserve the right to refuse any return."

"The goal of GameStop's return policy is to provide solutions for our customers," said GameStop spokesperson Beth Sharum. "Our holiday return policies go beyond, or are comparable, to other major consumer electronics retailers.

"Understanding that the gift-giving season is an especially hectic time, we are offering a holiday gift givers guarantee, that extends our normal return and exchange policy for any purchase made between October 9 through December 24, to January 15, 2012. Our regular year-round return exchange/return policies are:  unopened merchandise can be returned or exchanged with a receipt within thirty days and pre-owned merchandise may be returned with a receipt within seven days."

Copyright 2011 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.