Are you ready for this? I saved $4300 because I had access to the Internet. How? I didn't sign up for DirectBuy.
It started when I saw an ad in the Los Angeles Times for DirectBuy, a company that says it'll save you money on lots of merchandise. Choose from patio, bedroom, living room, and home office furniture, home-improvement supplies, electronics, and, oh, gosh, just about anything.
Buy direct, they say, and bypass the retailer--as well as the retailer's pesky markup.
Of course, there's a membership fee. But here's the challenge: Visit the DirectBuy site and tell me what that fee is or maybe what you get when you join. Give up?
DirectBuy: What's Wrong With This Picture?
I'm inherently suspicious and my synapses were firing up. I Googled "DirectBuy" and hit pay dirt.
In the interest of self-preservation (my attorney, Bernie, said, "Bass, keep your mouth shut."), here's a list of sites that talk about DirectBuy. Give them a look, then come to your own conclusions.
- Consumer Reports recently posted an article that'll give you some insights into DirectBuy's tactics; see "With DirectBuy, it will cost you a lot to save."
- InfomercialRatings.com has ratings and reviews about DirectBuy.
- Ripoff Report also has product and company reviews. Here are the results from a search on Direct Buy.
Apparently, you shouldn't say negative things about DirectBuy. The company sent a cease-and-desist letter to infomercialblog.com (read the blog about it). DirectBuy copyrighted the letter, saying it couldn't be posted online. Public Citizen, a nonprofit public interest organization, fired off a response in its blog (see "Don't Post This Cease-and-Desist Letter, or Else").
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Assurz: Want to Pay for Peace of Mind?
"You want the five-year extended warranty?"
That's what I inevitably hear from the concerned--and salivating--salesperson as I make a major purchase. I can almost understand the rationale on, say, an HDTV or refrigerator. But too often they even pitch it when I buy a $30 MP3 player.
This drives me nuts for a couple of reasons. Philosophically, I can't stand the idea that a manufacturer wouldn't believe their product can withstand a year's worth of use. It's capitalism at its best, trying to squeeze every nickel out of my pocket.
At the end of the salesperson's pitch, I always turn them down.
It might be that consumers aren't buying extended warranties, so retailers have a new strategy. They're teaming up with Assurz, a third-party company that, through the retailer, sells a 90-day return guarantee. It essentially gives you three months to play with the product. If you're unhappy with it, pack it up in a prepaid shipping box, send it back, and you'll get all your money back, including tax and shipping.
What's It Cost?
Of course, it isn't free. You pay a fee--about 3 percent of the cost of the product. On a $1600 computer, say, the guarantee would cost you $48.
I don't think Assurz is worth it for run-of-the-mill products, especially those that cost under $300 or so. But there are a couple situations where the fee could be worth it.
The first is for a big purchase you're unsure about--a $2500 HDTV, say. Who knows, you may be afraid it's not really what you want; you won't like the picture after watching for a while; or you'll just get buyer's regret. So a $75 insurance policy might be a good idea.
The other reason might be that you found that HDTV for a great price, but you're feeling queasy about the company you're buying from. You might be getting a refurbished product or something that was returned by another customer. For $75, you won't have to fight with the company to take it back.
The Fine Print
Is there a catch? Probably, but I can't find it.
Assurz's FAQ says that the company will refund your money only if "the merchant can't return or exchange your merchandise in a satisfactory manner."
I plucked out a few items from the Assurz FAQ that answer my other questions.
- Merchants can exempt certain products from the program at their discretion. That means an "as is" product is yours to keep, no matter what.
- You can buy the guarantee only from participating merchants and have to buy it when you check out on the site.
- Assurz can reject your request for a refund and there are products that it won't cover. For that info, you need to read the fine print on Assurz's Terms and Conditions page.
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