Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Amazon Accused of Cheating Customers Through Shipping Costs -

Amazon Accused of Cheating Customers Through Shipping Costs - 

Amazon claims that a $79 annual membership for Amazon Prime provides free two-day shipping on "millions" of items, but for some products, the company is accused of encouraging sellers to inflate shipping prices, according to two recent lawsuits.

“The bottom line is the free shipping that Amazon offered to its Prime members wasn’t free,” said Kim Stephens, attorney for one of the plaintiffs, adding that he was “shocked” by Amazon’s alleged pricing practices.

Marcia Burke of Alabama says she became an Amazon Prime member and used its "free shipping" service at least 18 times in 2010, according to her lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in Seattle. Prime-eligible products are designated on Amazon's website.

In what she hopes will be certified as a class-action lawsuit, Burke accuses Amazon of encouraging third-party vendors to increase their prices to Prime members by the amount they charged others for shipping, without revealing that a portion of those alleged "inflated" prices was for shipping fees, the lawsuit claims.

"For example, if the price of an item is advertised for $10 with $3.99 shipping and the [vendor] wishes to match or top their price, the [vendor] would charge $13.99 or higher," Burke alleges in the suit.

These sellers raise their prices to match or top their competitor’s total price, as items are sorted by price on Amazon's site, Burke alleges in the lawsuit.

A spokesman for Amazon, Erik Fairleigh, declined to comment due to the firm's policy related to active litigation.

In the time period that the lawsuit covers, Oct. 24, 2007 to Feb. 22, 2011, the main benefit for Prime members was the free two-day shipping. Starting Feb. 22, 2011, Amazon increased Prime’s appeal by including extras, such as movie and television streaming and Kindle e-book borrowing, the lawsuit states.

“An item included in its stated price the cost of shipping, but you thought you were getting it free,” Stephens said.

Stephens explained that a customer who was not a Prime member often paid less for a product and its shipping.

“But together they would roughly equal the cost Amazon is charging Prime members for so-called free shipping,” he said.

Burke is suing for breach of contract, and she is seeking a refund of all annual Prime membership fees for customers in the 2007-2011 period and treble damages under the Washington Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits "unfair or deceptive" acts in trade and commerce.

Amazon's annual membership program has tens of millions of members worldwide, according to the company's quarterly earnings announcement in January. During that announcement, the company said it is "working hard to increase capacity for the Prime program," after it was "so popular that Amazon limited new Prime membership signups during peak periods" in December.

Without paying for the annual subscription, non-Prime customers typically are charged by vendors for shipping that can be five to eight days, with higher costs for two-day shipping.

Amazon charges these vendors a referral fee that's a percentage of the price of Prime-eligible products, the lawsuit states, and Amazon deducts as a referral fee a percentage of the item price, excluding any taxes collected through Amazon tax collection services.

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Rio to ban cosmetic surgery -- for dogs, cats! -

Rio to ban cosmetic surgery -- for dogs, cats! - 

Lawmakers in Rio de Janeiro, where plastic surgery is all the rage, have approved draft legislation banning cosmetic surgery for dogs and cats, Brazilian media said Wednesday.

Conservative lawmaker Graca Pereira is behind the move to ban procedures such as tail docking -- the cutting off of part of an animal's tail -- and removal of cat claws, as well as ear cropping for dogs.

Last July, Brazil's national council of veterinary medicine published a resolution in its official journal urging such procedures be made illegal and that vets performing them be struck off the register.

In January, Sao Paulo state banned animal testing for cosmetic products -- although not for medicines.

Last October, a group of animal rights protesters stormed a laboratory in Sao Roque, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, and freed 200 Beagle dogs being used in pharmaceutical tests.

The dogs had had their coats shorn and one was discovered dead, frozen in liquid nitrogen. Some showed signs of mutilation.


Peeing In Pools Can Create Dangerous Neurotoxin Cocktail -

Peeing In Pools Can Create Dangerous Neurotoxin Cocktail - 

The next time you jump in a pool, think twice before you skip a trip to the bathroom. The chemical stew could harm more than just your reputation.
Scientists say peeing in pools is more than just socially frowned upon, it can be hazardous to your health.
It’s something that Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps admit to doing, and it made for a funny scene in the movie “Grown Ups.”
We had UC Davis chemistry professor Matthew Augustine examine a study from Purdue and China Agricultural universities.
“I had not heard about it before, but it completely makes sense,” he said.
Researchers found that when uric acid—a compound in our urine—combines with chlorine, the result is two potentially dangerous chemical byproducts.
“Not only do you make a nerve toxin, you make another toxin that’s known to be tear gas,” he said.
You heard him right: You pee in a pool, and you essentially turn it into a weapon of mass destruction.
“It’s been noticed that lifeguards, avid swimmers have had sickness, nausea and essentially all of the symptoms you would expect to get from a nerve agent,” he said.
Howard Chew and the swimmers at Davis Swim And Fitness say they haven’t experienced any of those symptoms.
But Augustine says there’s a surefire way to significantly cut the risk.
“Don’t pee in the pool,” he said.
Those chemicals can also potentially affect the lungs, heart, central nervous system and other organs.
It’s worth noting that one in five American adults admit to peeing in a public pool.


Elderly couple kicked out of Culpeper Va. McDonald's Update - Southern hospitality - Free Lunch Everyweek For Ever -

Elderly couple kicked out of Culpeper Va. McDonald's Update - Southern hospitality - Free Lunch Everyweek For Ever - 

Carl and Barbara Becker are loving Shawn's Smokehouse BBQ Company.
  Three weeks after getting booted out of the Culpeper McDonald's because they supposedly stayed too long, the long married couple - both in their 80s - enjoyed an elaborate lunch on the house Wednesday at the locally owned eatery on Sperryville Pike in the town of Culpeper.
  "I think it's delightful," said Mrs. Becker, enjoying ribs, chicken, brisket, BBQ, macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, baked beans and more. "This was special."
 In fact, BBQ Company owner Shawn Moss has offered the Beckers free lunch every week for the rest of their lives. He personally served the couple Wednesday.
  "We wanted to show there is still good Southern hospitality around," Moss said. "Culpeper is a great area, and has a lot of great restaurants. We want to keep the good name around here."
  News about what happened to the local grandparents at McDonald's on Feb. 21 spread fast after Mr. Becker, a World War II veteran, sent a letter to the editor at the Star-Exponent that published earlier this month. Since then, news stations in Washington, D.C. and beyond picked up the story that is also all over social media sites like Facebook.
  According to the Beckers, they were asked by a manager to leave the restaurant on James Madison Highway they often frequented in between lunch and dinner because they had overstayed an arbitrary 30-minute time limit.
  The manager approached them after Mrs. Becker complained when an employee started sweeping while they were still eating, kicking up dust.
  Culpeper McDonald's Franchisee Bob Drumheller, in a statement Wednesday, said there is no 30-minute limit to dining in his establishment.
  "I care deeply about the comfort and satisfaction of all my customers and members of our community, especially our veterans like Mr. Becker," he said. "I have reached out to Mr. Becker and his wife to extend my apologies for this misunderstanding and welcome them back to our restaurant any time. My organization invites all customers to come in and enjoy our McDonald's with the understanding that we do not have a 30-minute limit policy. Our focus will continue to be to serve our customers and our community by providing a welcoming experience."
  Mrs. Becker, of Rixeyville, said Wednesday that she accepted Drumheller's apology.
  "But I told him I am still not coming back to your store," she said. "I told him it needed some reformulating and the managers need training - they don't treat people right."
 Mrs. Becker said they were shocked when they were asked to leave, and in disbelief by the ridiculousness of it all.
  "We kind of looked at each other and laughed, then we laughed some more because what are you going to do? You're not going to cry when you are told to leave, you leave, but you feel about this high," she said, holding her fingers about an inch apart.
  The fact that other customers stay much longer using the free high speed Internet available on site never seemed to bother the McDonald's employees, added Mr. Becker, a former English teacher and retired engineer who served with the U.S.  Army Air Force from 1945 to 1947.
  The 87-year-old enlisted at age 16 in Evansville, Indiana where he attended high school.
  "All the guys were doing it, so we went down and signed up - that was just what you do," he said. "I don't think you ever thought of it as duty - it's just something you do."
  Everybody was involved in the war effort at the time, Mrs. Becker added. Her husband, before he enlisted, collected metal while she collected kapok fiber from trees, used in making life jackets.
  "The patriotism was much different than it is today," she said.
  As for Southern hospitality, Shawn Moss wants to keep that intact in Culpeper. His mother, Sue Moss, working side by side with her son, whole-heartedly agreed.
  "To me, you do everything you can to make your customers feel comfortable and happy and leave with a feeling that the food was great and the people were nice," said the longtime caterer.
  Mrs. Becker said Shawn is "a real sweet fella." The BBQ shop owner is further capitalizing on the good deed by launching a Wednesday's "scrunch time" for all local seniors, offering free coffee in between lunch and dinner hours.  The Beckers came up with the term to describe their weekly visits to the Culpeper McDonald's, now a thing of the past.
  "Our scrunch time is about 2:30 so we were not really disturbing the restaurant and you can get as much time as you want, more than half an hour and you won't get kicked out," Mrs. Becker said.
  She added, "I feel like I should take a bunch of timers to McDonald's with a list and have everyone sign in and they get their timer so when it rings after half-hour you get up and go. There is something amiss in that Culpeper store."
  She said they would continue to eat at the McDonald's in Warrenton, 16 miles from their home. Drumheller also owns that restaurant in addition to the McDonalds in Luray, Bealeton and Opal.

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