Tag Archives | Orbitz

Online Merchants: It’s Not Our Fault Our Customers Are Chumps

Over at Cnet, Greg Sandoval has blogged about the post-purchase online marketing tactics that the U.S. government is currently investigating. These are the discount offers you get at checkout that involve you agreeing to a monthly charge that’s explained only in fine print. The “deals” are powered by marketing companies such as Affinion, Vertrue, and Webloyalty.

Sandoval has quotes from three of the merchants–Orbitz, Priceline, and United Online–insisting that the offers are sufficiently explained and that the companies don’t pass on customer information to third parties without permission. Which reminds me of a famous piece of video, also involving corporate executives apparently believing that insisting something makes it true:

Orbitz, Priceline, and United Online seem to be saying that if any consumers get confused by the offers and sign up without intending to, it’s the consumer’s own fault. But as Sanodval says, if it’s really true that the companies involved insert these offers into the sales process for their customers’ convenience, and that consumers understand what’s going on, the fix here is obvious: Have the shopper enter his or her credit-card number one last time to confirm acceptance of the offer.

I’ve  already stopped doing business with Orbitz after it slipped items I hadn’t asked for into my shopping cart and later told me it was doing so for my convenience. But did I mention that I recently found myself a member of something called SavingsAce, which costs $24.95 a month–and that I’m not sure how I got signed up? (SavingsAce is a program run by a division of Vertrue, one of the marketing companies under investigation.) I’m about to waste some time calling SavingsAce up and attempting to get my first twenty-five bucks back.

As I’ve said before, I hope that these sleazeball tactics disappear from the Web, one way or another. Legislation would be fine. But so would the merchants in question deciding that they’re driving away customers by treating them like stooges.


The Sordid World of Post-Purchase Marketing

Earlier today I was squawking about the sales tactics of PeopleFinder’s Stud or Dud? iPhone app: Once it has your credit-card info, it attempts to use a discount to convince you to sign up for various services that cost $24.95 a month, a price that’s mentioned only in fine print. As I did my grumbling, I didn’t realize that the U.S. Senate had been conducting a hearing on tactics of this sort, which are widely used by some of the largest e-commerce companies in America. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch has a good summary, and embedded this news report:

One of the companies that’s made millions off these shenanigans is Orbitz. Last March, I blogged about the related indignity that company puts its customers through: tacking travel insurance and limo rides onto their airfare purchases and forcing them to opt out (if they notice the charges) rather than opt in.

If you read every single word on every page during a sales transaction with companies that do this, you might avoid any unexpected charges. But dealing with this stuff makes an online sales transaction feel like it’s pockmarked with land mines that might go off at any moment. And it leaves me feeling like the e-tailers in question–some of who otherwise have extremely respectable sites–think their customers are patsies.

Isn’t a company’s reputation worth more than any few million dollars? Wouldn’t it be nice if corporate America quietly decided that treating consumers this way wasn’t worth it before the Feds force them to cut it out?


Orbitz and Buy.com’s Sales Tactics: Cluttered and Confusing

Orbitz LogoCnet’s Greg Sandoval has a good story on use of “loyalty” programs by Orbitz and Buy.com-which are basically attempts to get you to sign up for services that charge you monthly fees as you check out during the buying process. A meaningful number of shoppers apparently sign up for these services by accident, and the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee is investigating some of the companies that provide them. Good.

I wrote a few months ago about my own personal gripe with Orbitz, which kept tacking charges onto my ticket for things I hadn’t asked forthat I think should be illegal, period. Of course, both Orbitz and Buy.com say they provide the “loyalty” services because they think customers want them, and they say very few people complain. But maybe one of the lessons here is that online check-out transactions should be streamlined and distraction-free, period. (Amazon.com’s shopping experience can be cluttered, but once you pay up, it does a good job of making it simple.)


I Gripe, Orbitz Reacts. Sort of. Well, Not Really. But at Least They Noticed.

Orbitz LogoA couple of days ago, I bought an airfare-and-hotel package for a business trip to Las Vegas, and was annoyed by the way the travel merchant tried to slip a $14 bus ticket and $19.50 travel insurance plan into my order even though I hadn’t asked for them. An Orbitz customer-serve representative (who asked not to be named) saw my complaints and gave me a call. She didn’t make me happy–because she couldn’t explain, really, why it’s appropriate to put unasked-for things in a customer’s shopping cart. But she did provide some background.

The automatic addition of a $14 bus fare, she told me, is a recent addition–and it’s one that Orbitz is only tacking on for Vegas and a few other destinations. She said that those locales have been singled out because most hotels don’t offer shuttle-bus service. (Which explains why you might offer bus pickup and dropoff…but not why you’d charge a customer for them unless that person specifically asked otherwise. After all, I don’t know of a single hotel anywhere that tacks a shuttle-bus fee onto your bill.)

“I can understand why you wouldn’t like that–‘hey, I didn’t even want this,’ said the rep sympathetically. But she told me that Orbitz has received very few complaints about the Las Vegas bus fee, and that some of the company’s competitors were similarly adding charges.

As for the travel insurance, the rep said that it’s mostly offered on highly restrictive plane tickets which are hard to make changes to without penalty–often international flights. The insurance allows travelers to get refunds even if the airline won’t oblige. Again, fair enough–except for the part about having to notice the fee and sidestep it if you’re not interested.

“I don’t like it myself,” she said of the automatic insurance. And she added that travelers should read the policy carefully, since it doesn’t cover some stuff she thinks it should, like airline bankruptcies.

I was irritated in part because the Orbitz site has fine print telling you that you can’t get a refund on the items you didn’t ask for in the first place. But the rep said that if you accidentally ended up paying for them and called right away, Orbitz would help you get a refund.

She also told me that she felt my pain, but that Orbitz wasn’t trying to scam anyone (note: I didn’t say it was) and that the policies I found so offensive weren’t going away. And then she backpedaled a little–she said that Orbitz appointed a new CEO in January (Barney Harford) and that he was a “high-tech” guy who wanted simplify the process of buying travel from the company. Who knows, she said–maybe he’ll change things.

We can only hope–but I still think that maybe it should be the FTC, not Web merchants, who get to decide what’s appropriate here.


Orbitz Sales Tactics: "Convenient!" And Sleazy!

Orbitz LogoI’m planning a business trip to Las Vegas for the CTIA Wireless Show at the end of this month. After starting my research at the wonderful Kayak travel search engine, I ended up at Orbitz, which offered some attractive-sounding package deals for a flight and hotel room. I started clicking my way through to buy.

A few pages into the purchase–Orbitz makes you burrow through a lot of stuff to book–I noticed something over on the right-hand side of the page:


Orbitz had added a $14 bus pickup and dropoff to my order. One I hadn’t asked for. And it told me it was doing it “for my convenience.”

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