As a public service to our wonderful readers, BrightReviews is launching a brand new series of articles designed to help you avoid some of the most common “sins” television marketers commit. Read, learn, and share these tips so you and your loved ones don’t get burned. Let’s get started with #1, shall we?

Sneaky Pricing is at the top of our Sin List because it’s so common and used by almost every brand, every product, and in every sector of the marketplace. It goes something like this:

Buy Now For Just $10 (Plus S&H)

At first read, of course, you’re thinking, wow, this item I really want is ONLY $10! Whatta bargain! But somewhere on the order page (in tiny print or below the Process Order button) they disclose what the actual cost of S&H is.

BTW, in case you don’t know, S&H stands for shipping and handling, sometimes listed as P&H or processing and handling. Basically, this is the supposed cost of them taking your order and mailing you the product.

In our hypothetical case as outlined above, let’s say the S&H is $7.95. So now you see this “cheap” $10 product has suddenly become $17.95 – not as great a bargain is it?

But Wait… There’s More!

Many companies, in addition to charging you S&H for the initial item tack on another set of fees in an even sneakier manner. Here’s how this scenario goes. The product you want is $10 plus S&H, but they say the offer is “buy one get one” or as a “special bonus” they are throwing in some other items or a second one “free!” – just pay additional S&H. Most of the time, you cannot opt out of the second “free/bonus” item.

In our case, let’s say they offer you the Product at $10 plus $7.95 S&H and then the “free” Product also has a $7.95 fee. NOW our supposedly $10 item has jumped to $25.90. See how this works?

100% “Money Back” Guarantee

Most companies do offer at least a 30-day guarantee, but again they often do a few sneaky things. First of all, they will almost always only refund the purchase price and not any of the S&H they charged. That means if you return said Product that you shelled out $25.90 for, you will just get back your initial $10 – they will pocket the $15.90 whether the product works or not.

Also, you probably have to pay to ship it back yourself. Depending on its size, this can be a couple of dollars or if it’s big and heavy, can quickly eat up any of your so-called refund. Either way, it still costs you money.

Finally, some companies have special requirements for returned merchandise in the fine print. You may not be able to open or use the product if it’s a consumable item, and some companies may make you write out a “detailed” explanation as to why you are returning it. Any violation of these policies could result in the nullification of your refund.

Why These Fees?

As you probably realize from using the US Post Office, it usually does not cost too much to ship a small item. Even if you have a second “free” one in the same box, shipping should not double. In reality, that’s how many these companies make a profit. They create a desirable product via a fancy infomercial that they list for a very cheap price (as outlined above) with a tempting “buy one get one free” offer to boot. These fees are collected and kept outside of the product return policy.

To take it one step further, some of the companies do not let you see or review the final price with all these fees before you click “Process Order.” You will only know the final price that you paid when you receive your credit card statement.

What Can You Do?

Although Sneaky Pricing is the most common trick in the book, there are a few ways to protect yourself, or at least know what you are really paying.

  • Do the math! Before deciding to purchase, add up all those pesky little S&H fees in your head or with a calculator. Some companies do list the total somewhere on the page but keep an eye out for asterisks. If there are “special bonuses” that require additional fees, see if there’s a way to opt-out of them before purchase.
  • Beware of buttons that say “Process Order” without allowing you to review the fees. When you click on that, you commit to buying the product.
  • Keep expectations in check. It’s probably not going to be as amazing as it is in the commercial, as “As Seen On TV” products in general tend to disappoint. Decide if that affects your desire to purchase.
  • If the combined S&H fees are more than the product itself, this is a “Red Flag” that it may not work as advertised. This is because even if returned, they will still make money off of you, so there’s less of an incentive for quality.
  • Carefully read the Return Policy or call Customer Service. Some companies will offer to pay the return postage if you ask. Make sure there are no hidden clauses that will prevent you from getting your money back.
  • If the product fails the above tests and you still want to purchase it, look to see if it is available at a “big box” retailer (Walgreens, Amazon, etc.) Hint: most of them eventually are, and usually have lower shipping fees as well as a friendlier return policy.

Thanks for reading, and we hope you learned something. Stay tuned for our next installment