Have a consumer gripe? Join the club!

This week marks the one year anniversary of the ConsumerMan column. It’s been a great year!

Thanks to everyone who e-mailed comments, questions and words of encouragement.

In the past few months a number of readers have written to tell me about their pet peeves.

I have many of the same gripes. So I wanted to share them with you.

Gripe: Fine print
Lynette is upset about the paragraphs of fine print that flash on the TV screen during commercials. “It’s too small and on too quickly to read,” she says.

She’s right. This practice, which has gone on for years, is wrong. It’s not only annoying; in many cases it is deceptive. For instance, the fine print in car commercials might say that a substantial down payment is required to get that low-financing rate. With weight-loss ads, the fine print advises that you are not likely to lose as many pounds as the happy (and thin) customer on the screen.

I believe any words in a TV commercial should be big enough and on the screen long enough for the average viewer to read. It’s time federal regulators cracked down on these fine print shenanigans. If you agree with me, write the Federal Trade Commission and let them know how you feel.

Gripe: Risk-free trial
Chris in Redmond, Wash., bought a bed after seeing it advertised on TV. The infomercial offered a “30 night risk-free guarantee.” Chris says she knew right away she didn’t like the bed, so she contacted the store to take it back.

That’s when she learned it would cost $200 to have it picked up. That was on top of the $150 she paid to have the bed delivered and set up.

“So, this is costing me $350 for absolutely NOTHING,” she writes. “This is not a ‘30 night risk-free guarantee’ and it feels like deceptive advertising to me.”

As Chris learned the hard way, risk-free doesn’t mean cost-free. This marketing technique is used to reduce your normal resistance to making a purchase. It’s commonly used with mail-order or telephone purchases.

In most cases, if you don’t like what you ordered, you will not be reimbursed for the shipping and handling. And if you need to return the product to get a refund, chances are you’ll have to pay to send it back.

Gripe: Super packaging
Pam has a beef about the packing used on toys. “When we were little, you were able to immediately open your toys at birthdays and holidays and start playing right away. Now, kids have to pass their toy off to their parents to get them released from the gazillion twisties, excessive tape and plastic, etc.”

“I can appreciate wanting to market and make things look nice,” Pam says, “but I also know that I get irritated every time I have to take 20 minutes to break a Barbie or Little Pony from its packaging.”

Pam, I feel your pain. Remember, I run a Toy Test every year. You’d think these things were expensive antiques they way they are secured in the package.

In its March issue, Consumer Reports gives out its annual Oyster Awards for “hard-to-open packages."

The magazine says some popular dolls have as many as 50 twists, ties and tapes “that shackle the dolls to their plastic and cardboard prison.”

Madeline in Ottawa, Canada has another packaging gripe. She’s fed up with those plastic packages that are almost impossible to open without tools.

“This is crazy,” she writes. “Why do manufacturers insist on packaging everything as if it were meant to be protected from the air for a thousand years?”

Another problem, once you get the package open you have to be really careful not to cut yourself on the sharp plastic edges.

There are two major reasons for all of this overly-protective packaging. Many of these products have to withstand shipping from overseas and manufacturers are trying to deal with an ever-growing shoplifting problem. But still, things have really gotten out of hand.

Gripe: Hotel charges
Ann wants to know why pricey hotel chains insist on charging their customers for Internet access, while inexpensive hotels are happy to provide the service for free. “$30 for 24 hours of high-speed Internet service sounds like a scam to me,” she writes, “when I can get a whole month of it at home for $49.”

I don’t think I’d call it a scam, but it sure is annoying. I think they do it because they can. The people staying at the pricier hotel can afford to pay the tab or they’re traveling on an expense account and therefore are less likely to complain. Also, it’s a great way to generate extra revenue without raising the room rate.

By the way, they do the same thing with telephone service. At a mid-level hotel I get free local calls, but at the upscale place they want to ding me 50 cents or more for a local call. Some hotels even charge to make 800-number calls from the room! Not me; I use my cell phone.

Gripe: Poor customer service
Matt in Georgia has had it with “walking into a business and being totally ignored while you stand at the counter and witness the help whining to each other about personal issues … pathetic!”

It sure is. My pet peeve is when the person at the register takes a phone call while I’m waiting to pay. Why is the person on the phone more important than me? Excuse me — I was there first! And I have money in my hand. Put the @#$@% caller on hold and talk to them after you’ve taken care of me.

Gripe: Complicated electronics
Christine in New Mexico can’t understand why manufacturers ignore adults 40 and older. She wants “simpler electronics” that have fewer features.

“We only want our cell phones to make and receive calls,” she writes. “Address books are nice. But we don’t want to play games, have 40-million ring tones, or play music.”

Christine also hates the instruction booklets that come with so many electronic products. The print is so small, and the directions are so complicated. “It requires a Master’s Degree,” she says, to figure out how to work your digital camera!

Do you have a pet peeve? Share it here.