The Checkout

Welcome to The Checkout

Welcome to The Checkout, washingtonpost.com's new consumer blog. I'm Caroline Mayer, your Checkout attendant. I'm also known as The Post's consumer reporter. (Click here to read my recent stories) I've been reporting on consumer issues almost my entire career, covering all sorts of subjects, including transportation, telecommunications, advertising, marketing (especially products to kids), product safety, food, real estate, credit and bankruptcy.

I love it -- and hate it. I love it because it's great to help people, whether by giving advice or uncovering pernicious scams. I hate it because the scams are never-ending and too many people are getting snookered, even when they try not to be.

I'm very excited about The Checkout, partly because there are so many issues and concerns I never have time -- or more importantly, space -- to get into the newspaper. This blog will be a great place to post these stories and tips. I also hope this will be a great place to start many discussions about your concerns as consumers. I'm here to both report and listen to you. I encourage you to share your thoughts whenever possible. Please feel free to post comments to my comments -- and e-mail me as well. Write me at TheCheckout@washpost.com

To get started, here's the scan on a couple of my likes and dislikes.

Here's what I like and why:

The Internet: What did we ever do without it? Researching through stacks of papers and files--Yikes! Finding telephone numbers in the phone book -- Egads! Shopping in a real store -- how crowded!

Coupons: Whether for food or for large retail purchases, the savings are mesmerizing.

Here's what I don't like and why:

The Internet: Where does my time go? Why am I spending so much money? And why, oh why, is it so hard to find a phone number to call a real person to talk to when my order gets messed up? (Amazon, are you listening?)

Coupons: I love the savings, but compared to the time I spend clipping and sorting, I'm not sure how much of a savings they really bring. Why don't stores just stop the game and drop the price to what they would be without the coupons -- saving all of us time and money.

I'd love to hear your thoughts as well -- perhaps we'll make this a weekly accounting as we go along.

By  |  January 2, 2006; 4:00 PM ET
Next: Ticket Buyers Beware

Comments

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My biggest peeve about the coupons is the ones that come from places like CVS, for shopping with them, that expire in less than a week. I don't usually get to CVS more than once a month. And then they have the gall to say that they've given X dollars back to the customer in their TV ads. What a joke.

Posted by: Coupons, ugh! | January 4, 2006 12:17 PM

You asked why stores don't just "stop the game and drop the price to what they would be without the coupons -- saving all of us time and money." The reason is that they don't want all of us to pay the cheaper price. They know that with coupons, only a certain percentage of their customers will be paying a lower price. Economically speaking, offering coupons is a form of price discrimination, which many economists find to be an efficient practice.

Posted by: John J | January 4, 2006 12:41 PM

You like the Internet, and so do I, but to use the Internet you need an ISP and a connection that works. Service with ISP's seems to be getting worse, and there are not many choices. Yesterday I spent close to an hour trying to get hold of AT&T customer support for DSL (my DSL stopped working and doing what I have done in the past to fix the problem leads to an endless loop in the software). Calling the "help" line leads to endless loops as well. After going through three or four menu trees on the phone I got dumped back to the first menu tree. At each stop there is an endless message, etc. So after almost an hour of attempting different options I still have not been able to talk to anyone (in India, I believe) - and there is no e-mail address at their web site to report a problem.

Recently I attempted to switch to Verizon, and got nothing although they alleged that everything was going to work soon.

Next I will try Comcast, my last hope.

Posted by: Laszlo | January 5, 2006 1:15 PM

Caroline--you need to try Trader Joe's, a grocery store that cuts out the middle man, for the most part. Almost everything in the store is Trader Joe's brand and the prices are phenomenal. Yes, there are things I don't buy there, as I prefer certain brands for those things. The only sales are for seasonal things they need to move out.

What I would love is if grocery stores actually sold groceries based on what customers want, versus how much they can get for the shelf space from the companies.

That particular inanity is far worse than coupons.

Posted by: Connecticut shopper | January 5, 2006 5:20 PM

Something I dislike worse than store coupons are those "bonus cards" supermarkets offer consumers. Only those costumers with a bonus card for that particular store get the sales price. How unfair! To those stores I would say: "Since I have, obviously, chosen to shop here over the competing store/s. Why can't I benefit also from the banana's sales price" Since I shop around, how many bonus cards am I supposed to carry?

Posted by: Tired of gimmicks | January 6, 2006 10:00 AM

About the bonus cards... I'm with Tired of Gimmicks. For example, the other day I bought a 1/2 gallon of ice cream. Regular price $5.49, on sale for $3.49, then another $1.00 off with my Price Plus card. Then I had a $1.00 coupon, so I ended up paying $1.49 for a $5.49 item. Sounds fabulous, but why does it have to be so much work? Just sell it for a reasonable price to begin with. Same thing with soda, OJ, paper towels, and all those other commodities that are on sale every other week. Just drop the price and be done with it!

Posted by: I'm Tired Too | January 6, 2006 10:23 AM

About Amazon...

Google three simple words: "amazon phone number" and presto you get 1-800-201-7575.

I have never had any trouble with Amazon customer service. They have always been polite and helpful. Where did this urban legend start anyway? LOL

Posted by: Bob | January 6, 2006 11:10 AM

I went to the grocery store for a box of cereal and I won't tell you what I said when I saw the price. Let's just say my kids will be eating Toastie O's instead. Companies charge as much as people are willing to pay. I saw an episode of "Twilight Zone" last week, where aliens who looked like humans caused a power failure (lights, cars, etc.) in a neighborhood and allowed equipment to work sporadically at certain people's houses. Then they sat back and watched the neighbors accuse and fight each other and eventually start to kill one another over "suspicious" behavior. The reason things will remain in such a sorry state of affairs, is that the decision makers and power players know that the American people will always let our suspicions of each other -skin color, eye color, hair color, too rich, too poor, too loud, too quiet, etc.-keep us from banding together and putting a stop to the madness. (Sorry for the Soap Box.)

Posted by: Ava | January 6, 2006 1:52 PM

CVS and others can afford to give great deals with coupons only because not everyone bothers to take advantage of them. Last week I bought $30 worth of soap, deodorant and toothpaste at CVS, and by combining manufacturers coupons with the Extra Value card, I paid just $16. And I received $14 in ExtraBucks! This week I pulled the same game with toothbrushes and a couple of other things, paid $9, and am sending in for a $10 rebate! Do you really think they could afford to let everyone in on these deal? And if you think that your time is too valuable to chase savings like this, well, good for you! You must not need the money as much as I do.

Posted by: Sammy | January 6, 2006 3:14 PM

I cannot imagine the amount of money and bags wasted at the checkout counters of grocery stores. I am tired of asking the clerk to pack more than one or two items per bag. I worked in a grocery store for years and I know how to bag groceries. It is a pet peeve of mine as it is a waste of resource and money. Thanks for the vent space!!

Posted by: Terri | January 6, 2006 4:18 PM

My pet peeve is commercial websites that cannot be entered without remembering the user name & password that I may have set up on a previous visit a year or more ago (such as Penney's). I can walk into a Penney's store & buy something for cash without a user name, so why am I prevented from entering without a user name? Or let me create a new one for this visit. If you can't remember your password, you can't get in at all (and it seems to associate your user name with your email address). I appreciate that this may be a "security" protection in intent, but I don't see why a new name & password are not allowed, since new payment info would be required anyway.

Posted by: Linda | January 9, 2006 3:10 PM

How about warning consumers about buying soft drinks that are near their "Use by date". It seems apparent that the sale of drinks closer to the "Use By Date" on the package is increasing and the quality of the drinks is suffering.
Recent purchases have shown the dates to be varying from Feb 06 to Sep 06.
I have returned several cases of drinks that were found to be "Flat" even though the (hard to find) date on the carton was still a month or more away.

Posted by: Ken Leber | January 19, 2006 2:29 PM

The Washington Post needs to print a front page retraction of the lies Deborah Howell wrote about the Democratic Party. She caused untold damage to the party with her unfounded remarks. There is no reason for someone of her caliber to be writing for a major newspaper. She should be fired.What has happened to fair and balanced journalism?

Posted by: Barbara Bogosian | January 21, 2006 12:32 PM

I I so enjoyed coming across your blog and seeing that others have complaints with Capital One's cutbacks on their so called "No Hassle Rewards" program. I've added my comments and keep up the good work.

Posted by: doriscull@hotmail.com | February 4, 2006 10:26 AM

In early November 2005, I purchased from NetMagazines.Com for about $6 a subscription to Rolling Stone. My credit card was charged immediately and I was told to wait until Febuary 2006. It is early March 2006 and the magazine has not started. I have tried to contact them by their email complaint form and my credit card company by their phone number for billing. Both methods failed.


Six dollars is a small amount of money, but I find out that this practice has been going on for years and I am getting a lot of email advertizing "good deals" on magazines from them".

What a wonderful scam.

bdbdbdbd@trip.net

BBB Report follows. The scam is still going on !! It is just a hassel to complain about a small amount, but it appears very profitable to them despite settling a few claims. The delay is extreme. There are complaints on the net too.
BBB
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BBB Reliability Report
The Better Business Bureau®
Serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington
1000 Station Drive Suite 222
DuPont, WA 98327
COMPLAINT ABOUT
NetVision Associates Inc
1420 Fifth Ave Ste 220
Seattle, WA 98101
Telephone: (800) 536-0886
Fax: (206) 260-3444
www.netmagazines.com

The BBB reports on members and non-members. If a company is a member of the BBB, it is stated in this report


BBB Definition:

report - A summary of activity reflected in a company's BBB file. Includes basic business background, BBB membership information, and Bureau complaint activity over the previous three years. Also reports may include any known government actions, advertising issues or other information that results from activity conducted by the BBB.

Original Business Start Date: May 1998 Incorporated: March 2001, WA
Principal: Mr Rodger Visitacion, President File Open Date: November 1999
Customer Contact: Ms Susan Heo, Operations Coordinator
TOB Classification: Magazine Sales, Internet Shopping Services
BBB Membership: This company is a member.

Additional DBA Names
The Subscription Connection
NetMagazines.com

BBB Membership Status

This company has been a member of this Better Business Bureau since August 2000. This means it supports the Bureau's services to the public and meets our membership standards.


Program Participation
This company has agreed to use special procedures including arbitration


BBB Definition:

arbitration - http://www.dr.bbb.org/ComSenseAlt/bindArb.asp

, if necessary, to resolve disputes through their participation in the following programs: Membership Identification


BBB Definition:

Membership Identification - A BBB program that allows members to identify themselves as BBB members in off-line media when the member signs a formal commitment to resolve disputes, if necessary, through arbitration.

, BBB Online


BBB Definition:

BBB Online - A national BBB dispute resolution program offered to companies who transact business via the Internet and allows the company to display the BBBOnLine Reliability Seal. Refer to https://www.bbbonline.org/reliability/Rel_EN.asp for a fuller description of the program and eligibility requirements.

.

Nature Of Business

This company offers magazine subscriptions sales online.

Marketplace Experience

When considering complaint information, please take into account the company's size and volume of transactions, and understand that the nature of complaints and a firm's responses to them are often more important than the number of complaints.

The Bureau processed a total of 105 complaints about this company in the last 36 months, our standard reporting period. Of the total of 105 complaints closed in 36 months, 59 were closed in the last year.

These complaints concerned:

2 Sales Practice Issues


BBB Definition:

Sales Practice Issues - Claims of alleged sales presentations made in person or by telephone that contain misrepresentations of the product or service, high pressure sales practices, failure to disclose key conditions of the offer, and verbal representations not consistent with written contractual terms or agreements.

73 Delivery Issues


BBB Definition:

Delivery Issues - Claims alleging delayed delivery of ordered merchandise.

10 Customer Service Issues


BBB Definition:

Service Issues - Claims of alleged delay in completing service, failure to provide promised service, inferior quality of provided service, or damaged merchandise as a result of delivery service.



BBB Definition:

Customer Service Issues - Claims alleging unsatisfactory customer service, including personnel's failure to provide assistance in a timely manner, failure to address or respond to customer dissatisfaction, unavailability for customer support, and/or inappropriate behavior or attitude exhibited by company staff.

11 Refund or Exchange Issues


BBB Definition:

Refund or Exchange Issues - Claim of alleged failure to honor company policy or verbal commitment to provide refunds, exchanges, or credit for products or services.

8 Billing or Collection Issues


BBB Definition:

Billing or Collection Issues - Claim alleging billing errors, unauthorized charges, or questionable collection practices.

1 Service or Repair Issues


BBB Definition:

Repair Issues - Claims of alleged incorrect diagnosis of a problem, delay in completion of repair, inferior workmanship.



BBB Definition:

Service or Repair Issues - Claims of alleged delay in completing service, failure to provide promised service, inferior quality of provided service, damage merchandise as a result of delivery service. alleged incorrect diagnosis of a problem, delay in completion of repair, inferior workmanship.

They were closed as:

101 Resolved


BBB Definition:

Resolved - The company resolved the complaint issues.

(click on Resolved to see more details)



71 Company resolved the complaint issues. The consumer acknowledged acceptance to the BBB.
30 Company resolved the complaint issues. The consumer failed to acknowledge acceptance to the BBB.
4 Administratively Closed


BBB Definition:

Administratively Closed - The Bureau determined that the complaint could not be satisfactorily settled using standard methods of voluntary dispute resolution.

(click on Administratively Closed to see more details)



2 BBB determined the company made a reasonable offer to resolve the issues, but the consumer did not accept the offer.
2 BBB determined that despite the company's effort to address complaint issues, the consumer remained dissatisfied.


Company Management

Additional company management personnel include:

Mr Tom Jones - Affiliate Manager
Mr Michael Kennedy - Business Operations Manager


Industry Tips

Visa Secure & Better Business Bureau: Online Shopping Tips
Cybershopping - What You Need to Know
Online Auctions
Returning Merchandise Purchased Online
Magazine Subscription Solicitations
Shopping Safely Online
"BBB Publishes New Consumer Info Brochure
Purchasing a Car Online

Report as of March 8, 2006
Copyright© 2006 Better Business Bureau®, Inc.

BBB reports may not be reproduced for sales or promotional purposes.

The information in this report has either been provided by the company or has been compiled by the Bureau from other reliable sources.

As a matter of policy, the Better Business Bureau does not endorse any product, service or company. BBB reports generally cover a three-year reporting period, and are provided solely to assist you in exercising your own best judgment. Information contained in this report is believed reliable but not guaranteed as to accuracy. Reports are subject to change at any time.

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Posted by: Robert Sullivan | March 8, 2006 5:48 PM

This lady is good.

Interesting comments on what affect us.

Thank you for hiring her, and posting her articles.

Posted by: Dennis Burdick | March 30, 2006 7:27 PM

I fear the day is soon arriving when customers who have problems the computer programmer didn't anticipate, will find that problem will be decreed to simply not exist.

Posted by: Robert Fisher | April 13, 2006 12:47 PM

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the self checkouts! I wish ALL of the area food stores would participate (hello Safeway can you hear me?). But the worse is Super Fresh. Those jerks seriously have too much time on their hands. If they don't trust me to check myself out, then they need to take the machines out and go back to archaic full service wait in line lanes. Giant rocks; they are the best!

Posted by: RJ Teich | April 21, 2006 11:48 AM

Although we consumers can complain until we're blue in the face about poor customer service, long wait times to speak to a live human voice, or just plain lack of humans at all on the other end of a call, we actually make it worse by just complaining. This does absolutely nothing. In other words, we put up with it! The companies know the majority of us will put up with it, and gradually they are taking more and more advantage of us. After all, if they can hire service reps for less if they are less qualified, the companies save money. Also if these less qualified reps retain less knowledge in their training, in the long run, the companies make more money. The reps errors usually benefit the companies. Then many consumers would rather let a small error go than wait forever on hold to get it corrected. I could elaborate, but I think you get my drift. Consumers need to simply refuse to ever talk to the "front desk" reps and only talk to the top supervisor of each company's hierarchy. This would be a beginning at least. If more consumers would wake up and really think about how we allow companies to victimize us, we might start refusing to be victims. Customer always comes first, right? Then we need to demand the respect we deserve.

Posted by: Confused observer | April 27, 2006 4:41 AM

Just wanted to share how rude an employee can be to customers.

This happen to me a couple of weeks ago. I went to the store to return an item and had my youngest child with me who I had placed in the shopping card and had fallen asleep.

I proceed to the Customer Service Department to return the item. Since I had more shopping to do in the store I asked the emloyee who was assisting me with my exchange, "if that was a pillow behind the Customer Service Counter that I could used to place under my child head".

She reached for the item behind the Customer Service Counter and handed it to me. I then placed it under my child head.

Then the employee that was assisting me said "ARE YOU GOING TO BUY THAT OR STEAL THAT!" Now this was said in front of others customer/employees and was uncalled for.

I believe everyone should be treated with the utmost respect and no differently than any other person!

I will not shop there again!


PUBLICLY HUMILATED AND EMBARESSED IN FRONT OF OTHERS

Posted by: PUBLICY HUMILATED | May 4, 2006 12:55 PM

Just wanted to share how rude an employee can be to customers.

This happen to me a couple of weeks ago. I went to the store to return an item and had my youngest child with me who I had placed in the shopping card and had fallen asleep.

I proceed to the Customer Service Department to return the item. Since I had more shopping to do in the store I asked the emloyee who was assisting me with my exchange, "if that was a pillow behind the Customer Service Counter that I could used to place under my child head".

She reached for the item behind the Customer Service Counter and handed it to me. I then placed it under my child head.

Then the employee that was assisting me said "ARE YOU GOING TO BUY THAT OR STEAL THAT!" Now this was said in front of others customer/employees and was uncalled for.

I believe everyone should be treated with the utmost respect and no differently than any other person!

I will not shop there again!


PUBLICLY HUMILATED AND EMBARESSED IN FRONT OF OTHERS

Posted by: PUBLICY HUMILATED | May 4, 2006 12:55 PM

To your knowledge have their been class action law suits against stores that have set phony prices at the checkout which are higher than the prices listed or identified on the shelves on more than a feww occasions?

Posted by: Howard Borde | May 5, 2006 1:40 PM

I bought a bottle of wine at Wholefoods in Wisconsin Avenue last week and was asked for my ID. I showed the salesclerk my driver’s license and then she proceeded to key in my birth date into their computer system. As I was using my credit card, I asked her not to key in any personal data. She replied that she’s been instructed to do so by management. So I asked to speak with the store manager. A guy, Michael, showed up and I relayed my concerns about my personal data being captured into their system. We’re not capturing your name, he said. You have all my credit card information, which includes my name, I informed him. We’re required by law to verify your ID and capture the birth date he said. If you walked out of here and the ABC found out that we did not have your birth date, I can lose my license, she (pointing to the sales clerk) can lose her license. It’s the same in Virginia and Maryland, he said. So why don’t the liquor stores do that, I asked. They should, he replied. Are you telling me it’s supposed to be for every sale to everybody, I asked. Yes, he replied. But I don’t get carded at every sale, I said. Yes, you do, he insisted. I don’t, I repeated. We have to enter the birth date for everyone under 40, he replied. I’m not under 40, I responded, so what exactly is the rule? Well, then you shouldn’t be buying alcohol from here, he huffed.

As a woman who’s quite a bit over 40, I get a chuckle when I’m carded. I know the law does not require stores to capture a customer’s personal data so I wonder what is really going on. A consumer should have the right not to have their personal data captured by a store when they refuse permission. It’s a gross violation of my privacy and exposes me to identify theft. It’s also a case of discrimination if the store refuses to make a sale to me if I refuse permission for them to capture my personal data. Now I wonder if there are also credit card skimmers lurking in Wholefoods stores.

Posted by: Tai | May 8, 2006 1:50 PM

Hi Carolina,

I have recently been diagnosed with Celiac Disease and have been put on a gluten-free diet. I am getting nowhere, fast, trying to find out if One-a-Day, 50 Plus Vitamins, manufactured by Bayer Healthcare are gluten-free. They are found in Longs Drug Stores in the San Diego, CA area. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by: padregram@yahoo.com | June 7, 2006 4:24 PM

Has anyone received telephone solicitations from so-called charities that claim to benefit the Police or Fire fighters? What have they told you about their mission and how much of your donation really goes to a true program?

Posted by: Eric | July 14, 2006 2:33 PM

Please stop sending me joke.I did not

Posted by: Nacolia Boyd | August 10, 2006 1:39 PM

Why can't your column be E-Mailed///

Posted by: gg411@aol.com | August 21, 2006 2:25 PM

plese take if off my phone and off my bill

Posted by: eleria davis | August 27, 2006 9:18 PM

I do not need this on my phone

Posted by: eleria davis | August 27, 2006 9:22 PM

I personally think it's ridiculous. They are replacing discipline with a radio? Can't anyone see that the world will do anything to avoid discipline in the public schools. Stop catering to these kids who need discipline and it starts in the home to begin with, parents need to start being parents and stop letting the public school system run their children's lives and expect the schools to come up with ways to keep their child entertained so they will behave!! Absolutely obsurd this whole idea!!!!

Posted by: kc | August 28, 2006 12:37 PM

sorry, i posted on the wrong conversation!

Posted by: kc | August 28, 2006 12:38 PM

I am also an Ameriquest customer. We refinanced back in Dec of 05 and were given money at closing to pay off some loans. Our morgage payment is $1,535 with a 2 year fixed rate and we could refinance after 2 years. I didn't realize we had a 3 year prepayment penalty until this April. Our credit is not very good but we have been trying so hard to pay our bills on time. Back in April we tried to refinance with a small company that ended up making our credit even worse then it was by things he he did and didn't do. I was so fed up I didn't want to talk to another mortgage lender ever. We receive about 15 to 20 calls from mortgage lenders every day. I've got my girls answering the phone now by say not interested/take our name off your list before they even speak (thank God for caller ID). Well one got thru and he was from some bank that he said is working directly with Ameriquest customers and that I wouldn't have to pay any prepayment penalty or appraisal fees to refinance. I didn't believe him at first and wanted to know why his company could and others can't. He just said that it was an agreement they had. I told him what just happened and that I was over 30 days late for the second time in 12 months and he said it would be better to wait until December when my 2 years was up. So like a fool, I believed him and was going to wait until December and he would call me back. Well, I got another call this week from another mortgage company and decided to listen to what he had to say. I told him that I didn't want him to run my credit report until he got confirmation from AMC that they would waive the prepayment penalty otherwise I will wait until December. I called him back the next day and he said they hadn't returned his call so I said that I would call them. Boy did I have my eyes opened up further when I finally got thru to someone that handles the Connecticut customers. I ask him if AMC is going to waive the prepayment penalty to the customers as a courtesy because of the lawsuit. He says, "What lawsuit!" I'm like you've got to be kidding me. Don't even tell me you've never heard of it. I couldn't believe it. I ask him about my prepayment penalty and he said that they would waive it after 2 years because they have some law or contract or rule that they can't refinance CT customers until the 2 years are up. I asked him about the other banks that are dealing with AMC and he never heard of them. I asked him if I went with another company other than AMC in December, would I still have to pay the prepayment penalty and he said yes I would still have to pay. The only way the would waive it would be if I refinanced with them. They are absolutely nuts if they think I am staying with them. I really think the person that called me and said they would waive it was actually from AMC. I called this other lender right back and told him to crunch some numbers for me that I'm not even going to wait until December now. I know I will have to pay it anyway just to get away from them. I don't think I am going to have a problem with the appraisal like the others I've read about. I just want to be out of the clutches. So if any of you get a call from some bank that says they are working directly the AMC it's because they are AMC. I would also like to know if we will be contacted because of the lawsuit or how do I get my name included. Any little bit will help no matter what it is. I do believe they have their hands in several pockets to get off so lightly.

Posted by: Grace Bleau | September 10, 2006 9:52 PM

Why are so many consumer packaged goods, foods, and nearly every item in the grocery store geared towards multiple person households? Perishable and non-perishable items are all sold in quantities that are overwhelming for single people and sole-occupancy households since they all weigh in with 1/2 pound or 2 pound minimums, serving 3-5 portions. Manufacturers' coupons all seem to require purchasing 2 or 3 of a single item in order to use the coupon. The only single-use/small portion items are kids' sugary snacks and convenience products. Why is it impossible to purchase 1 or 2 boneless chicken breasts or 4-6 ounces of pasta?

The US's demographic facts do not seem to support this strategy, so why do CPG companies & grocery stores present such a minefield for single-person households? The proportion of single-person households increased to 26.4 percent in 2003 from 17.1 percent in 1970, according to 2003 census figures. Add to that the number of married couples without children, and that's about 55 percent of U.S. households. The last time I checked, 55% represents a majority, yet most consumer package size options are ill suited for this critical market segment's massive buying leverage & power.

Posted by: metak8 | October 2, 2006 3:55 PM

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