Consumers' Checkbook: Don't Leave Home Without It
For years, one of my most favorite consumer publications has been Washington Consumers' Checkbook. It's where I always go to check on the best car-repair shops, plumbers, furniture stores, doctors, roofers, cobblers, etc. You name the field, Checkbook has price and quality ratings for the companies. And as best I can remember, the ratings have been accurate--they either reflected the experience I had already received or the treatment I was about to get after I used a company suggested by Checkbook. What's more, Checkbook included tons of valuable tips on how to shop, whether I was looking for insurance, funeral services or cheap long-distance telephone services.
Checkbook is still around; the print version is published semi-annually and the online version is, of course, available 24/7 for consumers willing to pay $34 for a two-year subscription. (That covers online access as well as the print version). What's more, Checkbook's ratings are no longer confined only to the D.C. area. It now provides a similarly valuable service for consumers in Boston, Chicago, the Delaware Valley, Puget Sound, San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose and the Twin Cities.
What is no longer around though is Checkbook's BARGAINS newsletter, which was printed twice a year. The newsletter listed prices charged by local stores for such popular big-ticket purchases as refrigerators, TVs, tires and chain saws. This was only for D.C.-area subscribers and served as a handy shopping tool. But Checkbook recently decided to stop publishing the 22-year-old BARGAINS. Its reasons, listed in the first issue of Update (the replacement for BARGAINS), explain a lot about today's retail market--for better and for worse:
* "The number of independent retailers--the sources of the BARGAINS prices that consistently beat the prices of the chains and big-box stores for appliances, electronics, tires and other products--has continued to decline; we just don't have enough competitors in most categories to make the BARGAINS price-competition model work.
* "Manufacturers have increased their efforts to restrict retail price competition (which the manufacturers' big-chain retail outlets don't like). The most common version of this restriction is "minimum advertised price" policies; stores that advertise too low get punished with loss of supply, loss of manufacturer-provided advertising subsidies, or some other penalty.
* "The Internet has become the way to get the best prices--better prices than BARGAINS retailers can match--for many products that are easily shipped."
Even so, Checkbook is now developing an online version of BARGAINS for some specific products that most of us want to buy locally, such as major appliances and large TVs.
No matter how you slice it, Checkbook is still a good deal.
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