The Commercial Appeal

Shipping costs can shock home shoppers

- By Susan Tompor

Detroit Free Press

Anyone who orders something off the Internet, TV or via a catalog usually expects to pay some sort of shipping and handling fee unless, of course, there’s a special promotion.

But did you ever get charged three or four shipping fees when everything you ordered was sent in one package?

“I’ve ordered many things off the TV before and never had this problem before,” said Blanche Mayer, 81, of Southgate, Mich.

She spotted a product called WaxVac on TV that promised to replace cotton swabs and gently suction dirt and wax from her ears. Mayer figured the cost with shipping would be less than $25.

Instead, the product that was supposed to clean her ears ended up cleaning out her wallet. She was talked into ordering more accessorie­s. And she was charged $83.90, including all those unexpected shipping fees.

“Each item that was pur- chased was charged postage and handling,” Mayer said. She rattled off two fees at $4.99 and two others that were $13.98.

All told, we’re talking about $38 in fees for items that cost Mayer about $8 to ship back to the company. The ear wax softening drops, disposable tips, brushes and main product were not heavy. “They were as light as a feather,” she said.

Consumer complaints about “shop-at-home and catalog sales” ranked No. 4 on the Federal Trade Commission’s Top 10 complaint list. The top complaint was identity theft, followed by debt collection complaints and then complaints about banks and lenders ranked No. 3.

We may be more comfortabl­e about buying things at home. But there are some fees that will definitely get you angry, as Mayer was when she saw her bill. In the past, I’ve heard other consumers complain about skin care products that had more shipping charges on each item — even though all the products came in the same box.

But quite frankly, as someone who helped elderly parents for many years, I’ll admit I quickly lose patience with products or procedures that add one more minute of confusion or heartache for the elderly. They just don’t need it.

David Torok, director of planning and informatio­n at the Federal Trade Commission, said a wide range of complaints falls into that shop-at-home category.

Types of complaints: All the costs aren’t disclosed, the product is never delivered, or the guarantee isn’t much of a guarantee.

But shipping and handling fees can be a trouble spot, too, particular­ly on health care products.

Some “free” trial offers have ended up as “fee” trials — or deals that unexpected­ly generate more fees by automatica­lly signing you up for recurring shipments or services.

The trick here: Make sure you read each line of your credit card bill every month.

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