WAITING FOR ANGIE’S: WHEN PLUMBERS FLY

I can’t be the only one fed up with discriminatory pricing practices leveled at existing customers. I’m talking about you satellite and cable TV companies with your “promotional” offers to new customers that are verboten to us shoddy old current ones. We’ve got you, so deal with it.

But years of experience have taught us to expect to be taken advantage of in the sleazy telecom world. We don’t expect to be jobbed by sensitive-to-the-consumer companies like Angie’s List.

If you’ve been living under your doormat, Angie’s is an online service intended to deliver impartial information on local service providers like plumbers, electricians, tile installers and tree trimmers. Angie’s compiles ratings from members and publishes them online. Think of it as a Zagat Guide for home repairs and maintenance, but with a yearly (or monthly) fee. It’s a brilliant idea that gives buyers of such services something more to go on than a vague recommendation by a neighbor or a flyer in the mailbox.

Now, a consumerist business like that wouldn’t take advantage of members, would it? Not if plumbers can fly.

WHAT WAS THAT AGAIN

When a charge of $63.60 for “business service” with the provider listed as Angie’s List showed up on my American Express statement, my journalist’s hackles rose. I was an Angie’s member, but the charge seemed much higher than I had been paying. I suspected that I had been charged for a multiple-year renewal. So I sent the following e-mail to Angie’s.

Why was my credit card billed $63.60 for a “business service”? I know my membership came due, but I never authorized a multi-year charge. Plus, according to your own web site FAQs, there is no charge of $63.60…AND four years is $56.50. As a business grows, it is common (and good business) practice to pass along to its savings due to economies of scale, but in this case you increased the fee for existing members. Kindly explain.

To Angie’s credit (and we are told that there is an Angie), soon afterwards I received a polite e-mail back.

I’m…sorry for any misunderstanding about our automatic renewal process and our pricing. We do inform our members about auto renewals when they join Angie’s List on http://www.angieslist.com. However, I am genuinely sorry to hear that you were not anticipating the transaction. Your credit card company probably has the charge categorized as a “business service” since they didn’t know how to classify the charge.

WELL, THANKS, BUT WHAT BUT WHAT ABOUT WHAT I ASKED

I had not questioned the automatic renewal, of course, and I had written that I wasn’t surprised by the renewal itself, just the amount. The e-mail continued.

The prices you saw online are for new members only and the member would be required to pay an initiation fee as well. However… we would be happy to honor a promotional price you’ve seen. Will you please let us know if you would like to continue your membership and, if so, which membership plan you’d like?

Now, you’d think I would be happy with a contrite offer to adjust my payment. But you wouldn’t know me. I replied with an e-mail inquiring about Angie’s pricing structure.

Please let me know what time period I … purchased for $63.60–nowhere does it tell me that. And nowhere that I could find on your web site is the renewal price(s) listed.

However, the idea of penalizing “old” customers in the quest for new ones is, nonetheless, a despicable and fraught business practice.

JUST WARMING UP, FOLKS

Once again, Angie’s was prompt, if not exactly transparent.

You can find this information under the “My Account” tab. There are several options and if you select the “Manage My Lists” you will be able to see the renewal rates and renewal date. We would be more than happy to offer the lower, new member rates.

I went to the web site and found my way to the existing member pricing structure, which is far more difficult to ferret out than the new member prices. And wow! What a tangled arithmetic web it was. After pulling out last year’s tax file to discover what my Angie’s List renewal fee was a year earlier—I was on a roll now—off went a new e-mail to Angie’s, where I could picture the customer service staff now wearing aluminum foil hats.

I have reviewed the membership plans for new and existing Angie’s List members, and I have a few questions.

1. Why is your new member rate of $22.63 ($17.63 plus one-time signup fee of $5) almost one-third the existing member rate for one year? That is a powerful disincentive to continued annual membership.

2. Did you know that signing up for four years as a new member ($61.50) costs less than a member continuing membership for one year ($63.60)? That is a potent incentive to question Angie’s business practices.

3. Why does a year’s worth of $4.50 monthly membership fees ($54) cost far less than your annual membership plan for existing members ($63.60)–even though your web site FAQs state that the annual payment plan has “the lowest overall cost”? That is a powerful incentive to choose monthly membership.

4. Why has your annual membership fee has increased more than 20% in one year from $53 (which I was charged 6/01/09) to $63.30 (which I was charged 6/01/10)? That is a potent incentive to drop Angie’s altogether.

5. Does anyone at Angie’s world headquarters understand how to operate a calculator?

ALUMINUM HATS IN PLACE

The response, in part below, was again polite and timely.

I’m… terribly sorry to hear of your disappointment with our new member special rates on the website. In an effort to make the service better for all of our members, Angie’s List continues to attract new members to sign up for membership by offering special rates from time to time. Again, I’m sorry that you are not happy with this approach.

At this point I gave up expecting answers to specific questions and accepted the victory, pyrrhic though it was in terms of time versus return. Did anybody at the company review the membership pricing structure? Will the inconsistencies be corrected? Will the pricing penalty for existing members be eliminated or reduced? Perhaps when plumbers fly.

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2 Comments

Filed under Consumer gripes, Journalism/Ethics, Odd things, Unfair practices, When pigs fly

2 responses to “WAITING FOR ANGIE’S: WHEN PLUMBERS FLY

  1. yeah, sounds about right. How to answer a question without really answering it. There is some dvd they all must watch to learn that skill.

  2. Blogger babe

    You tell ’em baby, great piece, so sick and tired of bad costomer service.

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