The digital age certainly looks much different than it did a generation ago. Back then, people kept an encyclopedia in their pockets and played computer games in their spare time. Yes, we live in a time of miracles, but some of those miracles are much worse than others. Here are some examples.
Amazon Slashes Some Prices But Raises Others
It’s hard to remember life before Amazon. Where did we go to get our Will Smith comforter or other random ridiculousness before this great site? But while getting obscure stuff is fun, the usual goal is to find stuff you use regularly at dirt-cheap prices.
Amazon is known to drop prices on “big ticket” items like TVs to prices that other retailers cannot match. That’s not much of a surprise. What is surprising though are the prices of little things like computer cables. On Amazon, you will find these priced up to 30 percent higher than other merchants. Name recognition is also a factor. A favorite router brand was marked down significantly while the price on another brand was 29 percent higher.
Let’s do a scenario: You want to buy a TV for your significant other, so (s)he can watch on a screen bigger than that 15-inch laptop. Amazon’s algorithm sees which set is getting the most views and drops the price so that it’s way cheaper than the same brand at a big-box store. But while the TV is available at a price you love, you will soon see that Amazon will make all that discounted money back on the accessories that you must buy in order for the TV to actually work as a TV and not be some big, ugly piece of furniture.
Airlines Are Mediocre on Purpose So You Will Buy Upgrades
There once was a time when people enjoyed flying. No, we don’t remember it either, but it really did exist once. So why do we hate flying now?
Because the airlines have made simply buying a ticket a guarantee of a miserable experience. They want you to buy additional stuff – faster security lanes, priority boarding, and the like. They give it goofy names such as “Economy Plus” or “Your Choice” (the hilarious name American Airlines give these purchases). Yes, it’s annoying, but it’s also effective. The airlines raked in $31.5 billion in 2013 from these “add-on” services that used to be included in the price of the ticket. At this rate, the oxygen mask will not drop when needed unless you swipe your credit card.
It’s like if you go to a restaurant and instead of getting a meal, you have to buy the plate, then each of the food items once the plate is delivered. And it’s getting worse. Airlines are deliberately ordering new planes with more seats, which means less legroom. One study found that the most legroom on a current plane is less than a standard seat in the 1990s.
Unfortunately, there seems to be nothing we weary passengers can do. If by some miracle, all 327 million of Americans agreed to never pay for any “upgrade” on any flight, ever, that would just make us more miserable – more people in fewer seats with less legroom and fewer places to put our carry-on bags. And the airlines would likely just jack up fares rather than return to a humane level of space for our bags and legs.
Your New PC is Loaded Down with Junk
Have you watched one of those reality shows about hoarding? That’s not too far off from what the inside of the last computer you bought looks like. Extra toolbars, games you will never touch, needless file readers, and obnoxious adware are all over the place. This is commonly known as “bloatware,” and the manufacturers know you will not use most of it. Unfortunately, they load it on anyway.
Predictably, it comes down to money. It’s a straightforward business model: Manufacturers sell hard drive space to software developers who want eyeballs on their latest product. They want you to conclude that the Platinum Trial Version becomes so critical to your existence that you are quite willing to pay $299.99 for it.
Even if some of the products are ones you like, there’s a price to pay. The junk that came pre-installed is likely to reduce your computer’s speed to an asthmatic crawl. The annoying bloat will continue running in the background and take up valuable memory that could be used for real, actual productivity or enjoyment.
And this doesn’t even account for the destruction of your privacy. In 2015, Lenovo pre-installed a program called Superfish onto its machines. The program effectively exposed users’ web traffic to anyone with a little technical knowledge and a lot of evil in their hearts, even if the end-user uninstalled it. Quite a public relations nightmare for Lenovo. But we’re sure they will right these wrongs with some decent ways to keep your information locked down. Probably for a $199 upgrade fee.
StubHub’s Cancellation Policy Benefits StubHub, Not It’s Fans
Do you know how we hate Big Oil, Big Pharma, and the like? Ticketmaster is similarly hated, like they are “Big Ticket Sales” or something. So we got to StubHub instead. On StubHub, fans are selling the tickets. The problem is that “fans” is just shorthand for “price gougers.” Even worse, StubHub can (and will) go after you if you find a bargain.
Let’s look at the plight of Jesse Sandler, who visited StubHub in search of tickets for the last home game of the L.A. Lakers’ 2015-16 season. Rumors were rampant that Kobe Bryant was going to retire after this game. Sandler figured that the price tag of $906 for four tickets was worth it. He was right. Kobe did in fact announce his retirement, which sent prices for tickets to that game to the other side of the universe. Sandler scored his tickets early, so he’s in good shape, right?
Wrong. StubHub emailed him one month later informing him that his order had been canceled. The seller had cancelled the sale because the tickets should have been priced higher. The seller would have to pay a $181.20 penalty (20% of the sale price), but the tickets could be relisted at $1,490 each. So four of them would now cost $5,960.
This kind of thing happens frequently. If an event goes viral and prices skyrocket, the StubHub setup provides incentives for sellers to cancel previous deals and relist at the much-higher price. The fine will be small enough in comparison to the new list price that the seller and StubHub will make more money anyway.
There are other horror stories. StubHub pursued an Atlanta couple for having the gall to buy tickets to a Hawks game without borrowing from a bank. They were told the seller didn’t have the $21.75 tickets, and the purchase was cancelled. It was pure, dumb luck that the tickets were selling for $340. Why didn’t the seller have the tickets? Because they had already been shipped. The couple had the tickets pinned to the refrigerator. StubHub was forced to cough up replacement tickets.
Fortunately for Sandler, another ticketing agency donated complimentary tickets so he could still catch Kobe’s last game.
Scammers Can Destroy a Business Using Google
Some people may not know this, but there was a time when you could not Google anything. Imagine having to go to the library to research stuff. But now, we have old reliable right there on the smart phone. Google is everyone’s friend, right? Not entirely. If you own your own business, anyone can manipulate your business listing to intercept phone calls or spread false information – like that you are out of business.
If you search for “locksmith near me,” there’s a chance that the list will include many fake listings that all lead to a centralized call center. Then you are connected to an operator who will set you up with a (most likely unqualified) pro to fix your problem. This “pro” will charge MUCH more than what was quoted on the phone. Flower shops also have this struggle.
But restaurants can’t be faked, right? They can’t, but competitors can mess with them. A Washington, DC restaurant called The Serbia Crown was forced to close after more than 40 years in business. Their operating hours had been changed to show them closed on Saturday and Sunday. Of course, restaurants depend on weekend business like you and I depend on oxygen. Similarly, a small jewelry store’s listing was manipulated to say the store was permanently closed.
“Can’t they contact the authorities?” That depends. There was the case of a stand-up comedian who was able to create fake listings for a real office of the Secret Service. Through some technical wizardry, he could listen in and record conversations between agents and the public.
Google is going to put a stop to this, right? Wrong again. Google makes money from searches performed on keywords such as “locksmith,” so, like with StubHub, there is a financial incentive to do nothing. And what can you do? Not use Google? Uh, good luck with that.
Uber’s Surge Pricing System is Insane
Have you ever heard of “surge pricing”? It’s a neat trick Uber uses to convince you to press “confirm” on the $750 trip to the supermarket. But believe it or not, it is not just a means of sick entertainment. It’s a way of getting more drivers onto the road and collecting passengers during peak periods of demand (rush hour, crises, etc.).
It’s a good theory that is a disaster in practice. First off, there’s no guidance on how the surge rate is even calculated nor an upper limit on pricing. So it’s possible to take two identical rides on consecutive days and pay two (sometimes wildly) different surge prices. How do traffic conditions, weather, and other factors change the rate? What is the maximum your ride can be multiplied? Our best guess is that the upper limit is 50x, but that’s only based on a) the testimony of a random engineer, and b) because some riders accidentally got that price one time. We hope the drivers enjoyed their around-the-world cruises.
At one time, Uber would manually reduce the multiple if it got to 6x. These days, it can get up to 9.9x without Uber doing anything. Why? We don’t know. This could lead to cabs being able to compete with Uber again – there are regulations limiting the amount that cab drivers can charge, along with guidance on how those rates are calculated.
What makes this even more ridiculous is that it doesn’t get more drivers on the road. When a surge pricing period arises, drivers tend to stick to locations where they’re certain of a fare (stations, city centers, etc.). Why? Because by the time they’ve traveled out to a distant customer, the surge pricing period could have ended, rendering the effort worthless. If the customer is in the suburbs, surge pricing keeps drivers away where regular pricing might bring them out. If they’re in the city, they pay a surge price in a location where finding a ride is not usually a problem. Either way, the customer is affected.