I had been going to file a rebuttal, having been an employee of Orchard Brands but, quite frankly, offering rebuttals was all I did all day long for that company and I began to think of all the ways in which I as a past employee have been victimized by them as well. Therefore, I will be filing this under a "claim," although these places have never ripped me off personally.
Sadly, I was the person doing the ripping off. I was a phone order representative for Orchard Brands, specifically for the following stores: Norm Thompson, Solutions, Sahalie and Gold Violin. I quit after they tried to put me on four more companies: Appleseeds, Tog Shop, Drapers and Damons (or "Drapers and Demons," as it was known around my call center), and Wintersilks. That put me working for eight different companies - that means eight different scripts, eight different offers, five separate order screens and eight separate websites dealt with during every shift.
In any case, I can attest firsthand to the fact that Orchard Brands is involved in ripping off its best and most loyal customers. Orchard Brands partnered with Encore Marketing International a few years ago. Encore, as I shall refer to it from here on out, describes itself as having "helped hundreds of partners find hundreds of hidden profits since 1978.
Basically, what Encore does through Orchard Brands is that it offers its customers, at the end of every order, a chance to receive a percentage off their next order as well as - depending on which company you order from - free shipping on your current order. The offer will be scripted (although not all agents read from the script) and will sound something like:
"As a thank you for ordering today I'd like to offer you x% off your next purchase and free shipping on today's purchase just for signing up for (Brand) rewards, which will save you money on travel, shopping and eating out." They tailor what they offer to the demographic of the particular company, so often times they will offer percentages off groceries and prescription drugs.
If you say no to this offer - which is what you should do - the agent has been instructed, and most of the time will, offer a rebuttal, stating that they "understand your hesitation, but (Brand) rewards is a great way to save money on everyday purchases." The agents are instructed to offer at least one rebuttal in order to avoid being fired for not following orders, but to offer as many as they can without causing their customer to hang up.
As a humorous aside, if you do stay strong and continue to refuse the offer, and your agent says "okay," she will be in trouble because the "Encore Police," as we called the people monitoring our calls, remind us constantly that "okay is a bad word. A no is never okay."
If you do accept the offer, your agent will begin to read a scripted paragraph which they are legally required to read word for word. This paragraph, in summation, states that you will be charged $1.95 for a thirty day trial of (Brand) rewards and will be charged $14.95 for each subsequent month afterward, if you do not call to cancel your membership within 30 days. It states that you do have 30 days to call and cancel, and that you will get a membership "kit" in the mail with an 800 number that you can use to call and cancel, and that this kit should arrive within about two weeks. Usually, this is where people say no due to the recurring charge. That's the point at which most offers are rebutted and, upon a second refusal, most reps will give up as we all know what a piece of crap this offer is and don't like selling it. Some reps, though, are all about their jobs and will continue to harass you until you threaten to cancel the order, at which point they are instructed to give up. The rep is required to hear you say the word "yes" or "fine" after this paragraph in order to proceed. If you say anything else you will be asked "was that a yes," or some variation of that question in order to get the word yes.
If you accept this legal agreement, you will be asked to enter the last four digits of your telephone number. The rep must hear all four tones on your telephone touch-tone keypad in order to proceed. Once you've entered those four numbers you are locked into the program for at least the $1.95 charge. All companies under the Orchard Brands umbrella have adopted some form of this Encore program. All programs are beginning, now, to offer magazines from a third party called Magazine Direct after the Encore offer as well.
By accepting the offer for the magazines, you get a certain percentage off your current purchase. You have to order three magazines in order to get your full percentage off - usually something crappy like 15% or so. These are one month trial issues of the magazines, but the rep will inform you that you will have 30 days to cancel the subscription with no further charges. She will tell you how much each magazine is for the year - the subscription fees - and will then ask you again for the four digits of your phone number, which is used as your confirmation of acceptance of the offer.
From what feedback I've received from customers, the membership booklets take a long time to arrive, and by the time they do many people have either forgotten that they enrolled or weren't fully aware of what they'd enrolled in to begin with.
So, you've noticed a strange charge on your card and don't recognize it. You call the company which appears to have issued it - customer service for the store from which you placed your original order - and are told that that company does not handle the rewards program, that it is administered through a different company. They will give you the number to call for Encore or Magazine Direct and you will sit on hold forever and you will be lucky if you get to speak to anyone. You'll be a miracle worker if you can manage to get back much money at all from these third parties, because even though you were confused and not aware of what you'd signed up for, their official position is that you agreed to it by either accepting the offer online (which always appears in especially fine print after you accept an offer of a percentage off or some other incentive) or you entered the last four digits of your phone number during your telephone order.
Here are the points you need to remember:
1) Your customer service agent or order rep knows very little about these offers until they've worked at the company for a few months and have heard all the dirty little secrets about them from the old-timers. We are told in training what wonderful programs they are, etc. etc. and even though most of us know that it's just another "exclusive offer" that carries with it a lot of fine print, we are told that it's easy to cancel. We are told to instruct our customers that it's easy to cancel and that just by getting free shipping they are saving money.
What you're not made aware of - and neither is your agent, formally - is that when you do get your percentage off coupon, it is only good toward a large purchase - usually along the lines of $100 or so. Also, your "free shipping" will be in the form of a refund check which Encore will send to you after you send them your original or copied packing slip from your completed merchandise order. So you'll be waiting for that free shipping/shipping refund for at least a couple of months.
2) Your agent is monitored constantly by the "Encore Police" as well as company agents who monitor calls for quality assurance. If your agent does not read her script, says "okay" when you say no, or does not ignore your refusal and offer at least one rebuttal, she can and will be reprimanded, with consequences being up to and including termination.
Furthermore, most call centers are in areas where work is hard to come by and minimum wage is the going rate. The company offers a dollar or two above minimum wage, which keeps the applications flowing in so that if someone doesn't sell enough or isn't pushy enough, they can be terminated in order to make room for a new trained monkey who is just a little more easily led. So these agents are in tight financial situations - most of them having children, school loans, mortgages and car notes which prevent them from getting too insubordinate, no matter how wrong they believe the company's practices to be.
3) Your agent is telling you the truth when they tell you that it is a different company you need to deal with in order to get out from under the program. The 888 number that they give you to call and cancel is correct. But just as Encore hopes that you either don't understand what you're signing up for or that you just won't remember to call and cancel, they're also banking on the fact that you'll get sick of sitting on hold and will put off canceling until another time. And another time. And another time until you've been charged for two, six, eight or more months of service. So the store's agents are giving you the correct information, but Encore is neglecting to answer their phones.
4) Agents at my call center received one dollar - which was taxed before it reached them, meaning that they actually bring home about 65 to 70 cents - for each offer that is accepted. It's not a lot, so don't assume that the agent is being pushy to line their own pockets. Although there are some smooth agents that can net about an extra ten to fifteen dollars a day closing offers (I was one of them), very few are successful enough to make five bucks a week off your acceptance of these offers. So when you call to complain, remember that your agent isn't getting anything from your unfortunate enrollment except the price of a crappy fast food meal and the fact that they may not be canned...for today, at least.
5) We know that it's a ripoff but we also know that we have bills to pay and there hasn't been a "help wanted " ad in the paper for a week or more. And when work does become available it get snatched up like a gold necklace on the sidewalk. We do not get off on helping Orchard Brands and Encore sneak your money from you, but we often don't have a lot of other options. Calls are monitored and people are let go every single day, and when that job means the difference between keeping your utilities turned on and getting an eviction noticed, you're always going to choose the option that is least likely to result in homelessness.
6) Agents get short-tempered because we spend all day dealing with the same complaints over and over again and we take the brunt of the rage and frustration that our customers express for our company. Most of the time we agree with them but are not permitted to admit such a fact, for fear that a manager could be listening. But we have told the company several times that we would make more sales per day if we didn't have to spend an extra five minutes on every call trying to sell our customer something he or she doesn't want. If we could just let you order what you want we would be so much happier. Believe us, we are customers too, when we're not on the phone with you and we would be just as irate as you are if we were you. But we need a paycheck at the end of the week.
7) Your quarrel is with Encore and Orchard Brands, not their agents who are helpless to help you unless they are fortunate enough to be in a position where they don't need the job in order to meet their basest of needs. I was one such fortunate person, and chose to endure the endless process of trying to find a job rather than continue to perpetuate this scam. Not everyone is as fortunate as me and, sometimes, a kind word or a little understanding is all that's needed to keep these agents from going home and putting a gun to their heads. I've been told by customers that I should die, that I should throw myself in front of a bus, that I should be stabbed and raped in an abandoned alleyway and that I should be ashamed of myself for what I'm doing to them. Trust me, if I were on the receiving end of the big money these companies are making I'd be a much wealthier girl.
8) The most important thing to remember is that you as an individual are right and have the right to be treated fairly by the companies to whom you choose to give your business. But you as a collective group need to rise up and let these companies know that you are not going to tolerate their shady offers. Many of the companies under the Orchard Brands umbrella are struggling due to these third party offers, which are like parasites latched on to mail-order catalogs that were struggling from the get-go. The only way to make these companies listen is to hit them where it hurts by refusing to order and creating a coalition of other customers who will agree to do the same.
Good luck to everyone who has been victimized by these companies. Let them know as a group that they've lost loyal customers in the pursuit of a small, immediate gain. We employees don't make a difference, even though we scream until we're blue in the face. At least as a customer you mean a little more to them since you're paying them, not the other way around.
That's it. Nothing more I can say.