5 Ways Hi-Tech Retailers Are Secretly Screwing You

As we have recently pointed out, there are a million little ways retailers can screw you on what you buy. But maybe nowhere is this more common than in the world of high-tech gadgets, where the customers are always going to be a little more ignorant of what they're buying. So it opens up whole new realms of dickishness, like ...

#5. Forcing You to Toss Perfectly Good (and Expensive) Printer Ink

So, you're printing off your homework assignment/office report/ransom note/whatever, when your printer runs out of black ink. Well, time to drop (if you're lucky) $24 on a new cartridge.

We just buy a new printer whenever the old one runs dry.

If you ask one of the printer manufacturers why its ink costs more than fine wine, they'll tell you it's because a lot goes into those cartridges other than ink (though that doesn't answer why it can afford to include a cartridge with the printer, but not a USB cable). And the manufacturers are right -- a lot of the printing mechanism is right there in the cartridge.

Not to mention the kill switches they have to put into them to force you to throw them away before they're actually empty.

Let's hope this technique doesn't spread to the automotive industry.

Wait, What?

Yes, it turns out that many of the ink cartridges made by HP and Lexmark have switches in them that make the cartridges fail after a certain period of time, whether they're empty or not. This isn't just some crazy conspiracy theory, either. HP's senior "ink scientist" (yes, that's actually his real title), Nils Miller, admitted to this during an interview.

Don't be fooled by adorable babies zooming down curiously empty roads.

According to Miller, the reason for this is that most newer printers have "integrated plumbing" that could get clogged by "expired ink." If consumers want to avoid this, ahem, "feature," Miller suggests that they buy printers with an "integrated ink cartridge," as they don't have the kill switches. A little easier said than done, considering that HP doesn't list which printers do and don't have "integrated ink cartridges."

So why not just put the easily cloggable plumbing inside the cartridge? That way, instead of having to waste our money on temperamental cartridges, we could just toss the ones that get clogged. The printer companies decided they'd rather sacrifice our money so that they can "put more ink in the cartridge." More ink that you likely won't be able to use. This actually works out OK for an office, where they do tons of printing and will run out of ink long before it "expires." But the tens of millions of home users who aren't printing out lengthy manifestos every day are forced to toss countless perfectly good ink cartridges if we don't use them fast enough.

Follow Ted's lead -- use a typewriter.

It Gets Worse ...

The natural thought is to say, "Well, screw them, then. I'll just refill my cartridge or get a generic one that won't suffer from this defect." Yeah, you can't do that, either. The supplies for printers (such as ink cartridges) make for 90 percent of their profit, and the printer companies aren't willing to let that go quite so easily. Those chips that the printer companies (including HP, Lexmark, Canon and Epson) install on their cartridges also limit the use of aftermarket cartridges.

HP disables certain features on aftermarket ink, while Lexmark blocks it outright. One remanufacturer, Static Control, attempted to make a cartridge that mimicked the use of the "smart chip" that Lexmark puts on its ink, and was subsequently sued by Lexmark for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Then they probably burned down their headquarters

#4. Premium Cables

The douchebaggery involved in the new high-definition formats is so expansive that we could write an entire book on it. What we're focusing on, however, is the cables themselves. Pop quiz: What is the difference between this Monster brand HDMI cable and this Ampac brand HDMI cable?

If you answered anything except "not a damn thing," you'd be wrong. There is no reason whatsoever for the Monster cable to cost $13 a foot while the Ampac cable costs $1.67 a foot.

It turns out the Monster cables are lubricated in rare pixie bile.

Wait, What?

"Now, hold on, Cracked," you're probably saying, "surely there has to be some reason that Monster brand cables cost almost 800 percent more than the $10 Walmart cables, right?"

That depends on who you ask. According to Monster, its cables cost more because they "require advanced design and construction and strict quality control standards." But the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s consumer affairs show Marketplace got a production engineer to test them out, and there was no difference at all. But, OK, that's Canada -- maybe that was metric picture quality or something. Well, no, Cnet has also given its endorsement for buying the cheap HDMI cables.

Basically, buy cables the same way you buy vodka.

HDMI is a purely digital signal, so there is no degradation. The picture either works perfectly or it doesn't work at all. If you're getting any signal, you're getting 100 percent of the signal. If the guy at Best Buy tells you otherwise, he is lying right to your face and trying to rob you.

It Gets Worse ...

So, $90 is quite a bit to spend on an HDMI cable, especially when you can get them for $4, but it's still just a fraction of what the customer probably spent on his setup. So they're just skimming a little off the top, right? Enter AudioQuest, a company that makes HDMI cables that literally cost more than many TVs. Six feet of cable for $700. More than a hundred bucks a foot.

Enough for seven good massages or two great ones.

That's not a pricing glitch or a typo, either. AudioQuest has a price sheet on its website, and it's 40 pages of overpriced copper. Nowhere on the website does the company even address the fact that for what you pay for its cables, you could buy a 32-inch TV.

It does, on the other hand, have a link to a USB cable press release on its Facebook page with the comment, "Our new Indulgence USB cables may change your mind about 'just ones and zeros.' " This ignores the fact that USB transfers digital data, not analog audio or video, and quite literally is "just ones and zeros."

#3. Same Product, Different Prices

Retailers have a problem in the Internet age: Clearly, it's cheaper to sell things online -- there's no store to build or maintain and no sales staff to pay. That's why online-only retailers such as Amazon or NewEgg can beat everyone else's prices.

That, and dark witchcraft.

But then you have chains such as Best Buy and Walmart that have online operations and physical stores. So that raises the question of how they can price their online goods at "online goods" prices to compete while still charging full price in the physical stores. That's a delicate operation when the website is so closely tied to the actual store -- on the site, you can find store locations and even find out how many of that item that store has on the shelf. It's not like they're set up as separate operations.

And, since many customers will do their price-comparison work online and then simply drive down the block to the store rather than wait for shipping, you wind up with a lot of annoyed people who find out upon arrival that the price advertised on the Web is not the same as what they're seeing on the shelf.

Clearly, the solution is to just openly lie to them.

They give out badges for bullshitting?

Wait, What?

In 2007, Best Buy was caught, a number of times, using an internal website that looked virtually identical to the public-facing website ... with the difference being that it showed higher prices. So the real website, Bestbuy.com, would show an item as being on sale. The customer would drive to the store, where the item would be listed at the higher regular price on the shelf. When the customer mentioned the website price to the employee, the employee would prove them wrong by pulling up the fake website on their computer. Then they could say, "See? You're mistaken. Looks like the sale has ended."

"Also, fuck you in your stupid customer face."

Best Buy even confirmed the existence of these decoy pages, but it insisted that it had no intention of misleading customers. Maybe "misleading" isn't the right word for it, how about "deceiving," "misdirecting" or just flat out "lying"?

Best Buy was eventually sued by the Connecticut attorney general's office and finally settled in December 2010. That didn't stop the company from using the kiosks during the investigation, however.

Walmart has never been accused of using a fake website, but it does offer items online for less than in store. Keep in mind that this is a chain that offers to "price-match" any competitor's lowest price, but if a customer shows the company their own online advertised price, they won't "price-match" itself. One customer just said, fine, I'll order the item online for "in-store pickup" -- the item the store clearly had stocked on the shelf. He was told that he'd have to wait two weeks to pick it up.

"These blue vests interrupt the human capacity for empathy."

It Gets Worse ...

As bad as that is, Amazon has to take the prize for douchiest price-discrepancy scheme. Back in 2000, it launched what it called a "price test." Amazon would analyze your previous purchases and start charging you what it thought you would be willing to pay, not what the item was actually priced at. Customers discovered that if they cleared their cookies, they'd often find the same item available for less than it was offered for when they were signed in.

After outrage from customers, Amazon apologized and said it would never do price tests again, presumably unless it could figure out a way to not get caught.

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