Tuesday, August 31, 2010
My Consumer Advocacy Win
Update: Penny Parker at The Denver Post has written about this issue, crediting me with the shopping center's new disclosure of this fee.
I love to write.
I write about credit cards in my daily column for the blog at AskMrCreditCard.com. I write about travel over at Blend.com, and I write about politics, travel, aviation, and consumer issues here at Steele Street. The common thread here is that I am a consumer advocate. The only think I hate more than getting ripped off, is seeing it happen to others.
So last week, I went out to for lunch to the Belmar Shopping Center in Lakewood Colorado. I stopped in a restaurant that advertised a $8.99 sushi lunch. When I received the bill, I was charged $9.21 plus tax. On the bill was a 22 cent charge labeled "PIF". I asked the waitress what "PIF" was, and she produced a leaflet indicating that the shopping center was requiring merchants to add 2.5% to every bill for it's Public Improvement Fund. The leaflet also said that the fee was not a tax. I double checked, and there was no disclosure of the fee anywhere in the restaurant or on the menu.
Now, 22 cents is not worth fighting over in a restaurant, and I did not. They can call it anything they want, but the money that a merchant pays it's landlord is called rent. 22 cents isn't a lot, but the principal is important. If the practice of adding an undisclosed surcharge to your restaurant bill becomes widespread, soon, every retailer will start advertising prices that don't include rent. We have already seen businesses such as rental car companies and hotels adding surcharges for things like electricity, labor, and compliance with the law. Do we really want every store to start adding an undisclosed surcharge to every purchase you make? What's to stop them from adding a surcharge that better reflects their rent, such as 20% or 30%?
My response was to write the restaurant, the shopping center, the city of Lakewood, the Denver Post, and the Colorado Attorney General's office. Before you wonder how much time I wasted on this, keep in mind that we are talking about two emails addressed to multiple recipients, and like I said, I love to write.
Today, I received a reply from the city, which approved a tax break for the shopping center as well as their PIF scheme. In response to my efforts, they will now be requiring every merchant in the shopping center to prominently disclose this surcharge to all customers before their purchase.
You may consider this a small win for consumers, but if no one makes the effort, how long would it be until every retailer feels free to add whatever surcharge they feel like, and not tell you about it unless you question your receipt?