The Chronic Consumer

I buy things — all the time!

Review of Audible.com

audible-app Earlier this month, I decided to sign up for Audible.com’s free trial. During the trial, you can get a one-month membership — including one audiobook download — for free. Of course, you need a credit card to get in on this, and you have to remember to cancel otherwise you’ll be automatically billed for the lowest membership level once the trial is over. On the plus side, since Audible is owned by Amazon, your sign-in can be linked, making the process very quick and easy.

Audible has apps for both Apple and Android devices, so I got the one for my iPhone. Once I did that, I was able to browse for and select a book for the free trial. I decided to go for a very long book (I don’t really see the point of listening to short books on audio), as well as one that sounded like it would be difficult to plod through on my own. Once I found a suitable title that was more than 24hrs long, I downloaded it via the app and started listening.

The great thing about listening to books via Audible is that you can increase the speed of the narration. Sometimes readers are so slow that books take unnecessarily long to finish. But with the Audible app, you can listen at 1.25, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, and 3.0 X the original speed, which makes a HUGE difference. HUGE. This is akin to skimming when you’re reading on your own, and really helps make the boring parts fly right by. Also, if you come across a narrator that is reading too fast for your liking, you can slow the pace down to .5 speed. I haven’t needed to do that yet, but can imagine it being helpful for more difficult books.

So there was no problem with the app, the downloading, or the interface. Next, I wanted to test Audible’s no-question return policy, where you can return an audiobook for any reason (including the fact that you just didn’t like it) for one store credit (since all books “cost” one credit, this basically amounts to an even exchange between titles). And sure enough, the return process worked without a hitch — even on the free trial membership book (which I sincerely loathed anyway). The fine print on the return policy says Audible reserves the right to cancel your return privileges if they feel you are abusing the program or not using it in the spirit in which it was intended. Fair enough.

After listening to my second book of the free trial, which was much more to my tastes, I went ahead and decided to cancel my membership. Again, this was mostly to see how easy the process would be, and also because I had a sneaking suspicion that I would get some kind of special offer to continue on. Sure enough, before my cancellation was submitted, I was asked to join for 3 months at a reduced rate of $7.49 per month (approximately 50% off the regular Gold Membership plan of $14.95/mo.). I accepted.

So that’s where I stand now. By the time my 3 months is up, I will have received 5 full-length audiobooks (mine to keep no matter how I finish in the game) for $22.50, or $4.50 each. Not bad at all!

But this was not just some elaborate scam to score a handful of cheap audiobooks. The truth is that I love Audible and plan to upgrade to the Platinum membership (24 books per year for $229) as soon as this discounted Gold membership runs out. I listen to audiobooks all the time, and though my local public library has a pretty good selection, it doesn’t come close to what Audible offers. And Audible is MUCH cheaper than iTunes. If I ever want to purchase books outside the limit imposed by my membership, I can do so at far lower prices than I could get anywhere else. I’m sold — and I haven’t even touched on the Whispersync features that allow you to continue reading on your Kindle when you don’t want to listen anymore!

Anyway, the bottom line is that Audible is definitely worth the money for me!

iTunes Movie Rentals

While I mostly love the convenience of renting movies from iTunes, one thing I can’t get past is that we can’t watch any bonus features unless we buy the film. This sucks because it doesn’t mirror what happens in the real world. If I get a DVD from Redbox, I still have access to the extras, so why should iTunes rentals be any different?

I won’t stop using renting from iTunes (the $.99 movie of the week is usually too good to pass up), but I hope this policy changes in the near future.

Kohl’s for Picture Frames

mommy and me I don’t shop at Kohl’s very often, but one thing I always go there for is picture frames. I don’t know why, but Kohl’s consistently has the best selection of affordable picture frames out there. In looking around my house, I think every single frame I have is from that store.

They tend to have a vast selection of frames available at all times, ranging from very plain to whimsical to ornate. I tend to go for the ones with captions on them, like the product pictured here. I think this makes the frame a lot more charming than it would be without the additional words.

And if I can’t find what I’m looking for at the Kohl’s near my house, I can just go online and check the more than 500 choices on the Kohl’s website. Love it!

Canceled Stamps.com

Last month, I wrote about how I wanted to give Stamps.com a try in order to save myself from having to go to the post office quite so often. Stamps.com was easy to use and I did manage to print out a label and postage for an international envelope that I had to send. The transaction and mailing went off without a hitch, so in that regard Stamps.com was great.

But what I didn’t realize at the time I signed up for a free trial was that Stamps.com charges a monthly membership fee. That’s what I get for not reading the fine print, I guess. Anyway, I simply couldn’t justify paying the $15.99 fee since I’m not an eBayer or anything and barely use $16 worth of postage in an entire year. So I canceled.

Canceling the membership was a bit of a hassle, as Stamps.com wants you to CALL their customer service line to do so. In this day and age? Yeah, right. Under no circumstances should a PHONE CALL be required to cancel something that I signed up for on the Internet!! Anyway, after a bit of back and forth (by email) I was able to cancel without having to make the damn call. My credit card was never charged, so I was happy about that.

The bottom line is that Stamps.com sounds like a good deal for eBayers and other people that do a lot of mailing or shipping from their home or small business. But it’s not for individuals who just need the odd stamp every now and then (which, admittedly, was a misunderstanding on my part). Hmm, maybe that’s something Stamps.com can get into, one-off postage sales for individuals. If they did that, the site would be golden!

Intelius People Search 24-Hour Pass

intelius When you Google someone’s name, a bunch of the results that come back are from companies that perform deeper background checks for a fee. Depending on the service, prices begin at about $9.95 and give you a lot of information gleaned from public records, including addresses (current and past), known relatives, phone numbers, marriage/divorce records, liens, lawsuits, and other judgments.

But what about the times when you just need a middle ground? In other words, when you want more info than you can get just from Google, but don’t need as much as a full background check would provide? And what if you needed this kind of info for a bunch of people, like if you’re planning a school or family reunion? That’s where the Intelius People Search 24-Hour Pass can help.

What you do is go to Intelius (formerly known as US Search) and register for free on the site. Then you purchase a 24-hour pass, which currently costs $19.95. After that, you just search for whomever you want (by first name, middle initial, last name, and city/state, if known) and view the instant results. It used to be called an “unlimited” people search, but they’ve changed it a bit. Now you get 1001 “credits”, and have to apply 1 credit to each report you view. Still, I can’t envision a scenario where the average person would be able to burn through 1001 credits in just 24 hours, so that part is pretty much negligible.

Now, the big question: Is the Intelius data reliable? I would say yes and no to this. I ran some test searches on people (relatives, mostly) whose address and phone information I already knew. In cases where the person had been living at the same address for a number of years, the Intelius information was correct. If the person had recently (within a year) moved, the data was usually not up to speed — even though Intelius says the databases are refreshed daily. Also, in many cases, the phone numbers listed were NOT accurate, no matter how long the person had been at that number. That’s probably not Intelius’ fault, but still… it’s something to bear in mind if you’re trying to locate a hard-to-find person.

One thing I’d like to see in the future is an easy way to print the search results. I didn’t notice a “print” option anywhere, which meant that I was stuck taking screencaps of all the results. Sure, if there’s just one or two past addresses in a person’s history you could simply write the info down. But for people that move frequently and have 10 addresses listed? Forget it!

Overall, I think $19.95 is a reasonable price to pay if you have multiple addresses and phone numbers to look up. I recommend preparing a comprehensive list before you make your purchase and get on the clock so you don’t waste any of your 24 hours. But really, even if you searched for every person you know, it probably wouldn’t take more than 3-4 hours. Twenty-four hours and 1001 credits is plenty!

Experience with EZBloomers.com

I had to send a sympathy floral arrangement to a wake last week, so I decided to try EZBloomers.com (which I had resolved to do more than a year ago). They bill themselves as a “fee-free” flower delivery service, which basically means that the price you see on the order page is the price you pay at checkout. After having a bad experience with a different place that tacked on an additional twenty bucks at checkout, I was eager to see if EZBloomers would be any different.

The bottom line: yes, they were! Well, technically, I did pay about $5 more at checkout for sales tax, but otherwise, there were no hidden fees at all.

The whole ordering process was actually very smooth and easy. I selected a sympathy arrangement from the product page, chose the amount I wanted to spend (they have three different arrangement options ranging from “moderate” to “elegant”), and entered the usual billing/shipping info. That was it.

I immediately received an order confirmation, as well as the name of the local florist that would actually be handling the delivery. It’s a good thing too, because I had to contact the florist to change the delivery address when the family of the deceased suddenly decided to switch funeral homes. I sent an email to the local florist with the change of address notice and they responded within minutes!!! It was very impressive.

I learned that the flowers were delivered safe and sound and they looked great. I am EXTREMELY pleased with my EZBLoomers experience and will definitely use them from now on.

iTunes Customer Service

Buying things from the iTunes store is usually a smooth, problem-free experience. I’ve been on iTunes almost from the beginning and have never had an issue until recently. I purchased a song that wouldn’t download properly to my computer, so I had to contact customer service to find out what was going on.

I first submitted an email, which they responded to in less than 12 hours. Their response contained some troubleshooting suggestions. Those didn’t work for me, so I replied to let them know that. They promptly offered to refund my purchase, with no further questions asked.

I was surprised at how hassle-free the experience was. Sometimes when dealing with a massive, global corporation, it can be hard to get real answers. But Apple/iTunes customer service was efficient and effective, which was a very nice surprise!

iTunes Movie Rentals

Back when iTunes rolled out movie purchases and rentals (in 2008, I believe), I was intrigued by the idea. What an easy way to get great media on all my i-devices without having to go through tedious conversion processes! But it didn’t take me long to sour on the whole thing. The reason? The prices were just too exorbitant.

Four years later, I still feel the same way. Have you looked at iTunes pricing for movies recently? To rent a new release, you have to pay $4.99 — and only get 24 hours to watch the damn thing! But it’s not just the new releases that are overpriced. Sometimes titles that are 2, 3, or 4 years old (and older) cost just as much.

Look, I’d probably be able to accept paying $4.99 for 24-hour access to a new movie if the old ones were reasonably priced ($2.99 at the most). But That’s not the case, so movie rentals remain a no-go for me.

The only exception is the $.99 Movie of the Week. That’s a good deal, and if they wen to Movie of the Day, I’d be thrilled!

For now, Netflix is a much more affordable option.