When you first read the following phrases, what types of products immediately come to mind?
- “Risk-free trial!”
- “100% money back guarantee!”
- “Hurry now to take advantage of this limited time offer!”
- “Call right now, and we’ll double your order—FREE!”
Most likely something you watched late at night as you were falling asleep, right? Or, maybe it was when you were sick at home watching daytime TV.
Wherever and whenever it’s happened, though, we’ve become so accustomed to seeing these wildly overacted, smooth-talking infomercials selling As Seen on TV products that we can immediately recognize them, even if we’re not in the same room.
Over the years, the HighYa team has researched 700+ ASOTV products and heard from 10,000+ ASOTV customers like you. And one thing we’ve learned is that infomercials are carefully formulated to elicit specific reactions from us at very specific times.
From the pacing of the script to pricing, everything is meant to convince you that you must have whatever product you’re viewing, and for it to stick in your brain.
But the truth is, despite the crazy antics and the clearly overhyped promises, infomercials are very, very big business.
In fact, according to this article, “the U.S. market for infomercial products stood at $170 billion in 2009 and could exceed $250 billion by 2015,” which is more than 250% bigger than “the worth of the entire U.S. network and cable industry.”
“The U.S. market for infomercial products stood at $170 billion in 2009 and could exceed $250 billion by 2015.”
That’s a whole lot of money. But when it comes down to it, that’s essentially all the As Seen on TV industry is about; squeezing as much money out of each transaction as they can—maximizing profit, and little else.
As an illustration, here’s how the As Seen on TV product cycle works, from beginning to end:
Inventors/Entrepreneurs → Direct Marketing/Response Companies (Telebrands, Tristar, etc..) → As Seen on TV Brand → Consumer
But don’t misunderstand; our intention here is not to deride all infomercial-based products, because many of them address a wide variety of needs for consumers.
Instead, it’s to let you know some of the common complaints we encounter when performing our in-depth As Seen on TV research.
Not only this, but we also hope to share with you some of the strong conclusions we’ve drawn as a result, and to provide you with actionable tips that you can apply if you’re thinking about purchasing an As Seen on TV product.
Complaint #1: Inflated Shipping & Handling Charges
If nothing else, never let it be said that the infomercial industry hasn’t perfected the science of making money from shipping and handling fees. The reality is that this is actually how most “As Seen on TV” manufacturers make a big chunk of their money. Let’s find out how…
First, while the actual price of the product may seem fair, As Seen on TV products generally come with exorbitantly high shipping and handling charges, which will often be 50% or more of the total purchase price
And then to add insult to injury, you often get “double dipped,” because even though the infomercial may have made it seem like the “free” second offer was actually free (see more about this in the next section), you’ll be required to pay another shipping and handling fee.
Second, because shipping and handling charges make up about half of the company’s business model, they’re almost never refundable. This accomplishes two things:
- It acts as a strong deterrent for returns, and
- Even if you do decide to return the item, the company still retains roughly 50% of the sale.
To fully illustrate this second point, let’s use the following as an example: If an As Seen on TV product is sold for $19.95, paying $8.95 shipping and handling isn’t unheard of. Add on the second “free” offer, and you’ll pay an additional $8.95 S&H, bringing your grand total to $37.85.
“Most ASOTV products are also sold through traditional brick & mortar retailers.”
Let’s say you’re ultimately unhappy with the product, though, and would like to return it. Assuming you’re eligible, to begin with, you’ll lose almost half of your refund ($17.90) to shipping and handling charges right off the bat.
In addition, you’ll also be responsible for return shipping back to the company, which will put your final refund amount at less than half of the original purchase price.
Here’s a tip: If you’re interested in purchasing an item you saw on an infomercial, make sure to hop online first and see if it’s offered by someone other than the manufacturer.
This is because most As Seen on TV products are also sold through traditional brick and mortar retailers, which can help you avoid paying shipping and handling charges in the first place. And to boot, getting your money back is as easy as walking into the store and talking with a cashier.
Complaint #2: Unsavory Business Practices
Another common ASOTV customer complaint that you might be able to avoid by purchasing through retail stores is unsavory business practices.
In fact, second only to poor product performance (more about this soon), complaints about less-than-stellar business practices are extraordinarily common. Like what?
In 2014, we covered a news story about ASOTV giant Telebrands (the largest company in the industry), who was being sued by the NJ Attorney General’s office for allegedly violating the Consumer Fraud Act. Specifically, they were accused of:
“ … aggressively upselling products through its automated phone system and websites, failing to provide means for consumers to opt out of the ordering process, shipping and billing for products not ordered by consumers, and using misleading advertisements, among other violations.”
Have you ever learned that it might take an ASOTV product you’re interested in 6-8 weeks to ship? This is because some companies don’t actually produce specific products until they’ve received enough orders to justify the manufacturing costs.
As a result, we’ve read numerous instances of customers waiting 3+ months for their ASOTV products to arrive—and often times, they’re met with nothing but brick walls when contacting customer service.
Let’s carry this thought over to the next section.
Complaint #3: Aggressive Up-Sell Techniques
As if being taken for extremely high shipping and handling fees and/or dealing with less-than-stellar business practices wasn’t enough, many “As Seen on TV” use some fairly aggressive techniques to sell you additional products during the checkout process.
There are numerous methods of doing this, but we’ll just cover a couple of the most common we’ve encountered.
For example, if you’re purchasing an As Seen on TV item online and rushing through the process, you may not have noticed that the website already added it to your cart.
Then, when you see the “How Many Quantities Would You Like?” button, you instinctively add another one, which means you’re actually purchasing two of the same item.
You may be thinking to yourself, “I would never be inattentive enough not to notice that!” You may be right, but we’ve encountered hundreds of customer stories just like this.
From an offline perspective, calling customer service generally doesn’t solve the problem either, as most personnel are trained in the art of selling you more of what you don’t need.
In fact, as we’ll discuss in the next section, much of their paycheck and opportunity for advancement can depend on how many “upsells” they accomplish throughout the month. So if you’re just calling for information, be diligent, and don’t play their games.
Here’s a tip: Read the fine print carefully, especially any that you encounter during the checkout process. It also seems that some As Seen on TV manufacturers purposely make checking out a confusing process, so that they can add items to your order without your recognition. If you’re confused at all during the process, be sure to find the phone number for customer service, and to give them a call. Which actually leads us to the next most common complaint…
Complaint #4: Poor Customer Service
The truth is that the bulk of “As Seen on TV” products are manufactured, marketed, and distributed through only a handful of large companies, including TriStar Products, Inc., Telebrands, and Allstar Products Group. As a result, they are typically supported by large call centers, which are staffed by personnel required to know details about a wide range of products.
To be fair, these positions are often highly stressful, not only because they’re required to take hundreds of calls per day from customers who may not be the most pleasant to deal with, but also because they typically must meet or exceed high sales quotas from management.
To add to this, employees generally don’t receive very large paychecks, even if they do consistently meet their quotas. As a result, these positions often have very high turnover rates, meaning they must be re-filled quickly, which often leads to undertrained staff.
The reason we mention this is because—whether you’re calling to ask a question, trying to process a return, or attempting to un-enroll from their autoship program (see more about this under #5) – As Seen on TV products generally have a reputation for poor (sometimes very poor) customer service, most of which is wholly deserved.
This is partly due to the fact that with these types of products, customer service is less about servicing the customer and solving their problems, and more about extending the sales process.
For example, one common complaint we get from readers is that they call customer service to cancel their order, only to be told that “it’s not in the system,” or something along these lines.
Then, they’re instructed to call back in a couple hours or days—but when they do, the product was magically shipped in that short period of time:
“I immediately called the company at 8am, when they claim "customer service" opens, and they said to call back in 24 hours for it to show in the system. After waiting several hours, I called back again and was told it had not been entered in the system yet and that they would look out for it to cancel it. I asked to speak with a supervisor and supposedly they were all "busy" but someone would call me back. No one ever did. I called today and was told that my order had been shipped out.” –Candice
In the end, even though the company’s error was responsible for shipping the product in the first place, it becomes the customer’s responsibility to wait for the product to arrive, pay money to send it back, and then lose a decent chunk of their refund in S&H charges.
Here’s a tip: If you find an As Seen on TV product that you simply must have, try calling the number on your screen and speaking with a customer service representative to get a general idea of their helpfulness. But keep your guard up, because (as mentioned before) you will be aggressively upsold throughout the call.
Complaint #5: Frequent Solicitations
On top of high shipping and handling charges and aggressive upselling techniques, another big moneymaker for As Seen on TV manufacturers is selling your information to third party companies. Because of this, even after ordering just one of these products, you may find yourself suddenly inundated with telemarketing calls and junk email.
You may think to yourself, “Well, I didn’t agree to that!” However, if you visit the product’s webpage and read their Privacy Agreement or Terms & Conditions, you’ll often see a clause that reads something like, “…you’re agreeing to allow us to share your information with companies who may have a mutual interest,” or something along those lines.
Related: How to Identify & Avoid Phone Scams
So in essence, as soon as you place an order with the company, you’re automatically agreeing to have your information shared with as many companies as they see fit.
Here’s a tip: Give as little information as you can during the checkout process, where any required information is usually denoted by an asterisk (*). Obviously, they’ll need your address and typically your phone number—but if you can avoid it, don’t give out your email address. (Or, set up an email account that’s only used when shopping online.) Either way, you may want to change your spam filter’s sensitivity soon thereafter.
Complaint #6: Sneaky Monthly Subscriptions
Another—and in our opinion, the worst—practice used by “As Seen on TV” manufacturers to grab more of your hard-earned money is through something called an “autoship” programs. As the name implies, this is when they automatically continue shipping you a fresh supply of a product (usually related to nutritional supplements) on a regular basis. For example:
You purchase a 30-day supply of Vitamin XYZ for the “ultra-low” price of $19.95, plus $8.95 shipping and handling. During your online checkout, you didn’t notice the small disclaimer letting you know that you’ll continue to receive a fresh supply of Vitamin XYZ every 30 days thereafter, and will be charged $39.95 plus $8.95 S&H each time it arrives at your front door.
During our countless hours of researching Infomercial products and reading customer reviews, we’ve seen some heartbreaking stories of people not paying attention to their credit card statements, and racking up hundreds of dollars in charges related to autoship programs.
Even in instances where customers recognized what was going on and who tried to un-enroll themselves from these autoship programs, customer service personnel were often of little to no assistance.
In fact, we read countless complaints of customers even being required to cancel their credit cards in order put a stop to the automatic charges.
Here’s a tip: We mentioned it in #2, but it’s important enough to mention again; when purchasing an As Seen on TV product, always read the fine print, which is usually located just below the checkout area, and is often in a very small font. This is where you’ll find out information about the autoship program, as well as whether or not you can opt out of it.
Complaint #7: Poor Product Performance
When compared to the competition—if any—we’ve learned through our research and from thousands of customer reviews that “As Seen on TV” products tend to perform worse, and to have lower levels of overall customer satisfaction. This is because one of the most common complaints we read about during our research is poor quality, and/or that these products don’t perform as well as advertised.
Important note: As we mentioned above, this isn’t always the case; customers often tell us in their reviews that their ASOTV product worked great. In fact, we’ve found that some of the products we’ve personally reviewed (such as Lazer Bond and TouCan) largely delivered on their promises.
In a nutshell, though, based on statistics garnered from HighYa reader reviews, it seems like cookware and kitchenware tend to come with the highest ratings, while ASOTV electronics often come with the lowest.
Nonetheless, we think there are multiple reasons for this, including basing their product’s performance on overhyped claims, incomplete science, or just plain old dishonesty. However, a big red flag is immediately raised when we see an As Seen on TV product that has a mainstream competitor, and which is being sold for a fraction of the price. Here’s a good illustration of this:
Clear TV is an As Seen on TV digital HD antenna that claims to provide many of the same benefits as its mainstream competitors, including the Winegard and Mohu Leaf antennas. However, both the Winegard and Mohu antennas retail for about $80, while the Clear TV retails for just $20.
While it may be tempting, the reality is that it’s extraordinarily unlikely that similar products priced 400% apart will perform equally. If all else fails, remember these two tried and true sayings: “You get what you pay for,” and, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Here’s a tip: If you’ve got your eye on an As Seen on TV product, try searching the internet for items in the same general category (e.g. digital HD antennas), and taking a look at several of them.
If you find that the As Seen on TV product is priced drastically lower than its competition, this may be a sign that it’s not going to perform as well as advertised.
While you’re at it, remember to take a few minutes and search for customer reviews. Even though new As Seen on TV products are popping up every day, if one is popular, online reviews will often appear quickly. This way you can gauge other customers’ experiences before placing your order.
The Final Word on Buying As Seen on TV & Infomercial Products
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So where does this leave you? Should you purchase that As Seen on TV product you’ve got your eye on, or just steer clear altogether?
Now that you have a full grasp of the most common complaints related to these types of products, as well as actionable tips on how to proceed if you think you’re ready to buy, there’s no reason that you won’t be able to make a more informed decision.
Pro tip: Be sure to bookmark our ASOTV & Infomercial Products Guide page, which is updated frequently with average ratings, popular products across all categories, our top tips, answers to frequently asked questions, and more!
After all, HighYa exists to help you save money and shop smarter. Because we’re a leading website for thorough research on numerous As Seen on TV and Infomercial products, you can trust in our unique analyses, as well as reviews from customers just like you.