They slice, they dice, and they’re cool as ice. They might steam your rice or grip like a vice. But watch out for their price, or you might pay twice!
There are a lot of entertaining things about As Seen On TV products—including the fun rhyming introductions commonly found in their commercials—but if you’re not careful, you could end up spending way more than you expected while getting a product that has no hope of living up to your expectations.
How do we know this? Over the past several years, the HighYa team has racked up more than 700 As Seen On TV product reviews, along with more than 10,000 individual reviews from consumers like you. Here’s how they break down:
- 1-star – 68%
- 2-star – 6%
- 3-star – 4%
- 4-star – 6%
- 5-star – 16%
Based on all this information and customer feedback, what have we learned? The top complaints related to as seen on TV products (many of which we’ll discuss here) often reference poor quality, long shipping times, high, non-refundable S&H charges, billing errors (specifically, orders processed without the customer’s request and unwanted items added to orders), poor customer, and frequent up-sells.
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Of these products, cookware and kitchenware tend to garner higher ratings from customers, who often claim they work as advertised. On the other hand, customers don’t seem to feel that ASOTV electronics worked as advertised, since they tend to come with lower ratings. Finally, health, beauty, and home products generally fall somewhere in the middle, as they seem to work well for some customers but not for others.
Using this feedback, along with our extensive research, we’ve also learned exactly how the industry works, which red flags to watch for, and perhaps most importantly, how to make sure you don’t waste your money.
Now, for the first time, we’re bringing together all of our experience, along with feedback from HighYa’s readers, to create the ultimate As Seen on TV and Infomercial Buyer’s Guide. Really? The ultimate? For real.
Here, we’re going to walk you through every aspect of buying one of these products, from start to finish. We’ll talk about common customer complaints, how these companies make money, how they convince you to buy, and a whole lot more. And along the way, you’ll learn in-depth information and actionable tips you can immediately put to use.
Ready to begin? Great!
Mommy, Where Do as Seen on TV Products Come From?
Thankfully, understanding where ASOTV products come from is a lot easier than explaining the birds and the bees to your kids. However, there are times when it can seem just as mysterious. What do we mean?
In 6 Tips for Buying Your Next As Seen On TV Product, we mentioned that a lot of ASOTV products get their start with inventors and entrepreneurs, who enter into business deals with a handful of industry companies. In fact, you can often see this process at work firsthand on the popular TV show Shark Tank—One Shark, Kevin Harrington, is actually the founder of the As Seen On TV brand—so we’ve reviewed dozens of products that were launched this very way.
Once they have a product that’s ready to hit the market, these companies outsource the manufacturing process, generally to an overseas factory in order to minimize costs, while creating an infomercial and marketing campaign around it (more about this next).
However, this isn’t necessarily how it always works. In many instances, we’ve found products that were already on the market, but for whatever reason, the original manufacturer decided to close shop and sell their rights to ASOTV companies, who then relaunched it under a different name. Other times, we’ve come across bulk products sold on websites like Alibaba.com, which somehow end up being rebranded by an As Seen On TV company down the road (maybe they purchased overstock from another manufacturer?).
Still other times, it seems that these companies purposely create products that are only slightly different than ones already available. Perhaps to tap into these products’ existing popularity and success?
Speaking of which, we’ve encountered situations where one ASOTV company decided to sell their product to another company, who relaunched it under a different name. We’ve even reviewed identical products that were being sold at the same time by two different companies!
Once an As Seen On TV company has a product in place—however they obtained it—how do they convince customers like you to buy?
As Seen On TV Products & the Art of Selling
With their silly sound effects, painful overacting, and seemingly too-good-to-be-true claims, it might be hard to believe that ASOTV commercials (as well as their infomercial brethren) are finely tuned, lean, mean selling machines. How?
Because, as we outlined in How Infomercials Convince You to Buy, they’re specifically created to tug at your psychological strings. First, they’ll draw you in by telling a story you’ll relate to. Then, they’ll make you believe that their product will solve a key problem in your life (what’s known as “selling hope”), a point they’ll make sure to keep repeating over and over again. Finally, they’ll try to get you to act based on emotion instead of information, which is never a good idea from a consumer standpoint.
Did you just watch an ASOTV product commercial or infomercial? Are you all hyped up and ready to hand over your money? If so, one of the best things you can do to prevent your emotions from ruling your buying decision is to step back and allow yourself room to breathe. Although the commercial might have made it seem urgent, the product—and the price—will be around plenty long enough for you to adequately analyze the situation.
One of the best things you can do to prevent your emotions from ruling your buying decision is to step back and allow yourself room to breathe.
Do you really need it? What will happen if you don’t buy it? Are there other (read: better) ways of spending that money? These are some great questions to ask yourself before ordering.
Also, be sure to rely on consumer advocacy websites like HighYa to check the facts and see what customers are saying, and never—ever—be afraid that you’ll miss out on some “grand” opportunity by saying no and simply walking away.
Now that you’ve got a better understanding of how the commercials for ASOTV product psychologically prime you to buy, let’s move on to the actual purchasing process.
Things to Look Out for When Buying an As Seen On TV & Infomercial Product
After writing so many product reviews, articles, and consumer guides, one thing we’ve learned is that most As Seen On TV companies use every single opportunity available to upsell you. Whether it’s in their commercial, on their website, over the phone talking to a representative, or ordering through an automated system, they’ll gladly make it easy for you to spend (sometimes much) more than you were expecting.
In this section, we’ll identify all the things to look out for so this doesn’t happen to you. However, it’s only fair to note that not all ASOTV companies are guilty of everything we’ll discuss here, but it’s common enough that you should keep an eye out.
High Shipping & Handling Charges
Second only to their product’s actual profit margin (which is information that outsiders rarely have access to), undoubtedly the biggest moneymaker for ASOTV companies is S&H charges.
The biggest moneymaker for ASOTV companies is S&H charges.
For example, let’s say you’ve been shopping around for a widget, which most companies sell for $29.99. However, you come across a nearly identical ASOTV widget that sells for $19.99, which is more than 30% less expensive!
However, if you purchase this widget directly from the company online, you’ll pay $9.98 in S&H, which ultimately brings you back to your original price. In other words, at first glance, many ASOTV products seem less expensive (and like a better deal) than their mainstream competition, but these savings can quickly dissipate when you factor in their high, non-refundable S&H charges.
We’ll come back to all of this in a second. First though, let’s talk about some other big moneymakers for these companies.
Doubling the Offer & Frequent Upselling
Another way many ASOTV companies fly extra charges under your radar is by automatically adding a “free” item to your order; just pay an additional $9.98 S&H.
Continuing with this example, although you only expected to pay $19.99 when you began your online order, you’re now at $39.95—almost double! See how quickly everything adds up, almost imperceptibly?
Think you can get around this by placing your order over the phone? Not so fast. In fact, it might be worse than placing it online. Why? For a couple possible reasons:
If you’re able to speak with a live representative, it could be the case that they’re specifically trained to sell, often at the expense of providing friendly, knowledgeable customer service. We’ve even read customer reviews about instances where representatives refused to take no for an answer and up-charged the order anyway, despite the customer’s protests.
A lot of these companies don’t allow you to speak with a live person, so your order will be placed through an automated system, which will upsell just as much as a live rep. In fact, we wrote a couple articles about Telebrands (the largest ASOTV company in existence), who recently paid a $550K fine to the NJ Attorney General’s office for allegedly violating the Consumer Fraud Act. What’d they do? Although the company admitted no wrongdoing, they apparently made it impossible for customers to opt out of automated upcharges, among other things.
Throwing Money Out the Window
Or, “burning money in the fireplace” might be a more apt phrase. However you look at it, between the original S&H on the first item and the additional S&H on the “free” item, you’re now spending about $20 more than you originally intended. And to make matters worse, none of this is refundable if you’re dissatisfied and decide to process a return, which will require you to ship the products back to the company.
Even if you decide to process a return, the company will still probably make a decent profit off the transaction.
In a lot of real-world instances (including our example here), you could actually lose money by the time you’ve returned the products to the company. This 1) acts as a strong deterrent against returns, and 2) guarantees that, even if you decide to process a return, the company will still probably make a decent profit off the transaction.
Considering all of this, in a very real way, you might be gambling your hard-earned money just for giving an ASOTV product a try.
Watch Where You Put That Thing
Speaking of unsavory business practices, we’ve read hundreds of reviews from HighYa readers who complained that their orders were processed without their consent. All they did was enter their credit card number on the product’s website, but never actually pressed the order button.
The good news is that avoiding this practice is as easy as not entering your credit card information until you’re absolutely sure you’re ready to buy.
The Fine Print: Terms, Conditions, & Privacy Policies
Before moving on, there’s one last important thing to consider when making an ASOTV purchase: the fine print. Like your mother always told you, “the devil’s in the details,” and if you fail to read the fine print before handing over your information and your money, you could be setting yourself up for some frustration. Why?
A website’s Terms & Conditions basically outlines the rules you’ll have to abide by in order to use the service. This could be anything from age requirements to autoship programs, acceptable use to arbitration agreements.
Pro tip: Although arbitration agreements are extraordinarily common in today’s marketplace, especially within the cell phone industry, they’re not necessarily something to dismiss. This is because, should you have a legal beef with the company, you won’t be able to take them to court, and you won’t be able to become part of a class action lawsuit.
Instead, you’ll have to go through arbitration proceedings, which are generally considered to favor the company over the consumer.
Consumer arbitration might be commonplace, but it’s still something you should strongly consider before making a purchase.
To avoid the spam and unwanted sales calls this can generate, it might be a good idea to create an email account that’s only used for making online purchases, and/or entering a false phone number if required. Note: In the event that you need to request a refund, many ASOTV companies look up your order using your phone number. At the very least, this means you should probably enter a number you can remember so that the return process goes smoothly (if needed, of course).
Whew! As we mentioned, there are a lot of things to look out for when buying an ASOTV product, so we had quite a bit of ground to cover. But what about after the sale? Are there important considerations then, too?
ASOTV Products & Long Shipping Times
Remember the fine print we just talked about? Often times, ASOTV companies will note somewhere on their site that it’ll take anywhere from four to six weeks before your product arrives. Why is this?
Based on our experience, these companies frequently perform “test runs” on new products. After all, manufacturing hundreds of thousands of units can bite you in the rear if they do nothing but collect dust on warehouse shelves.
To prevent this, companies might create whole marketing campaigns around products that have yet to leave the manufacturing line. This way, they’re able to make only enough products to fill existing orders without worrying about excess stock, while gauging consumer demand for additional production runs.
Do you see something like this on the product’s website? It might not have even been manufactured yet!
We’ll talk more about customer reviews in the next section, but it’s important to mention here that thousands have complained about super-long shipping times, sometimes lasting months. And when they contacted customer service for some answers, they were met with brick walls and more upsells.
What’s more, since your refund policy begins from your order date (not from the date your product is received), you might not be able to return it by the time it arrives.
Unfortunately, unless it’s been on the market for a while, there’s no way to know in advance which new ASOTV products are ready to leave the warehouse, and which ones will leave you waiting impatiently for weeks or months to come. But you might want to avoid those that indicate you’ll have to wait 1-1.5 months before arrival.
Will Your As Seen On TV Product Live Up to the Hype?
Finally, the box has arrived at your door and you can’t wait to tear into it. But after opening the package faster than a kid on Christmas morning and putting it to the test, you quickly find that something’s amiss. Maybe it looks different than in the commercial, it doesn’t work as well as advertised, or it just feels flimsy; whatever it is, something doesn’t add up.
Should this happen to you, you wouldn’t be alone. In fact, problems with performance—specifically, that they don’t work as well as advertised, or even if they do, they don’t last very long—is the number one complaint for ASOTV products here on HighYa. Complaints like “Junk,” “Rip off,” “Disappointed,” and “Worthless” are so common that they’re almost wholly responsible for these products’ average 2-star rating.
A close second, however, is poor customer service. Given everything we discussed a few sections ago though, it’s not difficult to understand why this might be. After all, with so much focus on sales, the service aspect is bound to suffer at some point.
The good news is that, unlike with product quality, there are real-world steps you can take to avoid, or at least minimize, the frustration caused by this poor customer service. This includes understanding what your problem is ahead of time (and being able to articulate it), figuring out the best contact method (such as calling or emailing), being respectful, and more. And if all your valiant efforts fail and you’re left with no other recourse, then it might be time to get your credit card company involved.
Just Because Everyone Else Is Doing It…
To be fair, it’s important to point out that just because a lot of customers appear to be complaining about a few specific issues, this doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily experience the same.
For example, some of the more popular products might sell tens of millions of units, and even if you came across a couple thousand online complaints (which is certainly a lot), this could be considered a small proportion of overall sales. So, proportionally, you may be unlikely to encounter the same problems.
We even experienced this firsthand when creating video tests for TouCan Can Opener and Lazer Bond. On one hand, most reviewers seem unhappy with how these products perform, although we found both to work reasonably well—as long as we maintained realistic expectations. This is important, so keep it in mind, as we’ll talk about it again.
Does this caveat mean you should go ahead and roll the dice on an As Seen On TV product? Ultimately, this is something only you can decide. But next time you’re faced with such a decision, let’s talk about some quick and easy tips you can use.
Bringing It All Together: Your As Seen on TV Buyer’s Checklist
In our original As Seen On TV buyer’s guide, we noted that this industry is 2.5X bigger than the U.S. network and cable industry. These companies sell more than $250 billion worth of products each year, so they’re clearly not going away anytime soon. And why would they? They seem to fill a need and, at least proportionally, many customers seem somewhat pleased with their purchase.
But to minimize your chances of ending up an unhappy customer, here are our top three tried-and-true tips you can immediately put to use:
Tip #1: Buy Locally
“This is a RIP OFF. The cost is $19.95, plus a shipping charge of $15.98, and to return the unit and get the $19.98 refunded, I have to pay another shipping charge.” – Darrell, expressing his frustration at high, non-refundable S&H charges.
Whether we’re talking about problems placing orders, unwanted upselling, excessive—and non-refundable—S&H fees, sharing your information with third parties, or poor customer service, buying an ASOTV product locally solves just about every problem we’ve discussed here today.
Not only this but buying locally also gives you an opportunity to compare similar products before handing over your money.
The downsides? First, only well-established products will find their way to store shelves near you, which means that if you’re looking for the latest and greatest ASOTV offerings, buying locally probably won’t be an option.
Second, buying locally doesn’t solve potential quality or performance concerns, which is what we’ll discuss next.
Tip #2: Keep Your Expectations Realistic
“Now if you want to save money and have the extra time to shower first and clean and dry it, you will be thrilled with your shaver. If you're lazy and in a big hurry, this is not the shaver for you.” Wise words from Rich, who recommends factoring your needs into your overall expectations
You can’t change the quality of ASOTV products, but you might be able to boost your level of satisfaction by keeping your expectations realistic. How? By separating hype from reality.
Like we already discussed, these companies are masters at selling, so you might believe a product is the greatest thing since sliced bread after watching one of their commercials. But here’s a hint: it probably isn’t. Sure, it might get the job done, but it likely won’t be anywhere near as revolutionary as the commercial made it seem, and it might have some pretty big flaws that the commercial conveniently glossed over.
If you buy into this hype hook, line, and sinker, then we think it’s likely you’ll end up disappointed to some extent (remember, based on our numbers, more than 70% of HighYa readers give their ASOTV product a 1 or 2-star rating, indicating they weren’t satisfied). On the other hand, if you approach these products with a discerning eye and a level head, you’ll be able to think about them more clearly and maintain realistic expectations.
Tip #3: Research, Research, & Research
“I read all the reviews about the fact that this product would stop working, but I got one anyhow. Boy, was that was a mistake. It shipped on 11/27/2015, and stopped working on 2/02/2016. I would NOT recommend this to anyone.” – Carl did his research but ordered the product anyway, ending up disappointed
Last, but certainly not least, it’s your responsibility as a consumer to be as informed as possible. Thankfully, modern technology makes it super easy to learn a whole lot about products before we buy, and consumer advocacy websites like HighYa are a great place to start. This way, you’ll be able to quickly find out what other customers are experiencing, what complaints they’re voicing, and whether or not the product’s ultimately a wise purchasing decision.
Be sure to add your voice to the mix, too! If you have experience with a product, whether good or otherwise, be sure to speak up and tell others by writing your own reviews. In addition, help others shop smarter by sharing articles like this with your friends, family, and social media accounts. Together, we can help everyone shop smarter and avoid scams!