Ripoff Central: Kroger/Fred Meyer is exploiting customers with poor credit

Have poor credit? Not to worry. Some Portland-area retailers will help you get what you want by leasing it. And they’ll do it with a smile, while setting you up for a potentially exorbitant bill.

It’s a blatant contradiction of some businesses’ efforts to portray themselves as socially conscious community partners. “Supporting the communities we work in is central to how we do business at Freddy’s,” says Fred Meyer. “Being a trusted partner in our communities is a top priority.,” says Kroger, Fred Meyer’s parent company.

But, contrary to such platitudes, Fred Meyer Jewelers and other retailers, including BigLots!, Aaron’s, Cricket Wireless, Best Buy, Overstock.com, and Kay Jewelers trap customers with the leasing program.

The program is offered by Progressive Leasing, which is owned by Aaron’s Inc. (NYSE:AAN). Aaron’s describes itself as “the leading lease-to-own specialty retailer that offers flexible payment options for credit-challenged individuals.”  Aaron’s acquired Progressive in 2014, when it was known as Progressive Finance Holdings, LLC.

progressive-leasing-banner

Progressive Leasing says it offers: easy regular payments; a 12 month maximum lease program; a 90 day payment option; and an early buyout after 90 days. Applying for a lease plan is as “easy as one, two three,” says Progressive. “Start your lease and take home what you need today for a small up front cost.”

leaseFreds

But sign up and you could be in big trouble.

A Fred Meyer Jewelers salesperson in the Tigard store on SW Pacific Hwy explained to me how the program works.

Let’s say you want to get a $500 bracelet for your girlfriend. But you have poor or no credit and can’t qualify for one of Fred Meyer Jewelers’ regular credit cards. The salesperson may then offer you the lease option. “You will not own the leased merchandise or acquire ownership rights unless you make payments for the full term of the lease or exercise an early purchase option,” says Fred Meyer Jewelers’ website.

Under the lease option, you would have to make a $79 payment and then pay off the $500 with twice-a-month payments over 12 months. Sounds simple enough. But there’s a catch. If you don’t pay off the entire balance within 90 days, you will owe double the total amount you financed. That’s right double.

In other words, if you don’t pay off the total balance on the $500 bracelet within 90 days, but stick with a 12-month plan, you will have paid $1079 for that bracelet when you’re done. And the extra cost won’t be considered  interest because the program technically isn’t offering loans.

What’s particularly egregious is that customers may not be made aware of the 90-day penalty until long after they have completed their purchase. Fred Meyer Jewelers’ website says:

“PROGRESSIVE LEASING OFFERS:

  • Easy Regular Payments
  • 12 month maximum lease program
  • 90 day payment option available
  • Early buyout after 90 days”

But it doesn’t explain that if you don’t pay off the balance in 90 days the cost of the item doubles. So the people who can probably least afford it get screwed.

Based on online reviews by Progressive Leasing’s customers, an awful lot of them have been blindsided by misleading, incomplete or false information from a retailer or Progressive:

“Leasing Furniture – WOW!!! WHAT A SCAM!!!,” wrote one online reviewer. “I bought a couch on sale for $600 and two $100 bar stools. They are taking $69 out of my account bimonthly. After 5 months I called to see what my balance was. $972!!! More than the furniture was to begin with. I WILL NEVER GO IN THERE AGAIN.”

“I purchased a mattress set from the Mattress Firm,” another online reviewer wrote. ” I was told they used Progressive Leasing. However I was never informed about the interest rate. The total cost was $800. But after making 6 payments of $157 they told me that I still owed $1200…DO NOT BORROW FROM THEM!”

“This company elaborate a contracts to trap a consumer in high interest % – 100% in 12 months loan,’ wrote another reviewer. “This is Legal????”

Fred Meyer Jewelers’ promotion of the leasing option says “It’s a beautiful thing.” Clearly, that’s not always the case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wherever you shop for Christmas, it’s the same place

mall

Ever gone into a car dealer and been so put off by the salespeople that you walked out and bought your car at another dealer across town? Chances are that other dealer was owned by the same person.

It’s that way with a lot of retailers today. Different store names, but same person or company behind the curtain.

Take jewelers. I went to Friedlander’s Jewelers in Washington Square the other day looking for a gift. They had something close to what I wanted, but I wasn’t thrilled with the customer service, so I decided to try Kay Jewelers and Zales, also in the mall, and then Jared – The Galleria Of Jewelry in Tigard.

Later, because I’m a naturally curious sort of fellow, I decided to check on who owns these jewelers. Good grief! Turns out all four are owned by the same company, Signet Jewelers, an Akron, OH-headquartered company listed on both the New York and London Stock Exchanges.

Signet operates about 3600 stores in the U.S., U.K. and Canada under a plethora of names, pulling in approximately $6 billion in annual sales.

Its individual brands include all of the following:

  • Belden Jewelers
  • Ernest Jones
  • Friedlander’s Jewelers
  • Goodman Jewelers
  • Gordon’s Jewelers
  • Samuels Jewelers
  • Jared The Galleria Of Jewelry
  • Jared Jewelry Boutique
  • Jared Vault
  • JB Robinson (JBR) Jewelers
  • Kay Jewelers
  • Kay Outlet
  • LeRoy’s Jewelers
  • Mappins
  • Marks & Morgan Jewelers
  • Osterman Jewelers
  • Peoples Jewelers
  • Piercing Pagoda
  • Rogers Jewelers
  • Shaws Jewelers
  • Sterling Jewelers
  • Ultra Diamonds
  • Weisfield Jewelers
  • Zales

The amalgamation of jewelry stores is part and parcel of the homogenization of American retailing. Writers often talk about establishing a “sense of place”, but if you were dropped into almost any mall in the country it would be impossible to know where you were because they are largely identical. They’ve been designed for coherence and predictability, no surprises. Local idiosyncracies have been annihilated by American mass culture and uniformity reigns.