The Art of Unethical Up-selling

The Art of Unethical Up-selling

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I am upset, because I just had an unsavory experience with an unethical merchant. Recently, I had the unfortunate opportunity to deal with a company called 86th Street Photo & Video (86photovideo.com). Last Friday, my wife placed an order online for a Sanyo Xacti VPC-E1 digital camcorder for $365 — what a great deal right? Wrong! This is the beginning of our problem.

Sanyo Xacti VPC-E1 6MP Waterproof Camcorder

Photo from Amazon.com

First, we got an email on Sunday that said:

“In order to further verify your order, we will need to speak with you on the phone. Please call our Verification department at 1-800-815-2040 Ext. so we may verify and complete processing your order.”

When we called, the man on the line said we didn’t use the $30 off coupon, and the conversation went something like this:

Man: “Would you like to use your $30 coupon?”

Us: “Sure, what do you recommend?”

Man: “Most of our customers get the 1GB high-speed SD card” and he launched into why we needed the high-speed card as opposed to the normal one.

Us: “How much is that?”

Man: “We normally sell it for $169.99, but you can get it for $139.99 with the coupon”

Us: “No thanks, how about an extra battery” (typical price for 1GB high-speed SD card is about $20)

Man: Launched into the virtue of extended-life battery, and finally said, “…the battery is $199.99, or $169.99 with the coupon.”

Us: “No thanks. Just send us the camcorder please.” (we can get this battery for $50 at Amazon.com)

Man: Try to sell us extended warranty and told us he can ask his manager for special first-time customer discount

Us: “No thanks. Just send us the camcorder please.”

Basically, he was using the “use the $30 coupon now, or lose” tactic to pressure us to make on-the-spot buying decision s. Now, that’s unethical up-selling.

It would have been fine if the story ends there, but we received this email right after we hung up:

“Unfortunately the item you ordered is on a current 2-3 week backorder, we have not billed your credit card and we will notify you when tracking # is available.”

On Monday morning, I called them back:

Me: “Can you tell me if you have the white Sanyo Xacti VPC-E1 in stock?”

Man: “Yes”

Me: “Please pull up order # XYZ and tell me why it’s on backorder?”

Man: Some lame excuse about the one I ordered was a package that’s on backorder and the one he said in stock is just the camcorder sold for $449.99

…what kind of lame B.S. is that?

At this point, I’d canceled the order, but I still haven’t receive the confirmation from them yet. As a precaution, I also reported my credit card lost because my credit card information is now in the hands of an unethical online merchant (effectively stolen). I will also be filing this incident with the Better Business Bureau.

In retrospect, there were several warning signs that we were dealing with a bad company:

  • The confirmation email didn’t have the product or total price listed
  • The log-in we created to track our order on their site did not work
  • They provided no physical business address on the web site
  • They overpriced their accessories and use pressure to create up-selling opportunities
  • They delayed our order intentionally when we didn’t fall for their scam
  • They didn’t comply to our cancellation request

After this debacle, we will be ordering our Sanyo Xacti VPC-E1 from Amazon.com, and stick to large reputable companies from now on. Sorry small business owners, but you know what they said, “one bad apple spoils the bunch.” This is another reason why it is so hard for small businesses to succeed.

PS: If you purchased from them please add your rating and comment at ResellerRatings.com. I believe the three perfect 10s were done by 86th’s staff because they don’t rate anything else nor participate in the forum, but left perfect reviews for this store only.

50 thoughts on “The Art of Unethical Up-selling”

  1. I had a similar experience purchasing a high-end camera lens a few years back. If you use PriceGrabber.com, they have merchant ratings you can use. Just goes to show you the old rule stands true “If it looks to good to be true it probably is”.

  2. I’m sorry about this experience – how awful! One tip for the future, when buying from smaller, unknown companies for the first time, I get a one-time number for my Visa card from my card issuer’s web site. That way, my card information is protected even if the sale goes sour or they don’t protect their customers’ info properly. I hope the cancellation goes smoothly!

  3. That’s terrible! I’m too chicken to buy online from companies I don’t know anything about. I like CFO’s idea of getting a one time credit card number. I’m going to see if my bank does this.

  4. That’s awful. And it’s exactly why so many people out there are hesitant to purchase things online.

    There’s just too many unethical people and/or scam artists out there.

  5. Interesting post. I also have noticed some great deals on electronics from stores in NY area that seem to good to be true. Sounds like many of them are exactly that. Thanks for the heads up.

  6. @glblguy – I had a similar experience when I bought my first digital camera, and I should have listened to my instinct…shame on me for making the same mistake twice.

    @CFO – that’s a great idea. I didn’t know we can do that. It would have been much easier to get a temporary number than canceling my card, and reestablish all the automatic payments.

    @Lynnae – Online shopping can save quite a bit of money. However, if the price is not drastically different, I try to support local merchants.

  7. Those new york camera shops are infamous for similar tactics on ebay and other online sales sites. They have been doing it for years, and nothing has ever happened, except soured people from buying online.

    I have gotten great deals on camera, but you have to be picky about the seller. Places like froogle and pricegrabber are great at relaying other’s horror stories.

  8. @The Happy Rock and Kyle – funny thing is I needed their address to file a BBB complaint. When I ask the rep, he said, “We are in California. Why? Do you want to come over here?”

    I tried whois.sc and they hide their information. I also tried reverse phone look up, but can’t get the information without paying.

    @Kev – that’s the problem, and legit businesses are suffering because of these guys.

  9. That’s awful! Smart move calling and asking if they have it in stock. I hope it all ends up ok with the refund and everything. What a horribly unethical situation.

    Speaking of that, actually, I’m planning to post tonight about markups within my own company which worry me a bit.

  10. @Patrick – I hope this post will help. I should have listened to my instinct and not order from them in the first place.

    @Mrs Micah – I already reported my credit card lost in case they don’t honor my cancellation. But from what I understand, it’s better for them to cancel my transaction and keep the product to bait the next unsuspecting customer victim.

  11. Sorry you had such a rotten experience.

    Thank you for posting the name and problem you had with a shady company.

    I would caution against not using small businesses, however. Large companies can pull some nasty “tricks”, too. Read through the comments on Amazon related to Neosure powdered formula for infants. You might also recall the infamous AOL customer retention program…

  12. The worst abusers of the up sell are those quick lube places. Their profit margin depends on it. Your best bet is to go to your local car dealer for your oil changes. Along with your oil change they’ll give you a print out of everything that is wrong with it or that you should take a look at. Plan on saying, “No, I just want my oil changed.” from the start and then take the list to any motor head that you know to find out what you should really get fixed. Why I recommend a dealer is they have a better incentive for taking car of your car. If they hose you, you won’t ever buy a car from them. If a quick lube hoses you, you just won’t get your oil change there.

  13. Pinyo,
    I used to do online shopping at any online retailer that offered the lowest prices available. But now I tend to favor more established sites for just this time of reason.

    Payment services like Paypal are great because it allows the payer to protect his/her credit card number.

  14. @W. Errico – welcome to Moolanomy. I had that happened to me once when I went to a place I didn’t know for my inspection. They basically held me captive and replaced a lot of stuff. I ended up spending almost $1,000 that day. Needless to say, I was really pissed off.

    @Raymond – I am planning to stick to more established place too. The aggravation just isn’t worth it.

  15. I don’t agree that an upsell with a limited-time coupon is unethical, but the rest of the hoo-haa you got is a bummer. Best luck finding a better merchant with a comparable price!


  16. @Michelle – welcome to Moolanomy. That in itself may not be unethical (although it does create the urgency and pressure). However, it’s definitely unethical when combined with: (1) using low priced item to attract customer, (2) using the coupon to push overpriced items, (3) reneging after the bait failed.

    Thanks for the well wishes, we got our camcorder yesterday from Amazon.

  17. Hi Pinyo. They are not in California. But another of the Brooklyn places. I’d like an address, so I can go get a picture and add to my site. Not having tried to make a purchase I can’t post at ResellerRatings. But maybe you can edit your post there asking anyone with an address to provide it to you, so you can file with the BBB. And then please provide it to me. Thanks, Don.

  18. Hi again. I found the address. I had forgotten to check the NY entity database. In it I found:

    Current Entity Name: 86TH STREET PHOTO, INC.
    Initial DOS Filing Date: JULY 02, 2007

    2845 86TH STREET

    That is an outfit that I already picture. I will add them to my caption.

  19. @Don – welcome to Moolanomy. I am not sure if I can get their address either. It seems to be a well-guarded secret, and we must wonder why any legitimate business would hide their address.

    There was a suggestion from the forums to contact BBB via phone or email and see if they will take the complaint without address.

  20. The EXACT story happened to me yesterday, but on a different site: thedigitalnerds.com

    I ordered what seemed to be a great buy on a camera. Sent me a e-mail, I had to call to confirm. Okay, called and the guy was trying to sell me another memory card and battery and was doing the same coupon deal with the great price. I said no on everything. Today they e-mail me and say it is out of stock and 6-8 weeks. I checked the site, it says my camera is still in stock. I will call on Sunday and ask if it is in stock, when they say it is, I will confront them and about it or something. I doubt anything will happen.

    Thanks for the story, at least I know someone else had the same experience.

  21. @Coenak – welcome to Moolanomy. I am sorry to hear you are having a problem as well. Apparently, this problem is quite widespread.

  22. I was researching 86th Street, because I’m purchasing a Pansonic DMC-TZ3A camera, and they had by far the best price, at least $70 less than the competitors.

    I called them and waited on hold for about 10 minutes, but they said they had the item in stock and quoted me the same price and shipping as the online price. I placed the order using my AMEX card. They tried the standard pitch about the warranties and extras, but I politely declined and they didn’t push the matter. Definitly not a hard sell.

    Now I just sit back and wait for the camera to show up (7-12 buisness days).

    I’m fairly comfortable about not getting the shaft for 2 reasons:

    1) By placing the order over the phone, I never agreed/acknowledged any of their sales or return policies as you would do over the internet. The sales rep never mentioned them over the phone.

    2) American Express makes it really easy to open a dispute against an merchant, and they will refund the money to your account while the dispute is open. I always carry an Amex card and use it whenever I’m unsure of the merchant.

    I’ll report back when I have anything new.

  23. Mike, welcome to Moolanomy. I hope it works out for you.

    I agree that they were never rude (they were quite polite), nor did they use any hard sell tactics. Nonetheless, they were deceiving and used dishonest tactics to cheat innocent consumers out of their hard earned money.

  24. @Charlie – Sorry to hear that. I hope you can resolve the issue, and in the end, get what you wanted. Too bad there are people like this to make us miserable.

  25. I tend to use established stores with nearby phyiscal locations (CircuitCity, Best Buy, etc.) for big electronic purchases. They have the staying power and I know warranties and such will be honored.

    For other things, like a set of bunk beds, I used EBay and just read through pages and pages of ratings.

    I had a great experience with a small business when I needed somethings for my soccer team. The key was they were responsive, non-pushy, and service, not sells was their push.

  26. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    I was surfing through plenty of sites, trying to find the best price for a Canon Powershot S5. Then I came across this unknown site selling it for about $100 less than the average. It was so tempting. I was about to buy it. But fortunately I followed my instincts and researched a little 🙂

  27. @Chris – Welcome to Moolanomy. That’s what I intend to do now, but it’s a shame for other legitimate small businesses.

    I didn’t know buying bulky stuff like bunk beds on eBay actually works well. I haven’t been there for a while because you can really get hooked to the “winning” and ended up buying junks.

    Regarding local businesses, I do support them even if they are a bit more expensive. They are what make our neighborhoods a neighborhood.

    @Ana – You’re welcome and welcome to Moolanomy. After that experience, I’d definitely recommend you stay away from them.

    Good move on your part!

  28. I’m glad I took the time to look for information about this company. I was enticed by the $150 digicam they were selling (which Newegg.com, my preferred nerdjunk store, had for a depressing $230). I was wondering if it fell off the back of a truck *cough* or something. I did notice the bizarrely overpriced SD cards ($150 for a 1GB card? Are you on crack?) but I figured I’d just get one elsewhere. It was suspicious that they had a load of positive reviews, but only on a single SUPAR DEALZ ZOMG type of site, which is why I was looking for another review. Thanks for saving me a waste of time and cell minutes.

    (That said, I have to say I’ve had good experiences with small companies… I think they’re trustworthy as long as you find them through a trustworthy source that allows non-site-linked reviews. last christmas I found a tiny used bookstore with froogle and got 8 normally kind of expensive books shipped to me for $25 total. It was awesome.)

  29. Similar experience was mine for this web site. They tried to sell me different accessories and service plan; when I refused, I got the email that the product is back ordered. I called them and they coolly canceled the order.

    I have complained against 86th Street photo & Video at BBB web site…. don’t know if it will make any difference.

  30. @Zee – welcome to Moolanomy. Sorry to hear about the problem you had with them.

    I also filed my complaint with BBB. I think that’s the best we can do — unfortunately.

  31. The same thing happen to me exact same story as the first one, i called tried to sell me on a warranty, refused, a day later an e-mail stating my order is on back order for 4-5 weeks, after they already have all my CC info. something must be done against such a dis-honest people

    any recommendations


  32. They are still in business and still doing the same thing. My wife and I just got finished canceling our credit card after falling for their scam (and before we saw all the warnings and posts about this place).

    How did this happen to us. Basically, they showed up on a price comparison web site, with the absolute lowest price and a “supposed” high rating. I now believe that they must run their own rating site. From that point on, it’s the same story as everyone else seems to report. We received an email to call them to confirm the order. We called ext. 203 for Steve and were told that we needed to buy batteries.

    But, this was for a Canon S5 IS, which uses “AA” batteries and includes them in the box! When we told him that he said “No, it requires additional, special, recharge batteries”, which he wanted to sell us – We declined. He then said we would need a memory card that we should buy. We declined that as well. He then told us that we would need an extended warranty. We declined that as well. He then said the camera was on backorder and would not ship for at least 2-3 weeks. We asked why, as their web site says “usually ships in 1-2 days” and he paused for a second and then said we could try to re-order it after New Years.

    We then asked to cancel the order. After that, we also canceled our credit card as this business seems to be in the business of getting personal information and credit card info without ever intending to sell anything unless you pay a 200-500% markup on non-necessary accessories, even to the point that they are not truthful about such (e.g., needing “special” batteries, when only AA batteries are required), etc.

    Please avoid this place and do some research before buying online. We certainly learned our lesson.

  33. They are still at it. Bought a camera a month ago and got the same ‘spiel’, on back order, 3-4 weeks wait. Wrote again yesterday and got this today:

    Dear Valued Customer,

    We regret to inform you that the products you have ordered with our company are sold out temporarily.

    However, these products shall be available again within about 6-8 weeks from the date of this email.

    We would like to notify you that we still have not charged your credit card as of yet. Once we have the products ordered available again, we will send you another email notification and only then, you will be billed 24 hours prior to products shipment.

    If you would like to be on the backorder list for this product(s), just reply to this e-mail with the phrase “Please backorder order# (________) in the subject.

    If you would like to cancel the order just reply with the phrase “Please cancel order# (__________) and we will take care of the rest and destroy current information about your order.

    Thank you for your business!


    86th St. Photo and Video

  34. Stay away!!

    I also think there’re 3 or 4 merchants operated from the same outfit with different phone numbers.

    I saw a GPS on their web page (www.86photovideo.com)…a Gamin Nuvi 660 selling for $301.00 I called to order here how it went!

    Me) Hi, I see on your web page a Garmin Nuvi 660 selling for $314.00 I would like to buy it

    86photo) Yes we do… you’ll need a memory card which are on sale at the moment.

    Me) I don’t need it, I already have one from another Garmin GPS…

    86photo) But is the same Model 660? <— (right now the guy is BSing me, what difference does it make a MC is a MC! )

    Me) Yes It’s the same GPS .

    86photo) Do you want the English version or the Chinese one (Now I’m laughing I know they wont sell it for the price they advertise)

    Me) Finally after few complaining words I said Screw you… and hang up!

  35. I had the same problem with 86th street photo and also Broadway Photo.
    Broadway Photo = 86th Street photo.
    It’s the same call center handling both company…..
    Tried to buy a Panasomic Lumix camera.

    Got an email to verify my order.
    The guy representing Broadway Photo first tried to sell me a new battery and charger because the one that comes with it last only 20 minutes and charges for 8 hours!

    Then, he said the camera is an import from Japan and asked me if I speak japanese! 🙂 what a rip-off.

    There was no mention of this on their website, and the person I talked to at first completely lied to me.

    Also if you don’t buy anything extra, they will put your order on back order….guaranteed.

    Already made a complaint to FTC and Consumer report and am also going to complain about everyprice.com who promotes this activity

  36. This is wholly inapprorpaite behaviour by the merchant and yet it’s surprising how often it can happen. I think your idea of cancelling your credit card was extremely prudent and I’d have done the same, who knows where you details would have ended up otherwise.

  37. I had a similar experience with 86Photo this week (May 2 2008). As soon as I did not buy the additional items they wanted me to add to my order, I received an e-mail that the item I did order was on backorder. I won’t ever buy from 86Photo or use the LowPriceDigital website where 85Photo’s price was advertised.

  38. Glad to know I am not alone. Got the camera and the up-sell, “Because you are a first time customer.” The $150 lens filters do not fit on the camera. (I know — 150!! — I am a sucker, but “they are regularly $300, and they are on special today.”) The “free” camera case (because I “sound like such a nice guy” after buying the lens filters) is too small for the camera. Good thing it was “free.” The links on the website to track my order do not work, and someone else’s name and phone number came up when I log on to my account with them. When I finally got back through to them, they were unconcerned with this name error and told me to call back for customer service in three days. Needless to say, I have closed out my charge card. I did get the camera promptly. ($150 filters at least buy quick service.) In the end, I did get the $350 dollar camera for $230, but only after falling for the nearly $200 in extra junk — all at “deep discounts” just for me. I am usually not this stupid. In the end, my discounted $350 camera cost well over $500 with the filters and case I cannot use. Next time I’ll stick with someone I know.

  39. D. Cantrell – Sorry about your experience. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of immoral electronic stores out there. Before 86th photo, I went through a very similar experience as yours when I bought my first digital camera with lens/filters that are too small, extended-life battery that doesn’t work as well as the original, and a camera bag that’s too small.

  40. Hello everybody I just have same problem with them. Only thing is they didn’t try to sell anything to me but i receive an email saying it was sold out and 3/4 week back order. So I called them next day. And the conversation was
    Customer service: what is order #
    Customer service:Your order is canceled
    ME:okey ohh….
    Customer service: (stopped me) it is canceled okay (angry)

  41. The biggest problem online businesses have is that they cannot rely on traditional security measures to detect credit card fraud. They can’t require a customer’s signature, check a photo I.D., or use a credit card terminal. Crooks don’t even need the actual credit card. With the appropriate account number (obtained in a number of ways, including phishing scams or PC hacking), expiration date and billing address of the cardholder, any moderately technically savvy thief can circumvent most online anti-fraud safeguards. If the card remains with the cardholder, he or she won’t freeze the account until they notice the unauthorized charges. To make matters even worse, an online business that accidentally takes a fraudulent credit card order is responsible for the loss, including a chargeback fee of up to $25 (U.S.).
    An international website used by criminals to illegally buy and sell credit card details has been shut down, it emerged today.(Oct 17, 2008 BBC).
    86photovideo.com does not sell anything! It sells card information may be.

  42. I wonder why this website still listed.BBC or FBI should involve in these businesses or involve to who support this website. I would buy one from them but after research from ALL helpful comments here I definitely won’t buy from them


  43. November the 11th of 2008

    My Name is Uvaldo,

    I just had a very similar story to those of yours, and I thought I had enough checking on them before I decided to “buy”, since it was too good of a price to be true. And oh SURPRISE I have, very unethical and poor customer quality service. In addition of no product ever to be shipped to me.

    Product out of stock, will take about 2-3 weeks before it gets to us, we will e-mail you when we have a tracking number for you (I placed my order on Nov. the 5th), trying to view my registered account on their site does not work, it said “sorry, we have encountered an error. Please call us and tell us what you were doing when this happened” they kept switching my call to so many different departments after every few words I said, the funniest part is that I could assure you it always was the same person answering on the next coming extension. How clever to keep my mind busy thinking I was going to talk to someone, to help me to fix my account so I could review this tracking number for my order ( sony HDR-SR12 120 Gb Hard Driver High Definition Camcorder from 86photovideo.com), when he had enough I guess, on a very terminating tone ordered me to call back in like an hour. I did call back right away to try to cancel my Order and when they had inquired my Order Number, even before I finished mentioning the numbers this guy said: “Thank you, I have canceled your order. Bye bye” No time to ask for a cancellation Number or anything.

    Now I am trying to cancel my credit card.

    my Advice to everyone is DO NOT BUY FROM 86photovideo.com AT ALL.
    THE BIGGEST LIARS AT ALL EVER! On my little online buying experience.

    Sorry for the miss-spellings Spanish is my First Language.


    Uvaldo Carrillo

  44. This is an all too familiar story, one that I empathize with as I too have been a victim of unethical up-selling – or just unethical sales altogether. One thing I noticed is that is it always the online shops that don’t have a brick and mortar establishment close enough for you to just go to in person that tend to rely on these unethical business practices to make their money. After one too many experiences like this, I have almost completely stopped ordering anything online unless it is from a trusted reseller such as Amazon. What these sales people fail to realize is that they are driving business away by trying to force products down customers throats instead of giving them a pleasurable buying experience that makes them want to come back again. They might make an extra few bucks in the short term, but their list of returning clients is few if any. On a big picture scale, it isn’t necessarily the sales people’s fault; its the person who trained the sales people. People who don’t have knowledge of sales etiquette whether learned through school or experience shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

  45. This is something that is at the top of my list of things I absolutely cannot stand. These “sales people”, or whatever you want to call them, are the most frustrating people to deal with out of anyone. I used to be more passive and allow them to give me their whole pitch and respectfully decline (often multiple times) when they tried to upsell me or push products on me that I didn’t want or need. Now I am not as nice; I will stop them in their tracks and not allow them to finish their sentence before telling them I am not interested in anything other than the product or service the call is regarding. You need to be tough on these people or they will walk all over you.

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