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Feb 25

After having moved to America, I admired few things as much as the Starbuck’s loyalty program. Basically you earned a star for every visit to a Starbucks store and it took 30 stars to reach gold status. After you reach gold status, you would get a free drink every 12 stars.  It was nothing great especially when you consider that McDonald’s McCafe has a 5 drink punch card system. However it usually worked as Starbucks would often send out mailers with bonus stars etc.

Last week Starbucks announced far reaching changes to the program which reward only high spenders and make it exceedingly hard for tall/short coffee drinkers to get free drinks. As an example, if you spent $4 on an average on coffee, even without any bonus starts it would take you just $48 to get a free drink or a snack. An OK deal, not too good, but more importantly not too bad either. However under the new rewards program you would earn 2 stars for every dollar you spend. So $48 only gets you 96 stars which is short of the free drink. You must spend $62.5 to get the 125 stars needed for a free drink now. Ofcourse if you have a ton of money and didnt need the occasional free coffee anyway, the Starbucks program rewards you. When people sais they want more stars, this is definitely not what they meant. However that’s the stupid PR spin given to the change by Starbucks.

Here is an infographic showing the changes (ownership is with starbucks, please ignore copyright statement on this) :

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Also worth noting is that the program sucks even more for new customers. Earlier on an average it would cost you $120 to become a gold customer, however now you would need to spend $150 to become gold and then spend an additional $62.5 to get a free coffee. A net expenditure of $212.5 .

What can I do to stop this change ?

Starbucks is spending big bucks to advertise this change, however there is already ton of social media backlash. You should voice your concerns online and email Starbucks about the change. Also you can call Starbucks and ask them for a refund of your gift cards since they have significantly devalued the program. This should tell Starbucks that it’s customers don’t appreciate the changes and force them to do a rethink.


Feb 18

Visiting India is always a bittersweet experience for me. I see so many things changing but so many things remain the same. Who can forget the dud Aakash tablet ? And now hot on its heels comes the latest ‘’pretend’ to make in India product, the Freedom 251 phone. The phone launched at a price point of Rs. 251 promises that its the world’s cheapest smartphone. Boasting of 8GB internal memory and 1GB of RAM along with a 1.3 Ghz Quad core processor, the specs are no joke for the price tag. However the phone and its gaffes are super jokes unless the company is able to do some serious explaining.

For one, all icons on the phone are blatant copies of the Apple iPhone, they even copied the Safari icon for their generic browser on their Android 5.1. Most of the other icons such as music are also copies of the iPhone. A news source was quoting company sources as saying that Apple has not copyrighted these icons. Calling bullshit on that ! Even the start interface looks like Apple’s and the home button and rounded edges are also copies of the legendary Apple phone.

The company also plans to setup plants in Noida worth over 250 crores, however there is no indication of how they would actually get this money. With the 4 month delivery promise, it looks like a pyramid scheme at the moment. The Indian govt. also seems to have some shady partnership with this company with the Freedom 251 makers proposing to launch with Govt. bloatware apps like Swach Bharat and Farmer and Women Safety. The company however claims no subsidy if being given to them.

The phone also has the Indian tricolor to further impress upon the fact that its an Indian phone, however the test phones given to some media outlets had Adcom branding whitened out , and the company Adcom is just an importer of IT products. So the more someone questions and digs into this so called cheap smartphone, the more it becomes apparent that its largely a scam and the make in India part is probably just an eyewash to sell more units to those who think having a phone with the tricolor makes them more patriotic. Also the legality of putting the Indian flag on the phone needs to be questioned.

Only time will tell how things unfold, but if you are lucky enough to get this phone for 251, don’t be disillusioned, its not an example of Indian engineering, but more-so of Indian jugaad and trickery. I hope that I am wrong and this is a company with indeed good intentions and a good product, but it seems very unlikely that its the case.

With no products out till now, the following mission statement might evoke a chuckle :

Established in 2015, Ringing Bells Pvt. Ltd. is one of the fastest growing smartphone companies in India. We design and produce smart phones to provide a satisfying mobile experience for users, so that their valuable time is spent doing things/tasks they love, instead of figuring out ways to use the phone.

We have a complete in-house product testing set-up in India. With best-in-class features, Freedom251 is the Indian smartphone brand at highly affordable prices. We are an amazing team of smartphone lovers who collaborate seamlessly to exchange technical and qualitative inputs and create quality products, along with testing at several stages to deliver the ultimate customer experience in its category.

We convert consumers’ needs and insights into amazing products using deep requirement analysis and bridging gap by offering products with superior value through high quality and best-in-class features at an affordable price.


Jan 03

Update : Working with MyProtein management, we have been able to resolve the issue.

This is not a Myprotein.com review, this is my horror story with this so called store with an extreme lack of customer service. I had placed on order with these guys on October 3rd 2015 (or so). For 2 months I heard nothing about my order, no shipment was sent. Then suddenly on 6th December (or so), they charge my credit card and tell me my order is processing. What the hell ?

So I write them a polite letter to cancel the order, I don’t like receiving items 2 months late. They say its shipped and sure enough I need to reship it back and they tell me that they would pay return shipping upto a certain value. Not wanting to pay out of pocket, I refuse the delivery with Fedex and send the package back. The package is processed by Fedex and sent back to them.

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Its received by someone named Aschultz on 18th December 2015.

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Since then they have been playing email tag with me. First they told me that the refund would be processed once they got their package back. It was strange that I had refused delivery but still they wanted me to wait, but I went ahead. After receiving the package back on 18th, they are just pretending to have not received it. Waiting for confirmation from their warehouse they say. Sending emails or trying to reason with them is like banging your head against a brick wall. The customer care just keeps responding with the same shit.

Please be advised that this refused delivery will now be returned to sender, once it has successfully been processed back we can issue you your refund.

I am sorry to advised that we are unable to process a refund or a replacement as the order is showing as not being returned, the details have now been passed to our warehouse to get this checked and someone will be in touch shortly.

Once we do get this order processed back at our Warehouse a full refund will be issued for you.

I am sorry for any frustration you are feeling, however we have not yet received confirmation from our warehouse that this order has been returned to us, therefore we would be unable to process a refund for you just yet.

Even after the order was received, they lied that its in transit to them :

Plesae (sic) be advised that this order is still showing as in transit to back to us. As soon as this has been back processed we will initiate your refund.

So I am writing this post with 2 objectives, one is to force them to do the right thing and refund my money and the second is to warn people about doing new business with them. Like I said, I havent met a more customer unfriendly business in the United States ever.

I have tried everything from writing a review on their linked website Trustpilot to tryng to escalate to tryng to reason. This company is shameless and possibly the most customer unfriendly company I have ever encountered in the US.


Dec 29

Lets start from the beginning of the timeline. Its October first week, I am in the US. Out of OCD and habit I check my Indian credit card by Standard Chartered. I see that there is a charge of almost 30000 rupees which I don’t recognize. I immediately call their call center and after going through a tedious IVRS system I finally get to talk to a real person. My call disconnects twice before I can complete the dispute. I send in a dispute declaration form to the bank for further processing the dispute. If I were in the US, this would be the end of it, the merchant would be penalized. That was not to be. Since we were in the beautiful land of India, everyone was just hoping to take customers for a ride. Standard Chartered and as I found Bank of Baroda later which was the payment processor for the merchant were pushing for the same.

After submitting the dispute form, I received a temporary credit and the online customer service advised me to pay the disputed money otherwise they would charge finance charges. I was shocked and flabbergasted at this. This is directly in contravention of any rule or guideline concerning the dispute process. I wrote off a letter to the RBI ombudsman after this highlighting that not only is Standard Chartered not assisting me properly, they are trying to arm twist me into payment. I also highlighted other procedural lapses by the bank. Here is a relevant portion of my letter to the RBI copied to standard chartered bank :

image

I sent the letters and promptly got busy in worklife. Pretty soon the dispute was closed in the merchant’s favor. I got to know this in standard chartered bank’s response to the RBI. It was full of half truths, but the most fascinating thing was the proof the merchant had submitted.

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They claimed that a chargeslip was the proof of the transaction as submitted by the merchant. Its ridiculous that Indian banks think their customers are so dumb and illiterate. And this too in response to the RBI ombudsman. A chargeslip is generated in every transaction, it cannot be proof that someone committed the transaction. It’s common sense one would argue, however Standard Chartered bank had the audacity to attach the chargeslip as proof to the RBI. Thankfully, I still had my card and the signature on the chargeslip was just swiggly lines. They also claim this is industry standard, wow and yikes at the same time. If our CC industry believes that a chargeslip is proof enough for a transaction then I can safely say no fraud has even been committed using credit cards offline in India. Is this really the industry standard ?

Here is the fraudulent chageslip in all its glory, notice that the name looks like Waseem, maybe its fake or maybe the thief signed his real name :

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What was interesting in Standard Chartered’s response to the RBI was that they agreed to reopen the dispute after initially deciding against me only due to the fact that I was abroad. I cringe at what would happen if I was in India, then the chargeslip with fake signature would have ensured that Standard Chartered would hold me responsible for the charge ? They also cleverly asked the RBI to close the complaint. At this point, I asked dad to prepare filing a case in consumer court, there was no way I was going to pay the fraudulent charges.

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So post this drama, I shot off a response to RBI and Standard Chartered bank again questioning the shoddy proof and also asking the RBI to not close the complaint since the essence of the complaint was infact the charge itself and not whether they were allowing me to dispute it. Here is a copy of some of my points in the letter :

However to get to the pertinent points regarding the dispute:

1. I was not present in the country when the said transaction happened, and I have the card in my possession.

2. The signature shared by the merchant bank doesn’t even look like my name and just seems like scribbling. This is the signature on the back of my card for reference. As you can see as a security measure I had even scratched off the 3 digit CVV and always used the card carefully.

The merchant has obviously done a poor job of matching the signature for such a high value transaction or checking the identity.

3. I have also filed a case with the Navi Mumbai Police’s cyber cell

<complaint numbers here>

4. Given the facts of the case, I am able to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the transaction is fraudulent and not committed by me and I have the card in my possession so there is no negligence on my part. I reported the fraud transaction as soon as I got to know about it.

Question to Bank:

I fail to understand how the charge slip is any kind of ‘proof’ that I had committed the transaction. It’s not evidence, it’s a fact that anytime a transaction happens, a chargeslip is generated. How is that even pertinent to the case at hand?

What is evidence is that the signature is a complete mismatch and scribble and since I did not sign that chargeslip, I am not the one who entered into the contract to pay for that charge.

Since the bank claims the dispute is currently in investigation, I accept their submission to wait for an outcome.

I would request RBI to keep the complaint open till a decision is reached by the bank in the matter. The crux of my complaint is that the transaction is obviously not done by me and I should not be responsible for the fraud and that matter is not yet resolved by the bank.

Thanks

Wisetechie

Copy to :

Nodal Officer, Standard Chartered Bank

After waiting for another month and a half, today I finally seem to have gotten confirmation that the disputed charge is finally reversed from my account. I hope this is the end of it. There is an important lesson in all of this especially if you use credit products in India. the protections to consumers seem to be very flimsy. If you use a credit product in India, insist on a chip card and if you use your card at restaurants, insist to go along with the waiter to swipe the card. Scratch off the CVV from the back of the card and most importantly flex your rights. My blood still boils thinking of how the chargeslip was meant to be proof of me committing the transaction. In my opinion it was only because I was in the US that the dispute was decided in my favor  (it still took 2.5 months).


Sep 21

We woke up yesterday to some very unsettling news, a hedge fund manager starts a pharma company, takes over the rights for a drug and then jacks up the price. In a perfect world this wouldn’t happen, even in an imperfect world this wouldn’t happen, however in this world this just happened. Turing Pharma’s wannabee CEO Martin Shkreli has done the humanly unthinkable. He raised the price of an essential AIDS drug by over 5000%. The price of Daraprim tablet was raised from $13.50 to $750 overnight by this company which just bought some rights to the medicine and had invested nada in its R&D.

The smug CEO who should probably be running playgroups instead of deciding the fate of millions of people started an all out war on twitter, responding arrogantly with the (non)-elegance of a baboon. The price gouging as expected was criticised not only by the general public and doctors but many in the pharma industry itself. By evening the twitter war took a much graver turn for the CEO, when Kurt Eichenwald on his twitter feed suggested that the feds may soon go after him. From tax violations to stock manipulation, he seemed to suggest that Martin would be the subject of a legal witchhunt and lets be real, no jury is selecting non-guilty. At the end it looked like that Kurt had found some sort of a whistleblower :

My view is very simple on this, I love capitalism, its one of the things that makes American super great. however there needs to be a balance of forces. Just like Nestle cannot take over all the water on earth, you cannot just raise the price of a life saving drug by 5000% and think that the world wouldn’t care. If your company isn’t profitable, fix it honestly keeping your greed in check, don’t buy drugs and try to exploit a monopoly.


Sep 14

In a funny news article that seriously puts into doubt whether the bosses running telecom in India are competent or not TRAI has come out with a report that mobile phone towers do not cause radiation. In a claim that can at best be called laughable, TRAI claims it tested 300 towers in Himachal Pradesh and no radiation was detected. I quote directly from a news article :

“There are 300 towers in Himachal and during the study conducted by Trai no radiation was detected and the myth has been exploded,” Trai adviser SK Gupta said

Of course any kid who has studied basic science would tell you cell phone towers are a source of electromagnetic radiation. I wonder if the TRAI baboons, oops I mean scientists were looking for nuclear radiation using geiger counters and failed to find any. If yes, they need to be sent back to high school. What’s worrying is that most such articles then go onto implore the importance of creating more mobile phone towers. Many news articles go onto quote Modi that call drops are an emergency (maybe crime in Delhi, dengue cases etc. should be  the emergencies the top babus look at ?).

While its debatable if mobile phone towers can cause diseases or cancer due to their radiation, what’s undisputed is the fact that mobile phone towers, often called as base stations do emit radiation. Now if only TRAI would stop publishing non-sense and disseminating it via Indian press. It may not be sheer incompetence on TRAI’s part but a simple case of pleasing its masters. All in all, with the sheer speed of environmental clearance fast-tracking India is seeing along with dubious research reports such as the one released by TRAI, God only can save India and its fragile environment.

A quick search of Google scholar had enough references 1 2 3 4 5 6 to radiation from mobile phone towers that I no longer question my sanity, and before you start a tirade against me, no I didn’t have time to read them from cover to cover.