Opinion: Learning the oldest business lesson in the (entertainment) book

Hundreds of Ottawa-area retailers advertise in The Entertainment Book and thousands of consumers in this region buy the book each year for its discount coupons and two-for-one deals.

There is no question the annual U.S.-based publication can save consumers money – especially those who dine out a lot, since the book is packed with two-for-one meal deals.

But my wife and I recently had an unpleasant experience with The Entertainment Book that has left a bad taste in our mouths. It was probably at least partly our fault. And the lesson we learned is the oldest one in the book: Buyer, beware!

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It began with a shock: We noticed a charge of US$35 on our American-dollar credit card when we received a recent statement. The charge was by Entertainment.com – which turned out to be the e-mail address of The Entertainment Book.

As far as we knew, we had ordered nothing from The Entertainment Book since we purchased the Ottawa edition of the 2016 book online almost a year ago for US$14.99.

At that time, we used a Canadian-dollar credit card that we have since cancelled. We used the Canadian-dollar card because we had assumed, wrongly, that the purchase price of $14.99 was in Canadian dollars. It was only when we got the bill in December 2015 that we noticed the $14.99 purchase price had been converted to Canadian dollars, $21.27 at that time. We promptly paid that sum, almost one year ago now.

I wanted to telephone The Entertainment Book for an explanation of the recent US$35 charge, but could find no listed phone number.

I phoned the Canadian bank that issued my U.S.-dollar credit card. A customer service person at the bank suggested the charge might be an annual membership fee.

I then spoke with a bank supervisor, stressing that, as far as I knew, I had not authorized any payment of US$35 to The Entertainment Book. The supervisor said the matter would be referred to the bank’s security department.

I then checked The Entertainment Book website and found what is almost certainly the explanation for the charge. A section is headed “Annual Renewal Terms and Conditions.”

This annual membership includes online discounts that are in addition to those in the Ottawa edition of The Entertainment Book. Unknowingly, I might have accepted these terms when I bought the 2016 book.

Since I learned this, there have been these developments:

1. The issuer of our U.S.-dollar credit card telephoned me with the good news that, after investigation, it has removed the $35 charge and we owe nothing on the credit card.

2. I received by mail a copy of the 2017 Entertainment Book, with the option to return it if I did not want it. However, The Entertainment Book said I must pay $7.95 return postage, which I have declined to do, since I did not knowingly order the book. The book came with a pre-paid return envelope, and I have returned it. It remains to be seen whether The Entertainment Book will now bill me for that $7.95.

There remains the mystery of how The Entertainment Book was able to bill me on my U.S.-dollar credit card. I do not believe I ever gave the number of this card to The Entertainment Book.

I asked the bank that issued the card if it could shed some light on this, but it was unable to do so.

The bottom line here is: You cannot be too careful when buying anything, especially when buying online. Indeed, it can be VERY difficult to even find the fine print when buying something online.

Michael Prentice is OBJ’s columnist on retail and consumer issues.

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