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Thu Mar 23, 2006 - 4:40 PM EST - By Douglas Morse

The Fees

So far, so good, so easy. But here’s where I got steamed. On the last screen, you discover that returns cost you a $14.95 fee for each item recovered, and you’ll have to pay for shipping on top of that. The two- and five-packs of labels don’t include that essential information anywhere on or in the package. This info should be clearly explained on all packaging.

To make StuffBak worthwhile and avoid the costly return fees, you have to upgrade to their "premium" service for $19.95 and this is what you’ll get for five years:

  • Free recovery for all registered items
  • Priority service and handling
  • Free overnight shipping for returns
  • 20 percent StuffBak store shopping discount
  • Free 2-label Mini Pack shipped free via USPS

Counting shipping and recovery fees, the non-premium plan is so expensive that it's hardly worthwhile. If your first item is found, you are offered the option to upgrade automatically to premium service. Who wouldn’t? It would behoove StuffBak to ditch the $14.95 return service completely and have people pony up the $19.95 upon the first recovered item. They should also be more up-front about the real costs of the returns.

Although the labels boast a reward for finders in bright florescent yellow lettering, the reward provided by StuffBak is twenty dollars worth of labels to the finder. This is hardly what the label implies. You’d really need to offer a cash reward on your item to make it worthwhile for the finder to return it. A little closer to truth in the company's promotional copy would be welcome, here.

And although these labels look like they’re tamper-proof, you know, the kind of self-destructing stickers that you’ve seen mfrs use atop the screws on casework of small electronics to prove the user didn’t open the case (and void the warranty) when they try to peel them off, they’re not. I put one on the back of a Treo that lives in one of InnoPocket’s metal cases. Those cases are lined with grippy neoprene cushioning, and after taking the Treo in and out of the case half a dozen times, the StuffBak label started to peel at its edges and finally came off the Treo in a sticky, tangled mess. I had to just throw away the label. So try to find a place on your Treo where you can slap a StuffBak label to avoid this scenario, but where a finder will still spot it.


As for StuffBak's claim of a 75 percent return rate, here are my “lost on purpose” stories:

I left an old Visor Prism, working but held together with duct tape, in a bookstore near Columbia University. Weeks later, silence. No call that it had been found.

My next test was more successful. I left a Sony Clié in a Panera Bread shop. Within two days, I had an e-mail and a phone call from StuffBak. When I called back, they couldn’t have been nicer, and I went to pick up the Clié the next week. At that point I upgraded to the premium service.

I left a Polaroid Camera in a men’s room at Zen Palate. It ended up in the restaurant's lost and found. No one called StuffBak. When I phoned the restaurant, they said they found the camera and dropped it in their lost and found box despite the prominently displayed label. When I asked the waiter at Zen Palate why they didn’t call the number on the label, he said that no one looked closely at the camera. However, once I explained the system to him, he immediately demanded to know more about the product. He scribbled down the StuffBak website address and I’m sure he went to order some labels that night.

According to StuffBak, tests that were conducted by CNBC and USA Today showed a 75 percent recovery rate. I have my doubt about the veracity of those tests, as I think my three examples reflect more likely scenarios.

For my fourth test, I left the Polaroid camera on top of a bunch of fruit displayed outside a grocery store. It has not returned, but it's been only a few days.

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