Contracts, Contracts, Everywhere

Long term contracts and petty fees are everwhere.

When we moved to Princeton last year we signed up for Poland Springs water delivery. (Poland Springs is owned by that bottled water juggernaut, Nestle Waters.) They offered an inflexible monthly service plan of 4 bottles per month for $32.96, which was the best deal in their array of undesirable options. You can skip a delivery, but not a payment.

When the first bill arrived I was surprised to find a $2.00 fee for an Oil Surcharge. What? This is nothing more than a price hike disguised as a fee, hiding behind rising fuel prices. They are in the delivery business. Fuel charges are integral to their cost of doing business and should therefore be integrated into the price.

My biggest disappointment came when I set out to cancel the service due to a pending move to North Carolina. I knew I had signed a contract for their flat rate service but I remembered it as being a one year commitment. Imagine my surprise to discover that I had, in fact, signed a two-year contract and was now facing a $50 cancellation fee. With our move date rapidly approaching, I paid the fee . . . and said goodbye to Nestle Waters.

The cell phone industry introduced us to contracts with the rationalization that they were subsidizing the price of the phone. Our “commitment” helped them ensure that they recovered the cost of the phone. Now that we let them in the door, the industry is charging contracts everywhere. AT&T requires a two year contract with the iPhone despite the fact that there is no subsidy for the hardware. T-Mobile required a one-year contract extensions just to upgrade my handset to a Blackberry. No thank you.

Contracts have a modicum of acceptability if the company incurs set-up costs, such as when the cable guy has to come out to your house to set up your cable box. But Poland Springs had no startup costs with my service plan. They delivered four bottles of water to my house once a month for a cost of $8.74 a bottle (or $1.75 / gallon). The entire delivery too mere minutes each month. It seems to me that they should be able to make a profit on each delivery, beginning with the first one.

I guess I have learned my lesson with bottled water. There has been a lot of buzz in the news lately about the potential hazards of plastic bottles leaching their chemicals into their contents. (Check out the great Smart Plastics Guide at the The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy). Time to get a water filter.

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