Extended warranties: from sucker’s bet to outright scam
In the summer of 2009, our comfy but crappily-constructed Ikea couch was not merely bedraggled beyond belief, but the frame had actually snapped right in two, after just a few years of normal wear. We needed to replace it, and I was tired of churning through shoddy sofas. This time, Jak and I wanted to get something sturdy and attractive that would hold up for twenty years or more.
We fully intended to buy used, but I combed Craigslist ads for nearly a year without success. The quality sofas were almost as expensive as buying new, but weren’t the look we wanted. The cheaper stuff was all either ugly or shoddy or both.
Eventually we started looking at new furniture, which ultimately led us to standing in Macy’s in June 2010 during a One Day Sale, preparing to lay down almost $2400, including tax and delivery, on a new matching leather sofa and loveseat.
That was a lot of money for us. These two pieces of furniture would be the second- and third-most-expensive things we owned, after our eleven-year-old car. The cost would be worth it, if they lasted us for several decades. I’d done my research into furniture construction, so I could tell these pieces were well-made.
The only problem: our aforementioned Bad Cat.
Sammy had shown a preference for expressing his anxiety on highly absorbent areas — beds, upholstered couches, baskets of laundry — and we had some hope that the leather wouldn’t qualify. But it was a heck of a risk to take. So when the salesman started talking up Macy’s ‘Worry No More’ furniture insurance, I actually read the brochure and gave it some consideration.
Normally, I just say ‘no thanks, not interested’ when someone starts trying to sell me an extended warranty, mostly because I’d been reading Consumer Reports’ warnings against them for the last twenty years. In this case, my wariness was offset by my fear that we might be buying a $2400 pair of cat toilets.
The insurance plan was good for seven years, and promised ‘professional stain removal and furniture repair’ for covered accidents — or replacement if it couldn’t be cleaned or repaired. There were a lot of exclusions, including damage done by animal ‘teeth, beaks, and claws’. But for our purposes, that was okay — for all his faults, Sammy has never been a furniture-scratcher. It covered the one thing I was really worried about: ‘pet bodily fluids’ on leather.
I went over the details with a fine-toothed comb. Some of the traps were clear — for example, you have to report the accident within ten days. It was expensive — close to $400 extra for accident coverage on both pieces. But I figured that seven years of professional leather cleaning might be worth that much. And if by some miracle we didn’t ever need to make a claim, we’d have a $400 credit at Macy’s in seven years.
In the end, it looked like this insurance would substantially limit our Bad Cat risk. And so I took the bait.
To no one’s surprise, the day eventually came when we discovered a puddle in the middle of our loveseat. We mopped it up and I called the warranty company.
They don’t have repair staff of their own, but subcontract to local providers. So a day or two later, an unaffiliated upholstery cleaning professional showed up at our house, checked out the loveseat, and called the warranty company and made his report. Then he handed the phone to me.
The Worry No More representative informed me that this event was not covered under the warranty, because ‘stain removal’ refers only to visible discoloration, not odor.
As anyone with a Bad Cat knows from long experience, urine doesn’t typically leave a visible stain — the odor is the main problem. They never intended ‘pet bodily fluids’ to cover urine at all; I had fallen into a deliberate trap. And of course now that I’d attempted a claim, even though it was denied, we lost our $400 Macy’s credit.
To say that I was angry would not have begun to cover it. But I was also chagrined, because I should have expected as much. I felt half-responsible for letting myself believe a sales pitch for an extended warranty when I’d read, over and over again, that they were invariably a terrible deal for the buyer.
I’d ignored the warnings, and been played for a sucker.
A search online for “macy’s worry no more review” turns up hundreds upon hundreds of people on multiple sites complaining that the whole thing is a scam. The list of reasons for which people’s claims have been denied is absurdly long and so varied that it’s obviously indicative of overall policy.
Clearly, the business model here is to sell ‘insurance’ at hundreds of dollars per item with no intent of ever paying out on a claim. All income + no outgo = profit.
Even worse, I saw one comment from a former Macy’s furniture salesperson explaining that the company mandates that 50% of each employee’s sales include these scam extended warranties, or you will be fired. Interestingly — and believably enough — he claims that Macy’s keeps the entire revenue, and simply contracts out to a separate company to handle the paperwork of denying claims.
There is a happy ending to this story, although the credit is entirely due to the local upholstery cleaner who came out on the warranty call, and not Macy’s or the company behind ‘Worry No More’.
He took pity on me, and offered some professional wisdom, no extra charge. He told me the product and method he used to combat pet urine odors in the usual course of his carpet and upholstery cleaning business. I followed his instructions exactly, and it was like a miracle. Completely saved our leather loveseat, and a few other things since. Here’s what he told me:
Jon-Don Janitorial Supplies makes a product called Bad Dog. It’s a concentrated hydrogen peroxide-based liquid for removing pet urine odors. Use a syringe to inject this antidote directly into the foam cushion where the urine has penetrated. If the odor isn’t completely gone in a few hours, there’s a pocket where the peroxide didn’t reach — find the area and reapply.
Seriously, magic. Over the years we’ve tried pretty much every commercial ‘enzyme cleaner’ product on the market — Nature’s Miracle, Simple Solution, and so on — along with every home remedy you’ve ever heard of. This puts all of them to shame. We’ve used it to remove urine odor from leather, upholstery, mattresses, and carpet. The peroxide is much more concentrated than what you buy at the drugstore — it will fast-bleach your hair and kill the outside layers of your skin, so be careful about getting it on yourself. But small quantities had no negative effects on the leather surface of our couches, or anything else we’ve treated with it.
(And yes, our frequent use of ‘Bad Dog’ cleaner is why we started calling Sammy the ‘Bad Cat’.)
Learn from my wasted $400: do not buy extended warranties or supplemental insurance on your purchases. Ever.
If you are nervous about damage — if you have your own Bad Cat or Small Child or something else that makes accidents likely — then before you buy anything, call up a few local businesses and find out what the cost of repair or cleaning would be. Make sure you’re comfortable with adding that kind of expense to the lifetime cost of the item.
Or purchase from a company that offers an unconditional money-back guarantee on its products with no extra charge — a company that’s more interested in your long-term loyalty than in short-term gain. Costco, for example, will take furniture back for a full refund at any time for any reason.