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Consumer Alert

‘As Seen on TV’ products not always what they seem

A reader’s ongoing saga of trying to find someplace, anyplace, to fix a broken “As Seen on TV” product is a reminder of the issues that come with that category of goods .

In the early days of promoting what were then not mainstream products, over-the-top pitches made them known nationwide. Today, you can buy some “As Seen on TV” products in stores, but much of how these gizmos are sold has stayed the same as when Ron Popeil (Ronco) was hawking his Veg-O-Matic and Pocket Fisherman.

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Such products tend to be marketed with a certain kitschy flair that sets them apart from traditional products. Pitches to buy them by phone or online can also be filled with traps. That includes add-ons, upgrades, and offers for a second item “free.” That comes with an asterisk about added shipping and handling charges, which can equal the price of the “free” item.

That leads to a key rule of purchasing “As Seen on TV” products: Be sure to sort out how much the product is really going to cost before buying.

From WaxVac (ear wax cleaner) to ShamWow (a cloth that holds a lot of liquid), you need to check out what people who bought the products have said about them. Forget the people in the commercials who are wowed by all these products — or your children begging for one of the kid products they saw on TV — until you’re convinced they are worth buying.

One issue that has long dogged “As Seen on TV” products is durability. Many tend to be made inexpensively. They might actually do what they claim for a time, but then they break and can prove next to impossible to repair.

If you decide to go for it, avoid the TV offers and buy at a major retailer — Target, CVS, and Walgreens carry quite a few — to avoid shipping charges and other issues.

Even if some of these products started with a sideshow-like quality, consider the now ubiquitous OxiClean. You don’t have to dismiss the genre altogether: Just shop smart, and you might end up finding the solution you’re searching for.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers for two decades. He also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com and can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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