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Monday, August 27, 2007


This is the second in my series of junk mail company reviews that include specifics about their handling of consumer names and personal data, particulars on their list of customers, costs for shipping and handling, and their track record with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), if available. Attention today is on The Sharper Image catalog, a San Francisco based company that sells upscale electronics products from its catalogs and retail stores. I met Richard Thalheimer, the founder of Sharper Image and a visionary in the business, several years ago in San Francisco when I was a list/data broker. I was impressed, as were hundreds of thousands of his customers across the U.S. who bought unique high ticket electronics items. Today there are a total of 4.2 million customers, but Thalheimer left the company in 2006 after a two year sales decline. That’s hard to understand when each catalog purchase is worth an average $170 to Sharper Image, and on top of that you pay shipping and handling based on the dollar amount of your purchase, not the actual cost. I had one client tell me years ago that his shipping department was actually a profit center. As an example, if you order a travel radio costing $100, you pay $17.95 S&H. You can ship the same item any day priority mail for $6.20. Add another couple bucks for handling and you’re still almost $10 under the $17.95. SI also has an unsatisfactory record with the Better Business Bureau; 111 complaints over the last 36 months. Although most complaints were resolved, the “unsatisfactory” label is for failing to resolve or respond to complaints or resolve them in a timely manner, and a pattern of not addressing underlying issues of the complaints. The company is also under siege by 27 state attorneys general in a class-action lawsuit for $900 million financial experts say could bankrupt the company. The legal action is over SI’s Ionic Breeze purifiers that apparently don’t work, and could cause health problems. Some say Thalheimer’s rush to open retail stores was the start of their financial problems. We may never know unless Richard comes forward with the answer.

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