Pleygo: Netflix for LEGO

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Earlier this year a new service was launched in the USA called Pleygo which has been described as 'Netflix for LEGO': sign up for a monthly fee and they'll send you LEGO sets to build. When you're done with them you send them back.

Since its launch there's been plenty of discussion in the forum and on other fan sites about it: some people think it's a genius idea and others claim that it'll never work. Regardless of what we think it seems that it's actually been a huge success. Recent articles in Business Week and elsewhere state that it has raised $6m in venture capital and operates from a warehouse in San Jose where its 50,000 LEGO sets are cleaned, processed and posted out by 10 employees to thousands of customers. So, while it's not something that appeals to everyone, it certainly is appealing to enough people to make it work.

I recently had an opportunity to ask Elina Furman, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, a few questions that I thought would be of interest from an AFOL perspective:

Brickset: How do you clean the pieces?

Elina: Pleygo uses a commercial grade washer/sanitizer to clean the LEGO bricks. The pieces are placed in mesh bags and they are rinsed in 120 degree water, and then sanitized with an eco-friendly solution. Our machines meet all food service health codes. Once all the bricks are cleaned, we transfer the meshed bags to a commercial dryer, where the bricks are tumbled and dried off before storing.

Do you find that cleaning so frequently damages the parts?

Our sets are going through frequent washing and our QC department inspects sets before shipping. We haven’t experienced brick casualties as of yet.

Do sets often come back with the minifigs or other rare parts missing?

Surprisingly, our members are meticulous about keeping the sets together. We have less than 0.05% cases of key pieces/minifigures missing and in these cases we replace them with our large inventory of missing pieces.

It must take some time to check sets as they are returned. How do you do that?

Every set goes through a meticulous visual inspection and then it is weighed to make sure the set is intact. We developed a patent pending algorithm uses the weight to figure out probability of combination of lost pieces. We use an extremely accurate digital scale and a proprietary software to enable our team to figure out the condition of a set in a very short time. We then complement relevant set with the needed pieces from our inventory.

How do you replace missing parts?

Our sets arrive to the user with a spare parts bag that includes the most common 25 pieces in our shipments. It solves 94% of cases of a single lost piece. If there is a critical part or a minifigure missing, users can order the part right on our site and the pieces will be shipped to them.

We actually buy from LEGO those large amounts of spare pieces boxes and if needed we'll buy from Bricklink or combine two incomplete sets to make one good one.

How many times can you rent out a particular set before it’s too worn/chewed/broken?

We have a life expectancy of 20 rotations before we retire a set.

Are you finding that the service is of interest to AFOLs as well as kids?

The primary market has definitely been kids and families. The AFOL community is a great community which we are part of and believe it’s a great potential fit for us, but many are collectors and want to display their sets once they are complete. That said, not all AFOLs can shell $400 to buy LEGO sets on a regular basis and our $39 MegaFan plan can be a great fit to them (build the Death Star for $39 – a no brainer). For the ones that want to collect, we allow to purchase the set you received in a reduce price to the MSRP price.

We know from AFOL forums that some fans are looking at our model as a way to get their hands on rare pieces. We track our sets and have a very simple system to identify those who don’t play within the rules. Pleygo is a friendly service that promotes LEGO building.

What does the LEGO company think of your service?

The LEGO company is aware of our rental service and does not object to the rental of LEGO sets. Surveys among our members demonstrate that Pleygo promotes LEGO sales and increase by 40% the LEGO brand engagement.

Do you plan to expand into international markets?

Yes, we plan to expand to key international markets such as Australia, UK and Germany next year.

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Thanks Elina. Good luck with the business!

Visit Pleygo.com for more information and to sign up if you're interested!

40 comments on this article

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By in United Kingdom,

Some interesting answers and I for one will give them a try when they come over here just to test sets to see if they appeal to me or not.

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By in United States,

So when they retire a set are they offering it up for sale that would be great.

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By in United Kingdom,

Doesn't appeal to me. I get a lot of enjoyment from building Lego sets but equally from having them on display and creating my own little world.

Contrary to what Elina might think, paying $39 to build the Death Star is not a "no brainer" when you have to give the thing back a month later.

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By in United States,

Heard of it... And it doesn't apeal to me. If LEGO's real purpose is to take apart and to build your own thing; than this defeats that entire purpose.

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By in France,

So how do they account for swapped pieces, rather than stolen? I can imagine certain pieces in rare colours going missing, but replaced by the same piece in a cheap colour to get round their weighing system.

Does lego object to them using the lego artwork (Cheerleader in the unnatural pose)) to advertise their company, amended so that their company logo is on it? I thought that was against lego's rules.

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By in France,

$40 to build the Death Star is a lot. But $40 to build the Death Star, take it to the top of a 10 storey building and chuck it off to do a youtube video. Now that is probably good value.

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By in Australia,

It's not going to appeal to everyone, but it does sound like they have put in a lot of thought into the back end of the business to ensure a high quality of product turnaround.

As with all rentals, you would really need to use the service quite a lot to justify the monthly rates, especially on the lower plans.

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By in United Kingdom,

Well, this could mean benefits to both parties, as long as legal stuff with the company is settled (which probably has already been done). Someone buying a set and renting it out 20 times is not the same as 20 people actually buying it. This may impact Lego's sales, but could also encourage people to buy their own sets, so it could go both ways.

I am more worried about part depreciation in all this shipping/(dis)playing/washing process. Parts may end up being sold on BL in beaten condition or given away to charity. One of the major problems would be huge demand for certain sets while the rest of them would be just taking up space in a warehouse. People wanting a 'real deal' for their bucks would only end up frustrated as most rare, old and exclusive sets will be all booked or long ago retired. Having more sets in the system would not really help, as it is quite difficult to forecast the demand.

Overall, I think that it may be a great opportunity to get your hands on some sets you otherwise wouldn't have been able to acquire, but it is highly unlikely to meet the needs, especially those of AFOLs.

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By in United States,

It is an interesting idea. I think my first concern was also, how do they account for missing figures/pieces. They answer they have a way to monitor it, but as business gets busier, I don't know how these 10 employees can keep up with demand. If they have to visually inspect and then weigh every set, every time one is returned, it can be a hassle. I agree with what someone else said about swapping a piece that is identical other than color. In some sets, you may not notice that and the scale would trigger anything off. So they'd have to make sure it was complete. By weighing the set, is it built or in bags? How I read it, it was built, which seems silly. Who wants to mail a built set? I would assume it is disassembled to be shipped to and from the warehouse.

I prefer to keep my pieces so I can have them whenever, so this service isn't for me. However, I hadn't thought of renting a set that I had no intention of buying, just to see how it is built or to get a closer look at some of the pieces/figures as opposed to reading a review online. With that said, they do offer selling some sets at a reduced cost, which is nice, but I haven't looked into how much cheaper. It might not be worth it.

If they buy all of the sets from LEGO and have extras sitting around in case pieces go missing, how long until they become profitable on the total number of sets purchased?

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By in United States,

I agree with coson. My childrens' LEGO comingle and the kids don't want to keep a set together for more than a few weeks. Even some of my husband's Classic Space have joined the fray. They are building new stories every day.

As for resale of their retired LEGO, how will they manage it? Whole sets or piece by piece? On their site or Bricklink or eBay? And more importantly, how will they set their resale prices? Per their site, you can purchase a rented set for RRP. Hmmm.

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By in United Kingdom,

$40 to build the death star probably is a no brainer for me, but how many months is it before you get that to build as i notice its 'low availability' as is the SSD. After those two the best are probably the modulars. $40 to build a FB doesn't sound anything like as tempting.

That element of it reminds me of the early days of online dvd rentals where you had to have a list of 10+ movies but wouldn't guarantee getting any particular one. Thats with dvd's - with lego sets its likely to be much worse and whilst the difference between your 1st and 5th favourite movie rental might not be much the difference between 1st and 5th favourite lego set from that list could be (would be?) enormous.

Anyhow - I notice that there's a shared revenue scheme for people who join Pleygo by following a brickset link. So I guess that's the cost of a nice bit of promotional front page news / limp question and answer session. I know thats the norm these days but its disappointing - I mean, if you let Pleygo say this "build the Death Star for $39 – a no brainer" but then not to insist on the follow up question "How long do most users have to wait to get to build the Death Star" is just shallow.

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By in United States,

$40 to build the death star sound good until it takes months for you to even get that from your list since there is limited availability. If you saved your $40 for 10 months you could buy your own.

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By in United Kingdom,

^^Aww, don't be so cynicical! ;) It seems like an interesting and topical story to me, what with the Business Week article and forum discussion. So what if Huw wasn't aggressive enough in his journalism? This isn't a tabloid, it's a fansite, and this is exactly the sort of thing I'd want to find out about on a Lego fansite and just the sort of tone I would hope for too.
As Huw began in his article, even if most forum contributors hate the idea there's been enough going with it make it a success, it doesn't need everyone to like it or need it for it to be useful to some.

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By in United Kingdom,

Not for me at all. Also, anything that says "MegaFan" and has such a massive error in that the Falcon is a mirror image is not getting my vote! When I buy a set I want to keep it.

With the current exchange rate £24.31 (or approximately £150 a year) could be invested in sets to keep.

I don't think the toy shops are going to be too worried about this. I will keep using my favourite Lego suppliers in the UK and the fantastic one in Ireland I always visit when on holiday for a look at the classic sets in his "Lego Museum" and a chance to meet a fellow AFOL and talk brick!

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By in United Kingdom,

^^ You're right it is cynical but to me it's a question of integrity. I'm sure Huw is lovely with bucket loads of integrity but such soft questions combined with the link revenue doesn't help with the integrity image.

To me the numbers in business weekly don't seem great either and don't have the detail to prove otherwise. Equally a commitment to invest is largely meaningles as it will be conditonal on meeting growth / revenue targets. Hitting those targets is the hard part.

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By in Hungary,

"There is an error in your link code.

There is an error in your link code. Please get a new copy of the code from your account and replace the current code on your website.

Shareasale.com manages the relationships between advertisers and affiliates, which is why you were directed to our site. Since the link that you clicked contains an error, you were not redirected to the site."

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By in Netherlands,

What happens with the sets that are retired? Can someone buy them for a cheap price?

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By in United Kingdom,

@cheshirecat, yes they are affiliate links, one of which was screwy, but hopefully I've now fixed it.

If anyone has any follow-up questions I'm sure Elina will be happy to answer them: please post them here.

So far we have:

1. What happens with the sets that are retired? Can someone buy them for a cheap price?
2. How long do most users have to wait to get to build the Death Star?

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By in United Kingdom,

^ As they would probably only use those members who have received a death star in the calculation I would ask how many of each of the death star and SSD they have and how many of their 7000 members have them on their wish list. I'm sure they'll claim commercial confidentiality but then they were the ones to specifically raise the DS.

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By in United Kingdom,

Think you should ask how they handle the pieces being changed in colour question.
Lego in US is cheaper, and I guess the plan has to be competitive to reflect that. Does that mean the plan in the UK would be £40 a month not a converted £24?
Kids love mixing Lego models in play, they break, you have to spend ages checking the set before you return it otherwise you appear on a black list.? I know if Everytime my set (without checking) was returned it would unintentionally incomplete. That's quite some time for the customer to be checking.

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By in United States,

Love the cyncism in the coments. "Swapped pieces?" "Who'd want to return Lego sets?" Their target market is families who likely wouldn't have the space or cash for tons of sets. It fills that niche perfectly. Ergo, the Brickset community is hardly the ideal market for this, so CTFD. :)

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By in Germany,

I have to wonder why anyone would even consider swapping. You don't get to swap for free, you still have to pay the 40 bucks, in addition to the cost of the parts you are swapping in. Try and do the math how many parts in how many sets you would have to swap to so much as break even. Think of how limited the color choices for swaps are. Think of how many of the parts are in sets they plain don't have. Think of how little control you have over which set you'll actually be getting and after how many months of, ahem, "investment". Think of all the time and effort. Easier to just go and steal twelve gallons of gas right now. Seriously.

I have a job and a hobby, I do not need a second, shady, lowest-paying job and no hobbies.

Anyway. I had a thorough look at the site and I'm just not seeing any sets I'd like to build that I don't already own. Which, of course, is a comment on the size of their collection about as much as it is a comment on the size of mine. I am completely aware I am not even remotely in their target audience. But I doubt they will have to shut down because of that. *Most* people are not even remotely in the target audience of *most* businesses. If every business I have no business with had to shut down, this planet would be a desert.

TL;DR: If their employees are making a living, and their customers are happy, more power to them. But as far as I am concerned, they might as well not exist.

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By in United States,

This is one of the most ridiculous business models I have ever seen.

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By in United Kingdom,

What happens when you wash a stickered brick?!

...Do only the first 'renters' of a set get to add the stickers ;-)

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By in United States,

Not for me I like to keep the lego I buy. And I second the question about the stickered bricks. Do they have an arrangement with lego for stickers? I known it's a pain trying to get stickers from lego when you get a box that looks like a dog ate the instructions and stickers. I would hate for them to run out if they have to send them to someone that is just renting the set and then sell the sickers online. What about the extra pieces you sometime get do they take them into account when they weight the set?

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By in United States,

AFOLs are clearly not the target of this service so obviously they don't see the value in it. Most AFOLs love to build AND display sets, and have the money to do so. Most little kids on the other hand lose interest in their toys after a few days so it makes much more financial sense for parents to rent a set, let their kid play with it a week or so, then return it for something new to hold their interest. Most kids won't even realize the old set is gone and it saves parents a ton of money instead of buying tons of expensive Lego sets.

It's really no different than renting movies. Personally I would never use this service (unless I have kids), but I do see the value in it.

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By in United States,

Just because you can doesn't mean you have to.

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By in Republic Of Korea,

There are several LEGO in-store play rental businesses in South Korea long before this showed up. They're usually in some retailers and seems to get their LEGO from the store's LEGO stock. Playtime is usually $5 an hour. In fact, my LEGO addiction made me start a play rental business of my own.

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By in United Kingdom,

I think the biggest problem is actually the shipping aspect. With Netflix when you ordered a dvd it comes through the letter box and you can put it right on a postbox to send it back. You simply can't do that woth Lego sets the boxes are to big. Where I live for example the sorting office is open for five hours a week when I'm not at work, do I want to spend all that time queuing? And it's just as bad when you want to send it back! Maybe of they expabd to the UK they won't use Royal Mail but theb its an even bigger pain to collect or send it back.

I understand the idea and who the market is I just questions how many people will invest the time collecting and posting back. It also makes me wonder doesn't tge US have toy libraries?

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By in Republic Of Korea,

An addition to my comment: "There are several LOCAL LEGO in-store play rental businesses..."
@Cardinal Brick: the sets are stored in plastic file cases, so it might be a similar case with Pleygo. (no pun intended)

PS: Coincidentally, I saw one of these ads for Pleygo a few hours later after reading this:
http://cdn.adnxs.com/p/3b/21/58/fd/3b2158fd9b72aaec3510119aca11f742.jpg

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By in France,

This service allows families who cannot afford to buy LEGO sets to get several for the price of one - not all at once and not to keep, certainly, but if the kids are not huge fans of LEGO it's probably enough for them. The kids get to build and play with a set, then when they get bored of it the parents send it back and get a new one, and so on. I can see this working very well for many families for whom LEGO sets are just one kind of toy the kids play with among many others. Of course it wouldn't work for FOL, but I think it is good that something like this exists. And it might allow some kids to play with LEGO sets when they would never have had the opportunity otherwise - and if they really get into it and lose interest in other kinds of toys, I expect parents might start buying LEGO sets for them and that's good for TLC in the end.

Please keep in mind that outside of the FOL community, LEGO products are often considered expensive. When I was growing up, my friends were usually amazed when they saw my LEGO collection and many told me that their parents didn't want to buy LEGO sets for them because they thought they were too expensive. I'm an adult now and most of my friends are of that opinion after going with me to the LEGO Store or the LEGO aisle of toy shops and seeing the prices. I have to explain to them that I'm not just paying for the parts and instructions to build the model on the box, but that I can use those parts with other sets to build other things, and then they do agree that it doesn't seem too overpriced, but only if you do have enough other sets to have an interesting selection of parts. I think that most people who don't know much about LEGO don't look further than the size of the box and the price and think they wouldn't be getting enough for their money. Even FOL often complain that sets are overpriced and hunt for bargains - if we think so, imagine what non-FOL must think and remember that unless they really, really are interested in a set, they won't try to look for cheaper prices elsewhere (or won't know where to look), they'll just put the box back on the shelf and give up on LEGO.

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By in United Kingdom,

I think we all recognise that this isn't aimed at us and that there is a potential market. I suspect though that someone that thinks LEGO is too expensive will think equally that $15 a month to rent sets that have less than 250 pieces (and so don't cost that much in the first place) is also too expensive. £25 a month for sets up to 500 pieces and $40 a month for the goof stuff.

The idea is nice in principal, it worked well with DVD's but it takes 2 hours to watch a dvd (even less to copy one) and you don't want to display it on the table afterwards. A dvd is small enough to be popped into a post box and fits through your own letter box. Anything but the smallest sets will have to be taken to a post office or equivalent and may require collection if you aren't in. DVD's are also much the same in terms of value and can easily be kept with multiple stock for popular / new releases. Yet even then it often took months to receive the dvd you really wanted. I think the problems with this plan will be in the practicalities.

If I post a set back Monday Morning when will I expect my next set to arrive? How many sets can I realistically get through in a month. And thats not even considering the availability of sets I really want.

I've also noticed that both the DS and SSD are sent with digital manuals not the paper ones - wow that would take quite a bit of the enjoyment from it for me as well. At least they're bley not brown as brown are nigh impossible from pdfs.

I'd also love to know what number of those 7000 members have paid anything - given that free trials are the norm.

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By in United States,

To me, this seems a pretty silly idea. I bet there are stiff penalties for losing even a small part (which is pretty easy, even as a TFOL). Personally, if you buy a couple of cheap sets (I even buy clone brands) a month, it comes out cheaper, plus the parts are yours, and if you lose a part, so what. For $15, I can get a 150 piece set (even larger in clone brands), and for $40, I can get a 400 piece set. For all sets, I want them to be mine, not someone else's that I have to be responsible for, or else face large fees. This whole service is for parents to entertain their kids, not for Lego fans. As a general rule, I buy a set, use my own pieces to improve upon the Lego design, and eventually, completely redo it.

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By in United Kingdom,

Nice idea. Depending on the price point I might be tempted... but as others point out, $25*N is not that long to wait to own a set...

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By in United Kingdom,

@coson, I agree, I buy my LEGO to build it and play with it,and maybe take it apart sometimes:D
I think that people will lose the parts and I'd rather just buy a set from Amazon.

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By in United Kingdom,

I need to update my opinion - since I went to the site I've been getting ads for it, and it says I can rent "LEGOs." In light of this aberration I must retract all my support and say I want the venture to fail miserably!
(Please read that with a heavy dose of British sarcasm, I recognise it's a US ad. But seriously, if it does come to the UK I'd suggest it's changed, I can't be the only Brit who is irked by what seems like dumb grammar to us on this side of the pond.)

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By in United States,

15 bucks a month lets you rent out sets worth up to $30. For $15 you can barely even buy a set with over 100 pieces nowadays. If you rent even two $30 sets in a month you have built and played with WAY more than you would of if you had used the same money and bought the sets. It would cost you quadruple ($60) to buy these sets. I am guessing 2-3 Lego rentals a month is about what you can get. The bigger packages give you infinitely better deals too, $40 a month lets you rent out sets worth over 100 bucks.

As for shipping, at least here in the U.S. we can have big sets delivered and schedule pick ups for any size boxes so I don't see any issue with the shipping really. I can imagine this service being really valuable to parents who are on a tight budget and with kids who lose interest in their toys fast.

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By in United Kingdom,

^^ The Pleygo website was littered with 'LEGOs' but I had a word with Elina about how inappropriate and 'jarring' it is and now I believe she's had them removed. Sounds as if there are still some old ads around, though...

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By in United Kingdom,

^Glad to hear it! :D
It's funny just how awful it sounds to a British ear isn't it, I bet most US folks can't understand what the fuss is about. I wonder what I regularly do that annoys them that I'm not even aware of... ;)

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By in United States,

Here is my experience with Pleygo, the letter I emailed them:
When I first came across your website I was so excited. The idea is wonderful. I read a LOT of reviews before signing up, most of which said the shipping is so slow, it is not worth it at all. For the cost of a membership, when you only get 1 set a month, you can just BUY a set. There were many many complaints online, from your customers. But then there were replies from your company saying they had fixed some shipping issues and things were being shipped faster. SO, I decided I would do the one month free trial and see if what you advertise was for real. I figured if I got at least 2 of the bigger, nicer sets and was able to send them back within the month, we would keep doing it for a few months until we got busy with summer. (The "free" trial was for the more expensive upgraded membership that should include the big sets). WELL, as per all the bad reviews online, your company DID NOT deliver. We got ONE little set during the WHOLE month. My ONE MONTH "FREE" trial ends Tomorrow and we still have not gotten another set. So I got online today, to make sure I canceled my "FREE" trial membership BEFORE the one month date, so I wouldn't get billed AS PROMISED in the information I read before signing up. I looked at my account and there was a set just shipped, it will probably arrive tomorrow, or more likely, the day after. So when I tried to cancel, it said I can only cancel without being billed for the month, IF I have all sets sent back by YESTERDAY. How is that even possible, when you don't send out sets until the day before the CUT OFF date for billing? Seems to me like that was your plan all along. I didn't want to believe all the bad reviews given to your company. But now mine will be added to them. I paid $25 for a "free" month trial and got one little set that I found online for $10. Definitely a huge disappointment in your company. Not too mention, it's always frustrating to not be able to actually call someone and talk to them to try and get a "refund" on a "free" trial. I am canceling my membership before my trial date ends tomorrow, but apparently your company is still going to charge me $25 for the one little set we managed to get during the whole month. What a scam. I want my money back! I am also worried about a company like this now having access to my credit card information.

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