A Consumer Rant

There’s nothing like Christmas to bring out consumer angst. Here are a few encounters from the past few days that have really been pissing me off:

1

As far back as I can remember, and until I turned 30ish, most retailers would allow you to exchange items. If you bought something that was damaged, or in the wrong size or color, you just went to the customer service desk, and they’d swap it out for you. But sometime in the past 10 years, most big retailers decided to simply have the customer service desk refund your money and let you pick out a new item, resulting in multiple transactions on your credit\debit card (the original purchase, the refund, and the new purchase).

This works out OK for most things, but it sucks for large purchases… and gifts. If you buy an $800 HDTV with a debit card and get it home and find out that it doesn’t work, the retailer’s “new” policies mean that $1600 is now tied up on your debit card, at least for a few days until the refund goes through.

That sucks, but what really sucks if when you get a gift.

My parents gave me an external hard drive for Christmas. I didn’t open it until I got back home, where I found the drive’s back cover warped. The circuit board where you plug in the power adapter and USB cable was also misaligned, and while it probably could have worked, I’m not trusting my data to a drive that looked like it had some rough handling in transit.

Here’s where things get crappy: my folks ordered it from bestbuy.com, and the first option would be to return it to the online store, which would refund my Dad’s credit card. That means that I’d have to call him up and have him order a new one, then wait for it to ship to me. Which means that he’d have to pay shipping again, and I’d have to pay to ship the drive back to bestbuy.com. My second option would be to return it to a Best Buy store… but wait – the packing slip clearly says that while I can return it to a store, items purchased from the web site cannot be exchanged at a Best Buy store. So once again, I’d have to call Dad and have him order a new one; I’d just use the money I’d spend on sending it back via UPS to drive to the store and do it myself! So there’s one last option: returning it to Western Digital. I filed for an advance RMA on December 28, but they still haven’t shipped out a replacement yet (an “advance RMA” is where you give them a credit card number and they send a new drive to you; you put the old drive in the box and send it back to them. Back when RMAs were 40% of what I did for a living, IBM, Maxtor and Seagate would usually ship the replacement drives in 3-5 hours, not “3-5 business days”, as Western Digital is currently quoting me).

2

My grandmother gave me an Office Depot gift card for a new office chair that I wanted (since Lisa and I drive to Atlanta to celebrate Christmas, and since high back office chairs are huge, I figured transporting a gift card back to Charlotte would be easier than an actual chair, especially since OD has free delivery). Because I already knew which chair I wanted, I figured it would be easy to go to officedepot.com and order it. I found the chair and put it in my virtual cart, and then entered a promo code I found online to get $15 off (to cover sales tax, basically). I then entered my gift card number and clicked “next” and… got an error message: “YOU MUST ENTER A CREDIT CARD NUMBER”. After 15 minutes of futzing with it, I can only conclude that you apparently have to have (and enter) a valid credit card number to buy something from officedepot.com, even if you have a gift card that fully covers your purchase. Amazon and iTunes can handle “gift card only” accounts, so why can’t Office Depot?

3

Earlier in the month, I bought Lisa a new mp3 player for her birthday. Whilst checking out, Amazon offered me a free trial of Amazon Prime, their $79.99/year service that upgrades all shipping to two-day and lets you upgrade to overnight shipping on most items for only $3. I signed up for the trial, and a week or two later, I also used it to order some books for the family. Even though Amazon says they’ll send you an email before changing you the full amount for the Prime membership, they never do. So I removed all the credit cards from my account… except for a pre-paid Visa which has around $3 left on it. And Amazon, of course, ended up charging one of the “good cards” (that I’d removed from the account!) for the membership. Nice. At least Amazon made it easy to cancel – I just logged in my account, click the “Manage Prime Membership” link and clicked the impossible-to-miss “Cancel” button.

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