Today on Blogcritics

Worst Buy

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With the holiday shopping frenzy upon us, I thought I'd give you a few reasons why I'll be avoiding Best Buy at all costs. What follows are a few tales of personal woe inflicted upon me by what I used to consider a respectable retail outlet for home electronics and gadgetry. I was inspired to write about this by Mike over at WetWire.

It all started when I bought a stick of RAM to upgrade my Sony PCG-FR130 laptop. I took it home, installed it, and all of a sudden I started getting random blue screen crashes that just shut the thing down. I took the RAM back to Best Buy and wanted to exchange it. Since I have both opened it and used it, they say they will neither return nor exchange it. I asked what else I can do. They said there is nothing else I can do but take it back home and live with it. Great.

Since that left me with no answers or options, I went to talk to the Geek Squad about the effect this new RAM was having on my computer. They refused to believe that the RAM was causing it, told me I don't know what I'm talking about (I do repairs and service on computers in my spare time, so I assure you I do know what I'm doing), and that there's nothing they can do.

Also, a couple of pixels had died in the screen and I asked how much longer my laptop service plan through Best Buy was good for. The guy looked up the information reluctantly, told me I had about a year to go, and asked if I want to give it to them to fix/replace at that time. I hadn't backed up everything yet, so I said I'd wait a while yet.

The very next day, I pressed the power button on the same laptop and nothing came on but the cooling fan. It was dead. Convenient that it died the day after I said I'd wait to get it fixed. So I took it to the Geek Squad again where the same guy happily greeted me with an "I told you so" demeanor and said they'd have my machine back to me in ten days or less. Fine. I have no choice, right?

Ten days came and went. I heard nothing. I called, they said they just received it at the repair place. Fine. How much longer? Oh probably another five days, but they didn't know since they hadn't diagnosed it yet. Fine. I am patient.

Ten more days went by, and nothing. I called and got no answers, but plenty of transfers to different departments, and no concrete information. I called several more times over the next ten days and still got nowhere.

Thirty days had now gone by since I first handed it over to them and I had no information about the diagnosis, status of repair, or what's going on. I kept calling but just got the runaround. Finally, one of my friends was having a particularly rotten day and sympathized with my plight. She called them and pretended to be my wife. Hell hath no fury indeed! Somehow, ten minutes later, she hung up the phone and told me I could go in the next day and pick out a new laptop of my choice, and would only have to pay anything above and beyond the purchase price of the original one.

But there's a catch. They made me buy another service plan, even though the original one still had a year left on it. I was happy with my last Sony VAIO laptop, so I picked up another one with impossibly good specs for the price (that was a case of deceptive marketing, but that's another rant). I end up paying about $400 total for it, but got it taken care of finally. A month later!

Then I went shopping at Best Buy for an LCD monitor with inputs for game consoles and a PC (S-video, VGA, and DVI, essentially). One of their salespeople asked if he could help with anything, I said what I was looking for, and he said, "Oh, that's not my department," and walked away.  He didn't redirect us to someone in that department, or even show us where the department was! When I finally did track down someone from the correct department — which took over 20 minutes — he told me that the monitor I had decided on wasn't what I wanted. He gave me no reason why. He just pushed me in the direction of more expensive ones. Fabulous.

I bought the monitor I was seeking, no thanks to the "service" reps. Pixels start burning out the same night I bought it! I took it back the next day and just wanted to return it and save up my money for a better model. They didn't want to take it back. They also only had one person working the returns/customer service desk right around Christmas time!

They insisted that I must have done something to damage the monitor. So they took it behind some flimsy wall and hooked it up to their own "diagnostic tool" to figure out what I supposedly did to break it. Could they be any more insulting? After about 45 minutes, they come back out and with the most reluctance possible admit that it just went bad and it wasn't my fault, and they would do a return, but would not give me my money back. They wanted to give me store credit. I had to make a lot of noise and get nasty until they finally produced a manager who would give me a proper refund.

I got a Best Buy gift card for Christmas that year and so I had to go there one more time to spend it and be done. I was in the market for an external DVD-RW drive, so I got one for about $90 and finally was done with the place. They tried really hard — to the point of being annoying — to get me to pay one of their people to come to my home and "install" the drive. It's a USB cable. Any idiot can attach that. I refused his offer over and over, and finally the cashier conceded, but slipped me a price sheet for the Geek Squad anyway. At least now I have a reference point for my clients when they think I'm overcharging them for PC repair service.

I thought then that I was free and clear, but somewhere along the way someone else got me yet another Best Buy gift card. I was having some power outage problems over the summer, so I spent the card on a battery backup, which I was about to buy when the store lost power, making them unable to sell it to me! Then, in about the rudest way possible, they told all the customers to get out of the store and don't bother coming back. No problem, buddy. I eventually got the power supply, but I have to warn my friends, family, and complete strangers right here and now:

Do not buy me Best Buy gift cards for any reason!

I eventually got a 19" LCD wonder monitor from Sony with DVI-D, SVGA, HDTV component inputs, S-Video, RCA inputs, the works. I love the thing. I get a little ghosting when gaming due to the response time of the LCD elements, but overall I'm happy with the $900 I spent on it at Circuit City where they were totally helpful. So helpful in fact that I went back later that day and bought a 62" HDTV from them.

Sometimes it pays to be nice to your customers.

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About Mark Buckingham

  • Dan Traweek

    Wow, sounds like you’ve had your fill of that location of Best Buy. I happen to be a part time employee for Best Buy at the Geek Squad; my day job is in IT management for the government. I can’t refute any of the allegations you made, nor would I. I would like to clarify a couple of things that were not in line with the standard SOP, nor my experience in the last 5 years with Best Buy.
    1. Should they have taken back the RAM, if it was within 30 dys AND you/or BB could verify the purchase, and there was no physical damage to the product – yes.
    2. We have people come to the Geek Squad all the time looking for advice on their computer, as a rule we don’t haphazardly hand out technical advice….99% of the people that come up to us profess “I know all about computers, I’ve done this or that..” but WE have NO idea of your technical skills nor would we make an assumption of those skills. We have no idea of the condition of the pc you are talking about, trying to diagnose based on a 2min discussion.
    There is some level of responsibility as a professional not to send someone off to do a job on their own pc without having a true picture of all of the elements involved.
    3. Why you would get transferred around the store when you asked to talk to the Geek Squad is beyond me, typically we transfer you to the department you ask for. Also, you can check the status of your workorder at anytime, 24hrs a day at http://www.geeksquad.com; just enter your work order number. Should they have set your expectations differently, maybe? The typical turnaround time is 10-14 days, but things happen (part delays, shipping delays, unusually large amount of work hitting all at the same time) and your return date does get pushed out.
    4. Your current pc obviously was beyond repair for whatever reason, your service plan was “used up” in order to get you another laptop. By definition BB will get you a comparable laptop in technology to what you had. With the rate of technological advances in laptop/desktops, you cannot honestly say you are now technology in worse shape than before. I have never seen someone in worse shape technology wise when they left then before they came in, never. The value of the service plan is unarguably evident, and the fact that you had on the first pc, would be a strong indicator that you see the value too. So why not get one on the second? Also, no one I have ever known forced a customer to buy a service plan, ever.
    5. Should it have taken 20min to get someone to help you, no. No excuse. The fact that they presented you with options, albeit more expensive than what you came in for, is a testament to the fact that you appeared to be an educated consumer and would appreciate the opportunity to see what the full selection of LCD’s. If I walked into a car dealership and they only showed me the cheapest, used, compact cars, I would be embarrassed and disappointed. But that’s just me. I assure you no floor associate is paid a commission, and besides trying to get you the best product for your needs, has no underlying motive.
    6. Returning the LCD, again doesn’t make sense unless you were outside of the exchange period or there was some good reason to suspect that the product had been damaged while in your possession. Again, there is no motive from the technician’s point of view to keep someone around for 45 min or deny them a return.
    7. Sounds like a misunderstanding, maybe they just didn’t realize it was an external burner. Again, the 99% rule. Just trying to extend a service that ALOT of people need and take advantage of.
    8. The power outage, it happens. And some people are not as law abiding as you or I, and when a power outage occurs that means that the alarm systems on all of those $500-%600 cameras tethered by a thin cable so you the consumer can “test drive them” are not functioning. Not to mention the CD’s/ DVD’s that can be slipped into a pocket and carried out without an alarm going off. So yes, we like to get everyone to the front or out of the store asap.

    So, just to let you know again, I am not an uneducated shill for Best Buy, I have an undergrad in Business/Marketing and a Masters in computers, 15 years in sales and management, and I have never worked for a business that I could be prouder of than Best Buy. For the most part the people working there are honest, trying to do the best job they can in often difficult situations, and truly do put the customer as the first priority. Everyone has a bad day, every store has its own culture or flavor based on the people that work there, and with so many Best Buy stores going up, there is probably another one very close to you, I would suggest you try a different store.

    Really, sorry for your experience. You can come to charlotte store 268 / Geek Squad precinct 268 and say hi to Dan T anytime….Thanks for your time.

    Dan

  • http://midnightcafe.wordpress.com Mat Brewster

    What a freaking nightmare. While standing in line for over an hour to get my DVD player cleaned (another victim of the service plan) I talked to a guy with similar horror stories. One of the things he told me was he had special ordered a refrigerator which he had to wait weeks and weeks for. Finally they called him to say it was in, but when he showed up at the store (the same day as the call) he was told they had sold it off the floor.

    I’ve heard too many similar horror stories to ever buy anything major from them. Used to they had really cheap CDs and movies, but that’s no longer the case, so they are pretty much useless to me.

  • Adam white

    they should of taken back the ram. as long as it was with the return policy, there should of been no problem. i work at best buy ( which i hate) at custmor service and i would of done the return. I do agree bestbuy sucks .

  • Jason

    I bought a Series 1 Tivo at Best Buy. When I got it home I realized that somebody had returned this unit (the general condition of the internal packaging and the fact that batteries were already in the remote were a good tip-off). Regardless, I decided that returning it and complaining would be too much hassle.

    When I hooked it up to my TV and tried to make the setup phone call, I got nothing. After some phone time Tivo/Sony tech support said the modem was defective and I should return it.

    I’m guessing the person before me had the same experience and instead of actually determining if the unit was defective Best Buy just put it back out on the floor for somebody else to try.

  • Jason

    I was once at Best Buy and an employee needed to reach some stock on a shelf that was over his head. So he pulled out two VCRs from a lower shelf, stood on top of the boxes, and retrieved the item from the top shelf. Needless to say the cardboard boxes were not designed to withstand the weight of a 180lb adult, so the top box caved in. This didn’t seem to bother the employee, who just put the crushed box back on the shelf.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/mbuckingham Mark Buckingham

    Sadly, this wasn’t just one location. This story stretches across Best Buy stores in Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York over the course of two years. Just one and I’d know to not go there anymore, but I gave the overall company the benefit of the doubt.

    All the returns mentioned were within a couple days of purchase at the latest. Certainly well within a 30-day no-questions-asked period.

    My issue with not fulfilling the time period of the purchased service plan was that they were supposed to be repairing the old one and getting it back to me, which should have kept the same plan going. The replacement was due to their inability to get the job done, and I have to pay extra for that? I realize the “Performance Plan” is optional, but on a laptop, it really is a must. I can replace parts on a desktop machine, but fixing a laptop is much trickier.

    And as for the guy talking down to me, of course he can’t possibly know what I know, but I explained the whole situation to him, all the things I tried and troubleshooting I’d done, and he very plainly insisted that I was wrong and an idiot. It was more about his demeanor and attitude than any inability to communicate, but that’s harder to recreate in plain text.

    It was mentioned on digg.com (http://digg.com/tech_deals/Worst_Buy_2) that I got screwed but kept going back, and that I deserved what I got. I gave BB a couple of chances to get things right, and then only went back reluctantly because their gift cards are obviously only good THERE, and I’m not a big fan of re-gifting. Besides, why would I want to invite someone ELSE to suffer these slings and arrows?

    Thanks for the comments!

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Hilarious, yet sad at the same time. I can “understand” one store in the chain being inept and rude, but from the comments here it seems plain that it’s a widespread problem.

    And of course it happens in other stores as well. For such a service-driven economy, it seems like store employees sometimes don’t have a clue as to what “customer service” really means. Obviously at Best Buy, the motto “the customer is always wrong” is the rule of the day.

  • james

    I guess none of you decided to read comment #1 from a very smart man. By telling people the sales associate actually called you an “idiot” is without question a lie. Do Best Buy a favor and just go to Circuit City with your piss poor attitudes.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/mbuckingham Mark Buckingham

    James…a person doesn’t have to use a word to imply the meaning. The salesperson being condescending and snide to a customer is just as bad as coming out and saying they’re an “idiot.” It’s not a lie; I just didn’t say it in a way you could understand, evidently.

    And “piss poor attitudes?” Forgive us for thinking “customer service professionals” might actually live up to their job titles, rather than being rude and ignorant.

    So how long have you been working at BB? You must really like it there.

  • Anonymouns

    Why all the hassle? Pay with a credit card. If the company doesn’t live up to its agreement, use the credit card’s programs to get more money back. The few times I’ve had to do this the merchant caves almost immediately because they know I’m going to win and they’ll lose money in the credit card fees. It’s not even worth an argument: “Either you refund it, or American Express does it for you. Which way do you want to play this?”

  • http://blog.myspace.com/mbuckingham Mark Buckingham

    Good point. I was about to do this over the online-bought laptop I recently had to nag and nag to get refunded. It’s a new policy I’m adopting in this age of “the customer is always wrong.”

  • http://none Ben

    Well, I see one problem here. You’re totally insecure. :) If you thought that first response was talking down to you, it certainly explains a lot as to why you thought the things you did.

    Although I would never shop at Best Buy for computers in the first place, I can hardly think you were treated in this manner (aside from maybe the waiting for your computer to be back from service). If you already knew what you wanted, why would you seek help from a Best Buy employee? Picking up cables/a monitor is not something people generally ask for help about unless they know nothing about them.

    Also, you need to remember that Best Buy probably employs a lot of ‘part time seasonal’ employees, who may not be a knowledgable as their regulars.

  • http://youtube.com/argent009 Argent009

    Welcome to the club. I’ve had nothing but nightmares from that store. They’ve literally ripped me off to the tune of over $5000. There are several class action suits against them I believe plus plenty of boycotts.

  • Truly P1ssed

    I’ve just returned from the Best Buy at South Bay, Boston MA. What an unbelievable experience… I should have known the moment that I saw that it took five Best Buy “representatives” to assist two customers at Returns how this was going to play out. I still have my 12-day old broken clock radio (RCA RP5640 – caveat emptor) since I refused a “replacement with the same model.”

    I think *most* people would agree that if a commodity item can’t last a month, maybe you should try another brand. Also if you (Best Buy) sell a commodity item that is returned because it is defective, you might want to, ah-hem, keep a customer?

  • MsHartline

    I purchased a $600 camcorder, a Webcam, and a DVD player online for store pick up. I had such a horrible pick-up experience, I had the camcorder refunded on the spot – didn’t even take it home. Decided I would never shop at Best Buy again – there are too many other electronics retailers to choose from, not to mention internet shopping. When doing online purchase/store pick-up, they send you a satisfaction survey, but the survey is prefabbed and doesn’t allow you to share specifics.

  • phil

    I don’t know much about comps nor do i lead people on that i do. I dont know what my vid card is or how to find out what it is so when i was considering if i was going to buy call of duty 4 i told a Worst Buy sales person that i play warcraft III and he said oh your comp will easly be able to handle call of duty 4. So i bought it. What’d know my vidio card couldn’t handle it. so i took it back and explanied everything that happened and i was greated by 3 worst buy employs who said it was my faut. let me get this striaght worst buy lied about something to get me to buy it and worst buy thinks its my fault, now all my respect for that company went out the door after that. After alot of augering i finaly got the manager and he said fine we’ll give u store creadet but u have to spend it with in the next hour. and thats not all everything that i did pick out had to be opened by them so that i could never return anything ever if it broke. what a bs company. this one is in minnetonka, MN.

  • Retail Employee

    well what the hell do you ppl expect? think about how many customers try to rip off the store in one way or the other and you can see why they have such strict policies. dont tell me any bs either since i worked retail for over 8 years and have seen the kinds of things dishonest customers try to pull.

  • http://www.techtipsforparents.org Jamison

    Ugh, Geek Squad. I don’t think they even require employees have any experience, much less something as basic as an A+ certification… “Sure! Here, take my computer that has all of my personal files, priceless photos, and financial information on it. I trust you!”

    And who in their right mind shops at Best Buy anyway? I can understand the little old lady or the not-so-internet savvy person, but most of us tech savvy folks just buy on the Internet. The only purchases I have ever made from Best Buy were DVDs that I had been waiting to come out for so long I didn’t care how much I paid and had to have it now.

    Perhaps we all have to buy from there ONE time to know not to ever go back :) Life’s lessons. Priceless.

  • Sheila

    C’mon. Isn’t the lesson here really that “people” are smart, stupid, helpful, lazy, honest, duplicitous, etc.? Besides, why aren’t you shopping at the Work Bench? Or using the Nerd Herd for all of you computer needs?(Google them if you don’t recognize them).

    While it’s true that retail chains in particular attract underachievers, simply because it’s easier to stay below the radar, you will also find great people who go out of their way to help. I think local management really determines the quality of any store.

  • Tam in Toronto

    I sympathize with your story because I’ve had similar nightmares with Best Buy. During Boxing Day (12/26/2008) here in Canada, I had to wait 45 mins to line up at 5:30 am for a notebook which was a doorcrasher. Unfotunately, by the time I got into the store the doorcrasher was sold out. I bought a lower quality notebook instead but had to line up another 2 hours while they were pushing Norton Anti-virus and extended warranties to the customers infront of me. Once it was my turn, they asked if I was going to install the 2GB memory upgrade myself. I said, “Yes” but they proceeded to overcharge me for the installation which never took place. I didn’t notice it until I got home. BTW, this all happened at the Yorkdale BB. So today (12/31/2008), I went to the Woodbridge BB to get a refund for overcharge. The line up was a whopping 45 mins!!! Once it was my turn, the store manager who was a totally idiot refused the refund and told me to go to the Yorkdale store because they didn’t have any records of the installation. I told him there was no installation, and if he was a good manager, he would be pro-active and call the Yorkdale BB and verify this. Instead, he flatly refused my refund after waiting in line for 45 mins and turned this once loyal BB customer to a BB hater. BTW, a good store manager wouldn’t have let the return/exchange lineup to go one for 45 mins! Goodbye Best Buy or should I say, Worst Buy!

  • “sidewalk”Al

    i have done all of my electronics shopping at circuit city since my my last problem with best buy,until they closed.the trick to getting what you want I.E. attention from sales associates,and refunds is to go into the store wearing a business suit.it sounds rediculous,however everytime i have been in one of their stores in jeans and a t shirt i have been ignored or given a hassle about returns or refunds,but when i wear one of my suits i have always been imediately engaged by sales associates asking me “how can i help you sir?” or “how would you like your refund cash,or best buy gift card?”try it some time you will be surprized at how they judge a book by it”s cover.