The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Incompetence, thy name be Best Buy

As you can tell from some of my previous entries, I like photography. I am not trained, and I don’t claim to be a particularly brilliant photographer, but I enjoy taking pictures and trying to create good images. If I were truly serious (and had a less hectic work/travel schedule), I would take some classes and actually become good. Nonetheless, I have been enjoying myself.

I have been using a cheap HP camera, not a great one, but it has worked and helped me to learn a lot of the basics of photo composition. However, I have reached the limits of what I can do with that camera, and besides, I have discovered that I’d like to display my photos, requiring a higher resolution image. Therefore, the time for a new, higher quality camera has arrived.

I began shopping around, and talking to my older sister, about cameras, and finally decided on the Canon Rebel both because it consistently rates high in terms of both photo quality and ease of use, and because it is within my price range and provides a 10 megapixel image, sufficient for my purposes. On the day after Christmas, Kay and I headed out, intending to find the best deal available for the camera. Little did we know that we were about to enter Retail Hell.

We quickly located what looked like a great deal – the camera that I wanted bundled with a telephoto lens (which I also wanted) for $650 when tax was included. Kay and I separately spent about half an hour trying to locate a sales associate (for a combined total of one, count ‘em, one man hour), before finally locating the store manager. I explained what I wanted to purchase, and she set about trying to help us, only to discover that the camera was out of stock. She did, however, located the camera and lens in several different stores within an hour drive, and suggested that I make the purchase on-line but set it up as a store pick-up, so that I didn’t need to pay for shipping. This seemed a good idea, and so I returned home to do just that.

I went online and quickly discovered that the SKU number that the store manager had given me was not correct, and so I had to spend a while wading through the site to locate the camera and lens in question. I did, however, finally locate them, but when I went to purchase them, purchasing an accompanying warranty plan was not given as an option.

I called the Best Buy 800 number in order to see if they could help me. After being given the run-around for a while, I was directed to the camera department, where the person on the phone wanted me to purchase the items over the phone. As I had already nearly completed the order online, I was not inclined to go through the hassle of starting the order over again, but the folks I spoke with in the camera department made it clear that they didn’t care, and that the way in which I wanted to make the purchase was irrelevant – but it seems that the phone gods agreed with me, as the call ended up being dropped either by Best Buy or by my cell phone service – I don’t know which.

Regardless, I called back, and this time had the following conversation:

Me: Hi, I’m trying to purchase a camera via your website, and, for some reason, the warranty plan is not coming up as an option. I’d like to know if anyone at your office can help me out.

Operator: What kind of an item are you trying to purchase?

Me: A camera – but before you forward me, I have already been sent to talk with the camera people. They seem to be insistent that I make the purchase over the phone, but as I have already gone through quite a bit of hassle to set the purchase up on-line, I’d like to just complete it there. Do you maybe just have website help?

Operator: Yes, we do. But you can’t talk to them, you have to talk with the camera department.

Me: Well, they don’t seem to listen to me, perhaps…

Operator: You need to talk to the camera department.

Me: I don’t think they’re going to help, you see, when I spoke with them before…

Operator: I’m going to forward you to the camera department.

Me: Look, would you just listen…

Operator: OH NO YOU DON’T!

Me: (beginning to raise my voice, finally) OH YES I DO!

Operator: (Begins laughing)

Me: Look, the camera department is trying to get me to change the order, I have not interest in doing that, I just want to find out what’s going on with your website and what I can do to deal with it.

Operator: Well, I don’t care what your problem is, I’m going to forward you to the camera department.

And at this point, I just hung up the phone. I then called the Mountain View store, where I had made arrangements to pick up the merchandise, and confirmed that I could simply purchase the warranty plan at the store when I picked up the camera. With that, I completed the purchase, and waited for an email confirming that the merchandise was in the store, and ready to be picked up. Once the email arrived, Kay and I headed north to Mountain View, a little over an hour’s drive.

Arriving at Mountain view, I spent a bit of time trying to locate the order pick-up counter. Finally, Kay asked at the Customer Service counter, and was directed to a counter next to the Customer Service counter that had the “Pick Up” sign cleverly displayed near the ground, and it may even have been behind a box. It was not in plain site, at any rate.

I approached the counter, explained that I was there to pick up some merchandise, and presented her with a print out of the email that I had received telling me that the merchandise was ready for pick-up. She proceeded to go into the warehouse area, and returned with a small box. As she began to ring up the order, I picked up the box and saw that it contained only the lens.

“Where is the camera?” I asked.

“What camera?”

“The camera to which that lens belongs. A lens isn’t going to do me much good without a camera to which it can be attached.” I was becoming rather annoyed with Best Buy. The woman looked at me, clearly surprised, and then stated that she would have to go and check on the camera. She then vanished and remained vanished for half an hour (I was keeping track). When she returned, she brought with her another young woman who, I would come to discover, was one of the store managers.

The sales associate proceeded to explain that the camera was out of stock, which led to me asking why it was that I had been notified that it would be here for pick-up. At this point the manager took over and explained that while it was true that the camera was not there, they could order it and have it delivered to the store. I then pointed out that, as I had explained a couple of times already to the two of them, I live near Santa Cruz, had driven quite a distance for the pick-up, and would not be driving back to pick up merchandise that they had previously stated that they would have in stock when they, in fact, did not have it. In addition, Best Buy had already placed a hold for the amount of the camera on my credit card, in order to ensure that I would pick up the camera when it arrived. While I don’t remember her exact words, the manager began to make it clear that, to her mind, while it may well have been Best Buy’s screw-up that led to the camera not being present the fact that it wasn’t was my problem and she wasn’t going to help, and the fact that Best Buy placed a hold on my credit card simply ensured that I would pick up the camera without obligating Best Buy to, oh I don’t know, actually have the camera that I was supposed to pick up.

After some frustrated conversation, Kay intervened and got a rain check for the camera on my behalf, and got it arranged so that we could go to the Soquel store (close to my home) with the raincheck paperwork and have the camera delivered there. The manager assured us that the hold would be released from my card (though it took some doing to pry that out of her), but that it would not be ordered unless I turned the raincheck paperwork in at the Soquel store. I then went out to the parking lot, called the Soquel store, told them what had transpired, and asked if they would allow me to make the purchase the next day, despite the fact that the bundle offer would have ended, because Best Buy’s screw-up was what had caused the mess to begin with and prevented me from taking hold of the camera (and therefore, it seemed reasonable to expect Best-Buy to fix the problem). The manager with whom I spoke made it clear that, much like the Mountain View manager, he felt that even though Best Buy had screwed up, it was my problem and he had no interest in doing anything to fix it, but that I was welcome to pay extra for a home delivery even though I had already gone to pains to do a store pick-up. He did, however, say that the folks at the Mountain View store could order the camera for delivery to Soquel, though they had denied that they could.

By this point I was so frustrated with the deal (it took over an hour to arrive at this point, and most of that was spent with some very bad attitude on the part of the manager and with growing frustration from me) that I left without the lens, intending to cool down and then decide how I wanted to proceed. Kay and I went to dinner at a nearby place and received eerily wonderful customer service there, as if to make up for the bad service at the Best Buy.

After dinner, and after I had calmed down, I decided to return and pick up the lens, and then see if I could stomach giving money to Best Buy enough to order the camera at the Soquel store. If I couldn’t, I’d return the lens – but as it was I would receive $200 savings on the lens alone. So Kay and I returned to the store, picked up the lens, got the manager’s assurance that the camera would not be ordered for the Mountain View Store and that I would be able to have it delivered to the Soquel store. With that I left, annoyed, but thinking that I would either place the order in Soquel the next day, or else find another place to buy the camera so as to not provide Best Buy with any more money. Regardless, the hold on my card had been released, and I had the ability to order or not order the camera as I saw fit.

Or so I thought.

The next day Kay and I went to the local coffee shop to do a bit of writing. I turned on my computer and checked my email, and much to my surprise, I found an email from Best Buy informing me that, contrary to what the manager at Mountain View had stated, the camera had been ordered without me turning in the paperwork, and it had been scheduled for delivery to the Mountain View store and not to Soquel. Calling my bank, I discovered that, also contrary to what the store manager had stated, not only had the hold on my credit card not been released, but it was for the amount of both the camera and the lens, despite the fact that I had already purchased the lens separately.

At this point, I was thoroughly fed up, and had decided that I was going to cancel the order. I called the Mountain View store to cancel the order and was informed that I would have to call the company’s 800-number to do so. I also asked why it had been ordered for the Mountain view store and not the Soquel store, and why the hold was not only placed on my card, but placed on my card for the wrong amount - the person with whom I spoke could provide no answer.

I called the 800 number and navigated the phone tree. After being on hold for fifteen minutes, I explained to an operator what was going on, and was then told that I would be forwarded to customer service. Another operator picked up and asked what I wanted, I again explained, and was told that
I had, in fact, not been forwarded to customer service, but rather to another main operator. She then said that she would forward me to customer service, but instead forwarded me to an automated switchboard that required a 3-digit code to forward me anywhere else. I hung up and dialed again. This time I was forwarded to four different main operators before finally being put through to the correct department.

I explained the problem, explained that I wanted to cancel the order, and explained that I wanted the hold on my credit card released. The person with whom I was speaking called the Mountain view store and placed me on hold for a full 30 minutes while he spoke with them. When he returned to me he explained that if I wanted to return the lens, I would have to take it to a store.

That’s right bat-fans, I called him about cancelling a camera order, and he and the Mountain View manager had decided that I wanted to return the lens instead.

I explained that, as I had already told him a couple of times, I was calling about the camera and not the lens, that I was calling to cancel the damn order, and that I expected Best Buy to release the hold on my credit card. He then proceeded to explain that he would not cancel the order or release the hold on my card, and that I would have to wait for eight days after the camera had arrived in the store before the hold on the card would be released. I told him that I had no intention of ever picking up the camera, and that if they would not release the hold, I would have my bank do so. He smugly said something to the effect of “well, then go to your bank” in a tone of voice that seemed to add “because they won’t release the hold.” Fed up with these people, I hung up.

Note: it is with some satisfaction that I report that my bank took my side on this matter, and that the bank personnel had some words for the Best Buy folks that made mine look quite tame.

I then went back inside the coffee shop and returned to my computer. With a bit of urging from Kay and some suggestions from my older sister via the internet, I decided to check a few on-line merchants for the same camera. Through, I found a company called Cameta Camera (who I looked up – they have reasonably good customer service ratings) who had the same camera plus a memory card plus an extra battery plus a camera back for $150 LESS than Best Buy’s price for the camera alone. I quickly made the purchase.

Within half an hour, I had a confirmation of the purchase from, and not one but two separate emails from Best Buy, one informing me that the camera was unavailable, and one informing me that it would soon be at the Mountain View store and that I should make sure to pick it up.

When all was said and done, Best Buy also sent me not one, but two different customer satisfaction surveys. As part of the survey, they ask for a detailed explanation of what they may have done right or wrong. I wrote the following:

At every step along the way, from my attempt to initially purchase the merchandise, to the behavior of store personnel when I attempted to pick up the merchandise, to the attitude and policies of Best Buy when I attempted to cancel the order AFTER it became clear that I would not be receiving the merchandise, Best Buy did absolutely EVERYTHING wrong. There is not a single thing that any of the Best Buy personnel with whom I interacted did that did not fall well short of even mediocre customer service. The employees refused to help resolve problems created by Best Buy, lied to me on multiple occasions, were consistently rude, and made it clear that, even when Best Buy had screwed up, it was their attitude that this was my problem alone and that they had no intention of doing anything to help out.

It is difficult to imagine what Best Buy personnel could have done to make the experience worse short of donning Nazi costumes and coming to my home to club my pets to death. You have provided what is easily the poorest customer service experiences I have ever had - quite an accomplishment considering that I have had to deal with the California Department of Motor Vehicles on numerous occasions. When the DMV outdoes you in terms of customer service, it's time to hang up the towel.

As Best Buy's current business model is clearly to drive paying customers away, I will be happy to help you by not only never spending any more money at a Best Buy, but also trying to persuade others to avoid your company as well.

Is it hyperbolic and overdramatic? Yes. Am I likely to offend someone by a light use of the Nazis? Yep. But it was fun to write. Also, if nothing else, I gave myself a chuckle.

Now, to be realistic, the camera itself is incidental to this. If I didn’t get a new camera, that’ really not a big deal – indeed, considering much of what is going on in the world, this is small potatoes stuff. Also, I did make out with a $240 lens for $50, and I ultimately saved $150 on the camera itself (more, if you consider the accessory package that came with the camera). Still, the bad attitude and poor service I received from Best Buy irks me, and has assured that I will not be buying anything else from them. In case you need any further reason to avoid them as well, look here, here, and here.

Edited to add: I just received the camera from Cameta - not only did the package come early with everything that it was supposed to come with, it also had number of additional items that were send free-of charge that will make using and maintaining the camera much easier. Now, THAT is good customer service.


Dave Haaz-Baroque said...

I have never EVER had good service at Best Buy... although not nearly to the extent of your experience. My own personal experience with them is that I can never ever get any help from them EVER. When I went there to purchase a video projector and again for a computer tablet (both fairly pricey items), I asked three different people for help, all of which said, "I'll be with you in a second" only to disappear and never return. After about an hour of waiting on both occasions, I left and took my business elsewhere.

Oddly, they're always extraordinarily attentive to Eva.

kkapin said...


hey matt what's your phone number and email address? i need some fancy camera lovin and I can't find you.
anthroslug bounced back. incidentally i wrote a related song not more than an hour ago.

Library Poet said...

Gee, I can't believe you had such bad luck. Especially since I too bought a camera at Best Buy. I was in and out in 15 minutes and even went back the next for a price match reduction. Maybe you should have save yourself some time by driving 5 hours here for better Best Buy service. Not that I trust them at all. I hope you enjoy your camera.

Steph said...

Sorry little brother I feel no pity for you. I advised you to go to amazon and what? You ignored the advice or your older, wiser sister? So you went to Best Buy. And you received the same crappy service with the same crappy price quotes that all of us in photography bliss have experienced since BB's inception.

Ah well. I wish many happier excursions with amazon. Or swoop. Or craigslist. Or e-bay. Or any of the numerous online shopping venues that us really good novice photographers visit. ;)

P.S. - Have a fab time in Japan. You lucky asshole.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's mind-numbingly bad customer service. But keep in mind, this is from the same company that used to have a separate website set up for in-store employees, so if someone came in saying something was on sale online, they could bring up the fake website to show that it was not. They're a giant, flaming bag of...uh...poor customer service.


Anthroslug said...

Aaron - really? So, they were committing fraud, eh?

Steph - You didn't actually suggest Amazon until I was in the middle of this experience, and I was already on the website when I saw your suggestion, so we were thinking along the same lines. However, yes, you are correct that it is better service and prices.

Dave - do you think that they're afraid of Eva?

Anonymous said...

I too boycott Best Buy and asked all my friends to do the same via an e-mail which was copied to their home office.

Long story short, bought a printer. THEIR salesperson sold me the wrong ink, Took more than 30 days for starter ink to run out and discover had the wrong ink. Returned ink to store, mgr got involvoved quickly pointing to best buys posted policy. I informed her Their person who is/ was supposed to be knowledgable sold me the wrong ink, I did not pick it out and had no way of knowing unless I opened the printer box and read the manual before leaving their store after purchase.
she pointed to sign again, I told her I was going over her head. She gave me best buys corporate number and her badge, wished me luck and walked off. 8 weeks and several phone calls later, a live person agreed to send me a coupon for the cost of the ink if I agreed not to sue them in small claims court. While redeeming the coupon I insisted the mgr ring up the sale. When complete I reminded her who I was and told her I would never step in their store again and had advised all my friends to not do the same. Her response was " we don't need customers like you who question our policies."

During this entire ordeal, I never raised my voice or became as beilligerent as I can be when needed.