I know I’m not the first person to have a bad customer experience at Best Buy. Neither will I be the last, no doubt. This is what happened last week.
I went with my daughter, who is a college junior, to Best Buy to look for a laptop. (Why didn’t we purchase it online? Because she didn’t want to wait.) After spending an hour looking at all the models, prices, features, screens, keyboards, etc., she decided on a Dell Studio 15. It was well equipped and less expensive at $780 than we could get it through any other channel such as the Employee Purchase Program.
So I asked the salesperson if they had one in stock. He looked around a bit and then checked his inventory system. The only thing he had was the display model, which he said he would sell for 10% off, but at the same time he wouldn’t recommend that to us. The inventory system told him that another store 5 miles away did have one and it was listed at $733. Excellent, we thought, so he called the second store and asked them to hold it for us at the customer service desk. We immediately took the short drive and found the box waiting for us at customer service as promised. We paid and went home happy. So far so good, right?
The next day I unboxed the system to set it up for my daughter. I expected to see the standard Vista “mini-setup” or sysprep – the final steps in installing the operating system and preparing the new computer for first-time use. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted instead by a screen showing two user accounts. As I investigated further, this is what I found:
- neither of the accounts were protected by a password
- the system had been in use for 3-4 weeks
- multiple applications were installed that I didn’t purchase, including Microsoft Office 2007 Enterprise
- 100 GB of the hard drive was in use, including 23 GB of music, multiple bit torrents of DVDs, etc., none of which I had purchased
- a document titled “Resume” with a number of revealing details about the user:
- full name, address, phone number, and e-mail address
- he graduated from high school in 2005, making him approx. 21
- he was looking for an IT job
- he was an employee of that Best Buy store in the Geek Squad
Let that last part sink in a bit. How in the world had Best Buy sold me a laptop as new that not only wasn’t new but contained a huge amount of copyrighted material that I didn’t purchase? At the very least this was a serious security breach involving a person who others are entrusting with their computers and data. How could any Geek Squad employee not have a password on his own computer account? No matter the circumstances of his use of the computer, how could the computer possibly have ended up being sold to me without him removing his data? Did he use the computer without the store’s knowledge and somehow sneak it back onto the shelf? Did the store not know they had sold me an open-box computer as new? My mind was racing without a lot of information but all kinds of speculation.
Needless to say, I took it back to the store. Ironically, the person who greeted me at the customer service counter was none other than the previous user of the laptop. I asked to see the manager. When he came I asked if there was a place we could speak privately. When I explained, the manager was shocked and immediately seemed to grasp the seriousness of the situation. To make a long story short, it turned out that the employee had purchased the laptop and then returned it. Best Buy’s errors were twofold: 1) they failed to restore the hard drive to the factory load; 2) they sold me the machine as new. It’s quite possible they knew it was an open box item, accounting for the lower price at the second store compared to the first, but no one at the second store ever told me that.
The manager’s resolution? He offered his apologies and provided me with another Studio 15 with a slightly better configuration that sells for $865. (According to the manager, this second unit had been serviced by the Geek Squad to apply latest service packs, updates, etc. So it wasn’t exactly in the factory shipped configuration. I took his word for that in spite of the obvious fact that Best Buy had already given me ample reason to question their trustworthiness and procedures.) He then asked if I was interested in the extended warranty. I said I would take it if he gave it to me for free, which he declined. So how’s that for a mediocre response to what was at best major-league mistake?
I’m now attempting to reach the person at Dell who is reponsible for the Best Buy account in the midwest. Managers far removed from the sales floor occasionally need to hear from real end customers so they can better visualize the kinds of situations that arise at retail and the systems that need to be in place to serve customers well.
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