Worst? Buy

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.

16 thoughts on “Worst? Buy

  1. ari October 30, 2008 / 10:55 pm

    dang dude that sucks. but unfortunetely for them i would guess they skrewed up with the WRONG customer. and yes on a regular basis best buy is metiocre at BEST when handling customers. you have my sympothy.

  2. Jason October 31, 2008 / 7:58 am

    Disgusting. And amazing. I hope that you can get this story into a more public forum (and litter it with phraseology that the search engines and potential customers will pick up on) and that if you give Best Buy yet another chance to make it right and they do not so that you begin telling the story with names included.

    Thanks for sharing, Clif. Excellent use of the blogosphere…you’re doing us all a favor.

  3. Nick Nicholaou October 31, 2008 / 9:41 am

    Any great company or ministry is at the mercy of its weakest link.

  4. cindyk October 31, 2008 / 1:27 pm

    I feel your pain. I’ve got two Best Buy stories involving our Senior Pastor’s computer. (Of course it’s the senior pastor… sigh)

    We have purchased one computer from Best Buy, because I was obviously having a brain aneurysm at the time.

    Never again. 😦

    And to top it off the Geek Squad are the people that most individuals count on for computer help, advice and service. Eek!

  5. deviantmonk November 2, 2008 / 2:39 am

    Best Buy is a pretty worthless store, IMO. I went in after getting my new computer to spend some money on a new monitor. I couldn’t get anybody to talk to me, show me where the actual inventory was or anything else. So I left and bought it online. I pretty much plan on never buying anything from them ever again.

    That being said, I’m kind of surprised (in the ‘having some faith left in humanity’ sense rather than the ‘Best Buy surely has some measure of responsibility’ sense) that the manager didn’t throw in the extended warranty. At the same time I’m not that surprised since the warranties, from what I understand, are where they make a lot of money.

  6. B November 5, 2008 / 10:46 am

    i hope you at least grabbed all the torrents.

  7. Hammie November 5, 2008 / 11:51 am

    The response from the manager was really tacky. “We screwed up but we fixed it!” Great! But then: “Care to enroll in our protection scam, I mean warranty?” I believe said warranty is serviced by Geek Squad.

  8. Randy November 5, 2008 / 2:26 pm

    i had a similar situation happen when i was scammed into buying what i thought was a new hp

  9. James November 5, 2008 / 3:03 pm

    Geek Squad has gone from being a joke in the IT Community to being downright despised. I’m not saying that the individuals are all bad by association (though some are). In several Best Buy locations I frequent, the only Geek Squad on staff are as fresh out of high school as you can get. What’s worse is they seem to have an elitist attitude, since they (last I heard) were required to pass CompTIA’s A+ Certification. To quote someone else, that falls somewhere between breathing and tying your shoes.
    There are tons of stories circulating on the ‘net about the trustworthiness of Geek Squad with your Data. I’ve told people looking for PC repair that I would rather hand my notebook over to someone on the streets than Geek Squad. Chances are they wouldn’t know how to get to my data. The goons at Geek Squad actually might have half a clue on how to get to my goodies, as well as some bad intentions.
    I have never handed anything over to Geek Squad, do they sign off on any kind of non-disclosure agreement as to not copying/transmitting your data?

  10. Jason Reece November 5, 2008 / 5:52 pm

    Stories like sound so insane that nobody could even make it up, it has to be true! The first distrubing fact– Mr. GeekSquad is apparently unaware of the System Recovery partition included on virtually every laptop for the last five years or more! Making it even more incredulous, Dell is one of the few notebook manufacturers that still includes a Windows re-installation CD, redundant with the System Recovery partition but very useful if the hard drive was damaged…..and I’d think Mr; Geek Squad could at least slide that disc into the slot loading DVD drive before returning it?

    Big problem number 2- selling you an “Open Box” item without you knowing it. At least the manager took it back and gave you a slightly better configuration (for the same price, correct?). If you’ve seen any of the nightmare tales from Circuit City customers (at THe Consumerist), just keep in mind that it actually could have been much worse than the way it turned out. With Best Buy, Circuit City, Wal-Mart and any other retail store- AIM LOW and you won’t be disappointed. =) I also try to avoid making any sort of technical purchase (not even digital cameras, cordless phones or DVD players). Alarm clocks, maybe! lol

    I’ve seen a few stories (published in tech/computer magazines such as PC Mag, PC World and even Consumer Reports) where writers from each respective publication compared the experience of buying a laptop at a brick-and-mortar retail store. The included Best Buy, Circuit City, Wal Mart, Fry’s and one even shopped the Apple store, too. Without fail, each writer encountered unfriendly store associates who were so ignorant about the products in their store that they either lied, made up incorrect answers to questions and some that even argued after they had proven wrong!!! The Apple store was a polar opposite experience- either they grow their employees in pods in the stock room OR it is possible to pay people to care!

    The thought of going into a store and buying a laptop or letting a friend, family member or even co-worker wander into a store to buy a laptop makes me nauseous. I talk to a lot of folks online asking for advice on what kind of laptop to buy and where to buy it. I do my best to keep them out of the stores and, if that isn’t possible for some reason, I try to help them prepare their shield against store employees! They can’t do anything that will make the purchase easier or better in any way…don’t even make eye contact if you don’t have to….sunglasses come in handy so they can’t try to lock eyes and go in for the kill! (BTW, the advice I give for buying a laptop in a retail store is the same exact advice I give for anyone going to test drive and/or to purchase a car!)

    Like a car, I consider a laptop to be a MAJOR purchase. Anything over $500, I consider to be MAJOR. As such, preparing, conducting product research and comparisons, shopping around for the best pricing and anything else to help me make an educated decision that I won’t regret are essential.

    The best way to buy a laptop, with very few exceptions, is either directly from the manufacturer (HP, Dell, Toshiba, etc.) or from a reputable online retailer with a clearly-stated return and refund policy! I’m a big fan of Newegg.com, as far as online retailers go. If you MUST have a laptop from Circuit CIty or Best Buy, go to theiir website and try to order it online for store pickup. Pay online with your credit card if it offers that choice. The goal is to have your choice set in stone, pulled from stock and waiting for you when you arrive. This eliminates any chance of an employee ruining any and everything! It usually eliminates the Extended Warranty Sales Pitch- which I pre-empt before they can utter the words both in stores and when I’m buying a car! LOL

    Despite the disdain many of us have for Best Buy, for many folks like myself (in Atlanta) BB will soon be our only choice for an electronics store. All 16 Circuit City stores are closing here.,…..and I’ll be surprised if Circuit City exists anywhere in a few more months!

  11. Justin November 5, 2008 / 6:55 pm

    You got picked up by Consumerist!

    The thing I don’t understand is how BB’s system didn’t tell them it was an open box. When I worked at CC, there were several categories for inventory like OB (open box), DP (display model), and of course one that I can’t remember the abbreviation for that was new in box.

    Or maybe they just didn’t care. I’m going with option B

  12. Jeremy November 5, 2008 / 9:09 pm

    Were the movies at least anything good?

  13. Pat November 6, 2008 / 8:05 am


    Everything else has been said. But allow me – you acted with both class and style. Kudos!

  14. mack maker November 6, 2008 / 1:44 pm

    If you really wanted to have some fun, you could have called the RIAA and unleashed them on Best Buy and the employee. If the laptop truly did have pirated music and torrents on it, the RIAA would just LOVE to sue Best Buy for reselling pirated music. I am sure the RIAA would have more than compensated you for the cost of the laptop. Oh yes, and I’m sure that was not a legitimate version of MS Office either.

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