If you’ve ever shopped at Best Buy then chances are that you’re one of the millions of shoppers who have had a terrible experience. If you search for “Best Buy customer service” on Google you’ll find that the first results page is littered with negative links. I assume the negativity goes several pages deep but I didn’t bother to investigate. Ironically, it wasn’t always this bad.
I actually used to love shopping at Best Buy. Before I really got into the Internet and invested in learning how to build my own computer, I’d buy all of my video and sound cards there. If I was ever dissatisfied with a hardware purchase I’d just return it (within 90 days) with no questions asked. I was impressed at how hassle-free it was. It wasn’t until later that the customer service fell off a cliff.
My first run-in with trouble was when I called to find out if they had a video game in stock. I got to the video game “section” without issue, using the automated system. When the clerk answered the phone, however, the guy said he’d have to find out if they had the game. He put the phone down on the counter and asked another employee to get “Adam”. While I waited, the clerk spoke with another guy about recent gossip. At length, Adam came to the counter, but not to answer the phone or my question. Instead, he joined the other two clerks in their conversation. I was young still and hadn’t had much experience with bad customer service so this moment was particularly novel for me. I decided to listen to them and see how long their conversation could possibly go before one of them noticed the phone was off the hook. At the time, I had a headset for my cordless phone so I went about making dinner – something simple: Ramen noodles – and even managed to eat the whole thing before I got tired of their insipid banter and hung up.
Some time later I went to Best Buy to purchase something and noticed that they were selling a set of Klipsch surround sound speakers for 50% off. Since I had been eying them for some time I was very excited that these premium speakers had been marked down so significantly. I called a salesman over to make sure that the price was correct and to find out why the item had such a huge discount. The box looked completely fine, with no signs of having been opened. The salesman – an older guy with longish blond hair and a sad face – checked the box, checked the tag and told me with a kind of guessing in his voice that Best Buy was just trying to make some room for a newer model. Ecstatic, I told him that I didn’t have my checkbook on me, but that I would run to an ATM and withdraw the cash to buy the speaker set. I didn’t have a debit card at the time. When I came back the salesman’s face was even sadder and his voice was full of regret and chagrin. The discounted price was apparently for an open-box item that had been sold and no one updated the price tag when the new item had taken the open-box item’s spot. For his mistake, he said, he would sell me the speakers for 10% the full price. I left without buying the speakers. In hindsight, I probably should have pressed the issue with a manager since working retail would later teach me that managers are typically pushovers in the face of an angry customer – even to the tune of 50% off.
Considering how many uniquely terrible life experiences I’ve had, it would be easy for me to assume that I am alone in the bad service I’ve received from Best Buy. Thankfully, people in my own social circle have corroborated the level of dissatisfaction to be had, ranging from terrible return experiences to purchasing an item that had clearly been returned, but sold as new. One friend bought a Nintendo 64 game only to find a deck of playing cards wrapped in a Nintendo poster in place of the cartridge. Sure, it’s possible someone at the factory decided to swipe the game, but they why go through with all the subterfuge? Once the product is in the box no one is going to look at it until it’s opened by the customer. More likely, the game was returned by a customer who knew that the Best Buy employee would only give the contents a cursory search.
Even if one ignores all of the ridiculous specific moments of bad customer service at Best Buy, there’s also just a general lack of product and/or service knowledge across the board. It’s always a bad sign when you ask a semi-technical question and the employee starts reading the box for the answer. In any event, regardless of all the terrible experiences I’ve had first-hand and those that I’ve heard about, none of them compare to the outrageous situation Best Buy put me through recently.
The HTC Incredible is Verizon’s new flagship cell phone. Even without the same marketing blitz Verizon rolled out for the Motorola DROID the Incredible was still widely popular and the phone almost immediately became backordered. That was particularly disappointing for me since I had just visited my local Verizon store and they had two HTC Incredible cell phones in stock, but I couldn’t buy one right then because my 2-year contract hadn’t rolled over yet. When it finally did, there were no Incredible cell phones to be found anywhere.
I wasn’t ready to give up and, even though I try not to do business with Best Buy if I can help it, I had read that some people had luck finding the Incredible in stock there. I visited my local Best Buy and asked the clerk at the Best Buy Mobile department if they had an HTC Incredible in stock. The guy didn’t even bother to stand up while he talked to me. He said that they were sold out, but that he could put me on a waiting list. I agreed and the guy took down my information.
Afterwards, I went home and called around. By and large, I was able to talk to the right people at each Best Buy and they all told me that they were out. One store, of course, lived up to the Best Buy reputation and condemned me to Department Transfer Hell. At first, the operator was happy to send me to the right department who wouldn’t pick up, which bounced me back to the operator, who then told me that she would walk over there and have them answer the phone. Then I was transferred again. This time, the Best Buy Mobile department did pick up but just put the receiver on the counter. After a few minutes they’d transfer me somewhere. I’d tell whoever picked up to transfer me back. This went on for a good 20 minutes. Since I was using my cell phone now I thought it would be hilarious to drive down to the store while still on hold and tell them to answer the phone only to have them discover that they were speaking to me, right in front of them. Oh ho ho! What fun! Now that I’m older, of course, I don’t really have the kind of masochistic patience required for that stunt. The only reason I was putting myself through this torture was because another Best Buy had told me that this Best Buy had an HTC Incredible in stock. I finally hung up, called back and requested a manager. When the manager got on the phone, she had no doubt already been explained the situation and had that stonewall tone in her voice that people affect when they realize that they’re about to take a load of shit with no defendable ground to stand on. Luckily for her, I wasn’t interested in raking her through the coals. I just wanted my phone. I asked her if she could just walk over to the Best Buy Mobile department and find out if my phone was there. Her personality instantly perked up and she was more than happy to find out the information for me. Alas. I had been inaccurate information by the previous store and this Best Buy was sold out as well.
I resigned myself to the long backorder wait and made an online purchase through Verizon’s site. The following Tuesday I had to call Verizon about an issue I had with a rebate on an unrelated matter. While on hold with Verizon I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. I let it go to voicemail. After finishing with Verizon I checked the message to find out it was the guy at Best Buy who put me on the waiting list. He was calling to tell me that they just got one HTC Incredible in stock and that he was calling everyone on the list. The first person to call back would get the phone. When I called him back he informed me that someone else had just beat me to the punch. I cursed the Heavens and decided that a higher power simply didn’t want me to have the phone ahead of the backorder date.
The following day, however, the same Best Buy guy called me to tell me that it was my “lucky day” because the woman who nabbed the phone the day before discovered that she was ineligible for the upgrade. Since I was next on the list the phone was mine provided I could come in and get it that day. I went on my lunch hour to pick it up.
Sounds good so far, right? Just wait for Part III!