Monday, April 25, 2005

And the worst retailer in the world is . . .

Nothing to do with the military or Afghanistan here - just a reaction to another blog entry that reminded me of one of my own worst shopping experiences.

I used to shop at Best Buy a lot, but I don't anymore, and I wouldn't if they were giving away a free top-end laptop with every box of blank CD-Rs they sell. It's not something I think about a lot, it's just a fact of my existence. The only time it comes up is when people ask for my help doing something with their home electronics. Because I'm a computer geek, I'll end up helping someone out with a home network, or upgrading a PC, or hooking up a stereo system from time to time, and sometimes the people I'm helping will suggest buying parts or software from Best Buy. Invariably, I steer them to CompUSA or Staples or Fry's to buy whatever it is they need. (By the way, I have nothing but good things to say about Fry's, except that they need to put a store closer to my house.) Since I'm a "computer expert", people I know take my advice when I tell them that Best Buy has terrible customer service and to take their business elsewhere.

Just in the last few weeks, though, a couple of Best Buy customer service horror stories have popped up on the web that reminded me of why I don't shop there anymore. Best Buy recently had one man arrested for trying to pay with $2 bills (he was pissed with them for first telling him they would cover installation of his car stereo, since they had screwed something up, and then later calling him at home and threatening to have him arrested unless he came in an paid his installation - he did come in to pay, and they had him arrested anyway.) Just this morning, I read Geek with a .45's account of his own run-in with Best Buy's unique brand of customer relations.

From his account, it's obvious that Best Buy still subscribes to the psychopathic homeless bum school of customer service. And, just like a homeless person screaming at you and pissing on your shoes, the natural reaction to any interaction with Best Buy management is to want to hit someone (please don't misunderstand me - I don't mean to imply that dealing with Best Buy is anywhere near as pleasant as having a psychotic wingnut screaming at you because you won't pay him to wash your windshield.) As a civilized society, we have evolved a web of social and legal obligation that allow us to interact pleasantly and appropriately with each other. An unfortunate side-effect of that web of obligations is that there really isn't an appropropriate response to a sociopath following you around and screaming obscenities - or to the customer abuse that appears to be corporate policy at Best Buy. And Best Buy takes advantage of that, in spades . . .

I can only imagine that Best Buy has looked at the cost of customer retention in light of its policies, and simply decided that keeping customers satisfied is a low priority for them. The thinking in Best Buy corporate offices must be: "If our sales, or data mining, or loss prevention policies, alienate our customers, we can always just run a sale and attract new ones, right? And, just because they handle cash every day for a living, why should we expect our managers to know that the $2 bill is legal tender, hmm?"

My own break with Best Buy happened one afternoon when I had gone to pick up some software and parts for a project I was working on. I found what I needed, and picked up a couple of DVDs I had been looking for, checked out and started to leave. As I was walking out, something triggered the anti-theft alarm. The assistant manager type (fat, bad skin, short hair but overdue for a haircut, khaki pants that needed pressing, and a Best Buy polo shirt) at the door called me over: "Excuse me sir, I need to take a look at your receipt."

Actually, he needed to do more than that - what we did was, we emptied my bags out and went through each item on the receipt and matched it up with what I had bought. OK, it was annoying - especially since the cryptic abbreviations on the tape make it hard to figure out what some of the items were - but it didn't bother me too much. I knew that loss prevention is a big deal in retail, and there's always a lot of money walking out of stores all the time, so I was irritated at the waste of time, but basically OK with things up to that point, and still being polite. It's what happened next that convinced me that Best Buy could give a rat's ass about their customers, and also convinced me to shop elsewhere from that point on.

After we had finished reconciling the receipt with the purchases, the guy at the door said "Hey, it looks like one of the DVDs must not have gotten deactivated. You'll have to go back to the cashier and get her to run it through again." I looked back at the cashier, and at the line of three or four people waiting to check out, and told Mr. Assistant Security Manager guy , "Hey, we just went through all my stuff. Why do I need to have the things deactivated?" "I'm sorry sir", he told me,"It's Best Buy policy that all security devices have to be deactivated before you leave the store." "And you can't just do that here?" "No," he replied, "our policy is that security devices have to be deactivated by the cashier."

It occured to me that, if I had to go back and get all the security devices deactivated anyway, we could have done without the little cash register receipt audit I had just gone through - unless he really thought I had dropped a few extra goodies in my bag as well as shoplifting a DVD or two. Of course, I should have told him to screw off and walked out right then, but like the docile little consumer I am, I repacked my bags (without Mr. Security Manager's help, by the way) and walked back over to the twelve year old or so cashier I had just bought everything from. "Excuse me." I said,gesturing with one of my Best Buy bags. "The guy over there says I need to have the security devices in here deactivated." The cashier glared at me: Excuse me, sir", she said snippily. "I have a line here. You can go to customer service if you need to." I looked across the front of the store at the customer service desk - they had a longer line over there than the cashier had. Now I knew that I was being screwed. I'd already spent more than 15 minutes with Mr. Security Guy going through my bag and trying to figure out what the part number for a memory stick was. Now I was supposed to stand in the cashier's line again, just to meet with Best Buy's internal policy about deactivating a security device that she should have deactivated the first time around.

I should have said "I don't think so", and walked out of the store. Or I could have said "Yes, I see you have a line - I've already stood in it once to purchase these items." But, of course, what I did, was to say nothing. I got back in line - after another ten plus minutes, I finally got back to the cashier. "Now, what can I do for you, sir?" she says, with an artificial retail smile. "Bitch" I thought, but didn't say, even though I'm seething by this time. I also considered telling her that I needed a refund on all these items, but since that would have cost me even more time than Best Buy has already wasted in the middle of a busy day, I discarded that option, too. Instead, I explained, nicely, that I needed to have the security devices deactivated so I can get out the door. "Oh, no problem." she tells me, running the DVDs back over the magnetic whateveritis until they dong. "No problem for you" I thought to myself, "I had to wait for the security guy to go through everything I bought, whether or not it had a security device, and match it my receipt. Then I had to wait in line a second time so you could do what you should have done the first time. And, if you had done it the first time, I wouldn't have gotten jacked up on my way out the door." But, of course, being the gentleman (sheep) that I am, I said "Thank you." She, at least, put the stuff back in the bag when she was done.

I collected my bags, started out of the store, and nodded at Mr. Assistant Security Manager, fuming all the while. As I started out the door, the security alarm went off again. "Screw this," I thought to myself, and kept walking. I heard Mr. Security Guy saying, "Excuse me, sir," and I decided that there was no way that I was going through this crap one more time. So I kept walking, not looking back. The guy repeated "Excuse me" and I heard him coming out from behind his little desk / cubicle station at the door, and now I was well and truly pissed. At that point, if he had grabbed me, it would not have been be pretty. (I suspect that he would have slipped and fallen hard to the pavement behind me as I continued walking to my car.) Apparently, he decided the same thing, because as I continued to ignore him and walked briskly into the parking lot, with one last "Sir, Excuse me, SIR!" he gave up and retreated into the store.

And that was the last time I've been in a Best Buy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only computer related store I hate more than Best Buy is CompUSA. I try to buy everything on the internet since I have no other options. Someday, someone should open a computer store where they give great customer service. Fry's is good but they aren't near me. Consider yourself lucky.

6:10 PM  
Anonymous Rick C said...

I'm going to weigh in as one of those people who don't have the horror stories of BB. I've more than once triggered the security alarm after a purchase. I stop, turn around, catch the eye of the guy by the front door, and without fail, have been told to just keep walking.

6:25 PM  
Anonymous ZUMWALTSNAVY said...

I had a similar encounter with a BB by me.

After reconciling the receipt with my items the "security" guy asked me to open my coat so he could "just Check". I said I'd be glad to, however we'd have to go to an office somewhere. He asked why? I told him "cuz you'd freak if you saw what was strapped to my side, and I don't want to cause a fuss.

I have a CPL and carry a .357 all the time.

I showed him my CPL license and he said just move along.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous 11thacr said...

Had some bad times myself at BB...Just go to They have just about everything on line that they have in the store.....I have purchased a few times from them on line and had No Problems.......

8:11 PM  
Anonymous JK said...

They lost me a few years ago when they would not use a credit card that said "See Drivers License" to verify the signature with a photo ID. No flexibility, even with a store manager. Last time I bought there, and these recent stories are not making me reconsider.

12:01 AM  
Blogger Chevy Rose said...

Change your story to read "Wal-mart Super Store" and that's my only and last horror story. My position is "Someone will have to hold a gun on me to get me into Wal-mart ever again". Anything I want to buy will be from small local stores who have to struggle to compete with the chains, but give excellent service. My time is money to me and I won't waste it in long lines or with stupid, rude employees (I've abandoned lots of full shopping carts.) When customers begins to $value$ their own time again and let these megi-stores know it, then maybe those stores will remember the importance of repeat customers. I think a part of the problem is cheap imports also, but that's another story.

5:49 AM  
Blogger gonorr said...

its always a joy to leave a hugely packy shopping trolly when faced by bad service.
seems all these places are interested in is the bottom line.

6:19 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Luckily there is a Frys withing 10 miles of my house so I can shop there, but they have their own issues.

Best Buy is a nightmare and they will pay the price for this kind of behavior when a real competitior comes along. But as long as they can keep selling low priced crap people will keep coming back.

I have to admit that even in Metro Atlanta when you need a part sometimes you have to actually go to Best Buy as a place of last resort. But I make sure I have my medication ready so I can stand in line like the rest of the sheep.

12:22 PM  
Blogger NOTR said...

Both Best Buy and CompUSA lost me as a customer when they invoked their infamous "restocking" charge on returned, but opened items. In my case it was a cable that the only way to tell if the connector would work was open the package.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Mustang 23 said...

I am glad everybody on the net has been telling these stories about BBs new practice. I stopped going to Radio Shack for the same stuff they are doing now.

Sometime I feel like I get better personal service buying something on the internet. :)

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Julie said...

This happened to me multiple times at WalMart, until a kindly door greeter helped me figure out it was a security device imbedded in my 6-month old Nike shoes... WTH?!? She deactivated it with her wand thingy and I haven't set a security alarm off since. I *hate* those things.

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About two years ago at Best Buy I paid for a 55 inch HDTV TV and the delivery to boot. Delivery day came and went. So I called Best Buy and it took them most of thirty minutes to tell me my TV wasn't delivered. Right. No solution to the problem was offered up either. Right. I went to the store to pick up the 200 pounds of TV and packing crate but met with delays. Seemed the delivery refund was a bit of a problem, then the guy who was getting my TV for me had left work as his shift was up, then they couldn't find it. Finally (an hour and a half later) they roll a TV to the front door. I immediately notice the model number is the wrong one. Not what I paid for. Instead it was a five inch larger model with two built in HD tuners. About a 500 dollar mistake in my favor. The guy lugging the thing out on the cart saw the funny look on my face and asked if there was a problem. I said "no" and he said "right". I decided I would do the wrong thing and not say anything about the mistake.We loaded the thing up in my truck. It was so easy to do the wrong thing when I saw the long line at customer "service". I figured by the time I had it all sorted out I would have earned the 500 dollars and then some so to hell with it. Time is money.

So the short version- I allowed the general incompetence at Best Buy to break my morals and I took the easy wrong over the hard right. Not a victory by any measure. Just a symptom of frustration.

11:01 PM  

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