2005-12-12

An Open Letter to Circuit City and Best Buy

Dear Circuit City,

I wanted you to understand why you lost my business the other day.

We came in for a new set of cell phones. It was our second time in. The first time we had met a woman who answered all of our questions politely. When we came back in, the man at the cell phone area seemed to dismiss whatever we had talked about before with the woman who worked there.

We still had a number of questions. Most of them had to do with cost. We wanted to make sure that the phone and services of the plan covered our needs without costing a bunch more. We were interested in the phones that cost a little more that to lowest-end, free [after rebate] model.

I looked closely at the features and costs, and tried to understand the deals. It seemed that the listed prices of the phones were not the cost, but how much the end price of the phones, if you took a 2-year plan, and after you got the rebate. The actual cost of the phone, if you did not take the 2-year plan was in much smaller print, it was nearly hidden. And of course, that did not include tax.

So we finally selected the phones and the plans. The salesman took my credit card, and started placing the order. After a minute, he then asked for my drivers license. He wanted to copy all sorts of contact information. After spending about 5 minutes putting in the information into the computer, right near the completion of the transaction, he mentions an activation fee.

An activation fee? What activation fee? There was nothing posted on the cost of the phone, or the 2 year plan about an activation fee. This was getting to be a bit much. When we said this was the first we were hearing about the activation fee, we were informed by the salesman and his manager that the fee was listed in the brochure by the phones.

This sounds like bait and switch to me. First you get my credit card, then you tell me about extra costs? We made if very clear that we were very concerned about the total costs when we were asking lots of questions. But then to tell me about extra costs after you are ringing me up is not a good idea.

And the truth is, you might still have made the sale. Except for one small factor. You seemed to have forgotten who was the customer. You treated us badly when we were upset by hidden costs. Instead of being apologetic or supportive about our being upset, you were discourteous and dismissive.

The way we were told that the cost was listed - as if we were stupid for not seeing a number hidden inside a closed brochure - is what finally lost you the sale.

I do not like hidden costs. I want to know the full up-front cost in bold print at least as large as any other number on the [shelf] price-tag. I want any minimum monthly cost, and length of term also printed in at least the same size font.
The only cost I will accept as implied, and I accept it only grudgingly, is sales-tax.
If you want to list the price-after-rebate, make sure you list the price-out-of-pocket in at least the same size print - and make sure the values are clearly labeled.

If you are going to have all sort of hidden costs - it is going to look like bait-and-switch to me, and you will create an unhappy customer.

If you give me an attitude about my being upset at hidden costs, the you have changed me from an unhappy-customer, to a missed-sale.

And when I turn from being an unhappy-customer to a missed-sale, you can count on my being a lot less likely to come back. And not only will I be less likely to come back, but I will be willing to tell people about my bad experience. Such as right now on my blog - for anyone and everyone to see.

And in case you think my recommendations will have little impact on you, let me tell you about Best Buy.

Best Buy sold me a digital video camera. The salesman promised me that this video editing package rebate was part of my sale. But the rebate was not obvious when I checked out. So I went to customer service. They took a huge amount of time to say, 'I don't know', and eventually they said the rebate counted.

When I got the rebate back, rejected from the manufacturer, I realize just how much Best Buy took advantage of me.

I have not bought anything from them since.

But that is not all. I had a friend ask me about buying a new computer. They wanted my advice, because I am known for being very good with computers, and helping my friends. She told me she was interested in getting the computer from Best Buy because they had a good financing deal - no interest for a nice period of time. She seemed pretty set on getting it from Best Buy. But I remembered being lied to by the salesman at Best Buy. And I remembered the poor customer service. So I seriously suggested she look at CompUSA. She did. And she changed where she bought the computer. CompUSA had a better financing deal. I believe she wound up paying more for a much better computer, that she will get much better support, from CompUSA.

So, Best Buy, for treating me wrong, you made one sale, and have lost me as a customer and have lost other customers I influence.

So, Circuit City, for treating me wrong, you lost that sale of Cell phones, and possible future sales from me and other customers I influence.

May you can have me back as a customer some day. If I see you change your shoddy methods. But it won't be any time soon. And it won't be by my recommendation.