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Not the Best Buy

It’s time for me to take out some of my rage and indignation on a retailer. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. To be fair, I must say that the company in question—Best Buy, in case you couldn’t figure it out from the title of this post—provided the product as requested, at the expected price, with a minimum of delay once the problems I’m about to describe were cleared. The problems encountered will probably not prevent me from buying from Best Buy again. That said, the customer experience left a lot to be desired, and here’s why.

I found myself in the market for a new notebook PC—the first one I’ve personally owned, as I’m a desktop aficionado and always received laptops from employers. My ability to travel to industry events and client sites (and do anything useful once there) would be seriously curtailed by not having portable computing power. Not wanting to spend a fortune, but neither wanting an incomplete machine (netbooks aren’t my thing), I researched the best balance of power and price. I found this, the Asus K50IJ-RX05. The only place to acquire one at the $499 price point was Best Buy.

Problem 1: finding the product. I consulted Bestbuy.com to see if either of the two “local” stores (local meaning 20-30 minutes on a bus) had my machine in stock. Neither one did, of course, so I called the first and asked whether it would be restocked soon or if I could order one. Five minutes later (after being placed on hold twice) I was told that I couldn’t, with no explanation why. A call to the second had the same result, but with some added info: The one I wanted had been discontinued—or so they said; it’s still listed on the Asus site—and the service person didn’t know what model had replaced it. She suggested I try asking around at the stores in the Bronx because they might have one or two in stock. No offer to check for me; no offer to ship the unit to her store.

Of the two Bronx locations, one was nearly twice the travel time, so I naturally chose the nearer one. I called the store. No answer. I’m not talking about no answer after pressing 3 to speak to a sales rep; no pick up at all, like they didn’t have an IVR installed. That’s inexcusable. In a moment of desperation, I tried to contact the horribly-named Twelpforce, Best Buy’s assistance line on Twitter. By the time I heard back from a twelper, or whatever they call themselves, I’d already figured out how to order online for in-store pickup—significant because the first few attempts failed, since the function doesn’t work properly unless you start from the right place on the site—and decided to bite the bullet and go to the Bronx store.

Problem 2: verifying quality. Jump forward to my arrival at the in-store pickup counter, skipping over the time spent waiting for not one but two confirmation emails (both of which I was told were necessary), the 45 minutes or so on the subway, and the difficulty navigating a horribly designed suburban mall. The store was not busy, probably the emptiest I’ve ever seen a Best Buy, but there was still a waiting line at the service desk. Fair enough, just bad luck on my part.

The difficulty came in trying to figure out whether the computer—with Windows Vista installed—was qualified for the free upgrade to the new Windows 7 operating system when it becomes available in October. I wanted to be absolutely sure what I was getting myself into, because while I have learned from long experience to never use the first release of a new OS if I can avoid it, I have no desire to use Vista; dealing with it for a few weeks or a month is acceptable if I get the free upgrade, otherwise I’d dump the whole thing in favor of a Linux distro. The in-store display said yes, the salesperson said no. It took a further 10 minutes of delay before a Geek Squad guy walked over and opened the box, revealing the upgrade offer within like Charlie’s golden ticket.

Problem 3: taking the survey. So in the end, I got home with the computer, a carrying case, and a mouse. All over, right? Wrong. This morning I got the follow-up email asking me to take a brief online survey about my in-store pickup experience. Fine by me; I don’t mind answering surveys about products or services I’ve used, at least within reason.

The brief survey turned out to be 32 questions long, actually longer because a yes or no in the right place would insert one or more conditional questions to clarify the answer. The survey tech was provided by ForeSee Results, but I’m willing to bet they had nothing to do with designing the survey itself. First of all, I’ve spoken with ForeSee people before, and they’re the first to tell you that the value of a customer experience survey decreases with length.

They’ll also tell you that, to assess customer satisfaction, you should ask relevant questions. There were some, but plenty that weren’t. If the survey is specifically for in-store pickups, why bother rating my opinion of the shipping costs? How is “Please rate the degree to which the order received matched the order placed” a different question from “Please rate the accuracy of your order”? If you’ve already had me rate the degree to which the experience matched my expectation on a scale of 1 to 1o, is there a point in asking the same question in yes/no format later? By the time I reached the bottom of the survey page, I was starting to regret taking it. None of the questions addressed how I felt about the experience, or asked what I’d change. In short, there was nothing that captured the voice of the customer in a way that will affect anybody’s shopping experience.

Was I satisfied with my overall Best Buy experience? Well, I got the item I wanted at the price I expected, and found some accessories to go along with it, so in that sense I was satisfied. But it was clear that I was nothing but a source of revenue for the company; I was not treated like I mattered for anything but the numbers on my credit card. Poor-to-nonexistent integration between store locations, marginally helpful staff, and a useless survey left me flat. I’ll use Best Buy again, but mainly because it is the only real choice nearby for consumer electronics. I wasn’t a lover of Circuit City, but at least when it was still operating there was a choice, and the hint of competition made both stores try harder.