My friend, Terry Heaton, unwittingly paid $269 for what he thought was a Canon camera from CompUSA. It was, in fact, a Canon camera box with all the peripherals…but no camera.
The rub is that this was one of the CompUSA stores that was closing. CompUSA’s attitude is that since the bill said All Sales Final, Terry was the person responsible to make sure there was a camera in the box.
As Terry notes, he spent over $3,500 on that trip to CompUSA, purchasing from sales reps wearing CompUSA shirts and receiving a bill labeled CompUSA – but CompUSA will not provide any solution to Terry’s problem – they say he bought from a liquidator. And they wonder why they are in trouble.
(I should note that I purchased a number of things from a closing CompUSA store in Minneapolis last month…and thought I was dealing with CompUSA as the sales people were all CompUSA folk. Who knew that we were dealing with a liquidator. There were no signs to that effect.)
UPDATE: CompUSA blinks. Terry reports:
I got a phone call last night from Loretta Anderson of corporate customer service at CompUSA apologizing for the incident involving the empty box and offering restoration. Loretta called back this morning to tell me a $300 gift certificate is in the mail. I’d basically written the whole thing off, so this was a pleasant, albeit unexpected, surprise. Thank you, Loretta.
This incident has given many lessons, and I want to share a few here.
Firstly, somebody at CompUSA picked up on the story as it was flying all over the internet yesterday (and continues today). This is a lesson in the power of community — the very people CompUSA needs to court as customers spread the word and reacted angrily to what most viewed as a rip-off. I did nothing to manipulate “coverage” — I only wanted to share a slice of my life. The community took over from there.
Another lesson is how the web is changing the nature of authority. Businesses have black and white rules, but the public isn’t black and white. This mentality is fostered by a top-down, modernist culture that needs absolute adherence to rules in order to function. But nobody consulted the people on this. In fact, the reason we have judges in a free society is so that rules can be considered on a case-by-case basis. In the retail world, however, the onus is entirely on the consumer to find someone to function as judge, and the trouble generally isn’t worth it. Retailers know this, and so it goes.
There’s a lesson here for CompUSA and all retailers. The web was alive with this story yesterday, and it moved so fast that there was no way any company could have jumped in to control it. That means companies need to rethink the whole notion of customer service and then mean what they say when spouting fancy slogans touting how they value customers. I’m not anybody special, but every customer should be considered special in the world of buying and selling. I keep waiting for someone in the business world to realize how anti-customer telephone answering systems have become, but I’m not holding my breath.
Buyer beware? Seller beware.
I certainly hope that CompUSA CEO Roman Ross has learned to take a letter from a disappointed customer seriously and that he sets in place systems to treat people like people instead of pests that can be swatted away by underlings.