Friday, February 11, 2005

Caveat Emptor

Allow me to recount a little episode from my otherwise uninteresting life (ok, I exaggerate a little!) In the begining of February, my parents asked me to help them order a digital camera since they know little from digital cameras and how to obtain one at a good price.

The camera I chose for them is a brand-new model from Sony, called the DSC-T33, an updated and slimmer version of the DSC-T3 which I happen to own. This time around, the camera comes in 4 colors, blue, white, silver and gold. After confirming with my parents, I set ahead to purchase them the blue colored model, and to have it shipped to my dad's office in NJ in order to avoid paying sales tax.

So out I set to all the web's price comparison engines, and I came back with a quote of $379 from a company called A&M Photo World. I go ahead and place the order without any accessories or expedited shipping. I get all the confirmation emails which placate me about recieving my order, and giving me my order number, etc. Everything is OK so far, and I print a copy of the order to leave by my parents house.

The next day everything changes (to be a bit melodramatic). I look up my order online and discover that its been put on hold pending further conversation with one of the company's sales representitives. A voicemail left by my sister sounds somewhat anxious, telling me that some guy called for me from "some camera store". I pick up the phone and dial the company's tollfree number knowing what to expect- the "YoYo store" pitch as perfected by not-so-savvy electronic store operators in the NYC metro area.

His name is "Jeff" and I pretend to be unaware to the order of the proceedings. He begins by telling me that my shipping address is different than my billing address, and that unless I have it on file with the credit card company, it's not going to go through. So I reassure him that all is in order, and before he can get a word in edgewise, I tell him "Alright, I appreciate your inquiring, and have a nice day". This is where he pounced - "Wait!". I pause and cautiously ask "What now?"

Jeff: I noticed that the camera you ordered comes with a battery that only lasts about 5 to 10 minutes. Would you like to purchase a battery at a 50% discount- its only $55 and it will last 2 hours on a charge.

Me: No thank you, I purchased a battery for the camera last week.

Jeff: Oh really? What does it look like?

Me: A rectangular piece of black plastic.

Jeff: Ok, you sure you don't want another one that last 4 hours? We also have another that last 6 hours, but I'm afraid those are on backorder.

Me: (rolling my eyes) No thank you, I think that should suffice.

Jeff:Do you need a memory chip for the camera?

Me: You know it's funny, I already have a 512mb memory stick pro duo for the camera. Is that all?

Jeff: Not nearly. The camera you ordered has an internal lenses, so we can skip the lenses attachments...Did you want to order a camera case for it?

Me: How much is the neoprene slipcase?

Jeff: We have them on sale for $29.99. Would you like to purchase one?

Me: But last week when I was in your store you told me it's only $10! [a blatant lie]

Jeff: Oh, I did? Oh, I apologize, I was looking at the wrong item.

Me: (uh huh, suuuure!) You know what, I don't want one.

Jeff: Ok, now let me tell you something, the camera that you ordered is the Japanese version, and we do have the American version too. Would you like that model instead?

Me: (quickly browsing their website for price and model information) Well, I don't see any two versions on your website. Whats the price difference and whats the difference between the packages?

Jeff: Well not much other than that the American model is packaged here, and you should have an easier time using its warranty if it breaks. And it costs 20 dollars more.

Me: You know what, I just noticed that the camera's price on your website dropped $10 since I ordered it, to $369. Can you give me the new pricing instead?

Jeff: But thats the Japanese(-packaged) model only!

Me: I don't care if its packaged on Mars.

Jeff: Ok, but I can't give you the $10 off since my system doesn't allow that.

Me: So I'll just cancel this order and reorder it, that should do the trick, no?

Jeff: Ok, you can do that...

Me: Nevermind than, give me the neoprene case for free so that we're even.

Jeff: OK, I guess I can do that for you....Now, just so you know, the camera only has a 90-day limited warranty, and if it would break before that you would have to send it to us since its a Japanese model, and we send it Sony's Japanese division, so it could be months before you get your camera back. And once the 90 days are up, the servicing of your camera will probaly cost between $400 to $500 to fix, which doesn't make a lot of sense when the camera costs less than that. Now, our extended warranty only costs $90 and....

Me: (I cut him off) No thank you, I already have protection for that through my credit card company. Is that all?

Jeff: Well unless you need anything else...

Me: No I don't- just make sure I get my slipcase for free.

Jeff: Alright, your total is $414 with shipping.

Me: $414!!? My order total came out to $394 including the $15 ground shipping charges when I placed the order!

Jeff: I'm sorry, I selected the wrong shipping option.

Me: Well make sure you change it back.

Jeff: Ok, your total is now $398.50

Me: (Ok, whatever!) Fine. Are you certain that you have it in stock?

Jeff: The blue model is the "most popular", but we have 5 pieces left, I'll "put it aside" for you.

Me: Thank you, have a nice day.

What exactly is going on? Why am I playing along with these antics? Why have I highlighted and quoted certain keywords? Well starting with the first instance, "Jeff" in this case. Yes, its possible that it's his name, but in the YoYo business, Jeff can also go by the name of Jack, Morris, Joe and Mike depending if he's answering for the sales, shipping, invoicing, packaging, or customer service department when you call. He won't even bothering hiding his voice. Call him "Jeff" when he introduces himself as Francis and hear him stutter on the line, because he gets confused to which role he is playing.

The standard battery that Sony includes last about 90 minutes. If you fall for his ruse and order the 2, 4 or 6 hour battery, he doesn't even touch your package other than to add $55 or $100 to your order amount.

The American and Japanese model is another scam. They only carry the import, grey-market items (it happens to be that the American version of the DSC-T33 is yet to be released.) The import version is always cheaper, and comes with everything in English. If you order the American version, you get the same import box for $20 more.

The bit where I tell him I was in his store was a lie. But 99% of these internet stores are retail stores doing internet business on the side. I don't even know he has a storefront, I simply assumed so, and as you see he fell for it.

The shipping costs is another scam. To send the camera with UPS ground, it costs him about $4-$6. If you select that through their website, it's a minimum of $15. If you do your order over the phone, it's a minimum quote of $19.99. He tried to take on another $19 when he quoted me $414, and probably would still have sent it via UPS ground.

The most popular model/color is whatever your'e buying. The "I'll put it aside" is a reassurance for something they never intend to do.

If you haven't guessed by now, the warranty bit is also a fraud, trust me. These business close one day and reopen as another business the next day.

Now you want to know why I go through all this, after all I could have told him right away that I'm not interested in any accessory or warranty. He would have then been very courteous and assured me it would go out right away, and said goodbye. What would happen though, is that your account and order are blacklisted. You can never place another order with them again. What occurs then is that the item you ordered is "on backorder", and indefinitely. You can call them back for the next 3 months, and they will never have got it "back in stock". At that point, most of those people give up and cancel their order.

This is all because they sell the camera at the cost price. If they don't make a little "PR" or profit, they drop you like a hot potato. This is why I had to go through the entire shpiel. I winced, but allowed the guy to bring the price up from a total of $394 to $398, if only because those $4 were getting me the camera at this very low cost price.

Caveat Emptor!

1 comment:

Billy Shem said...

I think that article is quite cute because it's really true.You hav a really good blog