Welcome To My Blog!

I'd like to first say "hello" to everyone. I must lay down a single rule, and it's commonly known by many as the Golden Rule. Please treat everyone in here as you would want to be treated. I ask that no one "flames" anyone else, or say anything obscene or rude. This is a friendly discussions blog that pertains mostly to computers, music, politics, and religion, but not restricted to just these topics.

If you're looking for some computer help, then I highly recommend by starting with my first part in my series:
Computer Advice Part 1 of 9 - Hardware Terms

I also have a website I'd love for anyone to visit at http://webpages.charter.net/drkstlkr/

If you know someone who might enjoy this blog, then please send them an e-mail!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Retail Hell

This is a very L-O-N-G blog, and most of the information provided in this blog I've heard many of my managers, supervisors, and co-workers tell other customers. So, if anyone at Best Buy wants to take me down, then I'll be more than happy to take some managers and other employees with me. "I ain't sceered!" Hopefully, I don't think that'll happen. I'm not sure if I'm writing this to just vent, or to help people not in retail to either understand or at least know the basics of it all. I may even come back to edit or add more to this blog later as time goes on. But first, let me cover my back-history a little with retail...

I've been in retail, off-and-on, since I was about 10 years old (I'm currently 33, at the time of this writing), working at my Dad's local hardware store, loading fertilizer, cement, and other heavy objects for customers, cleaning, etc., anything a brawny 10 year-old could possibly do around a hardware store. Now, I've been working for Best Buy since May 3rd, 2001, worked in a few different sales departments, in inventory, and now at the Geek Squad for about a few years. So, I feel that I know a great deal about retail, everything from happens with the products coming into the store off of a shipment truck to what happens when the product comes back into the store because it's defective for whatever reason.

First of all, I've learned that the customer isn't always right, and whoever wrote that saying should be shot between the eyes with a very large handgun, or better yet, a rifle or a shotgun. But that's just my opinion. ;-) Most of our customers aren't very "tech-savvy" (which is fine, that's what we're here for), but no, we can't replace your desktop computer that you've had for over 2 years because your teenage son can't refrain himself from going to porn websites and downloading illegal music, along with computer infections! JFC… this is what I have to put-up with everyday. But this is the current path I have chosen, until my "corporate masters" sees this blog and terminates me. :-/ Anyways, back on track…

And unfortunately, as with most corporate businesses, we have a strict set of rules and guidelines (known to most of us in retail as SOP, or Standard Operation Platform). These rules are set by the corporate office people, who are usually out-of-reach and located far away from any direct contact with customers. LOL, J/K! :-) These rules are the "10 Commandments", if you will, of any business, but unfortunately, far more detailed and complex than just 10 commandments. In fact, I highly doubt there's any employee that knows all of SOP, inside and out, but after reading over the rules, you start getting the main "jest" of it all – which is basically, serve the customer in any way possible as long as it doesn't cost the company any profit, or money, and piss-off their stockholders. And that's the God-honest truth. When a product is brought back to where ever you bought it from, the first thing that's usually questioned is, "will we be reimbursed by the manufacturer of the product if we give the customer their money back or exchange their product for another one". And that's understandable. Retailers don't make the product, nor do they get it for free, and if they have to refund a customer's money back or exchange the product knowing that the manufacturer won't refund the company's money back to them, basically, the company just gave you their money or a free product at the company's expense. I have no clue as to how many products we refund or exchange for customers on a daily basis at the store I work at, but I'm sure it's literally in the hundreds per day, and is probably in the thousands of dollars. It's insane. For us, it's everything from music CDs to plasma TVs, stuff that costs anywhere between $10 to $6,000! So, with all of this in mind, to protect themselves from going taking too many losses and going bankrupt, most corporations have to have guidelines and rules set in place. And if we bend the rules for one person, then we have to bend the rules for everyone else standing in-line behind that person overhearing the conversation, and everyone that person tells what Best Buy did for them. I mean, wouldn't it piss you off to no end if the person right in front of you in-line was able to return an opened CD and you can't? Same rules apply to everyone.

Every day, I have at least a few customers to even a dozen customers wanting me to bend the rules for them, not knowing that if I bend the rules for anyone, even for myself, I am putting my job in jeopardy. I'm sorry, but I've got a wife and three kids to support, and unless you already have a job lined-up for me with at least the same pay and benefits that I already have, then your broke iPod just isn't quite as important to me as you think it should be. I'm always caught in the crossfire, understanding why the customer's irate because we can't replace their product for a new one or give them their money back, and also why the company set the rules to minimize losses, and unfortunately, I'm the "middle man" in all of this. And yes, even I have to abide by the same rules as the customers when I am the customer at my own store. I get no special treatment just because I work there. I've often had to ship my own personal products off for a few weeks at a time that I bought there as a customer on my days off, to get repaired, instead of getting them replaced or my money back. So, the same rules do apply to everyone, including all of the managers, supervisors, and employees that work there.

We have about 120 employees at the Best Buy I work at, so that's a lot of overhead, not including the people that work "behind the scenes", such as our corporate office people who make the rules, pass them down to the regional office people, who then pass them down to the district office people, then finally makes it to the local store managers, and so forth. And you can't forget about the people that work at our product distribution centers (warehouses), the truck drivers, and the technicians who work at our product service centers, etc. I can honestly say that there's probably far more many people that work "behind the scenes" in a corporate business than that of the actual employees that sell the products and services inside the store. So, when you come in a buy something, whether it be a $10 CD or a $6,000 plasma TV, the profit made from that product is distributed between a lot of people, not just the sales person who sold it to you. And don't forget about the other overhead, such as property rental and leasing, utilities, to even paying people to come in and clean the store every night after the store closes, or every morning before the store opens. When you start calculating how many people and how much Best Buy and other corporate businesses have to pay, it's mind-boggling! And what's even more mind-boggling is how little profit a company makes off of certain "big ticket" products, especially computers. On most computers, Best Buy makes roughly about 10% "profit". So, if you were to buy a computer with nothing else for about $500, Best Buy probably paid about $450 for it, and maybe made about $50 from it, give or take. For most people working on the side in a little business they own and run themselves, $50 isn't too bad. Hey, you just made $50! But in a large corporate business, when you start calculating everyone and everything that has to be paid, such as the sales person that sold you the computer, the inventory person that put-up the product, the truck driver that brought the computer to the store, to the people that handled the product at the distribution center (warehouse), to the other truck driver that brought the product to the distribution center from the manufacturer's warehouse, monthly lease, utilities, etc., with all of that in mind, the company just lost money on that computer sale. Most people have no idea how many people had to be paid just for that computer to get to the store, and for only $50.

If I only got a quarter for every time I heard the phrase, "You wanna know how much I've spent at Best Buy over the last several years?!" If that were the case, then there's a lot of filthy rich people around!!! Wow, I wish I knew of how to get one of these well-paying jobs so I could get one! And most of these people will go into great detail about every little product they've bought from us over the span of these many, many years. Whether you've spent $1 or $1 million at Best Buy, same rules apply to everyone, no special treatment; or our guidelines would include something like "if customer has spent [insert however much money here] at Best Buy, then give them special treatment", but you'll find that nowhere in our SOP. Same rules and same treatment apply as everyone else, no matter how much they've spent with us. However, we all do greatly appreciate the business and the support! :-)

Why the restocking fees? I know, they suck, but I also understand why we have them. Unfortunately, there's a lot of people out there that does unethical things such as "temporarily purchase" or "rent" certain items without wanting to go to a rental store and actually pay money in the long run, and ruin it for everyone else who would actually like to "test drive" a product for a little while before determining if we really want it or not. Trust me on this one, I understand. But a lot of people would only like to use a laptop or a radar detector for a trip they're going on, only to bring it back after the trip's over with. There's plenty of rental stores out there that handle these types of situations, and your local retailer isn't one of them. They're there to "sale", not to give "free rentals". And you also have to remember that the retailer then has to resale the product at a markdown, even to the point of taking a loss just to get rid of it out of our inventory. Most people won't buy a "used" computer unless it's marked-down to the point of desperation by the company. Remember when I mentioned above about the little profit Best Buy makes on computers? So, unfortunately, there's a reason restocking fees are set in place.

Now, onto the "service side" of it all...

Almost all products have some sort of manufacturer warranty, whether it be for 90 days to 5 years, and this warranty completely depends upon the type of product it is to the manufacturer. Most products we sell have a 1 year manufacturer's warranty. This warranty ONLY covers defects, meaning that if something went wrong while the product was being made or because of the lack of quality or "workmanship" put into the product, then it's covered. Such as if one day the TV was powering on and the next day it isn't, and as long as no one or nothing did anything to the TV, then it should be covered under the 1 year warranty if it was purchased less than a year ago. And just because you didn't open the product for 6 months until you decided to use it has absolutely no bearing of when the warranty starts. How are we supposed to know when you decided to use the product? All we have in writing to go by is the date of when it was purchased. There's no "timer" inside that TV that tells us when it was powered on for the first time. So, the warranty starts on the purchase date, not when it was actually used for the first time.

Defects only include if the product broke on its own without any help whatsoever. This means that if you stepped on it, poured a drink on it, accidentally squeezed it too hard, dropped it, whatever the case may be, the manufacturer warranty doesn't cover it for repair or replacement. I see people bring in portable products all of the time, several times a week, with cracked LCD screens. Trust me, we're thoroughly trained at the Geek Squad to tell the difference between what a cracked LCD screen looks like from too much "pressure" applied to it, being left out in the car and heat messing it up, to it just not working right. All of these effects on an LCD screen look completely different from each other. If your cell phone's LCD screen was in your pocket and now it has a cracked LCD screen, something happened, whether it be your car keys or you sat on it wrong, something happened. Manufacturer's warranty doesn't cover "butt damage". So, if you try to bring-in something with a cracked LCD screen and try to say, "it just happened for no reason", you're probably the 6th person we've already heard that from, just today. I can usually point out where the "pressure" was applied to the LCD screen, and how it "spider-webbed" out, like a cracked windshield on a vehicle. It's no different than a rock cracking windshield of a vehicle. If not, then we'd see a lot more LCD desktop computer monitors and LCD TVs with the same problems. It's odd how it only happens to small, portable devices with LCD screens, such as cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, etc,. Hmm… how interesting…

Now, as far as the store warranty goes (Best Buy calls them either Product Replacement Plans or Product Service Plans), they do generally cover more than what the manufacturer does and for longer periods of time, but still doesn't cover "accidental damage due to abuse or neglect", unless you pay extra for what we refer to as ADH (Accidental Damage from Handling). Now let's start from the beginning. On most products we sell you can purchase a store warranty on. Usually, if the product costs less than $200 or so (at the time of this writing), then you can purchase a Replacement Plan on it, meaning that if the product stops working as it should, then you should be able to get another one. However, for most "big ticket" items in the store (usually $200 or more), it's a Service Plan, meaning that we have to attempt to "service" the product before we can replace it. Now, what's covered and what's not covered…

Everything the manufacturer covers in their warranty is also covered under the PRP (Product Replacement Plan) and the PSP (Product Service Plan), meaning defects. Also, MINOR damages done from "environmental effects" are also covered, such as dust, heat, humidity, power surges, etc. Stepping on it, spilling a drink on it, dropping it, etc., still isn't covered. Then on a very few products, mostly laptops, you can pay extra to get the ADH (Accidental Damage from Handling), which does cover stepping on it, spilling a drink on it, dropping it, etc. (also, at the time of this writing). However, you still can't go swimming with it (total submersion in any liquids), or run over it with your car and bring it in a plastic bag in millions of pieces (we actually had a customer do that before!). So, even with ADH, there's still some limitations of what's covered and what's not covered, but we're usually pretty lenient. We repaired or replaced (can't remember) a laptop that came into the store in about 5 pieces that was literally dropped from a hotel room of about 5 floors up. So, I got to see what a laptop looks like when dropped from the 5th floor of a hotel room. Pretty neat. :-)

We also don't determine if a product qualifies to be replaced or repaired, either. That's all setup by our manufacturers (if under their warranty) or by our corporate office in our computer system. Simple as that. We'll do whatever it is we can do for you and as quickly as possible. If we can repair it in-store, then we'll try to do so. But we can only repair products in-store if we sell the replacement part in the store. In other words, if it's a part that has to be ordered, more than likely we won't be able to repair it in the store. So, if you bring a defective product in that we have to send off to the service center to be repaired, end of story, and that's all we can do. Even our registers are setup where it makes it almost impossible for us to replace or refund money back on a product that we're not supposed to do so with. So asking for a manager to over-ride our SOP is usually futile, even if the manager wants to give you your money back, good luck with trying to get that to go through with the register! Unfortunately, our registers aren't like the simple registers people used to use back in the "good ole' days". No, they're full-fledged computer systems, programmed with specific, extremely complex software made for Best Buy, and only allow us to do certain, specific tasks we're only allowed to perform. Our register system (known as POS, or Point Of Sale) usually doesn't give us the option to do anything that's outside of our SOP guidelines. It's like trying to make your home computer do cartwheels. Unless your computer was supplied with a "Cartwheel" button, then I highly doubt it'll be able to do so. Same difference with our registers. I've screamed and yelled at our registers many numerous times, but don't seem to help any. And Best Buy keeps updating their POS software in such a way that they take more and more "freedom", or control (however you wanna look at it) from us, the store employees, for us to "better serve the customer".

Ok, many people are also confused about our "No Lemon Exchange Policy". No matter what someone may have told you, the rules regarding our No Lemon Exchange Policy is that the product has to have been repaired 3 previous times before it can be exchanged on the 4th repair. Now what's considered a "repair"? Anytime a single physical part or numerous physical parts have been replaced all at one time is considered a "repair". Repairing or reloading software, such as Windows, isn't considered a repair. Why not? Because software fails due to too many reasons that has nothing to do with the actual physical parts of a computer. Between viruses, adware, spyware, malware, installing updates or software incorrectly, it seems that Windows is always hanging in there by a thread, waiting to break! So, unless it's a physical part that was replaced, it's not considered a "repair". Also, to add more to the confusion, we're not "authorized" to approve the exchange in the store. Nope, it has to be sent back off again to the service center, for the 4th time, to get approved for an exchange. Don't ask why, but only the service center has the "authority" to approve No Lemon Exchanges. They then send the paperwork to our corporate office, and then eventually it's updated in our system that it's been approved for an exchange. I always try to tell customers to give it a few days after they've received the phone call from the service center that their product has been approved for an exchange before actually coming into the store. For some reason, it usually takes a few days for our system to update it after corporate office chews on it during this period.

Also, if you need technical help or advice over the phone, we're not allowed to help you there, either. We're only "authorized" technical help for customers who bring their product in the store. The reason being is that we're not allowed to take ANY credit card information over the phone whatsoever (due to privacy reasons), and we have to charge people for services not covered under warranties. That's how we make money and keep our jobs. Best Buy runs Geek Squad as a separate, independent company, meaning that we don't get money from any products you buy in the store, but only from the services you buy with the products or separately. So, if you need help with something over the phone, you're more than welcome to call the manufacturer of the product (you can usually find their number on their website), or you can call 1-800-GEEK-SQUAD (1-800-433-5778) for tech support. They can take credit cards over the phone, and will want to charge you for tech support (that's how they make their money, also). They can even schedule to have a Geek Squad Agent (technician) come out to your house (something we can't schedule in-store) for extra money than it is to bring it into our store. Reason being is that when you bring a product in-store, I'm usually working on anything up to 5 or more computers at a time, meaning 5 or more customers at once. Having a technician come out to your house means that you have their undivided attention, and may be able to repair your product faster, without having to pack-up the product, drive however many miles it is to your local retailer, stand in line, and then watch us multitask between you and umpteen other customers. Plus, you're paying for their gas and not yours.

Ok, now that's I've went into enough detail that could probably get me fired, here's some tips I highly recommend to do when purchasing a "big ticket item", or an item you deem as "expensive" or "important". What I deem as "expensive" or "important" is based upon the item costing roughly about 2% or so of my yearly income, or how often I use the product. These items may include, but not limited to computers, TVs, home stereo systems, and appliances:
1. Learn and know the return policies of where you bought it from, especially how many days and if there's a restocking fee. And just because you purchase another similar product a year later doesn't mean that the return policy is still the same. Corporations may and will change their return policies often. The best people to ask about the return policies are those that have to work with it and know it every day… your friendly customer service people! :-)
2. Learn and know the product's warranty and ask for the full details about the store's warranty. Many retailers offer their own store warranty that's usually longer than the manufacturer's warranty, and generally covers more issues and problems. The best people to ask are the in-store technicians, if the retailer provides them (Geek Squad at Best Buy, Firedog at Circuit City, etc.), since we all have to live and breathe the rules and restrictions of both the manufacturer's and the store's warranties. If they don't have any in-store technicians to ask, then the customer service people would be the ones to ask. I'm not trying to demean the sales reps, but sometimes, the "newbies" (just newly hired) don't know everything there is to know about warranties, inside and out. If anyone tells you that their warranty covers "everything", immediately ask or find someone else, because I've yet found ANY warranty that covers EVERYTHING!
3. Hold onto all receipts, boxes, packaging materials, accessories, etc. (basically, anything and everything that came with the product), at least until the return policy is up. I realize that most corporate retailers can look-up most of your previous purchases, but holding onto your receipts helps returning the product a lot easier and faster for both the customer service people and for you! Also, computers, being what they are, can also "lose" transactions made, so don't depend upon your retailer 100% to keep track of your purchases. Just because this doesn't happen very often doesn't mean that I've never seen it happen... I have.
4. If possible, file away your receipts in a box or a filing cabinet, and throw them away either monthly or yearly (depending upon how big the box is or how many products your purchase) once the manufacturer's or the store's warranty runs out. If certain products break (such as appliances, cameras, camcorders, TVs, or home theater systems) after the warranty runs out, in all honesty, it's usually cheaper to replace them than to repair them. Not only do you have to purchase the parts needed for repair, but also pay about $60 an hour (or more!) for a technician to repair it! Not usually worth it.
5. And if you run into any issues or problems, usually it's best to contact the company's corporate office. In fact, Best Buy's phone number is 1-888-BEST-BUY, if you ever need it. Press "1" for English, press "2" for Spanish, and then press "2" again to speak to a real live person. This person will then direct your call to whatever department it applies to. Sometimes speaking to a manager may resolve a minor issue, but usually not, because their hands are as just as bound by SOP as the rest of us, and they're not willing to jeopardize their jobs, either! And if calling our corporate office number doesn't help, then in all honesty, all you can do at this point is file a complaint at the same number you just called, and perhaps if enough people complain about the same issue, maybe Best Buy or the corporation you have the issue with might change their policies if they think they may lose too much money in the long run from lack of business. But, keep in mind, with all of the millions of other customers we have world-wide (800+ stores in the US and growing, and even stores in other countries), it's an act of God or congress to change our SOP. Godspeed.

Well, I think that covers it all. I hope this may have helped anyone who's faced problems with a corporation. Always remember, they'll help you as far as they can until it costs them money and piss off their stockholders. However, if you come into my store needing help, I promise you that I'll help you in any way I can, within Best Buy's and Geek Squad's rules and procedures, without jeopardizing my job.

No comments: