Worst buy gets better

Image of Best Buy logo There's probably nothing more damaging to the relationship between a business and a consumer than that of a poor customer experience. Consumers will often remain loyal to a business for several years when they receive quality merchandise and excellent service. But sometimes all it takes is one disappointing experience and the customer is left so disgusted by their dealings that they'll break off the business relationship faster than a Oprah on a baked ham. Such was the extent of my online Cyber Monday shopping experience at Best Buy. I doubt there's very little I could say that would bring their giant electronic retail empire crumbling to its knees for I am but one consumer. But I'm one very unhappy, disgruntled, pissed off consumer with a bit of an axe to grind about the efficacy of their online retail presence.

One of the products featured in this year's Cyber Monday Flyer was the Asus Transformer T100 Tablet: a sleek 10.1" quad-core Windows 8.1 tablet with a solid QWERTY keyboard dock that effectively transforms the tablet into a fully functional, highly portable, ultra-book. Tablets are wonderful devices for accessing and reading media. Their primary drawback, however, is their lack of an efficient data input device. In other words, while it might be relatively simple to swipe through the 1,440 pages of War and Peace, the book quite simply would not exist had Tolstoy been forced to write the epic tome using two thumbs on a tablet touch screen keyboard. Regularly priced at $399, its $299 special sale price made it a rather attractive buy. Certainly it was enticing enough to convince me that it was time to retire my aging Acer Aspire laptop.

I created an account profile at the Best Buy Online Store earlier in the day and linked my credit card to the profile in order to facilitate an expeditious checkout when the Cyber Monday specials officially came online at 22:00hrs on Sunday night. A few minutes after the site went live, I refreshed the product page listing the item and, as expected, I was provided with the "Add to Cart" option in order to continue with the purchase. After adding the item to my shopping cart, the page reloaded and the shopping cart icon indicated that, indeed, there was now 1 Item in the shopping cart. "Woohoo!" I shouted to Nancy, anticipating the completion of my purchase, all was going as planned. I then selected the "Go to Checkout" option to finalize my transaction and that's when the sugar turned to shit. What followed were a series of "system unavailable" messages every time an attempt was made to complete the purchase by proceeding to the checkout. After numerous unsuccessful attempts at finalizing the transaction, the Best Buy online store finally coughed out a "Server Too Busy" error message and subsequently logged me out of the system. "Aw for fuck sakes," I muttered in utter disgust, "that's just not acceptable."

I wish I could say the disappointment ended there but it didn't. A few minutes later, I managed to log back into the online store with my credentials and was further discouraged when I discovered that the Asus Transformer T100 was no longer in my shopping cart. But wait... the story doesn't end there either... When I attempted to add the elusive item back into my cart a second time, that's when the state of despondency reached its apex. Prominent letters now appeared on the product page right beside the word Availability: SOLD OUT. "Aw that's total bullshit," I said to my significant other Nancy, "Can you believe that shit?" Nancy had warned me that the servers were sometimes slow processing requests on Cyber Monday, and she had suggested I log in early because the item would probably sell out quickly, but neither of us expected an experience quite as bad as that.

Completely dissatisfied with the Best Buy Cyber Monday online experience, I decided to call the online store's toll-free number for an explanation. The customer service representatives are friendly, courteous but, I'm loathe to say, not at all capable of answering questions in any meaningful way. I wanted to know why an item that had clearly been placed in my shopping cart had suddently disappeared. Or, in geek-speak: "Why did the data of a secure session login instance mysteriously vanish into thin air"? I did receive several meaningless explanations from their customer service representative, including the correlative "Our servers have been very busy today" and, my personal favourite, the all-encompassing and vague "We've had a few problems today". Can you imagine the Transportation Safety Board, upon the completion of an investigating into a horrific bus-train accident, arriving at the conclusion that: "They experienced a few problems"? No shit Sherlock... something happened alright. What if you were logged into an online banking session and, in the midst of the secure session, the data, which just happened to be a large funds deposit, suddenly vanished into thin air? Would you, as a client of the bank, be content with the bank manager's explanation that: "The servers couldn't handle the number of people on it so it crashed and your transaction was lost"? I think not... "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking.... we've allowed too many people on this flight, so unfortunately, we're going to crash."

There's an overwhelming irony in the whole unsavory affair: the fact that a major electronics retailer is unable to provide a sufficient combination of computer resources, technical competence and administrative foresight to handle what should have been a predictable demand seems, at least in my view, qualitatively inept. Ultimately such magnanimous blunders rest on the shoulders of their Corporate office and, until such time as I receive assurances that the problem is resolved, I'll be avoiding Best Buy's Online Store with more tenacity than a Canadian Senator avoiding a Deloitte audit. I just don't need that kind of frustration in my life. And while I remain doubtful that my written account of the events will prompt a response, an apology or a resolution from the retail giant, this missive does, at least, serve to mitigate my extreme disappointment and dissatisfaction with their online store. (A link to this article has been sent to their Corporate office so who knows? Perhaps a conscientious Corporate public relations officer will provide an explanation as to when, or if, the problems which plagued their Cyber Monday event will be rectified.)

Fortunately for Best Buy, the retail store side of their business stands in stark contrast to their online presence.

I contacted my local Best Buy store moments after the doors opened on Cyber Monday. My intention was to obtain the contact information for a District Manager to voice my dissatisfaction with my online experience. After explaining the events of the preceding night, and my disappointment in not obtaining one of the hybrids, the floor manager indicated that their computer indicated they actually had one unit "in stock" and that he was trying to "track it down" in the store as we were speaking. It had, apparently, wound up at customer service and had not been returned to the shelves. Presumably someone had been asking questions about it the previous day and had decided not to purchase it. He indicated that since the store would be honoring the website's Cyber Monday sale prices all day long, that he'd be happy to put it aside in the "pick up area for me with my name on it. I thanked him profusely for the excellent customer service he had just provided me and that I'd be in the store within the hour to pick it up. He assured me it would be held for 24 hours in any event so not to be concerned that it would not be there when I arrived. An hour later, I paid for the Asus Transformer T100 and I was on my way out the door heading back home to play with my new toy.

On Monday evening, once the unit had been fully charged, I powered it up and began the arduous task of a custom installation. There were, of course, many updates to install including the Windows 8.1 update which continued over night. Much to my astonishment, the unit would not power on Tuesday morning so, with an overwhelming sense of deja vu, I found myself back at the doors of Best Buy when they opened for business. A half an hour later, I was heading back home with a second Asus T100 in as many days. That afternoon, I repeated the same custom installation as I had performed on the previous day and discovered, when I was prompted to "Restart" the unit, that it too would not power on. As a consequence, I was back at Best Buy that evening returning the SECOND T100. An otherwise rational man, I began to think the tablet gods were lining up against me.

Any tech will tell you that when troubleshooting, consistency is the key to identifying the source of the problem and, where possible, resolving it. As the "It's dead Jim" issue seemed to have occurred when the unit was updated (including its firmware), I could only surmise that perhaps a batch of T100s had come off the Asus line with a problematic firmware version. Regardless, the unit had to be returned to Best Buy and they were, unfortunately, out of stock and not able to offer a replacement. "Given the luck I've had today," I told the Customer Service agent, "I'm thinking just a refund is my best course of action because I'd want to try a third unit." I went on to say that it was really too bad because the T100 was, in my view, one of the best tablet designs I had seen and that I had played with their demo model for over a half an hour the previous week. It was pretty obvious that I really wanted one given the lengths to which I had already gone. The Customer Service agent indicated, after consulting briefly with her manager, that in addition to giving me a refund, she could provide me with a rain check for the item which would guarantee me the $299 sale price in the event I did reconsider.

Two days later, the local Best Buy received a new shipment of Asus T100s so I decided to roll the dice a third time. Though normally optimistic, I concluded that in the worst case scenario, it too would be defective and have to be returned. In retrospect, I'm now comfortable with the decision. The third T100 has performed flawlessly and, in fact, is current charged and in my knapsack and will be making a trip to the Ottawa Heart Institute so a family member can be brought up-to-speed on Coronation Street courtesy of CBC Player.

I currently do not have the time to write a comprehensive review of the Asus Transformer T100 however several have already been published online. James Kendrick has, in fact, published two articles on the T100: The Asus Transformer T100 is calling my name and Asus Transformer Book T100: First Impressions. The former gives a brief synopsis of the T100's allure and what drew the author to the device whereas the latter, post-purchase synopsis, delves into the unit's performance in greater detail. And finally, in his year-end article entitled The Very Best Tablets of 2013, Adrian Kingsley-Highes ranks the T100 as the best Windows-based tablet currently on the market.

Submitted by Norm de Plume, 31 December 2013