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Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Barnes & Noble and my horrible customer experience.
I've been skeptical of iPad-type devices, at least at the price points they're asking. For $500 I can have a complete laptop, for crying out loud. But I've been slowly warming to the idea that lower-priced options may have some value.

HP's decision last week to kill off its seven-week-old TouchPad (among other things ... their idiotic management is a topic for another post) raised the intriguing possibility of a fire sale. And sure enough, $99 for the 16GB TouchPad. Deal! It got so-so reviews at $499, but at 80% off, it's a whole different story. TouchPads vanished from physical stores quickly, so the challenge became to find one online. And I did, at Barnes & Noble. Or so I thought.

As it turns out, a lot of people were in the same boat. The problem is, this wasn't just a "well, I'll just have to wait until more come in," because HP isn't making any more. But because B&N didn't figure that out right way, now we can't find them anywhere else, either. (HP now seems to think they have some more becoming available. We'll see.)

But really, Barnes & Noble dragged out and multiplied their failure, and that's what I'd like to document here for the record.

August 22, 9:19 am - I place my order for the 16GB TouchPad at the Barnes & Noble website. There's no indication that quantities are in any doubt.

August 23, morning - 24 hours later, I've heard nothing from B&N. But I've read about sites being swamped with orders, so I'm patient.

August 23, late evening - Having heard nothing for about 38 hours, I go back to the B&N website to check my order status. It displays a message that I can't remember precisely, but it does not say "order canceled" or "out of stock" or anything like that. It indicates that there's some problem and I should call them. I do, but they're closed. Which is okay; I don't expect 24-hour-a-day human assistance. The recording says their hours are 8:30 am - 11:00 pm Eastern time.

August 24, 8:47 am - After punching in my order number and zip code, I get the same "currently closed" message ... 17 minutes after they're supposed to open.

9:17 am - Call again. Same "currently closed" message ... 47 minutes after they're supposed to open.

9:43 am - Call again. Good news: they're actually open. Bad news: due to high call volume, please call back later CLICK.

10:20 am - Barnes & Noble officially cancels my order. I discover this when I check back at the website around 11:10.

1:26 pm - Barnes & Noble e-mails me to tell me my order has been canceled ... 52 hours after I placed it.

I want to be clear: I know the item was flying off the shelves. If I had learned that promptly, I would have been disappointed but not angry. But Barnes & Noble thoroughly compounded their mistakes:
  • Why didn't I get any e-mails?
  • Why did I have to pursue them?
  • Why did it take them 49 hours after the order was placed for them to figure out that they didn't have one to sell me?
  • Why did it take them another 3 hours after that to finally e-mail me and tell me that?
  • CNET published the story documenting customer complaints at 7:00 pm Monday evening -- only about 12 hours (depending on their time zone) after I had placed my order. So B&N knew they had problems before that. Why didn't they tell me?

Why should I ever try buying anything from Barnes & Noble again?

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