Friday, December 7, 2012

My $97 TV Story

A year ago, we inherited a 26" television from my mother-in-law, which we decided to put in the master bedroom.  I'm not sure that it is the greatest idea to have a television in your bedroom, because it certainly encourages more TV viewing.  But back in the old days when we still had cable, it was nice to get ready for bed and then watch Sunday Night Football or Monday Night Football while dozing off.  And if I'm honest and transparent, I'll admit that we often watched an episode of Seinfeld before sleeping.

But now, the TV came with a catch.  About 50% of the time, soon after you turned it on, there was an electronic glitch of some sort that made the screen mess up and was accompanied by a loud (and I mean hear-it-from-the-other-end-of-the-house kind of loud) buzzing noise that always made us jump out of our skin (not quite literally).  We put up with the inconvenience for a number of months, though I knew she was coming to the end of her rope when my good wife loaded the shotgun and brought it up to the room.  [NOTE:  the previous sentence is intended entirely for dramatic effect.  We don't own a shotgun.  FURTHER NOTE:  If we did own a shotgun, she would never bring it to our bedroom.  STILL FURTHER NOTE:  If we did own a shotgun and she did bring it to our room, she would would be shooting at the TV, not at me.  FURTHEST NOTE:  If we owned a shotgun and she brought it to our room and she did shoot at me... I'm sure that I would entirely deserve it.]

So having gotten used to a television in our room, but desiring one that didn't frighten us out of our wits half the time, on the Eve of Black Friday (the holiday formerly known as Thanksgiving) I went through the door buster ads.  Sears had a 32" for $97 beginning at 8pm.  That's my kind of price.  I'm not much of Black Friday shopper, but son #2 had some money burning a hole in his pocket.  So I encouraged him to ask his mother if she'd like to go out and swing by Sears.  They did this, and called from the store to inform me that the entire store was only given five of these TVs, and there MIGHT be more available at midnight if you'd like to stand in line.  I said don't bother.  But I was on the hunt, and was not going to be so easily thwarted.

Just a few minutes of internet searching turned up a reference to the lightening deals that Amazon was conducting that whole weekend.  These were special sales of a limited quantity of an item at a certain hour of the day.  It looked as though a 32" TV would be sold for... $97 at 8pm on Friday.  All the discussion indicated that these wouldn't last long, so I planned my day accordingly and sat at the computer for 30 minutes before (just in case my clocks were off) with the mouse hovering over the countdown timer.  Just as expected, at 8pm on the dot, the deal appeared and I clicked it into my virtual cart.  I checked out securely, and within a minute was back on the lightening deal page, and they were all sold out already.  What a wondrous age we live in when you click a few things, and three days later a package shows up on your front step (with free shipping!).

I took it up to our bedroom and plugged everything in and it looked good.  Now that we're cable-less, I hooked up the Wii so I could stream Netflix up there.  But I was a little confused when the black screen of the credits to some show were rolling, and there was a big (8 inches in diameter) bluish dot that was visible.  With some further experimentation I discerned that there were a couple of pixels that seemed not to be functioning, and when there was a dark background, a halo from those pixels radiated (pictured here).  I was not pleased.  But hey, it had a warranty.

So I called the manufacturer's warranty line and explained the issue.  I was told that it sounded to them like a problem from shipping, and they couldn't be held responsible for that.  I should call Amazon and have them replace it.  What should I do, I asked, if Amazon said that it sounded like a warranty issue and I should call the manufacturer?  My customer service representative sounded like that question wasn't part of the script, so he asked if I could hold while he "gathered further information."  Evidently there was no more information to gather, and he came back on the line and reiterated that it was a shipping problem and they couldn't be responsible.

So I tried Amazon.  In the past I have been very impressed with Amazon's customer service.  About a year ago son #1 had taken my kindle to school with him in his backpack, and it came out with what looked like a fractalized [sic] screen.  Amazon sent us a new one--no questions asked.  So I was encouraged when the customer service agent sounded confident that they would make things right.  I explained the issue and she said, "No problem.  Let me transfer you to our returns and exchange department."  The next person started off equally confident, until we got the part about this being a "lightening" deal.  It turns out they can only exchange for the exact same product.  And remember, all of those were gone in one minute.  And there was no indication on their computer that they'd be getting any more in.  So the only option they could give me was to get my $97 back.  I protested, however, that $97 would surely not get me another TV anywhere at this point, so I was really out of luck.  A supervisor was brought in to further explain (i.e., state again) the policy and suggested that I try calling the manufacture of the TV and treat it as a warranty issue.  In as gentle a tone as I could muster, I explained that I was talking to her now because I had already spoken with the warranty department.  She was very professional about it, and said to try telling them that Amazon was willing to exchange the TV, but the manufacturer hadn't supplied them with any more.

OK, back to the manufacturer.  They remembered me.  This time after my sob story the supervisor said, OK, we'll send you to the repair department so you can take the TV in and get it fixed.  After holding for most of an episode of Psych, a repair person came on the line and took my information.  Upon hearing my zip code, he informed me that there aren't any authorized repair centers in my area (by which I assume he meant "on my continent").  So what should I do now, I asked (mostly) pleasantly?  They told me that they would have a repair man come out to the house to take a look at it.  Seriously? I said?  For a $97 TV they were going to have someone come from Chicago (or Malaysia) to look at the blue dot on my TV?  Yes, you should receive a call within 24 hours to set up the appointment.

The next day, my phone vibrated while I was teaching.  After class I saw that it was a number I didn't recognize.  They left a message and asked that I call them as soon as I could.  On that phone call, I was informed that before they sent a repair man, they wanted to see some pictures of the TV.  I was given a list of five specific shots they wanted to see.  I went home that night, took the pictures and sent them in as instructed.  Then I called again to see what would happen next.  I was told that within 3-5 business days I would be contacted with their decision.  I still haven't heard anything.  That was 11 days ago.

BUT... The day after that phone call, Amazon called me back.  They were wondering what had happened with my TV.  I told them the long saga.  And the guy said, "so you still have the TV at your house?"  I said, "yes I do, blue spot and all."  He said, "Good.  Because just 15 minutes ago we got some new ones in, and we'll exchange yours."  I said, "Are you serious?  Who is this??"  Turns out that Amazon really does have the best customer service around.  Three days later a new TV was sitting on the back deck when I got home.  Hooked that one up, and put the old one in the box.  Printed out the UPS label and dropped it off at the UPS store.  Just yesterday I was notified that they had received the package and credited my account.  Case closed.

Or is it?  A repairman from Malaysia might show up one day looking for the first TV.  And, my wife informed me that two days ago the new TV screen went all white, and she had to unplug it to get it to reset...  I'm hiding the shotgun shells.

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