Argos Good, AO.com Bad Bad Bad: Why I’ll Never Buy From AO.com Again

I’ll never buy from AO.com and recommend that you do your homework before you do business with this online retailer. Why?  Let me take you through my experience.

Good Experience: Buying Online

I placed the order for a Windows laptop with AO.com as my wife is unwilling to switch from Windows to MacOS.  My experience of buying from AO.com was good to great:

  • process of selecting the laptop and checking out was easy/quick;
  • next day delivery was offered without any extra charge;
  • email confirmation was order arrived immediately as promised.

Ugly Experience: Salesman Calls to Sell Extended Warranty

In between buying the laptop and it turning up on my door I got an unexpected phone call from a fellow from AO.com.  He started by checking with me that I was the person who had placed the order. Then he started his cross-selling pitch: extended warranty.

This conversation occurred as ugly. Why? One, I placed an order for the laptop a couple of hours ago. I’m looking forward to it arriving. I am hoping/expecting will be OK as I wish to provide my wife with a pleasant surprise. This call changes my emotional state: the extended warranty (cross sell) call is a fear based sell – raising the fear that the laptop will breakdown and all the cost/hassle that goes with getting it repaired.  Two, the guy making the call pretended he was doing this as he cared for me – as a customer. My experience was that he was simply doing that which he needed to do to make his sales target irrespective of whether I needed or wanted the which he was selling.

Good Experience: Delivery

I had ordered the laptop on Saturday.  The delivery was due on Sunday and it arrived on Sunday.  The driver who dropped it off was friendly.  The packaging was intact – not damaged.  I opened up the computer and switched it on.  It switched on, the operating system had to configure itself and to do that it asked me questions and I had to supply then like wifi network details….

Another good experience – another expectation fulfilled.  I felt good about doing business with AO.com.  To date, my experience of doing business with AO.com was consistent with my experience of buying a smart TV from AO.com some years ago.

Bad Bad Bad Experience:  Returning The Laptop / Asking For A Refund

During the course of the week my wife used the computer once for about 20 minutes. She found it was ok for surfing the internet. And not fast enough when it came to what she really wanted it for: productivity – writing letters, working with spreadsheets….. She didn’t want it – she wants a faster computer.

I go the AO.com order confirmation email and look for information on how I return the laptop.  There is no information for returns, there is a phone number for cancelling orders.  So I call that number and get through to automated IVR.  I listen, I select the relevant options, I provide the order number.  Then I wait, and wait, and wait.  Eventually, I hang up.  Later that day, I go through the same process and experience that which I experienced first time: frustration, annoyance and contempt.  Why? Time is ticking by and nobody is picking up my call.

Later, it occurs to me why not do that which I do on Amazon.co.uk: find the order, select the relevant item on that order, and choose the returns option on the menu. So I hit the AO.com website, log into my account, find the order, and find myself stopped: AO.com doesn’t have that functionality.  So I go to the home page and hit the “Free 30 day returns” icon.  The is what shows up:

AO.com returns page

I find myself thinking “Great, I have 30 days to get this product back to AO.com instead of the legal 14 days.”

And I want to get this thing over with. So I search for option to contact AO.com without having to call.  I do not come across live chat.  I do come across a customer services email address. The problem: AO.com is still living in the dark ages – 48 hours to respond to an email.  I don’t want to wait 48 hours!  I want to getting this forking business over with right now!

Next day, I ring AO.com again, this time a human being does respond to my call.  I say that I wish to return the laptop. She asks if it is faulty.  I say that it is not faulty, I wish to return it as my wife says it is too slow.  She responds by saying something like “So you have used it.”  I say something like “Of course I’ve used it – how else would I try out the laptop and see if works, meets my expectations?” She tells me that as I have used the laptop AO.com’s policy is to charge 45% of the laptop price to cancel order / return the laptop.

I’m not happy. Actually, I find myself annoyed.  I point out that under the distance selling regulations, the customer can order a product online, try it out, and return it (without giving a reason) and get a full refund except for paying costs of shipping product back to the supplier.  I also say that as I know something about computers, I have reset the laptop back to factory settings – so it is in the same condition that it was shipped out to me.  She tells me to hold whilst she talks with someone.  I wait.

She comes back with an offer. She’s talked to the supervisor and out of the goodness of AO.com’s heart these folks are only going to charge me 10% of the laptop price to exercise my legal right to return this laptop.  I say “No!”  No, I am not going to pay anything except what the law says: return shipping costs.”

She consults with someone and comes back again with something like “OK, as you have reset the computer to factory default settings, we will not charge you for returning it. Is that Ok?”  I say “No! No it’s not ok. You are breaking the law and I want to speak to your manager. I want to know why you are breaking the law.”  She refuses.  We conclude by agreeing the date when the laptop will get picked up from my home.

I have yet to get my refund so we will see if this is the end of this bad experience or if there is more to come.

Is AO.com Complying With The Law?

Put bluntly it occurs to me that AO.com is not trustworthy – not playing fair nor being reasonable with customers. I also happen to think that AO.com is not complying with the law.  Why?

Common sense dictates that it is only reasonable that the person who buys an electrical appliance online has to use it in order to see if a) it works; and b) if the performance is in line with expectations.  Further, consumer rights & protection (e.g. Consumer Contracts Regulations – came into force in June 2014) allow for reasonable use to try out a product.

Here’s what Which? (consumer rights organisation) says:

Consumer Rights 2013

I bring your attention to the following:  “The extent to which you can handle the goods is the same as it would be if you were assessing them in the shop.” And if you do that then you are entitled to a full refund if you let the supplier know within 14 days that you wish to return the goods.

The AO.com Experience Is So Bad In Comparison With My Argos.co.uk Experience 

At about the same time I ordered a laptop for my wife (via AO.com) I ordered a laptop for my daughter (online via argos.co.uk).  My daughter used the laptop from Argos and said “Papa, it’s ok and it’s not as fast as your MacBook Air.  I want to use the MacBook Air. Please send it back.”

I went to the Argos website, hit live chat, explained the situation, and the return was agreed there and then (for the next day) at no cost.  Zero hassle.  I wasn’t even asked if I had reset the laptop to factory settings.

My advice to those of you shopping online: do business with reputable retailers rather than AO.com.  And if you choose to do business with AO.com then you might want to check it out these online reviews: a mixed bag.

How Do Insurance Companies Treat Loyal Customers?

Who Benefits From Customer Loyalty?

Back in December 2015 Annette Franz in her post titled So, What Exactly is Customer Loyalty? made the following statement:

I had a situation recently that caused me to call on a provider to whom I’ve paid thousands and thousands of dollars by way of monthly premiums for the last 20+ years. I’ve never filed a claim, but I did six weeks ago. It’s not been a good customer experience since that day.

Annette went on to question the concept of Customer Loyalty.  Does it refer to the customer being loyal to the organisation? Or to the company being loyal to the customer?

This was my response to her question:

Hello Annette, I have been and continue to be clear that customer loyalty is a marketing concept. As such it is consists of a bunch of tools and techniques for getting the customer to stick with the organisation as long as the customer is generating handsome revenues and profits for the organisation. It is certainly not the organisation being loyal to the customer. Put differently, customer loyalty is a company centric concept.

I assert that as a customer you either have to be naive or stupid to think the organisation is loyal to you. Take insurance, if you are loyal customer you will be worse off. How so? When it comes to renewal time you will pay higher premiums. Why? You will accept the renewal premium without shopping around.

What Is The Cost of Customer Loyalty When It Comes To Insurance?

Want an example of how insurance companies penalise loyal customers?  Thanks to the Guardian newspaper, I have an example for you.  Allow me to share some passages from How Halifax penalises its insurance customers for their loyalty (bolding mine):

How much should the buildings insurance be on a £250,000 terrace house in Redcar, north-east England? It probably wouldn’t be difficult to find quotes for less than £200.

Mrs Laurie (I’ve changed her name) had always been good with managing her money. She dutifully paid the home insurance premiums demanded by Halifax every year, even though it kept going up. But when it hit £450 she could no longer afford to pay it.

What was Halifax’s response? Did it review the premium and reduce it to reflect the prices that other people were paying in the market? Oh no. What Halifax appears to have done is reopen her former mortgage account with the bank, then charge the insurance premiums to that account. Halifax then continued jacking up the price every year, to a vastly inflated £800 at the time of her death – a figure her son says is around six times the going rate. The final insult was that Halifax charged interest on the unpaid premiums, making ever more profit out of its elderly, loyal and vulnerable customer.

When Does It Make Sense To Stick With Your Insurance Company?

If you are a customer then here is my advice: never ever take the renewal quote offered to you by your insurance company. Why? Because from an insurance company perspective the most logical course of action is to offer you an inflated premium. Why? To take financial advantage of those folks who are either ignorant (of how companies work) or lazy (cannot be bothered to shop around).  When you have millions of customers, even a mere 20% of customers renewing automatically can generate £millions in extra revenues and profits.

Having said the above, I wish to point out that the insurance premium should not be the only factor that you consider. Why?  Because one takes out insurance just in case one needs to make a claim.  Which implies that you should, at a minimum, consider other factors including:

  1. Coverage – what is and is not covered?
  2. Time and Effort  involved in making a claim;
  3. Claims track record – how good is the insurer at dealing with and paying out on legitimate claims?

For example, for the last two years running I chose to stick with my home insurer even though I get a cheaper premium from other insurers. Why? Because for the first time (2 years ago) in 20+years I had to make a claim. The process of making the claim showed up as effortless. The claim was dealt with quickly by the insurer and in full. And, when I was dealing with the loss adjuster he told me that my insurer is among the best insurers when it comes to paying out legitimate claims.

If you are regular subscriber to this blog then I thank you. And take this opportunity to wish you the very best for this year.

Hall Of Shame: Bitdefender

What Does It Take To Be Given A Position In The Hall Of Shame?

What does it take to be given a position in my Hall Of Shame?  It takes more than averageness, indifference and/or mediocrity.  For those that show up this way, for me, I have created the Hall Of Mediocrity.  And I shall be inducting CapitalOne into the Hall of Mediocrity in a follow up post.

To be accorded a place in my Hall Of Shame, you have to show up as a ‘taker’: one focussed on furthering one’s interest at the expense of the customer without any consideration for ethics or just plain decency.  It occurs to me that a great exemplar of this way of showing up and travelling in the world is Bitdefender, the antivirus firm.

What has Bitdefender done to earn it’s place on the Hall of Shame?

On 20th February I got the latest email informing that my antivirus subscription was due for renewal. Noticing that the renewal date was in the next 10 days, I logged onto my account (via the website) in order to cancel the renewal of the two subscriptions.  Whilst I could see the details of both of my subscriptions, I was not able to cancel the renewal. Why not?  Clearly, to stop me (and other customers) from cancelling renewals easily thus ensuring that some subscriptions would be renewed automatically as some customers would not go to the trouble of calling Customer Services.

Looking around the Internet I managed to find the telephone number and called Bitdefender’s Customer Services team. I provided the details that allowed the call-centre agent (let’s call him Mathus) to log into my account and see my subscriptions. Then I told him about the renewal emails, my failed attempt to cancel renewal online, and asked him to cancel the renewals.  Mathus went into sales mode. I responded by saying that I was not interested in renewing and asked him to cancel the renewals.

Mathus asked me to hold on whilst he cancelled the renewals.  I kept hanging on for at least ten minutes (I was counting them) despite being tempted to hang up. Why? I got that this was a deliberate ploy: keeping customers hanging up long enough and some of them will hang up thus limiting the number of renewals that get cancelled.

When Mathus came back on the line and apologised for taking so long I called him on it. Like a naughty boy who is proud of what he is doing and gets caught cheating, Mathus laughed immediately.  Noticing some humanity present, I asked Mathus to do the decent thing, stop running me around, and just cancel the renewals.

Mathus told me that only the Sales team had the authorisation to cancel the automated renewals. So I asked to be put through to the Sales team. Mathus told me that he couldn’t do that and that he would raise a ticket to ensure that the Sales team would cancel the automated renewals. I asked Mathus to create the ticket there and then. He told me he had done it, so I asked him to email me the ticket number, when I got that email I hung up the phone.

What I wish to convey her is this: if I had been dealing with Amazon, I would have logged on to my account and cancelled my order within 1 to 3 minutes.  With Bitdefender I had spent at least 20 minutes only to get an email with a ticket number.  And that only because I had persisted and insisted.  Was this the end of the story? No.

On the 24th February I got an email from Bitdefender’s Support Team informing that I had an open ticket with them, that they had not heard back from me for a while, and that I should contact them in order for them to resolve my issue.

On the 25th February, I emailed the Bitdefender Support Team with the following message: “Please confirm that you have cancelled the automated renewal of the annual subscription. That is what I rang you about and asked you to do. The agent told me that could not do it as he did not have the rights. He told me that only Sales could do it. And he told me that he would set up a ticket to ensure that the cancellation took place.”

What happened?  Did the folks at Bitdefender cancel my automated renewal?

A few days later I got an email from Bitdefender informing me that my antivirus subscriptions had been renewed.

This automated email was followed, the next day, by an email from Mathus informing me that the automated renewals had been cancelled.

When I got my credit card statement I noticed that I had been billed two sums of £43.96 – double the amount if I had been allowed to cancel the automated renewals and buy the same product, online, from Bitdefender or another antivirus vendor.

 Summing Up

If Bitdefender had played fair and offered to renew the subscription at the market rate of £24 I would have renewed. And as such Bitdefender would have earned £48 (2 x £24) at zero marginal cost.

If Bitdefender had played fair and made it easy for me to cancel the automated renewal of the subscription via my account on the net, they would have not incurred any costs.

Clearly Bitdefender has some kind of CRM system in place. And yet this system has not forged a closer relationship between myself and Bitdefender.  That is the limit of all systems. A tool is merely a tool.  The effect that any tool has in the world is who uses it, how it is used, and most importantly why it is used.

What was once a sound business practice from a rational actor/value maximisation perspective is no longer such a sound practice. The transparency enabled by the internet and social media allows customers like me to point out ‘takers’ as ‘takers’ and thus enable those who do not wish to be taken, to stay well clear of ‘takers’. So unless you have a killer (must have) product and/or deep pockets, it is time to wake up and act decently towards all stakeholders – especially customers.

By acting purely in their selfish interests with no consideration for decency or ethics, Bitdefender have earned themselves this post.  In dealing with CapitalOne (credit card company that I use) I found myself writing this of Bitdefender:

“I am clear that Bitdefender is dishonest, manipulative, organisation intent on doing everything possible to stop it’s customers from exercising their right to cancel the renewal of subscription.”