I bought my DVD burner, a Sony DRU-120A, from Buy.com in June 2002 for $375 with a $50 warranty plan. This was rated to be an excellent DVD burner, but I’ve dealt with Sony warranty support in the past (which should definitely be on the Suck List) and trust me, it’s always worth it to buy the in-store warranties on Sony products.
I chose the 3-year (36-month) “Express Repair Plan,” which specified that if the product was defective for any reason during that time, I’d send in my old one, they’d send me a new one, and they’d pay shipping both ways.
The drive always burned bad discs - 20% of the discs I burned would be completely unreadable in anything, including the drive itself. Each bad disc had a distinctive blurry ring around the beginning of the data track (the inside of the disc), but the “good” discs had a sharp, clear ring. It became easy to tell simply by looking at the disc whether it was bad. The drive obviously had a focusing problem, as it did it on multiple brands of media with many different burning programs at approximately the same rate. This would only be a slight annoyance for a CD burner, but on a DVD burner, it became an expensive annoyance: the drive burned about $50 worth of bad discs. I tolerated it, though, because I burned a lot of DVDs and I knew that I’d have to endure a couple of weeks without the drive if I sent it back. But after burning my one-hundredth DVD (and my twentieth bad disc), in May of this year (2003), I decided to invoke my warranty.
I dug out my original email receipt from my Outlook archives, went to Buy.com, and submitted my warranty request online. A popup informed me that the request was denied, since it had been less than a year from the purchase date and the manufacturer’s warranty still applied. If I still wanted to use my warranty plan through Buy.com, I had to call them and make the request to a Customer Support Representative at the number specified.
No problem, I thought. I called the number, navigated through the menus, and was infuriated with what I heard next: “There is a fee of $35 to speak to a customer service representative. To continue, press 1...” This was not specified in the terms of the 36-month Express Repair Plan. To use the warranty during the first 12 months, you must pay $35. Wonderful... fraud.
Since the year was expiring in a matter of weeks, I decided not to complain too much about that. The drive completely died during this time, locking up any programs that tried to access it, and giving beautiful ASCII-garbage strings for the BIOS identification. On June 25, 2003, I successfully submitted my repair request. This was in the confirmation email I received when I purchased the warranty:
If you need to request a repair, simply choose your product
and click Request Repair. That’s it! We’ll send a special
shipping box to you for your product.
Place the item in the box and give it to
the UPS representative. You will never pay for any shipping!
Naturally, I expected this to happen in a reasonable amount of time. Two weeks later, on July 8, I received this email:
Subject: Tech support for your Sony unit..
Hello Mr. Arment,
My name is Monty, I received your repair request, before we continue, I will need for you to either respond to this email or call me at 888-771-3705 ext. 4826. What we will have to do is depot the unit in to one of our service centers for repair, so please respond by emailing me back, or giving me a call.
To this day, I have no idea what the purpose of this email was supposed to be. Sending the unit to a service center? That’s what was supposed to happen. It doesn’t change anything on my end. Why was it necessary for me to take further action? I didn’t even receive the shipping box yet.
I called Monty and he took my name and address (which Buy.com already had on file, as part of the warranty registration). He then explained to me that the unit would be sent to a repair center and he had to check with his boss to find out exactly what to do next. He would call me back the next day. This seemed a little strange – you have to call your boss to see what to do on a basic service request? I wonder how many people actually hold these service contracts and how large of a staff handles them. Well, he didn’t call me back the next day, so I emailed him and didn’t receive a reply.
After playing phone- and email-tag for a week, I finally called and asked to speak to someone else. I explained the Monty situation, and how I really didn’t mind how my warranty was taken care of, and I really just wanted to have my replacement as soon as possible. The person said that only Monty could handle the situation. Wonderful. By this time, it was July 25. I emailed him and asked him what exactly I needed to do, as it had been a month since I submitted my repair and I still didn’t even have the box to send my defective drive back.
I got no reply from Monty, but on July 30, I received a confirmation email beginning with this:
Buy.com Warranty Services
On 7/30/2003 6:45:25 PM, you entered a Repair Request
for the following product:
36 month Express Repair Plan.
If you have an OnSite Extended Repair Plan please call toll-free 1-888-771-3705 to arrange a convenient service appointment.
If you have an Express Repair Plan, your request has been received and an empty box for your product is on its way to you. When you receive this box, please place your component inside the box with all accessories included. Be sure to include a copy of your original invoice! Inside the empty box you will find easy instructions and a pre-printed shipping label.
Remember: You do not pay for any shipping charges.
That’s interesting. I was under the impression that I submitted the request on June 25, not July 30. I guess Monty got the idea that I was getting a little angry and finally approved the repair. At no point during any communication with Monty did I ever figure out why our interaction was necessary. Nothing was accomplished, no new information was provided, and nothing was repaired.
I waited for the box. Then I waited more. After two weeks, I called again (not Monty) and asked about my repair. The representative said that he’d personally mail me the box that day. During the call, he also informed me of an interesting option: After I sent in my defective drive, I could choose to either receive a new drive or a refund for my original purchase price. A $375 refund for a year-old drive that was now worth about $125? It sounded too good to be true, so I had him confirm it. Yes, the original purchase price. That made the delay a little easier to handle.
I received an envelope a few days later with a UPS shipping label in it. It wasn’t prepaid, and there was no box. I packed up the drive in its original box with manuals, software, cables, and a copy of the original receipt, and shipped it inside of another box with packing peanuts. I paid about $8 for the box and shipping. But wait…
Buy.com Warranty Services
Remember: You do not pay for any shipping charges.
Really? Looks like I did. I called them back to inform them of this, and they apologized for the inconvenience but refused to offer me a credit or refund for the shipping charges that I wasn’t supposed to pay because they didn’t send a box or a prepaid label.
On August 29, two months after submitting my original request, I received an email from the Tanisha, the Tech Center Team Leader. They had received my drive, determined that it was defective, and were prepared to offer me a replacement. My model was no longer available (I expected this), so they’d replace it with a Sony DRU-510A, a new dual-format drive. Pretty nice, huh? But I think I’d rather have the refund. After all, I don’t really want another Sony drive after the bad luck I had with the first one, and I can get a really nice Pioneer drive for much less than $375.
The email had an attached contract in editable Word format (security?) that I was supposed to print out, sign, and fax back to them to receive my replacement or refund. But it quoted the refund amount at the current market value of the replacement drive, $269.99. That’s not nice. I called Tanisha and she said that quoting me the “original purchase price” was a mistake, and there was nothing she could do about it. I politely argued with her for a few minutes, but it was going nowhere. I accepted the $269.99 refund amount, and she told me that I should expect the check “about two weeks” after I fax them the signed contract. I faxed it on September 8.
I received the check on October 14. That’s right, three and a half months after I originally submitted my repair order, the process has finally completed. I’ll be using about $145 of this to buy a wonderful dual-format Pioneer DVR-106. I consider the remaining amount to be minimal compensation for the three and a half months that I’ve been forced to endure without a working drive. You can bet that I’ll never get anything from Buy.com or Here2Fix again.