Report: Circuit City deliberately selling broken Acer computers and charging at register for repairs

Circuit City is all about choice. If the story from one customer is true, when you buy a brand new machine there, you can either get hit for an undisclosed repair fee at the till or take it home broken.

The customer says he was lucky to spot the $40 charge on his receipt. The rationale given was that the model sold required a BIOS update to work properly, even though it seemed to already work just fine. From The Consumerist:

Regardless of the fact that Vista booted up just fine with out the update, he was more disturbed with the fact that Circuit City would sell him a computer that they knew didn’t work or so they say. Unfortunately, he was short on time and did not press the issue in the store.

And that’s exactly why they do it.

Circuit City Firedog Charges $40 To ‘Fix’ Computer You Just Bought [Consumerist]

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23 Responses to Report: Circuit City deliberately selling broken Acer computers and charging at register for repairs

  1. Oren Beck says:

    It’s an example of intentional deceit for HOW it was being applied by the store.

    Deceit has managed to move from a sin to a perceived necessity. And we keep on “eating the dog food” Because it’s profitable to screw in every fashion consumers who keep on rewarding the screw job with more money!

    The concept of competing on fair honest ethical ground seems to be endangered if not sadly extinct.

  2. zuzu says:

    You know what this bodes well for? Local system builders. Remember when they were all the rage in the early 1990s and then faded away when machine prices went down? I’d gladly pay a premium to a local seller to get a machine I know works and I can trust than deal with this hidden fee nonsense.

    I kinda wish… I have fond memories of the 90s DIY desktop culture; kinda also went hand-in-hand with building a Linux kernel (so you had to choose hardware components based on what you knew Linux supported well). Also, that’s when overclocking and non-Intel CPUs made for a pragmatic financial sense — before it became the ricer “look at the LEDs in my 80mm fan” culture.

    But from my armchair, I seriously question what this guy was thinking. Oh, he needs an inexpensive desktop for his dad who until then was using a decrepit box…? Get one of those Eee Box 202 desktops then. If he needs more horsepower than that, check the refurbished page at Apple for an Intel Mac Mini on the cheap. Or eBay.

    However, no, I don’t see local system builders making a comeback given the trend towards Asus Eee computers selling for ~$300. Combined with the long in the tooth trend of Sun Microsystem’s old forecast: thin client laptops + servers in the home, replacing desktops for most people in most situations.

  3. Jack says:

    Zuzu, well I’m not saying that suddenly mom and pop builders will start opening up right away. But you need to remember this: The original DIY culture of building PCs was based on price-point. They then died when pre-made PC prices went down.

    So now you have a market with tons of cheap PCs and horrid customer service. At some point people will realize: “You know, maybe if I pay this guy $100 more I will get the machine I want and get service I like.”

    Think of it hand-in-hand with the trend towards boutiques and restaurants opening up all over the place. Do people want to pay more for the physical items they get from these places? No. But they will pay more to get the assurance of quality service.

    The business model of strictly selling electronics at a low price is going to be irrelevant in a few years. The concept of better customer service will be universal. Heck, look at Apple. People already pay a premium for the assurance their machines work better. And what’s marring Apple now? The quality assurance issues that cause that perception of quality to south.

    Long story short: Bye, bye Circuit City, Best Buy and other major chains.

  4. Lionel says:

    RE: #15 posted by zuzu:

    Dude, it was the Inspiron 1525 Special Edition, 3 Gig RAM, T5550 Core 2 Duo, 250 Gig HD, DVD-Burner, internal WiFi (B & G) and an Extended (9 cell) battery for $500 (similar to this laptop – bit not the same, mine has the 9 cell battery and a slightly down-speed CPU)

    If I bought it on the Dell site, it would have been $200 more for the same specifications.

    Also, the Inspiron 1525 is one of the laptops that Dell supports Ubuntu on, so I was able to download an ISO and throw Ubuntu on it and know all the drivers for the included hardware were there.

    What I wanted was a cheap Ubuntu laptop with decent battery life, and this fit the bill nicely…

    Besides, I already have an Asus EEE, differnet beast, as DCULBERSON said in #16, and I have a Mac Book Pro as my general-purpose laptop – this was for an Ubuntu laptop…

    I’m happy with my purchase, for the above reasons – of course, opinions vary, but I’ve had minimal issues with Dell Hardware at home or work (and I work in a school district with over 800 Dells used by 6-12th graders, K-5th graders use Macs) – YMMV.

  5. mdhatter says:

    Jack, I know a local place that builds and sets up custom machines in a commercial storefront 1/2 mile from a large shopping mall which has at least 6 other national chain computer stores (CC, OfficeMax, etc..).

    He’s doing a brisk great business, and he actually had the 50 foot (store made) Ethernet extension cable I needed in stock – unlike the box stores.

  6. Lionel says:

    RE: #15 posted by zuzu:

    Dude, it was an Inspiron 1525 Special Edition – nicely equiped (T5550 CPU, 3 Gig RAM, 250 Gig HD, DVD-R/W, ext. life battery) for just over $500 (IIRC).

    I was looking for a low-cost Linux laptop, and Dell supports Ubuntu on this, which means I could wipe off Windows Vista and put Ubuntu 8.04 on it with minimal effort (download the ISO from Dell and go!), knowing all the devices on the laptop were supported (including various media player buttons, WiFi, video, etc.).

    I’ve not been burned by Dell build-quality, and I’ve got lots of Dell desktops & laptops, even a couple servers (all bought at discount or as used equipment).

    I’ve already got an Asus eee (with RAM max’d to 2 Gigs) and a MacBook Pro – this Dell was for a low-cost, supported Linux laptop – and to be honest I’ve been quite happy with it.

  7. Lionel says:

    RE: #7 posted by zuzu:

    I recently bought a Dell Laptop at Best Buy (a “special edition” that had higher specs than Dell’s online version, and with the BB sale discount, a pretty good deal), but to buy my laptop I had to queue up at their “Geek Squad” kiosk, lined up behind others also buying computers. I watched them “offer” services the customers didn’t understand, adding in some cases hundreds of dollars to a computer purchase.

    I guess I gave off an air of “Don’t mess with me”, as when I got to the counter and handed the “Geek” my sales order and the eSATA Express Bus controller card (on sale as well ;^), the geek just said “That’s a good price on the controlller card” and rang me up. Didn’t even offer me anything extra.

    What BB does is force you to a high-pressure sale, ext. warranty, more memory, surge supresors, anti-virus, spam and other “value add” items…

    Were I the buyer in the original, I would have insisted on a system still sealed from the factory – if the seal is open, they *could* have performed a service, or it could be a return, and you’ll likely never know which. With the seal closed, how can FireDog claim to have “fixed” it?

  8. zuzu says:

    I recently bought a Dell Laptop at Best Buy (a “special edition” that had higher specs than Dell’s online version, and with the BB sale discount, a pretty good deal), but to buy my laptop I had to queue up at their “Geek Squad” kiosk, lined up behind others also buying computers. I watched them “offer” services the customers didn’t understand, adding in some cases hundreds of dollars to a computer purchase.

    Can you elaborate on what you were looking for in a laptop that you chose a Dell in the first place?

    For the sake of concision (and not some brand name pissing contest), I’m genuinely curious how someone who (I assume) “knows better” would choose a laptop that isn’t an Asus Eee (low price, very portable), a Lenovo (sturdy, well documented and standardized hardware, compromise of price and performance), or an Apple (either MacBook or MacBook Pro based on price and needs). Or maybe a Fujitsu LifeBook in certain niche situations.

    But, “dude, you’re getting a Dell”? Really? Why???

    I do concede that although Best Buy is a horrible experience to shop at, as you mention, they often have sales — which Fat Wallet is great at ferreting out — that are clearly loss leaders to get you in the store for their high pressure sales tactics. Many moons ago, when 1TB drives were still selling for ~$300, they had a sale combined with a coupon which lowered the price to ~$180. A good deal, at the expense of Best Buy / Circuit City, warrants an excuse to shop there. (Now the 5-platter drives are selling for about $130 to clear inventory for the new 3-platter drives coming down the pipe.)

  9. mdhatter says:

    They certainly beat HP laptops, unless you’re a masochist.

    in soviet russia, Dell laptops beat YOU!

  10. Lionel says:

    RE: #20 POSTED BY ZUZU:

    No, the Mac Mini doesn’t support 4 GB RAM – just 2 Gig (with two SoDIMM sockets that each take 1 Gig parts)

  11. zuzu says:

    A Mac Mini does not belong in the same sentence as “more horsepower.”

    It uses the Core 2 Duo, same as in all but the latest Penryn MacBook Pros. It supports up to 4GB of RAM. It’s a tiny desktop version of a MacBook, basically. Also, “more horsepower” was relative to the Asus Eee Box 202.

    There’s no justification that I know of for your strong anti-Dell stance. Do you have any reason for it?

    Specifically, I found them lacking in documentation of the hardware for disassembly and repairs, unlike Lenovo/IBM (official and free) and Apple (via iFixIt or shared copies of the official repair documents). Also, the materials and hardware tended to be low quality, in my opinion, and I’ve had problems with Dell honoring its warranties (e.g. blaming the end-user and refusing repairs). Additionally, despite the “strategic partnership” of Ubuntu and Dell (or was it Red Hat and Dell?), I’ve found Thinkpads far better supported by Linux in the community, than any Dell laptop has been; fundamentally I think it’s a result of popularity — Thinkpads winning most contracts for academic institutions mandatory laptop programs. And, as you say,

    It’s uglier, heavier, and doesn’t have a touchpoint, but it works.

    I don’t care about the “rubber nipple”, but heavier and uglier do count for something.

    Also, the Inspiron 1525 is one of the laptops that Dell supports Ubuntu on, so I was able to download an ISO and throw Ubuntu on it and know all the drivers for the included hardware were there. … Besides, I already have an Asus EEE, differnet beast, as DCULBERSON said in #16, and I have a Mac Book Pro as my general-purpose laptop – this was for an Ubuntu laptop…

    That actually does make sense, thanks.

  12. mdhatter says:

    I’ve noticed there’s an unwritten surcharge for the pizza guy to not crush my box and keep the cold canoli away from the hot pizza. Some part of me is glad Circuit City has decided be more up front about their business model.

  13. Rob Beschizza says:

    I find these reports very depressing. It’s nice to be able to go somewhere where you can use and fondle the goods. But the selections are often poor, and they pay for the brick and mortar with this sort of fishy behavior.

  14. Jake0748 says:

    Circuit City seems to be really good at shooting itself in the foot.

  15. strider_mt2k says:

    I’m just as likely to buy something online and return it if there’s a problem.
    As long as you can be patient with the ship times it’s way more straight foward and lacking of BS.

    I’m less about touching and much more about review reading just because of crap like this.

  16. Anonymous says:

    But, “dude, you’re getting a Dell”? Really? Why???

    I think you have a conception of Dell that is a few years out of date. Though some of the Inspirons are cheaply built, the Latitudes are solid workhorses with quality on par with ThinkPads. The new E series also bring the sexy. Also, Lenovo =/= IBM. Apparently, the build-quality has been slipping a little bit lately since the change-over. I’m not sure I have a preference for one brand over another, but they’re pretty much in the same class at the moment.

    Meanwhile, Fujitsus (like Sonys and LGs) are really expensive for what you get (maybe even more so than Apple).

  17. dculberson says:

    “If he needs more horsepower than that, check the refurbished page at Apple for an Intel Mac Mini on the cheap.”

    A Mac Mini does not belong in the same sentence as “more horsepower.”

    Re: the Dell laptop question: An Asus EEE is not a laptop. It’s a Netbook, and fulfills a distinctly different need than a general purpose laptop. In the general purpose laptop market, a Dell is actually a pretty good choice for the value-conscious consumer. Hell, I’m typing on a 5-year-old Dell right now that still works great. I bought it for literally half what my wife’s Thinkpad cost, and the Dell was slightly higher specced. The Thinkpad has since given up the ghost (bad main board, costs more to buy a working one than to buy a replacement laptop from eBay) while the Dell keeps going. It’s uglier, heavier, and doesn’t have a touchpoint, but it works.

    There’s no justification that I know of for your strong anti-Dell stance. Do you have any reason for it?

  18. proto says:

    I echo you, #4!

    In a down economy, these brick & mortar businesses really need to step up the level of service they provide if they want to survive.

    I can get crap product delivered to my door without expending $4/gal and a ton of my time. ‘surly’ I get for free from just about anyone.

  19. zuzu says:

    This guy bought an Acer computer at Best Buy to run Vista. Sorry, but there’s a point where you should fucking know better!

    “Boy, there I was staggering drunk walking down a dark alley at 3 am and counting in my hands the cash I had left, when all of the sudden I was mugged!” You don’t say.

  20. zuzu says:

    Correction: Best Buy / Circuit City, same bullshit.

  21. Jack says:

    Man has Circuit City gone downhill.

    You know what this bodes well for? Local system builders. Remember when they were all the rage in the early 1990s and then faded away when machine prices went down? I’d gladly pay a premium to a local seller to get a machine I know works and I can trust than deal with this hidden fee nonsense.

  22. toastandlove says:

    The thing is, it wouldn’t have done any good to press the issue in the store. People who work in the store, even the managers, are just peons. They surely some kind of memo; “Acer model no. #xxxxx needs this update in order to work correctly. Please offer this update to customers” etc etc. The whole problem with these situations is that it ends up being a confrontation between someone who is getting screwed, and someone who has no control over whether that person is getting screwed, but has to act like they are NOT getting screwed in order to keep their job.

  23. dculberson says:

    ‘I don’t care about the “rubber nipple”, but heavier and uglier do count for something.’

    I agree, but sometimes they’re not enough to offset the cost difference. It just depends on what you need it for – and sometimes a Dell is a good fit. They certainly beat HP laptops, unless you’re a masochist.

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