Caveat Emptor If they sell you something broken, you gotta pay to send it back!

tongueRecently, I bit on one of’s daily deals for a netbook computer. It’s not the first time I’ve purchased from Woot, but it’s almost certainly the last.

The problem has to do with Woot’s return policy. In a nutshell, if they sell you something busted, you have to pay to send it back. On the one hand, this means that if you bought something cheap, it’s probably not worth the expense of returning it. On the other, if you bought something expensive and heavy, you’re out a butt-load of shipping and insurance just to get your money back.

Now, to be fair to Woot, I have to mention that on this purchase there are other companies to share in the blame:

First up, Seneca Data, who did the refurbishing for this product. I called their customer service first, since they provide the warranty. Their tactic was to suggest I call Woot, to avoid Seneca’s own “you gotta pay to return it” policy. By the way, you’ll note that Woot’s return policy rationalizes that often the manufacturer will give you something even better than what you bought. So both of these companies are working hard to deflect the necessity of actually satisfying a customer’s complaint themselves.

Then there’s Acer, who built the netbook in the first place. Let me note that I’m pretty experienced at searching Web sites and forums for obscure answers to difficult questions. The Acer customer-service area is a challenge even for an expert. Here’s just one example: The instructions for upgrading an Acer Aspire One’s BIOS point to a page for downloading that BIOS by computer’s model number; the list of model numbers doesn’t include KAV60; searching the site further reveals that KAV60 is actually SO250. No explanation for why it’s listed differently. Add about half a dozen such misdirections to try to find a solution for why this model of netbook won’t recharge a battery discharged below 5 percent, and it’s easy to lose an entire Saturday.

So, dear reader, I’m swearing off Woot. Seneca has agreed to send a replacement battery, which may solve the immediate problem but does nothing about their “you ship it back, insured, because we’re not responsible” warranty. Acer’s chat support dumped me as soon as they checked the serial number and saw it’s a refurb. No chance even for a “when’s the new BIOS coming” question.

Woot has since emailed me to say that charging postage on an RMA is “standard practice.” I haven’t had to return purchases much, but in the rare instance I have—warrantied repair on an IBM Thinkpad, for example—I don’t recall that being the case with other companies.

What’s your experience? Are you used to paying to return defective merchandise? Is this standard practice? Should it be? I’d appreciate your responses. And please pass this message along via your social network of choice. Perhaps my cautionary tale can at least serve to protect other customers from losing money trying to return a defective product.



3 thoughts on “Caveat Emptor If they sell you something broken, you gotta pay to send it back!

  • November 11, 2009 at 12:21 am

    By the way, Mag, what’s Apple’s return policy. Do they require the customer to pay for return shipping on defective products. (And yes, I’ve seen defective Mac products. My buddy Bill Slavicsek had a laptop catch fire one year from a battery malfunction.)

  • November 11, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Dude, I used to type on a Psion 5mx—which was the size of a checkbook. And an HP Jornada 520—about the same size. Nowadays, for portability, I use a Stowaway foldable bluetooth keyboard with my Ipaq 110, so a netbook is actually a step up.

    But that’s neither here nor there. The Acer was intended for one of my daughters, whose hands are smaller than mine anyway.

    And they’ll run Linux. So there.

  • November 10, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    Why did you buy a netbook? Your hands are about as large as mine. They’re frustrating little things usually dependent on Windblows.

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