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Jesse Vincent

Learn from my misery: Don't buy a nook.

13 min read

The short version

Barnes & Noble have, without a doubt, the worst customer service of any company I have dealt with in the past decade.

They've made repeated promises to me that they've failed to keep and told me that it's my fault. They've put out _press releases_ about how generously they were taking care of the customers whose nooks failed to arrive for Christmas and then turned around and flatly refused to honor that promise.

If you want a hackable linux-based ebook reader with a great user experience and great customer support, buy a Kindle.

Update - January 26: It took the Internet four days to do what B&N never managed - Y'all have bought enough stuff from amazon after clicking that "buy a kindle" link above to net me $100 in referral fees (That's 3 kindles and some assorted other stuff.) Thank you! In turn, I'll be making a $100 donation to the EFF.

Update - Feb 2: Last Monday, around lunchtime, I got voicemail from Melanie at B&N.  We didn't manage to actually connect on the phone until Wednesday. She was friendly and apologetic.  Somewhat differently than all my previous interactions, she told me that the reason I didn't the promised compensation was that she had denied the request. And that she and made a mistake. She said she was sorry. The gift card showed up a few hours later and the shipping charges were refunded on Friday. All told, still not exactly the smoothest shopping experience. But it's over.

The long, ranty version

On November 9th, I ordered a nook from Barnes & Noble. It promised to be the most awesomest ebook-reading experience ever. With Wifi and 3G connectivity, it was clearly going to be better than the Kindle I had to hack to network overseas. With native support for ePub and PDF, I wasn't going to need to go and gain root on the device and then spend weeks creating document conversion software like I did for the Kindle. Best of all, it was going to run Android, so I'd be able to write custom software for it with relative ease.

When I placed my order on November 9th, Barnes & Noble promised me a ship date of December 11th. Oof. I waited patiently...

On December 11th, no nook arrived. Instead, I got email from Barnes & Noble:

From: Barnes & Noble 
To: jesse@fsck.com
Subject: Here Comes Your nook
This is to confirm that your nook is about to ship. Although your
shipment has been slightly delayed, we've upgraded you to overnight
shipping to ensure you'll receive your nook by December 18.

On December 13th, I was warned that accessories might hold up my order and that if I really wanted my nook, I should cancel the light and warranty I'd ordered along with my nook. In reply to my clicks, I got email from Barnes & Noble confirming that I had cancelled the booklight and warranty they sold me and that my nook had already entered the shipping process and was not cancelled.

On December 17th, I spoke to Barnes & Noble customer service. They confirmed that my nook had not shipped yet and that I would not receive it on the 18th. In fact, she told me that it would ship on December 21st and that it hadn't been upgraded to overnight shipping - that it would show up on Christmas Eve. This was somewhat frustrating to me as this was now the _second_ missed ship date for my order. I wrote to customer service that night. Their autoreply told me they'd get back to me within 48 hours. They didn't.

On December 21st, I called up Barnes & Noble to ask when my nook might ship. The first tier customer service rep was....actively hostile until after he put me on hold and read through my order. When he came back on the line, he said "Oh. You're on a third delay. Hold please." I believe that it was at this point that I was first told that if they blew their December 24th delivery date, they were going to give me a $100 gift card.

Later in the day on December 21st, I got this mail from Barnes & Noble:

From: service 
To: jesse 
Subject: Re: Help! multiple nook delays and broken promises
Dear Customer,
We apologize for any confusion. You are set to receive the order on
12/24.

On December 24th, I got this mail from Barnes & Noble:

Date: Thu, 24 Dec 2009 10:34:23 -0500 (EST)
From: service 
To: jesse 
Subject: Re: Help! multiple nook delays and broken promises
Dear Jesse Vincent,
Thank you for shopping with us.
Despite our efforts, we are unable to ship your order  in the
expected timeframe. We sincerely apologize for the multiple delays with
you item. We see that you have made contact with our customer service
center and you have been provided of the steps we are taking with your
order. We thank you for your patience and appreciate you working with us
in this matter.

The "steps" the customer service rep alluded to were, of course, the promise made by Barnes & Noble the previous day - If I didn't get my nook by Christmas, they were going to give me a $100 gift card.

I replied to this mail within a few hours and heard nothing back by email for a week.

On December 28th, while waiting for a flight from Boston to San Francisco, I called Barnes & Noble's customer service line again to ask when I might, you know, see my nook and the $100 they'd promised me. I was immediately transferred to a supervisor. The supervisor was friendly and apologetic. (Everyone I've spoken to at Barnes & Noble has been personally friendly and apologetic. Their call-center staff have _excellent_ empathy training.) The supervisor put me on hold and read over my order. When he came back on the line, he apologized again and confirmed that yes, something was wrong and that yes, Barnes & Noble owed me $100. He told me that I would receive email with a $100 Barnes & Noble gift card within 24 hours and that he was personally starting an inquiry into what the heck happened to my nook. He promised I'd get email back from him within a day. At that point, I was pretty happy that someone was finally being responsive and that this was basically all sorted out.

About 6 hours later, I got off the plane at SFO and checked my email. I had mail from Barnes & Noble! It was not the mail I expected:

Dear jesse vincent ,
As you requested, your order  been canceled.

At this point, Barnes & Noble customer service was closed for the night. Some friends joked that perhaps Barnes & Noble felt so bad about how badly they'd jerked me around that they'd cancelled the order because they were sending me a free nook. That would have been nice. Sadly, it was not what had happened.

I called the next day (December 29) and related the newly updated tale of woe. I was put on hold and transferred to a supervisor. The supervisor was friendly and apologetic. She told me that the only thing she could do was to start an inquiry into my order with operations and that it would take up to three business days. Someone would get back to me before those three days were out and tell me what happened.

Three business days came and went. No call from Barnes & Noble.

Meanwhile, on January 1st, I got email back from Barnes & Noble in reply to the email I sent them on December 24th. It read:

Dear Customer,
Thank you for your e-mail.
We recently received an email from you. However, the email did not
include a text message. Kindly re-send your inquiry with a text message
so that we may respond to your request.

...followed by the full text of the message I'd sent them.

A day later, on January 2nd, they sent me another reply to the same message:

Dear Customer,
Thank you for inquiring about your order with BarnesandNoble.com. We've
changed our order inquiry policy to futher strengthen the privacy and
security needs of our customers.
To respond to your request, we must ask you to provide your order
number, which you can find in the subject line of your order
confirmation email or shipping confirmation email.

...followed by the full text of the mail I'd sent them, including the exchange I'd had with Barnes & Noble customer service staff dating back to December 21st. This included the ticket number we'd been corresponding on throughout this time, as well as my name, address, phone number, email address and, of course, the order number.

On January 3rd, I called up Barnes & Noble customer service again. Once I provided my order number and an abbreviated sob story, I was transferred to Regillio, a supervisor. He was polite and apologetic. He put me on hold and read through the notes on my order. When he got back on the phone, he told me that he was going to have to research this issue and get back to me.

On January 4th, he called me back. The man deserves a medal. He told me that yes, something had cancelled my order, but that it was clearly in error. Unfortunately, there was no way to resurrect the order. He could, however, enter a new order and bump it to the front of the queue. Regillio did assure me that he was waiving the shipping charges on this new order and that I should ignore any shipping charges on the invoice. With shipping and tax, the order totalled out at $278.19.

On January 5th, my nook shipped...via some sort of process that involved an off-brand delivery service from New Jersey shipping my nook to a USPS depot in Massachusetts and then having the postal service deliver my nook. It took 3 or 4 days to arrive. No, they didn't honor their previous promise to upgrade my order to overnight shipping. It was only a few more days of delay, but it was another broken promise.

As of January 22nd, my credit card statement shows that Barnes & Noble charged me $278.19. No, Barnes & Noble did't refund the shipping charges like they'd promised. It's not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but it was yet another broken promise.

On January 7th, Angie from Barnes & Noble emailed me to say they needed another 24-48 hours before they could tell me what happened to my gift card.

On January 15th, I called up Barnes & Noble's customer service line to see if they'd managed to figure out why they hadn't yet sent me the gift card they'd promised or called me back to explain what had gone wrong. I read my order number to the first-tier customer service rep. She told me that she was transferring me to a supervisor. The supervisor, Wendy, was polite and apologetic. She told me that my order's notes showed that Barnes & Noble corporate had rescinded their promise to send me a $100 gift card because I'd cancelled my order. She then commented that this must clearly be in error because the notes also indicated that for weeks after I'd purportedly cancelled my order I'd been told, every several days, that my nook would ship in several days. She told me that she would petition management to un-rescind their promise to me. She promised to get back to me by the end of the day or the following Monday.

Nobody called me on Monday, January 18th.

On January 20th, I called Barnes & Noble to ask what had ever happened to that $100 they promised me. The first-tier customer service rep spent a few minutes reading the notes on my order before telling me that "oh, yeah. I see here we said we'd get back to you by Monday. And I don't see any notation that we ever got back to you." I waited on hold for a supervisor for 15 or so minutes. The supervisor was friendly and apologetic. She told me that they would investigate what happened and get back to me in 3 business days. I explained to her (politely, I promise!) why that wasn't going to be ok. She transferred me to her supervisor, Tiffany. Tiffany was even more friendly and even more apologetic. Tiffany promised to call me back on Friday to tell me what had really happened and how Barnes & Noble was going to fix it.

Today is January 22nd. Tiffany called me back about an hour ago and told me that Melanie, a Vice President of Customer Care had instructed her to tell me that, despite repeated assurances to the contrary, Barnes & Noble wasn't going to be able to honor their promise to me because their computers showed that my order had been cancelled.

Where do I go from here?

At this point, I have little hope of ever seeing any sort of compensation from Barnes & Noble. They've strung me out past the limit of their 14-day return policy, so I couldn't even return the device.

I don't really know what's next for me and the nook. I can tell you that Barnes & Noble are never getting another dime of my money. I hope you think twice before giving them any of yours.

Somewhat coincidentally, Amazon announced the Official Kindle SDK this week. If you want a hackable linux-based ebook reader with a great user experience and great customer support, buy a Kindle. (Yes, I make money if you click that link. Actually, if just four people buy Kindles because of this post, I end up with the $100 Barnes & Noble stiffed me.)

Update - January 26: It took the Internet four days to do what B&N never managed - Y'all have bought enough stuff from amazon after clicking that "buy a kindle" link above to net me $100 in referral fees. (That's 3 kindles and some assorted other stuff.) Thank you! In turn, I'll be making a $100 donation to the EFF.

Update - Feb 2: Last Monday, around lunchtime, I got voicemail from Melanie at B&N.  We didn't manage to actually connect on the phone until Wednesday. She was friendly and apologetic.  Somewhat differently than all my previous interactions, she told me that the reason I didn't the promised compensation was that she had denied the request. And that she and made a mistake. She said she was sorry. The gift card showed up a few hours later and the shipping charges were refunded on Friday. All told, still not exactly the smoothest shopping experience. But it's over.