Friday, November 12, 2010

Buying tools from Amazon

I really like shopping at Amazon. So many things are so much easier to buy there because I can get them all at once, at reasonable prices, with free shipping. I don't think I'm creating more environmental costs buying the things I buy from them -- it's not like food, in that none of this is produced locally anyway. And for most things, I'm getting better customer service than I would at the stores near me. That's true whether I go to a big chain store like Walmart or a smaller individual shop; in my experience, the main difference between those options is not how good the service is but how reliable (a big store will have consistent service that's neither great nor awful; a small store will bend over backwards for me one time, and completely shaft me another).

However, I've concluded that when it comes to tools, this reasoning doesn't apply. Several times I have purchased a tool of some sort via Amazon and happened to have something turn out to be wrong with it, and not been able to get any satisfaction on my warranty. Maybe the reason why tools give me this problem more than other things is that tools don't get taken out of the box and then used vigorously; they get taken out, used once or twice, and then set aside for weeks or months before they'll need to be used again. That's why tools often have warranties measured in years, not months. Which would be fine, if I didn't keep finding myself unable to act on my warranty.

Today's incident is the clearest case of me getting shafted. In early September I bought a Black & Decker ASI300 AC/DC tire inflator. It arrived around the 14th. I got to use it three times; once on the car tires, once on my bike, and once on an air mattress, and in each case, it worked wonderfully (though it took a lot longer to do that mattress than I expected). About a month and a half later, on November 1st, it immediately died on my fourth attempt to use it.

On some examination I found that many people had this problem; there's a fuse in it which fails even on clean, steady power (such as the power in my garage). Worse yet, it can't be replaced without soldering. From what I've read online, this happens a lot, and many people replace this fuse over and over. I confirmed it was the fuse with a multimeter (infinite resistance) but decided, given how tight it is in there with all those other wires, I wasn't going to try to replace it -- particularly as that would void the warranty. It's a full replacement two year warranty and I was only at a month and a half.

Caveat emptor. Black & Decker says I have two ways to act on my warranty. Option 1: bring the unit, in person, to a certified Black & Decker service center, and then after an unspecified amount of time, it'll be replaced or repaired at the same place. Trouble with that: there's not a single service center within a hundred miles of my house. (I suppose for most people that's not a limitation, but I live out in the middle of nowhere, relatively.) Option 2: go through the business from which I bought it.

Often that's my first way to go since Amazon's customer service on faulty merchandise has always been great when I needed it. Except on tools -- or maybe it's gone from great to awful over the years and I'm only seeing it on tools, but for whatever reason, they're not helping me at all here. It's less than two months since purchase and a month and a half since delivery, but somehow, I'm more than a week past the October 21st deadline to return the product -- and how could you really know that a power tool was bad that quick?

I was in a similar situation a year or two ago when a chainsaw I bought from TruValue through Amazon turned out bad, the manufacturer was out of business, and TruValue refused to honor the warranty or offer even the merest of recompense, even so much as a discount on another purchase. Amazon wouldn't even let me change my seller feedback; they encouraged me to submit a "violation of policy" complaint but told me I would not likely hear anything as a result, which I didn't. So in all, I was out $100. I was disappointed by Amazon, but I blamed TruValue far more.

But the real problem I had was that I couldn't go back to the buyer. If I'd bought that same chainsaw at a TruValue near me (there are some, but they don't carry such things around here) I would have been able to go back to where I bought it and probably gotten my money back.

I'm giving Amazon a chance to make this right, by sending the unit back with a letter. They say I'm eligible for "up to 50%" of the price, not including shipping either way, which will come to a net of about 25% after we consider my shipping costs. I don't expect them to find a way to do better than that, but I am going to give them the chance to surprise me. As the reseller, it's their job to make Black & Decker honor their warranty, and I want to see if they will.

I'm sure everyone who says you should always buy local will crow over this and overgeneralize from it. I don't think this proves I should buy everything local. But it might mean that tools are one of those cases where buying local is better, and that I was wrong about it.

1 comment:

Hawthorn Thistleberry said...

I wasn't looking for one, but while shopping at CostCo, I found a 120V air compressor for $40 that has several things better than the Black & Decker model: much better cords and cord stowage, better extra tips and storage for those, and a nicer form factor. What it lacks: working from a car's 12V (no need, I already have one that does that), and no ability to set the pressure to fill to and then stop (that was nice, but no big deal to live without). More importantly, if it fails, I have the receipt and original packing material, and I can go back to the store where I bought it.