A consumer story

A long one, and not directly Saab related.

This is a Mac vs PC story, but not one of those Mac vs PC stories (and if you turn it into one of those Mac vs PC discussions in comments then I’ll shut it down faster than you can say “Australia don’t need no scrappage scheme”).

The following happened over the course of the last week and I’m sharing it here in the hope that people involved in buying stuff can deal with people involved in selling stuff in a better way. And vice versa. It might just apply to Saab customers and dealers or service staff, which is why I’m posting it here (also, I don’t have anywhere else to post it).


The purchase.

Last week, we finally decided that we needed a new computer. The new machine would live downstairs and would be used primarily by Mrs Swade to check her emails, store her photos (used for paintings), play her music and Skype her family in Canada.

Because she’s used to operating a PC, I bought a Gateway DX series machine, which had pretty decent specs for what she’d need and a 20% discount on the normal price. It was a box-only purchase, as we had our own 20-inch HD monitor (this is relevant).

I got the machine home, spent some considerable time moving furniture around and hooking the machine up with its various cords and ports. We fired it up and all was well. I downloaded iTunes, Firefox and configured Skype.

The computer was left on and unattended and as computers do, it went into sleep mode. When I tried to awaken the machine, the screen lit up but all the icons were missing. You couldn’t do anything with it except re-start it and carry on from there. I tried adjusting various settings, including screensavers and power-save modes, but the machine insisted on the same re-start process to get things moving.

That was problem #1.

This was not satisfactory, for obvious reasons, so I called Gateway and spoke to a tech support guy. He scratched his head and told me he’d send through some instructions to reset the machine to factory settings. Hopefully this would overcome the problem.

It might have, too, but the email never arrived. Not in my inbox, not in my spam folder. It just never came.

That was problem #2. And it was Friday morning – the beginning of day 3 of ownership.

I took off to Melbourne for the weekend, but late on Sunday morning I got a call from Mrs Swade. She’d been speaking to her sister on Skype for an hour when all of a sudden, an alert message popped up on screen. Something to do with the sound card. Skype stopped working and she couldn’t use it again that day.

That was problem #3, and it occurred on day 5 of ownership.


The return.

By this time, I was ready to use our shiny new machine as a boat anchor, but given that I don’t have $1,000+ to just throw in a river, I decided to run the gauntlet and try to take it back to our place of purchase – Harvey Norman.

I rocked up at Hardly Normal right at opening hour this morning and told the guy at the service desk my problems. I told him I didn’t want the machine anymore because of these faults and I’d prefer to buy an iMac.

Explanatory tangent

I’ve owned one iMac and now own a MacbookPro and have found them to be of excellent quality, very user-friendly and pre-loaded with software that’s very good at doing the things I need a computer to do. This may not be the case for you, but it is for me. I also use PC’s regularly in my day job and I love what they do, but for my blogging and personal use, I now choose a Mac.

I didn’t buy an iMac for my wife at first because she’s totally unfamiliar with them and I wanted to get something that would be instantly useable for her. Plus, she brings work home sometimes and having access to MS Office without having to buy it (as we will for the Mac) would be a bonus.

End of explanatory tangent.

The service guy looked at me and said “we don’t sell Macs”.

At this point, my heart sank. If they sold Macs, I knew that my desired path would be a lot easier. It’s much easier to convince Harvey Norman to take back a product when they know they’ve got you for an alternative purchase. Given that they didn’t sell what I wanted to buy, I’d have to convince them on giving me a refund. There are consumer laws about this sort of thing, of course, but retailers like Harvey Norman like to ensure that the letter of the law is satisfied before acquiesing and giving you your money back.

He took ‘my’ troublesome computer out of the box and hooked it up to their test bench and of course, everything worked fine. They put the computer to sleep, it woke up without a hitch. They repeated the test with iTunes working in the background, images on the screen – basically everything that happened at home – and it always came back to life as it should.

At this point, I felt like an ass. I’d wasted almost an hour of my working day telling them their product was no good and all they thought in response was that I was an idiot who’d probably hooked things up incorrectly.

Then I had a look at their test bench.

They had hooked the computer up using their own USB keyboard and mouse arrangement. At home, the computer was setup with a wireless keyboard and mouse. They had hooked up their old fashioned monitor with a VGA cable. We had a HD widescreen monitor hooked up via HDMI.

They had insisted on testing all the software we used when the alleged incidents occurred, so I pointed out to them that the machine was not set up on the test rig in the same way we set it up at home. They were initially dismissive. I got a little insistant.

So off we go, out into their main showroom, to hook the computer up to one of their HD sets via a HDMI cable.

Conversational tangent

Whilst we were hooking the machine up to the HD monitor, the guy was trying to tell me all about the versatility of PCs, how you can dive into the guts of them and modify them this way and that. He said they did funny things sometimes but it was usually just a setting that needed adjustment or something that needed to be re-loaded.

My response – this computer is for a lady in her 40’s who is not interested in diving into the guts of the machine in any way whatsoever. She wants to do simple things – email, music and images. She just wants it to work. Simple. I want it to work, so that I’m not being called downstairs every 10 minutes to figure out a problem.

She wants a Toyota Corolla and he’s trying to sell me a Caterham.

End of conversational tangent.

We finally get the computer hooked up in a manner that resembles the way it was hooked up at home.

And whaddayaknow?

The computer went to sleep and wouldn’t come back to life properly once again! There was a problem in the HDMI connection such that it would start OK, but wouldn’t re-start OK. We didn’t get to the bottom of the soundcard/Skype issue. We didn’t need to. One confirmed problem with a 6-day old computer was enough. I’d verified my case.

I (finally) got my money back and tonight, I’m going to teach my wife the subtle differences that one has to learn when using an iMac for the first time.


The lessons learned

1. Manufacturer: Make your product do the things that the buyer wants it to do. If it works as promised and gives them a good experience in doing so, that’s called quality and once you get a reputation for quality, you can charge a premium price for it.

2. Customer: As a buyer, make sure you’re buying something that will do what you want it to do. Don’t buy a Corolla expecting it to go like a Caterham and don’t buy a Caterham expecting it to provide reliable daily transport in a modicum of functional comfort.

3. Customer: If you’ve got a problem with the product you bought, make sure the service people you’re dealing with know all the circumstances that led to the problem. Sometimes the problem will be obvious (like a clutch that’s been burned to smithereens) but sometimes it helps for them to know the conditions under which a problem surfaced.

4. Customer: Don’t try and take advantage of your priveleged relationship as a customer. It’s because people try and take advantage that companies use a guilty-until-proven-innocent outlook sometimes. It sets up an adversarial relationship that’s good for no-one.

5. Seller: Listen and have a little trust sometimes. Get the information about the problem from the customer without making them feel bad for having to bring up a problem. It might help to test something thoroughly without being prompted by the customer, too. If I hadn’t pointed out the differences between their setup and mine at home, I’d probably be carrying that computer home again today.


This is not one of those Mac vs PC stories. We got a bad PC in this instance so I chose to get a Mac because it would suit our requirements. If the PC had been good then we would have kept it.

Mac users, don’t go getting all smug in comments. It’s very unattractive.

The real story here is that the product has to be good, right from the get-go, that the service has to be good, and that you’ve got to make sure the analysis has been done correctly.

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