Barnes & Noble Sucks
[Updated January 17, 2012.]
Spending the various gift certificates I received for Christmas, I ran into a string of bad luck. Across four different shipments, two CDs arrived defective and two books were damaged in transit.
Neither is common. After spending a few years working in a record store, I can tell you that manufacturing defects are rare. Ninety percent of the time, when someone claims their CD is defective, it's not; either the CD or their player needs to be cleaned, or they're lying because they want a refund. Most people buy CDs from major labels; and obviously, when Sony manufactures 200,000 Dave Matthews CDs, they avoid making mistakes. Defects tend to happen to independent labels, because they seek cheap reproduction.
The first defect was a simple pressing error. The plastic coating on top of the disc was warped; it played fine, but I returned it anyway. You never know how those things will degrade. The second defect was more costly: The Cellar Door Sessions 1970, a six-disc boxed set, arrived with a duplicate Disc 5 in place of Disc 6. Sony will have to eat about $100 on that.
Now the two books, they came one apiece from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And here's where it gets interesting. In both cases, the boxes hadn't been packaged properly and the books arrived crumpled and torn. But let's compare the process of returning them.
- Amazon: I completed the return online. I printed out a postage-paid return label from the website, and my replacement arrived before I had even mailed the damaged copy.
- Barnes & Noble: You can't process returns on their website. I had to begin by calling 1-800-THE-BOOK. They mailed me a postage-paid return label for the damaged book, and they refused to ship a replacement until I had first sent back the damaged copy.
But it gets worse. The operator explained that they couldn't automatically ship the replacement. They had to issue a refund onto a new gift card and mail that to me. If I wanted a replacement, I would have to return to the website and order the book all over again.
Note: Refusing Delivery—Several people have commented below that Barnes & Noble has refused to cancel their orders, and they have been stuck paying for items they no longer want or return-shipping charges. You should be aware that you always have the option to refuse delivery of unopened packages, whether from the postal service or UPS/FedEx. Just because Barnes & Noble ships something to you doesn't mean you need to pay for it, or that you need to pay to return it: Refuse delivery, and the package will be returned to its sender (Barnes & Noble) with no questions asked. And your payment will be refunded in full.
January 2012: I've been reworking my website this month, and something occurred to me. This six-year-old page gets a lot of hits. It's the top result on Google for the phrase "Barnes & Noble sucks," and apparently people type that phrase often. But nobody from Barnes & Noble has ever contacted me about it. No apology or clarification. No promise that they would reconsider their return policy and ask me to update this page accordingly. This is the #1-ranked criticism of Barnes & Noble on the Internet, and I've never heard a word from the company. That's pretty bad customer awareness.