A couple of weeks ago, I decided to go shopping from the comfort of my bedroom in search of a new read. After subjecting my wife to some harrumphing over the price of new e-books, I came upon a $2.99 deal for "Love Me, Hate Me," a book by Jeff Pearlman about Barry Bonds. I confirmed the download with the press of a button and when I went to check my bookshelf, there it was, as usual. Except, it had been joined by another book I had never heard of, had never seen and never ordered called "Dancers Among Us: A Celebration of Every Day."
And, as it turns out, a book for which I was charged $10.19.
Steve goes on to write about the steps he took in getting a refund. First he checks the website (which for the record would be the last step for getting a refund for a Kindle ebook), and rather than provide useful info, it says this:
Is there a refund for books, periodicals or apps? If I accidentally purchased the wrong book, can I return it?Please contact customer service at 1-800-THE-BOOK (1-800-843-2665).
Note that it does not say refunds are impossible, which might have been helpful and not a completely unreasonable policy.
He calls the number, but that seemed to be pass-the-buck day at Barnes & Noble. No one could figure out how to do the refund, nor could they explain why they couldn't do it or why he didn't deserve it. Steve then tried to get the attention of the Nook folks on Twitter, but they were equally unhelpful. The only info he got out of the Twitter folks was a broken link to an FAQ page which didn't exist, followed by this brush off:
We have answered your email regarding your individual account and as previously stated we are unable to issue a refund. We will pass along your feedback to the proper department regarding.
Now, Steve's issue was resolved after he had posted his complaint to his blog, and similarly Rich only got a positive outcome after he posted his complaint back in May. Sadly, that tells me that not much has changed in the past 7 months.
In both these situations, B&N's customer service reps were either inept or incapable of taking care of a reasonable request from a customer. Both situations were only resolved after B&N was publicly criticized and an upper-level manager intervened.
So one must first publicly shame B&N in order to get B&N to match the quality of service which Amazon will offer automatically by email.
Perhaps that would explain the low rating which B&N has on ConsumerAffairs.com. There are 147 complaints against B&N on that site, with the vast majority giving the company a single star. And since reviewers cannot give a no-star rating, the average of 1.3 stars is actually the next best thing to zero.
Why is the online and phone service so bad? I happen to know a number of B&N store-level people, and they seem to be uniformly competent. It's just the online service which is bad, and that's a serious issue for those of us who do not live near a store.
And as B&N expands beyond the US, the issue is only going to get more serious. If I cannot spare the time to drive to a B&N store, what chance would someone in the UK have of getting face-to-face help, or in Germany, or in Russia?
If B&N can't fix this then they won't ever be able to catch up to Amazon. And that would be a shame, because if Google Trends are any indication, B&N has the best shot:
The above chart shows product searches on Google, worldwide, with the red line representing Kindle searches. The blue line is Nook searches, and as you can see far more people are searching for the word Nook than for Kobo (yellow line, and close to zero).
Kobo already has a solid presence in a lot of markets, but B&N is still getting more attention from people who want to become customers. Right now all that is stopping them, besides B&N not selling in their market, is B&N's crappy customer service.