Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Play.com - but don't try and email us

Beatles mania
It is sad to already have another example of companies making the lives of their customers more difficult. This time it is Play.com, the online shopping site (that began as just a games and DVD shop).

I have only recently got an Xbox 360. As someone who is concerned about the environment I was annoyed to find that the default controllers are not rechargeable unless you spend another £15 on a rechargeable battery pack. So the default is wasteful and environmentally harmful batteries - shame on you, Microsoft. I got round this by using only wired controllers, and getting one of the rechargeable battery packs for the one wireless controller.



I had the game Beatles Rock Band, and wanted a guitar controller, so I ordered a 'Rock Band: The Beatles - Rickenbacker 325 Guitar Controller' from Play.com for £39.99. My plan was to use that rechargeable battery pack for this guitar too. I looked around online, but neither the Play site nor other sites said there would be a problem with using the rechargeable battery pack with this guitar.

However it arrived just now, and guess what? It only uses normal batteries, and is incompatible with Xbox 360 rechargeable battery packs. I think it is ridiculous that an Xbox 360 peripheral is not compatible with a basic piece of Xbox 360 kit like a battery pack. As such this guitar is now useless to me. I wish I had gone for the X-Plorer Wired Guitar Controller (my nephew got one from Amazon for £26.99 recently). No battery waste, no recharge issues, good long cable, responsive and reliable = no problems.

So the next step would be to arrange a return of this unused piece of kit with Play.com. At this point the inevitable clash with Crappy Customer Service began. I followed the returns process on their site, but when it came to the step of selecting the item to return, I couldn't - as the screenshot below shows, the guitar was still 'in process' (i.e. not sent yet according to the Play.com internal systems) - even though I had the device in my house! So the system wouldn't let me return it.


NB Still in processing, therefore no red button to return it.

"Help - I need somebody!"
At this point it was necessary to contact someone at Play.com. All their help buttons lead to this page. It has 97 links on. Guess what? Not one of them is a 'contact us' link, or includes an email address for support. Again, this is a company making it as difficult as possible to email someone to resolve an issue.

I decided that I had to resort to reporting this as a technical fault - on their form for this I typed: "There is no 'contact us' link anywhere on the site. I want to contact someone." But even that didn't work - see screenshots below!


The 'technical support' form.


The result fo filling it in. If only companies would just provide a reliable email address, rather than relying on buggy forms. In the last year I have encountered at least 15 online forms that failed to work. Also online forms don't automatically give the sender a copy of what they said, unlike email. "Hey, companies - please let your customers use an email address!" It isn't rocket science.


"Do You Want to Know a Secret?"
A lot of this problem stems from the fact that the descriptions of products on sites like Play.com, Amazon etc are so poor. Do you want to know the extent of the description of this guitar on Play.com? It is:

"John Lennon's signature Rickenbacker 325 wireless guitar controller for use with 'Rock Band: The Beatles'. Compatible with all Rock Band titles."

Nowhere does it say it requires batteries or doesn't work with the normal Xbox 360 pack. In fact, even though all the technical specs are available online elsewhere, they have not bothered to include them here.

This is a common problem - not telling the potential purchaser the information they need (or providing an easy way for them to find that information, e.g. an email address to send queries to). So with PC games on Play.com and elsewhere you don't what the required specs are and if the game requires an internet activation (for many people that is a vital piece of information, since they avoid those games). Exhibit A: Play.com sells a double pack with Bioshock in. Nowhere does it say that you have to 'activate' Bioshock, i.e. you can't play it without an Internet connection and having to deal with 'licences'. In fact, the only information Play.com gives is what amounts to a big 'fuck off':


"Note: We are unable to provide technical support for any PC software we supply. Please ensure that the game will run on your computer before ordering as we cannot be responsible for incompatibilities with your system"

Erm, how can you ensure the game will run on your system when the person selling it won't give you any information?

So basically customers often have no way of knowing from the seller whether they can buy something or not. NB The publisher site often lacks that info too, relying instead on Flash animations just to try and tempt you to buy it. And sometimes I have contacted publishers and not even had a reply to my query about DRM. Bethesda was a recent example when I asked about Oblivion.

We have gone back to the days where you have to go into a physical shop so you can look at the game box. Though even then shitty publishers that use online activation to penalize legitimate customers usually have a bit on the box saying you 'have to agree to the enclosed terms and conditions' - but you can only find out what they are after you buy and attempt to install the game! At which point it is too late to return the PC game to the shop... This is a patently stupid and unfair situation. We once reported it to Trading Standards, but they did nothing, saying it was just 'standard practice'. So much for protecting consumers.

Sites like Play.com should give the information consumers need to make informed decisions, and provide a simple means of asking further questions. Then they would make people's lives easier, sell more, and have fewer returns and dissatisfied customers.

"All Together Now"
Well, I decided to write a review of the guitar, to add the kind of information prospective purchasers should know about. The first barrier was that Play.com reviews don't let you use a pounds sign - duh! Almost 2010 and they can't use a basic ASCII character set?

However I got a shock when I checked the review after submitting it - the item now had 3 stars, but I had given it 1 star.

Play.com had changed the rating. Does their system automatically increase ratings in poor reviews, making it look like products are better than they are, dishonestly trying to increase sales? How else can you explain this?


NB 3 stars, 'average' - but I only gave 1 star.

Will they include my review anyway? It doesn't break any of their guidelines. We'll see.

I have contacted Play.com about these annoyances, we'll see what comes of it. For now I'll hold back and give them just 1 crap, but I am bordering on 2.

Update 30 December 09: Posted the guitar back - at a cost of £12.50! Yet more waste that could have been prevented if sites like Play.com allowed you to ask them questions about the products they sell, or simply gave more information in the first place.


Play.com's current score:

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