Dec 02

So my mum wants to buy one of my brothers a laptop for his Christmas. Being the geeky one in the family, I’m the person that parents, aunts, cousins etc come to with computer enquiries* ranging from “This isn’t working!” to “What’s my WiFi password?” to “This thing is running slowly…fix it!” with all sorts of things in between. In this case, it was “Can you find me a good laptop at a reasonable price?”. I didn’t mind helping out, so I started to look around for a decent deal. The requirements were simple – a general laptop for basic use, nothing too fancy that needs to play games or anything like that, as the boy in question has a games console for that kind of thing. Fair enough, says I, getting to work.

As it turns out, it was the wife who found a laptop that fitted the bill nicely. It was in John Lewis, looked good, decent spec, and came to a price that suited my mum. Cracking, I thought. Done and dusted. Except that when Saturday rolled around and I went up to mum’s to show her the thing, it was out of stock on John Lewis’ website. Undeterred, we had a quick look at Amazon.co.uk. Out of stock there too. Now starting to feel a bit foolish, I checked Play.com and with no small amount of relief, saw something very much like the following:

When they say this...

In stock. Two words that don’t often raise a smile, but let me tell you, they did on Saturday. Without any further hesitation we put in the order and boom, that’s Christmas sorted for one boy. Except that it wasn’t. I mean, come on, you’re not stupid. You’re sitting here reading something called “Screw you, Play.com” so it doesn’t take the biggest feat of logical deduction to come to the conclusion that something is about to go wrong.

Monday rolls around, and I notice that the cost of the laptop hasn’t come off my bank balance. I phone Play.com’s customer service, and this is where several things happen:

  1. I almost make myself late for an important meeting.
  2. I get a headache. Seriously, I really did. One of those “pounding behind one eye” kind, the sort that makes you really nauseous.
  3. I come to realise that I am not getting this laptop.
  4. I find out how many times someone on the other end of the phone can repeat the same line to different questions.
  5. I consider going onto Google Maps to see how long it would take me to get to Play.com headquarters and swing for someone.

It turns out that between my clicking “Buy” on Saturday and the order going through, they ran out of stock. Or had run out of stock already, they weren’t too clear on that. Turns out that Play.com’s massive website, on which the entire company is based, isn’t updated on weekends but rather is updated on Mondays. The laptops were dished out on a first come, first served basis and despite my having ordered it in good faith with the whole “In stock” thing, what I could actually do was either piss off and buy a different laptop, or piss off and wait for them to restock. Which takes 28 days, according to their rep. So a perhaps more accurate Play.com would probably look like this:

They mean something a little more like this.

That’s right. 28 days. Because it’s not like there’s something that happens in December that is less than 28 days away from the 30th of frigging November, is there?

I’ll give the customer support rep her due credit to some extent. She did say that if she had the laptop, she would send it out to me. She does lose points for consistently refusing to let me speak to anyone else at Play.com, for talking over me several times, for not answering any questions I put to her, for saying that if our situations were reversed she wouldn’t mind waiting 28 days for them to restock that laptop and for saying something at one point only to immediately deny ever having said such a thing in the very next sentence, but I will give her a little credit for being sympathetic. A very little credit.

So the upshot of it all is, I have to cancel the order and then find another laptop that fits the bill. Which I did, but what annoys me – beyond the crappy website that apparently operates on a two-day delay compared to the warehouse – is the fact that at no point did anyone at Play.com think it would be a good idea to contact me and say “See that laptop you ordered? Sorry old chum, it’s out of stock and you might want to think about ordering up another one.” No, they were content just to leave it as it was. The order page on their site didn’t even tell me the damn thing was out of stock, it just kept saying “order taken”.

December is a busy month and most of us have money coming out of our accounts left, right and centre as we buy presents. It’s not impossible that someone could have ordered that laptop and never got around to chasing it up until it was too late, especially as “order taken” doesn’t give the impression that it actually means “we have done piss all, and won’t until after Christmas, so I hope you’re not holding your breath for this laptop”. Not only would this have made me look a complete tit come December 25th, it would also have delivered a fairly solid kick in the knackers to a young boy’s Christmas. I’m no retail magnate but it seems fairly basic courtesy to tell someone that the thing they have ordered is out of stock. Basic courtesy, however, is not something that a company like Play.com has to indulge in at this time of year – they know that they have the consumers by the short and curlies because people need presents at this time of year, and with shops going under quicker than swimmers with lead boots on, online retailers are fast becoming the best place to go.

Anyway. Crappy experience, solution found, spleen vented and if I was ever on that Play.com rep’s Christmas card list I’m probably off it now. I’ll just wind this up by saying screw you, Play.com! Your time will come and when it does, I’m afraid that any sympathy I may have will be out of stock.

* Every family has one of these people in it. Every single one. They’re the one that usually has their job description shortened to “works with computers” by older members of the family. Oh, and if you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, my family doesn’t!” then guess what? IT’S YOU!

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