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December 27, 2012, Bedford, NY
By Jonathan Winter
One of my 2013 New Years resolutions is to get back in shape. I’m not particularly heavy, but I’d love “explosive energy” and “abs of steel.” I will, however, settle for “engaged and focused most of the day” and a core that is “something better than the average American”. Unfortunately, there are no fitness clubs close to my home, so if I want to work out, I need to purchase home fitness equipment. I have dumbbells, but to increase my energy I know that I need cardiovascular equipment.
For several months, I’ve been planning to purchase a treadmill at an after Christmas sale at one of the fitness equipment stores within 20 miles of my home (there are five). I researched the different models and options in Consumer Reports (a very worth while publication), tracked prices at several different fitness stores and determined that the model that was best for me was the ProForm Pro 2500 Treadmill – rated “Best Buy” by Consumer Reports (their highest rating – even higher than “Recommended”). The treadmill is not cheap, but with proper discounts and an added 15 percent for applying for a store card (one that I will never use), I was able to reduce the purchase price substantially.
Outside of the quality requirements, which were addressed by Consumer Reports, and the price requirements, which were addressed by 101MoneyTalk.com – style shopping (see our Article, Timing Your Purchases, Off Season Buying will Save You a Ton), I had had three more.
1) I needed the treadmill right away – I want to get in shape now, not six weeks from now;
2) I needed it delivered and set up by the company – I’m not handy; and
3) I need a store that will deal with my warrantee enforcement – if I have a problem I want the store to deal the manufacturer, not me. The reason for this is simple: I did not buy the treadmill from the manufacturer, I bought it from the store. The store has much more sway with the manufacturer than me, since presumably they purchase hundreds of the manufacturer’s treadmills a year.
Early on I asked each of the stores to explain their procedure for warrantee work. Two dealt with the manufacturer on behalf of their customers, two did not and one said it is case by case. The last one was cut from the list immediately – no ambiguity, either they do or they don’t; this was followed quickly by the two that gave their customers the toll free number of the manufacturer. This left the target two.
On the December 26th, I called both and asked about price information and like magic, they were both 25 percent off the price quoted just 48 hours earlier. One however extended the “labor” portion of the warrantee (usually the most valuable, and expensive, of a warrantee’s “parts and labor” coverage), by an extra year. Bingo. Almost done. I could just envision my heart pounding as I run like a gazelle for hours on my new Proform Pro 2000.
Not so fast Mr. Winter
The treadmill arrived later that day (WOW) and the workers began to set it up. First, they carried the (very heavy) base up the stairs; then they went up with the bars and then the control panel. They arranged the pieces in the designated workout area to begin assembly. Midway through their work, I sensed there was a problem . . .
One of the workers was on his cell phone talking to H.Q., the other was examining the inside of the machine intensely with a flashlight. “Here it comes,” I thought… “Sir” one of the installers called to me, “we have a small problem. Nothing to worry about but we’re missing a connector to join the panel and the base, so we will not be able to get your treadmill up and running today.” My heart dropped through the floor, no new land speed records, no running like the wind, no Chariots of Fire playing in the background. “How long?” I muttered. “I don’t know. It depends on when we can get the part.” He said.
I asked them to hold on as I called my salesperson. I got a hold of her and explained the problem, and although she was nice enough she clearly did not want to deal with me. The sale was already complete in here mind, and she was “working with someone else.” She said that she had to call me back in 10-15 minutes when she finished with the customer.
Here comes the cold water
Human Psychology 101, when your brand new treadmill is sitting in your home, you desperately do not want to do what I had to do next . . . “take it back,” I said. “What?” the installer said. “It’s just a part. We’ll have it within a week or so.” “Take it back and issue me a refund.” “Ooookay.” They grudgingly carried all of the components back down the stairs and loaded them back on the truck, then drove away.
You’ve got to be thinking, “Winter, why did you do this, it’s just a part, it will be there shortly?!?” Not really. Here’s the point to the entire story:
Contract law basics: A transaction is not complete until money has changed hands and the customer has received his/her product.
Commissions are not paid to salespeople and revenue is not recorded on the books of companies until the product is delivered, and accepted. Up until accepted delivery, both the salesperson and the company operations folks are highly motivated to make things right; however, the minute I accept the treadmill – even one that is still missing a connector, I am now beholden to future parts delivery schedules, perhaps another undiagnosed problem leading to “other” needed parts, etc. If the connector does not come in for three months, if it comes in and it’s the wrong part, if it sill does not work, it becomes my problem if I say okay at this moment.
Guess who called me back (an hour and a half later)?!? “Oh, Mr. Winter,” the salesperson said, “I’m not sure why they told you they didn’t have the part in stock, they do and can deliver it in three days on the December 29th.” “Tomorrow. You can deliver a fully working unit tomorrow or give me a full refund, but tomorrow is the day either way.” “Harsh Jonathan,” my friend Jeff told me as I told him the story, “what is three days?”
As it turns out, it’s a lot. Three days from now, the salesperson will have made a few more sales, the company will have had many more returns (remember the time of year) and the attention to this issue will have faded into the background. By forcing the issue now I have much more of their attention – if they are willing to accept my terms. By the way, if not, I could always source my ProForm Pro 2500 from the other store tomorrow.
What happened next?
An hour later I got a call from the delivery company saying they will be at my house in the morning with a brand new unit – including the connector. The unit was delivered 20 minutes ago and works perfectly.
Remember this, because of contract law even after you pay for the product the balance of power is usually in your favor until you take possession, then it shifts to the seller. If something is not right with your product you usually have the right to send it back (and ask for a full refund) even if you have already paid for it. Retailers often know that you are emotionally committed when buying a product (or you would not have bought the product in the first place) and know you will likely still say yes even if things are not quite right. In many cases, knowing your rights when this happens will greatly affect the outcome of the transaction.
I’m going for a jog…
Until next time,