Surrounded by Morons

I really must be surrounded by morons, at least in the retail world: Let me give you two examples just from the last two weeks.


On March 09, 2007, I placed an order with for Creative Headphone HN-700 EF noise-cancelling headphones. My PC headphones at home finally gave up after over five years, so I took my office headphones home. Now I had headphones at home, but not at work, and at Duncan, especially in rooms with an open ceiling, it can get pretty noisy, so noise-cancelling headphones sounded like a good idea.

They were supposed to be $59.99, minus a $5 coupon, and then there’s a $30 mail-in rebate, so the final price was supposed to be $24.99. I found that acceptable, at least on the night I placed the order. On the next morning, I woke up more frugal and decided to cancel the order. I hit the “Cancel” button, but I was told the order could not be cancelled because it had already been “sent to the warehouse”, whatever that means. I was told I had the option of refusing the order (couldn’t do that, had to be at work) or pay return shipping myself. I decided it was better to keep the item. And I’m glad I did, because the noise-cancelling features work really well, music sounds crisper with it enabled, the headphones fold up into a really tiny travel bag, and there’s even a two-plug adapter for airplanes.

My headphones were not cancelled. But guess what did get cancelled? The $5 coupon! So the price for my headphones suddenly went up by $5. I have a receipt that states $54.99 as price before the rebate, but my credit card got charged $59.99. I have already submitted an electronic complaint to (after being on hold on the phone for 25 minutes; speaker phone only gets you so far), and if I don’t get those $5 back, I will even go as far as contacting the Better Business Bureau for the Los Angeles area (try contacting a BBB if you have a problem, they’re often very helpful). I think this is absolutely unethical: I felt doubly screwed, because I couldn’t cancel an order that hadn’t even shipped yet, but the coupon that would have made the unwanted purchase cheaper was cancelled. is so consumer-unfriendly, they don’t even have a phone number listed on their website. I had to get (877) 780-2464 from a third-party website.

At least I’m happy about the headphones; naturally, I’m not happy about having to hunt down $5, and perhaps it’s not worth it, but I believe consumers can’t let businesses get away with practices like this. LA’s BBB report shows that appears to be a good company; this is the first time I’ve had problems with them, but there are plenty of other vendors out there, so it all depends on how I get treated when I do have a problem.

I just got an email from, just barely outside the 24-hour window they promised, and I guess a strong action like involving the BBB won’t be necessary. Here’s the core content:

We would like to inform you that when you request for cancellation, the
system automatically cancels the coupon that is included in the order.
This happens although the item may have been shipped.

I absolutely don’t agree with the policy that cancels coupons. If I want to cancel an order, then all items that can be cancelled because they haven’t shipped yet should be cancelled. I also understand if coupons are cancelled because the remaining items don’t meet the coupon criteria, e.g. minimum price, anymore. But that wasn’t the case here at all. This is a bad policy, or probably a result of bad programming.

Please note that you can still use the $5 coupon on your next order. All
you have to do is send us an email containing the new order number once
the item is shipped. We will manually apply the coupon.

We thank you for your understanding.

Uh, you’re welcome, but you don’t have my understanding. Who says I’m ever going to buy from them again? And I have to write an email? Another one? And they are going to apply it manually? That’s supposed to work? People screw up, often even twice in a row, as the second example will show.

Office Chair

I have a very nice office chair in my home office (picture). I bought it during my second semester as an undergrad at Rice because my back just hurt. Rice has (or at least had at the time) horrible chair-desk combinations: The chairs are too low, particularly with my long legs, and the desks are too high; I don’t know, maybe I have long legs but an extremely short torso. The result was that I constantly had to pull my shoulders up, and that lead to considerable back strain.

I got a really good deal on the chair. I bought it at the local Office Depot, the brand was called “Furniture at Work”, and delivery was free and quick. It has extremely good lumbar support, pretty soft leather, a deep seat cushion, a high back rest, and padded armrests that are just right: They don’t extend too far, so I can have the seat all the way up (for my long legs) but still slide under the desk and get close to the keyboard. Now my chair is nearly six years old, and it’s showing a little bit of aging. Some screws and bolts that hold the chair together have mysteriously disappeared, and the bottom cushion has become a little flat (must be the result of my short torso pressing on it). So I’ve been looking for a replacement chair, and so far I haven’t found one. Once I actually went to a local Office Depot store with a measuring tape and measured all chairs. Either the seat wasn’t deep enough, the back rest not tall enough, or the armrests were cheap, not padded or extended too far.

On Monday, March 21, while I was sick, I noticed this chair on A Staples® Culley™ Caressoft® Manager’s Chair (picture; I made backup pictures in case Staples changes its website) for only $59.99, free delivery, or $64.94 with tax. Now, I had never seen this chair, so I didn’t know if it would work, so I called Staples on Monday. The representative said if I don’t like it, I can return it to a store or have it picked up within 14 days for a full refund.

So I ordered it. It was supposed to be delivered by Staples’ own special carrier on Tuesday, March 22, some time from 9 AM to 5 PM. I was still sick, so that wasn’t a major problem, but I really needed to get groceries. I was scared to leave my apartment, but I ended up making a 15-minute dash to Kroger to buy Gatorade to stay hydrated. I really doubt I missed the delivery, especially since there was no note. That night, the tracking website stated “Refused by Customer; REFUSED BY R”. Huh?

On Wednesday I called Staples again and explained my problem. The representative, Angela, couldn’t figure out what had happened either, so we decided to place a second order for the same item, for the same price, to be delivered today, on Thursday, March 22. There’d be two charges for the chairs, but I’d get a refund for the first chair once it gets back to the warehouse, if it does.

So today I spent the entire day waiting for that delivery again. I’m still sick, and I was tired from last night’s coding session, so it wasn’t a big deal either. The tracking website still doesn’t show a delivery, but surprisingly when I checked my mail at the apartment management, the chair had been delivered. No note, no anything. Directly to the apartment management, not to me, the customer. But at least I had the chair, or so I thought.

When I looked at the carton, though, it looked awfully small, and the SKU didn’t match. The chair that I had been delivered was a Situations Leather Task Chair, Black (picture) for a measly $39.99. Look at it! I can’t sit on something like that for a whole day.

I just made a third call to Staples and finally blew the whole thing off. I don’t want the chair anymore, even if I could still get the right one, which admittedly looked nice. I arranged with the third representative I talked to, Amanda, that someone would come and pick the thing up on Monday, March 26, for a full refund. She also threw in a $20 certificate for my ordeal. Thank you.

Now, the problem is that I won’t be at home on Monday (hopefully, unless I’m spitting blood again), so I can’t sit around the whole day and wait for the idiot driver. I’ve asked if the driver could pick it up at the apartment management’s office, and that’s definitely an option. Perhaps I’ll also take it to a Staples store, but without a car, that’s not so easy, because apparently the closest store is on the Beltway, 15 miles away (@I just found out that there are no Staples stores in Houston at all, so I guess I’ll have to leave it at the management office. Will things get even worse? Stay tuned after these messages…@), (@It’s even worse than I thought: I just called Staples again to reschedule the pickup to Tuesday when I can be at home, because I didn’t want to leave a $65 item under the responsibility of someone else (see will it get worse?) Now Renee explained to me that the pickup isn’t even guaranteed to happen on a specific day, but over a period of five days, and they’ll make three attempts. This is absolutely ridiculous.@). I’ll have to think about that. But I just can’t believe how wrong things can go…

I got another spam fax. I’m pissed off by now, so I filed a complaint with the FTC. It was the third time I got that spam fax. It’s also taking forever to make a backup. Somehow splitting the large backup file into 4 GB segments for my FAT32 external hard drive takes an eternity (@I decided to format my 120 GB Western Digital Passport USB hard drive to NTFS, that way I don’t have to split files larger than 4 GB. Now the Mac can’t read it anymore, but I had to do something similar with my 80 GB Gigabank USB hard drive already, it uses HFS+, which Windows can’t read. So now I have two dedicated external hard drives, but that doesn’t bother me too much@). I’m still coughing, though not as bad anymore; an end is not yet in sight, and my girlfriend is feeling sick too. I can pretty much work again, but I haven’t tried biking, and I just refuse to accept this as normal. This isn’t “health”.

On the other hand, I received my tax refund, and while PayPal refused, Chase agreed to give me a refund for a fraudulent eBay transaction from December. Now I just need to get all that money refunded.


About Mathias

Software development engineer. Principal developer of DrJava. Recent Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Computer Science at Rice University.
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