Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Consumers Unite! A Rant.

Warning: long post.

Hong Kong is not a consumer friendly society.  It has taken me a while to fully realize this, even though it has been staring me in the face pretty much as soon as I got here.  At first, I figured, we are in a different country, there are different norms, I should be more accepting of different cultures and suck it up and treat it as part of the adventure of being an expat.  And so we have and so it is and so it went and so it goes.

We put up and dealt with Michael's defective electric shaver, my inadequate mattress pad, my other inadequate mattress pad, the really bad coffee machine, the continuously breaking laptop to TV cables, the terrible headphones, etc., the list goes on.   (It would also be one thing if this stuff were cheap, but it's not.  The greatest irony in Hong Kong is that everything you buy is made in China, but you pay way more than what you'd ever pay in the U.S.  Why is that, Hong Kong??)


It really hit me when I recently emailed customer service regarding a defective item from Gilt purchased over a month ago and, after one follow up email, they promptly and courteously refunded me my money.  Even though the item was clearly deemed non-refundable at the time of purchase.  Oh, my American friends, I know what you're thinking - this is not such a big deal.

BUT IT IS.  To me, a year and a half out in Asia now, this is a HUGE deal.  It's unheard of in Asia.  The best that you can get out here is an exchange, and within a very limited time frame (like 7 days) with the original receipt, and the item has to be in its original packaging.  By the way, I have never understood that reasoning.  How would I be able to tell if something is defective / incompatible if I can't remove it from its (plastic-encased-shrink-wrapped-impossible-to-open-without-making-a-mess) packaging?

Then my coworker told me a few days ago that he purchased a stylus for his iPad at an electronics store here.  They told him it was compatible even though it was a Samsung stylus.  He asked to try it in the store.  They said no, because then it would ruin the packaging.  So he bought it.  And immediately unpacked it in the store to try it on his iPad.  And it didn't work.  And they refused to take it back because it was opened (the packaging - it's all about the packaging).  How does the story end?  With a screaming match and police?  Well... maybe if I had been the one purchasing.  I think he just decided to call it quits and left with higher blood pressure and lighter $30.


Then yesterday we called up Rosetta Stone to cancel the online program, and also to ask them to reimburse us for the previous two months where they charged us even though we thought we had cancelled the program.  Before the words were even completely out of my mouth, the salesperson cheerily promised, "We will process that refund for you right away, to your original method of purchase."  Ahhhh, what a relief it is to deal with American companies.

I think it's time we just put it out there.  I really miss consumer protection.  I miss "the customer is always right."  I miss incredible bottom of the barrel sales on really good merchandise.  I miss coupons.  I miss having multiple brands to choose from when it comes to household appliances.  I miss big stores like Target, Bed Bath, Home Depot, Kmart, Container Store...where you can always find what you want and you can always, always return.  

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