Monday, December 17, 2007

There's a lot hidden in that etc.

This is not a "gotcha" story. It's a "be aware and be careful" story.

In the spring of 2004, we purchased a refrigerator from Best Buy. It's a great fridge, with the freezer on the bottom, well-engineered with a shelf on which to place things while loading or unloading. Since it was installed, we had not a whit of trouble from it -- until yesterday. (Dec. 16, 2007)

We noticed the plastic on one of the shelves had cracked. The shelf was no longer usable.

We also remembered we had purchased a five-year extended warranty from Best Buy. It cost us a hundred dollars but we figured the peace of mind was worth it.

Now comes the miracle: We were able to find the warranty and sales slip - all the stuff you carefully put away and eventually forget where it was that you carefully put that stuff.

Armed with the warranty booklet and the sales slip, I called the number the warranty booklet instructed one to call if one had a warranty claim.

In a remarkably short period of time (not quite as fast as Apple service, but pretty quick), a voice came on the phone, directed me to a representative, who was quickly able to tell who I was and that I had a valid warranty. I'll not identify her because she is the only actor in this story who was not authorized to speak for the company to the press.

I told her about the shelf. She told me it wasn't covered by the warranty. I asked why. She said the warranty had general exclusions and my shelf was one of them. Her computer told her so.

I quickly read the General Exclusions part of the warranty. She was very patient while I did so. I then told her that I couldn't see any language about shelves. It had the usual language about not covering intentional or accidental physical damage (remember that one: it'll be back later), spilled liquids (in a refrigerator), insect infestation, misuse, abuse and damage caused by a non-company repair person who messed up the repair.

Now we get to the good part. "Also not covered are replacement costs for lost or consumable parts (knobs, remotes, batteries, bags, belts, etc.), cosmetic damage" and more language about unauthorized and messed up repairs. I said I didn't see anything about shelves.

She said: "It must be covered by the et cetera."

When I stopped laughing, I asked her if she were kidding. Not at all, she said. It's excluded by the et cetera.
If I wanted, she would be happy to connect me to the parts-ordering department so I could order (and pay for) a shelf. I finally figured out that I was getting nowhere with the wonderfully pleasant but unmoving person. She sent my call to the parts-ordering people who were more than glad to sell me a shelf which, with shipping, handling and local tax, was a few cents shy of $85.

The more I thought about this, the more it didn't make sense.

So, like any newsman, I called the company's public relations department.

Justin Barber, a spokesman for Best Buy, told me that the warranty booklet "clearly states what is covered and what is not." I asked whether an et cetera clearly states anything. The booklet "clearly states what is covered and what is not," he repeated. He said he could not comment further, repeated the "clearly states" phrase four or five times with increasing frustration and offered to transfer me to a executive resolutions specialist. I finally allowed him to do so.

The et cetera certainly covers the situation, said Drew Schreiber, the executive resolutions specialist. If it didn't, though, the warranty exclusions against physical damage and cosmetic damage would cover it.

The warranty is there to cover the refrigerator's main goal, which is to keep food cold. If something happens that would prevent the refrigerator from keeping food cold, it would be covered, as long as it didn't also trigger the other exclusionary clauses, Schreiber explained.

There you have it. I'm not accusing Best Buy of any dirty dealing. I had a problem with a television I purchased from them and the warranty covered it.

All I'm saying is when you consider whether to purchase an extended warranty, be sure you understand what you are buying.

And hope your problem isn't excluded by the et cetera.

Until next time...

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