Those who were watching my Twitter stream last Friday and Saturday will have followed my saga with Apple and their apparent disregard for customer service or the law when my iPad developed a fault… “Apple?” you say, “but aren’t they renowned for their fantastic customer service?”. Well, they do have a reputation but my experience suggests it’s not deserved, at least not here in the UK…
I waited a few days before writing this post as anyone who criticises Apple is laid open to a barrage of abuse. Even so, I thought it was appropriate to share – and, by “cooling off”, I’m hoping to be objective.
What’s the problem?
A few months ago, I noticed a greenish glow on a small portion of the screen on my iPad, which I purchased in July 2010. It was particularly visible on dark areas, when the brightness is turned up (e.g. when using the iPad in a dark room). So, I booked an appointment at the Genius Bar in the Milton Keynes Apple Store to see what could be done to repair/replace the defective screen. I arrived on time and, whilst it was certainly busy, there were lots of blue t-shirts doing what, to a bystander, appeared to be very little. I’m sure they all had their own jobs but, after waiting 20 minutes past my appointment, I was seen, not by one of the staff who were at the Genius Bar, but by the guy who had been performing some kind of co-ordination role on the shop floor until that point. He took my iPad away, then came back to say that it was over a year old and so out of warranty – repair wasn’t an option and a refurbished replacement would cost £199. I was given the option of speaking to a Manager and I did, but he was equally unhelpful – and apparently unwilling to move an inch, even when I pointed out that the UK’s Sale of Goods Act gives me some rights here…
More support required
I went home and found a statement on the Apple website about Apple Products and EU Statutory Warranty, which directed me to call AppleCare. I opened a support case and, the next morning, I spoke to an Apple representative who listened, logged the call details, but ultimately advised me to contact the point of purchase (the Apple Store in Solihull). Solihull is an hour’s drive away so I called the store, who said I could visit any Apple Retail location and I headed to Milton Keynes, where I had made a Genius Bar appointment in anticipation.
Five minutes before my appointment AppleCare called and said they had spoken to store and could handle a “consumer law” complaint on my behalf, and that I didn’t need to go to store. Ten minutes after that they called again and said they couldn’t after all and 15 minutes later they said EU Consumer Law doesn’t apply in the UK (it doesn’t – but the UK Sale of Goods Act does!) and that I should contact the local Trading Standards department. By then I was at the store again, where I spent the next couple of hours (including almost an hour waiting to be seen as AppleCare’s previous advice meant I’d missed my Genius Bar appointment and I was on standby), eventually being convinced to part with money to replace my iPad (more on that in a moment).
So how is this Apple’s problem?
Those in the US and elsewhere may well be thinking, “so you wanted Apple to repair or replace a product that was out of warranty – are you for real?” but in Europe, consumer law is on our side.
The UK hasn’t adopted this EU regulation because our own laws provide even better cover – The Sale of Goods Act gives consumers up to six years to pursue claims. Although UK law does not specify how long a product should last (all products and manufacturers are different), a product is considered faulty if it stops working properly in less time than a reasonable person would expect the product to last. A screen defect within two years does not sound like something that Apple (or any reasonable person) would expect, and so I believe that Apple should have offered me a free repair or replacement with the same or similar product at no cost.
Instead, Apple tried to pass the buck. Initially I was batted back and forth between AppleCare (Apple’s support channel) and Apple Retail (who sold me the iPad). At one point I was advised to contact the actual store where my iPad was purchased (not my local store). Finally, Apple Retail attempted to pass me on to my local Trading Standards department and when I said that the problem was between Apple and myself, not with Milton Keynes Council (the Trading Standards authority in this case), the store manager started talking about me pursuing action in the small claims court, in a “David and Goliath” fashion, playing the part of “the small man” against the big company (and yes, those are quotes!). The arrogance of Apple’s retail management and of the company as a whole, which seems to put itself above the law is, frankly, astounding.
Eventually, one of the Managers in the Apple Store in Milton Keynes offered me a replacement iPad but it cost me £69 – a discount from the £199 originally quoted to the price that I would have paid for AppleCare, if I had taken it at the time of purchase. I didn’t take AppleCare because consumer law covers me against product defects, my home insurance covers me against accidental damage, and the Internet covers me against technical support. In short, I shouldn’t need to buy an extended warranty (AppleCare), and I’m still unhappy at having paid for something that should have been free of charge, if only Apple was prepared to accept the rule of law.
To use the words my friend Alex (@AlexColes):
“Apple set themselves up as the tech company that is way ahead of everyone else in the industry, but their after sales service is worse than mediocre. I used to be a fanboy.”
I think that just about sums it up!
I’m still tempted to contact the Trading Standards department at Milton Keynes Council – and maybe I will sue Apple for costs but, to be honest, my time is worth more than the £69 I paid for the replacement iPad and I’ve already spent several hours speaking to AppleCare, travelling back and forth to my local Apple Store, or hanging around waiting to be seen. Do I really need that hassle? No, I don’t, but there is a principle at stake here – the world’s largest company appears to be ignoring the rule of law – so maybe I should take this further. If I do, I’m sure you’ll read about it here…