April 29, 2012 at 3:10 PM ET
Online HDTV shopping can save you time, gas and money, provided you choose the right dealer, but picking the wrong dealer can be a disaster. HD Guru investigated online HDTV complaints to uncover the awful tactics employed by bad online dealers. Before you buy a TV online, read all the fine print, in order to avoid the very real possibility of being stuck with a defective unit that a bad dealer won't take back and the manufacturer won't repair.
Before ordering from an online HDTV dealer, there are two steps you can take avoid getting scammed:
1) Make certain they’re an authorized dealer by the manufacturer of the TV you’re interested in. If the price is lower than an authorized dealer, ask yourself: How is it possible they can sell it for less than a factory-direct vendor? How are they able to have such low margins? Are their methods on the up and up? Here’s what LG advises on its website:
LG’s Authorized Online Dealers have been carefully selected based on their commitment and knowledge of our product. With LG Authorized Online Dealers, you can rest easy. Buying from an LG Authorized Online Dealer will help prevent the purchase of goods that may have been damaged, tampered with or refurbished, all of which can void your warranty. LG Authorized Online Dealers receive training in seminars, online and from LG field experts, so they can be uniquely qualified to assist you with the LG products they sell.
You can check on the brand’s website or customer service dept. to learn if the dealer you’re considering is authorized. If not, we recommend not purchasing from them.
2) Carefully review the policies, especially the rules on product returns. While a number of legitimate dealers do not accept returns for TVs, scamming dealers never do. Others may have a limited return policy, charge a restocking fee, deduct the “free” outbound freight from the refund, charge for return freight or all of the above.
We call the following “low-ball bait and switch.” The online dealer advertises a price below all competition and the state that the TV is in stock, and can ship it to you for free. You take the bait and place the order. Within a day you receive a phone call from the dealer to confirm the order. The salesman now employs high-pressure sales techniques to sell you anything he can, including but not limited to: a “3-D” HDMI cable for a 3-D TV (there is no such thing), a custom stand or wall mount, an extended warranty or our favorite, “expedited” extra-cost freight. They’ll explain the “free freight” offered will take weeks for the TV to get there, but for another $100 the set will arrive in a few days. An alternate pitch: the make and model you ordered is being discontinued or superseded by New Model X and they’ve got an “amazing” special for you.
Buy enough bait extras and you’ll get the TV you ordered. According to customer complaints, the add-ons won’t be the name-brand items promised, but cheap low-quality knock offs. Refuse the bait, and you will be waiting for the cows to come home before you’ll ever see your “hot” deal TV. Or worse, maybe when you open the box you discover it’s a repacked unit, defective, refurbished, scratched or whatever.
Abe’s of Maine
When researching this article the name Abe’s of Maine kept popping up, so we refer to them as the poster child bad online dealers.
A brief history: According New York's Better Business Bureau website, Abe’s of Maine opened its doors in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1979. It is owned by Abe Mosseri. Here is what the BBB has to say about the N.Y. operation:
On May 22, 2007, this company’s membership in the Metropolitan New York BBB was revoked by our BBB’s Board of Directors due to the company’s repeated and unauthorized use of the BBB logo and failure to eliminate the underlying cause of complaints on file concerning: non-delivery of products, misrepresentation of availability of merchandise, refusal to honor cancellations or provide timely refunds, unprofessional conduct, failure to resolve customer complaints, overcharging, undisclosed cancellation of orders, improper upselling tactics, and bait-and-switch selling.
Since moving its operation to New Jersey, Abe’s ranking leaped to an A+ rating, even though they’ve scored 127 complaints to the N.J. BBB in the past three years. (Older complaints fall off the website after the three-year time period.) Abe’s in N.J. responds and settles, but apparently only when the customer files with the BBB.
Abe’s offers all the major brand HDTVs. We checked with Samsung, LG and Sharp to see if Abe's is a factory-authorized sellers of those HDTV brands. All told us no.
Over at Yelp.com there are 185 comments. Almost all are very negative, but a few are simply glowing. How can that be? We, and others, suspect these are ringers. Here’s the link. Judge for yourself.
When “30-day returns” means “No returns”
Abe’s policy page lists a “30-day money-back guarantee” and reads:
A rock solid money back guarantee that you can bet on. We understand that there’s always a chance that you won’t be completely satisfied with a product you’ve purchased with us and we know it’s nothing personal and that is why we offer a thirty day return policy*. If you are unhappy with a product then we’ll take it back and provide you with a full refund*.
See that asterisk? Well at the bottom of the page, in small type states:
* Please read complete policy for details.
Follow the link, and you’ll find the items are exempt from its 30 day return policy. Spoiler! This list includes TVs.
The following items can only be returned if unopened: A/V Furniture, A/V Receivers, Bluetooth Accessories, Car Equipment, Computer Peripherals, Consumables, DJ Equipment, DVD players, Gaming Consoles, Headphones, Home Theater, Laptops, Microphones, Printers, Projectors, Shavers.
The following items cannot be returned: Fitness equipment, Large Appliances, Microwaves, Wine Coolers, Humidifiers, Trim kits, Security items, Special Order Merchandise, Marine and Camping Equipment, Sunglasses, Watches, Software, TV’s, Computer components, Laptops, Tablets.
Except for photographic equipment, this list appears to cover just about everything Abe’s sells! That’s right. If you buy a TV from them, you can’t return it.
Price Grabber also rates its retailers, and Abe’s gets its highest rating. However, the positive comments are non-specific short blurbs, and anyone can place an unverified, self-serving comment on Price Grabber. Here are some of the trite, positive comments:
“Easy transaction.” “Very pleasant.” “Excellent prices! Easy-to-use website and plenty of selections.”
While a negative one provides more detail:
Merchant told me item was “in stock” when I ordered it. Three days later, I was told by one agent it would take a week or more to find a shipper. Another agent told me the item was not in stock. I would not have ordered if the item was not in stock. Since, at least one agent lied to me, I no longer trusted them and cancelled my order. Trying to speak with a customer service agent was nearly impossible, as it took me 45 minutes on hold to speak to one.
While it’s understandable that unhappy customers would be more likely to write longer reviews, we find the lack of longer, positive comments highly suspect.
There are many reputable online retailers. We recommend (and affiliate with) Amazon Direct, as they have low prices and some of the best HDTV policies, including free shipping and 30 day returns. There are a number of other very fine online retailers. We’ve personally done business with J&R and OneCall and found them to be excellent, honest and reliable.
Before ordering any HDTV online, we highly recommend you carefully read all the retailers policies and beware of any restrictions, return freight rules and if there are any restocking charges before place that order.
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