Wildcard Wednesday: Don’t buy computers from Amazon!

Today’s Wildcard Wednesday is a cautionary tale, and one that doesn’t have an ending just yet.

About a year and a half ago, I picked out a laptop for my sister who was just entering undergraduate college. The research I put into that was pretty much verbatim what went into the Computer Buying Guide I posted a few months ago. Since she is also going for an engineering degree, a I knew a PC would serve her far better than a Mac. If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that the Dell Professional lineup are my preferred computers: easy to repair, excellent 3 year warranty, and built to last. So, as you should expect, I chose a brand new Dell Latitude E5470 with 8GB of RAM, i5 6300U Processor, and a 256GB SSD, with a 14” 1600×900 resolution display that I found sold on Amazon by a 3rd party seller for a very reasonable price. It was, quite simply, exactly what she needed.

Fast forward a week or so and the laptop arrives! So I give my sister a call, and I start stepping through the Windows setup process. Having reinstalled Windows countless times, I can pretty much work my way though the initial setup screens with my eyes shut. But something wasn’t right. When she started the computer, it didn’t send her through the initial setup. Instead, it dropped her right to a login screen. Something’s fishy here, the seller must have opened the box and gone through the setup themselves.

Strike One.

Well, let’s move on I guess. I decide that it’s easier to change privacy settings and do final setup stuff myself over TeamViewer, the remote access program I use to see friends’ and family’s screens when I’m helping. Once I connect though, the screen resolution seems … low. Like, mid-2000s low. I check display settings and, well, it wasn’t the 1600×900 resolution I was promised.

Strike Two.

Between the lack of the first-time boot setup and the laptop shipped with the wrong screen resolution, clearly something was wrong. So I decided to check the computer’s original specifications on Dell’s Warranty Checker website. I entered the computer’s Express Service Tag (Dell’s version of a serial number) and … oh boy. There was already warranty work done on the computer. And, if that wasn’t enough, the computer originally shipped with a 500GB Hard Disk Drive, not the 256GB Solid State Drive that was currently in it. This computer is not new.

Strike Three. This is unacceptable.

So I sent a strongly worded email to Amazon, demanding answers.

To Whom it May Concern,

The computer we received on Febuary 27 does not have the same specifications as the one we ordered from you on Febuary 11, nor is it a new computer as listed.
First, the computer we received has lower resolution screen (1366×768 hardware vs 1600×900 listed).
Most importantly, the SSD installed is not original to the computer. According to the Dell Warranty, this computer’s service tag shipped with a 500GB HDD while the computer you shipped has a 256GB SSD. This, in addition to the fact that the warranty period started 6 months ago and that it arrived without the Out of Box Experience (OOBE), implies that this computer is not new as was listed on the Amazon Marketplace.

While the computer did arrive with the correct CPU and amount of RAM, these other key features were not as listed.

Please let us know how you intend to resolve this matter.
Thank you.

In return, the 3rd party seller informed us that they would not ship us a replacement item. We could, however, return the item if we paid shipping. A few more strongly worded emails later, the seller finally agreed to pay the return shipping and eventually refunded the money.

The thing that really makes me mad about this is that the average consumer would never have caught this. Who thinks to check the warranty status of a new computer? It could have been an honest mistake, but the seller’s response makes me think they were willfully deceptive. Preaching aside, this took nearly a month to sort out and my sister still didn’t have a computer for school.

So, I went back on Amazon, and found a Dell E7470 with with 8GB of RAM, i5 6300U Processor, and a 256GB SSD, and a 14” screen, this time with a 1920×1080 resolution screen. The 7000 series laptop is thinner and lighter than the original 5000 series I picked out, so it seemed like a better option, for only a little more than the first laptop.

So, about a week later, the laptop arrives, and I don’t mess around. First things first, check that serial number. Warranty is still active, it started roughly 2 months ago, and the computer’s current hardware matched perfectly with what it shipped with. Looking back, the warranty starting a little early was a kinda weird, but since the warranty period starts when the laptop ships from Dell, it wasn’t unexpected. Phew.

Fast forward 18 months. It’s my sister’s dreaded Finals Week for her 3rd semester. And she gets a strange message: “Your battery no longer operates and needs to be replaced”. So naturally, she sends me a text.

Knowing that the computer is still under Dell’s excellent warranty, I tell her not to worry. Leave the computer plugged in, and we’ll call Dell Warranty Services together when I come back to town for Christmas in a few days.

When I get home, I do a quick hardware diagnostic (Read: unplugging the battery, and plugging it back into the motherboard) and, yup, definitely not working. So we call warranty claims. And someone picks up right away! Perks of the professional-level warranty! After literally just 3 minutes on the phone: “Sure thing sir, the battery is still covered under warranty,” the cheery agent told me, “I’ll get this ticket sent to warranty claims and we’ll ship you a new battery by the end of the week!” Perfect!

…Or so I thought for about 2 hours.

Then I got an email:

Dear JOSEPH,
Please be advised that our account specialist already response related to the hold on the account. They verified and checked that they cannot remove the hold on the account since they don’t have any capability to do it to the account. They advised me to inform you to contact reseller or to the department where you purchased the system.

Please let me know if there’s any assistance that is needed from our department. I’ll be more than happy to check that for you for any assistance needed.

Thank you for choosing Dell,

[Service Rep]

Oh. Flippin’. Boy. This should be fun.

Hi [Service Rep],
Thanks for the quick response. Please pardon my ignorance, but what does the “hold on the account” mean? Did the computer have a previous owner before I bought it? Was this someone else’s property that was reported missing? I purchased the computer from a reseller on Amazon on Jun 18, 2017 and have the receipt to prove it. The Amazon seller had it listed as new, but clearly that was a lie because this sort of thing doesn’t happen to new computers.
I guess more importantly, what do I need to ask the seller to do to release the hold?
Thanks for your continued help,
Joe

To which we get back:

Hi Joseph,

I apologized for this inconvenience this has caused you. For us to release the hold on the account, Yes you are right. It might be reported as missing before for this one but no enough information that I can pull-up from my end regarding that report but as per our account specialist, we will be needing to have the order number that you need to get from Amazon.

Thank you and Best Regards,
[Service Rep]

This was 2 weeks ago. After several emails and calls to a couple different people and departments, the hold still isn’t lifted. There’s nothing else Dell is able to do. The onus is now on us to contact the seller and hope that they will lift this mystical hold.

Now, in my opinion, Dell could have done better. Like, why didn’t the hold show up when I first checked the warranty for the device? I feel like that’s important information that should be clearly stated. Also, why can’t they seem to give us more information about the computer’s history itself? Simply saying there’s a “hold” and directing us to contact the original seller isn’t exactly helpful.

But the real issue here is Amazon. As I said in the email, this sort of thing doesn’t happen to a new computer. Clearly, the new condition listed on Amazon was downright false. This is the second computer in a row that was listed as new, but clearly had previous owners. And this is beyond unacceptable. How can I trust anything on the Amazon marketplace now? And now that it’s been over a year, what incentive does the seller have to make it right? This story isn’t over yet, but I’m not optimistic about the outcome.

So, from now on, I won’t be buying any laptop or expensive electronic on Amazon, and will stay far, far away from anything in the marketplace. I’ll be buying directly from the manufacturer, or a trusted retailer like Best Buy or Newegg.com instead. I’ll post an update when I hear more information, but until then, I suggest you do the same.  And if anyone has any suggestions about how to get Amazon to help, or how to lift a hold on a Dell service tag, please let me know in the comments below.

tl;dr:

  • Sister buys a new laptop from Amazon, it’s immediately apparent that it’s not what was advertised.
  • Sister buys a different, new laptop from Amazon, which looks fine and works great … for 18 months
  • Laptop’s battery needs to be replaced under warranty, but Dell can’t due to a “hold” placed on the machine’s by its previous owners. Owners she was not aware existed.
  • Joe spends what time he should be working on a blog article helping his sister navigate the fun-filled world of warranty repair, 3rd party sellers, and Amazon customer service.

1 response to "Wildcard Wednesday: Don’t buy computers from Amazon!"

  1. By: Beshoi Posted: January 16, 2019

    Wow that’s nuts….I’m really glad I read this post. I’ll definitely buy expensive electronics directly from the manufacturer from now on, even if it costs a little extra, the peace of mind is worth it in these situations.

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