No, it’s not all that clever a title, I’ll readily admit. But sometimes it’s as simple as that. This is the story on why we, as a family, have boycotted the seemingly harmless mall store for some six or seven years now. If I have my way, we will continue to do so for as long as they exist.
In the case that you’re not familiar with the chain (and if you’ve ever stepped foot into a mall, I don’t know how you couldn’t be) they’re probably best described as an electronics store plus other stuff. Back before The Sharper Image ceased to exist reverted to a catalogue-only business, they would probably be the more expensive equivalent to Brookstone.
They sell all sorts of gadgets you never knew you needed until you saw them in the store:
“Wait a minute: It’s a toothbrush on one end and a razor on the other? I CAN HAVE BOTH IN ONE!?! I…need…one…NOW!”
The thing they do best (or as best I can remember anyway) is stocking stuffers, but year round. They have all these little trinkets, keychain flashlights, tiny screwdrivers, and pocket-sized whatevers. Again — all things you never knew you needed (never knew existed, in fact) until you walked into their store. Who knows how many of those little do-dads I purchased over the years. Many to be sure, right up until the moment that I actually bought something a little more significant.
It was Mother’s Day 2006, I believe, but a Mother’s Day back when we had just one kid. As people with young children undoubtedly recognize you tend to take a lot of pictures and put them all in frames and scatter them about the house. There a came a point where I thought it might be a good idea to get something that would help tidy this habit up a bit.
The technology was kind of new and Amy always enjoyed being a “first adopter” so I thought one of those digital pictures frames would be perfect. We were lower on money so I got only the, I think, six inch screen. Despite its petite size, it still came in at over one hundred dollars. I had prior bought Amy, on the occasion of her first Mother’s Day as a mother, an actual engraved photo album. She really liked that (on the one hand, it made her tear up, on the other she was probably kind of postpartum hormonal) so I figured the frame would be a big hit.
To this day, I still think it would have been, had it ever worked. Technically, I think may have worked as it turned on and everything. Unfortunately, it was missing one vital cord. This was the cord that connected it to a computer so you could actually load photos onto it. After all, a picture frame without pictures is a less than dynamic gift.
Given that the gift moved from homerun to groundout as quickly as it took to discover this missing bit, I immediately returned to a Brookstone to try and acquire the necessary cable. It wasn’t, truth be told, the same one but I didn’t think one little cable would be that big a deal given that I brought the whole frame, box and everything.
It should be noted that this frame was a Brookstone exclusive. It wasn’t as though it was something I could have purchased at any other store. It said “Brookstone” right on it. I suppose it is worthy of note, as well, that I had lost the receipt. I honestly didn’t think this would be an issue. I was wrong on that.
So into the first store I went. The first question, interestingly enough, was whether or not I had purchased this frame at an outlet. I hadn’t. Apparently, once it gets to the Brookstone outlets, the rest of the company washes their collective hands of it. The next question was whether or not I bought it at that particular location. The answer was again no and, without a receipt, I was told I would have to return to the original location. I tried to explain that I wanted was this one cable, but they would hear nothing of it. The woman behind the counter was as pleasant as one could be while simultaneously telling me to scram.
So, a day or two later, when I had the chance, I made a trip to the original store. I again brought the whole frame, in the Brookstone box, with me on the trip. I had everything but the receipt.
Again he asked if it came from an outlet. This must be part of the script. Again he asked me if I bought it at this particular shop. Yes, I said. Well, he said, he didn’t remember me.
I happily offered that I didn’t remember him either so the chance was that I had purchased this particular frame from someone else at this branch of the Brookstone Empire. He agreed this was likely.
He grudgingly decided to at least examine the frame.
It was then that he offered another piece of information that I had previously not known. It turns out this particular frame had been discontinued. The new line of frames, as it turned out, used a slightly different cable. He suggested I call the customer care number and see if they could help.
I asked if he could call that number. He said he couldn’t.
Was there anything else he could do for me? Nope. Even had I wanted to return the frame (which I didn’t at all), he would be unable to take it back without a receipt. Again worth noting: this is a Brookstone exclusive, it had their logo all over it. It would be literally impossible to have purchased this frame, still clearly new and unused, from anywhere but a Brookstone.
So, home I went, now oh-for-two.
I embarked on an epic journey through the world of 1-800-WE’RE NOT GOING TO HELP YOU that lasted, literally and without exaggeration, nearly a year.
Every call, it would seem, started with the same battery of questions regarding outlets, store locations, and receipts. It started promisingly enough, though, in that the first operator agreed to ship the cable to me.
Unfortunately, it was the wrong cable. It was the cable for the new line of frames even though I shared that I knew this was the older line and the cables were different. I sent it back. That was a process that repeated itself repeatedly (bad English, I know, but I feel the repetition appropriate.)
I waged this war on two fronts, too. Interspersed with my phone calls were e-mails to we’email@example.com. These all generated auto replies and I never, not once, got a reply from an actual person.
The final straws, such as they were, were a pair of phone calls. The first was with, by far, the most helpful of operators. Every call before seemed to run through the same process wherein they wouldn’t believe me, certainly wouldn’t listen to me, and end up sending me the wrong cable. On this one day though, I got an operator who listened. She even went on-line and found a digital copy of the instruction booklet for this model of frame with a picture of the cable, made notes in the file and sent it down to the warehouse. She was sympathetic of my journey and promised it would end there. I was, at long last, going to get the correct cable even if they had to go to the local Radio Shack and buy it themselves (not actually all that doable, but it was a nice thought.)
Two weeks later, the same, wrong version of the cable showed up once again. My lovely operator had failed me despite all her effort to the otherwise. I’m sure it was the warehouse’s fault and she’s since left the company for one that actually listens to their customers.
The last call was that last straw. If the previous operator was Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, this one was the Wicked Witch. She couldn’t care less about how many times I called, how many incorrect cables I had received, or anything else I offered up. She told me this frame was too old for them to do anything about. I explained it wasn’t when I bought it and had anyone, at any point, actually listened or helped me in the last year, it wouldn’t be so old. She didn’t care. I’m sure she has been promoted up the chain at the company that doesn’t listen to their customers.
Having had enough, I said I wanted to return the frame. I was giving up. She wouldn’t take it. No receipt, you know.
“So what you’re telling me is that my choice is to have a digital frame with no pictures or have a digital frame with no pictures?”
“Without a receipt, sir, there is nothing I can do for you.”
“Do you think it will look good on a shelf?”
That was that. I gave up. I was defeated. Once I learned that Brookstone is headquartered in New Hampshire, I thought of actually driving up there and presenting myself at the office of the president of the company, but they thoughtfully left out a street address on their website. With customer service like theirs, it’s probably a good idea.
We actually still have the frame. It’s sitting on a shelf right over there, dark and unplugged. I can’t say why we’ve kept it so long other than I think it works just fine even if it has nothing on it. Seems odd to toss a $100-plus device that isn’t, technically, broken. It’s kind of heavy so it makes for a nice, if not pricey, bookend.
What has remained shocking to me these many years later is how angry I still get every time I walk by a Brookstone in the mall. We literally don’t go in the store — ever. I let Maggie and Henry stop and look at some things that were right at the front once but, as it turned out, I couldn’t handle it for long. When I walk by, I look at the current employees, busy flying their helicopters all over the place, and I don’t like them. I obviously know these people, many of them probably in middle school five or six years ago, had nothing to do with my frame issues but I can’t help myself.
I hate Brookstone more than I hate the company that bought my old one and fired me. What does that say?
I have also told everyone in my family, everyone in Amy’s family, and, really, anyone else that would listen all about my dealings with Brookstone. For the want of one lousy cable, Brookstone has lost the business of at least a handful of people and, hopefully, even more. Who knows how many people actually listen to me. Obviously the people at Brookstone didn’t.
Just this past holiday season, I was flipping through the Sunday paper inserts and found a neat little item I was surely going to buy Amy for Christmas. It was a photo scanner that you simply slide your snapshot through and it automatically turns it into a JPEG. No flat bed, no formatting after the fact – just put it in and you get a digital file of it seconds later. Between Amy’s scrapbooking and my love of keeping every photo I’ve ever taken, we would have put this sucker to good use.
It was, while thinking about this, that I saw something that sank my heart. This was a Brookstone flyer and a specifically Brookstone product. I tucked the flyer away and ended up buying her a camera instead. I will now wait for someone else to make this and buy it from them.
So, there. If you’re in customer service let this be a lesson to you. That’s why I hate Brookstone and now invite you to do the same.
(Post script: while looking for images, I found another person who is quite dissatisfied with the company. She and I should be friends.)