Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Barnes & Noble Is Pissing Me Right Off!

I'll admit it.  I was feeling mighty smug last week while the internet was staging a meltdown over the Amazon/Macmillan upheaval.  Yeah, I was all like, "I've got a Nook™. I can download my ebooks from lots of different places. I don't have to worry about the stuff those poor Shnooks™ with Kindles™ have to worry about!"

As of last night, I'm feeling a little less smug. Less smug, as in, "I've gotten along just fine with books printed on paper for almost 50 years and maybe it's time to send B&N back their Nook™ and get along a bit longer without this here eeelectronic reader". (An apology up front: The first part of this screed is mostly an introduction...I promise, the real reason I'm bothering becomes clear if you'll stick with me long enough.)

Physically, I like my Nook™.  I'm getting more comfortable with the navigation.  I like the various ways I can have the pages displayed with a variety of fonts and sizes.  I especially like the fact that I can finish a book and decide that I want to start reading the next book in the series right this damned minute.  No need to rush out to a book store that's probably closed or out of stock and certainly wouldn't appreciate it if I showed up in my underwear at 10:30 p.m. jonesing for my fix of printed sequel.

But, see...there's a little hidden cost in getting ebooks from Barnes & Noble.  Last week, I looked at my online bank statement and discovered that each time I downloaded an ebook, I had one charge for the price of the book and a separate charge of $1.00, seemingly for the same book.  I called B&N's customer service line and spent 3-4 minutes navigating my way through the voice prompts.  When I got a CSR on the line, she looked at my account and assured me I'd only been charged the price of the book and that I might want to contact my bank and see if the shenanigans were originating with them.

I thanked her and called my bank.  Citibank explained that it actually did originate with B&N.  What was happening was this: when I placed an order with B&N, there was an authorization hold of $1.00 placed on my card.  It's not really a charge per se, it's a hold.  In sorta, kinda simple terms...B&N doesn't get the $1.00...Citibank doesn't take the $1.00...it's still there in the account but I just can't use it.  The "hold" is automatically released in 3-5 business days.

By way of full disclosure, I'll acknowledge that the card I have linked my B&N account is a debit card, not a credit card.  Call me crazy, but I like spending money I actually have for stuff like books.  I like that I make the purchase and my bank hands the money over to the vendor and I just don't have it any more.  Nice and simple...no need to think about it ever again.  And I'll acknowledge that certain vendors treat debit cards differently than they treat credit cards and I suppose that's understandable, but c'mon...this crap happens instantaneously.  I press the button; my money leaves my account; B&N gets my money.  Seems like everyone ought to be happy right there, that minute.  (Another little thing about buying ebooks from B&N is that unlike buying a printed book, you click a button that says "buy now", not one that says "add to cart".  You don't get a chance to look over all of what you're buying and then ultimately confirm that you're buying what you want to buy...you've just bought it.  I can live with this one; it just means adjusting my mindset when I'm shopping.)

Allow me to digress a moment more while I whine about this inconsequential $1.00.  First of all, it inserts one more little thing that I have to keep track of; I need to check back after a week and make sure the $1.00 hold actually has evaporated and been returned to my account (at least as far as liquidity goes).  And secondly, let's carry this to an admittedly absurd additional possibility.  Let's say I wake up one day and I know I've got only $10.12 in my account and I'm sitting there thinking, "Hmmmmm, would I rather buy 20 packages of ramen or would I like an ebook to see me through?"  And I decide, 'cause I'm a moron, "Yeah, let's get the ebook".  So I get my Nook™ to connect up to B&N and I find the book that I just can't live without for another 38 seconds and I press the "buy now" button and...D'oh!  The way things work right now, I'll have given them $1.00 first to authorize the card and I'll only have $9.12 left in the account and I'll get rejected for the purchase because $9.12 is less than $9.59 and then, not only will I not get my ebook, I'll only be able to buy 19 packages of ramen!  (I don't actually foresee this coming up, but the possibility still annoys the crap out of me.)

Anyhoooo, back to my whiny narrative.  I called B&N back, went through the 3-4 minutes of voice prompts again and got a CSR on the line.  I started explaining from scratch what I was calling about (recounting my previous call to B&N), and she said she'd transfer me to their Billing and Accounting department 'cause they should know what's going on.  Billing and Accounting knew what I was talking about immediately and acknowledged that the $1.00 charge was a "known issue" that they we working on fixing and she apologized and assured me I wouldn't have to deal with it for too much longer.  That seemed entirely reasonable; even I can put annoyance in abeyance for a month or so.


Note to any Barnes & Noble rep who may be assigned the task of Googling the crap out of the internet to see what people are saying about you --- We've arrived at the part that makes me want you to show up at my door to pick up your Nook™ and give me back the money we paid for it!

I happened to look at my online bank statement again yesterday and I found that my most recent purchase, not only had the $1.00  authorization hold attached, there was actually a second charge of $9.59 for the same ebook...as if I was charged twice for the same ebook.  I called the B&N customer service line -- yet again-- and went through the 3-5 minutes of voice prompts -- yet again -- and listened to the recording telling me how busy the CSR's all were and listened to the worst hold music EVER for about 15 minutes, (BTW, are you guys playing that on an 8-track cassette that sat in the sun too long?), and when a CSR picked up, I was once again assured that I'd only been charged the price of the book once and that I might want to contact my bank and see if the shenanigans were originating with them.

So, I called Citibank again.  Citibank informed me that the second charge of $9.59 was an additional authorization hold and it wasn't really gone anywhere and it would be released back to my account in 3-5 business days.

So, of course, I call B&N again, (you know the drill).  When I got a CSR on the line, I asked for the Billing and Accounting folks (who seem to understand how things actually work) and she connected me to the Tech Support folks (because, uh...I don't know why she routed my call that way...but she did), and then I got some other guy on the phone.  He explained that Barnes & Noble isn't responsible for the authorization code, the publisher is the one who dictates that they make sure I have $9.59 available before taking $9.59 from me and then, in 3-5 business days, the bank will automatically allow me the use of my $9.59 again.  I asked this guy if he'd be happy if he bought...oh...$50.00 worth of ebooks and, as a consequence put an additional $50.00 in availability limbo for 3-5 days and he cheerfully said he wouldn't mind at all..."as long as I had the money in my account."

I seethed for a moment and, in my head, I silently called the guy a disingenuous moron and -- out loud -- asked to speak to his supervisor.  "Chris" eventually came on the line.  He pretty much repeated what the disingenuous moron had told me.  He couldn't tell me where, on B&N's website I'd find anything about B&N placing these authorization holds on accounts for either the $1.00 (annoying but inconsequential), or authorization holds for the full price of the purchase (unacceptable).  After repeating that B&N doesn't initiate the hold...the publisher does, he couldn't explain why I hadn't seen the same thing 6 days earlier when I had purchased an ebook by the very same author and publisher. I didn't bring it up...I should have...but I'm also curious why the "first string" CSRs, the one's you get when first calling, aren't aware of these "authorization holds".  Are B&N customers supposed to just meekly think, "Oh well...this stuff costs twice what the website says, but that's OK"?

He, of course wouldn't give me his last name or an employee ID number or the location of the office where he physically works (I got him to admit that he's in the Eastern time zone).  He told me that his superiors are "Doug" and "Dave" assuring me that if I followed up on my complaint, Corporate would be able to track back through my previous calls based on this sparse and, decidedly generic information. Then he told me that "Chris" and "Doug" and "Dave" were the only CSR's in Tech Support and that Corporate would be able to find a recording of our call based on the time and date when I made the call. (I'm kinda figuring that I had been on the phone for about 45 minutes by then, so B&N Corporate Googler, if you're there, look for the recording of a call that began at about 7:00 p.m. on February 9th, 2010.)

Needless to say, I'm not happy that every time I want to buy an ebook, I'll have to (in effect), pay for it twice and then wait 3-5 business days for a...rebate?  I know that's not what they're calling it, but it is exactly the reality of how it affects the consumer -- me.  I'm not happy that if I want to return my Nook™ and the roughly $50.00 -$60.00 worth of accessories I've purchased, B&N will charge a 10% restocking fee -- in spite of the fact that these authorization holds aren't addressed anywhere on their website or in the associated user forums. There is a discussion of the fact that if you order a Nook™ that gets placed on back order due to lack of stock, there will be a hold for the value of the Nook™ placed on your card, which will be used as payment when your Nook™ actually ships.  They don't seem to make the charge as a separate item while the hold remains in place like they do with an ebook purchase, but if they do, the website is pretty unclear on that detail too.  I'm not happy that they won't refund ebook purchases at all since they're not really on the Nook™; they're on the server on my account (a distinction without a difference if I've ever heard one).

I'm really not sure what my next step here is going to be.  I'm really pissed off that B&N has this policy, which they claim is actually the publishers' policy, (another distinction without a difference), and they don't seem to disclose it anywhere.  If there isn't anything precisely illegal about this, there's at least something distinctly unfair about the fact that a vendor has the ability to render my money unavailable without ever informing me that they're doing it. (I've seen the policy from other vendors, but I've never seen it happen without the fact being disclosed before the transaction takes place.)

I'll probably post this little screed on the B&N user forum and give them an opportunity to respond before I make up my mind what I'm going to do, if anything, but I'm honestly leaning toward returning the nook and taking the 10% hit.  In the event that I do decide to return my Nook™, I'll also stop doing business with B&N in any way whatsoever (online and brick & mortar stores).  Further note to B&N Corporate Googler, if you're here...I buy a shitload of books, most of them from B&N since you're the most convenient store to where I live. I'm estimating that I currently spend in excess of $1,500 on books in your store every year right now. I know that won't exactly cripple your quarterly earnings, but I'm sure the little Indie Bookstore that recently opened in my neighborhood would appreciate the business.

 
These books are stacked two layers deep and there are four more bookcases just like this one in the house. That's only what remains after periodic Brooklyn-style stoop sales.

P.S.  I also spent almost an hour on the phone yesterday with Motorola trying to resolve an email issue I was having with my Droid™.  When I finally got a supervisor on the phone and recounted what the previous CSR had been telling me, he admitted that the CSR was entirely wrong about how the system is supposed to work and that she'd be educated about her error...and then he fixed my problem.  I'm hopeful that my experience with B&N, so far, is a result of CSRs who, similarly...require additional education.

P.P.S.  At the end of my conversation with "Chris" said, (and I paraphrase), "Thank you for choosing Barnes & Noble".  C'mon guys.  I'll admit it's a petty point, but would it really be so difficult to give your CSRs an alternate script when they're signing off from a call and the customer's problem clearly hasn't been resolved in any way, shape or form?  Huh?  Maybe something along the lines of "I'm sorry I wasn't able to help and I hope you'll give us an opportunity to do better in the future?"  The current script that's completely divorced from reality just reinforces the idea that the CSR hasn't heard a word the customer said during the previous 45 minutes.

7 comments:

WendyB_09 said...

HEY! What are you doing with my bookcases?!?!?! You bring them back this minutes.

Actually I decided many years ago that books, like rabbits, multiply when you turn your back on them for a second.

And I wouldn't be waiting around to make a decision on the reader, it would be going back like NOW!! Reason for return? Your stupid billing policies that subsidize no-interst loans to your company at my bank account's expense!!

I'll be sticking to the real thing a while longer.

Nathan said...

Wendy,

In all fairness, something you know I hate exercising, they're not getting a no-interest loan. They don't get the money that's "on hold". It never leaves my account.

I just can't use it while it's on hold.

Eric said...

What I find most peculiar about this is that I have never had any kind of issue like this downloading books to my PDA or smartphone from eReader, which is now owned by Barnes And Noble. Granted, I haven't bought as many e-books since B&N took over (a reflection of my reading habits, not dissatisfaction with the company), but I still haven't noticed anything like this.

Now, the other difference may be that my account with eReader is currently paid through an account that I use as a credit card--my bank gives me rewards if I use my ATM card as a credit card. (Yes, yes--I know this drives up prices and causes sunspots and irritable bowel syndrome--I'm still going for the odd freebies, sue me.) Whether that makes a difference or not I can't say, no more than I can say whether this is a case where two branches of the same corporation have radically different policies for no discernible reason (it happens sometimes).

So, weird.

But good to know--if I were to get a dedicated e-reader, I'd consider the Nook before the Kindle.

Hope it gets sorted out, man.

W said...

I have a Nook and have been irritated as well by the secret 1.00 a book charge. I see now, thanks to this article et al that it is a hold, not a charge, because I chose debit over cc. Hmm. Punished for using cash? Not the first time. Gas stations have done this as well in the past.

I have been dl'ing from Manybooks, and adding them to my nook via documents folder. On the case where I need a new book - well, that is the price I pay for not using a credit card.

As previously stated, not the first time a company has slapped the wrist of cash buyers.

Lizzie's Lines said...

This is not just happening with debit cards. I have a credit card on my account and gift cards, but I only purchase ebooks with the gift cards. However, the $1.00 hold is posted to my credit card each time. When I asked a manager about this, I was told that it was only supposed to be one cent. Hmmmmmmmmm...... It doesn't seem like they are actually working on it as it is now mid 2012, and it is still going on. BTW, I spoke to an actual store manager today, who claimed they were told it was a one cent charge. Hmmmmmmmmmm.......

Mandi said...

I know this thread is kind of old, but I just started googling about Barnes and Noble double charging people for books and came across this.

I bought 8 books since October 1st and when I checked my bank account, I have been charged SIXTEEN times since October 1st. Every single book I have purchased was charged twice to my account. It's still "processing" and I don't know if only one of each will process or if both will. But the fact that I'm missing double what I actually spent is making me never want to use B&N again.

Nathan said...

I'm not sure how long it took (maybe a month or so?), but eventually, the $1.00 holds stopped showing up on my account. I hope it goes away for you.