I don't normally moan online about things, but I think there's a cautionary tale here that's worth broadcasting.
You see something you can buy online, and you have no way of knowing whether it's a reliable purchase until you try it. In our case, the amount of money lost was small, but some people make much larger purchases, so I think it's worth making sure people are aware of the risks.
I'll go through this in some details, for two reaons. 1. Caveat emptor. 2. It makes a good case study in how not to do customer service - if you work in customer service, or if you train staff, this may help you.
This story concerns the Nintendo eShop.
If you own a Nintendo gaming device (such as a Nintendo DS, a Nintendo 3DS, or a Wii U), you'll then want to buy games to play on it. One way to do this is by buying a game that comes as a physical cartridge - it goes into the slot in the device.
Nintendo also offer their "eShop", which is an online store. You can top up your child's Nintendo account using a payment card, so that they have prepaid credit to spend on games. Or you can purchase a single title, for which they let you top up by exactly the sum required to pay for that one game.
When it works, it's great
When the eShop works, it's great. There's a wide range of titles, many for under £10, and they take up only a little space on the device. Instead of keeping lots of plastic cartridges, that you risk losing and have to take with you, your handheld device is then loaded up with a wide range of games to play.
When it doesn't work, …
… you have to contact Nintendo to sort things out.
That's where the fun begins. Their website gives an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org and a phone number of 0345 60 50 247. I used email - I always prefer email for support issues, as both parties can refer back to the history at any point.
Here's what happened
In short, a game wouldn't play. It went through the first couple of screens, then the device just froze, with a weird stripey pattern on the screen - the game had crashed. We tried deleting the game and installing it again, restarting the device, all the usual tricks - nothing would work. The device was working perfectly for every other purpose, so it seems something is wrong.
22nd Oct 7pm: Me to Nintendo. I describe the problem, and give them all the username / transaction details they'd need to find the purchase. The email concludes: "The game is not working. Please can you refund the money paid for the game."
25nd Oct 1pm: Nintendo to me: "please confirm if you are using the stock SD Card which came with your console, or if you have since upgraded to a bigger SD card?"
26th Oct 12pm: Me to Nintendo: I give them the make and model of the card, and let them know how much free space it has, both in device-speak "blocks", and in real-world megabytes when put into a card reader on a PC. "Again, please either tell us the next steps to get this working, or let us know how we can obtain a refund."
28th Oct 10am: Nintendo to me: Try another SD card. "If that fails we suggest that you book in your console for repair to diagnose any underlying fault that is causing the issues."
28th Oct 11am: Me to Nintendo: I explain that I don't have a spare SD card and don't wish to buy one just to test this, given the console plays every other title on the card. I also explain that an out-of-warranty repair would cost a minimum of £50. Even if the device had a fault, the fault doesn't affect any other game, so we wouldn't choose to spend £50+ just to get a £7 game working. So, as we've removed the game, please can we have a refund.
31st Oct 11am: Nintendo to Me: They patronisingly explain that "The Nintendo eShop can only be accessed once a user has demonstrated acknowledgement of the online user agreement", and take 3 paragraphs to explain the exact buttons pressed lest I don't remember doing so. The agreement includes the phrase "I acknowledge that I thereby lose my right to cancel."
Just a side note: That's actually about the UK's Distance Selling Regulations, whereby you normally have 7 days to cancel a purchase made from afar, but digital goods can be exempt if you get to use them immediately. That has no bearing whatever on the 2015 Consumer Right Act, which says that goods need to be fit for purpose.
They also ask exactly how I checked the SD card in a PC card reader, as this could have corrupted the data.
31st Oct 12pm: Me to Nintendo: I point out that I was aware of the online user agreement, but that this is presumably to prevent a user changing their mind, and not to cover situations where a game will not play. I also told them that I only read from the card, not wrote, and that all other games on the card continue to play as they did before. My tone is beginning to sound deliberately slightly more exasperated, as I again ask for a refund.
2nd Nov 3pm: Nintendo to Me: They advise two things: "We would advise in the case of digital software not operating as intended to delete the software then to redownload the software from the Nintendo eShop for free." "If the fault is with the console then we can offer a repair free assessment if the issue cannot be resolved via troubleshooting."
Where did they go wrong?
Nintendo made a number of mistakes in the way they handled this.
1. The time taken to respond to emails. Their 4 responses left me waiting 66 hours, 46 hours, 72 hours, and 51 hours. That is slow for a customer service email. Reputable firms I deal with reply within 2-4 hours during business hours.
Don't get me wrong. I'm very happy to wait for the right answer. I'd rather a company was working on my issue than spending time sending me pointless updates ("please be awaiting"). I'd rather wait 48 hours to get an issue resolved in one go, than have hourly emails but the whole issue takes a week.
But they still have not resolved the issue, and when each reply takes things no closer to resolution 72 hours is painfully long to wait.
2. Trying to dodge helping, rather than trying to find a way to help.
The days of "the customer is always right" are gone — and that's actually a good thing. Good, honest customers need protecting from other customers who "try it on" and ultimately makes it more expensive for a company to do business, costs that the rest of us have to pick up.
But they didn't come across as trying to do all they could to help. They came across as trying to find any reason to wriggle out of their responsibilities. Consider the reply when they asked me if I'd corrupted the SD card. That was in their second reply after I mentioned that I'd checked the free space on the card. The possibility of corrupt data wasn't the first thing that came to their mind when they read that; it looks more like someone looking through the history for some reason why it might be the customers' fault.
Similarly, to take the fact you can't change your mind, and turn that into a reason to refuse a refund for a faulty product, is perverse. That's not why that clause is in their user agreement, and they're hiding behind that to avoid refunding money, rather than trying to retain a satisfied customer.
You can't help thinking that this would never happen with a business like John Lewis.
3. Not reading what's already been discussed
Consider their last reply to me. They had two suggestions. 1. Try deleting the software, and installing it again. If they read my opening message to them, they'd see that I'd already done that. Several times. 2. Book the device in for repair. If they read my replies, they'd also see that they'd suggested this already, and I'd explained why that wouldn't fly.
This is the problem when an email exchange takes nearly 2 weeks, and involves different staff each time. After a while, the whole thing becomes a tangled web of conversation. They should really work to resolve 80% of issues on first reply, and the remaining 20% on the second. If it's going to take them this many replies, each new reply requires the member of staff to read, carefully, everything that's been said so far, and then to think carefully before offering a knee-jerk reply.
4. Not using a ticket system
Also working against them is that they don't use proper ticket software, such as Zen Desk. This allows all emails to them to be "piped" into their helpdesk, so that the history is easy to review. Instead, they're simply hitting "reply" to each email, with all the detritus of everyone's previous emails stacked below the latest one, complete with 4 copies of "This communication is confidential and may be legally privileged" at the bottom.
If they're serious about proper customer service (and, this may be the problem), they need to purchase some software to help them keep track of every conversation they have with customers, so they can actually help.
The Biggest Problem: The Bottom Line
Those are problems with their approach to customer service. The biggest problem was with the outcome of the case: They didn't and won't refund the money.
In our case, it's about £7. That's not money you'd ever throw away pointlessly, but it's also not a big purchase. New, best-selling titles cost £30 to £40. That would be a lot of money.
Basically, buying on eStore is a lottery. You find a game you like. You pay the advertised price. If the game works, you've just bought the game. But there are titles on there that don't work (at least, not on all the devices they claim to work on). If you've chosen one of those, you've just paid that money, and you get nothing in return. And Nintendo won't give you back that money.
You have no way of knowing what's behind that door until you open it. Take the risk, then find out if you've bought a game or thrown your money away.
Conclusion: Don't buy games from the Nintendo eShop
So: Don't buy games from the Nintendo eShop.
Buy a cartridge, from a reputable website or shop. If it doesn't play, take it back to the store where you bought it, and they'll give you a refund. Choose a website that you know follows UK consumer legislation, and you're in safe hands.
If you see a game on the eShop that you want, and there's no cartridge version available for it, my advice is — find a different game. Or buy it from eShop knowing full well that you're playing Russian roulette with your money.
One last comment: Chargebacks
There's one other option — chargeback.
In the UK, if you pay by card and the company doesn't deliver the goods paid, you can initiate a "chargeback". You contact the card issuing bank, and they then demand a refund from the retailer. They will take the money from the retailer's account instantly, but they won't give it to you until they've finished investigating. If they award in your favour, you get the money back, and the retailer pays a fee (typically about £30) as well as losing the money. If they award in the retailer's favour, the retailer gets the money after all.
Because they investigate, always give the bank as much evidence and information as you can.
But I don't advise in this case. Why not? It's the nuclear option. The likelihood is, Nintendo would lose the chargeback in this case. We'd get our £7 back, and they'd be £30 poorer.
But we would have revealed that we know how to use the chargeback mechanism. As a business, they need to protect themselves from chargebacks, and that means they wouldn't want us as customers. So we'd probably find our eShop account frozen, unable to make future purchases, and possibly unable to re-download previous purchases.
This is the way it is in most industries — charge back, and the company will give you nothing else, ever, but will go into damage limitation mode. So use it, if the amount lost justifies it, and if the company couldn't make things even worse as a result.
Oh, and Nintendo (if you're listening)
The case number is E-1610-047581. If you want to reply to show me that you've learnt from this fiasco, you have my email. One of my main crits is how long this took to resolve, so please make sure the next email you send me is a right-first-time, resolved-in-one, type message. ;-)