Thursday, January 19, 2012

What Was Once Old... Is New Again

Have you ever heard the phrase "what was once old is new again"?   I'm here to tell you that that particular phrase is idiotic.  Just think about it... whoever started using that phrase is trying to suggest if you wait long enough that an old item will somehow become new, and I have to tell you based upon what I know of time travel and basic laws of physics that just isn't possible.

I understand why people use this phrase, but I just disagree with the premise.  For example someone might comment that teenage girls are now starting to wear leg warmers with their skirts, which as we all know was as style that was very popular in the 1980s.  So, it isn't surprising when someone utters the cliche that what was once old is new again, but in reality legwarmers aren't new.  The style of wearing legwarmers isn't new either, so really there is nothing new about it. 

This is just a matter of people revisiting an old style, but simply revisiting something does not in any way make it new.  If that were true, I'd be driving a new car every morning when I head to work.  So are we to believe if you do a specific act each day it becomes old, but if you wait a few months or a few years and then do that same thing again that it is new?  Hogwash.

Listen... things can only be new once.  Anything after that point is old.  I know this will pain many 40-something women out there who are starting to see gray hair and wrinkles when they look in the mirror, but it isn't meant to be mean.  It doesn't matter if we are talking about items, people, or styles... old is old, and new is new.  There is no such thing as old becoming new just as new cannot be old, so adapt and get over it.

Another thing that bothers me is this stupid word "renew".  You cannot re-new something.  It was once new... and now it is old.  If it was new yesterday you might argue it is almost new today (which holds up a lot better if you are talking about a car as opposed to a ham sandwich), but you can't just "renew" everything and pretend it is new once again.  It might be new to you, you might find a new way of looking at things, but if something existed or was done at any time in the past, it just isn't new anymore. 

I renew magazine subscriptions... does that mean the magazine is entirely new?  Of course not!  Although that particular issue of the magazine might be new, the magazine itself, and the subscription to said magazine is not new... so is it really possible to re-new something?  Not really.  The term re-new is just a fancy way of selling us something again without letting us know we aren't really getting anything new.

It all comes down to the fact that we as humans have a desire to have new things.  Whether they are really, truly "new", or just "new to us" doesn't seem to matter.  In fact many people collect antiques that they know are old, but they don't refer to them as old things or used things because that doesn't sound as nice as the terms vintage, antique, historic, or whatever label they choose to use instead of simply saying they are old.  So, we somehow are tricking ourselves into thinking these old things are actually new, and we use colorful language to make the differentiation in order to appease our own minds.

So now it all makes sense.  I realize not everyone feels the same way, but I have a new way of thinking about things.  Or is that an old way of thinking about things?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why I Hate Best Buy

I like technology.  At one point I was a Certified Electronics Technician and a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers.  I spent a full year of my higher education studying electronics and building things like AM/FM radios, wireless transmitters, and even my own Digital Multimeter.  I've built my own circuit boards from scratch including using acid to etch the circuit traces, I've built my own computers, wired numerous vehicles with audio systems, worked in the IT industry for over a decade, held the title of "Engineer" at more than one point in my career, and am the guy who friends and family members call when they need someone to wire their home theater or troubleshoot a PC problem.  I'm what you might call a geek.  I admit this and don't feel it is a derogatory term.

With all of that said... I hate Best Buy.  In fact, of all of the techie (or dare I say geeky) people I know... none of them like Best Buy.  People like me tend to treat Best Buy as nothing more than a showroom for Amazon, Newegg, or Monoprice because we know enough to prevent us from actually buying anything from Best Buy.

It isn't that Best Buy doesn't have what I want - because they often do.  One of their primary problems is their prices are outrageous and even their sale prices are above what I can find the same product for elsewhere.  When it comes to accessories like cables and television mounts they are often times 500% to 1000% more expensive than their online counterparts.

However prices alone aren't even the reason I hate Best Buy.  I hate them because of the atmosphere they have created.  I hate them because of their policies.  I hate them because of their high-pressure sales tactics, continual desire to upsell everything, and sales staff that act as if they are well versed in electronics and that the customer could not possibly know more than they do.  I hate that they go out of their way to manipulate customers by using shady tactics to make less expensive televisions look worse than the more expensive alternatives or how they have product displays meant to convince people that products from Monster Cable or Bose are somehow superior than anything else.

Most of all however, I just hate that Best Buy makes you feel like you need to take a shower after you visit one of their stores.  Their customer service is horrid.  They push extended service contracts on EVERYTHING even when it makes no sense, and their salespeople are always trying to push add-ons or accessories to items that the customer simply doesn't need.

The last time I was at Best Buy I overheard one of their salespeople brag about how he was actually an employee of Apple and not of Best Buy.  Whether that is true I have no idea, but he spent the next ten minutes name dropping other Apple Employees in the area and calling himself an Engineer while customers who were looking at Apple products were ignored.

Over in the television department I had a salesman try to push me to DirecTV and bragging about their new channel lineups and how they had the NFL Sunday Ticket package before he actually knew what I had for television service or before he could be bothered to ask if I was a football fan.  He then went on to talk about the new 3D televisions as he rattled off specifications as if I should be impressed.  After I responded and informed him that I felt passive 3D technology was superior to the active system he was pushing (and I provided him reasons to support my viewpoint), he suddenly realized I wasn't just another ignorant consumer before he said in a passive-aggressive manner "maybe you should work here".

Yea right.  That would be a great career move.  Thanks, but no thanks.

I also noticed during my recent visit that a six foot HDMI cable was selling for $49.99.  Over in the videogame department, a different brand of HDMI cable was selling for $59.99.  I would love to hear the logic behind why they feel a HDMI cable for a videogame system is worth $10 more than an overpriced HDMI cable for a television, but frankly I didn't have the patience to ask one of the salesman for an explanation.  It is a digital signal - there is no need to go crazy for name brand expensive ultra high-end cables because every comparison test I have ever seen says they aren't worth the price, yet do you think Best Buy would offer a bargain cable that might appeal to the consumer?  Of course not.

The saddest part is another customer was in the process of buying one of those $50 cables and I didn't have the heart to tell them they could buy a cable that works just as well as is just as good of quality over at Monoprice for under $5.  In fact you can even get your choice of color and the cable will run $3.50 (or about 93% less cost). 

Then I noticed the price of their flat panel television mounts.  For the larger televisions, the price ranged from $129.99 to $199.99!  Are you serious.... $200 for a television mount?  I bought one a few years back from Monoprice and it ran under $25... including shipping.  That mount that Best Buy wants $200 for was a low profile mount - a generic version of that same style mount costs under $12 at Monoprice.

I understand brick and mortar stores need to charge a bit more.  I get it.  What I don't understand is why Best Buy often charges 10, 15, or 20 times as much for a nearly identical product.  Obviously nobody who is "in the know" would ever buy these types of items from Best Buy, so the only thing I can assume is that they are selling cables and wall mounts and speaker wire to people who simply don't know any better.  Is this a good business model?  Rely upon uneducated consumers as your target market?

As I said price is not the only reason I hate Best Buy.  I also hate the fact that they feel the need to "optimize" computers via their in-house Geek Squad technicians (and I use the term technician loosely here).  I've actually heard of experiences where people have tried to buy laptops from Best Buy but they have been unable to because Best Buy refuses to sell one without them adding unnecessary fees to it for their optimization service.

When it comes to LCD or Plasma calibration services it is even more idiotic.  Best Buy charges ignorant consumers $200 to "calibrate" their television which could be done by any owner within 10 or 15 minutes simply by searching for their specific model of television on a website like AVSForum and following the suggested settings.  The worse (and shadiest) part of this is that Best Buy has been caught on several occasions showing calibrated and non-calibrated televisions side by side in an effort to convince people to spend the extra money, but it has been discovered that they show a High Definition (HD) signal on the calibrated set while they show a Standard Definition (SD) signal on the non-calibrated set.  Some people have no shame.

I have also noticed that they can charge anywhere from $39.99 to $99.99 to perform basic tasks on a PC such as installing anti-virus software or applying OS patches and updates.  In many cases if they install software all they do is insert the disk, click next, next, next, finish... and charge the customer $40.  I fail to see how this is at all reasonable - especially when they rely upon consumers not knowing any better.

Of course if you do end up purchasing something from Best Buy, be prepared to be bombarded at the checkout as the clerk makes one final push to convince you that the service plan is a great idea.  Then of course there is a rewards program that you should be a member of, there is a great deal on their on-demand video service or a discount on DirecTV that you need to be aware of.  Do you need any batteries or a gift card to go along with that?  Fifteen minutes later you might be able to head for the exit only to have the "Security" guard ask to see your receipt because you happen to walk a total of 20 feet from the cash register to the door and obviously that suggests you must have been trying to steal something.

When it comes to returns, things don't get any better.  I was once near their service desk when a rather angry customer was trying to return a dishwasher.  He had paid for one model, but after driving home and installing the dishwasher, it was discovered Best Buy had given him the wrong model.  He apparently tried to resolve the issue over the phone, but since Best Buy didn't believe him he had no choice but to uninstall the dishwasher, drive all the way back to Best Buy, and then argue with a manager about how their screwup was their fault and he should be compensated.

Did I mention the guy had a two hour drive to his home?  Yea... I imagine I would be slightly upset as well, yet the part of the conversation I was hearing involved the manager trying to blame the customer for not checking the model number on the box against his receipt.  This is the mentality at Best Buy - when in doubt, just blame the customer.

I could go on for hours.  I have at least a half dozen similar stories about Best Buy customer service, and at least a half dozen examples of how they have either gone out of their way to lose a sale, or they have not delivered on promises made during the time of sale... but rather than start adding chapter numbers to this post I'll just summarize by saying there are many good reasons why I don't buy things at Best Buy and why I do my best to convince others to avoid them as well.

The reality is I don't know many people in my circle of friends who actually buy things at Best Buy.  Those that do shop there are generally not the type of people who are well informed about technology, or they are merely going there to buy gift cards for kids or grandkids.  I realize my experiences are not reflective of the community as a whole, but I can't help but feel that Best Buy exists in spite of themselves.

I never hear positive news about Best Buy.  I never hear people brag about how they love the store.  I don't hear about how someone got an amazing deal or how they were treated so well.  I also don't read good news about Best Buy, their stock price, their finances, or their prospects.  This all has convinced me that if Best Buy continues doing the same things as they have been doing - they will continue to lose customers and they will continue circling the drain as they follow in the footsteps of other electronics retailers like Ultimate Electronics or Circuit City.

The funny thing is - I'm not the only person saying these types of things about Best Buy.  I recently read an article on the Forbes website written by Larry Downes that makes many of the same points as I have made here.  Downes has his own real-world examples of why Best Buy is a failure, but he also cites specific data about their financial condition, their declining revenue, and some of their recent missteps. 

Mr. Downes actually suggests that Best Buy is actually going out of business - even if they don't know it yet.  I felt it was a great read, and surely worth a few minutes of your time if you are at all interested in the subject matter.