Did you think I was kidding?

Let’s talk about 2005.  It was a much different time in the world of tech.  PCs were starting to make the shift from major purchases to commodities, and were powerful enough that most people didn’t need to custom-build, but a decent number of people still benefited from it.  It was the grey area between eras.

It was at this time that Circuit City re-introduced their Built-To-Order kiosk, after deciding that customers wanted more configuration options than what we had in the shop.  You could configure a system, buy it through us, and it would ship right to your house.  This had a lot of fringe benefits for techs… we got to see, in real time, how the introduction of new components would change the price of hardware.  Every day was an adventure!  You could make a whizzbang system for a great price one day, then the next those parts would be out of stock and you’d have to try and make a good value out of the newest batch of hardware.  It was really fun playing with this thing.

This was, generally, a popular option with customers.  Remember, it’s only a few years away from the days when people were told that if they bought something off-the-shelf, they were rubes.  However, the BTO kiosk did have one BIG drawback… it was not immune to starfish.  Too many sales ended like this:

“So, here’s your quote.  This is the system we can build for you, and here is the total at the end.”

“How long is this quote good for?”

“24 hours.  I wish it was longer, but OEM refreshes their parts and price list every day, so they won’t commit to a quote for longer than that.”

“No, that’s okay.  I think I like this.  What do we do now?”

“Here’s the process.  I’m going to print your quote and take it to the register.  You’ll buy the computer TODAY.  You’ll pay for it TODAY.  The order gets transmitted electronically to OEM, who will build it and ship it to you.  It should arrive in about two weeks, probably more like ten days.”


“Now, here is the ONLY THING I need to be sure you understand… Once we ring up the sale, it leaves our system and gets transmitted to OEM.  At that point, it’s out of our hands until it arrives at your doorstep.  I can make any changes you want to your order BEFORE I hit the ‘Enter’ key, but after that, it’s locked in, and can’t be cancelled or changed.”

“What?  I can’t return this if I don’t like it?”

“Of course you can return it, that’s not a problem… but you can’t return it until AFTER it arrives on your doorstep.  As in, you can’t return something you don’t have yet.  Once your computer arrives, it’s no different than a computer you buy in the store today… you can return or exchange it as you wish.  But, while it’s being built, we can’t touch it.”

“Okay, I understand.”

“Thank you.  I don’t want to discourage you, I just want to make sure it’s clear what happens when you buy a custom-built computer.”

“Sure.  Go ahead, place the order.”

*Clicks enter*

“… You know what?  I’m not sure.  Maybe I should think about this.  Cancel that.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t.  Like I just told you, once I place the order, it’s handed over to OEM, and I can’t cancel it.”


One thought on “Did you think I was kidding?

  1. That seems to be the default customer we all face day in and day out. They hear only what they want to, and as for the rest of it… we may as well be speaking like Charlie Brown’s teacher

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