Friday, July 04, 2008

NEVER GIVE UP- A Father's Day Tale

I was over at EngadgetHD this morning and saw a horrible story about a Dad who won a 65" HD TV from Charter, then they screwed him and tried to give him only a 19 Inch set.


This reminded me of Engadget's own HD TV giveaway. And of my own brush with a rigged contest back in 2004. It went something like this:

In my day job, I take complaints. A lot of complaints. Complaints from real jerks that haven’t the slightest idea of what manners are. And I don’t exactly make the big bucks for putting up with all their crap.

For many, many years, I have always been a person hesitant to make complaints. The complaint taker is almost never the source of the problem anyway, so why be rude to them. However, as I have grown older, and had to listen to other people bitch and moan for ten years, I have changed my mind.

Now, I complain.

Actually, I should say that I complain when I’m justified to do so. Fair is fair, and when anyone doesn’t get treated fairly they should speak up. And that’s just what this story is about.

Several years ago, a few months before Father’s Day, a major retailer advertised a clever contest- dad’s could write down a great moment with their kids that they wished they’d caught on video. The entries had to be handwritten, and dropped off at each participating store. Each store would then select one winner, and then all those local winners would be further judged for a National grand prize winner.

The prizes? Each local winner was to get a brand new flip cellphone with all sorts of gimmicks built in and a free year’s worth of service. The National Grandprize winner was to get a package worth $25,000. It included just about every electronic gadget a dad could want, a several-thousand dollar gift card to the Retailer and a Visa-type giftcard from the Retailer.

I was very interested.

I carefully printed off an entry and thought about what I would write for days. Eventually I settled on what I thought was a very appropriate tale of my three year old. At the time, my daughter greatly enjoyed watching the behind-the-scenes segments on DVDs with me. When Terminator 3 came out on DVD, we got a copy and raced home to watch it. When the movie was over, I started to watch the extras. However, my daughter wanted to watch some cartoons. Right about the time Arnold appeared on the screen and declared "I’ll be back." my girl grabbed the remote, declared "No you won’t." and turned the DVD player off.

Okay, it was a so-so story. Funny, but not a knee-slapper. We went to the retailer, driving for about 30 minutes to get there, dropped off my entry and ended up buying a few things when we browsed the store.

A few months passed and I thought I’d check online to see what the winning entries were. I was eager to read all kinds of great tales of child antics. One problem though. The webpage for the contest was gone.

I double-checked my bookmarks in Internet Explorer. I ran a search. Nothing.
Suspicious, I emailed customer service. They later emailed me back, claiming they had never heard of such a contest.

I called customer service. After claiming to not know about the contest, nor of being able to find it on the retailer’s website, the rep I talked to eventually started looking through the online Sunday fliers. Sure enough, he found the contest listed.

Unfortunately, I had called just one week too late. Had I called the week before, I could have requested a list of the winner’s names.

After a few minutes of arguing, the rep changed his mind and said that if I sent a letter showing I had emailed during the period posted he was sure they would give me the winner’s names.
At this point, I knew I was being had. It reminded me of the time I handwrote 650 postcards and deposited them in a drawing box for a free pickup. After all there was no limit on the number of entries.

My next step was the Better Business Bureau. I explained my complaint and cited some Indiana statutes that mandate the odds for winning in a contest have to be displayed.

By December, I began a series of emails with an attorney for the retailer. I learned that the contest had been delayed- that judging all the entries had proven too large a task for the company running the contest. I was assured the judging would continue and winners would be selected. I pointed out that a lot of retailers have been known to pull fast ones with these kinds of contests- claiming to award prizes merely to bait consumers into their stores.

February came and I checked back with the attorney- reminding him that I still wanted proof it was a real contest. I was told winners had been picked and I would get a list of the winners names.

A couple of days later, I came home to find a Fed Ex package on my doorstep. I opened it up expecting to find just a list of winners. Instead, it contained a gift card to the retailer for $576, and congratulations for winning at my local store.

The moral of this story is that like insurance companies, businesses will do their best to not respond to complaints how you want them to. But if you’re right, don’t give up. It doesn’t cost you anything but time to complain. On the otherhand, for a business, their attorneys are spending much more valuable time than you are answering your complaints.

And what’d I do with the money? Bought my little girl some DVDs and a wall-mount swing arm for her TV, got my wife a new cellphone, and bought myself a kickin’ graphics card for my PC and a couple of new games.

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