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Just A Thought
by Vern Seward

Shopping At Best Buy
March 31st, 2004

The following actually happened to me recently. I'm paraphrasing, but the grist of the conversation is accurate.

Here's the setup: I'm with my wife in the local Best Buy. (Immediately, a warning klaxon should start sounded right about now.) We are looking over the rather impressive selection of plasma TVs, and noting how much the prices have dropped. I commented to my wife that our 12 year old, 31" tube TV has been showing its age lately, to which she gives me the, 'unless you win the lottery or a rich uncle dies, there's no way you are paying that much money for a TV' look. So, I assign the plasma TV to the same list that has my BMW and my date with Angela Bassett.

While I stood there daydreaming of watching Ms. Bassett get her groove back, with me there to help her, a salesman, Jim, came up and very politely asked if there was any questions he might answer. I figured the guy had no clue as to what Ms. Bassett's cell phone number might be, so I politely told him no, that I was just looking. He told me his name was Jim (not his real name) and said to hunt him down if I needed any help. Then Jim left me to my daydreaming.

My wife had wandered further down the isle, and when I looked up from the high definition fantasy of me and Ms. Bassett frolicking on a beach, I noticed that Jim had my wife's attention. I paid little notice and went back to the 50" view of a groovy rescue in progress.

Presently, my wife came over to me, touched me on the arm, which immediately broke the groove I was in, and asked me if it was true that plasma TVs loses the gas that helps it to work in only 4 years.

I looked at her, and tried to fully grasp what she was asking me. I said, "Huh?"

She said, "That guy (Jim) over there said that a plasma TV loses the gas that makes the plasma in 4 years. I asked him why would anyone buy a $10,000 TV that would only last 4 years, and he said that some people just like them and they sell them to keep people coming into the store."

I looked at my wife with utter amazement. "Let me get this straight," I said. "That guy told you that plasma TVs loses its gas in 4 years?"

"Yep," she said. "I didn't believe it, of course, but I also knew you would know."

I started to fume.

This was not the first time misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies have been told to me or people I knew at that particular Best Buy.

My wife bought a rather expensive present there this past Christmas and the salesman told her that a part on the device was known to 'go out' early and that she needed to buy an extended service agreement to ensure that she wouldn't have to pay some extraordinary amount in 2 years. I complained to the manager and got the warranty for free, and an assurance that his salespeople would be more mindful of what they tell customers.

On a different occasion, I overheard a salesman tell a customer that the iPod sound quality was rated the worse among all portable music players. I asked the guy to tell me where he heard such nonsense, and he couldn't come up with a site. I asked him why was he telling people that if he had nothing to back up his claim, and he said that management told him the information.

I've heard similar stories about other Best Buys in the Orlando area, and it frustrates me to no end.

Anyways, back to Jim and the leaky plasma TV.

I found Jim and beckoned him to come over. He smiled warmly and asked, "Questions?"

"Yeah," I said, trying not to let my irritation show. "Did you tell my wife that plasma TVs lose the gas that makes the plasma in them in 4 years?"

I noted a flash of fear in Jim's eyes as he glanced at my wife, who was just walking up behind me.

"Um, yes, I did," he said. His smile wasn't quite as wide as it was only a moment before.

"Why would you tell her, or anyone that?"

"It's documented that plasma TV only last 12,000 hours."

"And that's due to the TVs losing gas?"

"Yes."

"Do you know that a regular TV tube is filled with gas and will last well over 10 years?"

"Yes."

"And you know that the amount of gas in a plasma TV is comparatively tiny; in fact, the chambers that hold that gas are almost microscopic, and that there are many thousands, maybe even millions of them, right?"

"Um, yeah."

"So how is it possible that each chamber, which is basically a tiny TV tube, can lose its gas, ever?

"Well, its been documented."

"Can you tell me where it is documented?"

"It on the Internet. I can't tell you the exact site, but if you do a search, I'm sure you'll find it."

Jim started to back away from me then as other customers, who likely overheard our conversation, started to gather.

"Jim," I said, "how do you explain the plasma TVs at the airport that's been on every day, most likely 24 hours a day, for at least 4 years? The picture on those TVs still look pretty good."

Jim was looking rather piqued by then. "Well, um, I just know that 4 years is what I was told."

"Oh, so you didn't see this information on the Internet."

"Well, we were told that it is on the Internet. That's what we are supposed to say."

"Do you know that you are telling people a lie?" (I actually said that too.)

Jim could bear no more and left the scene to tend to urgent business elsewhere.

Mind you, I was not loud and I kept my tone as non-adversarial as possible given the situation.

What galls me is that Jim most likely would not have given me that load of dung, thinking that I might know better, but he freely offered it to my wife, and, I would imagine, any woman silly enough to walk into the TV section of the store without a male in tow.

That's not to say that Best Buy salesman would not try to pull a fast one on us guys, however. I was told during a previous visit to the store, that the manufacturer's warranty would be voided if I didn't have a plasma TV professionally installed. I looked at the guy like he just tried to lift my wallet and he backed off immediately, saying that it was what he was told at his sales briefing.

You see the pattern?

So, you or someone you know has been fed a huge helping of road apples. What's a body to do?

Actually, there are several things you can do.

The first thing you must remember is NEVER LOSE YOUR COOL! It does you no good to get loud and obnoxious, and you catch far more smiles with sugar than with salt.

If you do nothing else, when you get home, look it up on the Web. There are a boat load of sites that discuss everything from Playstations to Rick James CDs, you are bound to find the information you are looking for.

If you do find yourself in a situation and you can't get any satisfaction from the salesperson, you can get a manager and have the salesperson tell him exactly what he told you while everyone is standing there. Insist on an apology. They've insulted your intelligence and betrayed your trust, after all. If they can't muster a corrective action, get the name an address of the manager's manager. Get the store manager if you have to.

If you notice a pattern of deceptions, contact your local TV station and see if they have a consumer unit. Explain your problem to them. They may not have the resources to help, but if they do, it could make you a star.

Contact the manufacturer of the device you intended to buy and was given erroneous information about. State clearly the incident, include as many facts as you can remember. Again, you may not get a reply, but you never know.

Of course, you should contact your local Better Business Bureau. Complaints that accumulate there do get the notice of your local government.

What's really sad is that any store that practices consumer deception is only hurting themselves, ultimately. I can buy anything I find at Best Buy, or any other chain shop, on the Internet, including plasma TVs, at far better prices. I can get both positive and negative information about any product, and make my own informed decisions. If I need personal help, I can get nearly the same experience I get from brick and mortar stores except a warm body standing in front of me.

There is still something to be said for walking into a store and putting your hands on your intended purchase. I enjoy poking buttons, flipping switches I'd just like to do it without having to wade through manure.

I wrote Best Buy, explaining the incident, and Tony Mason, Sr. Representative. Executive Resolutions Team wrote back and offer an apology, and explained that, "The situation you have described is not at all indicative of the type of relationship we wish to have with you, or any valued customer."

I'm sure that's true at the corporate level, but judging from the number of incidents I've had, the word doesn't seem to be getting down to the troops. To that end, Mr. Mason said, "...I will share your experience with the appropriate personnel in an effort to improve the service at this location, and hopefully avoid a similar situation from happening again in the future."

I sincerely hope so.

One last point: Knowledge is your best defense against less than honest salespersons. It is always a good idea to know as much about the product or service you intend to buy. If you have access to the Internet then you have no excuse not to arm yourself with at least a basic understanding of the device in question, and have an idea of what the device can cost. So, do a little research before you shop.

For your information:

There are many sites around the Web that will give you honest information, and dispel some urban legend that surround plasma TVs. Try these sites:

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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