Reader Michael watched incredulously as a Staples tech tried to convince a senior citizen that his computer wouldn’t work properly without repairs costing almost $400.The senior, who had been lulled into Staples for a free tune up that suddenly cost $39.99, didn’t understand why he needed to spend money on a “diagnostic screening ($49.99), virus removal services ($150), and more RAM (~$150).” Michael intervened and offered to look at the computer free of charge. He couldn’t believe what he found when he popped open the computer.
Thought your readers might find this information useful. While making a return at Staples (800 Lexington St, Waltham, MA), I happened to hear an elderly gentleman disputing a service charge. He had brought his PC in for a free “tune up,” and now was being charged $39.99 for that service, plus the service technician was explaining that he needed to purchase a diagnostic screening ($49.99), virus removal services ($150), and more RAM (~$150) to get his computer working. His PC had four viruses, the technician explained, but they would need to run the diagnostic to determine the extent of the infections and to determine if any hardware needed to be replaced.
Having done PC repairs for pizza money in high school, I couldn’t stand to watch a senior citizen get bilked that much to simply have anti-virus installed, run, and then (presumably) removed since it was just a “service.” I stepped in and offered to take a look at his computer for free, though I couldn’t make any promises about fixing it. The technician glared at me, but when the gentleman took me up on the offer he left us alone. I made my returns and followed the man to his house to see what I could do (OK, maybe I’m too trusting but I figure at 6’3″ and 230, there’s not much and 70 year old can pull on me).
He explained that his computer had worked well enough for e-mail and web surfing, but after he took it in for the free diagnostic it wouldn’t start up anymore. Sure enough, we plug his Gateway in and nothing: The monitor doesn’t even flicker, even though the power button turns green. I insert a live CD I’d brought along, and still no luck. I double checked that everything had been just fine before taking it in: He hadn’t dropped it on the way to the store, hadn’t ever opened the case up. He said the technicians had told him he’d need to have virii removed and more RAM added; he suggested he might as well get a new computer if they were going to charge him $300. Seeing how not even the BIOS was showing up, I was starting to worry he was right.
I opened up the PC, expecting the worst: A melted motherboard, fried circuits, or worse, nothing visible at all. I poked and pushed all the parts, making sure everything was tightly pushed in. Everything seemed alright, until I came to the RAM: His DRAM had been partially ejected from its slot, which only could happen if the buttons that held it in place had been pushed. Since he had never opened the PC case up, there was only one explanation: While rummaging inside his computer, a technician had (accidentally or on purpose) hit the button and caused the damage that they were now trying to charge him $390+tax to fix.
I can’t see why a “tune up” would require opening the case, except to check and see how many open DRAM slots were available so they could push Staples products. Whatever the case, taking advantage of the elderly by throwing terms like “computer virus” when a hardware problem you caused stops you from even turning on the computer is downright dishonest, if not quite actionable. I even went through Staples pricing sheets afterwards, and none of the services they tried to upsell even appeared on the list.
Anyways, just a warning to your readers to watch out with Staples services. Probably no better or worse than any other big box assistance, but at list in this instance more than a little odious.
Drive past the big box stores when your computer breaks. Their employees are trained to upsell, not repair computers. Instead, seek out the young, the ones who aren’t old enough to hold advanced degrees or a driver’s license—those who can be paid with extended curfews are ideal. Then, watch in amazement as they sprightly get your computer back to checking AOL so you can forward us that hilarious email Snopes disproved last year.
It should be noted that several Staples techs have chimed in the comments here and on Digg to dispute the prices Michael reports. Here’s a comparison of Michael’s prices, the price Staples charges for in-store tech service, and the price Staples charges for at-home repairs.
It’s possible that the Diagnostic was rung up in-store, the virus removal was done at the on-site price and he got the number slightly off, and the tech was recommending Edge 2GB Kit PC3200 DDR Desktop Memory. So we can say Michael misremembered or misrepresented the prices, the tech was trying to meet quarterly sales goals, or the tech was new and mistakenly punched it the wrong price for the virus removal. The only weird thing under a “newbie/incompetent tech” scenario is that the tuneup price. Staples used to charge $39.99 but it was dropped to $29.99 mid-2007.