Here's What Happens When You Trust A Big-Box Electronics Store

Ben’s father is the kind of lucrative and delectable customer that big-box electronics store salespeople love. Or perhaps they just love their bank accounts. A few months ago, Ben writes, his dad walked into an Ultimate Electronics store knowing that he wanted to buy a 3D TV, and…not much else about what he was looking for. Ben knows enough about electronics to conclude that the local Ultimate store sold his father products that he didn’t need, then botched the installation.

So this situation is hopefully getting resolved, but it angered me, and I wanted to spread the word. I’m going to be lodging a formal complaint with Ultimate’s corporate office.

In September my dad got it into his head that he needed a 3D tv. My dad is not technically savvy in the slightest (he’s a boomer pushing towards retirement), and went to Ultimate Electronics hoping they could steer him in the right direction. Aside from wanting the best 3D TV set up he could afford, he wanted to make sure the set up would be compatible with his current very nice surrounded sound system – a high end Denon receiver and B&W speakers. The Ultimate guys heard this, and immediately sold my dad a package bundle of a Sony 55HX800 and Sony BDV-e570. My dad was very skeptical of buying speakers that he didn’t need – the e570 doubles as a receiver and comes packaged with some cheap-o speakers – but the clerks assured him that a) he would be saving money, because of the bundle discounts, and b) there would no issue at all with using his current Denon/B&W system with the new tv and bluray. So he signed up, bought all the bells and whistles, and paid them an ass load for installation.

Flash forward 3 months. I’ve been living in LA and just came home for Christmas a few days ago. Excited to see this new 3D tv set up I walked in and saw . . . an embarrassingly inept installation. Rear speaks were pointed at right angles away from the seating areas (laughably mis-aligned), extra holes were drilled all over the walls (some covered up with fake wall sockets, others just left naked) speaker wire was hanging from the ceiling, and panels of the drop ceiling had been broken. The rear right speaker didn’t even receive signal. But that wasn’t what really pissed me off. After firing up the monstrosity, I found that for some reason, the Denon receiver had been set to “5 Channel Stereo.” I asked my dad about this and was told, “oh, that’s the 5.1 Dolby; the installation men set it up for me.”

Here’s what happened. To use the Denon receiver with the TV/bluray combo Ultimate sold him, the only possible way to set things up was to pass audio via HDMI first from the bluray to the TV, and then from the TV to the receiver. HDMI being the wonderful system that it is of course downgraded the DD signal from 5.1 to 2.1 pro logic during the passthrough. There was no other way to get audio from the bluray to my dad’s particular Denon receiver. The Ultimate installation guys realized this, and so set up the receiver to instead source a stereo signal to all 5 speakers – hence, 5CH Stereo – and then told my dad “that’s just how surround sound works. You haven’t been using it correctly before.” and ran out.

My dad is not technically savvy. He went to Ultimate, and paid them as much as he did (even springing for the high-end Monster cables – “they told me I needed them, Ben! They said I would be throwing away my money if I didn’t get them!”) because he was hoping the nice young men there would take care of him, and give him the best possible product. They bilked him.

I spent 2 hours at Ultimate today, trying to explain this to them. When I suggested that they had taken advantage of my father’s trusting nature, they actually yelled at me and said that they “would not stand for slander.” After calmly explaining the situation again and again, they agreed to swap the e570 and useless speakers for the much simpler s570 – a stand alone bluray player – that would allow for direct audio transmission to the Denon receiver. The price difference between the two is about $400. They refused to credit my dad’s card. “It’s been nearly 3 months since the point of purchase, we’re doing you a HUGE FAVOR just letting you swap things.” It’s absurd.

(Just FYI: my dad didn’t make a claim immediately after the installation because he had to go in for shoulder surgery; he’s been drugged and dazed for the past few months, slowly recovering. )

They’ve agreed to send someone to realign the speakers, but wont deal with the physical damage to my parents’ home – saying that I could try calling a toll free number, but that odds were low that the claim would go through. And of course, the $400 discrepancy between the product they SHOULD have sold my dad and the product they DID sell him is still eating a hole in my dad’s bank account. As I said, I’m going to be lodging a formal complaint with Ultimate’s corporate office, but don’t really know what kind of good it will do. The whole thing really bakes my noodle, not least of all the accusation that somehow my dad had been lying about his whole horrible experience.

Ben’s anger is understandable. Let’s hope that someone at Ultimate Electronics listens to his story, since this is certainly not the way to gain loyal customers. And trying to sell customers on add-on services like installation is a nice revenue stream for electronics stores, but it helps if those services are actually competent.