William is a Barnes & Noble member, which entitles him to discounts in the physical store and free shipping on the Barnes & Noble website. He renews this membership every year, when it expires. That’s at the end of the year. Or so he thought.
He forwarded us this e-mail he received from B&N recently, which warned him that his membership is expiring in a month…instead of at the end of the year, in six weeks. Wait, what? He didn’t want to let his membership lapse, but he didn’t want to go renewing his membership before its time.
He found some old receipts around the house from purchases at the Barnes & Noble store at his local mall. You guessed it, the expiration date on the receipt was December 31, as it should be.
He notes that clerks used to encourage him to renew his card during shopping trips at the end of the year, but he would resist. “I’ve always told them that I [get] gift cards for Barnes & Noble and redeem them right after Christmas and renew my membership at that time,” he explained to Consumerist. “I’m sure some people don’t renew their cards until the first purchase they make after the card has expired.” That makes sense. Why renew if you don’t shop there?
Encouraging people to renew is one thing, but why were they fudging his membership expiration date? William had his own theory. He has a background in accounting and auditing, and moving a renewal date up so it isn’t as close to the end of the calendar year and the end of the all-important holiday shopping season makes him suspicious. “Is this an attempt to induce people to renew earlier than necessary in order to inflate revenues?” he asks. Membership isn’t very expensive, but $25 is $25.
We checked in with Barnes & Noble to find out what was going on. Of course, they wouldn’t tell us if were fudging the dates on every membership in order to artificially inflate revenue, but we find their actual explanation more plausible: a system error.
“This was caused by a system error,” a company spokeswoman told Consumerist. “We are reaching out to the customer to apologize.”
The membership is one item at Barnes & Noble that costs the same online and in brick-and-mortar stores. So that’s something.
UPDATE: Barnes & Noble did contact William to apologize, and offered him a six-month membership extension or a $25 gift card. He declined both. “My primary interest was in them identifying the cause of the problems, and following up to insure that it did not effect other customers,” he told us.