Bite Taken out of Apple’s Customer Service

Star found a $4,000 camera on sale for only $2000. After a few shopping cart hijinx, Apple refused to sell the camera to him.

By law, if an item is advertised for a certain price, then that price has to be honored by anyone requesting the published price.

Was this an illegal bait and switch or technical snafu?

You decide, plus, an encounter with apparently the highest ranking customer service representative in the Apple empire, after the jump…

UPDATE: “There is a rumour going around the internets that Steve Jobs has an open e-mail address, If you have had a unique problem with Apple, and can explain it coherently and calmly, and its something that can be fixed, he’ll use his reality distortion field to save you,” writes Ben.

    “So, I dunno if this is salacious enough for the consumerist, but I’m all for spreading malicious badwill if I can. I just posted this on my blog,

    Today, I found that Apple was offering the Sony FX1 DV camcorder for $2000. This was incredible, considering I was trying in vain to finance one from Sony literally yesterday for $3600. Suddenly, the $4000 (after tax) pipe dream was going to be a $2000 reality in the hands of this still-poorish ex-film student.

    Things looked bad off the start. I applied for Apple’s credit, because, well, I don’t have a lot of cash on hand. Apple decided they only liked me for $1000, but I figured I could take the pinch (right after payday and all) and drop the rest in cash. Sure, I might face a few overdraft fees from my bank in the meantime, but as long as they stayed under $1600 worth of fees, I’m still ahead of the game.

    The credit line is immediately applied to my order, and I have an option of adding a second card to complete the purchase. So I do. And I notice a funny thing – I can’t change the amounts on each. So the credit I just qualified for, in the amount of $1000, was being charged by Apple to the tune of $1000. I enter in my debit information, hit continue, and . . .

    Rejected. I call my bank, thinking the problem is there. Nope. I get ahold of Juniper, the bank that handles the Apple Credit, and find out that Apple is charging a $1 authorization to the account along with the $1000. So they’re charging $1001 against $1000, Juniper’s saying it’s over limit, and the process is being rejected. AND I CAN’T CLICK ANYWHERE TO CHANGE THE AMOUNT. APPLE’S SHOPPING CART IS COMPLETELY SCREWED (this was on Firefox 1.5 for the Mac, by the way.).

    The info for the Apple credit line won’t be mailed for three weeks, so if I don’t complete the purchase now, I’ll undoubtedly miss out on the camera. And the only way to use the Apple financing now is by not signing out of the
    Apple store, since it’s auto-populating the information, which, again, I won’t have otherwise for three weeks.

    So, 6 customer service reps later, I’m connected with a super-helpful lady named Diane, who figures out a plan: I’ll order a single cable, give her the order number, and then she’ll remove the charge for the cable (but still
    send it along, free of charge), she’ll add the camera, and then adjust the amounts there. It works, and she charges $950 to the Apple credit, and the rest to my debit card. It’s a lot of work to get around a poorly designed online shopping cart, but if it means getting my camera, I’m happy to do it.

    I’m so happy with Diane, I ask to speak to her supervisor so that I can leave comments about how deftly she handled the situation, and just generally what a great rep she’s been. Yay!

    Or not, as it turns out. I get an email later saying my order’s been shipped, but all I see is the DVI connector cable I ordered. No camera. I log in, and the camera’s due to be shipped on Monday, April 3rd – still within 24 hours, so I feel pretty good about things.

    Until I check back in an hour later, and find the camera is listed as cancelled now.

    I’ve received no communication from Apple about the cancellation. I’m confused, and a little angry considering the fact that I spent at least 90 minutes ordering the thing in the first place.

    So I call up, and am subjected to no less than six reps, all of whom tell me different variations on “We don’t know” or “No one will tell you WHY this was cancelled.” (I swear to god, that’s a quote). I hear that the stock ran out. I hear that “It shouldn’t have been on the site.” And I can’t get a straight answer – was there ever any stock to begin with? I can, however, purchase a Canon GL2 for $2700. Sure, it’s not as good, and it’s more expensive, but . . .

    I end up talking to Becky “We don’t give out last names”, supervisor with Apple Direct, extension 42692. I give her the same line of questioning I’ve given everyone else – after explaining my frustration.

    Me: There’s no recompense? You’re not going to do anything to mitigate this and attempt to leave me as anything other than a very frustrated customer?
    Becky: I’ve noted your frustration. There’s no equivalent we’re offering at this time.
    Me: Can you help me undo the credit line I opened? I’d rather not have an Apple account, and I’d rather not have my credit report state that I opened an account and then immediately closed it.
    Becky: There’s nothing I can do about that.
    Me: Are you saying there’s not a system in place?
    Becky: That’s correct.
    Me: Then why don’t you send me to someplace where someone can help me?
    Becky: I’m empowered to help you with this situation.
    Me: But you’re not actually helping.

    Becky, it seems is where everything ends at Apple, leading to (after much polite frustration), inane exchanges like this:

    Becky: There’s no one else above me.
    Me: No one else? It’s just you and Steve Jobs?
    Me: You’re not even going to suggest I write a letter to corporate?
    Becky: You can write a letter to corporate. I’ll give you their address.
    Me: That was my suggestion. That doesn’t count.

    Becky continues to suggest throughout the rest of the conversation that I write a letter to corporate, as though this were useful and not, in fact, an idea I made to prove a point.

    Becky claims that Sony is discontinuing the camera (not true, and when I point this out, she backpedals and says that, “They aren’t supplying us with the camera.”) Becky offers me $50 off a $1000 purchase, and says it’s something she’s granting to me because of my frustration, and that they won’t be granting that to anyone else. Then I point out her supervisee offered me a blanket $50 off without the steep $1000 price tag.

    So I’m left without a camera, and with a credit line that’s worthless to me at this point.

    My general frustration is that the whole thing sounds like a bait-and-switch. I signed up for an Apple account, applied for and opened an Apple credit line, and placed an order for a camera. Then, I was told it isn’t in stock (and still never confirmed that it was, in fact, ever in stock), and have a Canon GL2 suggested to me (a lesser camera, offered at $700 more). I’m told repeatedly that an email was sent to me, but I never received anything (and yes, I checked my spam folder). And there’s no attempt – anything – to make me a happy customer, other than $50 off of a high ticket item. Which is negated by the fact that if I chose to use the Apple credit, I’ve lost the 90 days no interest offer for my first purchase.

    Star R.”

Star wrote again:

    “I just got an invoice emailed for the free DVI connector. It lists it as free, with 0.00 tax and 0.00 shipping, for a total of… $225.16.

    I’m not sure what’s up with that math, but it’s a nice bit of frosting on the cake.

    I’ve attached a screenshot of the relevant portion of the email.



BONUS LINK: An article on how great Apple’s Customer Service is. “Why Everyone Loves Apple” [CoolTechZone] (Thanks to Andrew!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. christy says:

    My brain hurts just reading that. I feel for you. But this cracked me up:

    “Me: That was my suggestion. That doesn’t count.”

  2. KevinQ says:

    I don’t know. Sounds like Apple had some real problems. Offering a camera for half-price? Sounds like something just got entered into their system wrong. Interestingly, Apple has no Sony cameras listed in their online store – no video cameras, no still cameras. I suspect that something got entered that shouldn’t have been, and Star made the purchase before Apple noticed and got the website fixed.

    And unfortunately, Apple is probably under no legal obligation to sell that camera at that price. (IANAL) In contract law, an advertised price is not an offer to sell a product at that price. It is an invitation for the consumer to offer to buy it at that price. Why does this matter? Offer + acceptance = contract. If the advertisement was an offer, than the store would be legally obligated to sell the product at that price to anybody who accepted. Even if the store (legitimately) ran out of stock. Failure to sell it right then and there would be breach of contract, and the store would be liable.

    State laws often cover advertisements and sales, but the laws are a patchwork, and most don’t require a retailer to honor an advertisement which is an honest mistake. Which I think this was. I think this is probably something they used to sell, or that they will sell in the future, and that a bit got flipped somewhere and the page went mistakenly live. They probably couldn’t sell it if they wanted to. I feel bad for Star, but there are probably few legal avenues to pursue.


  3. Fairytale of Los Angeles says:

    Mike Curtis over at HD For Indies got a few pointed complaints about Apple’s FX1 debacle here.

    (For those of you who are student filmmakers, editors dealing with HD workflow concerns, and folks who just think obscenely high-end professional video hardware is neat, you should be reading Mike’s blog. No personal connection, I just think he’s providing a great read.)

  4. ValkRaider says:

    Stores are not legally responsible for typos in advertisements. In order to win a suit based on “false advertising” you have to be able to demonstrate that the false advertisement was:

    1. Not a mistake (meaning deliberate, such as a bait and switch)


    2: Caused you *actual* damages.

    Now of course, there may be exceptions…..

  5. PanicRoom says:

    Whether Apple is at fault or not is beside the point. If you have a reasonable case for dispute (which you sure seem to) Apple should work with you toward a resolution. Apple is generally very good at customer service — you may just have to remind them occasionally. It’s a pain, but try ringing back and see if the next CSR is any more helpful/insightful (maybe mention that you are a pro user). If that still fails to resolve things do the following:

    1. Try posting your issue to Macintouch ( They will be able to point you in the right direction.

    2. Some have (apparently?) had luck speaking with Apple Public Relations [(408) 974-2042 or mail VP Katie Cotton (, though I can’t personally vouch for the usefulness/success rate here]. Explain your problem and point them toward this “high-exposure” post outlining their service problems and encouraging them to live up to their industry-leading customer service standards.

    3. If all else fails, contact Steve Jobs at (I’ve not seen the above address before). This is not an urban legend. Steve does indeed read his email (though it is first vetted by his underlings) and I know of several problems that have been resolved within as little as 24 hours after a mail to Steve Jobs.

    Hope this helps toward a resolution. Would love to hear how it turns out.