OfficeMax Loves Receipts. Hates You.

14 months back, Steve picked himself up a dandy HP 6210 all-in-one printer from OfficeMax. He was confident that it would break almost immediately; that’s what cheap printers do.

Still, he was skeptical when an OfficeMax employee tried to upsell him on their $30 Max Assurance extended warranty. But, somehow, he ended up being convinced, specifically by the promise that he didn’t need to hang on to a scrap of paper indefinitely (namely, his receipt) to make good on the warranty. His name and the printer’s serial number would be enough.

Flash forward 14 months. Guess what little tattered scrap of paper he needs?

Steve’s email after the jump:

ot sure if this really fits in with Consumerist’s mission, but I just got finished fighting with OfficeMax over their “Max Assurance” extended warranty scam. Extended warranty programs are getting pushed harder and harder on consumers, but some of them look to be a complete waste of money. Max Assurance is definitely one to stay away from.

In April 2005, I purchased an HP 6210 all-in-one printer from OfficeMax. At the time, I was assured by the sales person that I wouldn’t need to save my receipt, and simply registering my name and address would be enough. They, supposedly, would save the serial number of my purchase so they can identify me later. Okay, cool, I thought, since I’m bad at saving receipts and since printers tend to break often, it would be worth the $30 or $40 to get it replaced. I was told that it was a simple matter of bringing the printer in for a replacement, or if the printer no longer is on the market, they’ll give me equivalent value in store credit so I can buy something new. How can I go wrong, I thought. I buy the two year extended warranty and feel like a smart shopper.

Fast forward to today, September 2006. The flatbed scanner on the printer dies in a way that Google searches can’t resolve. So I call the store where I purchased it (OfficeMax #582 in San Francisco) and ask them what I should do. This is where everything goes sour.

I bet you can guess what happens next.

Suddenly I need a receipt, despite being told explicitly that I didn’t need one a year and a half ago. (I wouldn’t have purchased the plan had saving a receipt been required.) The first person I speak with asks me the name of the checkout person who rang me up a year and a half ago. I tell him that I don’t make a habit of writing down the name of every person at every store I shop at, and that all I want them to do is look up the transaction for me, or otherwise tell me what other piece of information I can give them to identify my purchase. I offer him my credit card number and the serial number of the printer, but he refuses to help. I’m told this is for “my security” (translation: we’re not going to help you and we’re not going to tell you why). He then gives me a toll-free number to call (866-805-9095), which he says will email me information about my Max Assurance plan. Somewhat relieved, I ask him that if I print out the email and bring it in, will that be good enough? He says no, that I still need the original receipt. When I ask him what the point of calling is, he puts me on hold for an indefinite period of time, and eventually the line goes dead.

I call back, and speak to someone who identifies himself as the store manager. I explain my story to him, and he becomes immediately belligerent. Granted, I clearly expressed my frustration from the beginning, but I didn’t use profanity or ask for anything unreasonable – I simply wanted my printer replaced per the terms I agreed to when purchasing it. I again offer my credit card number and the serial number of the printer, and ask for the phone number of any department at OfficeMax that can look up my transaction. He insists that it’s impossible to ever reference any past transaction, and that if I don’t have the original receipt, he won’t help me. I remind him again that the person who sold me the printer made it clear that I don’t need the receipt. He tells me that he doesn’t believe me – effectively accusing me of lying.

I also tell him what the last person said, about the toll free number that will email you information about the purchase, and ask him why that isn’t good enough to prove that the printer is mine and that I did indeed purchase it from OfficeMax. He tells me that he has no idea what I’m talking about, and there’s no way anyone at the phone number will email me anything about my purchase. His tale completely conflicts with what the last person at the same store tells me, though ultimately the result is the same.

Then the store manager offers me a “discount” on a new printer, and it becomes immediately apparent that I am, in fact, being scammed. He claims that this is to meet me “half way”. Yeah, what a compromise – I buy more from his store, I don’t get my printer fixed, my Max Assurance plan is worthless, and everyone makes more money from me. My $200 printer is about to cost me $400.

Finally, I call the toll free number given to me earlier. The story is now completely different. They don’t look up my transaction; instead they take my word that I am the owner of the printer and what the value of the printer is, and claim to email me a shipping label for the printer. However, they tell me that I can’t bring the printer in to the store to get it replaced, even though that’s what I was originally told!

Instead, I am to box it up, and wait 10-14 business days for processing, then wait another 10-14 days after that to receive the “gift coupon” that I can use at any OfficeMax store. 20-28 business days without a printer is about a month and a half of calendar days. Wow, how convenient. A month and a half without a printer for a small business is painful and pretty much impossible, so now I’m just going to buy a new one (though definitely not from OfficeMax). Which is exactly what I would have done without the $30 extended warranty, except now I’m out $30 and an hour of wasted time on the phone, arguing with the rude and unhelpful. I’m also not told what will happen to my printer if they can’t match up the serial number. Am I notified? Do they send it back to me? Do they throw it away?

And that’s assuming I ever receive this “shipping label”, which still has yet to appear in either my Inbox or my spam folder.

I guess the moral is save your receipt? But that’s not really the point, is it. Someone at the company tells me one thing (“oh no problem, you don’t need a receipt” and “if it breaks, bring it in! we’ll replace it! no problem!”) when I’m deciding whether or not to give them my money, yet does something completely different when the time comes to follow through. And worse, when I remind them of what they promised, I’m either lying or it’s the fault of some rogue employee whose name I’m expected to remember a year and a half later. No one tries to take responsibility for the situation, except by offering me the “privilege” of spending more money with them. Suddenly the corporation becomes a maze of individuals and departments for me to navigate, rather than a single entity structured to service their customers. Why is the consumer expected to learn the internal functioning of a giant corporation just to get a printer fixed, or otherwise get accused of lying? The whole thing is completely insane.