Circuit City Says Rogue Firedog Was Wrong, Refunds $40 'Repair' Fee

Last week we wrote about a Circuit City customer who was charged $40 without warning for “repairs” to a brand new computer. We received several explanations from Circuit City insiders, both in the comments and through email, that the repair was mandatory—Acer and Circuit City had agreed that instead of pulling the PCs, the retailer’s Firedog techs would flash the BIOS in-store upon purchase. What was unclear was how or why this would fall under the Firedog “Quickstart” service, which is optional and includes things like removing shortcuts from your desktop and setting up your background. (Seriously, check it out here.) Yesterday we received the following interesting email from Circuit City HQ.

Jim at Circuit City’s consumer affairs division wrote,

I have some follow-up information on this matter to share with you.

Thanks to your Web posting, we have been able to determine that a few employees at one of our stores incorrectly charged a customer for work that our firedog techs did on the computer that he purchased. The manufacturer notified us that the PC in question did need a repair and we coordinated the repairs with the manufacturer. The customer should NOT have been charged.

We have reached out to the affected customer to apologize to him for any inconvenience and to make sure a refund is provided. We have also taken steps to ensure that our associates are aware of company policies on this issue.

I hope this information is helpful,

Frankly, we were suspicious that Circuit City was taking advantage of the faulty PC inventory to make a little extra money, so we’re happy to see the company step up and correct this oversight so quickly.


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  1. pgh9fan says:

    Holy crap! I clicked the Firedog link. They’re getting $40 to set your background and move some icons to the trash.
    If anybody here decided they want this service, skip CC and call me. I’d do it for $31.99–a full 20% less.

  2. Cornelius047 says:

    It used to be that when a retailer screwed up they would go “above and beyond” to rectify the issue… i.e, gift certificate, rebate, whatever.

    Now it just seems that people are expected to be happy as long as the company owns up to their mistake.

  3. goodpete says:

    $40 to set the desktop and remove “unwanted programs”? How do they know what programs I don’t want? I mean, how would I know that I could get 40 days of free AOL service if they deleted the icon from the desktop (and start menu, and quick start launch, and system tray, and….)??

    In all seriousness, though, these operations shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to complete with the right tools and know-how. $80/hour is waaaay too much for something any teenager can do in half an hour…

    • Starfury says:

      @plamoni: Admittedly any teenager could take care of removing the crud in 30 min; but they should also be paid for it. While the price charged for this is wrong, it’s also wrong to expect someone to work on your computer for free because they may know more than you. My response to “can you fix my computer?” is now “I charge $$ to look at it to see what’s wrong.” I will take barter for repairs; I’m currently owed help in installing crown molding by a guy I fixed 2 computers for.

      • xnihilx says:

        @Starfury: True true. Everyone at my work (a whole school corporation) asks if I do side jobs and they somehow assume I’ll do it for a favor (free) because we have some sort of professional relationship. There are some people I wouldn’t mind doing it for but I tell them 1. I don’t have time to fix my own computer 2. I don’t want to look at a computer when I get home 3. If I do it for you I have to do it for everyone 4. I charge…a lot. I don’t give price specifics but I don’t think anyone would want to pay what I think spending my precious non-computer repairs filled free time on their repairs is ($500 an hour.)

      • BrianDaBrain says:

        @Starfury: I whole-heartedly agree with you that if you request a service, you should have to pay for it. The point of this one, though, was that the customer did not request it. Adding a charge for a service that the customer did not request is just plain WRONG, regardless of the fact that the Firedog rep had to flash the BIOS to fix some manufacturer defect.

        I charge money to fix computers and so does my room mate, but we don’t just do the repair and hand people a bill. There’s a “This is what’s wrong, and this is how much it will cost you” phase in there too.

      • huadpe says:

        @Starfury: 30 min? Try two minutes. Seriously, they do so little that one of the things they list is “Initial setup: We’ll turn on your computer.”

    • JeffMc says:

      @Starfury: Isn’t what’s wrong here not the price but the fact the manufacturer loads a new computer up with garbage that some people will need to pay someone (no matter what the price) to remove for them?

      • taking_this_easy says:

        @JeffMc: well, the bloatware is one way to keep the prices down…. advertisements help pay for your PC….

        thats why in Dell online, computers preloaded with linux often come up more expensive than those preloaded with microsoft because Dell offers more discounts with microsoft…

        dont want to pay the windows tax? be prepared to pay the linux fees….. :P

  4. hardtoremember says:

    Seriously? I can over charge for computer “repairs” far cheaper than them! I could make a boatload installing free programs too!

  5. xnihilx says:

    I am a computer tech and this is the fair market price for PC repairs. I worked in a shop four years ago and the per hour price was $60 and hour (data recovery was $90 an hour) with a $30 mininum charge. Granted in real life time a $60 hour charge was probably really two hours of time but actual work time was only an hour (can’t count crappy slow computer taking too long as doing work.) Some places charge more some less. Hiring a consultant to come to your house is usually even more, one guy I know charges $65 and hour in home (which is a steal) another I know charges $80 and hour for in home service.

  6. WaywardSoul says:

    It’s obviously the right thing for Circuit City to refund the customer’s money so I’m not going to congratulate them on that. Instead I have to ask the question, why didn’t that letter from Jim say that they’ve also taken steps to verify that no other customers were victims of this error and to refund their money too. I’m sorry, but I have no doubt that this customer was neither the first nor the last to incur this improper charge at that store.

  7. chrisjames says:

    Let it go. They offer a well-outlined service, not a shady scam deal. Us internet Magellans may think what they do is child’s play, but some people couldn’t find the power switch. It’s $40 to preserve the priceless belief that computers really are magic boxes and those techie teenagers are really wizards for hire. Fair trade.

    What is scammy is charging for repairs on a brand new computer. No, it’s more like outright theft. That’s not even driving the car off the lot before the transmission falls out. That’s buying a new car at dealer price and having them tell you the transmission costs extra. That happens, yes, but Circuit City needs to take this a little further than just “They shouldn’t have done that. We’ve made it all better.” That’s just sneaky-talk for “I kicked you in the face? No, that was my foot that did it. I’ve told it to stop. Can we be friends now?”

    • The real point, however, is as chrisjames wrote: that CC shouldn’t charge for a repair they agreed to make on a manufacturer’s behalf. The repair is required to sell a fully functioning computer, so it can’t be considered part of any “quickstart” service.

  8. Sudonum says:

    Then there was this article in todays NY Times:
    “Industry Rethinks Moneymaking Software Practice”

  9. So let me get this straight. According to their website:

    Initial setup: We’ll turn on your computer, and run through all the steps involved in getting your Windows operating system running and set to your specifications.

    So basically, they are going to save you the trouble of “Agreeing to the terms and condions of the EULA” for Microsoft Windows and any other software.

    Does this service include you signing and notarizing a power of attorney, allowing them to sign an agreement on your behalf? Because that’s what clicking “I Agree” is equivalent to — signing a legal agreement, saying that you accept their terms and condititions.

    Sorry, this just REEKS of class-action lawsuit.

    • @Dooley: If they’re helping you set up accounts and a background, odds are they do it right in front of you, handing you the keyboard any time a password or user agreement is requested. Unless, of course, they select a password based on a personality quiz or visual assessment of your comportment–in which case the login would be “sucker” and the background would read “I SHOULD PROBABLY NOT EVEN OWN THIS MAGIC BOX.”

    • RedSonSuperDave says:

      @Dooley: Just so you know, the legality of those so-called “agreements” is highly questionable. Not only do they piss all over American copyright law (especially “Fair Use”), but regardless of what Giant Evil Corporations would like to bully American consumers into believing, clicking “I Agree” is NOT the same as signing a legal document.

      I don’t buy licenses. I buy computers and I buy software. If a computer or software manufacturer wants to have a different relationship with me than that, then the terms and conditions they want me to agree to have to be delineated in full before I ever trade cash for product.

      So I’d say Circuit City is safe in this department. Hell, my CAT can click “I Agree” while I’m out of the room making a sandwich, that doesn’t make it legal.

  10. BoomerFive says:

    I want to buy a computer at CC and get this service, then spend a couple hours asking the tech to show me desktop backgrounds and widgets until I “make up my mind”.

    After which I will say, “ya know what? I think I’ll just choose my own wallpaper. I don’t think I need this service”.

  11. Trick says:

    What is cool about this CC scam is that in order to buy that shiny new HP at such a cheap cost, you have to get it pre-loaded with many crap-ware programs that you have to pay CC $$$ to remove so you can use it!

  12. liability insurance for accidentally deleting wanted desktop icons has skyrocketed over the years, so I guess it’s only appropriate to charge for it accordingly.

  13. jimmydeweasel says:

    Wow…I really want to buy a New Computer that needs repair when I open the box.
    What a great marketing tool.
    Sellin’ sizzle not the steak……….

  14. econobiker says:

    So the auto dealer equivalent of the Quickstart service would be:
    “Sure we’ll remove the Barbie pink pinstripe from your new
    black 4×4 V-8 pickup truck but it will cost you.”

  15. admiral_stabbin says:

    To those of us with enough wits about us to post comments on Consumerist…the $39.99 for that “QuickStart” service seems like a cruel rip-off. But, there are many people out there that probably find that cruel rip-off, err, helpful service to be invaluable when buying a new computer. What’s the old saying about a fool and his (or her) money? ;-)

  16. Trencher93 says:

    Isn’t this a page out of standard operating procedure to blame the employees for doing it without corporate approval and let them take the fall?

  17. jimjones124 says:

    COme on now. These guys admitted their mistake and took care of the customer right? Isn’t that what it is all about?

    Give credit where credit is due.

  18. snowlock says:

    i need a job with firedog;
    sitting around deleting free trial software shortcuts all day sounds too easy to pass up.

  19. Bush2008 says:

    Any services are a scam, obviously!

    Someone runs Windows updates, disables redundant software from msconfig, and deletes all the advertisements? Scam!

    Someone changes your oil, when you could have done it? Scam!

    Someone reads a law book and gives you counsel, I mean, come on, I could do that! SCAM!

  20. Dyscord says:

    I think the reason why we think charging 40 bucks to change your wallpaper is because we know how damn easy it is. To some people buying a computer, it’s a big mystery and they’ll gladly shell out the money because the expect it to be hard as hell. I agree that people should get paid to look at your computer, but damn…40 dollars for about 10 minutes worth of work? wow.

    It’s the same in the auto industry. Most of what you’re paying for when you get your car repaired is labor. Though at least there it’s somewhat justified.

  21. Bush2008 says:

    The thing is, it’s not just “setting up a wall paper”. That’s like saying a lawyer just “reads some books from the library”. Needless to say, while it is rather easy work if you’re familiar with computers, even for experienced people it takes longer than 10 minutes, even if half the time is restarting the computer or watching a progress bar. Here, you can always try telling this to your grandma whenever she buys a new computer:

    “Just go to the run command and type in msconfig, then disable these programs under start up? Ok great, now disable these services. Now you need to remove some non-essential programs that don’t need to be on the machine. Ok, smooth. Now run your Windows updates and install everything BLAH BLAH BLAH”

    You could be on the phone with her for an hour, or she could pay $39.99. I’d much rather her simply pay $39.99

  22. AbinaMonart says:

    I hate the phrase ‘reach out’.

  23. jp7570 says:

    Hopefully, Firedog and CC will not be around much longer. Maybe they will be gone by 2009.

  24. coydog33 says:

    Look, I work for Circuit City. Those of you who think this is a blanket mandate to scam customers out of $40 are just being ignorant. The problem is that there are always some cheaters wherever you go. I have seen many of these no talents come and go. Instead of offering services the correct way by determining a persons knowledge and needs, they just find a loop hole to make themselves look good. The cheaters, like the manager at that store, always end up getting caught and end up getting fired. Its too easy to say that “Ohhh! Circuit City is cheating customers!” when its a few individuals who take nothing but short-cuts.
    Im sure everyone here does things the correct way and NEVER tries to cheat to win. Im sure you all have worked with people who cheat and take shortcuts to make themselves look good. Is that the companys fault? The manager and associate at the store in question probably load hacks into their video games so they can feel good about themselves. Im sure their parents were the ones who support the “No one loses and everyone gets a trophy” in youth sports. Instead of just teaching their kids that life sucks sometimes and you have to do things the right way to succeed.

    The last part is while most of you are knowledgeable about PC’s and who to load and delete things, working daily with the public I get to see the sheer level of ignorance EVERY DAY! For Jebus’s sake, people call their computer a hard drive!!!!

    Guest: I need to buy a new hard drive. (While standing by the computers).
    Salesman: OK. Let me take you over to the hard drives. what size do you need?
    Guest: This kind! (points to PC.)
    Salesman: So you need a computer?
    Guest: NO! I need a new hard drive!
    Salesman: (confused) what do you need the hard drive for? Is the one in your PC bad?
    Guest: I need it for my kids homework. (pointing at the computer) I want one of these.
    Saleman: (now looking to hide under a rock somewhere) The hard drive is part of the computer.
    Guest: I dont care. I just need a new hard drive.

    So obviously the majority of the people we deal with are not exactly Mensas. Unfortunately, this happens on a daily basis.

  25. res1i3js says:

    Yeah, what coydog said.

    Inteligence is alot harder to come by.

    and 30 minutes to remove the bloatware is no where near the right amount of time to get all that crap out.

    Bloatware is also there for people who have never had internet access before and want it, but don’t know where to start.

    Yes, most people call the computer a hard drive. (Rate customers 1-3, the 3 being don’t know how to plug in, 1 being I may insult their knowledge if I try to dumb it down for them.)

    Also I’ve found it common for people to call their desktops their screensavers, where the hell do these misconceptions come from? Who can confuse your background with a screensaver!? >_< Just read the name!

    But still, to remove that bloatware comes standard when you call in for tech support in a few places, it’s obviously alot easier than trying to resolve a nondescript bluescreen.

  26. candlejacks says:

    Quickstart is a rip off. All it is an automated program that does all the work for you.