Catch-22s At

Kenneth tried to get a jump on Black Friday shopping by doing some shopping at yesterday, but the site’s arcane rules and procedures ended up jumping him. I could try to summarize but I’m pretty sure I’d get something wrong so let’s just let Kenneth explain what happened:

While shopping this AM, 2 items from my shopping cart disappeared and is showing as sold out online. In haste, I bought another item comparable to the 2 that I had. After a couple of hours, I changed my mind and wanted to cancel my order. So, I called customer service. My order was in process. However, it was a bundled package and one of the item was already “released”. I was told the whole order cannot be cancelled since my order is considered complete if one item was “released”. The rest of the items in the bundle also cannot be canceled. So, when processing and shipping, the bundled items are treated separately and considered complete if one item is processed. But when trying to cancel, it has to be canceled as a bundle and not separately? So, you treat it differently in each situation for Best Buy’s convenience and not customer oriented. Also, when things are in your shopping cart, people should NOT be able to take it away. In brick and mortar store, when you have things in your shopping cart, would you just let somebody else steal them without your knowledge?

Got all that? The lesson to learn here is not to brave the site until you’re exactly sure what you’ll be buying, and not to do hasty alternate-item purchasing should one of your targets disappear from your shopping cart.

If you have a story of an online purchase snafu, please share it in the comments.


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  1. fantomesq says:

    This is badly worded by Best Buy’s customer service but is neither Catch-22 nor contradictory. Once one limited availability item has been ‘released’, it can not be cancelled pre-shipping. The order has been placed and will be fulfilled. Upon RETURN, bundled items (items with discounts because they were purchased with another product – get a free printer with computer purchase, for instance) must be returned together since one item in the bundle was discounted.

    Refuse delivery on the product and it should be credited to you upon return or if you want part of the order, follow the directions on returning the items via return policy. Its not tough.

    • lannister80 says:

      Yeah, that’s not complicated at all. *eye roll*

      • coren says:

        The bundle can’t be canceled since one item is shipped/released.

        You have to return the whole bundle because it is given at a discount. (although they have been known to just pro rate the discount or remove it entirely – or leave it intact. Hurrah)

        I’m not sure how that is complicated – to me it seems pretty obvious.

      • fantomesq says:

        Roll your eyes all you want but a little reading comprehension first? I said it wasn’t “catch-22” or “contradictory”… this does NOT mean it wasn’t complicated… but it actually isn’t all that complicated. The customer bought a bundle deal – two or more discounted products sold together. When the customer did this, the hard to get product was allocated, so the order couldn’t be cancelled. Once the product was received, he could return the entire order but not just parts of the bundle without incurring penalties. Its actually pretty straightforward.

      • fantomesq says:

        Roll your eyes all you want but a little reading comprehension first? I said it wasn’t “catch-22” or “contradictory”… this does NOT mean it wasn’t complicated… but it actually isn’t all that complicated. The customer bought a bundle deal – two or more discounted products sold together. When the customer did this, the hard to get product was allocated, so the order couldn’t be cancelled. Once the product was received, he could return the entire order but not just parts of the bundle without incurring penalties. Its actually pretty straightforward.

    • Sinful Josh says:

      This is not completely true.

      How would you feel if this bundle package was backordered for a month straight. But you cannot cancel due to one item as marked as shipped.

  2. TuxthePenguin says:

    This is really two “issues” in a single experience. Both aren’t really catch-22’s – they’re just annoyances. With the order being “complete” with one item shipping – simply wait until the items get to you and go into Best Buy. Nothing in this experience prevents you from returning the item.

    As for the first, this is just complaining for complaining’s sake. Having an item in your “shopping cart” online is not equivalent to the physical shopping cart. It is just a bookmark to make checking out easier – the item does not go into a hold just because you’ve hit “add to shopping cart”. If there are only ten of an item available and you delay, those items will go to those who COMPLETE the transaction first. The online shopping cart is more analogous to the old video-game cage at stores – you ask them to pull it down for you and pay for it before you leave the counter.

  3. kateblack says:

    Items disappear out of online shopping carts all the time. Any time there’s a finite supply of items, paying for them counts. Holding them doesn’t. Most people don’t notice it, because they may be buying items where the supply is large. I’ve had it happen to me while shopping for used books & cds on Amazon Marketplace. It’s frustrating, but fair. You snooze, you lose.

    It’s also common on ticket selling websites & phone lines, for airlines, car rentals, theatre tickets, etc. You get your seat selection and have a few minutes to book, or it gets released back into the pool for other shoppers.

    The alternative, of people being able to remove items or tickets from the pool by adding them to a shopping cart and then sitting on it indefinitely, would be much worse for consumers.

  4. RickN says:

    Putting something in your online cart is not the same as putting something in your cart at a store. At a B&M store, the item doesn’t sell out for you because you’re holding your physical copy. Online, you’re one of thousands looking at an item that may number in the dozens in their warehouse.

    If a webseller shouldn’t remove an item from your cart when they run out, what should they do to prevent this from occurring? Is putting it in your online cart a commitment to buy? Should the warehouse set aside one for you when you add it to your cart, in case you buy? Should you be prevented from adding an item to your cart because someone else has it in their cart? Maybe it should stay in your cart until you checkout and then they drop the bomb on you, making you start all over?

    • Snakeophelia says:

      There could be a time limit for your shopping cart. I believe Nordstrom deletes items from your shopping cart after 14 days, but whether they can sell out during that time, I’m not sure. I don’t think anything I’ve put in my cart has ever disappeared during that 14-day window, but then, I’m not buying scarce, big-ticket items.

      I have to agree, though, that it’s verr frustrating to put something in your cart and have it instantly disappear. Sometimes that’s happened so quickly that I was sure the item was out of stock before I selected it, and the website had not been quick enough on the draw to warn me.

      • floraposte says:

        I don’t know of any place that guarantees availability of items in your shopping cart, though–it just means that it’s holding the list for you until you decide to go ahead and buy it. If it was to turn into a guarantee, it would either mean the shopping cart would have to be incredibly limited, time-wise, or it would require your credit card at that stage.

  5. uptown says:

    Just return what you don’t want when it arrives at your door.

  6. laddibugg4 says:

    well…you could make the comparison of a physical shopping cart…if you walk away from a ‘real’ cart, people will swoop in and take your stuff out….leaving your stuff in a virtual cart for hours is about the same.

  7. El-Brucio says:

    If businesses don’t want consumers complaining about things vanishing from their shopping cart online, perhaps they should stop calling them shopping carts.

    Schrodinger box might be more appropriate – you won’t really know if the item can be bought or not until you try to pay for it!

    Of course, the sensible solution would be to institute some kind of timed session for the consumer to let them know the items would be held for a few minutes, and if not purchased, returned to the general pool of inventory. Nah, that’s just crazy talk.

  8. CyGuy says:

    Tell your credit card company to contest the charge and that you don’t want it shipped. Once you take delivery and try to return it, I’m sure Best Buy will try to charge you the delivery barges and a restocking fee.

  9. chenry says:

    an Online Store’s cart is not the same as a real cart, man. You never had the items in the first place, so no one took them from you. I mean, could you imagine if they were? I could go to Best Buy’s website and start filling up my cart with items just to keep other people from ordering them.

    The grief that would cause.

  10. imsnowbear says:

    Time for the tiny, tiny violins?

  11. AJ_Syrinx says:

    The real lesson is that if you miss out on a deal, avoid the temptation to buy “comparable” items.

  12. nashguy615 says:

    Although I can’t relate to the Shopping Cart/Buying a Comparable Item issue, I had a very similar experience trying to cancel a online order yesterday morning…

    6am – Place an order for a laptop
    6:10am – Forgot bing cashback and forgot to enter Rewards #, so placed a duplicate order for same item
    6:15am – call Customer Service – they are closed and tell me to call back at 7am
    7:05am – I call back and an automated prompt tells me that cust. serv. is STILL closed…
    7:15am- I hold for 20 mins and someone answers. They look at my order and say it has already been sent to the Warehouse and there is nothing they can do. I asked why it was already in shipping after only 1 hour and they tell me it’s how their system works and there is only a small ‘window of opportunity’ to cancel or modify any online orders.

    I ask if I can return the item to the store upon receipt, and he says yes, but I would have to eat the $14.95 shipping charge because Best Buy no longer refunds shipping.

    Lesson learned – shop instead – no sales tax, free shipping, and you can (usually) cancel and modify orders placed within the first couple of hours.

    • coren says:

      I’ve had luck escalating such cases as cancellation wasn’t available to me and as such it’s partially their responsibility that the order went through.

  13. BenChatt says:

    It may not be too absurd, but it’s still unfortunate, and as a consumer, I would never use the site again (not that I shop there at all) given that situation.

  14. JP..Rumplestilskin says:

    I can definitely agree with Phil about online shopping carts. I had a similar experience on Walmart’s website with the Rockband for $50. I added it to my shopping cart, went straight to checkout, and after I entered in my info, got a message saying it’s no longer available. Not available! I just put it in my cart!
    Why can’t they put the items on hold for a few minutes while you’re going through 4 pages of entering in shipping information? There are several websites that do so and are much more consumer friendly.

  15. coren says:

    Sorry, Phil, not a Catch 22 at all, and in fact is internally consistent.

    It’s a bundle, so once the process starts, it can’t be canceled – otherwise you end up with part of the bundle and BB isn’t always equipped to properly deal with that should a customer not be honest and return it (as they would have to pro rate the deal in some fashion).

    They’re treated separately in shipping in order to expedite the process and get items to you faster. It has nothing to do with what was in the order being a bundle or not – this is common practice amongst online retailers. I’d say getting my items sooner is a convenience for me, not for Best Buy.

    As for his shopping cart, items aren’t physical items and as such nothing was “taken” from him. You can’t camp a brick and mortar store (well most of them) for days at a time, you can’t go into best buy before they open to get the sale before it happens. This again is common practice and if it wasn’t done there’d be complaints that his item sold out instead.

  16. techphets says:

    Dell Outlet and Ticketmaster have been giving people a matter of minutes (or seconds) to complete their order before losing their items for quite some time now. Appears Best Buy didn’t think of that one. Doh.

  17. ecvogel says:

    So long as your activily shopping and have not hit sa a 30 min of inactivity, nothing should disapear out of the cart or be sold to someone else.

  18. TVGenius says:

    Sounds like in reality, one of his complaints is caused by their attempt to prevent the other thing he’s complaining about. They make stuff go into ‘released’ status so that other people won’t end up with it in their cart and then be disappointed. However, they can’t really reserve inventory just because you have it in your cart… otherwise they could end up with thousands of one item sitting in peoples’ carts… or people complaining that their carts ‘time out’ too soon.

  19. Elvisisdead says:

    I’d guarantee that they DID think of a hold/release functionality. There is a calculation made by each and every company as to what that functionality costs. Sure, you may get some frustrated customers that show out of stock before they can get their payment info verified. However, you would get a lot more if inventory was constantly fluctuating due to people starting the process and holding inventory only to have it released minutes later.

    There’s also a calculable cost for their supply chain platform. That hold/release operation is an extra 2 transactions of overhead, at minimum, and depending on the implementation probably more. That’s fine if it’s one guy, but spread across multiple millions of transactions, that has a real cost to a company.

    I think it’s just a problem with the conception of what an online shopping cart is. He needs to think of it more like walking up to a counter and asking for an item. The clerk says, “let me check to see if we have them”. The clerk looks, and says, “yeah, we have them”. Then the clerk rings up the total. “How would you like to pay for that?” If the customer can’t pay, the item is never removed from stock, as that would be a lost opportunity for a paying customer to buy the item. So, the customer plunks cash down on the counter. The clerk goes to get the items from the warehouse. Sometimes, they may have sold out before the transaction is complete. Then, a refund or a backorder slip is issued.

    All in all, the model makes sense. The only time this is really a problem is with limited stock items, and not worth the cost to the company to implement a special supply chain just for those items.

  20. evw123 says:

    I also got screwed using Best Buy’s but online Thanksgiving day gimmick. They had a Sony Vaio laptop on sale for $399, they said they would be available for purchase online on Thursday. So at 12:01 am I tried to order it it said “coming soon”, I tried a couple more times throughout the night and finally at 4am I was able to place the laptop in my shopping cart, the order processed and I received an order confirmation email at 4:26am. Later in the day they send me two additional emails asking me if I want to but accessories for the laptop, so I’m super excited about the great deal and that it’ll be delivered next week. Then I check my email on Friday, and there’s an email from BB with the subject “Order Cancelled” it was sent out at 11:56pm on Thursday…20hrs later! So I call the hotline # because I’m super pissed. After being on hold for nearly a half an hour I finally get to speak with someone. She tells me they oversold this laptop by 700!! And that there was nothing that they could do to make it right. I told her I could wait for the next shipment of these, but she said something about the manufacturer not making anymore. So I said “so basically because you guys messed up, I got screwed” and she said “well, that’s one way of putting it”. We demanded to speak to a supervisor, but apparently she just stepped out, so we got her name and are going to try to call again today.
    Did anybody else have this happen to them?