What’s Going Wrong With Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Exchanges — And What You Can Do

Image courtesy of Samsung

Samsung issued an official recall of the defective, flammable, potentially exploding Galaxy Note 7 phone just over a week ago. Since then, consumers who own the defective devices have been trying to get the exchanges they’re due… but it’s not always going so well.

Yesterday, we asked anyone having issues swapping out a defective, recalled Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone to drop us a line. Boy, did you. In less than 24 hours, we received dozens of messages from frustrated phone owners, and they’re still coming in.

The Problems

When we sat down and parsed out all the different complaints we’ve received from consumers, the issues fall into two main categories: supply and communication.

Supply is a tough one to tackle. The top problem users are encountering is simply one of availability, and there’s really not much more that can be done about that. Samsung has reportedly already shipped about 500,000 units of the new, non-exploding Note 7 to the U.S. for distribution… but roughly 1 million of the original, defective version were sold.

That means simple math says that at best, only half of users could get new Note 7s right now — and the math is anything but simple. The reality is a complex web of distribution, with devices going to different regions and retailers as they become available. The phones went to customers nationwide, who purchased from a dizzying array of third-party retailers, each and every one of which has its own customer list and inventory management system.

Samsung’s making and shipping new phones as fast as they can, but rushing production is reportedly what led to the defect and the recall in the first place, and so doing it right takes time. On top of that, the market is global: U.S. customers aren’t the only ones who need faulty phones exchanged, nor is the U.S. the only market where Samsung wants to get new, non-exploding units on the shelves ASAP.

Communication is another tough nut. Samsung, and all the retailers and manufacturers who sold the Note 7 phone, each have a corporate policy on the recall, and a customer service number you can call. But again, the web of retail stymies us here: as you might guess, not every front-line employee in every store is equally well-versed on the issue.

One Verizon customer told us his local store charged him a $30 restocking fee for his Note 7, even though Verizon has officially waived those fees. Another Note 7 owner told us he called three different T-Mobile stores in his area, and received three different stories about when replacement units would be shipped by Samsung. Similar stories were common across other carriers.

The most challenging communications issues, though, are showing up with customers who bought their phones from places other than the four wireless biggies.

Consumers who bought at third-party retailers — including Best Buy, Costco, Sam’s Club, Target, and various online shops — may have bought their Note 7s from different sellers, but they all report a similar pattern: the great handoff.

They call their carriers; the carrier says, “contact the retailer where you bought it.” They contact the retailer; the retailer says, “contact your wireless carrier or Samsung.” They contact Samsung; the manufacturer says, “contact the retailer where you bought it.”

You can see how this might lead to frustration.

One customer who bought secondhand from an online retailer (before the recall was announced) reports spending 11 hours and counting on the phone so far with Samsung, with no solution in sight.

First, he claims that Samsung told him the warranty didn’t apply; then when he got them to understand his phone was recalled, he says he got handed around to multiple agents, at every level of customer service, who gave conflicting information about when (or if) he could expect a replacement phone — before finally transferring him back to his wireless carrier, incorrectly.

Also up a creek, evidently, are some customers who purchased from Samsung directly. Many of the complaints we received were from shoppers who ordered their Note 7 devices from samsung.com, and are now unable to get help.

“Currently, Samsung has made no official announcements… calling Samsung has been no help whatsoever,” one writes.

Another says, “Never have I had such an awful buying experience… I keep repeating to 3 or 4 different people that I did not buy the phone from [my carrier] after they tell me to take it there. I gave the IMEI like three times…. then they just transfer me to someone from sales. I was on the phone for over one hour … and finally they tell me their sales number is closed and I’ll have to call back Monday.”

A third: “As of the 21st I was told that since I purchased the Note 7 directly from samsung.com, that I would have to wait for them to contact me with what to do. Apparently FedEx won’t ship the old one.”

In the midst of confusion and poor communication, we hope we can help arm consumers with facts.

Your Rights And What You Should Do

Here are your rights: if you own a recalled Galaxy Note 7 (how to check), you may do one of three things with your faulty phone:

1.) Exchange it for a new, non-defective Galaxy Note 7

2.) Exchange it for a different phone, either a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge or, depending on who you purchased from, a broader selection of models, with a refund of the price difference between the two

3.) Return it for a full refund

Carriers and retailers have to let you do these things, a representative from the CPSC stressed to Consumerist. “We want to be abundantly clear that a full refund is one option” consumers can take, the spokesperson told us.

“We’re not sure if all available options are being presented to every consumer,” he added — a finding very much in line with what we’ve been hearing from frustrated consumers, too.

Here’s what we do know: in general, you should take your phone back to the place you bought it. All major carriers say that if you bought the phone you use on their service from someone else, you need to take it back to that someone. More specifically…

AT&T:

AT&T’s page for consumer information is here.

AT&T asks customers to visit “the original place of purchase or come to the AT&T store nearest you” to exchange faulty Note 7 phones.

Customers who purchased online or by phone are also encouraged to go to AT&T stores to exchange their phones. If you can’t visit an AT&T retail location, the company says to call (800) 331-0500 for assistance.

Sprint:

Sprint also wants you to send your phone back from exactly whence it came — but can’t promise anything on the timing front. Units in stores are being sold or exchanged to customers as those customers come in; there’s no waiting list.

Specifically, a representative for Sprint tells Consumerist, “We recommend customers call the store where they purchased the Note 7 to learn about current stock which will vary by location. Stores are handling exchanges on a first-come, first-served basis and cannot reserve devices.”

Sprint customers who bought from Sprint.com or by phone should call (888) 211-4747 about exchanging their devices, and Sprint customers who purchased their Note 7 at a national retail partner (like Best Buy, Costco, or somewhere else) should contact the original store location about inventory and exchange.

T-Mobile:

T-Mobile’s page for consumer information is here.

“Customers should definitely bring their phones into a retail store,” T-Mobile told us yesterday. “We’ll give them new accessories, whatever they have that they got with their Note 7, we’ll take care of it.”

The representative also stressed that it doesn’t matter if the phone is damaged, that affected Note 7 owners can exchange their devices for any other phone in the store’s inventory, and that they can still keep any purchase or signing bonus or goodies they received initially.

T-Mobile also says that customers who cannot go to a store can call (844) 275-9309 to get “any device of your choice in our inventory” sent with free next-day shipping. However, consumers should note that does not actually guarantee that there will be a Note 7 in the warehouse inventory to send; waiting for one of those may take a while.

Verizon:

Verizon’s page for consumer information is here.

Yesterday a representative for Verizon confirmed to Consumerist that owners should go back to the same retail location where they bought the phone. If you got yours at a Verizon store, go back to the same one. If you got yours from a third-party store, like Best Buy, you should go back there. If you bought it from Samsung, you have to contact them.

Verizon customers who bought from the Verizon website are also asked to go to a corporate store (different from an “authorized retailer”) to process the exchange if at all possible.

Verizon is waiving the restocking fee for any customer returning or exchanging a Galaxy Note 7, Verizon confirmed, so if a representative in-store tells you otherwise, they’re wrong. Verizon is also accepting damaged phones for the recall, so if an in-store representative says they can’t, they’re wrong too.

Samsung.com:

Samsung asks consumers who bought directly from them to call 1-844-365-6197 for further help and instructions.

It is true that FedEx will not take your old phone, if Samsung asks you to ship it back. “The FAA prohibits FedEx from shipping recalled or defective lithium batteries on our aircraft. As such, effectively immediately, FedEx Express will not accept recalled Galaxy Note7 devices in its network … FedEx will not accept shipments of any Galaxy Note7 devices at any of our retail locations or drop boxes,” a FedEx representative told Consumerist. Only shipments from authorized distributors and retailers will be collected, and those shipments have to meet strict criteria and can only travel through FedEx Ground services.

We also asked UPS for their policy; as yet, we have not heard back, though we will update if/when we do. However, given that the FAA restriction applies to all air carriers, its statement is likely to be similar.

The USPS will ship the recalled Note 7 phones, a spokesperson told us, but with restrictions. They can only travel Retail Ground / Parcel Select, must be sent in rigid packaging (a cardboard box as opposed to a bubble envelope), and must be clearly marked with a Surface Transportation Only label. They also are prohibited in international mail, “including mail to and from Army Post Offices, Fleet Post Offices and Diplomatic Post Offices.”

All of this leaves one big gaping question for consumers: if you bought the phone from Samsung, and Samsung requires you to send it back but no actual shipping company they can send you a label for will take it, what are you supposed to do?

We asked Samsung exactly that: what should customers who ordered Note 7 devices from Samsung.com do now?

A spokesperson for the company responded, “We are grateful to Samsung.com Note7 customers, and all of our customers, for their patience during this time,” which part you’d expect. Taking it seriously, and all.

As for the specifics, Samsung, well, wasn’t. “We have Note7 replacement units available for those who purchased a Note7 device on Samsung.com and have leveraged multiple touchpoints to reach them, including direct communications, social media and marketing,” the spokesperson said. “Should a customer purchase their phone from Samsung.com, we provide them with options on how they would like to get their device back to us as well as detailed instructions. We are working as quickly as possible to make the service experience for our customers as quick and smooth as possible.”

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