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TinotopiaLog → OQO and customer service (15 Oct 2004)
Friday 15 October 2004

OQO and customer service

The OQO is a little pocket computer, a thing scarcely larger than a short stack of index cards, but that runs Windows XP. It went on sale yesterday. It’s a hotly-anticipated product, and it was reviewed in yesterday’s New York Times and Wall Street Journal, along with, I’m sure, a lot of other publications.

In terms of capabilities, it’s like a very low-end notebook computer, with a 1 GHz Transmeta processor, 256 MB of RAM (which can’t be expanded), and a 20 GB hard disk. These are all weak, to put it mildly, but this particular low-end laptop weighs under a pound and has the ability to fit into your pocket. So many people are willing to pay $2000 for this thing that the company’s website was kaput for most of yesterday.

I am one of these people. To a certain extent, I like gadgets for their own sake; and specifically I think a gadget of this sort would be useful for me.

Anyway, I tried to buy one of these today, and I failed.

Since the OQO website conspicuously says nothing about shipping costs or times, I called them on the phone, and I was told that it was $50 for ‘two-day’ shipping — this is the only shipping option — and that in any case they wouldn’t be shipping orders from today for at least two weeks.

This doesn’t exactly make me happy, but I can understand that they’ll have a lot of demand at first. It doesn’t pay to staff for a spurt of demand that they won’t see again soon if ever, so there will be a delay at first. Fine.

My mistake was in not attempting to order the thing over the phone there and then. Reasoning that it would be easier to enter my address, credit card details, etc. online, I headed back to their website, and filled out the form. $2,049.00 for the computer and shipping, American Express, billing address, shipping address.

I wanted the thing shipped to my dad’s house, because I’m not going to be home in two weeks; I expect to be visiting family. Should the thing not show up until after I’ve left, it wouldn’t be too hard for my dad to express-mail it back to Tino Manor.

Failure. After entering the credit card number, I’m told:

We are sorry, but your order cannot be processed at this time.

Mind you, this is after I had submitted my credit card information. I called OQO on the phone again, and this time waited on hold for 50 minutes — after which I was told that OQO would not ship an order to anything other than the credit card’s billing address. No, they said, they don’t know why this is an option on their website. They would ‘escalate this to corporate’, though. Oh, joy.

Mind you, this shipping BS wouldn’t be an issue if OQO actually had enough of these things on hand; I’d have it shipped to my home address and get it some time next week. And the usual fraud-prevention arguments don’t hold much water any more; a few years ago, getting products shipped to different addresses was a problem, but this problem has been solved by now with card verification numbers (as well as asking for the billing address in the first place, not to mention in this case running the authorization two weeks before anything is shipped); but OQO doesn’t give a damn. They’re selling computers as fast as they can make them right now, and they don’t care that they’re throwing some segment of their business away by simply not having it together enough to properly sell their products.

I had formerly been eager to get one of these things, but now I’m not so sure. I already have an Apple computer, an excellent product from a terrible company. No matter how desirable the pocket computer might be, I don’t think I need to start doing business with another company that shows such contempt for its customers.

UPDATE: Eventually things were sorted out after defining the other address as a ‘billing address’ with American Express. The bills will still be sent to the same place, but Amex will verify my dad’s address as the card’s billing address, should anyone inquire. This is still nuts, though; the credit-card people need to implement some kind of anti-fraud system that will result in them being willing to indemnify merchants. And as for the merchants, well, they just need to get it together all around. I’m Mr. Gadget, right? I just spent $2000 on a pocket computer, right? Yet when I have the choice, I buy things in person and not online because very few of the online merchants I’ve dealt with leave me feeling confident.

UPDATE 2: OQO have reportedly seen the light and are now taking orders for shipment to something other than the billing address. I don’t know whether their web order system is working any better, though.

Posted by tino at 07:48 15.10.04
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I experienced something similar at first… But it turns out that the shipping and billing addresses don’t have to be the same!

Here’s my article about this: http://www.handtops.com/forum/237/1/2839/FYIshippingbillingaddressrestrictio.html#2839

Posted by: tnkgrl at October 20, 2004 02:33 AM

You spent a lot of time knocking a business practice which is for your protection. All this negative! Bravo that you solved the problem and told us how!

Posted by: Don Miller at November 8, 2004 11:38 AM

This practice isn’t for my protection at all; I do not bear any direct cost from fraudulent transactions. This practice is to protect the merchant.

I have no problem with that, either: but the merchants have to handle this gracefully, instead of just putting the burden on me.

I should make it abundantly clear: the specific problem here was not that I had to register the shipping address with American Express. I’ve done this before, and I’ve had no problems with it. The problem was that OQO flatly refused to accept a separate shipping and billing address. I had to get Amex to recognize my temporary shipping address as a billing address in order to get this to work.

Oh, and OQO still has problems with their supply chain, and the gadget still hasn’t shipped, and according to the latest I’ve heard from them, it will not ship until over a month after my original order.

As a result, I’ve had to change the shipping address with them again. Only now they tell me that they can’t change the ‘billing’ address on an order once the card’s been authorized (which mine apparently has been). So now the order shows my home address as the shipping address, and another address as the ‘billing’ address. I will not be at all surprised if this ends in disaster. At the very least, should OQO wish to contact me by mail in the future, they’re almost certain to send things to the wrong address.

Posted by: Tino at November 8, 2004 12:23 PM