The Death of Customer Service

Yesterday Jakki and I became proud owners of EA's [Rock Band]( (Special Edition) for Wii. We bought it at Wal-Mart. There was only one package left and the box had a bit of damage; but I thought, "Hey, it's Wal-Mart, they'll take it back if anything is wrong." Right? Wrong! The trend I've noticed is that manufacturers are now putting documentation inside the package that forbids you from dealing with the store you purchased the item from, and forcing you to deal directly with the manufacturer. Such was the case we discovered upon opening Rock Band. Upon further inspection, it appears some hapless fork-lift driver tried to drive _through_ a stack of Rock Bands and impaled the one destined for us. The drumset component was totally destroyed. After some choice phrases, I quickly logged onto EA's support website (as provided in the "Thou Shalt Not Deal With Thy Store" insert). After a miserable experience with some poorly crafted PHP pages and a 3-5 day "Express" service, I'm out a $125 deposit (insurance that I will indeed send the broken unit back). Wow.

This is not the first time I've noticed such a trend. We purchased a Hoover FloorMate from BestBuy a few weeks ago, and in it's package was a similar "Do Not Go To Store, Do Not Pass Go" insert. Fortunately for us, the FloorMate was intact.

The part of this I find disturbing (in addition to the 3-5 day wait for replacement and the $125 deposit), is that the manufacturers have lost faith in the level of customer service that the stores that carry their merchandise provide. Is it that the Wal-Marts and BestBuys of the world have gotten so big, and their profit margins so "wafer thin", that they can no longer provide the level of service that customers have come to expect from the manufacturers? I see this as a failing of the free market economy because of two reasons:

1- If the manufacturer is going to force the customer to deal directly with them for "customer service", then what stake does the store have in treating their merchandise like it was their own?

2- How can the manufacturer *ever* hope to provide a level of customer service better than a place I can drive to conveniently?

Despite these market forces aligning against us, and Big Corp. trying to keep us down-- Jakki and I played late into the night. She on vocals and me on guitar/bass, our band, "The Analogues", made it into Act IV.