Daniel Reis of East Hartford couldn't believe it when he ordered a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop with a 15.6-inch screen and solid-state hard drive for $450 from the deal-a-day 1Sale website just before Christmas last year.
"I thought I had just gotten the deal of a lifetime," he says.
Reis was so excited that he also ordered an Android tablet for his father for Christmas.
"I expected both items to be in my hands, as advertised, by Christmas Day," says Reis.
Neither arrived by Christmas, however, and when the coveted ThinkPad finally arrived after the new year it seemed like less than the deal of a lifetime.
"The battery did not hold a charge for more than one hour," says Reis, "and the product itself appeared to be extremely used and not 'refurbished'."
1Sale, formerly 1SaleADay, has received multiple complaints for its hit-or-miss customer service. The Better Business Bureau has placed an alert next to the company's "C" rating because of complaints that it either fails to deliver products or the products received are defective. Not long after the holidays, a daily-deals blogger for the CNET electronics site refused to list deals from 1Sale until it gets its "shipping and customer-service acts together."
"We recently transitioned from doing our own in-house fulfillment," says Eli Federman, 1Sale's senior vice president, whose brother, Ben Federman, is the company's CEO, "to outsourcing fulfillment to a third-party logistic company. The transition process, unfortunately, created delays."
With Christmas less than a week away, Reis emailed 1Sale because the tablet had not shipped and the laptop showed an inactive shipping number. An automated response promised an answer within three business days, he says.
"It ended up taking them seven days to respond to my email," he says, "but they could not offer any explanations other than saying I needed to wait one to two weeks for the tablet to ship and one to three days for the tracking number to become active."
With Christmas past, Reis wanted his money back for the undelivered tablet, so he canceled the order. When the laptop arrived, he immediately wanted his money back for that, too. Reis was referred to the company that refurbished he laptop, he says, and he called the refurbishers several times but couldn't reach anyone.
"At this point," says Reis when he contacted TBL in mid-May, "I've basically given up hope on receiving a refund or a replacement machine. This is definitely a learning experience for me that I will not soon forget."
Among the lessons:
>> When shopping for bargain refurbished or reconditioned electronics, stick with the manufacturer of those products or a retailer that also sells that maker's new products. Apple's refurbished products, for instance, are almost indistinguishable in cosmetics and performance from a new product. Best Buy also sells used electronics.
>> Ask about the warranty. Apple offers a one-year warranty on refurbished products. A refurbished MacBook Air at 1Sale comes with a 90-day warranty.
>> The difference between "refurbished" and "reconditioned," often used interchangeably online: A refurbished product might have been a demo model or returned, unused, by a dissatisfied customer and often comes with a manufacturer's warranty. A reconditioned product has been used, fixed, and might come with a shorter warranty from the company that fixed it.
"Just refurbished means third-party refurbishment," says Federman, "whereas 'factory refurbished' means [original manufacturer]-certified refurbished. . . . With that said, there is a greater risk that refurbs will be defective or have condition issues, in which case we accept return."
Federman says 1Sale is processing Reis' return.
"We sincerely apologize to this customer for the delay," he says. "We fulfill 10,000 packages a day. We had many orders to fulfill during the holiday season when this customer ordered and unfortunately had some unavoidable delays due to a backlog at our third-party fulfillment company as well as UPS delays."
So is this now Reis' refund of a lifetime?
"I had all but called this a lost cause," he says.