In August, Clarence Butler paid Best Buy $1,500 upfront for a new gas range and stove, with assurances from the giant retailer that it would be delivered and installed in his Watertown home in 11 days.
But for two months, there was one broken promise after another, as Butler contended with a three-foot-wide gap in his kitchen where his new LG appliance should have been. Without it, Butler had to improvise meals using a toaster oven, a George Foreman grill, and a microwave.
“It’s a total nightmare,” Butler said of the interminable delays.
That’s a pretty strong statement coming from Butler, 79, whom his daughter has dubbed “Mr. Glass Half Full.” His nearly unshakable optimism, I suspect, has inspired many around him during dual careers as a college professor and dean and an Episcopal priest. (He’s retired from academia, but active as priest-in-residence at St. James in Somerville.)
“Even my patience wears thin,” he huffed (in a soft-spoken sort of way).
I accompanied Butler on Oct. 16 when he confronted two Best Buy managers about the stove he still had not received. It was the fifth time Butler had returned to the Watertown store. Only hours earlier, a Best Buy representative had called once again to cancel delivery.
Before I joined him at the store, Butler had shared with me a litany of canceled deliveries: on Sep. 9, Sep. 17, Sep. 21, Oct. 2, Oct. 5, Oct. 7, Oct. 10, and Oct. 12.
What made it even more infuriating was that Best Buy had buried Butler in a barrage of e-mails that were confusing and contradictory. On Sep. 29, for example, he got six dizzying e-mails making and changing delivery dates. In all, more than 60 e-mails tumbled into his inbox, forcing him to pick up the phone almost daily in a futile effort to straighten out the mess. It deprived him, he said, of time attending to pastoral matters.
One Best Buy manager later offered Butler this explanation: “I’m sorry, but our two [computer] programs often do not play nice with each other.”
The whole experience clearly upset Butler, who came East from St. Louis decades ago to teach at Ivy League colleges, and then became an institution of sorts at Hobart College during almost 30 years as a professor and dean. (He also lived extensively abroad as a scholar of medieval German literature.)
Butler, a widower, said he enjoys cooking. But without a fully-equipped kitchen, the healthy diet he’s committed to has suffered. He has also lost sleep and felt anxious, he said.
Best Buy is one of the country’s largest retailers of consumer electronics and appliances, with about 1,000 stores and $40 billion in annual sales. I doubt it gave much thought to how its actions (and inaction) affected Butler.
At the store, Butler read from notes scribbled in a little leather-bound book cradled in his hands. As he spoke, the managers with whom he had previously — and repeatedly — pleaded for help seemed to sink a little deeper in their chairs.
One interrupted to apologize and offer a refund.
“I do not believe a refund is adequate,” Butler replied, his words barely audible amid the hubbub of the store. (Memo to Best Buy managers: The next time someone of Butler’s generation comes in with a grievance, offer him a chair, a quiet place to talk, and a bit of deference.)
“The only thing we can do is give you a refund and a humble apology,” one of the managers said, sounding like he wanted to move on.
Compensation for lost time and aggravation, they said, could only come from “Legal.” And no, they didn’t have a telephone number. He would have to call the dreaded customer service number (again).
To be sure, Butler’s purchase was complicated by the size of his kitchen. The first LG model he purchased turned out to be too big, which could have been avoided if the salesperson had asked for measurements.
After that, Best Buy told Butler only one model would fit, but the only one it had was the floor model. Fine, Butler said, I’ll take it.
In its last cancellation call, Best Buy told Butler it had discovered damage to the appliance, making it undeliverable.
Best Buy, it seems, had strung Butler along for weeks, only to say in the end it couldn’t fill the order. I wonder how seriously Best Buy had taken a customer who seems so mild-mannered.
Prodded by me, the corporate office finally acknowledged its shabby treatment of Butler.
“This is certainly not the kind of experience we want for any of our customers, and we are truly sorry for the inconvenience this has caused Reverend Butler,” Best Buy said, adding that it planned to give Butler a refund and Best Buy gift card of unspecified value.
Butler later told me it was for $250, but it didn’t matter because he has vowed never again to do business with Best Buy.
In e-mail to Best Buy (and copied to me), Butler has demanded $1,125 in compensation, an amount he came up with somewhat arbitrarily by calculating 75 percent of the value of the stove. (Given all the wear and tear on Butler, I think he should get at least 100 percent of the cost of the stove.)
“I’m not doing this only for myself,” he said. “I’m also doing it for others who may have felt intimidated by a big corporation.”
And that three-foot hole in his kitchen? It’s about to be filled. Butler paid about the same price for the same model at Home Depot, which promised delivery on Friday.