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Dell Desperate for Extended Warranty Business

Like many of you, I hate telemarketers.

They’re rude, pushy, obnoxious, won’t take no for an answer and always inevitably ring a) during dinner b) three seconds after the baby’s finally drifted off to sleep or c) right as you’re rushing out the door or have just begun sprinting for the can. If I had a dollar for every wet footstep left behind as I streaked through the house, towel flapping in the wind as I sped out of the shower expecting an important call only to be greeted by “Lawrence” of Arabia? Let’s just say Smith & Wesson wouldn’t have trouble making quarterly projections this year.

Nonetheless, I’m also a realist: I like a good deal, and know that nothing in this world, especially in the field of consumer electronics – excepting open source software, and perhaps the occasional laugh, generally at Microsoft’s expense – comes for free. Small wonder then, that while buying a new Dell PC, I couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer number of attempts to “up-sell,” or shovel unnecessary upgrades onto me, made during the online purchase process.

Not that the practice is uncommon – with market conditions worsening, profits shrinking and most consumers still unaware of the savings to be had purchasing and installing their own upgrades, can’t say as I blame the custom computer giant. Still, I know the facts on extended warranties.

Electronics are unlikely to break within most plans’ allotted timeframe; the cost of repair or replacement’s generally comparable to contract asking prices; and products are generally replaced with “similarly featured” units, no matter what you originally paid and how much prices have come down since, make it a great bargain for the provider. Inevitably, Consumer Reports surveys show nearly half of shoppers are less than highly satisfied with this kind of coverage. Worse, retailers enjoy 50-70% profit margins on these plans, nearly 10X as much as on the actual good you’re buying… Hence the reason they’re hocked so heavily, in spite of widespread owner disappointment.

Thus, like a good technology journalist, when offered the chance to step beyond the default limited warranty, or enjoy the “benefits” of in-home service (the chance to strangle a tech support rep out of frustration?), I made like a good, overexposed to Saturday morning anti-drug ad Gen X-er and just said no.

And then the calls started coming. 

“Was I satisfied with my purchase?” “Did I know about Dell’s extended warranty coverage?” “Perhaps I’d be interested in purchasing a service plan in case of disaster?” And that’s just after I stopped wondering who the hell the unknown number was ringing at least twice a day and/or hanging up was and started entertaining the prospect of connecting with these mystery callers.

Having already been cheesed off by the local bank, who – my, how times have changed – after already scaring us half to death by flirting with Chapter 11, decided to boost the bottom line by randomly calling to try and shop financial investments, my answers were obvious. They ran something along the lines of “Yes, now please lose this @&*$( number,” “Sorry, but didn’t I tell you to kiss my *** once already?” and my personal favorite “Perhaps you didn’t get the message before – **** off and die! [Click.]” 

OK, so maybe I could’ve been a little bit nicer, considering I’d just received a perfectly good, working desktop for scant more than I’d have had to spend building a system, and at the cost of much less time and aggravation to boot. But seriously: Is no place sacred anymore? With marketing messages rapidly infiltrating video games, movies, cell phones and even children’s toys at an alarming rate, is it so much to expect a man’s to want a little privacy (or at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted sleep) in his home, his castle, his last bastion of sweet relief?

At bare minimum, while I might not have listened to much advice on relationships growing up, as a string of irate exes can attest, I do recall one pearl that even a classless rube like myself learned back in junior high: “No means no.” End of story. Unless, of course, according to those chintzy, ‘70s-era instructional videos, you’re prepared to deal with an angry party turning red, hopping up and down like an epileptic bunny and screaming “BAD TOUCH! BAD TOUCH!” until the detective with the porn star mustache comes rushing in to slap on the handcuffs. 

Apparently, as a little digging reveals, I’m not the only one who feels they’ve been subject to a little rough handling lately though, as this message thread can attest. For more than a year now, it appears as if the general public’s been subjected to intrusive, heavy-handed sales methods, and found its preciously guarded personal info unwittingly turned into carrion for the vultures, as I affectionately call pushy salespeople. (Including one guy who all but stalked us through the furniture store, and threw a hissy fit when, as a result, we decided to pass on an armoire, but that’s another story…) You can find many choice words from the disgruntled masses at CallerComplaints.com, where at least 30 people have aired their gripes about the situation, as well. And, of course, there’s even more exciting action to be found at Who Called Us, where ‘Lynn,’ who says she receives calls up to five times daily, eloquently sums up the issue. Her take: “Bought a computer system from Dell, but I didn’t sign up for this harassment.” Amen, sister.

Which begs the question: WTF is Dell hoping to accomplish here, besides temporarily padding the bottom line? And are we missing something, or is this one of the dumbest moves ever, considering such incremental gains come at the risk of incensing and alienating the very consumer base which made the manufacturer such a force in the desktop and notebook PC market to begin with? If you’ve got similar stories, or an opinion, to share, we want to hear about it.

Because you can bet that come CES, we’ll be receiving a few execs’ and PR reps’ business cards. And if turnabout’s fair play, well… Maybe they shouldn’t be surprised to see the phone lighting up every few hours, asking if they’re satisfied with their media coverage, or what an increasingly large group of irate customers has to say about their current sales and marketing practices on the Internet.

As for me, I… RRRRRING! Oh, sorry, gotta get that. You never know – it could be important!

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