How Barnes & Noble and onSale misled TouchPad buyers

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| August 24, 2011

Talk of HP's TouchPad liquidation has littered the Internet this week. The fire sale might prove to work wonders for the failing software platform, but not without leaving a trail of destruction and irate customers in its path. After the sale was originally announced, anxious buyers went nuts, storming every third-party electronics retailers' websites in search of dirt-cheap TouchPads. Stock of the webOS tablet quickly disappeared and retailers had quite literally no time to react.

I ran a poll on Monday asking who bought a TouchPad solely in hopes of an Android port. Over 30 percent of the voters wanted a TouchPad but could not find the tablet online or in stores. Locating one of the elusive webOS tablets consumed most of my weekend. After several hours of scouring the web, I managed to bag five TouchPads – one for me, one for a friend and three for family members. All of the local retailers sold out by 9 AM.

Those who managed to order their TouchPad with overnight shipping and have already received their tablet or were able to track down straggling units in retails stores are lucky. Very lucky. The hundreds of thousands of people who avoided fighting the masses and ordered online now face an entirely different problem: canceled orders.

Late Sunday night, it was discovered that Barnes & Noble had leftover TouchPads. After the news reached Twitter and a few hundred (or thousand) people "retweeted" the deets, stock was quickly depleted. But the site did not list the TouchPad as “sold out” until sometime on Monday, nor did it decline sales. Buyers were still allowed to place orders for the tablet despite Barnes & Noble being completely out of stock. Although B&N misled customers into thinking their TouchPad search was over, they responded rather quickly, sending out cancelation notices as soon as Monday evening. Good on you, Barnes & Noble, for acting swiftly to fix your slip-up.

A similar story can be traced to an Amazon partner, onSale, a subsidiary of PC Mall, Inc. I placed my order for four 16GB TouchPads on Sunday at 5:39 PM EDT. As per usual when ordering through Amazon, I instantly received an email confirming my order. I later received an email stating that my order has been canceled because the item I purchased was out of stock. If this were the entire story, I would not be terribly upset. It was an unexpected rush and retailers had little to no time for preparation. But there were a series of missteps made by onSale that made the entire matter much worse … for everyone.

After onSale realized they oversold the devices, they posted a note to their Facebook page stating that they had accidentally oversold and would not be able to fulfill all of the orders. Seriously, onSale? A note on Facebook? Not even a press release or an official address? The note stated, “We are now in the process of filling valid orders using all available inventory on a first-come, first-served basis.” The problem? Orders were not filled on a “first-come, first-served basis.” Those who purchased overnight shipping were placed ahead of ones who purchased standard shipping. According to several comments on onSale's Facebook note, buyers who upgraded to overnight and purchased their TouchPad hours after my order was placed have confirmed their tablet(s) have arrived. My order was canceled. First-come, first-served? Not even close.

Again, I can understand that. It was all in the moment and due to an unexpected rush and no preparation, mistakes were made. Besides being lied to, there were two mistakes made by onSale that have dug to the bone. One, a second note was posted to onSale's Facebook status from the President, Robert Rich. The note decalred that my buyers' cards would not be charged unless their order had been fulfilled. Almost immediately after placing the order, my bank account showed an authorization for the order – the amount was not technically charged, but my money was in limbo. Second, it took onSale three grueling days to cancel my order. I received my order confimation on Sunday and cancelation notice at 2:20PM EDT this evening.

In previous instances when ordering an item in limited stock from Amazon, the my account was not charged until my item was updated to "shipped" status under the active orders on my Amazon account page. Not only was my money tied up for these three days (and I'm still waiting on it) without onSale having even processed my order, I was under the impression that my order had already been fulfilled. I quit looking for TouchPads and even if I found them in stock elsewhere, my money was still tied up in the onSale deal.

I have full faith that my money will soon become available again, but I am irritated by the way onSale has managed the situation. It's one thing to be caught off guard and accidentally oversell your stock. To blatantly lie to customers about the order in which orders were processed and holding buyers' money in limbo during the whole process is shady. HP wasn't the only one taking a big hit by slashing their products' price tag. The way onSale handled the situation has forced affected buyers to file complaints with the BBB and FTC. This whole ordeal has certainly tainted their reputation and credibility as a reseller, and rightly so.

Luckily, I got in early enough during the initial rush. If I had not ordered one TouchPad directly from HP and received a confirmation that my order will ship tomorrow, I would be throwing an absolute fit right now. Were you one of the unlucky buyers whose TouchPad order was canceled? Who did you (attempt to) purchase your TouchPad through? Let it out in the comments below.

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