Columbia House Informative - Buyer Beware!
I made the mistake of joining the Columbia House DVD club a few months ago, and the even bigger mistake of providing them with my debit card to pay for my purchases. Since then, I have placed several orders, totaling just over $180.00 and more than fulfilling the terms of my membership agreement. I first tried to contact them in mid-June concerning an order I had placed on May 31 which had supposedly been shipped on June 1 but that I had never received. This particular order consisted of 3 DVDs at a total cost of $32.90, which had already been charged to my debit card. I was fairly certain that this order had either never been shipped or that it was lost in the mail, because two other orders I had placed substantially later had both already arrived. I quickly discovered that trying to report this problem was no easy matter. The customer service options on their website are virtually non-existent, and there is NO option provided to report an order as missing. You can tell them you got the WRONG item, or an item arrived DAMAGED, or that you received something you DIDN'T order, but not that you NEVER received something that you've already paid for. When I chose the option that seemed closest to the issue I was trying to report, they sent me a prepaid return label! How am I supposed to return something I never got? So, the next step was to try to locate a customer service phone number somewhere on their website, which is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Once I finally located the number (800-262-2001), again I found the options extremely limited and they deliberately make it almost impossible to reach a human being. There is NO option on the menu for someone who is calling about a problem with an existing order. I finally figured out that you have to "trick" their system by pretending that you're calling to place a new order or make a payment. Then, and only then, through a complex series of prompts, can you finally reach the option of speaking to a person. Once I finally succeeded and I was able to explain why I was calling, I was told that they would take NO action on any missing order until 4 weeks after the original ship date, even though I had already paid for this merchandise and their website states most orders with standard shipping should arrive within 5-10 business days. Well, of course the missing order never arrived, so after waiting the obligatory 4 weeks, I called them back on June 29, again having to jump though countless hoops and endure interminable hold times before finally reaching one of their "customer service" agents (a term that hardly seems to apply here). After forcing me to wait for an entire month, they finally agreed to send a replacement of the missing order. But then I soon discovered that they had charged my card AGAIN for the SAME items, plus an additional "mystery charge" of $12.00 for a total of $44.90! When I called them back a third time to complain about this, I was told it was their "standard procedure" to post a new charge before shipping any replacements, and then to issue credit back for the original order that did not arrive. I can think of no legitimate business reason to charge a customer AGAIN to replace an order they have already paid for but never received, and then to issue offsetting credits. You already have the original payment, so why not simply ship the replacement, period? Unfortunately, with most banks, new charges are deducted immediately, but credits can take several days or even weeks to appear. In my case, this unexpected and unnecessary duplicate charge left me with an available balance of only $7.85 in the bank at the end of the month and the beginning of the 4th of July weekend, which was extremely inconvenient and upsetting for me. I was just fortunate that it didn't result in an overdraft on my account with the additional bank charges that would have incurred. However, I did eventually receive the offsetting credit as promised, although for some reason it was posted in four separate transactions of $24.95, $7.95, $7.01 and $4.99. In the meantime, the replacement shipment also arrived. Thinking that the issue had finally been resolved satisfactorily, I reluctantly agreed to continue my membership on the condition that automatic billing to my debit card be removed from the account and that I would pay for all future purchases only after actually receiving them. I have placed one other order since then, which I paid for online the very same day it arrived. But when I tried to place another online order on the morning of July 26, I received a message that no new orders could be processed on my account because of a "past due balance" and requesting that I make an immediate payment. I couldn't understand this, since ALL of my previous orders had already been paid in full. Turns out the "past due balance" in question was the SAME $44.90 they had charged to ship the replacement of the missing order and then later credited back to me! Initially, I assumed that this was a simple bookkeeping error which could be easily corrected. I couldn't have been more wrong. All of my efforts to resolve this latest issue, both by email and over the phone, have proven frustrating and futile. They continue to insist that I DO owe them this money, and they have given several conflicting reasons as to why they believe that is the case. In one email, they claimed that my bank refused to honor the original payment, and that is why it was charged back to my account. Another agent on the phone insisted that I was actually given credit for BOTH the $32.90 payment for the orginal order AND the $44.90 duplicate charge for the replacement, and therefore I still owe for the 3 DVDs that I did eventually receive, although she could not tell me on what date this second credit was supposedly posted or explain why my bank seems to have no record of it. Another agent on the phone flatly told me, "You owe us the money, There's nothing else I can tell you. If you're too stupid to understand that, then you just need to call your bank!" Well, I DID contact my bank, and they only confirmed what I already knew -- that ALL of my purchases from Columbia House have been paid in full, and that the ONLY credits I have received back from them are the ones totaling $44.90 to offset the duplicate charge for the replacement of the missing order!
I have worked in customer service my entire life, and I currently teach customer service training classes for a highly respected company. I have seen some pretty bad examples of customer service in the past, but NEVER have I experienced anything like this. All of their agents (many of whom are in "offshore locations") have obviously been trained to take an adversarial approach to EVERY call and to assume that ANY customer with a complaint must be either totally stupid or lying. I wasted an entire day on the phone, speaking with no less than five different agents, each of whom was extremely rude and eventually hung up on me when I refused to accept the conflicting and erroneous information they were providing. Any time I asked to speak to a manager or supervisor, I was always told there were none available because they were all "in a meeting." If I simply asked to be transferred to another agent who might better understand simple English and basic arithmetic, I was told that they are "not allowed to transfer any calls." All attempts to reach numbers I've been able to locate for their corporate offices in New York and Indianapolis either turn out to be disconnected, ring incessantly with no answer, or reach voice mails where messages are never returned. One can only wonder why any honest and legitimate business would go to such great lengths to "hide" from its own customers? Finally, in utter frustration, I made one last call to cancel my membership, even though they still show that I owe a balance of $44.90, and I have no doubt that they will eventually try to put this fraudulent charge back through on my debit card or turn it over to a collection agency. I have found countless horror stories on the web from other members who have had similar (or even worse) experiences, so mine is obviously not an isolated incident. I have also since learned that Columbia House has a "highly unfavorable" rating with the Better Business Bureau, due to the extremely high volume and seriousness of complaints lodged against them, and their lack of response to those complaints. I only regret that I didn't do more research before getting mixed up with this sleazy company in the first place!
Clearly this is a company that is not concerned with taking care of its existing members or even protecting its own reputation, as long as they can continue to find new victims to exploit. Do NOT be fooled by their enticing offers that seem "too good to be true," because that is exactly what they are. By the time you factor in the inflated prices of the additional items you are required to purchase and the excessive shipping charges, those supposedly "free" or "discounted" items you receive for joining actually end up costing just as much if not more than you would pay to purchase them from a legitimate source. This same company also owns BMG Music Service and yourmusic.com, so beware of them also. If you really want to purchase DVDs or CDs online, I recommend Amazon.com, a reputable company with a great selection of merchandise, reasonable prices, free shipping on most orders of $25.00 or more, and excellent customer service. You may pay a few dollars more initially, but it is well worth the headaches and hassles you will save yourself in the long run.