ReplayTV placates irate new customers

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The San Francisco Chronicle

Would-be couch potatoes who complained they were victims of a bait-and-switch routine by Santa Clara’s ReplayTV should now get some satisfaction.

After weeks of confusion, ReplayTV now says it will honor a deal for three years of free service with the $149 model of its digital video recorder, even though the free service was offered by mistake.

The stumble occurred when the company, which was bought last year by conglomerate D&M Holdings U.S. Inc., slashed the price of the low-end model of its system for recording TV programs to $149 from $499 on Dec. 16.

The previous price included three years of the television listing service needed to make the recorder work. The company says customers who paid the new, lower price were instead to be charged $12.95 a month for the service.

Unfortunately, the company says, some retailers didn’t get that message, and boxes bearing stickers promising three years of free service were sold for $149. ReplayTV’s call centers also told some customers they were entitled to three years of service.

“For those consumers who were confused by these mistakes, the company will provide three years of free service,” the company said in a statement released late Monday.

When the company abruptly stopped service to many newly activated ReplayTV sets, an outcry arose on Internet message boards devoted to the product. Some people were stunned when they heard the company wanted an additional $299 or $12.95 a month to reactivate the product; others said they knew the deal sounded too good to be true all along.

Brian Crosby, a partner with San Francisco Web design firm Get Up, bought one of the DVRs for himself and one for his father as a Christmas present on Dec. 17, after hearing about the deal on a Web site. A few days after Christmas, his father called to say the device had stopped working.

Crosby called the company’s customer service representatives several times and never received the same answer twice. One representative said his service would be restored; another said he would have to pay more first.

“You could just tell the people you talked to couldn’t tell you one day to the next what was going on. … It just seems crazy that they’ve put everyone through such a wringer,” said Crosby, who is now looking forward to having his service restored.

To get their ReplayTVs back online, customers will have to call the company’s customer service line and provide their serial number, which ReplayTV will use to trace which retailer sold the particular box.

If customers have the receipt, as well as the date and place of purchase, that would help expedite the matter, said spokeswoman Sara Trujillo.

“ReplayTV will work with customers to verify mistakenly labeled product by retailer and date of purchase through product serial numbers and receipts. ReplayTV will use its call center records to identify those customers who contacted the call center and received incorrect information,” the companystatement said.

Trujillo would not say which retailers sold the product with the incorrect offer, but customers told The Chronicle they were available at Circuit City and Magnolia Audio Video. The Associated Press reported that also advertised the deal.

Because customers were just hearing about ReplayTV’s decision Tuesday, it was too soon to say whether buyers had any trouble getting their sets reactivated.

Dan Wright of Redwood City got his set reactivated Sunday after asking for the company’s policy in writing in order to complain to the Santa Clara County district attorney.

“They didn’t have a choice,” Wright said of the new policy. “They clearly wanted to do something that wasn’t legal, and they don’t get to do that.”

Consumer advocate Doug Heller of Santa Monica’s Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights said ReplayTV’s actions were “exactly the kind of behavior that reminds us how important it is that we protect consumers’ ability to go after businesses that have unfair and deceptive practices.”

Trujillo said she didn’t know of any lawsuits filed against the company over the offer, but she did say the company is aware that customers are angry.

ReplayTV’s decision came not because of legal pressure but because “they want to have happy customers, satisfied customers,” she said.
E-mail Carrie Kirby at [email protected]

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