Hey, Cupertino, We Definitely Have A Problem

Update: Please read this follow-up before, where I realize that not all the feedback I got was genuinely honest and that there was quite a bit of astroturfing going on at my expense.

OK. Since the FNAC store manager hasn't phoned me yet, I've gone through my call logs, notes and e-mail to build an accurate timeline of the whole sorry mess related to my order of a custom iMac G5 last November.

Sadly, I have no call logs from November (I re-flashed my Blackberry many times since then, and the logs didn't seem important enough to keep), but there was enough e-mail and notes for me to put this together:

  • November 10th, 21:34 - I e-mail FNAC to inquire pricing and availability for a 20" iMac G5 with at least 768MB RAM. This will be the fourth machine I buy from them, so I am very confident of getting my hands on one.
  • November 12th, roughly 12:30 - I call FNAC's Colombo store and, after a quarter of an hour on hold, I finally reach the computer section and order a custom iMac G5 with a 20" screen, 1GB of RAM, Bluetooth and AirPort Express. I did not catch the name of the girl on the phone, but she was knowledgeable and made a point of confirming whether or not it was feasible to get that much RAM on an iMac. She did not provide me with an order tracking number. Basically, she told me that "was it" and that I would be contacted.
  • November 15th, 12:46 - FNAC replies to my e-mail message from the 10th, stating that new stock is due to arrive until the end of the month. I start to wonder. Christmas is just around the corner in retail terms.
  • November 24th, 21:16 - I e-mail FNAC inquiring about my order status, mentioning the date the machine was ordered (the 12th) and that it was very difficult to reach the store.
  • November 26th, 10:44 - I get a reply stating that the machine is out of stock. It is my last working day before going on vacation, so I let it rest. I try placing a few calls while on holiday, to no avail.
  • December 13th - I return from vacation. It is virtually impossible to call FNAC's colombo store. The attendant I finally manage to reach tells me "maybe by mid-December".
  • December 18th - I visited the store and asked about my order. I was told that no new shipments would come in before Xmas, which was more or less what I was expecting by then. At the time, I had no pressing need to confirm whether or not my order had actually been placed.
  • December 27th - A day after yet another visit to the store, I write about my experiences for the first time. I left the store on the 26th with the assurance that there would be incoming stock by mid-January, having left my name, phone number and order details in someone's piece of paper.
  • January 9th - I re-visit the store, and again, leave with a promise of getting called back with my order status. I also left my contact details on yet another piece of paper. By this time, I had already phoned or e-mailed all other Apple resellers, all of which mentioned that the distributor was out of stock and quoted a minimal 3-to-5 week delivery time - until I mentioned the custom configuration, which got me a few chortles on the other end of the line, accompanied with variations of "that will take much longer". Cancelling my order never entered my mind - this was still my best bet. This post also explains at length why I still prefer ordering from FNAC, and makes it obvious that while FNAC might not be very good at order tracking, the local Apple distributor has been failing to deliver ever since I ordered.
  • January 15th - I re-visit the store and talk to a store manager. Even though by this time I have significant difficulty in crediting FNAC with being able to track the whereabouts of pieces of paper (let alone my order), I let the store manager (whose name I noted down) take down my contact information yet again, with a promise of getting a call back by today (January 17th) to confirm my order status.

It is now 21:25, and I dare-say that he won't call today. In the meantime, the last post briefly summarizes the results of a set of calls that I placed during the last week to other Apple retailers and a couple of friends of mine, plus a few links to ongoing disputes between some retailers and the local distributor.

Remember (to those of you just now tuning in) that the local distributor is the only game in town - retailers are not allowed to purchase Apple equipment outside Portugal, although one of them does so frequently (but charges me extra for a local keyboard, and the warranty issues aren't too clear).

By now, several kind people in the US have offered to supply me with an iMac according to my specs. I have thanked them and explained that besides the warranty and tax issues, this is now also a matter of principle, since I simply cannot accept that selling Apple equipment in Portugal is being done so poorly, at any level.

I have also received a number of both supportive and anecdotal e-mails regarding the local distributor and the trouble other people have had with their own orders.

I will be, as usual, blunt: This kind of thing has apparently been going on for years, and what kept these issues hidden from me was the fact that I had previously only purchased base configuration Macs from FNAC, and even then literally off-the-shelf - i.e., I walked in, got what I wanted if it was there, and walked out. Update: nevertheless the new management has been making an effort to improve things, but that seems to be taking a while to register with the local community.

I do not believe in either luck, or inside contacts. Not when I'm buying a computer system from Apple, which has a brand and quality reputation to uphold. And, mind you, which focuses so clearly on the purchasing experience that it has started opening its own shops.

Everywhere but Portugal, of course, but I understand - we're a small market. Nevertheless, as a paying customer, I am due some sort of minimal assurance of actually being able to buy one, right?

So I'm now actively looking for contacts in Apple Europe to lodge a formal complaint (thanks to all those who sent in leads). It is simply inexcusable that the single Apple distributor for a whole country can be systematically under-stocked to the extent where all the retailers complain, and most of all, where they end up complaining to the buyers.

I want to be able to order an Apple machine and have it delivered on time like everywhere else in Europe, not listen to the retailers' tales of woe and wait months to actually have it delivered.

Whether or not I will also lodge a formal complaint against FNAC with the local consumer courts is still up in the air, because although I can accept the fact that the store manager might have had other priorities today, the whole thing is simply unacceptable at any level.