Imagine going out and buying a car. Five minutes later you ring the showroom demanding that they call out to put it in your garage and to show you how to drive it (as there was no ?how to drive? manual).

Great expectations

The next day, you report a fault (“it just doesn’t work”), which they patiently diagnose as a need for fuel. After that is resolved, you drive it into a lamp post and expect to get it repaired for free as it is still under warranty. Months later you insist that they replace the engine. It has seized up due to a lack of oil. This is definitely the salesman’s fault because you told him in the first place that you knew nothing about cars, so he should have sold you a car that needed no maintenance. A year later, you don’t see why you should have to pay out any more money as you already bought tax and MOT in the first place.

This all sounds ridiculous, yet these are the sort of situations PC retailers find themselves in regularly. Last month I discussed selling parts for DIY, but more problems are faced when selling software. Never mind the OEM licence small print; I’m talking about straightforward over-the-counter sales.

The main problem is customers can easily take it home, copy it, and then bring it back for a refund. They have to make sure that what they are buying is compatible with the system that they have, and that’s the first excuse to deal with. Of course, if they are genuine and they really want to legally own the software, you might get a chance to upgrade their PC for this one. They also have to make sure it does what they want it to do and that they agree to the terms of the licence (otherwise they can get a refund).

But the thing that really causes problems is when they expect levels of support from the retailer that only the publisher can give. Software is different as a product to other goods. It requires quite a lot from the user and they must be prepared to do their part. If they need help, then tech support is available from the software house. I still wonder though, whether software companies realise just how much support retailers are expected to give simply because good retailers want to be seen as helpful.

If it all goes horribly wrong though, the resources available to retailers with awkward customer problems are obviously arbitration by their Trade Association, as well as Trading Standards Office.

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