The iPad 2 saga (aka Best Buy fail)

Having resisted the original iPad, I succumbed to the temptation of the iPad 2 and placed an order via the online Apple Store at 9am on the UK launch day, March 25th. Unfortunately, due to demand, I was given an estimated shipping date of 15 April, with estimated delivery on 26 April, inexplicably eleven days after shipping – a far cry from the experience I had when I pre-ordered my iPhone 4 and it arrived on launch day.

I thought I’d be OK to wait, but having played with one in the Birmingham Bullring Apple Store last week (who didn’t have any stock available to take away on the day), I started getting twitchy fingers – as well as considering going for a 32GB model instead of the 16GB I’d ordered through Apple – so started watching the very useful iPad-Stock.co.uk website.

After a couple of false alarms – Tesco Direct occasionally showed stock but every time I got to the checkout, I was told it was out of stock, and a friend managed to order one from HMV only for his order status to change to “pre-order” within hours – I eventually managed to find some stock, this time at Best Buy, the US electronics giant who have recently opened up shop (physically and online) in the UK. All went well, until I put my credit card details in… declined!

I tried a couple of different cards – one credit, one debit – and strangely both of those failed as well. My phone then rang – it was Tesco Bank, the issuer of my main credit card, who wanted to go through a few transactions with me to make sure they weren’t fraudulent. Having verified that the declined Best Buy transaction (along with a few previous purchases elsewhere) were legit, the operator unblocked my card and said that I should be able to put the order through again.

Great, I thought, so I input my card details again – still no joy! So I phoned Best Buy, who helpfully told me that my account had been blocked for 24 hours due to the original declined transaction and I was welcome to try again tomorrow. When I asked if there was any way around this, I was told not – I couldn’t even order over the phone. A friend of mine had a similar experience, so I wonder how many potential orders Best Buy have lost out on due to this dubious “security” measure – I can imagine a lot of banks and card issuers have declined cards as people suddenly dropping some £500 on an electronics website could well appear fraudulent without speaking to the customer first.

Knowing that the Best Buy stock was likely to have run out by the following day, I decided to go elsewhere. At the time, Insight were showing stock of the black 32GB Wi-Fi model that I wanted, so I decided to place an order with them. The deal wasn’t as good as the Best Buy one, as I had to pay £12 delivery, but if it meant I could have the iPad in my hand sooner, I was happy to fork out.

I was pleased to see that the website accepted my credit card details… then dismayed when I got an email later saying that it had been declined. By the time I read the email on that same evening, Insight’s phone lines had closed, and as it was a Friday I wouldn’t be able to give them a different card to try until the following Monday. Another retail fail – why doesn’t the site have an option to update the payment method via the website when the phone lines are closed?

So, having exhausted my options, I gave up for the day. At around 10.30 this morning, I had a quick look at iPad-Stock, not expecting to see anything, but to my surprise there was stock showing at Comet. They were offering free delivery for Tuesday, or £6 for a Monday (7am-6pm) delivery. It’s not like me to pay extra to receive something a day early, but this is the iPad 2 we’re talking about… My order went through successfully and I got an email confirmation, so all good so far.

I haven’t cancelled my Apple order yet – I thought I’d wait until my Comet order is fulfilled, so I have something to fall back on in case of problems. However, a friend of mine also put an order through with Comet and tried to cancel his Apple order immediately, and was told that the order was already being shipped and couldn’t be cancelled – so he ended up cancelling his Comet order. I’ll wait and see what happens on Monday – worst case is I can’t cancel it and have to return it to Apple when it arrives, or sell it on to a friend or colleague (at cost price, naturally – I can’t be bothered eBaying it).

Thoughts on npower hometeam

I signed up for a npower hometeam 50 central heating care contract at the start of February. Knowing that boiler repair can be expensive and that my boiler hadn’t been serviced since we moved in over a year ago, £15 a month didn’t seem a bad price for peace of mind, especially as it includes an annual service worth £75. Also, as npower supply my gas and electricity, I’d be entitled to 50% cashback at the end of the year if I didn’t call them out.

Towards the end of March – coincidentally, a week before my first annual inspection and service was due – the boiler failed and I called npower out. They offered me an appointment for two days later, so I agreed with my employer to work from home on that day.

The engineer arrived and set to work looking at the boiler. He thought that either the gas valve or PCB needed replacing, although he didn’t seem to perform any extensive diagnosis in order to reach this conclusion. He then started the annual service inspection, and at this point noticed that there was a small gap between the boiler and the flue because the original installer hadn’t properly attached the bottom of the flue pipe to the fan assembly. Unfortunately the flue pipe was cemented in place through the wall of the garage in which the boiler is installed. He said that npower could fix this, but as a pre-existing fault it would be chargeable at £200 and they wouldn’t necessarily do a great job as they are not installation specialists, so I would be better off getting a local gas fitter to rectify the problem, which would probably take around an hour and cost in the region of £80. The npower engineer said that once the flue had been fitted correctly, I should contact the call centre and book an appointment so he could come back and fit a new gas valve. In the meantime, he said he had no choice but to declare the boiler as “Immediately Dangerous” and disconnect it from the gas supply.

The engineer left, and I immediately contacted Custom Heat, a local (Rugby-based) gas installation company, about whom I had previously heard good things. They were able to come out the following day after 1pm, which I was pleased with as I was eager to get the issue resolved.

When the Custom Heat engineer arrived, he took a look at the boiler and told me categorically that there was no problem with the flue installation, and that the npower engineer was wrong to condemn the boiler. He reconnected the boiler to the gas supply, charged me a £72 callout fee and left.

I got straight on the phone to the npower call centre to explain this. The operator was very apologetic and promised that she would call me back by the end of the day. This didn’t happen, and when I called the following day to chase this, I was told they had no record of the conversation. So I explained everything in detail again, requesting that the information be added onto my account notes, and was given an appointment for the npower engineer to return five days later.

The engineer arrived and, to my surprise, he had no knowledge of what had happened with Custom Heat. He was still adamant that the flue was incorrectly fitted and therefore the boiler was unsafe. He demonstrated this by dismantling the boiler and shining a torch up from the combustion chamber into the flue, and we could both see that there was an escape of light. He said that unfortunately he’d have to condemn the boiler once again and wouldn’t be able to replace any parts until the boiler had been made safe.

So I phoned Custom Heat to explain the situation. The operator said she would get the engineer to call me back as soon as possible. Around ten minutes later, he called me so I briefly explained the situation again and put him on the npower engineer who was still on the premises. The Custom Heat engineer told him that he they would come out and fix the flue with no charge, and that I should call the office to arrange this, which I did. The operator initially tried to backtrack on the “free fix” promise, saying that there would be no additional callout fee, but parts and labour would be chargeable. I didn’t accept this and they did back down and send an installer out within 15 minutes. As luck would have it, the npower engineer was fortunately still here and he was able to explain his findings.

The installer was very good and completed the work within an hour and a half, albeit with some difficulty as the boiler was installed approximately seven years ago and the fittings had started to corrode in place. Unfortunately, by the time he’d finished, the npower engineer had left, so I had to book a third appointment with them, for three days’ time.

The npower engineer arrived, was happy with the flue, and started carrying out a proper diagnosis of the original fault. He decided that the gas valve wasn’t the problem after all, and it was actually the PCB. He didn’t have one with him, but was able to pick one up from a local supplier and fit it the same day, which did indeed get the boiler working.

So, after twelve days without heating or hot water (even the shower runs from the mains water), I was finally up and running again.

Clearly the original installer was at fault for not connecting the flue correctly, but I have no recourse as the central heating system was already fitted when we move in, and we were left no paperwork showing who installed it. Also Custom Heat were in the wrong for refusing to accept that there was a flue problem, and reconnecting the boiler without remedial work when the npower engineer had declared it unsafe. I can’t fault the npower engineer for erring on the side of caution and refusing the work on the boiler until it had been made safe, but things could have progressed much more quickly if the call centre staff had logged my issue correctly, and there wasn’t such a long lead time for appointments, which would have made the situation all the more unpleasant had it happened in the middle of winter.

Custom Heat deserve some credit for eventually fixing the problem for free, saving me approximately £60 in labour, although I’d have preferred to have paid and had it fixed first time around. They were also quick to come out on both occasions, unlike npower. I would hesitate to recommend Custom Heat based on my experience though, as they were happy to leave me with a visibly unsafe boiler.

I’m glad I had the npower cover, as it saved me paying £200-odd for a new PCB (although reconditioned boards are available on eBay for around £65) plus labour to diagnose the problem and fit the part. Fortunately my employer is flexible enough to allow me to work from home when necessary, so despite the inconvenience, I wasn’t out of pocket for four separate days I had to spend out of the office.

I haven’t decided whether I’ll renew my npower hometeam contract when it runs out. Most likely, I’ll switch to the British Gas equivalent which costs an extra £2/month for similar cover (albeit without the 50% cashback option), which could be worth it if they’re able to get out to me more quickly in the event of a boiler breakdown.