Getting a fix: Circuit City, meet Covey's

Michael Pitt was not happy. Sure, the CD player was working again, but at what cost? They'd owned it for only nine months, and for three of those months it had either been broken or, apparently, lost in space. What's the price of aggravation? Or wasted time and energy?

Pitt bought the Panasonic five-disc CD changer, AM/FM, cassette tape, home stereo from Circuit City at Albemarle Square last October as a birthday gift for his wife. Things were fine until April, when the changer door stuck and wouldn't eject the CD. On April 25, he took the stereo back to the store.

According to Pitt, he was told that because the unit was no longer under warranty from Circuit City, he would have to deal directly with Panasonic. The employee said that if Pitt would pay for shipping, however, the store would send it to the nearest authorized Panasonic repair shop as a courtesy. He agreed, paid the $10.63 UPS bill, and the stereo was sent to a service center in Raleigh, North Carolina.

In early July, Pitt returned to the store and claims he spoke to "several" employees and the manager, who told him, as he wrote in a July 27 letter to Circuit City in Richmond, "that this was between Panasonic and me and suggested I contact Panasonic directly." When Pitt protested, he claims the manager stated "there was nothing he could do and if I didn't like his response, I should call Circuit City Customer Service."

Pitt did, and says he spoke with a customer service employee who "echoed the manager's sentiment that this was my problem, not Circuit City's."

Pitt next tried Panasonic, which, he says, couldn't understand why Circuit City would have shipped the stereo to Raleigh when there's an authorized dealer much closer– about a mile from the store, to be precise. Increasingly frustrated, Pitt resumed his efforts to get Circuit City to locate the stereo.

The stereo finally arrived on July 21. The CD door had been fixed, all right– but now, as he stated in his letter, "it makes a loud noise when you play a CD in disc 4 and 5 slots, plus it skips really bad in the 5 slot where it is hitting something."

This time Pitt took it to the local authorized service center, Covey's Electronics on Westfield Road, and when it emerged it had been fixed– for real.

Pitt closed his letter by asking Circuit City to refund his $10.63. He also suggested that the company train its Charlottesville employees "how to locate the nearest repair facilities" so that customers don't have to go "three-plus months without the use of products purchased from Circuit City."

Pitt claims that Curtis George, head of Circuit City Consumer Affairs, called to follow up– but when Pitt asked about getting his $10.63 back, George declared, "We can't do that."

I forwarded a copy of Pitt's letter to Micah Morano in Circuit City's public relations department, who in turn forwarded it to the "executive response team." Within a matter of hours, Pitt reported that Circuit City had decided it could refund the $10.63, and the employee said that the Charlottesville store's list of authorized service centers would be updated to include Covey's.

Well, it's déjà vu all over again: Isn't it amazing how quickly "customer service" kicks in– as soon as a reporter calls?

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.