Saturday, May 5, 2012

How Garmin made a frustrating situation even worse

Last September, I spent a long time researching runners' GPS watches.  It is not an inexpensive product, so I wanted to make an informed choice.  Ultimately I went with the Garmin Forerunner 305.

The majority of the Garmin 305's product reviews were extremely positive.  However, there were certainly a noticeable population of reviews complaining about its lack of durability, its design flaws, and Garmin's poor customer service.  I figured that almost every product out there has its naysayers - but given how overwhelmingly positive most reviews were, I didn't let the naysayers deter me.

In the last 24 hours, I have realized that I probably should have paid more credence to those negative reviews.  A LOT more credence.

My Garmin watch is less than 8 months old and up until recently I've never had any problems with it.  Then last night, with it giving me fervent low-battery warnings, I plugged it in to charge it.  Nothing happened.  The watch wouldn't charge and did not even recognize the charger. 

I did some internet-based troubleshooting.  Suggested remedies included cleaning all contact points with an eraser and some alcohol pads, pushing the watch down into the charger, and trying different outlet/cord combinations.  None of them worked for me.  Finally I tried doing both a soft and hard reset on the watch.  Still nothing.

Garmin's technical support closes at 5:00 PM on Fridays and is not open on weekends, so I was looking at waiting until Monday morning to get resolution.  Anxious to use my Garmin watch over the weekend, and also anxious to be able to use it on a quickly-approaching European vacation, this afternoon I took it to the Garmin store on Michigan Avenue.

I waited while two employees helped one customer (more like one employee was helping while the other one looked on).  Finally a third employee named Gary came by to help me.  I told Gary I needed some help with my Garmin watch.  He immediately said, "It'll cost $19.99 for us to just look at your watch.  If any parts need to be replaced or if we need to do any work on it, that'll be additional cost." 

I explained that the watch simply wasn't charging, so all I needed was to be able to determine if it was the watch or the charger or both.  I also mentioned that the watch was less than a year old, so it was still under warranty.  He said, "I understand, but it'll still be $19.99 for us to look at it."  After more reasoning with him, he finally relented.

It took Gary less than 15 seconds to determine that the charger cradle was malfunctioning but the watch itself was fine.  He told me, "Go back to the register and tell them about it, and they'll take care of you."

I followed his instructions.  The employee promptly pulled out a new cradle and said, "That'll be $25." 

I protested, and explained the watch was less than 8 months old and still under warranty.  She said, "We can't do warranty exchanges here.  I can't give you a new cradle.  That would be theft on my part.  You'll need to call the nationwide customer service hotline."

I tried reasoning with her that I was just looking to exchange a faulty part, so there would be no "theft," and that customer service was closed on weekends.  She just kept repeating, "I understand, but I can't do anything for you here.  You need to call the hotline." 

I asked her what she could do to help.  She suggested that I just buy the new cradle and then return it after I'd had a chance to get a warranty replacement.  But then she said that returning anything would be subject to a 15% restocking fee. 

I asked to speak to the manager, who turned out to be Gary.  Gary repeated that they couldn't do anything for me, and that I needed to call the customer service hotline.

At that point, I gave up and left, feeling very frustrated and annoyed.

I am appalled at how poor Garmin's customer service was, especially given how expensive their products are.  I was frustrated enough that the watch was already malfunctioning within 8 months of purchase.  But I would have been mollified if the store employees had put forth some effort to work out a reasonable solution, or if their customer service hotline was open for at least some portion of the weekend.

Up until this point, I was very happy with my Garmin 305 and had spoken very highly of it to friends and colleagues.  However, after this experience I will no longer be recommending my Garmin watch.  And I will certainly think twice before purchasing any more Garmin products.

So I am currently Garminless for the forseeable future.  Thankfully, I had heard about the FREE RunKeeper app (thanks to Amy, who first clued me in on this tool with her review last month).  It basically does what a Garmin GPS watch does, but utilizes your iPhone as the interface instead.  No better time than now to give RunKeeper a whirl as an alternative, right?  I'll be testing RunKeeper out for the first time tomorrow!


  1. Sorry to hear about your garmin. I can't imagine how frustrating that would be! My garmin 110 sometimes won't connect to my pc which drives me crazy! I also use the Nike+ app on my iPhone which works as a gps too.

    1. Thanks for the sympathy!!! It's amazing how much these technologies really seem to have a mind of their own sometimes, grrrr. Thanks also for the tip on the Nike+ app - I will try that, too!

  2. Not cool, Garmin, not cool. You should write a letter or post something on their facebook page if they have one. Take it to the top and demand results!

    I'm curious to hear how Runkeeper worked for you. Sometimes it works great for me. Other times it tells me I ran a mile farther than I did. (I understand that no GPS is going to be exact, but a mile off is kind of a lot.)*

    1. Thanks, Amy! I am definitely going to voice my concerns to them. Here's hoping they even acknowledge my communication (I've written letters of complaint in the past that were flat-out ignored!)

      I had a good experience with RunKeeper this morning, thanks again for sharing! I ran a route I'm very familiar with, and the distances and times seemed very comparable to what I'm used to with the Garmin. We'll see how consistent it is over time. It's said that you ran a whole mile longer than you did?!? That is HUGE! Are you sure it isn't just all your incredible training efforts and huge improvements making the distance seem like it was less than it was? ;)

  3. What a pain in the arse. I am so sorry you had to deal with this. I would be wanting to fix my watch right away too, and that interaction at the store would have left me so frustrated!

    It really seems like some Garmins are more touchy than others. I have the same model as a friend of mine and she has issues more than I do, and I think I even use mine more. Silly things :( Hope you get it figured out tomorrow.

    1. Appreciate the sympathy! And it does seem like some Garmins are more "lemony" than others. Maybe they are like cars where they work better when used more frequently, and conversely are more prone to repair issues when they sit around. (Aka, maybe this is a sign that I need to go running more often and use my Garmin more frequently, LOL!)

  4. Wow - I've never heard of anyone having trouble with their Garmin. I'm shocked and grateful that you shared this...been debating whether to take the plunge on one of those. MapMyRun also has an app that you can use, not sure if it works with IPhones, but it does with Androids.

    I have to say that the customer service bar for me has been raised by Apple. My son's Ipod Touch was dropped and needed replaced. The customer service I experienced with that company was UNBELIEVABLE! Nothing like what you described with Garmin. These companies had better get on board or they are going to be left behind.

    BTW - Motorola has a new Garmin-like device. I saw a demo of it recently...looked pretty cool.

    1. So glad and so refreshing to hear that Apple's customer service was so superb. Garmin should take lessons from Apple! Let me know what you decide on getting a GPS watch, and thanks for the info about the Motorola product! This is really good to know for the future. Thanks also for the tip on MayMyRun, I just downloaded it onto my iPhone and will also give it a whirl this week!!!

  5. What the hell were the custom service of Garmin (Taiwan) thinking? There is no response to my e-mail request. Perhaps they decided not to have my repair done due to age of Oregon550t and cost of repair to their advantage. I eventually found the clue and have repaired the problem on the damaged rubber switch cover myself. In all, their customer service is totally unacceptable.

    1. Their customer service really is incredibly disappointing. Considering how large of a price tag their products command, you would think that they would do a much better job servicing their customers. Grrrr.