On Your Side

SAN FRANCISCO (03/21/2000) - When David Nappi, of West Berlin, New Jersey, ordered a new 650-MHz Pentium III PC from CyberMax, the company's Web site indicated seven to ten business days for production. Adding time for delivery, Nappi says, he expected to receive the system in three weeks, at the most.

Eight weeks later, he was still waiting. CyberMax alerted Nappi after he placed his order that the PC would take three or four weeks to ship, but that was only the beginning. He next learned that his graphics card was out of stock and would take another month to arrive; then a CPU shortage delayed the unit's shipment indefinitely. "If I had known it would take this long," Nappi gripes, "I would have approached my purchase differently."

I've heard similar stories from several customers of CyberMax and other vendors. Companies attribute the delays--especially for cutting-edge PCs--to unexpectedly high sales and a recent CPU shortage. But many buyers say their biggest frustration is with poor communication. CyberMax president Bill Bisignano acknowledges the problem. "At the time Mr. Nappi ordered, all customers who ordered online were given a standard shipping time frame." Since then, CyberMax has begun providing tailored estimates of shipping time to its customers.

How can you avoid unexpected shipping delays? First, if you are ordering online, make sure the Web site provides order status reports and a delivery date specific to your purchase, not a blanket estimate for all orders. If necessary, call a sales representative to confirm that the required components are in stock. Bear in mind that CPU manufacturers provide chips to PC vendors on varying schedules. You may not be able to find out where your vendor falls in the pecking order, but you can check Web sites like CPUReview.com (www.cpureview.com) to see what's happening in the processor industry.

Letter of the Month

When I moved from CompuServe Classic ISP service to CompuServe 2000, I thought I'd continue to pay a flat monthly rate. So I was shocked to find a $254.49 CompuServe charge on my credit card bill. The company said that it began charging me an hourly rate once the CompuServe 2000 trial period ended. I asked them to revert to a flat-rate plan. But the next bill showed charges of $151.19.

David Suarez, Brooklyn, New York

On Your Side responds: According to Anne Bentley, director of communications at CompuServe, members who don't choose a specific billing option when they upgrade are put on an hourly-rate plan. "Mr. Suarez did not call us when he received the first bill that would have shown the [hourly] pricing plan," she says. "When he called to switch [back] to the unlimited plan, he had already accrued the $151 in charges." CompuServe says it is working with Suarez to resolve the dispute.

Heads Up:

CTX Drops PCs: About a dozen customers of PC- and monitor-maker CTX International have written to complain that they've been unable to contact the company. I spoke with CTX's Alex Campbell, who confirmed the problem: "We recently switched to an in-house call center, which is now up and running, although understaffed." Campbell also said that the firm will cease producing PCs but plans to continue customer support for its products... DoubleClick Inc.

Sued: A California woman has filed a lawsuit against Web ad firm DoubleClick, alleging that it collects data on consumers--including addresses, purchases, and demographics--without their knowledge or consent. The suit follows DoubleClick's merger with direct marketer Abacus Direct. DoubleClick had intended to use the Abacus consumer database to identify formerly anonymous Web surfers. But the company later announced that it was postponing these plans indefinitely... Memory Liquidators Liquidates? Memory Liquidators, a mail-order vendor in Torrance, California, seems to have vanished without a trace. The company's Web site has effectively disappeared, all telephone numbers have been disconnected, and my repeated e-mails went answered. At press time, there was no report of the company filing for bankruptcy, but stay tuned.

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