Home Computer: Facing the pitfalls: Nigel Willmott counts his blessings for a lucky escape

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When the Cheltenham-based PC supplier MJN went into liquidation earlier this month, I was not suprised.

About nine months ago I had done business with the company - or rather I had failed to do business with it. It was unable to deliver the system I had ordered - and it took more than two months of pleading before the company refunded the pounds 1,200 it had debited from my credit card.

The story illustrates the pitfalls of buying mail order. A friend setting up a new company wanted to buy a computer system. As I was reasonably knowledgeable and around the corner, I agreed to to do it for him. His budget was tight and the system needed to be capable of desk top publishing, demanding a larger than normal screen and a high-quality laser printer.

It was a challenge, but the highly competitive market for PCs should have provided a text book example of supplying what the consumer wants at an affordable price.

MJN came out as lowest-priced supplier for the computer part of the system. It was also one of the few to respond to the request for a quote and one of only two to follow up with a call from a salesman.

As he seemed knowledgeable and helpful and promised delivery in two weeks, the deal was done.

Then came a call saying delivery would be slightly delayed, because of the demand. It seemed reasonable with such an attractive offer and delivery would still be within the deadline. I started to buy the other bits of the system and just waited for the central computer unit to drive the whole thing.

I should have checked before the rescheduled delivery date, but let it slip. Nothing arrived on the day. The ever friendly salesman was suddenly difficult to get hold of and then he explained there would be another delay. Time was now a serious problem. Delivery in another week was promised. This became two weeks and finally 'Can't say'. We agreed on a refund.

Could the refund be done straight away so that I could buy a machine elsewhere? It could not be done there and then, but would be processed with their weekly accounts several days hence.

Two and a half weeks later, my Barclaycard account was still not recredited. There then began a merry-go-round of telephone calls and faxes to MJN, leading to promises of restitution which were not fulfilled. Finding anyone to take the call was a major task - always a bad sign. Barclaycard advised first writing to the company and fully outlining everything that had happened - so keeping a log of all dealings with your supplier is a good idea.

Finally - partly by persistence and partly by accident - I reached the managing director's personal assistant. She promised action - as had many others - but finally my card was credited with the amount, more than two months after it had been debited.

Conclusion: cost your specification against the adverts, but choose a supplier you can go to and deal with face to face - and do not let go of the cash before you have the goods.

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