Best Buy, a crumbling company, occasionally claws its way back into my life when my Discover Card bonus cash back comes into play. Going forward I’ll probably just pay more somewhere else.

Toward the end of May, I found myself saddled with gift cards and rewards certificates, the latter of which expire (an anti-consumer practice), and both part of the larger anti-consumer machine of, “Well I need to use this gift card so I might as well..”

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There was nothing I wanted, so I settled on a My Gamers Club Unlocked membership, newly discounted to $30 from $100. The membership is a double-edged sword as it effectively traps you in Best Buy’s video game ecosystem, while offering extra discounts on games and related products, but at $30, whatever. I don’t blame retailers for doing anything in their power to stave off Amazon, at least they tried something.

I received the cardboard membership activation card in the mail a few days later, with instruction to take it to a physical Best Buy to have it activated. That’s already an unforgivable scenario, but as you might expect, tip of the iceberg.

Addition: I feel I did not stress enough just how insane it is that I have to take something I purchased online into a store to activate it. Why is the membership a physical good at all?

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I headed over to the SoHo Best Buy in Manhattan, in the rain, after returning some shirts to American Eagle. (American Eagle doesn’t have free returns for online purchases, another unforgivable practice).

The cashier knew immediately why I was there, and that he couldn’t help me. I gleaned that another customer had already had their day ruined by the incompetence I was about to experience. He explained (incorrectly) that Gamers Club Unlocked memberships purchased online could not be activated in store, and then called his supervisor, who explained the same. I was certain they were wrong, but unfortunately I’m not qualified to give Best Buy’s employees the training they needed to complete this basic transaction.

I left without buying the white chocolate pretzels I had been eyeing in line.


After the labyrinth of touch tone menus, I was on the phone with Best Buy customer service representative Barbara, who was very nice. She placed me on hold for quite a while before coming back, about to tell me the card might have come up as fraudulent, and that’s why the activation didn’t work, but I cut her off:

No, they didn’t even try to activate it.

They didn’t try?

No, they said cards purchased online could not be activated in store.

Barbara explained there was no way for a card to be activated over the phone, or online, and made the logical leap that a fresh card wouldn’t make the employees of Best Buy any less incompetent. We moved on to the refund process, one final “fuck you” because I would have to take the refund in the same form the payment was made in: gift cards.

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Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, what are the odds this refund is processed correctly?

Update 6/3, received the following e-mail from Best Buy:

Hey Shane,

Per your column today, I wanted to explain the inconvenience you experienced.

Your Gamers Club Unlocked card was one of a small run that went out to customers that mistakenly kept the card from being activated. This was done in error and we apologize for it. All of the affected cards, including your card, have been updated and can now be activated in-store.

This is likely what Barbara was about to discuss when I cut her off, but of course fails to address what actually happened (not to mention there’s no attempt at a make good here). I’ll never know if the card would have worked or not, but taking a “fixed” card back to Best Buy employees who don’t know how to activate it doesn’t help me.

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I also followed up my post yesterday by doing some Googling, which lead me to Best Buy Gamers Club Unlocked forum. There’s more than one thread where other customers are having the same issue.

I appreciate you getting in touch Shane [different Shane], but this was not actually the issue. The employees at the Soho Best Buy in Manhattan are convinced memberships purchased online cannot be activated in store, and will not even try. This issue has also been noted by other customers on your forums, who have had the same thing happen in other stores.

We must now take a moment to acknowledge the fact that, even if the employees had tried to activate the card, it would have likely failed given this new information.