Today, two months after ordering my new laptop from Dell I got a refund for €154.28: the price I paid for Microsoft Windows and Works. This was after many emails to customer support and lodging a claim with the Small Claims Court.
In June I began looking into buying a new laptop to replace my PowerBook G4 12″, which was starting to get a little slow for me. I had been thinking of getting another Mac but I discovered the Dell XPS M1330 and it looked like it might be a good substitute for a MacBook. I also realised that this would give me the option to switch back to using Linux as my main OS on my personal machine.
The Dell XPS M1330 is actually sold preinstalled with Ubuntu Linux in some parts of the world but not Ireland. This was good news from the point of view of compatibility but it would mean buying the system with Windows pre-installed and wiping it later.
I ordered the system on the 25th June and it was delivered on the 4th July. I say it was delivered, but it was missing an important part: the battery! But I didn’t let that stand in my way: I booted straight off an Ubuntu install CD, wiped the system and got up and running in Ubuntu. I contacted Dell about the missing battery and they sent one out a few days later.
With the battery issue sorted out I decided it was time to return the unwanted software with unacceptable licence terms that Dell had included in my order. On the 10th July I wrote to Dell customer service:
I would like to return Microsoft Windows Vista, Microsoft Works 9 and Roxio Creator software supplied with my computer for a full refund as I do not accept the licence agreements.
Please let me know how I should proceed. I am happy to destroy or return software media, licence keys, etc.
I got a response the same day saying:
I am sorry but we will not be able to cancel software media and license.
We will be able to cancel the complete order and refund the complete amount under 7 days but will not be able to cancel the software media and license.
I wrote back pointing out the clause in the software licence agreement that came with the system that says:
“If you do not agree to these terms, promptly return all Software items (disks, written materials, and packaging) and delete any preloaded or embedded Software.”
from “Dell Computers and Monitors Product Information Guide”, page 8 (Barcode 0HY356A05).
I explained that I had already deleted the software and would be happy to return the discs and licence keys. I also asked for a refund for the software. Admittedly the licence didn’t say I was entitled to a refund but my reasoning was that since I paid for these pieces of software I should get my money back if I am returning them.
I got a response the next day that quoted a bit of the Terms and Conditions of sales for the UK which said that I would lose my right to return software supplied on DVD if it was unwrapped. I pointed out that I wasn’t in the UK, that I was referring to preinstalled software, and that I hadn’t unwrapped the restore/install disks.
I received a reply to this with a different excuse: “The Operating System is factory installed and so we will not be able to cancel it.” I replied that there didn’t seem to be anything in the licence that excluded preinstalled software from being returned.
In my response I raised the issue that Dell had given refunds in similar cases in Ireland, the UK and the USA. I also mentioned that if Dell had offered the system with Ubuntu pre-installed in Ireland then I would not be complaining.
A few days later I got a reply from the supervisor of the customer service agent I had been dealing with again refusing to accept return of the software:
The reason being, these are pre installed in the system and though you have not used it or have deleted it from your system we would not be able to cancel for a refund.
I replied on 15th July reiterating all the point I had made. I made an estimate of how much I was entitled to as a refund (at this point I didn’t know how much I had actually been charged) and I threatened to take the matter to the Small Claims Court if I didn’t get a response.
A week later I hadn’t got a resposne and I wrote saying again that I was willing to return the software and giving Dell another week to respond. After the week had elapsed on the 31st July I called Dell customer service in the hope that I might get some response by speaking in person. This call was largely futile: the agent argued that I couldn’t return the software because I already had a licence key and they wouldn’t be able to reuse it if I returned the software (or something like that).
However, the call was not entirely wasted because I asked how much I had been charged for the pre-installed software and the agent was happy to tell me that it was €115.92 for Windows and €11.59 for Works before VAT at 21%. That came to €154.28 after VAT, a significant portion of what I was charged for the system as a whole. I emailed Dell to revise my request for refund to this amount and to let them know that I would be making a complaint to the Small Claims Court on the 5th August if I hadn’t heard from them.
On the 5th August I made a claim via the Small Claims Online System. I had to fill in my details, Dell’s details, the amount claimed and a brief description of the claim. I then had to give my credit card details to pay the €15 fee and I was given a reference number and the impressive-looking title of the case: DAVID O’CALLAGHAN -V- DELL PRODUCTS.
Dell were served with the claim on the 8th August and were given 15 calendar days to respond.
I contacted the Small Claims office today to find out what should happen now that the 15 days are up and was told that in practice the registrar can allow the respondent six weeks to reply: I was told to wait until 19th September.
But when I got home there was a nice surprise for me. A letter from Dell with a cheque attached for €154.28. The letter itself was artfully vague:
Further to your recent enquiry please find enclosed a cheque for the amount:
Now technically Dell haven’t admitted the claim (i.e. accepted that I was entitled to a refund). If they did they should have sent the cheque to the Small Claims registrar. I suppose, It’s possible that their response to the registrar was sent at the same time as my cheque but just hasn’t arrived yet.
Anyway, tomorrow I will post the rejected software and Windows licence key sticker back to Dell and lodge my refund cheque.