Why did Google replace my defective phone with a refurbished one?

When Alex Baretta’s Google Pixel went on the blink, the company agreed to replace it with a refurbished mobile phone. Baretta isn’t happy with that resolution: He wants an entirely new phone. But he hasn’t had any luck convincing Google that it should provide him with one.

Baretta’s story is a case of a company adhering to the letter of its warranty and exchanging a defective item only for a functional one. It is also a case of a dissatisfied customer’s failure in self-advocacy. And unfortunately, our advocates haven’t succeeded in obtaining a new phone for Baretta either – nor is it likely that we will.

Baretta purchased a Google Pixel for $750 plus sales tax. He successfully used the Pixel for a month. Then the device began to flicker, hang up, and crash on a regular basis and required rebooting at least once a day.

At that point, Baretta contacted Google to request assistance with the phone. Here are excerpts from a chat he had with a Google technician named Nathan, who advised Baretta to try a factory reset on his phone:

Nathan: I understand that you’re facing couple of issues like flickering and proximity sensor.

Baretta: I can only say that the phone is generally highly unstable

Nathan: Have you tried any troubleshooting steps apart from restarting?

Baretta: It [works] great for an hour or two, then the screen starts flickering.

Nathan: What steps? Like Safe mode?

Baretta: I tried rebooting into safe mode, but it doesn’t help. …

Nathan: … Have you tried factory reset which might fix the issue?

Baretta: I have not. I could try. But look, my time, unfortunately, is quite precious. I can’t spend my days troubleshooting a phone. The darn thing is unstable.

When the reset failed, Nathan assured Baretta that his warranty would allow Google to send him a replacement phone and processed a shipping order.

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But when Baretta learned that the replacement phone was not new but refurbished, he resumed his chat with Nathan half an hour later:

Baretta: Well, I clicked on the link you sent me. And I’ve landed into the Google store. Where I see that the replacement I would be getting is a refurbished one. That’s not going to fly. I paid perfectly good money for a new fully-functioning phone. And if the unit Google delivered to me is bad, I ought to be entitled to a brand new one.

Baretta: When I have a problem with an Apple device, if Apple acknowledges the issue, they just replace it at the Apple store with a brand new one. This is not how you guys can take on Apple. …
Baretta: I was finally able to reboot my phone. And reset it to factory defaults. … I have just barely finished to the process of reconfiguring the phone and it started flickering again. So either the Pixel’s OS is highly highly buggy. Which seems unrealistic given that you are selling plenty of them, and people are writing good reviews about these devices. Or the one in my possession is faulty. If that is the case, I want it replaced with a new one, not a refurbished one.

Nathan: I totally understand. It looks like a hardware issue in the device. … Our replacement devices undergo a comprehensive process to ensure a high standard of quality before they are shipped. All refurbished devices are thoroughly inspected to ensure they operate like new devices. They have been tested to make sure there are no mechanical or software issues.

Baretta: Ok, so say that I buy a car, a brand-new Toyota. The thing is found to be faulty and needs to be replaced. Toyota tells me, we’ll give you a pre-owned one, but don’t worry, we’ve tested it and it’s fine. No. Google entered into a contract with me to deliver a brand-new Pixel device in good working order, in exchange for good American money. I upheld my end of the deal. I want Google to uphold its end. Look, I can blog and Reddit about this. Apple will love to tell its customers that when a Google Pixel doesn’t work, Google replaces it with a used (but tested) one. Really, this is unprofessional.

Nathan promised to escalate Baretta’s request for a new phone to his superiors, but when he did so, they rejected it. And Baretta followed through on his threat to blog about this experience:

Google on the other hand is an arrogant company. … And the Pixel Phone shows it clearly.

The Pixel is their first consumer product. It faces a competitor which is the golden standard and the paragon of mobile devices: the iPhone. … You cannot hope to win if your arrogance makes you ship a product that is full of bugs, and flickers and hangs and crashes all the time. You cannot win if your product needs a “Restart” button, which your customer needs to resort to several times a day to unblock a frozen handset. You cannot win if, when a customer calls asking for their Pixel phone to be replaced because it is highly buggy, you admit to it, but instead of offering to replace it with a brand new one, you offer a refurbished one. You cannot win by being arrogant and disrespectful of the customers, whose loyalty is your biggest asset. …

Google is not a consumer company. They don’t have the DNA of one. … Google, on the other hand, is proving incapable of competing credibly with Apple in the consumer space. Not for lack of technical talent, but for lack of respect and appreciation for the customer.

It comes as no surprise that after Baretta’s hostility, including calling Google names such as “arrogant” and “disrespectful,” both in his chats and his blog, Google showed no interest in assisting him further. Taking a hostile tone with a company’s agents and issuing a blog post full of accusatory language are not appropriate — and generally not effective — means of attempting to resolve a customer service problem.

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And Google’s Pixel warranty limits its obligation to replace a malfunctioning Pixel, such as Baretta’s, to providing the owner with a working phone. It does not guarantee that the replacement phone will be new as opposed to refurbished.

Baretta might have escalated his complaint to Google executives using our contact information, but he asked our advocates for assistance.

We reached out to Google on Baretta’s behalf, but received no response. Neither did Baretta. He had to settle for a refurbished phone:

They refused to issue a new phone. Eventually I had to settle for a refurbished phone. While their behavior might be consistent with the U.S. law, it is a sign of a highly arrogant and disrespectful company that has not [the] faintest consideration for customer satisfaction. Never more will I buy a Google product.

Well, Alex, as disappointing as having to settle for a refurbished phone after purchasing a defective one may be, we doubt that calling the company “arrogant” and “disrespectful” will convince anyone at Google to ship you a new phone, and thus we file your story as a Case Dismissed.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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