Genius Bar exchanges are not returnable?

December 9, 2012

I just had some trouble returning an Apple TV to the Apple Store. The store manager was eventually able to make an exception to allow me to return it, and I’m very grateful for that! But I also learned something alarming: if you swap out a device for a replacement one at the Apple Store, the replacement isn’t returnable, even if it doesn’t work.

Here’s what happened. I bought an Apple TV from my local Apple Store a few weeks ago. All the online streaming services worked great, but I mainly wanted it for AirPlay, the service where I can share my Mac or iOS device screen to the TV. AirPlay was unreliable, so I made a Genius Bar appointment to get it looked at. I checked in using the Apple Store app on my iPhone, but it seems like the check-in didn’t work, so my appointment was missed. Because of that, the associate I spoke with (probably a manager) was trying to fit me in and give me a quick fix. She said they can’t service Apple TVs at the store, so she took another Apple TV out of the box, gave it to me, and took mine. My wife was with me and realized this was a strange thing for her to do, but neither of us thought to ask her anything about it. I assumed managers were able to be flexible and it would all be OK.

A few weeks later, after we’d had the opportunity to try AirPlay on the Apple TV a few more times, we had the same problems, so at this point we decided to return it. We asked one Apple Store employee about returning it, but he said that when you swap out a device, you get a “repair part” which is not returnable. This of course was very surprising to me: if I swap out a device because it’s not working, why would it then be unreturnable? He said this was stated on the paperwork I signed. (In fact, I had not been given any paperwork to sign, but I didn’t remember this right away.) I tried explaining to him that this seemed like very bad customer service, and in fact seemed like a trap to keep me from returning the device.

He eventually spoke with his manager (a different one than in the first visit), then she talked with us and said she would do what she could. As she looked for records, it became clear that the original manager who helped me hadn’t done the exchange properly. She was eventually able to refund our purchase, and I thanked her and told her I would thank her publicly online as well. But I also asked some follow-up questions for my sake and for the sake of sharing with others. (She asked me not to share her name, but said it was fine for me to share this information.)

Here’s what I learned: Whenever you are getting diagnostic or repair work done at the Genius Bar, or getting a replacement (a “repair part”), the associate should always give you paperwork to sign. If they don’t, you should ask the associate to give it to you, to make sure things are properly documented in case you need it later, as I did. Also, if you are swapping out devices for a “repair part,” the document you sign does say that it cannot be returned. The manager said that the employee should encourage you to read the agreement, and that it’s only a paragraph long. But she said the employee would not necessarily point out to you clearly that the repair part is not returnable. She said she advises me in the future to ask to return the device for a refund and to buy a new device—that way it is returnable. It still bothers me that this is Apple’s policy—intentional or not, it feels like trapping customers into being unable to return their device.

My wife pointed out that, since Macs and iOS devices are serviceable in the store, this problem probably would only come up with secondary devices like Apple TVs. Still, it’s good to know to be cautious about this “repair part” policy and anything you’re asked to sign at the Genius Bar. It sours my opinion of Apple a bit—it doesn’t fit with what I would consider good customer service, and I can’t think of a good reason for them not to point out the potential problem.