An unhappy Kindle customer is taking his grievance to court. Seattle resident Matthew Geise bought the second-generation model of Amazon.com’s popular e-reader device, the Kindle 2 — along with the US$29.99 Kindle Cover — only to find that this protective covering was anything but. Geise made the purchase as a birthday gift for his wife.
Three months later, she noticed that the Kindle was cracking near the point where the cover attaches to the device. On July 6, according to the complaint, the Kindle screen froze. The next day Geise called Amazon customer support to make a warranty claim.
An Amazon customer service rep told him that “while the frozen screen may be covered by the warranty, the cracking of the Kindle would not,” according to the complaint Geise filed in Seattle’s federal district court.
The rep said Geise could send the Kindle in to Amazon “and if they determined that the screen had not frozen due to misuse or neglect then they may be able to repair it under the warranty.” Under no circumstances, however, would the cracking be covered, because “the only way to crack the Kindle at the cover attachment points was to open the cover backwards.”
Geise’s could send the Kindle to Amazon along with $200 to cover the cost of repairing the cracks, according to the rep. Amazon would then evaluate whether the frozen screen was covered by the warranty at no cost.
There have been scores of similar accounts on Internet complaint board and product review sites, according to Geise’s filing.
Some posters reported success with Amazon’s customer service department.
“I got the same excellent customer service I’ve always gotten from Amazon. They said it was a known problem and that they would overnight me a new Kindle. They said the cover is being redesigned,” wrote Margaret A. Burnett in a customer review.
Others were less sanguine about the company’s response.
“This is garbage. The hinge caused a crack on the left side of my kindle, and Amazon has been horrible about helping with this issue,” wrote Angela M. Gibbons in another customer review.
Amazon’s position is that based on tests conducted by the cover manufacturer, the only way to crack the Kindle at the cover attachment points is to open the Kindle cover backwards, according to conversations Geise had with a customer service supervisor, which are chronicled in the court filing. Cracks could also occur as a result of other misuse, such as detaching or attaching the Kindle cover incorrectly or dropping it.
Such damage is not covered by the warranty, but it can be repaired for a $200 service fee.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company had a statement on the issue, but it had not been received by press time. He declined to comment further to the E-Commerce Times.
Amazon’s contention that the damage caused by the cover is not subject to the Kindle 2’s warranty is bunk, says Beth E. Terrell, a partner with Terrell Marshall & Daudt, who is representing Geise.
“Although the cover is manufactured by another company, it was designed by Amazon and sold by Amazon as a cover compatible with and designed for the Kindle,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “When the consumer purchases both, it is their understanding that it will not damage the product.”
Terrell said she has not received a response from Amazon.
Although she has represented consumers in other class action lawsuits, Terrell said she couldn’t think of any case comparable to this one. Usually such litigation has to do with injuries caused by defective products, and the terms of their eventual settlements are confidential.
“Frankly, cases like this don’t get prosecuted that often,” said Terrell, “because companies like Amazon usually take care of their customers.”
Customer Care Reputation
Indeed, Amazon has a sterling reputation for customer care — one that is in danger of becoming tarnished as news of this lawsuit gains traction.
“I would think that the best thing Amazon could do is be proactive and take whatever measures they need to to get in front of this,” Rory Doherty, president of Current Communications, told the E-Commerce Times.
It is not just its own reputation at risk, he noted — the e-reader market itself is still a nascent one that could be adversely affected by allegations of defective products and a provider unwilling to honor warranties.
A lesson from this brand crisis might be to not “officially endorse” any third-party protective case, said Robb Hecht, an adjunct marketing professor at CUNY-Baruch College.
“If only Amazon hadn’t officially endorsed this product — but it did, and now it must pay the brand price of backing up its customers’ trust in Amazon’s recommendation,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
In the meantime, to keep its customers brand-loyal, especially with respect to the high-priced Kindle, “Amazon is going to have to offer to replace existing broken Kindles affected by the current case.”