HP TouchPad 'fiasco' leaves customers fuming

HP's fire-sale on all webOS products has come as a welcome surprise to many bargain hunters, but has left others with a bad taste in their mouths as retailers are caught out by lack of preparation.

The news that HP was killing off its webOS hardware division as part of a new focus on enterprise software came as a surprise, but was quickly washed away with a flood of enthusiasm that followed a price cut to the company's TouchPad tablet that saw the £500 sell for just £89 in its 16GB incarnation.

For everyone that managed to snag a bargain tablet, however, there's a dozen who were too slow - but they're not the ones complaining. Many who were in plenty of time for the offer and grabbed some of the last stock in the UK are reporting that their orders have been cancelled outright by retailers apparently let down by their systems.

Several buyers have reported receiving conflicting information from retailers, with one source claiming to have been told by Dixons - one of the first companies to drop the price - that her tablet order had been cancelled, only to receive a call from the company later in the day confirming the order and checking the delivery details.

Sadly, that call appears to have been a mistake, with the company clarifying that the order is indeed cancelled and promising to refund the money which has already been deducted from the purchase card. This is despite some who ordered significantly later having received their TouchPads at the discounted price, and others who ordered at the full price having received both their tablets and a refund of the difference.

Mark Webb, Dixon's PR man, claims that these problems have been caused by the sudden rush to buy the tablets which overwhelmed the company's systems. "Sorry, I understand your frustation," he writes on Twitter, "but I'm not sure any system could have coped perfectly with the unprecedented rush."

That excuse might fly - after all, sales of the tablet have been crazy, with several websites forced offline due to the traffic they have received as they dropped the price - if it weren't for the fact that the rush had precedent: the same price drop happened a week earlier in the US, giving UK retailers early warning of what they should expect when dropping their own prices.

While Dixons - and the rest of the DSGi group - faces consumer backlash, with many threatening to close their accounts over what is being called the 'TouchPad fiasco,' even some of those who have got their hands on one of the much sought after devices aren't happy.

It's been an open secret that HP is helping retailers to offer refunds to customers who have purchased the TouchPad at the higher price just before the massive discount, with many retailers organising partial refunds already. Sadly, others are refusing to do so. Gadget site Play.com, which sold its stock of tablets to customers at the full asking price of £350 as they hoped to reap the benefits of the discount post facto, has announced that there will be no refunds for anyone.

"To everyone enquiring about HP TouchPads," the company announced on its official Twitter feed, "we regret to say that we haven't been supported [by HP] in refunding the difference of the price drop. #sorry"

That leaves those who gambled on the discount finding other means of getting their money back, such as returning the item to Play.com for a full refund under the Distance Selling Regulations. Those who have already started to play with their new toy, however, will likely find themselves unable to return it - and thus paying the full price and turning a bargain into a disaster.

The core cause of all these concerns, it appears, is HP itself: while the price cut has come directly from the company as it works to clear its own stock and that of the channel in the face of a cancellation of the entire webOS hardware line, it doesn't appear to be helping its retail partners cope with demand or issuing guidelines on how to handle partial refunds for full-price purchases.