How to Lose a Customer
By bonwick on Dec 30, 2007
For over a year I have been the proud and happy owner of a Garmin GPS unit -- the Nuvi 360. I have practically been a walking billboard for the company. Go ahead, ask me about my Nuvi!
That changed today, permanently. When I powered on the Nuvi this morning, it alerted me that its map database was over a year old and should be updated. That makes sense, I thought -- indeed, how nice of them to remind me! So I brought the Nuvi inside, plugged it into my Mac, and went to Garmin's website to begin the update.
Wait a minute, what's this? They want to charge $69 for the update! Excuse me? This isn't new functionality I'm getting, it's a bug fix. The product I bought is a mapping device. Its maps are now "out of date", as Garmin puts it -- well, yes, in the same way that the phlogiston theory is "out of date". The old maps are wrong, which means that the product has become defective and should be fixed. Given the (somewhat pathetic) fact that the Nuvi doesn't automatically update its maps from Web or satellite sources, the least Garmin could do to keep their devices operating correctly in the field is provide regular, free fixes to the map database. I didn't buy a GPS unit so I could forever navigate 2005 America.
But wait, it gets better.
You might imagine that getting the update would require supplying a credit card number to get a license key, downloading the map update, and then using the key to activate it. Nope! You have to order a physical DVD from Garmin, which takes 3-5 weeks to ship. 3-5 weeks! Any reason they can't include a first-class postage stamp as part of the $69 shakedown? And seriously, if you work for Garmin and you're reading this, check out this cool new technology. It really works. Swear to God. You're soaking in it.
Assuming you ordered the DVD, you would not discover until after it arrived -- because this is mentioned nowhere on Garmin's website -- that the DVD will only work for one device. Yes, that's right -- after going to all the trouble to get a physical copy of the map update, you have to get on their website to activate it, and it's only good for one unit. So to update my wife's unit as well as my own, I'd have to order two DVDs, for $138. That's offensive. Even the RIAA doesn't expect me to buy two copies of every CD just because I'm married. And the only reason I know about this is because I checked Amazon first, and found many reviewers had learned the hard way and were livid about it. Garmin's policy is bad, but their failure to disclose it is even worse.
Moreover, the 2008 map update isn't a one-time purchase. There's an update every year, so it's really a $138/year subscription. That's $11.50/month. For maps. For a mapping device. That I already paid for.
What does one get for this $11.50/month map subscription? According to the reviews on Amazon, not much. Major construction projects that were completed several years ago aren't reflected in the 2008 maps, and Garmin still hasn't fixed the long-standing bug that any store that's part of a mall isn't in their database. (Want to find the nearest McDonald's? No dice. You just have to know that the nearest McDonald's is in the XYZ Shopping Center, and ask for directions to that. This is really annoying in practice.)
I can get better information from Google maps, continuously updated, with integrated real-time traffic data, for free, forever -- and my iPhone will happily use that data to plot time-optimal routes. (In fact, all the iPhone needs is the right antenna and a SIRF-3 chipset to make dedicated GPS devices instantly obsolete. This is so obvious it can't be more than a year out. I can live with the stale maps until then, and have a $138 down payment on the GPS iPhone earning interest while I wait.)
And so, starting today, that's exactly what I'll do.
I don't mind paying a reasonable fee for services rendered. I do mind getting locked into a closed-source platform and being forced to pay monopoly rents for a proprietary, stale and limited version of data that's already available to the general public. That business model is so over.
Everything about this stinks, Garmin. You tell me, unexpectedly, that I have to pay for routine map updates. You make the price outrageous. You don't actually disclose what's in the update. (Several Amazon reviewers say the new maps are actually worse.) You make the update hard to do. You needlessly add to our landfills by creating single-use DVDs. You have an unreasonable licensing policy. And you hide that policy until after the purchase.
Way to go, Garmin. You have pissed off a formerly delighted customer, and that is generally a one-way ticket. You have lost both my business and my respect. I won't be coming back. Ever.