How to Lose a Customer

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  Its maps are now "out of date", as Garmin puts it -- well, yes, in the same way that the phlogiston theory is "out of date".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.

Comments:

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Posted by amazon on December 30, 2007 at 10:52 PM PST #

This is why I dont bother with the in car gps units. Each year, you have to update the maps. Each year, you to fork over an extra $100. If the roads in your area dont change that much, then you can probably get away with skipping the update. Its your choice.

Yes, it is locked to one device to prevent you from giving copies of it away to your wife/kids/friends/whoever.

All of that said, they just cant give it away for free. Somebody has to pay for the updates. "Free service for life" is a great way to put a company out of business. Then how would you feel? You wont be able to get updates if you tried, since there is nobody left to provide the updates.

Heck, sun still charges me for patches to their products... To fix things that are broken due to their poor QA process. How dare they! The horror, I'm never going to purchase another sun product again.

Posted by John on December 30, 2007 at 11:30 PM PST #

Hi Jeff,
I have a Garmin c340 and it works about the way you describe you wish your Nuuvi worked. We have had it for a couple of years. I just connect it to the PC via USB, hit the web, and update it. The updates do seem to work. It fixed the timezone issue when Dubya changed Daylight savings and I can now find some new PF Chang's. What you described is a HUGE differentiator I was unaware of. When people asked me, I always steered them away from TomTom because I believed they were Windows based. (Of course I could be wrong. I'm old and easily confused. Hence the need for a GPS). How are you going to get anti-virus on that GPS? Google has failed me once that I know of. It (or really its map db) has the Best Buy in Monroe, NC (near Charlotte) mis-located.

Lastly, as a Sun customer for many, many years, you could be describing the process of getting maintenance from Sun on Sun gear. Some of the best products I have ever used have been Sun. Most of my worst experiences as a customer have been with Sun. Just setting expectations goes a long way to fixing that problem. Short of providing good service, that is.

Posted by Scott on December 30, 2007 at 11:55 PM PST #

These big-name companies are GARBAGE!

I lost several times using my garmin 250. I got my first time virus influence by using Norton 360. I spent days on fixing the Oracle new release JDBC driver's bug. I spent 1200 USDs to get a totally no-sense out-of-date but already became public document from IBM for portal server. I have to pay extra money for upgrading my laptop memory in order to run the god damn Vista. All these make me wonder what the hell is going on with these big-name companies. Are they creating trash?!

Posted by James on December 31, 2007 at 02:05 AM PST #

TomTom, well at least the 910. I have Is Linux based same prob with maps though you want updated maps you pay for it ... Other updates are free though !

Posted by Cass on December 31, 2007 at 02:08 AM PST #

What do you expect...lifetime updates for free...get real. These are not bug fixes. They are additions, changes and POI updates.

Sorry you are so broke that $69.00 will break you.

Don't update the maps cheapskate.

Posted by Zoey Louise on December 31, 2007 at 03:07 AM PST #

Sun charges for patches. Solaris is broken:
http://sunsolve.sun.com/search/document.do?assetkey=1-26-103155-1

Do be a dear and pop me the patch in the mail when you chaps get round to fixing it!

Posted by dave on December 31, 2007 at 05:43 AM PST #

First, I understand Garmin may need to make some money, but $69 seems way too steep.

And I just bought a c530 for my parents and found out that it came with VERY old maps. If Garmin really wants to keep their customers, they should at least make sure a new unit have new maps, maybe give out one free map upgrade with the unit. I won't be coming back to them either after this, and I will be very sensitive to this issue with other brands as well.

As far as having to order a DVD, I'm sure 1GB of map data is a big download for some, but they ought to at least provide the option. My server company charges me about $0.01 for 6 GB, way less than the shipping costs for a DVD.

Posted by Roy on December 31, 2007 at 09:20 PM PST #

Zoey: Lifetime updates, as in \*my\* lifetime? No, all I expect is updates for the service life of the device -- say five years. Like any hardware platform, I fully expect that at some point is will become too hard or too expensive for the vendor to keep supporting it. But I don't expect this for a product that's a year old.

I also disagree with your contention that these are not bug fixes. With incorrect maps, the device malfunctions -- it gives you the wrong answer. By any definition, that is a bug.

Posted by Jeff Bonwick on January 01, 2008 at 06:56 AM PST #

Dave: You can get the very latest version of Solaris, for free, forever, at http://www.opensolaris.org.

We charge for patches to older releases because back-porting fixes from OpenSolaris requires a huge amount of additional work and testing. I'd fully expect to pay Garmin if I wanted something other than the latest maps -- if, for example, I wanted them to provide updates (patches) for only San Francisco and Denver.

Posted by Jeff Bonwick on January 01, 2008 at 07:10 AM PST #

Hi, just to let you know, I also own such device as well, but in my case, I got it in August, way past half 2007. Guess what? It shipped with 2006 maps... well I called them and told I wanted the new maps, they explain the whole "There are new POI" and all that crap but in the end, the representative said, "no problem, we will ship you a DVD for free". I just had to ask. But I guess my case is a bit different from yours. Anyway they were dumb enough to ship me 2 DVDs and that made me Ebay happy ...

Posted by Alvaro on January 02, 2008 at 05:28 AM PST #

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