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The bizarre world of Patrick Byrne's Overstock

A CEO Apart

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

Analysis The SCO Group and Senator Hatch aren't the only strange things you'll find in the beautiful state of Utah.

Take Overstock, whose CEO Patrick Byrne has held calls with financial analysts in which he delved into his sexuality and experiences with cocaine, in the midst of a tirade on how a cabal led by a "Sith Lord" was out to destroy his company.

These days things are looking pretty awful for the online retailer. It faces mounting losses. It has suffered through an IT collapse. And as we've discovered, it forces buyers to endure the most shocking customer service we've ever encountered. All the while baffling Wall Street with a riddle wrapped in an enigma of a CEO.

This tale begins with our own experience, but grows into a saga of widespread grief.

In August, we ordered seven MP3 players from Overstock as gifts for a party. Relatively pricey gifts? Maybe. But Overstock promised a great bargain, so why not?

A few days later only two of the seven MP3 players arrived. They came in a 4-inch high box that had room for nothing else. We called Overstock to find out where the other MP3 players were. The customer service representative told us that she could not track the items because of an IT overhaul - see the disaster mentioned above - but she guessed that they were being shipped in from different warehouses. Fair enough.

Well, the party came and went, and the other five MP3 players never arrived. That's when the real fun began.

Once Overstock's IT system came back to life, we were informed that all seven of the MP3 players had been delivered because the box weighed seven pounds, and each MP3 player weighed one pound. This wasn't Overstock's problem, the company explained - it was UPS's problem.

UPS told us that it could not initiate an investigation into the matter because a) the box was not tampered with, and b) it only had one box for that delivery.

We'll save you all the ins and outs that transpired over the next two months. In summary, we placed about 12 calls to Overstock and were given a different excuse about the package each time. Some representatives said it was "impossible" that the box didn't have the items, others said a trace was in progress, while others said this was a partner's problem. We were promised a refund three times and never received it. Two customer service representatives said they would "take us under their wing and follow up on the matter personally," only to never call or e-mail us again.

Candice H said, "We can prove that we sent all seven."

That seemed pretty awesome given that only two products arrived.

Ann L noted that, "This has been a nightmare. I can tell."

She never called back.

Finally the head of customer service called and said, "Holy Cow! This is unbelievable. I can't make excuses."

He told us that he rings customers personally "all the time" to fix problems, which seemed pretty doubtful given that we spent close to three months trying to track down a refund, and didn't hear from him until after we had e-mailed the CEO.

In between all of this, Overstock's customer service line would periodically hang up on us for no reason, customer service representatives would insinuate we were lying about the devices and representatives would give out phone numbers that could not be reached from outside the company.

Great times, as you can imagine.

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