Adventures with Lego Mindstorms: NXT

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

An Educational Experience from Lego Education

Recently I was turned on to an amazing website called LEGO Education. The range of products offered was amazing and very much geared towards the educational and research user. I ordered two products from them. The Educational Resource Set (the expansion to the NXT kit) and the rechargeable battery pack for the NXT. This blog exists to share my experience with LEGO Mindstorms both good and bad, and this is the story of that order.

Ordering the Product

First off, let me say that I really love this site. It is well organized, up to date and offers a bewildering array of products from the standard NXT sensors right up to highly accurate scientific sensors based on the IC2 interface. Their selection of individual parts is amazing and the prices are very acceptable. They have a "wish list" function so you can cue up purchases. All-in-all a wonderful site; however, the design, the logo and the products all imply that LEGO Education is a branch of LEGO itself. It is not, and this should be indicated clearly when ordering.

The order process seemed to go very smoothly. There was one note that my address would need to be confirmed by LEGO Education before my order could be sent, and I was offered the option of pressing continue in order to start this process. As a Canadian and ordering from a US site, this isn't a strange experience for me. More then a few sites require some sort of confirmation before sending products across international borders. However, after about a half hour I received an order confirmation which I have pasted below;

Dear Mathew,

Thanks for your order from LEGO Education.
A brief summary of your order is below.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Order Summary:

Order ID: 166916

Order Total:

Merchandise Total: $109.00
Discounts: $0.00
Sub-Total: $109.00

Local Tax: $0.00
State/Province Tax: $0.00
Country Tax: $0.00
Shipping: $8.72
Handling: $0.00

Order Total: $117.72

Gift Certificate: $0.00
Grand Total: $117.72

Billing Information:

Name: Mathew J Edlund
Company: XXXXX
Address1: xxxx
Address2: xxxxxxxxx.
City: Edmonton State: AB Zip: xxxxxx
Country: CA
Phone: 780-4XX-XXXX
Fax: None
E-Mail Address:
Payment Method: Credit Card

Shipping Information:

Name: Mathew J Edlund
Company: XXXXX
Address1: xxx
Address2: xxxxxxxxxx
City: Edmonton State: AB Zip: xxxxxx
Country: CA
Phone: 780-XXX-xxxx
Fax: None
E-Mail Address: <MY Email>

These products will be shipped to the above address:

1. Product ID: W979648
Product Name: Education Resource Set
Attributes (if any):
Price: $59.00
Quantity: 1
2. Product ID: W979798
Product Name: NXT Rechargeable Battery
Attributes (if any):
Price: $50.00
Quantity: 1

Thanks again,
LEGO Education

Not as advertised

Once I had received this confirmation I figured I was set to go. Boy was I mistaken! I placed my order on Friday and received my confirmation Friday evening. Upon reading the confirmation it certainly seems like my card had been charged and that the order was on it's way. On Monday I went back to LEGO Education and checked my order and was quite surprised to see that it was still in Pending status. Confused as to why it was taking so long to process my order, and suspecting that it might be waiting for the Resource Set to be back in stock I phoned up the number listed on the website and spoke to one of the customer reps there. It was then, and ONLY then that I was informed that LEGO Education doesn't ship to Canada. Of course my question was, "Why, then, did you confirm my order?".

Eventually I was connected to a manager who informed me that LEGO Education has a distributor in Canada that all orders have to go through. I was also directed to a wizard, buried deep in their FAQ that supposedly informs customers of this fact. Of course nothing during the order process itself tells you this and the order confirmation leads you to believe that your order has been accepted. Finally I was more then a little annoyed that the only way I found out about this little quirk was to call LEGO Education directly myself. One would think that an email would be sent out, or at least the order status would be changed on their website. None of this happened. The manager directed me to Spectrum Education their Canadian Distributor. As you can see by the website, it wasn't easy to even find any LEGO products. So I downloaded their 400+ page PDF catalog and searched it. Much to my complete surprise I didn't find any mention of Mindstorms NXT and instead was presented with a catalog of RCX products presented like they were new.

The Run Around

By now I was feeling like I had been given a run around of epic proportions so back I went to LEGO Education. I was able to speak to the same manager which tells me that they have a ticketing system and excellent support for customers, normally. The situation as it stood was totally unacceptable. As a consumer, the distribution arrangements between LEGO Education and Spectrum Education are none of my concern. Nor does a wizard buried four pages in mitigate the situation. The entire issue reminds me of when Best Buy offered video cards on their website far below market value due to a typo on their web page. At first they refused to honor their price, but were eventually forced to honor the deal they advertised. The situation here is the same. I was offered a product, purchased a product, received confirmation of that purchase.. I would expect that my product would be shipped, or at least I would be contacted in the event of any problems. None of this occurred so I demanded that LEGO Education honor their offer or I would be taking my case directly to LEGO. Happily they honored their agreement, processed my order and it will be shipped to me as soon as The Resource Kit again is in stock.


I have to admit this I find this entire situation baffling. I don't see how this agreement benefits either LEGO Education or Spectrum Education. I would have expected my order to be processed by LEGO Education and then passed on to Spectrum for the product to be sent out. After all, the more product that Spectrum sells, the more money LEGO Education makes. Especially considering that Spectrum doesn't have online shopping on their site and they carry a far larger selection then just LEGO.

Before anyone takes this review as a total bashing of LEGO Education I would like to say that their customer service was excellent and the amount of people who have experienced this problem is very small. From what I was told I was the first customer to encounter this kind of problem. From my point of view this is a good thing as it gives them a chance to fix the issue before thousands have this problem. After all, Canada isn't exactly Bulgaria (where they ship to without issue I might add) and for every person who complains, there are 10 who didn't. Also as this site is made up to look like it is part of LEGO International, a poor experience with them reflects badly on LEGO International regardless of the actual situation. Perception IS reality. This issue shouldn't effect US and most international customers at all and the quality of the site is a step above most online shopping stores that I have seen. I have to commend them on insuring that I was satisfied and that they worked very hard to resolve my issue. If they fix the problem with ordering and modify their distribution agreements to come into the 21 century I would have no problem recommending this site to any Canadian client. I would not however recommend Spectrum. Their website is extremely slow, even sitting at the head end of an ISP as I am currently. Many of their catalog pages won't come up, their catalog is hopelessly out of date.

The problem was frustrating but there was a good resolution. Problems will always occur and issues will always arrise. The mark of a excellent company is how they deal with these issue and the resolutions they come up with. In this case I am very satisfied on that note.


Fan said...

Thank you for sharing! I love LEGO Education,too. Nowadays, They still don't ship to Canada. >_<

Michelle said...

I would imagine that the US prices are much cheaper than the Canadian prices. Did you get dinged for duty?