Houston virtual reality company leaves customers up virtual creek
HOUSTON – Virtual reality headsets are huge right now. From gaming to news apps, you can use them to virtually put yourself in the middle of the action. But the reality is, no matter who you do business with, you have to be careful.
From New Mexico to New Jersey, consumers responded to a Facebook ad selling virtual reality headsets before the holidays. Almost 3 months later, many of them don't have the headsets or the money they paid the company.
"Extremely deceptive," is how the Houston Better Business Bureau's Susan Burdick describes the refund policy posted on AstoriaVirtualReality.com, text that has since been removed after Davis questioned the owner of Astoria VR about it.
The BBB has received 84 complaints since November.
"So this is a case of people are actually receiving the product but they are not at all pleased with it and they are not able to return it," Burdick explained.
According to the complaints, some orders were weeks late and then when customers tried to return headsets they thought were flimsy or that didn't work, Astoria told them there were no returns 14 days after they ordered, the company would keep 30 percent of what they paid as a restocking fee and the company can deny a return for any reason whatsoever.
"They have covered themselves nine ways to Sunday, so people aren't going to get their money back," Burdick said.
When Davis stopped by the Richmond address the company had listed on its website, it was empty. Neighboring business owners say they've been left to answer questions from upset customers.
"People were trying to track them down, and we had to quickly refuse and say, "Hey! look! This is not us. They're across from us,'" explained Eric Feder.
"They had a lot of pallets, a lot of boxes, that went on right around Christmas time and then after Christmas... they all disappeared," another business owner in the same office complex told KPRC 2.
Astoria VR is still up and running and still taking orders.
A man named Todd Hebert, claiming to be the owner, called KPRC 2 from Santa Barbara, California. He initially agreed to do an interview via Skype, but when consumer reporter Amy Davis asked him about the complaints he said he was no longer available.
Hebert also told Davis that AstoriaVirtualReality.com was not his website. He could not explain why the "buy now" button linked consumers directly to a website he does claim, www.astoriavr.com, and had his business address listed on it; but all of the information on AstoriaVirtualReality.com was removed within 24 hours of Davis' conversation with Hebert.
Davis tracked the company down to a new, much bigger warehouse in Katy on Westborough Road. When she stopped by, the ofice door was unlocked, but no one was inside. She found what appeared to be company goals scrawled on a white board.
"Need to catch up on returns," read one bullet point. "Need to catch up on customer support emails. Need to get more organized. Better organization."
There is a lot of catching up to do. Some customers returned their headsets in December, but they still have not received a refund. Hebert told Davis that Astoria VR has shipped more than 66,000 packages in the last six months and that 56 complaints is not bad. He emailed this statement:
"As a company, our priority is to ensure that our customers are satisfied with our products. We take any customer concerns very seriously and we are committed to resolving all our customers concerns as quickly and efficiently as possible. To provide our customers with an even higher level of service we have established a toll-free customer service line to address all customer concerns. We hope that our customers contact us at 1-877-958-8262 Monday through Friday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. CST and share any concerns they may have so that we can address them immediately."
The Texas Attorney General has received four complaints against Astoria VR and 11 complaints against its parent company, Kanderian Enterprises.
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