No CEX please – we're shit(tish)

Alert WoSblog viewers will have noticed the absence of posts yesterday, which was entirely due to having most of my day wasted by these idiots:

I used to go to the original Computer Exchange shop in Rathbone Place in London regularly in the early 90s. While the staff were prone to certain amounts of the sort of elitist arrogance you often find in independent record shops, it was as exciting and fun as videogame shops have ever been.

Packed full of the latest consoles, hardware and games imported from the US and Japan, CEX was a magical wonderland of the exotic and glamorous. (With prices to match – one of my first tasks at Sensible Software was to take a trip to Rathbone Place with the company credit card and pick up one of the earliest Japanese Playstations and a copy of Ridge Racer, a purchase which rang up at over £600.)

But it wasn't just the fact of being able to buy games you couldn't get anywhere else. The enthusiasm of the staff (once you'd been deemed knowledgeable enough to get past the haughty facade) made the store feel more like a club. These were people who LOVED gaming, who given the chance would stand around and talk your ears off with giddy excitement about their latest discovery, while you patiently stood there waving fistfuls of money around in the hope of swapping £100 for a Japanese copy of Daytona USA at some point before your train left.

CEX was cool, too – their magazine ads were funny and sarcastic, with cartoons drawn by Charlie Brooker. Going there was to visit the absolute cutting edge of gaming, and made you feel like a proper hardcore gamer, in the days before "hardcore" somehow came to mean "tedious fanboy wanker sneering at new and innovative games while obediently lapping up Tired Franchise Sequel 12 – Deluxe Plastic Tat Edition for 85 quid".

(It probably helped that it was a particularly thrilling time for videogames, with the 32/64-bit machines smashing the 3D barrier in gaming's last true paradigm shift, but CEX was also sort of at the forefront of retro gaming, sometimes offering old arcade JAMMA boards at knockdown prices along with 'Supergun' devices to play them on.)

More importantly, though, before the days when videogame retailers devoted half their space to flogging preowned games, CEX was the only place where you could sell games as well as buy them. The scary prices of the latest import gear were offset by the fact that you could trade in the stuff you'd bought the month before, and get paid a decent price for it too.

The store's success saw it grow, first moving to a bigger shop in London and then branching out to new stores in the capital and then the rest of the country, and the business model was noticed and copied by both independents and chains, to the point where even Argos and Asda now buy used games. CEX – by now standing for "Complete Entertainment Exchange", having expanded into DVDs and mobile phones and other stuff – genuinely changed the entire face of games retailing nationwide.

Now, however, they're just a bunch of timewasting twats.

With an imminent project requiring a pricey new 32GB iPod Touch, I decided to trade in a bunch of stuff at the Bristol store. I hate going into Bristol at the best of times, and doubly so if I have to go by car, because the only car park that costs less than a fiver for a couple of hours is a half-mile walk from the main shopping precincts and getting there is a hellish trial involving all of the city's most congested streets.

So since it rained all day yesterday too, I was already in quite a bad mood when I got to the shop with my bag full of stuff. But, looking forward to conducting a nice bit of mutually-beneficial business and then going to the South African snack shop, I offered a cheery greeting to the sales assistant anyway. He, though, was as miserable and sullen as the weather, and would soon prove more dispiriting than the greyest drizzle.

Having not sold anything at CEX since the 90s, I figured I'd need a new account, and therefore probably some ID. I'd scoured the company's website in vain for any clue as to their requirements, then tried to phone, only to get a recorded message (absurdly pronouncing the name as "sex" rather than "kex", which at least offers an opportunity for a headline pun), noting that customer service was now entirely email-based. So I sent an email, but after a couple of hours there was no reply, so I'd grabbed a utility bill and a letter from HMRC (both dated within the last week) for proof of identity and address and headed off. (The reply, incidentally, would eventually arrive around 14 hours later, shortly before midnight.)

The morose counter-jockey, however, wasn't having any of it, and looked down at these bona fides in barely-concealed disgust like I'd just tried to hand him a dead owl and a bucket of horse manure. Apparently Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs isn't considered a reputable reference these days. Bizarrely, however, a credit card that I could have pickpocketed in the street five minutes earlier was deemed acceptable evidence of identity, and we moved onto the second act of the developing farce.

Though the shop was all but empty, our brooding hero grunted that I'd have to allow up to an hour for the testing of my items.  These comprised an unboxed but immaculate 16GB Creative Zen MP3 player, a pristine five-month-old 16GB iPod Touch complete in original box and sleeve with unused, sealed earphones, a good PC graphics card barely a year old that someone had kindly given me but which wouldn't fit in my PC, and a Polaroid bluetooth photo printer that had only been out of its box long enough for me to discover that I owned one of the tiny handful of phones it wasn't compatible with, before being meticulously repacked.

The printer was instantly dismissed (although half the shop's shelf space was devoted to mobile phones), and the Zen followed within seconds, on the grounds that it didn't come with a USB charger and therefore couldn't be tested. I pointed out that it was already fully charged, and in any case took a standard USB mini-B cable which there were presumably a hundred of in the shop, but to no avail.

The other two items were deemed worthy of inspection, though, so I handed them over, got a receipt and went to wander around Bristol in the rain for 45 minutes (SHOPPING TIP: Primark is currently selling some really nice 100%-linen trousers for £9), comforting myself with the knowledge that I'd soon have some lovely cash and would be able to pick up a shiny and capacious new 32GB Touch while Currys still had their special offer of a free £50 iTunes card on. I returned to CEX three-quarters of an hour later, soggy but positive.

The first bad news was that the graphics card had one miniscule screw missing from somewhere around the fan, and although not a single component of the card could be wiggled even a fraction of a millimetre (and that again, presumably a computer-parts shop would have hundreds of suitable screws just lying around), this was an instant-rejection offence.

This left just the 16GB Touch, which amazingly CEX was prepared to take off my hands and make a tidy profit on. Sadly, not to the extent of giving me any actual money for it. Despite being a business built and named wholly around the concept of buying stuff from customers, the shop apparently didn't have any cash on them.

They were happy to hold onto my Touch for two weeks, during which I could make a 40-mile round trip to come in at random (there being no way to phone in advance to check, of course), and just hope that they had some money in the tills  that day, or I could take it away and bring it back some other time, in which case we'd have to go through the testing process again.

I have to admit, I spent quite a few seconds gaping at the dour-faced assistant in mute, incomprehending confusion at this point.

Eventually collecting my thoughts, I concluded that I'd had quite enough of my time wasted, and elected to take the Touch back and do something more productive with it than trying to sell it to CEX, such as throw it in a river. So the ill-humoured assistant handed it over, minus the cellophane sleeve and protective screen-covering sticker – apparently thrown in the bin – and no longer neatly packed into its compact plastic casing.

As I tried to box it up again so it didn't get scratched or damaged in my bag, I inadvertently pressed the Home button and switched it on, and noticed that it now had a different screensaver. Suspiciously I touched a couple of icons, and had my fears confirmed – every single piece of content (which, ironically, I'd left on there in the first place specifically so the machine could be tested) had been deleted, and every setting reset to the factory default.

I could feel one of my special headaches coming on, the ones where everything goes a bit fuzzy and red and I wake up in the woods with a spade in my hand and binliners full of body parts everywhere.

"You've… deleted… all… my songs… and movies… and settings?"

"Yes. That's part of the testing process."

"How is that 'testing'? 'Testing' is seeing if it plays properly. This is 'wiping'. This is 'factory restoring'. That's really not the same thing at all."

"We can't sell it with files on it. Copyright and security and that."

"Obviously. But wouldn't the time to delete everything be – and stop me if I'm being a crazy irrational person here – AFTER you've actually bought it off me? You know, when it's actually YOUR PROPERTY rather than mine?"

"We put it straight onto the shelf."

"Of course. And you didn't feel that maybe this was something you should perhaps mention at some point when you take it in for 'testing'?"

"It's part of the testing process."

"But… that's… I… you…"

[vacant stonewall stare]

Reeling in sheer stunned disbelief, I gathered up the scattered components of my iPod and left before I discovered that store policy was to confiscate and/or smash anything left in the premises for more than an hour or something. Trudging back through the miserable rain to the car park, only my complete astonishment was managing to suppress the rage.

Now, obviously, the way iTunes works means that restoring the iPod is a relatively non-catastrophic task, requiring only a couple of hours of twatting around and re-syncing to get your songs and videos and settings back on there (assuming you don't use manual sync, in which case you're screwed). But you have to admit, it shows a keen dedication to wasting your would-be customers' time, above and beyond the call of duty, to operate your business in such a way that you can waste several more hours of their time even after they've left your shop.

Viewers! If you've got some high-end consumer goods you want to sell for someone else to make a profit on, I recommend going to the roughest part of your town and waving them around in a conspicuous and provocative manner until someone beats you up and steals them.

Because getting a brutal kicking and then claiming the money back on your home contents insurance will be a more fruitful, and much less painful, experience than trying to sell them to a useless bunch of timewasting fucking arseholes like CEX.


PS Does anyone want to buy a near-mint 16GB iPod Touch?


13 Responses to “No CEX please – we're shit(tish)”

  1. Last year, my sister made a CEX employee cry.  She's like that.

  2. "I could feel one of my special headaches coming on, the ones where everything goes a bit fuzzy and red and I wake up in the woods with a spade in my hand and binliners full of body parts everywhere."
    Or just scurry out of the shop and moan on the net about it . Honestly you're not much of a consumer champion if your ultimate sanction when righting wrongs is *spluttering* at the shop assistant.

  3. I absolutely love CEX.

    I never go in them mind, if I ever needed to inhale BO and purchase stolen goods, I’ll be there straight away.

    Thing is, for games, partucularly recent ones, they give rather good prices. They also charge rather high prices to counterbalance that.

    However, Gamestation will match +£1 CEX trade in prices, which is oftn double what Gamestation would give, and you can spend it there, which is often fairly cheap.

    I wrote a guide to the whole process on SavyGamer, which I’ll link to when I am not on my phone.

    How much do you want for the ipod?

  4. "Honestly you're not much of a consumer champion if your ultimate sanction when righting wrongs is *spluttering* at the shop assistant."
    Not sure where I claimed to be a "consumer champion". But do share with us the more productive approach you'd have adopted.

  5. Crikey, that's – just appalling. I do pop into the one in London from time to time but these days am a little too old to take the combination of noise (they are experimenting with discovering the 11 on their volume dial) and smell. It's not really for the likes of me, it seems.

    If you can stand the fees, I love Amazon marketplace for the simplicity of its listing process (search for item, type one line, decide on price, check fees and put up price a smidge to compensate, submit).

  6. Have good memories of old Cex.  We got some old copies of Weekly Famitsu back in the Rathbone place branch sometime during the early 2000's.  Gawping at the line up of Neo-Geo games in the retro basement and looking through the import and regular stuff to see what they had.
    Of course that was then, Imports are out the retro basement only sells DVDs and their only clientele, as I see it, seems to be hoodies and thugs, complete with hip hop or metal soundtrack to draw 'em' in
    However, I did pick up The Dark Spire for DS there recently, so not all bad.

  7. "I wrote a guide to the whole process on SavyGamer, which I’ll link to when I am not on my phone."
    Here is is:

  8. Alexlotl Says:

    The old London CEX was a place of wonders – I remember making pilgrimages to it to pick up mint second hand copies of Lucasarts Adventure games, which you simply couldn't get new or second hand in Gloucestershire or via mail-order. Beautiful big box copies of Monkey Island 2, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Sam & Max. The shop was a magical cave stuffed with things even my relatively self-identifiyingly hardcore self didn't recognise.
    These days, they're pretty much just a branch of Cash Converters focusing on games and DVDs. Their recruitment policy seems to be based on number of piercings (mild infections a plus), body odour, propensity to listen to Cannibal Corpse at 900Db over the shop's sound system and utter disdain for humanity.
    I tried to get an RGB Scart cable for the Playstation 2 there a few years ago. Tried a couple of branches – in both, they went into the back room and came out with an RCA-to-SCART adaptor, which they insisted was RGB, because it took three cables – ignore the colours (Red, White, Yellow), it's the same.

  9. Ahh CEX. The company that still owes me £120. They are shit. They are very shit. Mind bogglingly so. The 'no cash' thing is kind of a scam but also understandable. With the prices they often offer for things, they could shed far more cash than they take in. So if they have a set budget for spending it's fine. 
    Also in situations like yours people will often take the store credit option. This works well because that store credit is probably often lost or forgotten about so they get stuff for free. Handy.
    It does frustrate when customers come to my stall and say "CEX offered me £25 for this." then I suggest they take it and they tell me they didn't have the cash. So I point out they didn't offer £25 for it after all, did they? But the customer is frequently too stupid to see it.
    Oh and with reference to Lewie's point, my Gamestation only offers to beat any trade in deal rather than specific price. Don't know if any others do that. 

  10. "Yes. That's part of the testing process."
    If only it had been a sitcom. That's exactly the point at which we'd have had a cut followed by a scene where a moaning desk clerk is removed face-down under a blanket by paramedics whilst a note-taking policeman assures you that you'll get the iPod Touch back "when it's removed".

  11. Freestyler Says:

    I absolutely love CEX. I buy really REALLY cheap games from there all the time.

    However, I’d rather dig my own eyes out with my own freshly-severed penis before I ever contemplated selling anything to them. They are all absolutely clueless automatons.

    It (quite literally) takes them up to 10 minutes to “find” Pre-Owned games in the drawers directly behind them, as they all seemingly have to start at the letter A even to find Wing Commander. For every single game!

    (CEX, Birmingham city centre branch)

  12. I too have fond memories of Rathbone Place CEX, but the company is just horrific now.  I only ever use them to sell stuff to these days also, as I can immediately tell which, out of all my games, are the ones I have previously bought from CEX.  They're the ones that leave an invisible, sticky, smelly residue on my fingers after touching them.

    Seriously, I've been into branches of theirs up and down the country and they're all as vile and filthy as each other nowadays.

  13. They've just sold me  a pirate copy of Contra 4. Boo

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