The Japanese approach - 2

My nine-year-old son is a gameboy fiend - he will trade anything in to play a couple of hours on his Gameboy Advance. He loves his little blue console and keeps it by his bedside even though he has had it for well over a year.

Thus, one can imagine his disappointment when one of his games suddenly stopped working. This was a Mario Bros game which I got him for his birthday in 2004.

As a year not had yet gone by since we bought the game (he is born in May), I started hunting for the receipt in order to see if the local Nintendo branch (which is based in Victoria where we live) could repair the game.

As often happens in such cases, the receipt wasn't there. We had thrown it away. Now we had to try and see if we could obtain a duplicate receipt.

The game had been bought from Myer, one of the biggest retail outlets in the country. To get some idea of what we had bought, the game cost something like $70 (Australian dollars).

The people at Myer were rudely dismissive. My son spoke to them (he never speaks to salesmen) and requested a duplicate receipt for an item which had been bought seven months earlier. The salesman referred us to a woman who was his superior; she spoke to the next cab on the rank and told us that they could not track such sales.

Of course, this was what I had expected. Not my son; he was disappointed. He asked me what we could do next. I said I would try to find out if Nintendo Australia could track the game to a specific batch.

Unfortunately, Nintendo could not do this. I was told that all copies of the same game had the same barcode and all that they could ascertain was that the game had been released in Australia in October 2003. Thus, without a receipt there was no way of proving that the game had been bought less than a year ago.

The experience I had had with Panasonic gave me hope for one last bid to get the game fixed by Nintendo. I began hunting for an address for the Nintendo Corporation.

It was tough to find one. The official site had nothing; a friend of mine could find nothing on the Japanese website either. Then one morning I was idly killing time by surfing while waiting for a local tradesman to come and attend to some work at home and I found an address for Nintendo Corporation.

Next morning, I drafted a letter and asked my son to write it out in pencil in his own handwriting. It took some doing but he finally finished it.

It was a detailed letter - it told the story of what had happened to his game in simple language, mentioned the attitude adopted by Myer and appealed for help.

I posted it, along with the game, a few days before Christmas. I told my son not to expect a reply until the year turned as Japanese companies would be closed for some time during the silly season.

On January 5, I received a message on my phone at home from DHL, saying that a package had come for my son. They wanted to confirm the delivery address.

My son was excited but I cautioned him not to get his expectations too high. I rang DHL and confirmed the address. That afternoon, when my son was out, the parcel was delivered.

There was a letter inside addressed to my son. Plus a packet containing the game. The letter said Nintendo Australia had been right to insist on a receipt. But then, in broken English, it said: "But your serious letter, we feel our heart."

It went on to say that as a special case, Nintendo had decided to repair the game and send it back free of charge. It also mentioned that such repair would normally cost 2400 yen plus freight of 4350 yen - at the prevailing exchange rate, it is around $84.60 Australian dollars, more than what one would pay for a new game.

Needless to say, my son was thrilled to have his precious game back in working condition. He wrote a letter of thanks to Nintendo, inviting the man who had replied to visit us if he ever happened to visit Australia.

One thing is sure - for the rest of his game-playing life, my son will not give up his Gameboy Advance. Equally sure is the fact that he will never go to Myer again. I think Nintendo knows the minds of children much better than the people at Myer do - for around $70, Myer could have had one customer for life. Such things make a big impression on children.

But then in Australia, every human is regarded as a revenue stream. In Japan, it looks like the human side of business hasn't yet gone away.