“Zipcar was recently purchased by another company,” I recently overheard someone tell her friend.
“I wonder how long it will take them to ruin it?” he asked.
In the past, Zipcar has cultivated the image of being a hip, progressive company that cares about its customers. An abundance of carless urbanites, parking spaces all over major American cities, and brutal $50 late fees, (about which a class action lawsuit in Massachusetts failed) kept Zipcar’s operation running smoothly and profitably.
At some point, Zipcar became of the apple of Avis’s eye. Earlier this year, the rental car giant swallowed up Zipcar for about half a billion dollars. See: Bloomberg, “Avis Budget Embraces Car Sharing With Zipcar Acquisition”(2013) (here); CNN, “ZipCar CEO Scott Griffith resigns, hours after Avis acquisition” (2013) (here). It should be interesting to see how Zipcar changes. The first thing that I expect will happen is that Zipcar’s persona will undergo a subtle transformation. The cutesy, friendly emails will remain, but Avis will find ways to squeeze more money out of “Zipststers” and in so doing, will tick off a lot of the customers who used to love Zipcar.
One recent complaint came to me the other day. The story went like so:
“When I arrived at my reservation, I was not allowed into the car. Because of lack of cell reception in the garage, I had to go outside and call Zipcar, losing about five minutes. The associate informed me that I could not get in the car because of an outstanding balance. I was surprised that this occurred, because although I was asked via on email earlier that day to update my card (which had to replaced recently due to fraudulent charges) I did not have time do it just then. I was not able to drop everything and update my card, but planned to do it that evening when I had some time. Had I been notified that unless or until my card was updated, I’d be unable to enter the car which I’d already reserved, and which I thought I had already paid for in advance when I reserved it, I would have made the time. Therefore, to be caught by surprise in this way was extremely annoying. Adding to my frustration, was the first phone rep’s refusal to accept or new card information over the phone followed by her advice to download the app. I did so, which cost another five minutes. I then found the app was defective, after two failed attempts to get it to connect to Zipcar’s servers despite successfully downloading and installing it. Meanwhile, the minutes ticked by, as I became later and later. In order to be able to use the car, I had to return to my apartment on foot, get onto my computer, update the card, and then walk back. During the walk, I called again to ask for a courtesy hour based on the facts that 1) was not informed in advance that I would have to update the card or would be barred entry to the reservation; 2) the app. didnt’ work. The service rep’s tone was dismissive, condescending, and patronizing. She blamed the app not working on my phone. She told me that Zipcar had sent out several emails about the outstanding balance, and once I’d update the card, I could pay to reserve more time. This added to my intense annoyance because I remembered that the email said nothing about warning me that I better update my card before going to the car or I’d be locked out.”
Below is the absurd response from Zipcar:
Thank you for contacting us. Unfortunately, we would not be able to issue you a credit of $25 dollars. The e-mail that was sent to you did indicate that you wouldn’t be able to make a reservation until the overdue balance was paid off. This is what it said exactly:
to ensure smooth zipping, update your account
We’re contacting you because we recently attempted to charge $21.5 to the card you have on file ending in [removed]. During that attempt, we unfortunately encountered a bit of trouble. Please log-in to review your Zipcar account and click ‘my stuff’ – ‘my statement’ to take a look at the full details of your outstanding balance.
Note that when you sign in at members.zipcar.com, you’ll be prompted to change the card on file. Keep in mind that when selecting a card, debit or pre-paid cards allow for the total amount to be deducted from your account immediately. When cancelling a reservation, some banks take a few days to release the funds back to your account.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to make a reservation until the balance is squared away. As always, don’t hesitate to contact us at 1-866-494-7227 if you have any questions about your statement or account. If there’s an outstanding issue, please let us know, as your account could be subject to closure if the balance is left unpaid for several weeks.
Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to seeing you back on the road soon.
The team at Zipcar
This e-mail was sent to you 6 1/2 hours before your reservation, so if you had questions about how the overdue balance would effect your reservation, you should have called us before your reservation started. As a courtesy, we’ve issued you an hours driving credit for future reservations. Thank you for using Zipcar.
Zipcar Member Services