3Com offers refunds for dearly departed Audrey

Owners of 3Com Corp.’s Audrey Internet appliance unsettled by the company’s sudden decision to kill the product – and the device’s recent loss of some functions – can now return it for a full refund. That is, if they bought the product directly from the company.

3Com remains proud of the product it launched last October, and will continue to honor its one-year warranty, says spokesperson Bob Ingols. But as a gesture of goodwill to customers, the company will return the product’s US$499 purchase price to customers who bought it through 3Com’s Web site.

3Com decided to offer a refund because some people may not want to keep a product that was on the market so briefly, Ingols says. Another factor: Audrey’s Internet Channels feature no longer works. The feature, which let users instantly connect to services such as weather forecasts and financial news, required relationships with providers that are no longer in place, he says.

Eligible owners can call a toll-free number (877/949-3266) to request a return-shipping container, Ingols says. The company sends a container, owners return the product, and 3Com refunds the money. Owners have until June 1 to claim their refund from 3Com, he says.

Customers who purchased their Audrey through retailers–online or in the real world–need to contact their seller to find out if a refund is offered, he says.

Life, so short

3Com launched Audrey with much fanfare and strong reviews. Ingols won’t discuss Audrey’s sales numbers, but he says it was soon clear that the product’s market would take longer to develop than 3Com had anticipated. It would also require a larger investment than the company was willing to make. 3Com isn’t alone: The entire Internet appliance market has failed to take off as industry experts once expected.

Despite Audrey’s short shelf life, Ingols expects few people will return the product for a refund. Aside from the lost channel feature – which he says was far from a killer app – everything else still works.

The company hasn’t publicized the refund offer, and there still is no mention of it on 3Com’s Web site. However, Ingols says that shortly after announcing the product’s demise the company e-mailed the news to customers who purchased directly from 3Com.