Seven months after Fitbit recalled the entirety of its Ionic smartwatches in March, a large number of customers say they still haven’t been reimbursed over the potentially faulty product.
Fitbit sold about 1 million Ionic watches in the US in addition to nearly 700,000 internationally before it stopped production in 2020, with the company reportedly planning to release an updated version in the future. Still, consumers continued to use the product and a small percentage of users started complaining that the battery overheated. That led Fitbit to recall the entirety of its Ionic devices due to a potential burn hazard. Fitbit had received at least 115 reports in the US of the watch’s battery overheating. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, 78 people in the US reported burn injuries, 2 reported third-degree burns, and 4 reported second-degree burns. Internationally, 59 people reported the watch overheating, with 40 reports of burn injuries.
In the recall notice, the agency said customers should immediately stop using the watch and contact Fitbit to return the device. After returning the device, Fitbit—which was acquired by Google—said consumers would be issued a refund of $299 and a discount code for 40% off select Fitbit products. After registering for the refund and getting their account verified, Fitbit said the funds would be issued within three to six weeks, according to an email viewed by Fast Company.
It’s impossible to tell exactly how many customers still haven’t received their promised payments. But the topic has become a recurring theme on Fitbit’s community board and social media, where consumers lament daily about customer service. “This whole process has been ridiculous from the start,” one user said on the company’s board. “The longer it takes, the less likely I will ever buy from them again,” another wrote.
Eva Lantsoght, a Fitbit customer living in Ecuador, wanted to be strategic when starting the return process for her Ionic. Lantsoght waited until June when she was taking an extended trip to the Netherlands to return and replace her device.
When she was in the Netherlands, Lantsoght deactivated the Ionic she bought before the pandemic, ordered a new device with the discount code Fitbit provided, and filled out the necessary information for a refund. Fitbit gave a generic message saying it would take three to six weeks. When six weeks passed without any information, Lantsoght followed up with the company. The company said it had a high volume of requests and could take a bit longer.
Lantsoght has since returned to Ecuador and still hasn’t received the discount. “I would like to know what to expect more than anything. If they tell me now, ‘We’re really overwhelmed, it will take three months,’ then I’ll take that; and then in three months, I’ll follow up,” she says.
A Fitbit spokesperson tells Fast Company that the company has been receiving a large sum of fake registrations for the refund, creating a time-intensive backlog of reimbursement requests.
“We apologize to customers affected by device refund delays. Unexpected issues are impacting our ability to process customer refunds as quickly as we would like. We are continuing to work to make the process as easy as possible for our users and have added dedicated service agents to validate and process claims faster,” the spokesperson says.
Other customers tell Fast Company they’ve been experiencing similarly long wait times with little guidance from Fitbit. “I’ve phoned them like three to four times, jumping from call centers to call centers,” another says about Twitter DMs.
Product recalls are a common occurrence for both new and established goods. When something gets recalled, companies often have to take on the costs of replacing or reimbursing those with affected goods. Because of that, recalls can lead to millions or billions of dollars or losses. It’s not clear how much Fitbit is putting into these efforts. Of course, Fitbit has one of the largest backers to help take on those costs: Google closed its acquisition of Fitbit last year for $2.1 billion.
But product recalls can also lead to dismay about the company and its products. After Fitbit recalled the Ionic devices, two women filed a lawsuit in California federal court in late April saying that many of the company’s smartwatches were prone to overheating and burning their users. Within that same suit, the complaint also points to the company’s recall process, saying: “It is a mere facade to show that Defendant is ‘doing the right thing,’ but in fact, the recall merely protects Defendant’s profits by suppressing refunds by using methods and techniques that make it difficult for consumers to receive compensation for their defective watches.”
Fitbit declined to comment on the suit.