The downside of online shopping

I bought myself an early Christmas present a few weeks ago. One Saturday morning, sitting at the home PC whilst noodling about on the web, I decided it was time to replace the old warhorse and get something a bit more modern.

So I surfed off to my favourite PC web emporium and specced up a nice new Shuttle box with a quad-core low voltage CPU, 2 GB RAM, 1Tb of disk and a half decent video card. A very good deal at less than £750 delivered, I thought. All from a trusted, well-used website that I’ve spent a small fortune with before.

Problem #1 came when the expected ship-date sailed into the past, and as time got nearer Christmas, I feared for getting hold of this new and shiny toy in time to give me an excuse to excuse myself from the washing-up on the big day.

Repeated attempts to contact the web-vendor failed – “you need to call the web-orders guy on this different number”, said the company’s ‘customer services’ people – and the web guy was either letting his phone ring out (and no voicemail) or was engaged. For two whole days.

Eventually (a week later than scheduled), the goods were showing as “shipped” on ‘reputed’ web company’s site.

This after the goods were showing as in stock on the day I ordered, that is, the day they charged my credit card. Oh, and to add insult to injury, they’d dropped the prices of some of the items the day before they shipped my order… which of course, I’d paid at the higher price.

Problem #2 came when the courier was showing the following day as being “with driver” – and yet nothing happened.

And the following day, it was still the same state.

And the next.

And when I left to take the 1.5 hour round-trip drive to their depot to find out what was going on… guess what… it was really out with the driver this time, and would be delivered before 5:30. REALLY? Yes, said the man. DEFINITELY? Of course.

At 5:20 and with no parcel in possession, I set off to the depot again. Arriving at (cough) 5:55, the nice man took the number of the consignment, checked where it was, and a mere 15 minutes later arrived with the parcel in his hand.

“Why was it not delivered today, as you promised?”, I asked.

“Oh, there’s a real backlog on that route and they didn’t get to deliver it today”, says he.

“And what would you do with that parcel now, had it not been delivered?”

Try again tomorrow. A Saturday. When there’s nobody in the office. And won’t be until the New Year, now. That is, at least a week later than it should have been delivered, according to plan.

And the delivery company says we have two days to pick the parcel up from them if they try to deliver it and nobody’s there, after which they return to sender (see Problem #1).

It’s all made MUCH worse by the fact that this particular courier firm (who I did not choose; the vendor did, because it suited them and was presumably cheaper) is a franchise operation so there’s no single “throat to choke” – they just put you through to the handling depot if there’s any problem. If the depot is incompetent and/or swamped there’s nothing you can do.

In the hour or so that I spent (in total) standing in the depot, the phone was ringing continuously and nobody was answering. There were people sitting at their desks doing “work”, and yellow-jacketed delivery guys hanging about, but nobody manning the phones.

So: I spent 2.5hrs on hold to these people; maybe 1 hour hanging  about waiting to be dealt with at the actual depot; 2.5 hours or so in total driving down and back to chase them up because they don’t answer the phone, don’t respond to faxes* and don’t have an email address…

I sometimes wonder: is e-commerce really worth the hassle, compared to going down to the local PC shop who can give you advice, sell you what they have in stock and let you take it away with you..?

Would I willingly use this same company again?


Damn. I’ve just ordered a couple of new bits for the new PC I have, from the same people – it’s easy, they’re cheap, and they promise to deliver by Christmas Eve.

Bets, anyone?

* This was a story from another guy in the queue. He worked for a different delivery company, yet he was picking something up from this one.

He said, his company get fined (internally) if they don’t answer the phone after a few rings. He spent 1.5 hours on hold to this company from 4:30pm to 6:00pm the night before. At 6:00pm the message changed from (and I kid you not) “There are MANY people ahead of your in the queue” to “The offices are now closed… try again tomorrow”).

He sent them a fax, but got no reply.

Merry Christmas, by the way.

Bah. Humbug.


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