When internet shopping goes bad

As I am normally an enthusiast for doing everything online, I ought to report when it doesn’t work out quite as planned. For Christmas I bought my wife a Nano (yes, despite the fact that the last one corrupted, and that I have all those DRM and performance issues with iTunes, it is still cool looking and good for running). I ordered online a week before Christmas, and paid for next day delivery via City-Link. Sadly these turned out to be something of a keystone cops delivery firm. It was despatched on Monday, for delivery on Tuesday. I checked the tracking website and it was loaded on to a van at 6.30am. The day passed and it didn’t arrive.

I checked the website again the next day, and it had been loaded on at 5.30 this time. At 3pm I became nervous and spent half an hour queuing on the phone to be told ‘it’s on the van, it’ll definitely be with you by 5.30’. Naturally 5.30 came and went with no sign of my parcel. I began to get anxious about the approaching big day now. I rang again and was assured that it would be made a priority for the next day.

Thursday was spent waiting, telephoning, waiting, but alas, no amount of pacing up and down or swearing could summon the God of parcel delivery to have mercy on me. I now had the most travelled parcel in Cardiff, as everyday I merrily tracked its progress around the city (I had an image of it sitting on an open top bus, being driven past the stadium). I began to worry about its carbon footprint. I was wondering if a picture of a nano would suffice for Christmas morning.

The next day I resorted to repeated phone calls and was eventually rewarded with one of the operators promising to speak to her friend whose boyfriend was driving the van. Strangely, this unorthodox method of systems control worked and the package eventually arrived.

What the whole fiasco reminded me of was the early days of e-commerce, when the logistics still needed to be worked through. This was particularly true in grocery shopping. I remember a number of online grocery start-ups who tried to fill the vacuum created by the sluggishness of the major supermarkets. Unfortunately these firms lacked the infrastructure of the big firms which was particularly problematic when it came to delivery times – you might be able to have a book delivered at any time, but you can’t have ice-cream sitting on your porch all day. This led to some convoluted solutions, for instance one firm provided customers with an external food locker where they could store the shopping. This was never going to catch on, let’s face it, and only when the Tescos and Sainsbury’s of the world moved in did the simplicity of choosing a delivery slot make sense.

The moral is that it’s the boring, logistical stuff that makes a good idea succeed, I guess.


  • AJ Cann

    Ah, you made one crucial mistake, ordering online a week before Christmas. This year, for the first time ever, I bought all of my Christmas presents online. I’m not particularly proud of that (it feels like a dirty secret), it just kinda happened. The crucial thing is: don’t order anything after the end on November or before the first week of February!

  • David

    Martin, ditto your experience. I think out of all my christmas orders, placed weeks in advance, I didn’t have a single one which didn’t go wrong in some way. Citylink – don’t get me started on them, I drove all the way to their depot at Cardiff once, waited in the car for 2 cold hours for the driver to return, only to be told they had dropped my parcel off ! Even the usually reliable Amazon, who use the same people who deliver catalogue stuff – The Home Delivery Network (who again are normally reliable, I’m told) took 10 days to deliver a parcel, which amounted to 14 day delivery – now that really us Super Saver ! The most frustrating thing is being able to track a package from supplier to depot to courier, to depot, to courier, to depot, to courier (you get the idea), but then not be able to speak to anyone in that depot – I kid you not, a Stealth-depot, no telephone number or email address on their website, or yellow pages or BT directory. Only for a digital photo frame, back to the High Street for me next year !

  • Richard

    I admit that this year I too purchased a number of items “on-line”. Most have been OK but a couple have been less than acceptable service. I ordered a Hi-Fi for my daughter 14/12/07. The Web site stated deliver 2-3 days. 9 days later the goods were still “virtual” so I phoned. NOT IN STOCK, I was informed, didnt you get a e-mail? If I got an e-mail I would have been onto you IMMEDIATELY. Not in stock with us or at the suppliers. They hold your money for 9 days then inform you 2 days prior to Xmas daty that the goods will not be delivered. They take your cash IMMEDIATELY off your C/Card but seem a little slower at processing the refund? There appears little control over Internet based suppliers who advertise products when they dont actually have them, fail to deliver, fail to relay order status and sit on your money until you complain?

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