On-line shopping V the high street

Despite working in an on-line media environment, I’ve never really trusted the Internet when it comes to shopping. As the mother and stepmother of four teenagers and two tweenies, I recognise this is a failing on my part and definitely not a cool attitude to buying. Why go out in the cold and wet, pay exorbitant parking fees, and stand toe-to-toe and elbow-to-elbow with crowds only to end up foot-sore and grumpy?

You might well ask, especially if you’re under 30. The answer is, once you’ve put something in your basket, stood in a queue and paid for it, you know it’s bought. You can tick it off your to-do list, your gift list or your shopping list, delete it from your Blackberry or your mental checklist. If the purchase is for you, perhaps a little black dress for all those pre-Christmas, pre-New Year parties, it’s sorted. You know it fits, you know what it will go with, you can buy matching shoes, boots, hair clips, stockings or whatever takes your fancy to make it an outfit rather than just a pipe-dream. Dammit, you can even leave the shop wearing it if you like it that much. Barring a mugging on your way back to the car park, it’s yours to put in your wardrobe or to give to your lucky friend or relative if it’s a present.

Contrast this with the on-line shopping experience. If all goes well, you surf suppliers on the net, find your chosen item, bundle it up with other purchases so that you only pay one lot of P&P, then make a coffee, sit back and relax while other people run around a warehouse, get in their vans and bring your gifts and purchases to your house. That, of course, is only the theory. The reality goes something like this in my experience.

  • You surf the net, find what you want, order it, pay the P&P charge, sit at your desk hoping the item is in stock and awaiting a confirmation e-mail.
  • You receive the confirmation e-mail and start tracking your parcel, wondering if it’s safe to go out for a walk with the dog. You ensure one person in the household is on door duty, just in case.
  • Your parcel doesn’t arrive on the appointed date.
  • You start to wonder where it can be, you ask your friendly postal worker (they’re still friendly around here) – he or she hasn’t seen hide nor hair of it.
  • You send an e-mail to customer service.
  • They send a standard e-mail back confirming they’ve despatched your goods and telling you to check with your postal worker.
  • You start wondering if you’ve been out when a delivery was due and make a mental check-back to establish no, you haven’t been, and though you may have visited the loo at an inopportune moment, you know the dog would have thrown herself against the door the moment the post was delivered or the bell was rung.
  • You search outbuildings, speak to neighbours (if you have any, we don’t), and tape a message to your gate with very clear instructions about what you’re waiting for.
  • You send another e-mail to customer services to ask when can you expect your parcel. They tell you to check your garage, check with your neighbours and ask if you’re sure you’ve been in 24/7.
  • They tell you they can’t find your house. You tell them to put your postcode into Google maps.
  • This e-mail table-tennis continues for several days…

Add a few inches of snow into the equation and you have the perfect excuse for customer care not to take your enquiries seriously.

“It’s the weather,” they cry, fobbing off your disappointed teenagers. “Give it another 24/36/48/60 hours.” The teenagers’ faces drop a hundred miles, yet trusting beings that they are, they resolve to go out to a party in a borrowed dress/tell their friends that their present has been delayed/ make the best of their disappointment and believe the line that is being spun, so build their hopes up again for the next party/occasion/purchase.

By contrast, we 40-somethings start hopping up and down when something doesn’t arrive and we’ve exhausted our reserves of politeness. We start looking on-line for a telephone number to talk to a real person. None of this “standard reply” nonsense for us. Except that’s the trouble. There is no telephone number. Only an e-mail address – this is modern technology in action. Why say in one minute what will take three text messages/e-mails to establish? IE “My parcel isn’t here” and “We’re too busy to care.”

Top of the delivery pops? The good old Royal Mail, whose postal workers trudged through snow and searched their vans to placate a near-weeping teenage girl the day of a VIP (Very Important Party); and to the CityLink Amazon delivery driver who arrived on the doorstep wet, cold and snowed on, but was still cheery enough to wish us a Happy Christmas as he dropped off the last of the on-line purchases.

Chief culprits for giving negative experiences this year are Next and Asos. Though Next’s final apology was accompanied by a £20 gift voucher – the shoes, dress and waistcoat ordered for the tweenies for our wedding simply failed to turn up – they couldn’t even deliver the right order to their own shop a few days later adding exasperation to pre-wedding nerves and the need for yet another shopping trip. Even last week, two months after the order was placed, I was still having to insist I didn’t owe them any money for goods undelivered.

As for Asos, my 17-year-old daughter’s experiences with them would have driven another teenager to tantrums. Let’s just say, it’s now 13 days and counting since she ordered that special dress and it’s just appeared in their post-Christmas sale, £10 cheaper than the price she paid. It’s in the post, they’ve just told me. I’ll keep you posted on its progress, which is more than you’ll get from Asos.

*Update December 30th – With the power of Twitter and the help of Red mag editor Sam, and blogger LibertyLndnGirl, the dress arrived at lunchtime today, 15 days after the order was placed. My daughter looks fab in it and seems unfazed by her experience. Good job as her grandmother had bought her an Asos gift voucher for Christmas.

**Update December 31st – The same dress has been delivered again today – You have to see the funny side!

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