Thursday, 6 January 2011

sometimes online isn't best

As I'm sure you've noticed we've just had Christmas.

Exchanging gifts is part of Christmas, but if you've family overseas you've got to be a bit organised about it, including buying and posting things well in advance.

Well this year we weren't, and by the time we realised we needed to do something it was too late to go and buy things that would post (arty calendars usually) and then pay a small fortune to Australia Post to send them airmail with any hope of them getting there in time.

So we thought laterally - Christmas cards were ordered and sent via Moonpig who posted them in the UK, and calendars were ordered via Amazon in the UK.

And some of them got there and some of them didn't. One of the ones that didn't was intended for my father who has recently moved to a flat in a sheltered housing complex which has a concierge on duty, in other words there is always someone there to sign for things.

And while it's in a small town in rural Scotland it's not a difficult address to find.

Now because we knew about the bad weather in Scotland we tracked the package, and the tracking site wasn't updating, which is a bad sign. And sure enough, a couple of days ago, a month after the order Amazon emailed us to say that the address was undeliverable and they were refunding our money.

No, not true. My father's flat has a street address, a postcode, and look at it on StreetView should you want to. What it meant was that the delivery company used had given up.

Now, I'm not blaming anyone. Amazon has acted properly in refunding money, and I appreciate that in one of the worst winters in years, it could genuinely have been the case that when the delivery company tried a delivery run the truck couldn't get through.

(I'm being charitable. Once when we lived in York there was a fuel tanker driver's strike, which genuinely meant delivery trucks couldn't get anywhere for fear of running out of diesel. We were due to take delivery of some furniture from Habitat which they were going to send us direct from their warehouse outside of Oxford, rather than via the local store.

I remember being phoned up on the day we were supposed to take delivery by this posh sounding woman who said that they couldn't possibly deliver anything as 'we lived in the north'.)

So a lesson learned. Next time click on the 'use Royal Mail' button next time when ordering stuff from Amazon in the UK for delivery to friends and family in the UK, for despite their foibles and sometimes outrageous charges neither Australia Post or the Royal Mail have ever lost a package, or if they have, they've found it again, like the package of books that for some unaccountable reason came via Stockholm and Cape Town.

And the same goes for the US Postal Service, Canada Post, La Poste, and the Spanish, Thai and Indian postal services.

None of them are cheap, but they're reliable, if occasionally a tad slow.

Of course one of the problems with online retailers is the cost of shipping. Basically, when you buy online, either domestically or from overseas, you need to be assured that you will actually receive the goods. And a reliable service costs.

That's why, when we're having our debate in Australia about people avoiding GST by buying from overseas, instead of focussing on the GST free sticker prices we should think about comparitive costs, which is why when I've done my quick and dirty book price comparisons I've always included shipping costs.

Shipping is a service. Just as when you go to a physical store having a sales assistant help you buy a set of headphones is a service. Now compare the quality of service that you get in most stores....

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