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Online Shopping in 2006 - An experience (not to be missed?)

Here are a few stories about my online shopping in 2006. I bought stuff from from some of the biggest retailers and my stories expose the wild world of parcel tracking and shipping date estimates. To make it more fun, I'll issue some "Scoring" in each "round" for a positive event and occurrences to either the retailer or the customer (or both).

Abstract and Executive Summary: I think we have a still quite some way to go with online retailing.

So let's tally some of the experiences I've had in 2006. Initially the shopping spree started with my 6 year old son. He overheard a song that was playing on my MP3 player in the car - the theme song to the 1980s Captain Future comic-cartoon series I had watched as a kid in Germany. He liked it and asked what it is. I told him and agreed to check, if I can buy the DVDs from him.

A quick Google search pointed to the amazon.de site and the current DVD releases. Great! But hold on - shipping to Canada from the site is not possible. No problem, a quick cut-n-paste to the amazon.ca site  should resolve that. Click-click and ... nothing, nada, zilch. Not even a reference that this product might be available somewhere within the amazon domains. OK, let's send a friendly customer service email asking for it. A few days later the boilerplate response: "Will never be available. Thank you!" Of course its not available, because of the stupid DVD region coding. But can't they sell it to me anyhow since my expensive region-free player would play it just fine? Thus, resigning, we are off to "P2P-download-land" (where we are forced to go!?).

Scoring for this round: Retailer 0 - Customer 0

Since I am on amazon.ca already, I'll get a couple of childrens books for my son so he is not so upset about the missing DVD. Let's make it $39 worth of the "Magic Schoolbus" books that he likes so much - why $39, well, to get the super-saver FREE shipping. Search "Magic Schoolbus" ... 2 friggin' results. Huh! OK, let's go after the publisher "Scholastic" .. 24000 results. Useless search - why even bother telling me. A few searches later we have the list - all mixed up with all the used books from affiliates, school-binding-versions, etc. Click. Buy. Checkout. Total: $38.78 - just 0.22 cents short of the Super Saver discount so shipping is = $11.95. Heck, I'll give them the 22 cents to make the order $39. So were is the "Continue" shopping button to add more products? Nada, Nix, rien - Not shown!

Scoring for this round: Retailer 0 - Customer 0

The story continues with a few more interface mishaps and tryping to send me a book as late as 2007 (including the option to "wait until the order is complete" to get the Super-Saver discount). Huh - I am waiting for a year for my order or what? Finally I arrive after a few more checkout sessions at an order that is >$39 and ready to be shipped in a few days. THIS IS HARD WORK!

Scoring for this round: Retailer 0 - Customer 1

Next was the project "Get a new Digital Camera". After a bit of research and a few phonecalls with my Dad, I am as confused as ever. It had to be a fast camera. And good on batteries. So let's check a good online retailer in Canada "Future Shop". A nice product is available, a refurbished 7Mpixel camera from Casio, but currently out of stock. Darn! Any options to get email notifications for when it becomes available - Not! (Am I asking too much from shopping sites?)

Scoring for this round: Retailer 0 - Customer 0

Thankfully research on the camera models continued and two days later the futureshop.ca site was being browsed again more or less by accident. Law and behold - the camera is not "In Stock - 40 available". AAAmazing - Click. Buy. Fill in order form. See shipping dates: 2 weeks from now. Oh well! (Maybe not in stock after all?)

Scoring for this round: Retailer 0 - Customer 1

Off to another site to get a memory card: ncix is the second largest PC parts retailer in Canada and they have cheap stuff. Found a nice 2G card. Qualifies for express shipping. Click. Buy. Cool!

Scoring for this round: Retailer 1 - Customer 1

Ahh, the emails keep pouring in. Camera shipped early, yippee! And books ship early too. So let's see when they arrive. The email sais "Expedited Parcel", sound's like they are already at the door. Let's login to amazon and check ... "Estimated Arrival: May 23, 2006", Duh! - That is 2 weeks from now. And where is the link to the courier to track the parcel.

Scoring for this round: Retailer 0 - Customer 0

So off to canadapost.ca after and cut-n-paste the tracking number into the "Track a package" section. Huh! 3 fields: "Item Number", "Reference Number" and "Notification Number". What a guessing game. Incredible. Thankfully the first entry box worked and the arrival date shown was "in a couple of days".

Scoring for this round: Postoffice 0 - Customer 1

A past experiences along the same lines for good measures: The tigerdirect email with misformatted tracking numbers to Purolator and a customer service that did NOT understand what I was talking about when I had the courtesy to tell them about their errors in a website response. At least the stuff was cheap and arrived on time - so one point for me.

Scoring for this round: Retailer 0 - Customer 1

And yet another amazon anecdote: the pre-christmas Lord of the Ring Package deal - that was so sweet a deal at only $49.95 for 9 DVDs (advertised on the front page) ... that turned out to be a "Sorry! Pricing error - order cancelled!" after 3 days of waiting for the confirmation of the order.

Scoring for this round: Retailer 0 - Customer 0

OK enough for now. Overally, I have to conclude that it is not a great showing for online-retail giants like amazon. Retailers and shippers scored 1 out of 10. I am amazed that me - the customer - put up with only a 5 out of 10. Or should I say "the glass is half full" and I should be happy ...

Sometimes after such sessions, we might say: Why even shop online? Heck, it has saved some money and given me more choices. And it justifies the computer and broadband internet connection. Plus I don't like to mall-shop or browse storefronts anyhow. So now let's just hope all the stuff arrives safely and the electronics works as advertised.

But if anyone still wonders why online retailing has not really killed off the traditional bricks-n-mortar stores, see above. The online retailers have a lot of little kinks and usability issues in their systems to work on - a task that'll take time, because its so hard to get it right all the time!

by A. Schiffler, May/Sept 2006

By aschiffler | September 27, 2006 | E-Commerce

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