The Achilles' heel of e-commerce, the industry freely admits, is delivery. It's the number one thing that dissuades the buying public from embracing the Web and its multitude of cut prices even more than they do now.
I myself have, unfortunately, fallen victim to delivery-snafu syndrome again. I have been in a similar position several times, but this really surpasses all previous experiences for sheer incompetence.
I ordered an iPod from Amazon early last week, when I was still on holiday. Stupidly, given the post-Christmas backlog, I gave my home address for delivery purposes, thinking at the time that there was a good chance I might receive the package before returning to work. Needless to say, this did not happen, and I then saw an estimated delivery date of Tuesday this week.
At the end of Wednesday, and despite seeing notice of an attempted delivery on Amazon's package tracking page, I saw I had still not received the standard failed-delivery card from the courier firm, Home Delivery Network. I had actually had a bad experience with this company before - again regarding an Amazon order - so I was well-versed on their inane policies of not changing the delivery address (so I could receive the package at work) and only delivering on weekdays.
So, knowing from experience which depot my address falls under, I rang the depot directly (I had to trawl online forums to find these well-concealed digits) to be told that the courier had not been able to gain access to my block of flats in order to even leave a card. Annoying, but fair enough. So I said, "Hmmm... pity you don't deliver on Saturdays". "Oh, we do," came the reply. "At the moment we're treating it like a full working day."
"Fantastic," I said. "Saturday it shall be then." I then tried ringing HDN's customer services line to see if - seeing as I really fancied having an iPod on the tube in the mornings - I might be able to change the delivery address. Worth a shot. Firstly, when I told them I had arranged a Saturday delivery, they said, "Ooh, we don't deliver on Saturdays". "Yes you do - your depot just told me you do." "Oh, let me check......... ok, a request for a Saturday delivery has been put through."
I mentally blinked a few times then asked them about changing the delivery address to ZDNet's South Bank offices. After a delay, the woman told me that they couldn't deliver there (I thought they couldn't change delivery addresses at all, but never mind...) because it doesn't fall into the depot's catchment area. Right, whatever, I'll hang around home on Saturday for the delivery.
So now it's Saturday. Wondering if there might be any indication of what sort of time I could expect the delivery, I log onto Amazon's tracking page to see...
"Jan 10, 2008 08:24:49 PM CUSTOMER UK Delivered "
Say what? A) It was supposed to be delivered today, not Thursday; B) I am not currently sitting here synching my music to a shiny new iPod; C) Delivered to whom exactly?
Back on the phone to the customer services line. "Yes, it was delivered," the woman beams. "No, it wasn't". "It says it was delivered on Thursday at 8:24pm." "Yes, I can also see that, but I don't have it." "OK, we'll have to get through to the depot and interview the driver."
I then ring the depot again myself, to be told that the package had been delivered to someone in my building - but no idea which flat. The driver can only be interviewed on Monday. Now, I live in The Big Smoke. I don't know my neighbours. But I got a good opportunity to change this by apologetically knocking on doors this morning asking if anyone had signed for a package addressed to me. No-one had, apparently.
Suddenly I get a call from the depot, saying they managed to get hold of the driver, who said the package had been accepted by someone in Flat X. Which was one of the flats at which someone had actually answered my knocks and denied all knowledge. I return to that door, and all the inhabitants of that flat are adamant that they received nothing. They seem like decent folk to me.
This is the thing: most of the people I have spoken to throughout this sorry saga have been very pleasant and helpful (although one of the customer services agents was preternaturally impassive). What's completely out of order is the system.
Amazon should have its own customer services department - I'm talking about conversing with humans - and should at the very least ensure that all its delivery services comply with certain criteria, such as being able to easily change delivery address within a reasonable distance (I think the same city counts as reasonable), and adhering to agreed delivery dates.
The idea of delivering to a different property - without notifying the customer as to which flat or, indeed, asking their permission to do so - goes beyond incompetence, and is particularly egregious seeing as I deliberately gave HDN my mobile number to try ease the way. As to what actually happened, right now I don't know what to think. All I know is that someone is not telling the truth.
A glance at the intarwebs confirms an awful lot of people out there who are furious at Amazon and its subcontractors for their delivery practices. These people will think twice about using the service again, they will tell their friends about it, and the e-commerce industry as a whole is allowing itself to come across like a bunch of cowboys.
A pan-industry agreement to sort out these issues is apparently either being thrashed out or already in place (I'm too exhausted to research this point right now), but the effects of such an agreement cannot come soon enough.
And as for me, back to Amazon's automated system to see about that refund... wish me luck...