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Monday, 10 December 2018 18:34

Why I'm not buying online this Christmas


Online shopping? Bah, humbug!

For me, the gloss has gone from online shopping.

The impression given is that you can place an order and the goods will arrive in a day or two.

If only...

When I order items that the etailer assures me are "in stock", it routinely takes about 10 days for them to be delivered to suburban Melbourne. Even Amazon — not that I've ordered anything from them yet — expects to take three to seven days to deliver, though I'm not that far from their distribution centre.

And then there's a high probability that the delivery driver will fail to ring the doorbell, so I have to wait another day or three for a second attempt at delivery. An acquaintance in the trade tells me this is because subcontract drivers are paid such a small amount per delivery that the only way they can get by is by making sure they are paid twice for a certain proportion of deliveries. If that's true, I sympathise with their situation, but it's still bloody annoying!

Some of my colleagues have seen couriers drive up and drop "sorry we missed you" cards in their mailboxes without going to the door. I can't give first-hand testimony, but I strongly suspect that's happened to me too.

If online stores offered the option of delivery by Australia Post, I could have my purchases sent to the PO Box, but AusPost's parcel limitations mean that's not always possible.

Not that AusPost is perfect – I sometimes (especially at this time of year!) receive unexpected parcels sent to the street address, and the parcel delivery contractor's favourite trick is to leave them by the front door, again without ringing the doorbell. That leaves them wide open to being stolen, either by an opportunistic individual who just happens to see the parcel sitting there, or by criminals who we are told routinely follow delivery vans in order to pick up what's just been dropped off.

Again, I sympathise with drivers who are trying to eke out a living, but how long does it take to ring a doorbell?

So the item is finally in my hands, but in my experience there is a fair chance that the contents will be damaged.

The problem, as I see it, is two-fold. First, many goods leave the factory in packaging that adequately protects the contents while they are in a shipping container during the journey to the etailer's warehouse. Those boxes are nowhere near robust enough to serve as external packaging, and few suppliers seem to repack them into outer boxes that are suitable for individual delivery.

Consequently, I'm often put to the trouble of arranging a replacement and then waiting sometimes weeks for it to be delivered. To their credit, none of the companies I've purchased from have given me a hard time – they have all met my requests for replacements cheerfully, though they naturally want evidence in the form of photos of the product and packaging.

But supporting my argument that goods aren't being adequately packaged, there has been a case where the replacement product arrived damaged!

The second problem is that courier companies don't take much care. "This way up" labels are ignored, and cartons show footprints and other signs of abuse. Having worked as a temporary postie in my youth, this doesn't really surprise me, and it reinforces the argument for better packaging.

Mind you, physical shopping has its drawbacks, especially at this time of year.

Shopping strips and malls are crowded, there seems to be the same limited selection wherever you go, the market has been hollowed out (goods are either cheap and nasty, or ridiculously expensive for what they are – what happened to decent quality at a reasonable price?), and the chance of finding what you want gets slimmer and slimmer (is it true that some stores make more profit from the fees they charge suppliers than the prices paid by customers?).

As I said: Bah, humbug!


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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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