My long battle on behalf of consumers continues.
Consumers are receiving a raw deal nowadays. Whereas the internet and online shopping is excellent, there is a down side to which retailers and consumers are not giving enough attention.
This downside is experienced by many consumers, too many of whom simply accept it and move on. Instead, I am documenting this ongoing saga on my blog. The problems come so thick and fast and are so varied that I may not have the time to document all of them, and I will need to be selective.
The most obvious and first feature that online shoppers discover is that there is no negotiating with the seller. The concept of barter has disappeared except on some specialised websites catering for it. The second problem is that the terms and conditions (T&Cs) on most retail websites are always in the favour of the retailer to which you agree if you wish to purchase. Fair enough? Not always: the T&Cs tickbox sometimes says ‘I agree to the T&Cs’ but some of them say ‘I have read the T&Cs’. This latter statement is asking consumers to tell lies, especially as some websites will ‘time out’ before one can read all the T&Cs.
The above paragraphs are a short introduction to explain my campaign on behalf of consumers so that they may ‘take back control’. I began this some years ago on another website wearing my political hat, about inappropriate postal surcharges in Inverness, the fastest growing city in Britain and at one time in Europe, hosting national conferences for the British Medical Association and mainstream political parties, but treated as if it is an offshore island instead of the hub of the Scottish Highlands with a throughput of shoppers from the geographically largest council area in Britain and with an airport developing international links with Europe, in particular Schiphol in Amsterdam, Holland. My blog campaign allows me to range further than a political website does and it allows me to include domestic campaigns as well as general ones.
The latest example is from today, and as I composed it I thought I would add the above introdution to put it in context.
My wife received a text message that a parcel had been delivered by a local parcel firm – but she discovered it had been left at an unknown neighbouring address and not at our house! First problem.
She contacted the delivery firm but the automated answer machine could not recognise her Dutch accent. Second problem.
She used an online text chat service to explain the problem. She was told she would hear from the local parcel company. She heard nothing. Third problem.
She tried to phone the local number of the carrier firm – no answer after six attempts ranging from 11 a.m. till 3:18 p.m. Fourth problem.
She now referred the problem to ‘yours truly’. I checked out the tracking number: the online service said: “Shipment delivered, no signature” at 2:38 p.m. yesterday. It had arrived at the local depot three days earlier. There was good advice on the tracking website about what to do in various scenarios, but not in our scenario where there was neither parcel nor card – and there was no phone number to contact them. Fifth problem.
I researched the national organisation and eventually tracked a 0844 number (1p/minute – a different number was 7p/min). I phoned; it was a call centre and not the parcel company. The recipient logged the details and emailed the local depot about the problem. I asked for local depot’s number – he took a few minutes, at my expense, to find the address but he did not have the telephone number.
I researched the address for the local phone number, a different number and depot from the unsuccessful attempts by my wife, and phoned the local depot. They had not received the information from my wife’s online chat yesterday and so nothing had happened. Sixth problem.
When I explained the problem he recognised it and said that he had just picked up today’s email from the call centre I phoned. I ascertained that they now had an accurate picture of the problem and that they had our landline and mobile numbers to contact us if they had any problems, but the driver will not return to the depot today in time for delivery today. Seventh problem.
We await delivery tomorrow. There may be an adverse sequel to this story, but here’s hoping.
- the primary error is by the driver delivering the parcel to the wrong address, but he is not alone in this lengthy but typical saga.
- the local household who received the package erroneously has done nothing to rectify the problem, demonstrating the decline in Christian goodwill in our society.
- my wife’s textual chat yesterday with the parcel company had been a waste of time and raised hopes only to dash them.
- automated machines are not as good as human beings when it comes to foreign accents. My wife has been in Scotland since 1975 and so we are not holding our breathes that speech recognition software will catch up soon.
- there are only two houses in Britain that have our postcode, so how did the driver get it wrong? It suggests that the delivery driver does not use a Sat Nav, as we have ascertained previously on many occasions. If businesses whose job it is to deliver parcels do not use postcodes, what is the use of postcodes? It seems that businesses rely on their own tracking number, which is fair enough when phoning them, but when it comes to delivery surely the postcode is sufficiently important to supply their delivery drivers with the means of locating an address by postcode?
- there is obviously a weakness in the system when there is no signature supplied by the recipient. The electronic message my wife received said that the location of the parcel was on the card that was left (we had no card), but the tracking website and the telephone calls confirmed that the parcel was delivered rather than a card left. This communication mismatch needs resolution by the delivery company.
- the failure to cover our scenario on the tracking website is bizarre as it must happen fairly regularly. Why is there no freephone number readily available to contact a human being in such a situation? Presumably because it will be abused by those who find themselves in different scenarios. Abuse is another feature of declining Christianity in our society, spoiling even the best of systems. It reminds us of Jesus Christ’s teaching that ‘you must be born again’ – people need a change of heart and a better mind than they were born with, but current secular philosophy is to accept people the way they are. Rather, human beings need to change and improve, just like national institutions.
- such customer experiences are why my wife and I are beginning to buy local whenever we can, so that we can speak with human beings. Some businesses now promote themselves as having no automated systems, and some promote themselves as using only British call centres. This is a start, but there is a long way to go to recover ‘the customer experience’ of former years. Hospitals analyse ‘the patient journey’ and retailers need to analyse ‘the customer journey’. A feedback button on every webpage would be a start and I am pleased to say that our local council website has this feature. Why is it not an industry standard?
- Amazon has no difficulty delivering items, even by the next day, for it seems to use people with local knowledge to deliver items, while drivers in established delivery companies don’t use Sat Navs.
- Customers are being short-changed as a result. Before one purchases online one should consider a. the price and quality of their online product; b. how easy is it to return if it does not live up to expectations created by the advert; c. VAT; d. post and package costs; e. surcharges for your postcode (often identified only when you come to the check out stage – I abort at this stage in protest and in spite of the time already spent in ordering) and to this lengthy list one must now add f. which delivery service do they use?
These considerations are making it more imperative that customers fight back by refusing to deal with retailers who take their customers for granted.
One should email the supplier to let them know that the delivery service they are using is inefficient. However, I have progressed to blogging about it as 1. it is a useful record of what is happening (I have many old examples buried in unread emails and letters); 2. it informs other consumers what is going on; 3. it can be more effort than it is worth to complain to the retailer, when retailers fob you off with platitudes or unilateral decisions without discussion, so a blog is a useful way 4. to deal with one’s frustration and 5. to let retailers know that consumers will respond in their own way, and not simply by removing their custom.
23 August 2017: the parcel arrived this afternoon, 24 hours after my phonecall yesterday and five days after it arrived at the local depot only a few miles away. My wife had to chase after the van when she saw it was going past the house instead of delivering to the house. In this case the young driver will need to develop some observation skills to locate the house, some communication skills, some people skills and pay more attention to details – such as reading the address properly. The retailer responded immediately and helpfully to informing them about the service given by the intermediate delivery companies.
1 Nov 2018: I aborted this purchase at the check-out stage as this ‘free delivery’ added on 70% in postage at the check-out stage when ordering by Amazon’s own tablet. £4.99 in postage was added to the price of £6.99. When I tried the same purchase on a laptop computer, it was free postage. Why is there this difference?
26 Nov 2018: the Advertising Standards Authority has drawn attention to online retailers not being transparent about postal surcharges to addresses in the Highlands and Islands. This follows its warning on ‘misleading’ Black Friday deals and consumers can contact the ASA if they encounter a deal which they think is misleading or untrue.