A Day Late & A Dollar Short

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From: Tom Sweetnam (savamutt@hotmail.com)
Date: Fri Sep 08 2000 - 21:52:27 PDT

So you just ordered that gigabyte microdrive you've been dying to slide into your new cellphone, huh? You filled out the order page at Colossal Bit Dot Com on Thursday, and because you were so jazzed about being the first pixelhead on your block to download the entire Encyclopedia Britannica onto your Nokia, you checked the '2nd Day' shipping block on the web's checkout page.

"Oh boy!", you thought to yourself, "I can really impress my new girlfriend now, showing her all the capitals of every third world country on the LCD of my cell phone. Cool. "And I'll have my microdrive by Saturday too." But the fine print on nearly every web merchant's disclaimer states essentially that "Priority", "2nd Day", and "Overnight Air" don't really mean a damn thing, because your order doesn't bolt from the starting gate of shipping priority semantics until the vendor decides he wants to ship it. In other words, you may order an item and pay for overnight shipping on the 1st of June, but if the vendor doesn't process your order and hand it over to FedEx or UPS until the 12th of July, you have no legal recourse in recouping your wasted shipping premium unless the order takes longer than a single day to reach you from the vendor's shipping dock. Even then you may have no recourse if the vendor uses UPS, in which case "overnight" can mean 3 or 4 days if a weekend falls into the picture.

I experienced such a dilemma recently when ordering three items from Costco online. The items I ordered were: Inkjet cartridges for my Epson Photo EX, 4 packages of Konica photo paper, and a 6-pack of 250Mb ZIP disks. I paid for 2nd day shipping on all items. The three items were shipped from three different warehouses in spite of all items being computer accessories. One was shipped via US Postal Service Priority, one via FedEx, and one via UPS. The three orders took 11 days, 23 days, and 7 weeks to reach me. Costco was pretty good about reimbursing my wasted shipping fees however, but only after three e-mails to their web sales department and a four-paragraph e-mail letter of complaint to the VP of Marketing. Costco was far more accommodating than most dot com vendors are in this regard, yet they are a rare exception in the mail order industry, dot com or otherwise.

How many people go to the kind of trouble I went to in order to recoup a couple of bucks in improper shipping charges? Very few. Perhaps 3% at most. Many vendors know this of course; as a matter of fact, in this particular venue of human nature, they count on such apathy. They know to many of us, brought up since infancy to be shameless consumers, that mail order is still like Christmas morning. A package of goodies arriving in a panel van still makes my eyes light up like a seven year-old on his birthday. For that matter, twenty minutes after I've ordered something (and I order a lot of stuff on the web), I forget all about it, which only heightens the surprise and delight of the arrival of said goodies. So what if I paid for 2nd day shipping and my goodies actually took four days to get to me from the vendor's loading dock. I got my goodies didn't I? And that's all I care about. Why spoil the joy of the moment at tearing open my box with the thought that I was overcharges two bucks for the experience? Let it go. It's not worth the effort.

Yet such overcharges are very much worth the effort for huge dot com vendors and other biggies in the mail order business. Because as an absolute sweetheart in PR at UPS told me on the phone awhile back, these vendors are reimbursed tens of millions of dollars by UPS and FedEx for shipping charges that never should have been. And how much of that money is ever given back to the overcharged consumers from whence it came? Well...we already know that. About 3%. It's penny-anti corporate larceny when viewed from my level -from my level as an individual consumer, and from your level too I'd imagine. Yet that dollar here and that dollar there add up to tens of millions of dollars for the vendors who take advantage of our saucer-sized eyes and Christmas box mentality, and especially of our pecuniary malaise.

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Sep 08 2000 - 21:57:48 PDT