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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Why I don't shop online

I first bought something over the internet in 2000 (some rare CD singles through eBay), and then started buying from the likes of Amazon and start-up online electronics shops. Then, after a few years, I stopped*. Why?

It's just such a lousy experience. The headline with online shopping was originally that products should be cheaper - all you need is a website, a big warehouse somewhere, and few people to process orders. No expensive retail units, no shop staff, no heating and lighting and so forth. Minimal overheads. But I came to notice that online savings were typically very slim - and often wiped out by delivery costs. And have you ever seen a website that is upfront about how much it will charge for delivery? So often you have to "register", "put the item in your basket", then "go to checkout", enter all your payment and delivery details, only to finally see the calculated shipping and realise it wipes out your savings.

But there's much more. Online, you can't see or handle or try out the goods. That's a big plus for the high street. You can't check that the item you're getting isn't defective before you even take it home. You can't ensure that the postman doesn't drop it (I once had a box delivered crushed and with one side ripped off).

Delivery can be a nightmare. Once a package was well overdue and I had to contact the delivery company myself (this should be the retailer's job). They told me it had been delivered. At what time, I asked them. "4am" came the reply. Asked them if that sounded like a reasonable time. "Er, no, I guess not". After about an hour on the phone they looked in their delivery warehouse, saw the parcel still on the floor and sent it out on a car, a mere week late. Pathetic.

Then there's returning the goods. You get your new DVD player or whatever and it doesn't work, or someone has dropped a TV on it and it's smashed. You have to arrange for someone to collect it. You have to be in. You have to pay the returns postage and wait for a refund on that too. If you're lucky you get replacement or your money back a week later. If you'd gone to the store, you could have been watching DVDs for the past fortnight...

My mum is now an avid home shopper. Last week she bought my sister a painting for her birthday. When it arrived it was creased. So she went into town and bought two better paintings for the same money, and is trying to return the damaged one. The delivery guy has just been and gone - "wrong paper work" - and now my mum is trying to contact both the delivery company and the retailer to sort the mess out.

Like me, she will never buy online again. Why on earth would we want to? The "old" model of going to a shop, inspecting the product, handing over some money and taking it home with you there and then works somewhat better. And if there's a problem you take it back to the store and either get a replacement or refund on the spot.

*Actually I still buy DVDs online - they're robust enough to survive delivery and it's hard to imagine circumstances in which they'd need to be returned, and do tend to be cheaper online. But that's it.

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