TOM UTLEY: If, like me, you’re going mad waiting for an online delivery that never turns up, Mrs U has the answer
Like so many of us these days, I lay myself open to the charge of hypocrisy when I wail and gnash my few remaining teeth over the slow death of the High Street.
True, there are plenty of reasons why so many traditional shops have gone out of business. Exorbitant business rates spring to mind, along with the cruel inflation that has slashed the nation’s spending power since the Bank of England had the wizard idea of conjuring zillions of increasingly worthless pounds out of thin air, through the great con-trick of quantitative easing.
But there can be no doubt that one of the chief explanations of the closures we see all around us is that more and more customers are staying away from their local stores, resorting instead to internet shopping and home deliveries. I’m sorry to have to admit that these include me.
Hardly ever do I venture to the shops these days, except to have a haircut — once every six weeks — or buy food from our nearest Sainsbury’s superstore. I get everything else online.
When I complain about the closure of another bookshop, men’s outfitters or family-run department store, therefore, I’m no better than all those luvvies who never go anywhere near their underused local libraries, except to demonstrate against plans to close them.
Like so many of us these days, I lay myself open to the charge of hypocrisy when I wail and gnash my few remaining teeth over the slow death of the High Street
It is just so convenient to order products through the internet and wait for them to be delivered
For a lazy bloke like me, it’s just so wonderfully convenient to scroll through the net, click on the item I want and wait for some harassed, underpaid van driver to battle through the traffic and hand it over to me on my doorstep.
Wonderful, that is, on the many occasions when it all goes smoothly — but downright infuriating, as I found to my cost this month, when something goes wrong.
This is a lesson we internet shoppers in our droves have discovered the hard way, and with Christmas approaching, I fear we will soon be joined by many more.
Indeed, research into the ‘miserable’ performance of courier firms, published this week by Citizens Advice, found that more than one in three online shoppers — that’s some 13.3 million of us — had a problem with a delivery in the past month alone.
Evri, formerly known as Hermes, was identified as the worst offender, with Yodel named and shamed as second from the bottom of the league. The most common complaints included parcels arriving late or left in unsafe locations, while 43 per cent of those who had trouble with deliveries reported more difficulties when they tried to resolve the issue.
Even Royal Mail and Amazon Logistics, which came joint top, scored no more than 2.75 stars apiece out of five.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, who wants tougher action from the regulator, said: ‘We continue to hear from consumers who are chasing up lost, late or damaged parcel deliveries.
‘It’s become an unfair and, at times, costly burden to bear. With a seasonal surge of deliveries on the horizon, parcel companies must take action to protect shoppers and get to the root cause of these persistent failings.’
Ordering online is wonderful when when it all goes smoothly — but downright infuriating, as I found to my cost this month, when something goes wrong
In Evri’s defence, a spokesman claims that 99 per cent of the 730 million parcels the firm handles every year are delivered on time, adding somewhat oddly: ‘Our rising parcel volumes are proof that customers and retailers are voting with their feet.’
(For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought that voting with one’s feet meant something like walking out of a theatre in the interval when we think the play is rubbish. But I think we know what Evri’s spokesman was trying to say.)
Meanwhile, Yodel protests that 98.7 per cent of the 200 million parcels it handled over the past year were delivered correctly at the first attempt. All I can say to that is: ‘Not mine, Yodel, not mine!’
My own tale of woe began two weeks ago tomorrow, when Mrs U decreed that after more than 35 years of enduring the profound gloom in our kitchen — which doubles as a TV room, where we spend most of our lives — it was high time we did something to cheer the place up a bit.
There was nothing we could do about the fact that the room never gets the sun, but at least we could brighten it up in the evenings, she said, by doing something about the dingy lighting. How about replacing our two dark-coloured, nicotine-stained lampshades with a couple that might actually allow a little light to reach the room?
She’d seen a nice cream-coloured pair on the John Lewis website, she said. So how would it be if she went into town to buy them?
Ever the obliging husband, I told her I’d save her the trouble by ordering them online (she herself has always hated internet shopping). Just show me the ones you want, I said, and leave it to me. You’ll have them before you know it.
Tom Utley had a bad experience trying to order lampshades online from John Lewis
Sure enough, I clicked on the two lampshades in question — a larger one for £36, a smaller for £32 — and was offered a choice between having them delivered to our home, within three to five days, or picking them up from my local newsagent, through Yodel’s Collect+ service. If I opted for the latter, I could collect them as early as Monday, which was just two days away.
Now, you may well think that having waited for more than 35 years to buy a pair of lighter-coloured lampshades, an extra day or two wouldn’t kill me. But I’m a very impatient soul, who likes instant results when I finally stir myself into action.
So I opted for click and collect, knowing that our newsagent would be open all day, from 7am to 11pm, which meant we wouldn’t risk missing the delivery if we wanted to go out.
Come the Monday morning, everything seemed to be going swimmingly. Yodel’s tracker told me that Mrs U’s lampshades had been received at the firm’s depot at 5.03am, and were on their way to my newsagent, five minutes’ walk from my home. I awaited the signal that they had arrived. It never came.
The next I knew, a message flashed up on my mobile, early that same Monday afternoon, telling me that ‘unfortunately’ I had not collected my parcels and so they were being returned to John Lewis.
I then went back to the tracker, which said that Yodel had rescheduled my order after attempting to deliver it to the newsagent at 1.06pm, and was returning it to John Lewis after failing again 33 minutes later. No wonder I hadn’t collected it. Clearly, the swine hadn’t delivered it — though heaven knows why not, since to the best of my knowledge, the shop was open all day, as it always is.
Mrs U has a genius solution in mind. She tells me she’ll be off to the shops in town next week to tackle her Christmas shopping in the old-fashioned way
But this was only the beginning of my troubles. With laudable promptness, John Lewis reimbursed me a week ago — but only for the smaller of the two lampshades. Seven days on, after a long and exasperating internet chat with a member of the firm’s online complaints department — whom I suspect, perhaps wrongly, of being A.I. — I’m still awaiting that missing £36.
All that this human/automaton could ‘humbly suggest’ was that I should get in touch again next week. Until then, there was nothing that she or it could do for me. The computer would keep saying No.
Well, I told you I was impatient — and I know that countless readers will have suffered far worse internet shopping experiences, from parcels of wine glasses hurled around like baseballs and smashed to smithereens, to others that disappear into the ether and refunds that never materialise from firms that never existed.
All I know is that my effort to save my wife a little bother, through the miracle of modern technology, has so far cost us a fortnight of acute annoyance. Oh, and our kitchen remains as gloomy as ever, in the half-light shed by two ancient, tobacco-stained lampshades.
But never mind. Mrs U has a genius solution in mind. She tells me she’ll be off to the shops in town next week to tackle her Christmas shopping in the old-fashioned way — and she’ll buy a couple of lampshades while she’s there.
You never know. As a method of acquiring the goods we want, it may yet catch on.
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