Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘deliveries

Chilling experiences

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My new fridge and freezer (cf. [1]) are finally here, almost on time for the summer heat.

A few observations around my adventures leading up to the delivery:

  1. I began my research by visiting a local physical store*, intending to have a look around at what appliances** were available, compare some prices and measurements, and then talk to a salesman. I had barely entered the right section of the store when I was almost waylaid by a woman, who provided some helpful information,*** but ultimately was more of an obstacle than a help. This included insisting on showing me some specific freezers, insisting that no others would be interesting, being obsessed with the Liebherr**** brand, and spending great time on providing exact details/prices/measurements for one freezer and one fridge, where I would have been better off with ballpark numbers for half-a-dozen. Eventually, I found myself forced to chose between telling her to piss off (if more diplomatically formulated) and just leaving myself. Being additionally discouraged by the high price level, I chose the latter.

    *Sträter, should someone local read this.

    **For the purposes of this text, I will use “appliance” as a short for “freezer and/or fridge”. (However, some of the text might apply to a wider meaning too.)

    ***Notably, concerning roughly what measurements were available and some solution ideas (with an eye on the limited space available). However, none of this information had any impact on my eventual decisions…

    ****One of the more expensive brands, even by German standards.

    This repeats an experience that I have made repeatedly in the past: Stores that project an image of customer service and provides “customer consultants”* often provide negative value to the customer in terms of e.g. information, try to lead the customer to buy what the store wants to sell (as opposed to what the customer wants to buy or would benefit from), and bring up their prices above the rest of the market to pay the “consultants” … Certainly, these “consultants” are usually nothing but salesmen. Three particular red flags are the presence of more salesmen than customers in the store, salesmen who routinely approach customers at sight**, and salesmen who deliberately try to take control of the process***—all of which applied to this store. And, yes, this is how this store operates as a matter of course: I had already been there on a few other occasions, and have always been addressed by two or three different employees. (But a “I am just looking” mostly deflected them—this time, I had more serious intentions and made the mistake of not lying.)

    *“Kundenberater”, a more common word in German than the English alternatives (that I am aware of) that do not include “sales” somewhere in the title.

    **As opposed to being available when the customer approaches them; and as opposed to approaching a customer who has been wandering about for half-an-hour. I experienced a particularly negative example in a Frankfurt store long ago: I had to decline a cup of coffee from the same salesman thrice…

    ***As opposed to e.g. merely asking whether the customer would like assistance; and, should assistance be wanted, as opposed to just assisting.

    I would recommend only visiting this type of store when one already has narrowed down the alternatives considerably and needs additional assistance not available from a more mass-market dealer (e.g. MediaMarkt, cf. below) or an eCommerce* dealer—use them for fine-tuning, not for getting your bearings. Further, I recommend never, ever to buy anything without having first gained an idea of the general price levels for both the item at hand and comparable items in other stores—even if the cited price is within one’s means. (For instance, I could easily afford to buy two Liebherr appliances, but why should I? I am better off sticking to Bomann (cf. below) and using the money saved on something that brings me more value.)

    *Note that my advice against eCommerce largely does not apply here, because this type of appliance will usually be bought for delivery even when from a physical store.

  2. An interesting piece of information, and ultimately the sole gain from my visit, was that the local utility company, WSW, was running a rebate scheme for their customers, where those who bought energy efficient appliances were refunded a certain amount for purchases from certain stores (cf. below), with the normal amounts doubled this May.* Seeing a chance to recoup some of the over-large fees that I am paying,** I researched the topic and took the opportunity.

    *The capitalist might wonder about the business sense of this—they pay people to use less energy, which will reduce their own revenue. The explanation lies in this being a city-owned enterprise, with motivations governed more by politics than business concerns.

    **Including considerable consumption-independent fees that hit low consumers disproportionately (might be a topic for a later text). I have a switch to another provider on my TODO list, but have yet to get around to the research.

    However, the approach of WSW strikes me as doubly ethically dubious: Firstly, it can distort competition on the market, both through giving the (few) “partner” stores* an unfair leg up on the competition, and through driving customers to buy more expensive** appliances than they otherwise would have. In a worst case, producers or stores might chose to raise their prices in the hope that such rebates will keep demand unchanged, in which case the rebate amounts to a subsidy to high-end producers/stores*** with little or no gain for the consumer or the environment. Secondly, it amounts to a redistribution of money from the sum of their customers to one sub-group, namely those who buy new appliances that underlie the right constraints. This potentially includes both a re-distribution to the wealthier, because they are more likely to be able to afford the right appliances and to buy appliances more often, and a potential environmental**** damage through a shortening of the life-cycle of appliances. I would much prefer the scrapping of such programs in favor of more reasonable electricity and gas charges.

    *I am not aware of the criteria and modalities, but only local stores are involved, not all local stores are, and to boot the partners are divided into categories of 30 and 50 Euro rebates (resp. 60 and 100 during May). I would speculate that WSW requires some type of co-payment from the stores, which would lessen the distortion, but it is still bad enough—and without a co-payment (or a similar mechanism) the distortion could be quite severe. (As an interesting special case, the local MediaMarkt is a partner, while the local Saturn is not—despite MediaMarkt and Saturn just being differently branded stores from the same chain.)

    **Normally, only “A+++” energy-rated appliances are covered (cf. below). Because a better energy rating normally implies a higher price, lower-price appliances will tend to be at a disadvantage. This especially because different criteria tends to rise together, leading to an even higher price—chances are that an “A+++” appliance will also have various other quality improvements and “extras”, that are not necessarily wanted or needed by the customer. For instance, many of the Liebherr appliances came with an integrated touch-screen, which to me is more likely to be an additional error source than a benefit.

    ***Cf. the problems within some health-care systems or how the U.S. college tuitions and “financial aid” have risen hand-in-hand.

    ****The motivation behind the rebates is, obviously, to benefit the environment through reducing energy consumption. This, however, will only work as long as the appliances are kept for long enough that the environmental balance is positive, with an eye on energy and materials used to build, deliver, recycle, whatnot. It can fail completely when e.g. someone who has not hitherto had a freezer buys one because the rebate made it more affordable… (Something which might have applied to me, had I not already made the decision to buy one.)

    WSW also provided yet another example of uncooperative or communicatively incompetent staff (and websites): Not having found a specific explanation of the rules, I sent an email to receive clarification of what criteria appliances must fulfill. The answer was “[…] muss die Energieeffizienzklasse A+++, mindestens aber A++ besitzen” (“[…] must have the energy-efficiency-class A+++, but at least A++”). Puzzled, I asked for confirmation that either of A+++ and A++ would be acceptable (as the most likely interpretation), but was met with the claim that A++ was only acceptable when no appliance of the same construction (“baugleiches”) was available—a critical reservation that non-negotiably should have been stated in the first email. Even now, however, this information is too vague: Is this restriction based on the market as a whole, the individual dealer, the individual brand, or some other grouping? What are the exact criteria for determining whether two appliances are “baugleich”?* Instead of wasting more time on this idiot, not to mention taking the risk of getting an answer that later turned out to be faulty, I just decided to try stick to A+++.

    *Indeed, in the strictest interpretation, two appliances that are baugleich would tautologically have the same rating, making the restriction pointless.

  3. After various research and comparisons, I found two suitable appliances from Bomann at 250* resp. 220 Euro for a total of 470 Euro (+ 98 Euro delivery – 120 Euro WSW rebate for an effective 448 Euro) at MediaMarkt. Similar Liebherr (and some other brands) cost more or considerably more than this sum per appliance. I have definitely seen comparable-but-much-higher-end appliances in the area of 800 or 900 Euro each… I very much doubt that the difference in price would be offset by any value-added. As for the specifics of my appliances, it is much to soon (less than a day of ownership) to give them a conclusive “thumbs up”, but they are A+++, they did have a very good** rating on the MediaMarkt website, and so far seem to be excellent.

    *Here and elsewhere I round to avoid numbers like 249.99.

    **Even after adjusting for the extremely inflated scale. They might have been 4.8 resp. 4.9 (or similar) out of 5, while most others landed somewhere between possibly 4.5 and 4.7, which makes it plausible that they would have reached 4 or better even on a scale readjusted to have a mean at 3 (where it belongs).

  4. My purchase at MediaMarkt proved problematic, however. After researching online, I also tried to buy online. This failed due to the shopping cart simply not loading.* I then sent an email to the local store, especially because I feared that the rebates might not apply when buying online, and was gratified by a quick confirmation.

    *While I did not investigate this in detail, I did note that the website used Google APIs hosted at Google, which is a big no-no and a sign of great improfessionalism, e.g. with an eye on protecting the users privacy and reducing the risk of malfunction. For my own protection, I block access to these APIs per filter, which means that any access attempt would lead to a failure.

    However, the contents of some emails were less than ideal, including that my contact refused to send the invoice to me per email, claiming data-protection concerns (“Datenschutztechnischen Gründen”). This is obviously absurd, because the rules are there to protect me and my request that an invoice be sent per email implies a corresponding waiver. Moreover, the invoice would not have contained any data not already present in the email correspondence. Moreover, sending invoices per email has been standard for years and I am not aware of any extremely recent ban on this (and would consider such a ban border-line idiotic). The refusal to send the invoice did not come with a statement of the overall sum, which would have been quite beneficial and was the reason why I had requested the invoice in the first place. This largely due to vagueness as to which of the two possible (and differently priced) delivery schemes applied in my case. (And, no, she did not state which scheme either. While I had not explicitly asked for clarification of this, it should have been clear from context that the information was wished for.) Noting that May 31st had arrived and wanting to avoid any complications* around the WSW rebates, I left it at that and just went to the physical store to pay and collect my invoice.

    *Notably, that there might be some rule that not the date of the purchase counted, but the date when the corresponding vouchers were presented, in which case a further delay would have cost me 60 Euro. Ditto if, absent such a rule, an incompetent counter-part wrongly believed this to be the rule—a fear justified by some of the below.

    At the store, I was met by another employee who knew nothing of the matter and who claimed that my previous contact was out for lunch at the time. Apparently, my request for an invoice at this stage was absurd, and an invoice would normally only be provided once the appliances had arrived. Pushing the issue, I convinced her to have a look and an invoice had indeed already been prepared by my contact. As I paid, I presented the WSW vouchers for them to be deducted, but was met with the claim that this must be done by the information desk.* This is sub-optimal on two counts for me and two counts for MediaMarkt, it self: I (a) have to go stand in a second line for no good reason, (b) have to temporarily put out more money than is needed.** MediaMarkt (a) has to hand out actual cash, rather than just book less money from an account or card,*** (b) has to have at least three different “units” handling money instead of two (regular cashiers, the “Warenausgabe”****, and the information desk).

    *This was originally more annoying than with hindsight, because I had read an email from my original contact sloppily, and failed to note that she did indeed speak of the information desk. However, and in my defense, she had also spoken of “verrechnet” and “Verrechnung”, which in my eyes does imply a deduction from the amount due before payment—not the refund after payment that actually took place.

    **While not an actual problem in my case, others might see a credit-card limit exceeded or an account overdrawn despite having enough money to pay the net amount. This especially at the end of the month…

    ***Note the increased risk of fraud, e.g. in that someone might hand in falsified vouchers while using someone else’s card, leaving MediaMarkt with a charge-back of the full amount and the loss of the cash handed out, because WSW would be unlikely to reimburse the vouchers. Further, I suspect that there might be complications with (non-fraudulent) cancellations, e.g. when someone buys something, changes his mind, and returns the items for a refund—coordinating the refund would be much easier if the rebate had been deducted from the bill and not handed out as cash in an independent transaction.

    ****Where I originally was sent and where my contact worked. I am uncertain as to the translation, but it is the point where ordered goods would be manually collected. (Handling money and payments here is far more reasonable than at the information desk, because there will be customers who wish to pay when collecting the goods.)

    The information desk was a borderline disaster: The young lady there first did not want to take my vouchers at all, and only did so after spending several minutes consulting with colleagues. She then refused the one for the freezer, because only fridges were covered… As I pointed out that WSW had mentioned no such restriction and that my original contact had not protested my mention of the full intended deduction of 120 Euro, she stood her ground for a while, but eventually re-consulted with colleagues and finally backed down—after another several minutes… Apart from the annoyance and time-loss for me, personally, I note both the risk that a less insistent or informed customer would have unnecessarily lost his money and that this held up the queue to the (sole) information counter for everyone else. Moreover, if there were (in some other case) a legitimate rejection, then the customer would have made his prior full payment under faulty assumptions, which would have been avoided, had the amount (ordinarily) been deducted to begin with. (This also raises the interesting question of what would happen, should the customer wish to cancel the purchase due to the changing circumstances.)

    But, unfortunately, it does not end here: My original contact had stated the delivery time as two to four work days. With my order processed and paid on May 31st, this would imply delivery no later than June 5th (Saturday counts as a work day in Germany for “legal purposes”) or on the outside June 6th (assuming a non-standard counting without Saturdays). By the end of June 7th, there still had been no delivery, nor even a notification* about the delivery. I sent an email to inquire, which was met by the claim that a phone-call had been attempted on the 5th, that I had not been reachable and that I should please call back or provide a telephone number (as if one failed phone call would imply that the number was invalid…). Apparently, one call had been attempted, with no follow-up and no email of “we failed to reach you, please call us back”—-leaving the ball in the corner of the customer who might not even know that he had the ball…

    *A call in advance was standard, as is sensible with such large deliveries.

    Due to an intervening Sunday (9th) and public holiday (10th), when all stores are closed, my first chance to react was the 11th. I called shortly after 10 AM, when MediaMarkt was allegedly reachable per telephone. I was met with a basically dead line… I tried again the next day, shortly before 8 PM, when MediaMarkt was allegedly still reachable for the day. Now the line worked, but instead of being directed directly to my contact or her department, I landed in a generic automatic telephone menu. After clicking myself to a human counter-part, I was told that he could no longer put me through (despite this still being before 8 PM), but that he would pass on a message, that I would receive a call the next day (13th), likely immediately after 10 AM, and “please give me your number”. In effect, I called in to (a) give MediaMarkt a number that it already had, and (b) tell it that I was still waiting for a call (which it already knew…).

    By around 2 PM the next day, I had still not received a call, and strongly considered calling again myself—but decided against doing so, to see what would happen. (This text, which I had already started to plan in my head, reads better with “MediaMarkt did not call at all” than with “MediaMarkt did not call in a timely manner”.) Indeed, MediaMarkt did not call at all…

    I now wrote an email, pointed out these deficiencies, and gave MediaMarkt a choice between delivery at 5 PM on respectively the 17th and 18th—which should have been arrangeable without any further back and forth.

    The answer: Delivery ranges of less than three hours were not possible and the range 5 PM to 8 PM was not available until the 19th.*

    *There was no mention whether any earlier range was available; however, even so, doubts must be cast on the originally claimed 2–4 work days for delivery. Going from the 13th to the 19th is already 5 work days, despite the goods now being present in the store (while the 2–4 work days included the original delivery to the store). Further noting the original delay between order and call, I suspect that a true and honest estimate would have been more than the double or something like “2–4 days + a delay until we (a) have reached you, (b) have a free slot that you can actually use”… In my case, we almost reached the 3 week mark…

    I note that (a) we again (cf. [2]) have a counter-part unwilling to go the extra mile to correct its own error, (b) such long delivery ranges are very hard to defend considering the (usually) short distances, delivery through in-house employees (not an external delivery service), and the considerable fee for delivery. (Remember that I paid 98 Euro for this travesty.) In my case, the time to drive from the store to my apartment measures in minutes, and (going by the rough time taken at my house on the 19th) chances are that the delivery men could have driven to me, unpacked, carried the appliances to my apartment, and driven back to the store in less than half-an-hour… Considering the circumstances, an attempt to “squeeze me in” should have been made (even were the official slots taken)—but it was not.

    On the 19th, however, things went fairly smoothly, including the delivery arriving only shortly after 5 PM.

Excursion on delivery intervals:
Even MediaMarkt, even with the considerations mentioned above, cannot realistically guarantee delivery on the minute. This I do not question. I could even see situations where as much as three hours could be relevant, e.g. when two customers in a row live roughly one hour away.* However, for most of the customers, three-hour intervals are too much and something like X o’clock +/- 30 minutes would be much more reasonable and still realistically doable, if need be by giving far away customers different** conditions, both to prevent deliveries to them from screwing up the schedule for others and to apply rules that are easier to keep with the longer distance. Note that this does not automatically that imply deliveries more often than once every three hours will be possible (although they likely will)—the point is that the customer will have a narrower interval of delivery, which makes it easier for him to plan and places lesser constraints on his schedule.

*I am not aware of the delivery ranges of this individual store, but there are sufficiently many MediaMarkts in Germany in general and this part of Germany in particular that so long travel times must be a definite minority scenario.

**Exactly how goes beyond the current scope, especially because I might need more information to make a good suggestion. However, something like +/- one hour and only one slot per day, or +/- one hour and only on Wednesdays, might be doable. To boot, a more differentiated set of fees would be positive, where near-by customers do not implicitly subsidize far-away customers.

Excursion on refunds for poor service/Hornbach:
While I will demand a refund for the delivery costs above, I am not optimistic. However, I will take the opportunity to give the prior offender Hornbach (cf. [2] and related texts) credit for a very un-German restitution: I have eventually received independent 20 Euro refunds for the damage to my shelf and my considerable delivery troubles with the other shelves (the order of which I ultimately canceled)—and I actually received them as money, not as vouchers “for your next purchase”. In this manner, the overall price for the one delivered shelf has been cut from (possibly) 70 Euro to 30 Euro. I would much rather have had my original order delivered in full, with no damages, without the wasted efforts, and without the need to find another source—but credit were credit is due. This unexpected development, combined with the significant portions of the blame that attaches to third parties hired by Hornbach (as opposed to Hornbach, it self), is enough for me to again consider Hornbach as a candidate for future business and to rescind any recommendation to avoid it (that I might or might not have made).

Excursion on making appointments per email vs. telephone:
It might seem like a given that the telephone is better for making appointments than email—and even I, an ardent proponent of email, have long considered this to be the case. Scenarios like the above make me skeptical, because the telephone is useless unless both parties are available at the same time, and due to complications like the dangers with relying on someone else to call vs. the extra own effort of hunting someone down per telephone. Other aspects include the need to check for availability, which is often easier when not on the phone (and especially cell phone), and the benefits of being able to think the situation through.* When coordinating more than two parties, the telephone is likely more cumbersome than email even in an ideal situation…

*E.g. in terms of complications with time to travel from work requiring leaving early, the need to make preparations, other things that might need to be foregone, whether something will clash with a spouses schedule, whether a spouse could stand in, and similar.

All in all, I suspect that email will often be the better option…


Written by michaeleriksson

June 20, 2019 at 3:39 pm

Follow-up II: Deliveries

with one comment

As a probably final follow-up on Hornbach ([1], [2]), I have just canceled the remainder of my order. Even now, and even after contacting Hornbach directly, my shelves have not been delivered and no guaranteed date for delivery has been set.

This is the more annoying as the one part that has been delivered is something that I only ordered on the assumption that there would be one single, joint delivery of all items in one go. With a separate delivery, the order of this item (a smaller shelf) borders on being pointless, and I would probably not have ordered it all. (And, cf. [2], this item turned out to be damaged…) What I actually had my eyes on, the actual purpose of the order, has not been delivered.

As a general observation, there is a strong tendency for German companies to not in any way, shape, or form try to reduce the customers’ problems or to compensate him for them. On the contrary, the general attitude towards contracts seems to be that they are an obligation for the customer to pay—while the product or service that is to be provided is left to good fortune. In particular, it is considered acceptable by businesses that a customer spends more time on trying to resolve something directly or indirectly caused by the business than the product, the fixing of the issue, or the intended recompense is worth.* In as far as a recompense takes place, the business presumes to unilaterally decide what it is to be, the sum is usually an absolute trifling, and the form is almost invariably some type of coupon “to use with your next purchase” (yeah, right). This is demonstrated e.g. by IDS’ refusal to deliver on a Saturday, despite having had the audacity to dictate a date and time for delivery and then not show up… To me, it would have been a given that if I screw something up for a customer, then I go the extra mile for the customer to get things corrected, including that I work on an unusual day or at an unusual time. Similarly, in a last effort, I gave Hornbach a final opportunity to deliver with the if-all-else-fails suggestion to just have one of the regular employees of the local physical store drive-out the same product to me—something entirely reasonable (unless out-of-stock), seeing that it were poor choices by Hornbach that led to the situation, including a spurious split of the delivery and the hiring of severely incompetent or negligent service providers.***

*As a specific example, this shelf cost 69 (?) Euro. Assuming that the damage lowers the value by 20 %, we have 13.80 Euro. Now, consider the effort and delay (especially in light of recent events) of arranging to send the shelf back and getting a new one in return. Unless I am compensated for my actual efforts, it makes more sense to live with the damage. Similarly, I did demand a refund of 20 %, which Hornbach refuses to honor without photographic proof—but photographic proof implies that I have to search for my (not used since I moved) camera, hope that I have compatible batteries (or new ones must be bought), take photographs, transfer them to my computer, and then email them. Again, hardly worth the trouble. (But, in all fairness, the photographic evidence is one case where I do not consider the requirement undue in principle, seeing that someone could claim a damage for an undamaged product. Indeed, I demanded the refund more in the hope of getting a message across than of getting money back.)

**Note that this is not a hypothetical: I have run a small business for several years, and that I e.g. have spent a few hours extra to clean up something has happened. Indeed, I have stayed late, come early, or similar to help with situations not caused by me…

***But I was not the least surprised that this did not happen. Again, this was more of an attempt to get the message across than something I actually expected to happen.

I note that it would be highly beneficial if businesses did take or were forced to take such responsibility: Things will only change for the better if the costs of errors land with the actual source of the errors. This applies in particular to deliveries, where the sender sees its job as done when a package is given to the delivery service, after which it is the problem of the recipient to arrange for actually getting the package—but where the recipient is more-or-less powerless against the delivery service, because there is no contract between them. The delivery service, in turn, does what saves costs, even if it falls well short of a reasonable expectation of performance—-the sender will not complain and the recipient is powerless. Also see a text on force majeure for a more general discussion of this principle.

Another interesting thing is the refusal to deliver on Saturdays*, per se: A delivery service worth its salt should deliver when it can expect to find someone at home. Refusing to deliver on Saturdays is absurd—just like the stubborn insistence on trying to deliver at times of day when most people are at work. The result is, again, that the effort lands with the recipient, who has to make arrangements, go out of his way, take a day off from work, go in person to the post-office, whatnot.

*Note that a Sunday delivery is probably ruled out by antiquated German legislation—just like supermarkets are still, in the year 2019, forced to be closed on Sundays.

As a personal conclusion, I will probably forego eCommerce entirely in the foreseeable future—there is simply too much that goes wrong. If I deviate, I will do my darnedest to keep to my own advice and never pay per “Vorauskasse”—as long as the seller already has the money, I have no bargaining chips. Cf. the problems around deliveries already discussed in [1] and [2]; around payment methods, web-design, etc. in e.g. [3] and [4]; and some other aspects in an up-coming text.

As a correction to my previous texts: It appears that the package that I did receive was the IDS package, which shifts the blame (cf. [2]) from DPD to IDS. On the other hand, DPD is guilty of causing a complete non-delivery of the other package. To boot, it is odd that the larger package was sent by DPD (in my understanding, a “postal package” delivery company), while the smaller was sent by IDS (in my understanding, a “bulky goods” delivery company).*

*A possible explanation could relate to weight: I believe that I at some point saw a weight of 26 kg for DPD, vs. the 31 kg from IDS. If so, it could be that some cut-off was used in the decision. However, the difference is fairly small, the volume difference remains, and the fact that IDS was used anyway would have made it reasonable to just deliver both packages at once by IDS. To boot, I am not certain that 26 is a reasonable number, as this would imply less than 13 kg per shelf (subtract weight of packaging, divide by two), while a similar-but-considerably-smaller shelf purchased earlier (in person) weighed 16 kg.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 18, 2019 at 12:13 am

Follow-up: Deliveries

with one comment

My DPD-package (cf. [1]) has unexpectedly arrived: I had explicitly, per web-interface, chosen Saturday as the date for the next delivery attempt. Today, Friday, I came home to find the package standing between the house-door and the stairs, where any of the neighbors could have walked off with it.* Apart from the risk of theft, this approach denies the recipient the right to turn away a delivery for reasons like a damaged package** or a cancellation of an order—and it removes any proof of delivery, to the disadvantage of the sender***.

*Not that I consider it likely that they would; however, if we look at the overall number of daily deliveries, it is a virtual given that a considerable loss of property will ensue, even should the likelihood be small in any given case. Correspondingly, such careless treatment of deliveries is inexcusable, unless the recipient has explicitly consented to it (I had not).

**Note that a blanket rejection of anything with non-trivial damage to even the outside of the package is a common recommendation,

***For instance, here I could have just claimed never to have received the package, demanded my money back or a replacement delivery, and no-one could have proved that I was lying. At best it would be word-against-word vs. the deliverer, and due to risks like a mistake in house or a later theft, even a good-faith claim by the deliverer would not be sufficient evidence of delivery.

Worse: The product turned out to be damaged. One of the sides of this shelve has a crack and a bit of a curve in the area surrounding the crack. Unless the product was faulty leaving Hornbach’s care, the delivery service has obviously been so careless that the package has been bent and the product damaged. (A similar bent is present on the other side and the back, but to a far lesser degree and without cracks, likely because the cracked side was on top during the bending.) Fortunately, the shelve could still be put together and looks to be functional enough, so I have decided to live with the beauty error rather than taking on the hassle of trying to return the defect product and starting over with a new wait for a re-delivery. Of course, this is a manner in which the sender can actually profit from poor deliveries: if it is too much of a hassle to receive corrections, then fewer people will ask for corrections. (However, once the rest of the delivery, expected for Monday, has played out successfully or unsuccessfully, I will communicate the repeated problems to Hornbach and demand a partial refund—not because it is a worth-while use of my time, but because it is important to signal that events like these are not acceptable.)

As an aside, the package weight was as much as 31 kg (not the 26 mentioned in [1]), which is considerably more than I had anticipated for the smaller shelve. The larger shelves, if and when they do arrive, I will almost certainly have to carry up in pieces. (But I stand by my claim that any of the neighbors could have taken it, even if some, like the old lady on the first floor, might have needed a collaborator—I hand no problems with getting it up to the third floor single-handedly.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 12, 2019 at 7:26 pm


with 5 comments

The never-ending story of eCommerce continues. I had moved my shelve order to Hornbach, and the ordering was surprisingly free of problems. The delivery? That is a different story…

  1. The delivery has been divided into two parts in a customer hostile manner. This forces me to be present on two different days over long stretches of the respective day. In my* case, this is a limit on what I can do when; for many others, it could imply having to take two days of from work, instead of one. Generally, web stores (and post-order companies, etc.) seem to be completely oblivious to the problems caused by having to take a delivery.

    *I am still on a sabbatical, and have, besides, decided to give professional writing an attempt at its end. Correspondingly, I have no office hours, no colleagues that need me, no supervisors who might dislike my absence, …

    It is possible that this division makes sense for Hornbach, e.g. because different products might have been stored at different locations, but the coordinating effort cannot have been that large and costly. Moreover, looking at past experiences, I would not rule out that they unreflectingly send certain* products with one type of delivery and others with another—even when part of the same order. For instance, in December 2016, I tried to address the furniture issue the first time around. Placing a large order with IKEA, I decided to throw in a bath-room mirror—taking for granted that it would be delivered in one go with all the larger items, saving me a trip to a store to pick one up. No: The mirror was sent separately by DHL, incurring an additional cash-on-delivery fee, and causing me more** effort than if I had picked it up in a store… (At that point, I canceled the entirety of my order, this being the last straw after a series of problems.)

    *Here e.g. by the criterion that this-smaller-shelve-is-small-enough-to-be-accepted-by-DPD vs. those-two-big-ones-are-too-large-for-DPD (cf. below).

    **DHL implies that I have to go a DHL shop several hundred meters away and up a steep hill. There are stores with mirrors that are closer to my apartment. There is far less hill to cross, and I would not have the additional volume of the packaging materials to cope with. Obviously, the stores have no cash-on-delivery fees either… (And delivery to a neighbor, which I loathe to begin with, was practically ruled out by the cash-on-delivery.)

  2. One part appears to have been sent by DPD*. My first sign of any activity from DPD was a notification that I found in my (snail) mail today: allegedly, two calls had already taken place and been unsuccessful. This might or might not be true (I do not spend the entire day in my apartment), but why no notification after the first attempt? Besides, who tries to deliver a 26 (?) kg package of some bulk without prior notification?!?

    *A DHL-style delivery service.

    I have now requested delivery for Saturday. I was given no indication as to when on Saturday this delivery might take place. By all means, I understand that times can be quite hard to predict for this type of delivery (e.g. due to variations in what other deliveries take place on the same day). However, by not even mentioning e.g. “morning”* vs. “afternoon”, after or before a certain time, or similar, DPD effectively locks me in the entire day until delivery takes place. Similarly, I have no idea whether I can sleep long or must be awake by a certain time. Etc.

    *Of course, such statements are only sensible if being used correctly. One deliverer, many years ago, gave the choice between “morning” and “afternoon” delivery. The morning ended at 2 PM and the afternoon began at 10 AM…

  3. The other was sent by truck, specifically through the transport company IDS Logistik. It should have arrived today. At around 12:30, I heard my door-bell ring. I immediately went to my apartment-door, pressed the button to unlock the house-door,* put on my shoes, and went down the two stocks to the house-door**. Once there, possibly thirty or forty seconds after the ring, I saw no sign of anyone in the vicinity of my door, not even around the corner. I went back up again, thinking that it might have been pranking kids or something of the sort. Some time later, the stated delivery (10–14) interval started to grow short, and I visited IDS’ website to look at its delivery tracking—only to be met by the claim “04/10/2019 12:27 pm Hilden Your consignment could not be delivered because no recipient was on the location or the receiving department was closed (delivery before 16 clock).”***

    *There is no intercom, otherwise I would obviously have started there.

    **Delivery conditions were curb (“Bordsteinkante”), not apartment-door.

    ***Original text. Why in English rather than German is unclear, but I note that many a German would have problems with understanding this text. (“consignment”, “recipient”, “receiving department”, …) To boot, the reference to “Hilden” (a German town) is confusing, seeing that IDS appears to be situated in Hilden, but that the event took place in Wuppertal.

    Here, I can only assume that the deliverer pushed the bell, (metaphorically or literally) counted to ten, noted a delivery attempt, and then took off, without giving me a reasonable chance to react and without even leaving a notification*. And, yes, I do have the impression that individual delivery-staff members are often looking for excuses not to deliver.* For instance, I have repeatedly received DHL notifications of you-were-not-at-home-please-come-pick-up-your-parcel when I most definitely was at home, I have heard several colleagues relate the same experience, and the German sit-com “Pastewka” has used this scenario for material**. On one occasion, the deliverer from a post-order company claimed that he could not reach my then apartment due to a market in front of the house—there had been no such market.***

    *Something which is made plausible by rumors of undue time constraints and similar. However, pushing the efforts and costs onto the recipient is inexcusable—and has the side-effect that conditions for the staff will not improve.

    **To my vague recollection, the eponymous Pastewka is actually shouting at the delivery man that he is at home—only to be ignored.

    ***This was roughly twenty years ago, so the problems are not limited to recent years.

    I note that if so short reaction times actually were an acceptable requirement, then the recipients would land in an unconscionable situation, e.g. in that going to the toilet or answering the phone at any time in the four-hour interval would involve risking missing the delivery: Even when terminating such activities fairly abruptly, these very short times could still be used up by the time the recipient was at the door (let alone at the ground floor).

    To boot, Hornbach had stated that the delivery would be preceded by a phone call to coordinate date and time—it was not. Instead, I received an email on Monday evening, less than two days in advance, where a four hour interval in the middle of the day was unilaterally dictated by IDS. I can imagine how such delivery terms will end for many employees: “Hey, boss! Can I take all of tomorrow off to take a private delivery?”—“Are you crazy?!? We have work to do. The next time around, ask a week in advance!”

The whole mess is in need of radical changes, including that delivery services start with evening deliveries, that the recipient is given legal/contractual/whatnot rights* towards the delivery service, that payment to the sender is either always after delivery or through some form of escrow mechanism,** that customers are given the say on when*** and how an order may be split into separate deliveries, and that delivery services be prevented from the large scale cheating that goes on (e.g. with blanket you-were-out notifications, cf. above). Should this lead to higher nominal costs, this is acceptable—these costs will be transparent, much unlike the current hidden costs, and likely smaller to considerably smaller on average.****

*Today, the sender is the contract partner of the delivery service, and the recipient can do nothing but complain to the sender—who usually does not give a fuck. (Cf. e.g. my experiences with Beyerdynamic. I note that this text contains the advice “Never, ever pay before delivery—not even when you have reason to believe that the business is not one of the many outright fraudulent web shops.”—advice that I did not heed with Hornbach…)

**With the seller carrying any extra costs than might be involved over payment-on-invoice, because these costs serve to protect him—not the buyer. This notably for cash-on-delivery fees.

***There are cases when this can be a valid option, e.g. when waiting on one part would delay the entire order by several weeks. Even then, however, this must be the customer’s choice, because he might still prefer the one delivery.

****For instance, an optimistic estimate of the time needed to go by the post-office to collect a parcel that was not delivered (even on a pretext) is twenty minutes. Assume an hourly net-payment of (a highly unimpressive) 21 Euro when working, and the hidden cost is 7 Euro, not counting other costs that might apply (e.g. gas for a car). This is more than the nominal price for most package deliveries. Now: How much is the nominal price likely to rise if DHL et co. actually do what they are paid to do? (The hidden cost is actually likely to be even higher, even with these cautious assumptions, because the hourly rate is an average over regular working hours, while here a marginal rate for additional time should apply, e.g. through the over-time rate at work.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 10, 2019 at 7:49 pm