Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘eCommerce

Too many emails

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Unethical, annoying, intrusive, customer hostile, whatnot, sending of email is not limited to spam*. Consider e.g. my recent flight booking with EuroWings: As of now, I have received a total of five (!) emails as a result, two which should definitely not have been sent, one which is disputable, and two that are acceptable—and this not counting the “please rate your flight” that I expect to receive a few days after the actual journey. The result is a waste of my time, a risk that I accidentally overlook something important among the unimportant, and a recurring feeling of “not those idiots again”. Five emails from one sender might still be tolerable—if it was only that sender (but it is not). While I am comparatively passive in the eCommerce and whatnot field, even I occasionally have two or three businesses sending such unwanted emails in the same time period; those more active might have even more, possibly supplemented by a range of newsletters and similar messages. (In both cases, obviously, this is on top of regular spam.) This is just not in order.

*With the reservation that I tend to think of more-or-less any unwanted email as spam and might use the word “spam” in that sense on occasion.

To look at these emails more in detail:

The acceptable ones are the confirmation of booking and the confirmation of payment-received (contingent on the fact that I payed by invoice; another payment method might not have allowed this email).

The disputable is a notification about online check-in. There is some legitimate value here, but in my case, and the case of most repeat customers, it would have been better if the email had never been sent: firstly, the information and link to check-in would better have been included in the confirmation, the one justification in the delay being that online check-in is only available within three days of departure*. However, I knew about the three-day rule, it is mentioned elsewhere**, and a pre-mature call of the included link could simply lead to an error message of “please try again on or after the Xth”. Moreover, the current implementation is a definite “value subtracted” one compared to a manual visit by the customer: It is possible to check-in with just the booking number, but the link still leads to a page which insists on a log-in or new registration—almost certainly for the unethical reason of tricking unwary unregistered users to register, regardless of whether they consider this in their own best interest. Even for the “wary” this is a negative, because additional steps are required to find the right page for an account-less check-in.

*It self possibly disputable, but off-topic. I suspect that this is related to choice of plane, that the exact model, seats available, etc., are not finalized earlier than this. However, in a worst case, an explicit choice of seat could be replaced by more abstract criteria, e.g. window/middle/aisle, close to exit/faraway from engine, whatnot. Then again, cf. below, an earlier seat-choice than check-in appears to be possible …

**I have not re-checked exactly where, but I do know that I noted it during my booking. If it is not present in e.g. the booking confirmation, it would be easy to add.

Moreover, this is exactly the type of email that could be imitated and abused for phishing, and the prevalence of which lowers the sensitivity about phishing in the general population. (Indeed, even I did not reflect on the risk until I had already called the link—but on no point did I enter any data that could be of use to a phisher.)

The unacceptable ones: Firstly, a patronizing checklist with (the German equivalent of) “Have you thought of everything?”—pure idiocy and, if at all needed, it should have been provided together with the confirmation information. Secondly, a request that I choose my preferred seat. Notably, the choice of seat came at a time when check-in was not yet possible, implying that I would need to visit EuroWings website twice (once to choose seat; once, a few days later, to check in), were I interested in this offer. In as far there is some value here, it is limited and not worth the bother in most cases. So, I have a greater chance at finding my preferred seat by choosing before the time-limited check-in, but the rules are the same for everyone and the difference is likely to be small even for those keen on specific seats.* In contrast, if the ability to choose seat (or even check-in) was available at the time of booking—that would be good!**

*I suspect that most people are not that interested to begin with, especially as information on the more important criteria, like annoying or four-hundred-pound seat-neighbors, loud near-by children, and similar, are not available in advance …

**But note that restrictions as in the above footnote on the three days might apply.

As to the constant “rate this-and-that” emails, they are an inexcusable intrusion upon the customer and a poor way of getting feedback.* In fact, I suspect, it is less a matter of getting true feedback and more of aggregating statistics, which, while of some value, is less useful than more specific feedback. Firstly, any forms and whatnots for feedback are better given with a confirmation email than after the fact, so that the customer can chose when and if to give feedback. Secondly, if I want to give feedback, I have no interest in forms and whatnots—I write an email! (And, notably, this email has usually already been sent when the harassing request for feedback comes …)

*Possibly excepting some strongly reputation driven fields, e.g. Uber-style services with regard to the individual driver. However, even here it would seem reasonable to only give a rating when something was sufficiently above or below par that it was noteworthy. Certainly, the scales must be normalized to have an average performance imply 3-out-5, not the current “anything less than 5-out-of-5 is an insult”.

Worse: if the customer does not give feedback, chances are that one or two reminders are sent, further wasting the customer’s time and showing a complete disrespect for his decision to not give feedback.

Of course, this type of email is another potential in-road for phishing attacks.

As a counter-measure, I strongly encourage businesses (websites, organizations, whatnot) to adhere to a strict rule about email parsimony; indeed, I see them as under an ethical obligation to do so: If an automatic email is not obviously beneficial to the recipient (not the sender!) and reasonably* expected in context, it should not be sent. Moreover, it is better to send one longer email covering several sub-topics than several shorter with a sub-topic each. For instance, a booking confirmation is both beneficial and reasonably expected. A stand-alone unsolicited checklist is usually not beneficial and it is certainly not reasonably expected, but it might be OK if included in an already legitimate email (e.g. a booking confirmation). If there is any other email that might seem worth sending, it should be sent manually to reduce the risk of abuse and in order to err on the side of too little.**

*As in e.g. “what would a reasonable person with little prior exposure reasonably expect”—not as in “what would a reasonable person consider likely based on prior experiences”. Note that there is a dependency on circumstances, e.g. in that I would not normally expect a “your flight has been canceled due to a storm” email, but that this hinges on my not expecting a storm. If a storm has occurred and left my flight canceled, we have a different situation.

**As an aside, the idiotic German legal fiction that if someone already is a customer, then he is expected to be interested in new offers, and businesses are now allowed to send unsolicited advertising emails/letters/whatnot, fails largely on allowing automatic offers. If this was restricted strictly to manual communications, it would be within the plausible, but, as is, businesses just spam every single customer automatically, causing a very poor ratio of interest and a lot of annoyance, barely better than spam to complete strangers. (But this is improving due to sharper laws.)

To this a possible exception exists in that users might be given a list of choices for what emails they want to receive, e.g. booking confirmation (pre-selected), check-list (de-selected), …, to which the business must then adhere—deliberate choice by the user trumps parsimony. This would have the additional advantage of reducing unethical practices like hiding an “agreement” to this-or-that in the Terms-and-Conditions or claims likes “you agree to this-and-that, but can retract your agreement at any time by writing a letter to our customer service”.

Excursion on the customer/user side:
I strongly recommend that as many of these emails as possible be ignored. This with the three-fold idea to not waste own time, to reduce exposure to phishing attacks, and to not encourage misbehavior.

To the last point, I note e.g. that if no-one ever calls up the feedback forms, then businesses will eventually be discouraged and stop sending emails.

To phishing, I recommend more specifically never to enter any type of data over a link sent in an email or through an automatic email request (and to be very cautious with any manual request). For instance, for an online check-in above, it is better to manually go to the website and find the right entry point there (even the aforementioned attempt to court registrations aside).

Excursion on contractual obligations:
A business-to-consumer contract should work according to the simple principle that the business provides a service and receives money in return, the money being the almost* sole obligation of the customer and contingent on the service being provided adequately**. The result should be rights for the customer and obligations for the business. In current reality, it is often the other way around: yes, the customer still pays, but the rights are given to the business and the obligations put upon the customer. Pick up a typical business-to-consumer contract or Terms-and-Conditions and note how much is said about what the customer must or must not do. Note the freedoms businesses presume to take, e.g. with email addresses. Note how customers are increasingly seen as obliged to give feedback and ratings—often with only five-star ratings being acceptable. Etc.

*Exceptions include general, common sense, and usually not-necessary-to-state restrictions like that a rented item must not be damaged, as well as some situation-dependent that might reasonably apply, e.g. that a rented item must be returned at a certain location no later than a certain time.

**At least in Germany, this is a widely ignored condition: the typical attitude is that a contract is a one-sided obligation for the customer to pay, with the service being provided on a “if nothing goes wrong basis”.

A particular annoying behavior, at least in Germany, is to forbid certain uses—not warn against them as dangers, not describe them as warranty invalidating, or similar. This is an inexcusable presumption: if a certain use is not illegal, it is entirely* up to the buyer how he uses the product, including what risks he takes—end of story.

*Under normal circumstances. Exceptions might exist in special cases, e.g. that buying a DVD and then making and distributing copies for personal profit is not allowed. I am, however, hard pressed to come up with an example that does not involve a potential damage to the seller’s or producer’s business opportunities and/or a use of a non-private kind.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 13, 2020 at 11:52 am

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More delivery problems / DHL sucks

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Looking for some items with low availability in stores, I recently placed two new Internet orders. Predictably, delivery problems ensued. (Cf. e.g. [1].)

The first package was supposed to be delivered on Wednesday, but the only thing that came was a you-were-out notification. Interesting: I was not out and no-one had bothered to ring my door-bell. Apparently, the notification had (again) been written in a blanket manner, without any actual check for my presence. Moreover, it had been taped to the outside of my mailbox, implying that anyone could have taken it before I had the opportunity. I deliberately did not collect the package the day after, waiting for the second to save myself repeated trips in the event of another non-delivery.

The second was supposed to be delivered on Thursday (i.e. yesterday). As I suspected, the same thing happened. (Except that the notification was put in my mailbox and that I also received an email notification from the sender.)

According to this notification, the second package could be collected the next day (today) after 10 AM. I duly went after 10 AM—only to find that only my first package was present! According to the store* clerk, the deliverer had not shown yet and she had already been forced to send another four persons away, who had all relied on the correctness of their respective notifications.

*DHL has few or no own locales for customer contact, instead affiliating stores with another line of business to add a DHL service as a side-business.

Moreover, the store is about one kilometer away from my apartment (so much for delivery!) and has lousy opening hours, including just three (!) hours on Saturday*. Indeed, the opening hours are so poor that it borders on the irresponsible for the store to take up this side-business. This especially as the opening hours overlap strongly with regular office hours, including an extended lunch break, implying that those who cannot be at home when a delivery is (not) attempted are exactly those hard-pressed to visit the store. I do note that prior DHL deliveries** went to another store that was (a) closer, (b) had much better opening hours.

*Sunday, obviously, is not even on the table, this being Germany.

**The last one was likely more than two years ago and I am uncertain whether the old store is still in business. However, I suspect that the current store joined the dark si…, ahem, DHL in the interim, leading to a change in area allocation.

Collecting the first package was at least ten minutes out of my day and might have been twenty or more, if the store did not happen to lie on my way to the grocery store.* Collecting the second tomorrow would be these twenty or more minutes, assuming that I can even fit the limited opening hours in my schedule—and I have no guarantee that the package would actually be there. (I am strongly considering simply rescinding my order, especially as this gives the sender an incentive to push for changes.) All this because an inexcusable deliverer is too lazy to actually ring a door-bell and risk a two minute wait …

*More correctly, it lies on a detour that I often take for the sake of getting more exercise, as the grocery stores that I usually visit are unhealthily close to my apartment.

I can only repeat my observation that the combination of delivery issues, poorly implemented websites, and the increasing difficulty of using a credit card online, makes eCommerce inferior to visiting brick-and-mortar stores—and inferior to eCommerce as it was fifteen or twenty years ago.

Excursion on other stores:
The situation is made worse by there being at least one another DHL-affiliated store closer to my apartment than both the new and the old one (cf. above), with the local post office* not much farther away (closer than the new; might or might not be closer than the old). The store clerk from above claims that these do not do package hand-outs. If this is true, it is very weird; if it is not, the area allocations are outright idiotic.

*DHL is a daughter of the “German Post”.

Excursion on working conditions, etc.:
It is well-known that the individual deliverers are under undue time and whatnot pressure, putting the ultimate blame on DHL. However, this does not absolve the individual deliverer. If in doubt, pushing the problem onto the recipients merely ensures that the situation will not improve for anyone. This is, by DHL, the individual deliverer, and (sometimes) the sender, another example of evil through ignoring the rights of others.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 10, 2020 at 7:51 pm

Concluding observations around eCommerce

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Preamble: The below, minus an excursion, was written some days after [1], and was intended to round out the discussions in that series of texts. Unfortunately, various delivery issues ensued, resulting in another text series. A considerable delay in finishing and publishing resulted from related and unforeseen “real world” efforts and the time for these additional texts. The below is a polishing of the state at the time of the interruption, possibly without some sub-topics that I had not yet included (I do not remember my intentions), and with the section on advertising et al. well short of the intended scope. Relative time references are still based on the original time of writing—not the time of polishing and publishing.

There is an enormous amount to write around the topic of eCommerce—most of it negative, including poor web-design, a customer despising attitude, and absolute amateurity. While I will try not to do this writing, I have a few observations to conclude my recent discussions:

  1. These issues do not just cause problems for the customers. On the contrary, there is a significant loss of business involved for those who have too slow or buggy websites, do not provide reasonable payment methods, try to dictate too one-sided terms, …* This in form both of customers who interrupt their (own) attempted purchases or product searches and of negative “word of mouth”.

    *I am tempted to explicitly mention deliveries here, especially in light of my experiences between draft and polish. See an excursion below, however.

    Note that this applies not just to problems with no upside, e.g. a slow website; it equally includes those with a purpose, e.g. attempts to reduce non-payment for delivered goods. Whether the latter, as a specific example, outweighs the lost custom will depend on the individual circumstances; however, I do have a strong impression* that the aspect of loss and the opportunity cost of these attempts are not considered sufficiently. Moreover, when the attempts are too poorly implemented, the loss will very often be greater than the gain. (For instance, to let a customer find his products, put them in his shopping cart, add an account, enter all address-and-whatnot information, and only then to tell him “no, you look like a risky customer—advance payment only” or even “[…]—take a hike”, will risk considerable ill will.)

    *Based not only on my own experiences as a customer and what I have read, but also from inside knowledge from working at e.g. an online auction-house and an “ePayment” service.

    As usual, those not in the naive mainstream are hit worse than others, e.g. in that many websites offer PayPal and see their job as done at that point—but, considering PayPal’s track-record and reputation, many informed users will deliberately not have a PayPal account.

  2. Buying online is often more effort* than buying in stores—and much more likely to fail**. This is quite contrary to the original claims around eCommerce as a great time saver and convenience. Factor in the offline advantages of being able to investigate an item in person*** and having immediate possession after the purchase,**** and offline is often the better bet. Online can still score through a larger selection or better prices, but this is rarely enough.

    *Including e.g. the need to enter considerable amounts of information or create accounts even for a one-time purchase. Queuing and travel can still result in even larger time waste; however, these can be avoided by at least city people by going to the store when in the area for other reasons and choosing the appropriate time of day,

    **E.g. through errors around payment methods.

    ***Most notably with clothes and similar, but the range of products where this is an advantage is enormous. Consider e.g. test-typing on a keyboard before buying it, reading a chapter from a book, checking how something fits in the hand, looking at a decoration in real life (not just a photo of it), etc.

    ****Note that this is not just a matter of a delivery delay through an online order. Other factors include the risks of non-delivery, of delivery of faulty items, and of not having the items delivered to one’s home—just to the local post office, DHL subsidiary, or whatnot. (An exception to this disadvantage is, obviously, when the goods would be delivered even when bought in a store, which might be the case for e.g. furniture.)

    In the past, eCommerce might have had the considerable advantage of easier price comparisons (with the competition); today, most people have smart-phones and can compare prices even when in a physical store.

    Paradoxically, eCommerce was better in the past—through better websites, a less degenerated attitude towards the customers, and greater ease of payment. I note e.g. that twenty years ago I could easily* pay with a credit card online—today, it is a fifty–fifty proposition. Indeed, back then, eCommerce was the sole reason that I even had a credit card… (Note that credit-card acceptance was very rare in physical German stores back then, and is still unimpressive by e.g. U.S. standards.)

    *To the point that it was too easy. I can recall my first few credit card payments, where I entered my credit-card number and a faulty “valid to”—and still saw my order processed correctly. (I had no idea what “valid to” was, guessed incorrectly that it was a some upper limit on the individual payment set by the customer, and entered a value of the current or following month—and because no-one complained, I did not research the topic further.) The institution of 3D-secure, however, is too much—the immense increase in effort needed and the many technical failures are not in proportion to the gains.

  3. The commercialization of the Internet has made it much harder to get information on certain topics, because search listings that once were dominated by pages intending to inform are now dominated by pages intending to sell. With a bit of luck, one of the first links will be to the corresponding Wikipedia entry, but Wikipedia will not include e.g. forum discussions, will not always cover a topic with enough depth, and will rarely have information on individual products.

    For instance, I just made a “startpage” search for “coffee maker”.* The first link is to Target, the second to Amazon, and the third to a review** site. The rest have a similar proportion of sellers and reviewers. Wikipedia is not present and neither is, for instance, the highly informative home page of a private coffee enthusiast***.

    *For purposes of demonstration. In a real search, I would almost certainly, depending on my intentions, have gone directly to Wikipedia or added some further search terms (e.g. “principle of function” or “forum discussion”).

    **See below for more on review sites.

    ***I cannot guarantee that such a page exist, but it does seem highly likely. There have definitely been other searches where I have found corresponding pages in the past.

  4. Another manifestation of the commercialization is how the web is drowning in comparison sites. In theory, these might be a good thing; however, in reality, most are near useless and the sheer number takes space away from more valuable sites—do we really need 1001 different sites to tell us what coffee maker to buy?

    Common problems include rankings that are bought; a too large focus on the best-selling brands/models/whatnot;* descriptions that read like advertising material (and might sometimes be provided by the manufacturer…); too little information and too much focus on making it easy for the visitor to buy the product;** and product details that are only available through a link to another website (e.g. the manufacturer’s or Amazon’s). In a twist, other comparison sites appear to want to prevent the reader from reaching the manufacturer’s site,*** by not linking there at all (or only in well-hidden places) and by providing lower-value own information (e.g. in that a link on “Braun” does not lead to Braun’s homepage, only to a local page with a profile of Braun).

    *With the side-effects that smaller brands see their chances diminished and that customers miss the opportunity to find superior products out of the mainstream.

    **There is nothing wrong with earning provisions, but the blatant manner some sites go about it is inexcusable. To boot, this gives incentives both to not write negative things even about poor products and to focus on more expensive products. More generally, the wish for provisions leads to a large number of suboptimal links from the visitors point of view, e.g. in that many blogs that mention a book do not link to a Wikipedia entry on the book, the author’s homepage, or similar—instead they link to Amazon…

    ***If the user leaves to the “wrong” website, he might end up buying somewhere where the comparison site does not receive a provision…

    This entirely apart from “natural” problems with comparisons (e.g. different tastes), more general Web problems (e.g. poor web design), truly general problems (e.g. low competence), etc.

  5. A third the excessive amounts of advertising of various kinds, including so intrusive adverts that surfers install ad blockers, search and review results that are bought, and, of course, spam.

Excursion on merchants and poor deliveries:
While poor deliveries hurt the customers the most, the merchants are not impervious to negative effects, e.g. through canceled orders and negative word-of-mouth. The major hitch on their end is that there is little that they can do in most cases, because the delivery service is to blame. If the delivery service screws up, what can the merchant do? In the end, the sole realistic recourse might be to switch delivery service—which will often amount to replacing the one cheating/negligent/incompetent/whatnot partner with another… To boot, while research can help with ruling out the worst-of-the-worst (notably, DHL), it will not necessarily give helpful information, because the problems often vary from area to area and time to time, often down to the level of the individual employee or sub-contractor, and does so both on the sender’s and the recipient’s end. The merchant can now see scenarios where deliveries to Cologne work well and those to Düsseldorf do not, or where deliveries to Cologne worked well last year and are a horror show this year.

That said, the merchant should try to minimize the risks and complications as far as possible, even if it makes deliveries a bit more expensive. This most notably through not splitting a single order into multiple deliveries “for logistic reasons”, unless the customer has explicitly* allowed it.

*As in e.g. “please do split the deliveries so that the projected delay of two weeks for item A does not delay item B, too”—but not as in e.g. implicit-consent-through-fine-print.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 1, 2019 at 9:08 pm

Follow-up II: Deliveries

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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

Deliveries

with 6 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

Follow-up II: Some more experiences with eCommerce and poor web-design II

with 2 comments

As a further follow-up to recent writings ([1], [2], [3]) I have to categorically advice to stay away from Cyberport. What has transpired here is so Kafkaesque as to stretch the believable.

I placed my order on the 26th March, received an email request for choice of alternate payment methods on the 27th, and immediately replied. After having received no reaction by the 29th, I sent a reminder and additionally set a deadline for the 1st of April. On the 1st, I received an email incorrectly claiming that I had not replied to the request from the 27th, with no indication that my reminder from the 29th would be known either. I immediately replied, quoting my previous emails and requested an immediate resolution.

Today (i.e. the 2nd), I received what amounts to the same email again—and again with no acknowledgment of any of my replies and reminders.

I note that I have had no email problems on my end, including no error messages, no bounces, no indications that other recipients would not receive their emails, …, and must conclude that Cyberport has a severe email problem on its end, is unable to perform even the most basic customer service actions, and/or is deliberately* doing something inexcusable.

*I tend to apply Hanlon’s Razor, but it is noteworthy that the 1st of April is involved. Combine this with an individual employee with an inexcusable attitude, and it is not impossible.

I have now unambiguously rescinded my order.

Excursion on computers:
In parallel, I have looked for alternative providers. Apart from the problems of finding OS-free computers and an online store with reasonable payment options, I am puzzled by the current price and “bang for the buck” levels. It has been quite some time since I last followed price developments, but there does not appear to be a significant price advantage for desktop computers anymore (despite the savings on the display, keyboard, whatnot, and from the lesser need to keep things small). Very many systems sell for absolutely astronomical prices*, probably because the desktop market has been skewed towards very high-end gaming computers. The cheaper systems, on the other hand, have considerably worse** specifications than I would have expected from the standards and trends from, say, five years back (when I was much more up-to-date).

*Often upwards of two thousand Euro, quite often upwards of one thousand Euro—are we back in the 1990s?

**Many systems have dual-cores below 3 GHz. None of the cheaper systems (and far from all of the more expensive) have 16 GB of RAM, many fail to have even 8 GB, and I have even seen some with a measly 2 (!) GB. As a comparison, my 2012 desktop had 2 GB, and was not a very expensive one. By Moore’s Law, I would have expected 16 and 32 GB to dominate even among the lower end systems.

Excursion on shelves:
After Bauhaus’ failure, I visited some other websites, and found that of competitor Hornbach to be much more user-friendly. It, too, suffers from excessive reloading, but is so much faster that this is acceptable (but still not ideal). I have replaced my Bauhaus order with a roughly equivalent one from Hornbach. (The payment options were similarly weak; however, I decided to risk prepayment, seeing that Hornbach, unlike e.g. Cyberport, is well-known, “brick and mortar”, and has a history that goes back decades.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 2, 2019 at 1:47 pm