Based on your advice, and because it's about time, I thought I'd buy a new laptop.
I didn't buy it off the shelf, I thought I'd invest in a decent personalised machine. I use my laptop rather a lot, and the current one's lasted over five years, so I don't mind forking out over the odds. I went back to Laptop Company, based abroad, who allowed me to pick and choose the appropriate components for my machine. I hope I got it right, it's always difficult not to accidentally tick the wrong box somewhere, especially late on a Sunday evening. But I double-checked the list, and added my product to the shopping basket, and then proceeded to the checkout. Name, address, debit card details, everything, and then I pressed the button.
Transaction declined. Dammit. Normally when this happens, High Street Bank sends me an email and/or rings my phone, to confirm that I really am trying to buy something expensive. With Laptop Company being thousands of miles away in another land, this caution was understandable, even sensible... but no communication came. I checked my online account, and no payment appeared to have been made, so I thought I'd press the button again. Transaction declined. This happened five times, by which time I'd either bought five laptops and was deep in overdraft, or my bank was refusing to let me spend my own money and not telling me that.
It turned out to be the latter. I couldn't ring High Street Bank's customer service team because it was Sunday evening, and they didn't try ringing me until ten o'clock on Monday morning by which time I was at work. You're useless, I told them, what is the point of Verified by Visa if you're not going to believe it, and then not be around when I need to talk to you? They lifted the block, but I still had to go back to the Laptop Company website and attempt the purchase again, and to try to remember all the correct boxes to tick, so I waited until I got home before risking it. And this time everything worked, but by now it was almost a day later than my first attempt, which meant a slightly later delivery.
Delivery will be within X to Y working days, said the Laptop Company website, which was good because I was actually intending to be at home during most of that time. I know you're supposed to send your packages to work, or to that collection point round the corner, but naively I'd assumed that directing this particular delivery to my home address was the best idea. Yeah right.
Day X passed, as did day X+1, and eventually day Y arrived. It was only at this point that Laptop Company sent me an email introducing me to Delivery Company, into whose care my completed machine had finally been delivered. I learned that my package was currently only in Shanghai, and wasn't due to arrive with me in London until two days time. And this was somewhat awkward because I wouldn't be at home on Thursday, I'd be at work, which threatened entrance into The Great Non-Delivery Charade - a fate to be avoided at all costs.
Perhaps I can get the package rescheduled, I thought. There was a big yellow Amend Delivery button on the Delivery Company tracking page, so I clicked on that and hoped it would solve my problem. Instead it created a new one. Delivery Company would only allow me to amend a delivery if I created a personal profile on their website, which meant filling in a shedload of necessary (and seemingly unnecessary) personal information. We've all struggled with these forms, but Delivery Company's requirements were some of the worst I've ever had to endure; repeatedly refusing seemingly rational data, demanding an unnecessarily complicated password, preventing me from ticking a crucial box until I scrolled down through its legal disclaimer, and sorry, no, back to the top again. I only want to change a delivery date from Thursday to Friday, I screamed, how difficult can it be?
Impossible, as it turned out. Once equipped with my new username I attempted to Amend Delivery again, but was directed instead to attend to a problem on some submenu of some hidden tab before I could proceed. I eventually worked out where it was, only to discover that I couldn't amend my delivery day until I'd authenticated my delivery address. And I couldn't authenticate my delivery address until I'd entered my activation code. And I couldn't enter my activation code until they'd sent it to me. Apparently they were sending my activation code by post, to arrive in 2-5 days. And their letter would be arriving after my package was due, so there was no way to Amend this particular Delivery, so I gave up and arranged to take Thursday off.
Over Tuesday and Wednesday I watched transfixed as my package progressed from China to Korea to Kazakhstan to Poland to Germany to a depot in East London. Wow this is impressive tracking I thought, so I went to bed happy. By breakfast it had inexplicably been taken to Stansted and thence to somewhere else in London, but I wasn't unduly concerned. Not, that is, until a new message flashed up at half past eight.
Incomplete address information may delay delivery. We are attempting to update this information.
It appears that Laptop Company failed to write the whole of my address on the label, and so Delivery Company didn't know where to take it. They could have worked it out, indeed they could have checked the customer profile I'd so diligently entered two days previously, but instead my package was added to the daily pile of Too Hard, Didn't Deliver. I learned this when I rang up customer service, but only after I'd jumped through all the necessary hoops. First an automated voice required me to enter my 18 character tracking number, after which I got to talk to a human being, who immediately asked me for my 18 character tracking number again. He was then sort of helpful, at least in explaining what had happened, but indicated that once a package was On The Van there was bugger all could be done about it. They'd deliver it tomorrow, if that was OK... except it wasn't, because I didn't have Friday off.
I agreed instead to go and collect my package from their depot, except this couldn't be until after 6pm because The Van Cannot Be Halted. And of course their depot was nowhere near where I lived, because that would be too easy. The operator read out the street name using a pronunciation which suggested he hadn't been speaking English very long, and promised to warn them I was coming. I then completely reorganised my day, in the absence of the unpacking activity I'd been expecting, and made tracks to an estate in north London late in the afternoon.
"Oh no, we don't have your package here," said the man behind the desk, "who told you that?" Somebody had finally worked out my full address and relabelled my package, and now it was back on the van ready for Friday delivery. "It was loaded early so it's right at the back," said the man with an air of practised mendacity. "But hang on and I'll see what I can do." I waited for ten minutes on a tumbledown sofa, discovering a small-ish spider crawling over my trousers halfway through. "Ah sorry, the van just left for the East London depot," was the eventual response, again prompting a raised eyebrow from the weary customer.
Having wasted a large part of my evening I arrived home to find a small spider scuttling down my shirt, so at least I'd brought something back with me even if it wasn't my intended laptop. That's continuing its world tour for another day, maybe even turning up at my front door when Delivery Company know I'm not in. And when I arrive at the designated godforsaken trading estate this evening I'm hoping to be served up with the product I ordered days ago, and not yet another litany of excuses. It's a wonder our online economy works at all, to be honest, if this is the level of competence and disregard that our courier companies display.