PHONES

From Wilbur Coghill: “To answer one of your questions about free long distance (www.broadpoint.com)—according to their info, when you dial the toll-free number you can listen to as many ads as you want and each one is good for up to 2 minutes. Then after you’ve listened to as many as you want, you dial the number you want. When you are about out of time, about 30 seconds left, a warning tone will play so you now your time is about up.”

I signed up for this but am still waiting for my PIN to get started and try it. I guess they’re swamped. And I also guess that e-commerce will be a while getting the kinks out. I’m still waiting on and untangling a 1800batteries.com order from last year. One reads quite a few reports of people being dissastisfied with the quality of service received—which is why Amazon, which spares no expense to do it right (and loses money on every sale), is gaining a loyal following.

I do think it won’t be long before everyone else learns how to fulfill orders, too. This is just the first of the next thousand years of e-commerce. It’s barely begun! Still, having plugged booksamillion, one of the several ways to buy books cheaper than Amazon or BarnesandNoble, I thought I should include this feedback from Joel in Denver:

BOOKS

“I agree that the prices at booksamillion are good,” Joel writes, “but in my one ordering experience (concluded last week), they dropped two-thirds of my order WITHOUT A WORD — no e-mail, no indication on the ‘check your order’ part of the web site, nothing. My only CLUE that the order was not, in fact, ‘completed’ (as the web site would have led me to believe) was that the total amount of the order had mysteriously dropped by two-thirds.

“HUH?

“I wrote. Waited three days. No response.

“I called. Apparently some of the books needed to be ordered from the supplier, which I expected (since some of the items said they’d take some number of weeks, which was fine by me). However, apparently they’re not only fundamentally incapable of handling orders which have mixed delivery times, they’re also fundamentally incapable of letting someone know what’s happened.

“Let me be very clear: it wasn’t that they shipped some now and would ship some later. No. The helpful person on the phone suggested that, if I really did want those other books that hadn’t been shipped, I should place ANOTHER order. Otherwise, they’ve dropped them and I might as well also.

“So, anyhow, the ten books that did ‘make the cut’ arrived. One is damaged (deep pointy dents in the middle of the cover which could not possibly have happened during shipping) and one is mis-manufactured (a paperback with wavy folds along the glued spine). I’m underwhelmed.

“Finally, they used UPS, which wasn’t possible to anticipate from their shipping info page. A word about UPS: for all practical purposes, they’re useless for delivery to residences. Really. They deliver only during the week and only during normal working hours. If you and anyone else at home are, say, AT WORK during these times (imagine!), you get a helpful yellow sticky note instead of your package. Ok, well, I’d rather not have the package left out to be stolen, so I’ll just go pick it up, right? No, the depot is only open during business hours. Well, surely it’s nearby, since it had to be on the local truck, right? No, it’s miles and miles from Denver in Commerce City — there’s no hope of getting there on time. Well, you could ask them to deliver it when you’re home on Saturday, right? Heck no. The only option is to have it re-directed to another address — work. Which is in fact the only option that works well, THUS PROVING THE POINT that UPS is useless for residential delivery to modern families in which people are gone to work during the day. [In many areas, I believe they do leave packages outside or on your porch, etc.—A.T.] Give me USPS or FedEx any day.

“And retailers: give me the option of who I have delivery from. Don’t hide it from me. I know what works and doesn’t. If you ONLY ship via UPS, I’ll either go elsewhere, or if your offer is compelling enough I’ll know up front that I’ll have to have it delivered to work (which my employer grudgingly allows on occasion), without doing the Yellow-Sticky-Note-Shuffle. It’s much easier to pick up a package from the USPS post office nearby, though. Yes, there are interesting issues around the quasi-privatization of USPS and their potentially unfair competitive edge in already having all of these locations. That’s perhaps academically interesting. But as a real person getting a real package here-and-now, they win. FedEx seems to be more flexible on when they deliver and have drivers who are more polite. They win, too.

“As an interesting anecdote to the UPS situation, I’ve had several people on the 1-800-PICK-UPS line (the number on the UPS yellow sticky notes) agree with me that UPS is fairly useless for residential delivery. Apparently handling calls centered around this set of issues is a very large portion of their 800 number’s work.

“Thanks for letting me rant. [Why should I be the only one who gets to? – A.T.] If you ever want to use any portion of this in a column, go ahead, just ID me as ‘Joel.’”

And remember: www.books.com , as described a couple of weeks ago has this super neat COMPARE PRICES button that automatically drops its price to beat the others.

CARS

From Rick Mayhew, occasioned by A Day in the Life of Bureaucratica: “My Dad was on the city council when it came time to buy a new vehicle for the dog catcher. They got bids on a brand-spanking new truck and were sorting through them when ole Dad raised the question, ‘You mean our fine citizenry in their older and used cars are going to see our dog catcher in his brand new pickup truck? Would it hurt if we just bought a used truck for the dog catcher?’ Strangely, no one had even considered that possibility.”

From David Lebovitz: “There was just a very interesting article in the San Francisco Chronicle regarding why there are so many horrible drivers in California. One reason was that school budget cuts (during the Reagan era) eliminated drivers ed from most public schools. The other reason, which I really liked, was that so many drivers were flunking their driving tests that they had to make the tests easier, since it was creating a back-up at the DMV. So they eliminated testing people at parallel parking (since no one could do it!).”

No wonder the traffic’s so bad. Everybody keeps driving around because they don’t know how to park.

 

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