Is This Any Way To Run an Internet?

Despite the fact that I write about e-commerce almost daily, I have never had a pleasant experience buying something off the Internet.

Once, I ordered a set of steel drums online because I was planning to play in a band that specialized in Caribbean music. When the steel drums arrived, they were smaller than any sub-atomic particle scientists have yet discovered. I couldn’t have played in an ant band.

But, the reasons for my other bad experiences have been mostly due to customer service. It’s worse than atrocious. Its ultra-trocious — made worse by the fact that I am continually promised my online buying experience will be simple, hassle-free, life-affirming, soul-enriching and that indeed, simply by allowing my money to be spent in this new best-of-all-possible worlds, I may achieve a state of ecstasy.

If ecstasy can be defined as a state of frustration so deep it makes you want to hurl yourself repeatedly against a concrete wall until your ears bleed, then maybe they’re right. The new economy has taken the old excuses — mainly passing the buck — and elevated them to high art.

New Way, Old Excuses

I wanted — still want — to buy a truck. A very specific pickup truck. A tour of the local dealers in my area was unsatisfactory. I wanted a cheap, stripped-down model. All they had were expensive ones loaded with all the gaudy extras.

Perfect time to use the Internet, I thought.

It would prove to be my fatal flaw. I would be led through a maze so confusing, neither Houdini nor the smartest lab rat in history could have found his or its way out.

I went to an online car site, the kind that promises to get you any car you want at the price you name in a nano-second. Typed in exactly what I wanted. The car I specified came back with a good price. This is great, I thought, and ordered the car.

I was hit immediately with an auto-responder thanking me to within an inch of my life and telling me a dealer in my area would be calling soon. A dealer?

Six Speakers?

Yep. A local dealer e-mailed me within minutes. “I promise to make this the easiest and the most enjoyable vehicle purchase you have ever had,” the e-mail said.

Another few minutes and the deal offered me the truck — with, among other things, “CPP (chrome plated package), AM/FM cassette and CD player with six speakers, chrome-plated rear bumper, tilt steering wheel, tachometer and STA (styled steel wheels).”

Then he named the price. It was nearly US$2,000 more than what the Web site promised, although he said that included the floor mats.

I called the Web site. Got the usual automated message. Put on hold for 15 minutes. When a real person finally answered and I explained the problem, she asked in bored and impatient tones for my customer I.D. and purchase order number. Without those, she said, she could tell me nothing.

After digging those up, her response to the lengthy explanation of my problem was: “Hmmmm. That’s not supposed to happen. They aren’t supposed to do that.”

Absurdist Training Manual

In order to avoid making a long story longer — to tell it all would take a book — suffice it to say that a dozen or so phone calls and e-mails to the site, the dealer, other sites and other dealers only made the situation more confusing and maddening.

These aren’t real people. They’re e-humanoids indoctrinated to give vague and contradictory answers that don’t address the question, and schooled never to accept blame and always to say it’s someone else’s fault. Their training manual is a Kafka novel.

This pathetic little story was told only to point out what seems to be the state of online customer service, if mine and the experiences of other people I know are indicative: mouthing all the right platitudes, but never coming close to delivering on the promises.

I still don’t know where I stand. The only thing I know for sure is that I spent most of the day on the Internet trying to buy a truck — begging and pleading to buy a truck, money burning a hole in my pocket! — and I remain truck-less.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


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