Tech Notes And Miscellaneous Thoughts

shopping online – whinge of the day

There are numerous benefits to shopping online – you can order stuff and pay for it from the comfort of your own home and it’ll arrive on your doorstep in just a few days. wonderful, and so many words have been written about the benefits over the years that there’s no need to belabour the point,

But there are some things about it that really suck and make me NOT want to order stuff online – most of the time my distaste for the privacy and delivery problems is enough to dissauade me from buying anything, helped by the fact that I live a fairly non-consumerist lifestyle (and for a geek, I have an almost non-existent gadget-fetish) but occasionally I want or need something that isn’t available locally or which my ill-health makes impractical to buy in person (i’ve been effectively housebound or in hospital for most of the year)

so here are the things that piss me off most about shopping online.

  1. Loss of anonymity and privacy. You can walk into any shop and pay cash for whatever you want, they don’t need to know who you are or where you live, and they don’t get to “accidentally” add you to a mailing list against your express wishes – “oh, we didn’t realise that when you said DO NOT SPAM ME, you actually meant DO NOT SPAM ME…we’ll just keep spamming you for another six months until we get around to processing your removal ‘request'”.

    partial solution: use a different email address with each online shop. boycott the shop and destroy the address if they spam. what sucks is that this is actually necessary. it doesn’t matter how loudly I say “DO NOT SPAM ME. DO NOT ADD ME TO ANY MAILING LISTS. DO NOT ASK ME TO COMPLETE A SURVEY. DO NOT CONTACT ME FOR ANY REASON NOT DIRECTLY RELATED TO DELIVERING MY ORDER. MY PERSONAL INFORMATION IS PROVIDED SOLELY SO THAT YOU CAN SHIP MY ORDER TO ME AND MAY NOT BE USED FOR ANY OTHER PURPOSE. FAILURE TO RESPECT MY PRIVACY WILL RESULT IN IMMEDIATE AND PERMANENT BOYCOTT” (yes, that IS the text I use in the comments/instructions field of every order I place), marketing vermin will decide that I really want their spam after all because their spam is super interesting and important and isn’t really spam at all.

  2. nosy demands for unneccessary information. OK, they need your addresss to ship your parcel…but they don’t need your phone number, and they don’t need to tie your order to your facebook or other bullshit social-spam account. most online order forms have phone number as a required field. Fortunately, they usually accept 0000000 or some other bogus non-phone number as a “valid” number….if not, i give them their own phone number.

  3. the thing that really shits me the most about online shopping is that both couriers and australia post suck. the lazy fuckers usually don’t even bother attempting to deliver to residential addressess. at best, they just stick a “non-delivery” card in your letterbox without even attempting to knock on the door…..and sometimes they don’t even bother doing that. the delivery driver just files a bogus “failed to deliver” or “recipient refused delivery” with their office.

i’ve made four online purchases in the last month and a half. only one of them was delivered correctly to my door, even though I was sitting at my desk in the front room of the house, a few feet from my front door, and regularly monitoring the parcel’s tracking web page so I knew it was arriving.

parcel 1 (Nov 16): DHL from NZ to AU. delivered perfectly. delivered in about two days for $17. order value: around $35.

parcel 2 (Nov 20): Aust Post from WA to Vic, “Express Post” (costs a few bucks more than standard post). order value: around $80. lazy driver didn’t bother to attempt delivery. left card in letter box. i had to pick it up 2 days later from a post office the next suburb over (it wasn’t there yet on the first attempt to pick up, the next day). Aust Post “offered” to maybe put me in touch with their re-delivery people who might possibly be able to re-deliver the parcel next week sometime maybe, if they felt like it. knowing that I had another hospital appt the next week, I declined (if i hadn’t, it would have been an absolute certainty that they would try to deliver it while i was out).

parcel 3 (nov 29): DHL from NZ to AU. order value: around $85. lazy courier didn’t even bother to leave a card, just logged it as “Recipient refused delivery”. This “refused delivery” lie infuriated me when i saw it on the tracking page so i phoned and yelled at them a lot. DHL delivered it later the same day. if they hadn’t I would have had to get myself over to the other side of town during business hours and pick it up from their South Melbourne depot.

parcel 4 (today, Dec 16): Aust Post from NSW to Vic, “Express Post”. order value: around $160. lazy driver didn’t even bother to leave a card, just logged it as “Attempted delivery – being carded to Australia Post outlet”. Complete bullshit. There was no delivery attempt, not even a card in the letterbox, let alone a knock on the door with my parcel. Rang Aust Post on 8847 9045 (a phone number curiously absent from their tracking page, but which I had written down after their failure to deliver on Nov 20) and complained. they claim that they will try to deliver it today. i’ll believe it when I see it.

UPDATE @4.30pm: no, it’s not going to be delivered today. they say they might choose to deliver it tomorrow or sometime in the future, if the delivery center manager feels like it. i told them that this is not an option – my parcel WILL be delivered, it is what they were paid to do so it is what they ARE going to do. btw, the tracking page says that they “attempted delivery” at 12.15 today (they didn’t – not even a card in the letterbox), but the tracking page wasn’t updated with that until about 2.30pm. by a complete non-coincidence their delivery center allegedly closes at 2pm, so it’s impossible to complain about non-delivery in time for the complaint to do any good.

Score so far: DHL 50% delivery rate. Aust Post: 100% failure rate. Annoyance Rate: extremely high. Desire to repeat the experience: non-existent.

The Australia Post delivery problems are particularly annoying. I’ve always thought of the network of local post offices to be a huge advantage for parcel delivery – if i’m not home, my parcel will go to a local post office and I can pick it up from there. And this is a great advantage. I used to take advantage of it when I was well enough to work. In fact, I’d insist on delivery by Aust. Post rather than by a courier for exactly this reason, a local post office is far more convenient than some courier’s depot on the other side of town or out in some far outer-suburban hellhole. But when it’s used as an excuse to not even bother attempting delivery, it sucks. I’m not well, and I should have been lying in bed reading or sleeping today, not wasting what little energy I have waiting for a parcel that never arrived…and I certainly shouldn’t have to phone Aust Post or DHL to yell at them for failing to do the job that they have been paid to do.


  1. Erik Johansson

    You do know that your phone number is used by the delivery person to call you when they arrive. This is not standard procedure it all depends on what service level your package has, if you pay nothing you are going to get that service.

    1. cas

      Some couriers might do that in some countries. They certainly don’t do it here in AU. Australia Post certainly doesn’t. Even if they did, I still don’t want either the shop or the courier company to have my phone number. It’s bad enough that for pragmatic reasons I have no choice but to give them my name and address if i want my stuff delivered.

    2. Certainly in Australia they don’t call (I have never had a courier call me ever) and in the more rural areas they don’t even bother to drop it off at your house, it goes straight to the closest Australia Post outlet. Your post reminded me of this XKCD so perhaps Randall is suffering the same problem you are.

      1. Erik Johansson

        Autralia is big so it’s hard to know what rural areas means, but in Sweden about ~15km from a 1300 people village and ~55km from a 50k town they do drop it off, especially if you pay for it. Then again if you buy stuff from ebay with free shipping it will mostly not be dropped off.

        You might consider putting some presure on the delivery companies, sane package handling is VERY important to allow business do their work. Sure things moves slower in the country side, but I’m not expecting 1 hour deliveries as in Stockholm.

  2. Anonymous

    I agree with you regarding unnecessary information, but note that there is a reason most shops ask for your phone number: if it matches the phone number attached to your credit card, they can use it as additional evidence that you are actually the legitimate user of that credit card. That’s why most shops ask: their credit card processor tells them to.

    1. cas

      My credit card company – i.e. my bank and visa and mc as their CC providers – doesn’t have my phone number because I’ve never given it to them and I have no intention of ever giving it to them. They don’t need it.

      I’ve never had a real-world (not online) shop ask me for my phone number. OTOH, I don’t think I’ve ever used my credit card in an actual shop, the only reason I have one is for internet shopping – IMO credit card debt is a baited trap for stupid people…if you can’t afford to pay cash for the crap you’re about to buy then you can’t afford it at all.

      (and I probably won’t have a CC at all after next year. When my current cards expire I won’t be getting new ones because the Paypass/Paywave RFID anti-feature is non-optional)

      1. Anonymous

        Credit card debt is a terrible idea; credit cards themselves are a fine way to spend money locally and remotely. Between rewards cards (returning 1-3% on purchases) and ease of personal accounting, it makes sense to pay for everything on a credit card and pay it off every month.

        When my current cards expire I won’t be getting new ones because the Paypass/Paywave RFID anti-feature is non-optional

        Is this an Australian peculiarity? In the US, it’s very much still an optional feature, and you can easily get a MasterCard, Visa, or American Express card without RFID.

        1. cas

          ‘Ease of personal accounting’ makes sense and is a benefit, but rewards programs are a scam to get you to give up protected private information in exchange for (at best, if you ever get to redeem it for things you might actually want) over-priced crap.

          Dunno how it is in the US (the land of caveat emptor) or elsewhere but in AU shops are not allowed to collect information on your itemised purchases – there’s specific legislation to protect against gathering such data and tying it to personally identifying information (like your name or card/account number) at the point of sale (e.g. when you use an EFTPOS card to pay for your purchase) UNLESS the buyer voluntarily agrees to it.

          So-called “Rewards” or “Loyalty” programs – Flybuys and the like – are the means by which shops (and visa and mastercard) get people to voluntarily agree to the collection of that information.

          This is somehow legal even thought most people have no idea that that’s what they’re actually agreeing to, it’s buried in the fine-print. Admittedly, most would probably still agree anyway even if they knew. I guess the prospect of a silver-plated electric nosehair trimmer for only 50,000 points or something equally valuable is just too tempting.

          BTW, that “1-3% on purchases” is paid for by more than just your personal information. it also results in inflated prices, it’s not free…you and everyone else are paying for it.

          As for RFID, my bank is providing RFID on all new/replacement cards (instead of the previous “chip and pin” style cards) and refuse to supply a card without RFID. I haven’t been able to find one bank in Australia which is willing to offer a non-RFID card. Both Mastercard and Visa seem to be requiring it of banks. I have no interest in allowing anyone within range to charge me up to $100 per transaction without my consent or even knowledge, so I won’t be getting one.

          Don’t be surprised if Visa & MC start requiring RFID in your country too, over the next few years.

          Part of the purpose is so Visa/MC can get their cut of the millions of small transactions that happen every day that people wouldn’t ordinarily use a card for. A secondary purpose is to gather even more information about every card-holder – where and when they travel, what small purchases they make, which shops they walk past, etc.

          Remember: in the brave new world of the future, YOU are always the product. Even if you’re the customer, you’re still the product too.

  3. Dave Holland

    i give them their own phone number

    I like that, thanks for the tip :)

    I do give my phone number to companies I trust if I’m expecting a delivery which it would be inconvenient to miss or rearrange – but that’s far and away the minority.

  4. Jared

    Australia Post has actually moved to the regular post person on the bike delivering small packages. The logic here (in speaking to my local post office) is to make the regular post person viable as an expense as letters apparently just aren’t enough.

    The conundrum is they are not allowed to leave their bikes so should the parcel need to be signed for the only option they have is to leave a ticket without even knocking on the door.

    Go figure.

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