Instant Gratification – Well Almost

Instant Gratification – Well Almost

These days like many other people I buy a lot of things via the Internet. However I draw the line at ordering groceries on-line.

This made me think about the delivery of items. If I choose ,thanks to Amazon Prime and others, I can order something at an unsocial hour and have it delivered the next day. I must admit this is occassionally useful for things such as technical components which I need in a hurry but most of the time I can wait a couple of days for delivery.

What annoys me with some sites on the Web is that when you checkout the delivery options default to next day delivery at extra cost. In some cases it is very easy to overlook this. How useful is this ? Do I really need something that urgently ? Will I be around when its delivered to avoid being “red carded” ?

Apart from the technical components I mentioned most of the things I buy are not that urgent. I can sleep easier not having to get excited about the next day’s delivery of a new case for my smart phone or the ten cactii I ordered.

The Web is convenient when locally shops are limited – we do not have a specialist supplier of cactii and succulents where I live and the local computer shop ,which is a small family business, only has a limited stock.

Following my last visit to the nearest PC World which is 30 minutes drive from where I live I have vowed never to set foot in the place again. So for me the web does have some uses but I can easilly live without the joys of next day delivery.

So having ordered something on-line we now come to the subject of waiting for it to be delivered.

These days many firms use courier companies such as DPD, Hermes etc to deliver packages. Amazon has its own service and some use Parcel Force. Now parcel Force was part of the Royal Mail a state owned body until the Tories flogged it off on the cheap.

Some companies are much better than others. DPD are by far the best. You receive numerous e-mails telling you when a package is en route. The time for the delivery and the name of the driver. Not really necessary but I suppose it’s a nice touch.  DPD also allow you to change the delivery time to suit if you will not be around.

Hermes are something else. You receive an e-mail letting you know that a package is being delivered and that’s it – no indication of the time. Hermes do go one step further though by sending you an e-mail to let you know a package was delivered. For the life of me I fail to see the point of this. I had to sign for it so I know it was delivered.

Then there is Parcel Force. Try tracking a package sent by Parcel Force. I’m convinced hacking into GCHQ  would be easier (not that I have ever tried).

So you are expecting something to be delivered. You may or may not know when its likely to arrive depending on the courier. You decide to get on with life and venture out. You come back and find the dreaded red card stuck through your letter box. This allows you to either collect the item from the nearest sorting office or have it redelivered.

Now I occassionally like to live life on the edge. Once having received a red card I tried to arrange for the package in question to be re-delivered. As the comedian Jack Dee points out there is a philosophical problem here. Can something be re-delivered if it was never delivered in the first place ?

But we’ll leave that to ponder later along with questions such as if a tree falls in the forest and there is no-one there does it actually make a sound ? Why can you buy a pair of trousers ,which is one garment, but not a trouser ?

Anyway I decided to phone the number on the back of my red card and have my package delivered or redelivered (take your pick). A big mistake. You have to spend ages on the ‘phone and finally when it is sent it arrives on a different day to the one requested.

So these days if I receive a red card I collect the item from the nearest sorting office. This actually costs me money.

The nearest sorting office is next to a train station. All of the adjacent roads have double yellow lines painted on them. So no parking here at any time including the road outside the sorting offce.  Do so and you’ll receive a parking ticket with a £60 fine. The Council’s “parking Nazis” – sorry Parking Enforcement Officers lie in wait for offending motorists and dish out tickets. I’ve never worked out where our local authority’s PEOs hide but they seem to materialise out of the aether.

This cash generation on behalf of the local authority does have one side benefit. If there is a long queue at the sorting office anyone calling out “traffic warden” will cause a stampede of motorists who leave the queue to run to their cars before they get a ticket leaving a few of us to move up the queue.

Now why does this cost me money ? Well I catch the train one stop from where I live to the station next to the sorting office so have to buy a ticket. I could use the bus but this is best avoided. The bus which goes near the sorting office is one of those local stopper routes with a hail and ride section. It takes ages as the bus slowly wends its way around the side roads stopping every few yards. No the train is quicker and its only one stop so the journey takes about 5 minutes.

Visiting the sorting office is an experience. There only ever seems to be one member of staff on duty. The “lobby” is so small only two people or one very fat one can fit in it. It has many out of date information notices pinned to the wall.

The staff can never find the package/letter/parcel you want to collect. This usually requires several slow, dawdling trips backwards and forwards. Depending on the mood of the member of staff they might ask you to produce some ID. This often results in a puzzled look as they gaze at a driving licence as if they have never seen one before.

There was one occassion when I was asked what did the package I had called to collect look like. When I replied that I had no idea but at a guess it was probably rectangular in shape and possibly brown cardboard I was told I was being unhelpful.

One time I had to call at the sorting office as there was a red card informing me that “an extra charge” had to be paid before the item could be delivered. This was some custom keycaps I had ordered from the USA (see article about computer keyboards).

I was annoyed by this as the item was fairly cheap, okay import duty had to be paid fair enough and I expected to pay it. But I would like to know how the Royal Mail justified a £12 handling charge for storing a jiffy envelope which I then had to collect.That charge plus the taxes was more than the item cost.

In addition to the customary trips back and forth several more required when I insisted on paying the charge in cash using a £20 note. The highly trained member of staff could not find any change and had to find a supervisor. One more trip was also required when I insisted on being given a receipt.

An almost surreal experience I had with a courier occurred when I bought some software on-line. This is something which I do frequently.

The software was purchased and paid for on-line. It was downloaded following instructions in an e-mail received after purchase. It was then validated using the encryption key sent in two parts in two seperate e-mails. Very quick and efficient and I was using the software in about fifteen minutes.

Then a week later a huge UPS van parked outside my house. The driver got out put on his UPS baseball cap. He then rang the doorbell and asked me to sign for an envelope which had been sent Express delivery from Boston USA. Wondering what this was I opened the envelope to find it contained a single sheet of paper.

This was the official licence for the software I had purchased the previous week. I have no idea how much sending this via UPS this cost. I thought on the irony of buying something on-line , paying for it on-line , installing it electronically and then receiving a piece of paper sent by courier.

Still I slept easier that night.

Now coming in a roundabout way to the impact of ordering items on-line and receiving them quickly. I think this can have some unfortunate social impacts as it leads people to presume that they are entitled to have something when they want it.

I’m not sure if it is my getting older but these days I feel that many people are more selfish, grasping , self centred and intolerant. I think that the “instant gratification” of buying items on-line feeds into this. Wind the clock back a few years to the days when you could only buy CDs in shops and had to wait for a new release to come in stock. Was life any worse ?

Not really. In some ways having to wait for a CD to be released before you could purchase it enhanced the pleasure of getting your hands on it and then listening to it as it built up a sense of expectation. Today you can stream it in a few mouse clicks.

The same applies with books and some of the other things you can buy on-line. I wonder if I am in danger of becoming a “New Luddite” ?