Our bulky Amazon delivery arrived while we were out, but we knew straight away that something was wrong.
Aghast, we thought it had been packed by Captain Hook.
At one corner, a sharp object had penetrated the large rectangular packing case. But I decided, incorrectly as turned out, that this was a superficial blow.
This was going to be my pride and joy in the garden and nothing was getting in my way: it was a cold frame – my “nursery” for baby vegetables.
After a fairly quick construction process for me – in other words, I managed to do it the same day – I was placing the final piece. It was a top opening lid with perspex window for admiring my specimens.
And then I saw it: a dent the size of a bullet hole in the middle of the clear panel. So it had gone straight through after all.
Shopping online can feel like walking a tightrope
Online shopping can be OK, until something goes wrong. You can’t pop down to your local friendly store and get it sorted in a jiffy.
We spoke with two different customer service people by email and sent pictures of the damage. But they said the pictures were not “the right size” to view properly, so we gave up after two attempts.
We felt we were being fobbed off, but the really disappointing thing was that when we fell silent there was no follow-up contact from them. Yet they knew there was an unresolved problem, so it spoke volumes to us.
This was the first of three episodes which made online shopping feel like a tightrope and cemented why using local, face-to-face businesses is often more reassuring.
Pandemic lockdown fanned the flames of an existing exodus to shop online away from high streets. We see how catastrophic this was for the regional economy, and why they need our support now.
Undeterred by our experience, my wife and I continued to plough cash into the online abyss.
Next on the list was a gazebo for our garden patio, even although I was worried that positioning it outside our kitchen window would create a total eclipse of the sun.
A manager accepted my point that the web wording was confusing for non-Highlanders. ‘If you were in the Highlands we would charge you a lot more than £85,’ he confided
It was two weeks maximum for delivery, but after a month drifted by, my wife contacted the company in Yorkshire. They explained that what they really meant by two weeks was “two weeks, if it’s in stock”.
But it wasn’t – and they had absolutely no clue as to when their own supplier would send it.
A very misleading way of doing business, wouldn’t you say? Luckily, they put the money back in our bank account within 24 hours.
A penalty delivery charge for north of Scotland
As it was burning a hole in our pocket, we invested the cash in another substantial online garden order – a three seater “cottage arbour”. But we were stung by a delivery charge of £85 to get it to Aberdeen.
It appeared on our email order confirmation as “Highland and Islands delivery charge”. Stunned, we phoned them to explain Aberdeen was not in the Highlands.
The company resides in the town of Leek, known as the “Queen of the Staffordshire Moorlands”, and it informed us majestically that everyone in Scotland was charged extra according to postcode.
But a manager accepted my point that the web wording was confusing
“If you were in the Highlands we would charge you a lot more than £85,” he confided. Now I sense the bitter frustration over delivery charges in remote parts of Scotland.
Are you being served?
I’d had enough: it was time to rediscover the sanctuary of a local department store as I needed two pairs of jeans. But I was forced to visit ladies’ lingerie – against my will, please believe me – as I could not find any staff in men’s.
And they only had skinny jeans in my size on display. I don’t like these as I once bought skinny pyjama bottoms in a midlife crisis and broke my finger trying to get them off. Actually, it was a snapped tendon, but I was in a splint for three months.
It now felt like a scene from that old department store sitcom Are You Being Served? The famous hit catchphrase between sales staff was: “Are you free?”
A lingerie salesperson beckoned a colleague with the same phrase. This new staff member escorted me for a few seconds on an escalator back to men’s clothing, where a third assistant was summoned in similar fashion.
She turned out to be the new girl, just through the door. But the plucky youngster disappeared into the bowels of a stock room and emerged triumphant with the exact jeans I wanted.
Yes, it was a bit Are You Being Served?, but I loved it – and now realise what I’ve been missing.
David Knight is the long-serving former deputy editor of the Press and Journal