Thursday, 9 April 2009

Shopping down the wire

I flew British Midland

I think it was April 1995 when I went online through Compuserve and bought an air ticket from British Midland to Amsterdam from London on the aptly named http://iflyBritishMidland.com website.

Since then I have bought books, goods, and electronics online without much worry, though a good friend did inform me over the weekend that he was a victim of credit card fraud but thankfully his bank was alert enough to see the irregularities and contact him to repudiate transactions made in his name by some other unauthorised person.

Assumptions clouding alertness

However, recently, I have been wondering if Internet Shopping is anymore the fun it used to be where you had choices, options and the flexibility of not having to explain yourself too many times to get something done.

I noticed that when I book air tickets on the KLM site, if it was towards the end of the month there was the possibility that the return date would be presented as month hence even though one just wanted a couple of days.

For instance, I wanted to travel on the 26th and return on the 29th, it was when I was checking in online that I found that the 29th return date was a month hence rather than the same month.

This has happened to me to before and I have to pay for another full fare ticket to correct the mistake, this time my ticket was flexible, I could change it if I wanted.

Fewer choices on the Internet

In fact, I would think if I had bought the ticket at a counter, it would be nigh on impossible to end up with the wrong return date, the teller would probably have asked if I really wanted to spend 34 days away instead of 3 – Methinks this kind of logic is necessary on the website.

The ticket was flexible which meant I could change it, but using the Internet facility for ticket alteration offered to charge me the full whack for the ticket, however, when I made a phone call to customer services, the change was effected without additional charge – what relief.

Ich bin leider

Then, using the flexibility of being able to book journeys between countries which the German Railways bahn.de site offers as opposed to the rigidity of other country railway sites, I booked a ticket to Geneva.

The site could not offer me a price but I got an acknowledgement of my request, usually, when an air ticket is booked, you get a confirmation of the request, a confirmation of the order and the cost of the transaction in minutes, you get that with hotels too.

German efficiency went up the creek for that, for days, I heard or saw nothing for 8 days, I had to call customer services, meanwhile earlier in the day I had emailed them to determine if my tickets would be sent.

I was informed they were sent that very day, but it took the best part of 4 working days for the tickets to traverse the humongous cavern between Germany and the Netherlands.

I was none the wiser about the cost of the ticket or whether it had really been sorted for the intervening period.

Schrecklicher Kundendienst

A reply arrived which simply said if I did not get the tickets before the day of travel, I should buy the tickets on the day of travel and then ask for a reimbursement.

These people still deliver 21 days to deliver my tickets and had already given up on giving me any service – I was gobsmacked – I was travelling around Easter, I might not get a seat and the tickets might cost twice over for a 12 hour journey – at which point I really regretted not going to a ticket counter, queuing up for maybe an hour and arranging my travel over 30 minutes for a booking fee.

I gave up on trying to remonstrate and waited – eventually the tickets arrived like I said, but there was much lost in customer service that could only be termed deplorable and beyond the pale.

Press the flesh

I doubt if I would be quick to book certain things on the Internet soon again, the need for human interaction with the warts and foibles might just be what one needs.

Surely, do your research and help the teller along with the information required for your transaction but keep your credit card in your pocket when sat behind that inanimate screen and take a walk down to the shop, the store or the ticket counter and make social conversation.

Obviously, when I said what is 2 inches between friends to the assistant the other day when trying to buy a television and talking about size, you should have seen his face go bright red, I would suppose he was adding colour to the conversation – the things that go on in people’s minds, unspeakable.

You cannot call computers stupid, but it is strange what you can call human beings when you have the right temperament.

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