16:12 Saturday, December 12 2020

Holiday buying in the time of COVID19

As America has become a hellscape, yet the holiday season joy is still important, I (foolishly) decided to purchase all of my gifts online this year. But because its the darkest time (literally & emotionally), I opted to buy alcohol for nearly everyone on my list. What follows is a sordid tale of the sorry state of e-commerce & shipping in America.

The following list is sorted, roughly, from the worst to the best overall buying & shipping experience.

  • Flaviar: they claim to be some sort of whiskey membership club, but also sell without a membership. I ordered a single bottle of Scotch from them, for delivery to a friend in Arizona. Their website never sent any email confirmation of my order. Initially they claimed they would ship my order within 5 business days. When six days came & went, I emailed them to inquire what was going on. Only at that time did they admit that some third party company is sourcing my order, and its on back order. Indefinitely. No where on their website was there any indication that they are selling products that they do not have in stock, nor have any clue when they will be in stock. I cancelled the order and demanded a full refund. Congrats Flaviar, you failed at your only job.
  • Mission Trails Wine & Spirits: Another Scotch order. They seemed like they were actually competent. Three days after placing the order, they provided shipment tracking details. But there was a catch. The tracking info indicated that all they received was the pre-alert of a shipment, not the actual package. After waiting another two days with no update, I emailed them to inquire what's going on. No response. I called them, at which point they admitted that they didn't actually have the Scotch in stock, and were waiting for it to come in. They offered to ship a different, slightly better(?) Scotch instead. I asked if it would ship that day, and was told yes. Two days later, still nothing shipped. I called them yet again, and played dumb. Initially they attempted to claim that the order shipped already. I noted that it actually had not shipped, and then they had no clue why my order hadn't shipped days earlier. Then they got their story straight and commented about the original order not being in stock. I noted that they had already promised to ship. They gave me some ridiculous story about missing a shipping cutoff, and promised that it would ship that day. It did end up going out (via Golden State Overnight), and the order did actually end up being delivered. So, not quite as incompetent or dishonest as Flaviar, but not a good experience.
  • Tekuno: a small, Japanese tea shop + website in San Francisco. Not everything I ordered is booze (you need something to deal with that hangover, amiright?). Anyway, Tekuno did no wrong here, they shipped promptly. However, the almighty US Postal Service decided that fraud was the name of the game. Somehow it took them 4 days to deliver a package approximately 100 miles. The slow pace is not the big problem. Oh no. The real problem is that they kept claiming the package would be delivered (via the tracking info), then missing their deadline and punting to the next day. After 3 days of this, they claimed that someone had picked up the package at the local post office. Except that no one picked it up, both because why would they when its supposed to be delivered, but also because the post office was literally not open at the time when the USPS claimed someone had picked it up. And to add a cherry to the top of this fraud sandwich, the USPS ended up delivering the package the next day. My only guess is that they were trying to juice some internal delivery metric by claiming something was delivered sooner than they could actually do the job.
  • Potomac Wines & Spirits: gold star to this shop in Maryland. They shipped promptly, and did no wrong. Sadly, FedEx dropped the ball. After prematurely claiming they would deliver a package clear across the country in 3 days time, they missed that target by multiple days. Why? Because they opted to give this package a scenic tour of the country. Instead of taking the most direct route from Maryland to California, it meandered through Kansas, New Mexico & Arizona first. Also, FedEx's website claimed that the tracking number did not even exist for over a day. FedEx, you have one job, and you are failing at it.
  • Domaine Chandon: champagne is great. They shipped promptly using GSO (Golden State Overnight), and it was delivered the next day. Zero issues, a quality buying & shipping experience all around. Gold stars for everyone.
  • Pax Mahle Wines: this is quite possibly our favorite Sonoma winery, making some distinctive, high quality wines. I placed the order, and it shipped promptly via GSO, with next day delivery. Zero issues, and everyone did their jobs like a professional. Huzzah.

I get that times are tough, but don't lie to your customers. You gain absolutely nothing. Don't sell something that isn't in stock. If you do, make it very clear that its not in stock *before* you take their money. The same goes for you FedEx & USPS. If you don't have the capacity to ship & deliver something on the schedule that you created, then stop doing it. Don't charge people for a service you can't provide.

Happy holidays. Stay safe. Here's hoping for a (much much much) better new year.