Keeping Track

Parcel

Image by Harry Strauss from Pixabay

I wrote a number of posts a few years back about parcel deliveries in this country, but I’m pleased to see that now things have improved immensely.

One area that is impressive is how parcels can now be tracked more precisely than ever. I recently bought some sunglasses that fit over my normal glasses and the only ones that suited were located in the United States. I ordered them and the cost in total including shipping was just under £12, for that this item would travel part way across the US, then the Atlantic and finally up the UK to me. Monitoring the tracking the item moved around the postal network until it popped up in Illinois, finally arriving at Chicago before being loaded onto a plane for an overnight flight to London where it met our postal system.

Even more precise is the system used by Amazon for example that allows, via their phone app, notifications of how near the driver is away from you on a map, so you know that they’re five stops away, on a nearby street so you know not to go out or go in the bath, or to dash back to your house when you’ve just nipped out to the corner shop – maybe the app should have a button that says “just tell the driver to hang on two minutes…”

All this of course is made possible by GPS location tracking and handheld scanners that can communicate with the company so they know in real time where the vans are, and on what van your parcel is sitting. One strange aspect to this is another courier whose drivers are not allowed to deliver a parcel too early, though I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, something to do with them giving customers time slots for delivery. In business knowing when a parcel is going to arrive to within a specific one-hour time slot can help schedule work.

I do find myself occasionally saying, when I get a message from the same tracking system to inform me that the parcel’s been delivered, “I know, I received it, it’s in my hand.”  Still useful to know if you’re not home though.

All this tracking and technology has been helpful in these days of social distancing and contactless delivery where the courier doesn’t take a signature but uses the handset’s camera to show it where they left it on the doorstep instead, usually with your feet in the background – “we know you received the parcel, are those or are those not your socks?”

I’m rarely in a hurry for items, I remember the days of “please allow 28 days for delivery” so next day is a luxury, but it’s still interesting to see the data, to see where it’s been and I suppose it’s still exciting when it’s something nice or frivolous rather than functional to see when it’s close to being delivered.

Don’t Panic…

…I tell myself.  I recently ordered a number of items from retailers on Ebay, all small, couple of pound items some from the UK some from China.  I haven’t ordered anything from Amazon though – this is important.  I received confirmation emails, then despatch confirmations for all items, from Ebay.

Then I received an email from Amazon saying my order had been despatched.  WHAT ORDER!

Before opening the email I googled the company listed in the email header, it was real, a well-known marketplace seller.  I tentatively opened the email, knowing that in spam or phishing emails the “from” address (amazon.co.uk) can be spoofed.  It was a normal Amazon despatch message containing my home address and sent to my usual email address.  The thing was that there was no products listed at all but there was a link to parcel tracking that I didn’t click of course.

When I eventually checked my real-world mailbox this morning I found a large flat cardboard envelope with Amazon.co.uk emblazoned across it.  Uh, huh?

I opened it and immediately understood.  Inside was a despatch note from the company listed in the email, on Amazon stationery so to speak, and the item I’d ordered from the UK Ebay seller.  I finally realised – the email had said it was from the Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) section – I’d bought from a seller under one name on Ebay but the item was despatched from their stock held in Amazon’s warehouse under a different name.  I hadn’t realised that FBA extended beyond purchases from Amazon Marketplace to Ebay and elsewhere too.

If the product had been listed on the emailI would have realised sooner but as it was I spent yesterday morning changing my Ebay, Paypal and Amazon log-ins and passwords to be on the safe side.

The strange, confusing world of online shopping logistics.

Parcel Impatience

English: "Royal Mail" sign, Belfast ...

English: “Royal Mail” sign, Belfast The “Royal Mail” sign on the top of Tomb Street sorting office 322800. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I work in a place opposite a Royal Mail sorting office where people who have been left the little “We tried to deliver an item to you but you were otherwise occupied…” or whatever it says card come to collect their boxes and envelopes.  At break times you can see dozens of people wandering up the drive with their packages to their cars (often parked without permission on our car park, but that’s another story) while doing something curious.

Like kids on Christmas morning they’re tearing into the paper and cardboard, risking spilling the contents onto the road (and often doing so) just because they can’t wait until they get home to see what they’ve been sent.

More often than not it’s likely to be something they’ve ordered so it’s not as if they’re thinking “what on Earth can it possibly be, I’d better open it now in case it’s something I’d rather not take home.”  If it is something they’d rather not take home I’d rather they didn’t open it outside my shop.  They can’t be checking if it’s the right thing, after all it’s not like they can stride back to the sorting office and say “please send this back to Amazon for me, it’s not the right colour.”

The other day I even saw a man with a motorbike, clad in the full leather jacket and so on, unwrap a new soft-shell jacket and inspect it while standing next to his bike, risking oil and grime stains, before then stuffing it back in the envelope and lodging it in his jacket.

The best ones are the rare people who both park in our car park, without permission, collect a parcel and then sit in their car and inspect it for ten minutes before leaving.  I’m thinking of offering to sell them a coffee and biscuits to complete the experience.

 

 

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Just Browsing?

English: Four retailers, Newport Road, Cardiff...

English: Four retailers, Newport Road, Cardiff Located on the west side of Newport Road, close to the Colchester Avenue junction are Topps Tiles (their banner states “Britain’s biggest tile and wood flooring specialist” Halfords Currys PC World. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like looking round a real-world shop and if I can get something I want from somewhere that I can look at it first then I’ll often be happy to pay a few quid more for it – as well as being able to get that instant gratification feeling of having a new shiny thing straight away.  Sometimes you find something you didn’t know you wanted.  Some things we can buy based on a picture and a specification, somethings are more subjective, they need to be inspected closely, handled to see if they will fit into our life, or indeed hand – as in the case of my recent mobile phone.

The trouble is that so often that thing you see in front of you is cheaper online, and maybe it is worth waiting a few days to save money, so you go home and order it instead – I’ve heard of people using apps on their smartphones to order things while they’re still in the shop even.  I admit I did this when I bought my current phone but only because I had built up a small cash-back to use if I bought it online direct from the network.

Understandably high street retailers are not happy about this and it has even been cited as contributing to the failure of some big-name stores recently – added costs of bricks-and-mortar stores being named specifically as the reason they can’t match online prices.  Yes people need to save money these days but if we abandon local shops altogether our town centres are going to be awfully quiet.

To fight back some retailers let you buy online for collection in store, getting a web-exclusive price into the bargain, Currys PC World for example, which will tempt some away from Amazon et al with the carrot of convenience while some remaining retailers are either trying to match online prices to gain volume sales instead or emphasising the added-value of personal service, which is certainly a benefit to specialist retailers like camera stores where knowledgable staff are invaluable.  Choice, availability, service and a reasonable price are what high-street stores need to emphasise.

One specialist food store in Australia though has taken the same route as supermarkets have done with parking, to discourage people who visit but not buy anything (and then go online) they charge $5 entry which is refunded when you buy something.  Which is quite a carrot, appropriately enough.