Lost in transit, or: Why can’t I buy a coat online?

It’s hard to miss the way that COVID-19 has transformed the economy. The delivery sector in particular has become a huge employer. No matter what time of day, or what neighbourhood I’m walking through, I see at least a couple of vans (often rentals) buzzing about or parked in the street, with delivery drivers running up to porches and leaving packages.

Of course, with so much demand, and with this many new delivery drivers entering the workforce, I’m sure there’s been some sub-optimum hiring going on. This has led to a few problems.

About three months ago I bought a winter coat online from a large retailer. It was a good price and came with free home delivery. After several weeks it still hadn’t arrived and I got in touch with customer service. According to their records the coat had been delivered. I assured them that it had not. Nor was this a case of the infamous porch pirates. I live in a sort of cul-de-sac, and no one has ever seen a porch pirate in these parts. Plus I’m home most of the time during the day, and receive parcels nearly every day. I’ve never had a parcel go missing before and I’m pretty sure I would have known if one had been delivered.

Most of my parcels though are books. People don’t steal books. That’s because nobody wants them. But who doesn’t want a new coat? When I called both the retailer and the third-party seller who had sold the coat they expressed a sort of weariness. Again? “This happens a lot,” one representative told me. I received a full refund.

As an aside, I was interested that many of the people I told this story to said that delivery drivers were taking photos of the parcels sitting on the customer’s porch as proof of delivery. This made no sense to me. What’s to stop a driver from putting the parcel on the porch, taking a picture, then picking the parcel back up and taking it with them? Only a porch camera I guess. Which would make the driver’s “proof” of delivery redundant.

A couple of weeks later I thought I’d try again. I ordered another coat (slightly different, but still a good deal) and instead of opting for home delivery said that I would pick it up in-store. After a week of tracking the shipment online it disappeared somewhere between the local shipping station and the store. I went to the store. A helpful sales rep told me that this is happening “a lot.” The coat was gone and they told me there was little hope it would ever be found. I would have thought they would have had better tracking, but after three weeks of searching and updates being emailed to me the retailer finally admitted defeat and again gave me a full refund. Officially the coat had gone from being “stuck in transit” to “lost in transit.”

This made me wonder just how much product is being “redistributed” through the delivery chain these days. Buying two coats in three months and having them both go missing may not be a large sample size to go on, but how representative is it? Both times I spoke to multiple customer service representatives who seemed weary of what was clearly a large and ongoing problem. I think the numbers may be huge.

In any event, a couple of people are getting nice new winter coats for Christmas. I probably shouldn’t try ordering another, but now I’m curious to see how it might turn out. Could a third time be the charm? I’ll let you know.

5 thoughts on “Lost in transit, or: Why can’t I buy a coat online?

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