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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Online Shopping: It Pretty Much Stinks
So is shopping online better than beating the malls? Anything is better than malls, especially during the holidays. But we've discovered that online shopping is not the greatest convenience to those of us with offbeat taste.

If you're looking to give a DVD of Jurassic Park or Christina Aguilera's new opus as a gift, shopping online is fine. The vendor is likely to have your items in stock and ship the order effortlessly. If your looking for something that's not also available at your local Wal-Mart, we wish you luck. Depending on when you're reading this, we wouldn't shop with any of these vendors, except Amazon, and be confident that our packages would arrive in time for Christmas.

Shopping at Amazon is a pretty pleasant experience. There are lots of little extras that make this a better than average shopping experience. Wish lists, suggestions and lists compiled by various experts all make a visit to Amazon worthwhile. On the downside, Amazon was recently caught charging different prices to different customers to "test" price resistance. They now claim to give everyone the lowest price, even if they chose to purchase the item at a higher price. We're still a bit leery, but if you're shopping for Christmas or have any kind of deadline, we can only suggest Amazon (as opposed to the vendors listed below) because they excel at customer service and seem to have at least a clue of their stock.
We received everything as ordered from Amazon. One item came damaged and without blinking, Amazon replaced it and sent us a postage paid address label to send back the defective piece.

CDNow is a large, lackluster website.
You get the feeling that the people who run CDNow are not music lovers. Or real "web" people. It's just not a particularly rewarding "web experience". The search engine is slow and clumsy. Items that might be considered obscure or foreign to the person who created the music database end up being lost in the system. Try searching for the Bear Family Records' Louis Prima / Keely Smith / Sam Butera box set. Try finding volumes 2 and 3 of the Complete Stax / Volt Soul Singles on Stax / Fantasy Records. Good luck!

As for fulfilling orders, we have one order that was placed on August 18 and finally shipped on October 7. Another was placed November 9 and we're still waiting. CDNow doesn't feel the need to upgrade your shipping to ease the pain of your waiting, even with ridiculous delays such as these. To be fair, these items were listed as "backordered". The problem is, you don't learn of this status until after you've selected the items and put them in your shopping cart. Furthermore, "backordered" can mean anything and there seems to be no rush to define it. We've also ordered some popular chart hits and these seem to ship within days.

Prices at one point were incredibly low at CDNow. Now they have sales, proclaiming savings "up to 30% off". Savvy shoppers know the difference between "up to 30% off and "30% off" and that difference can be huge. In fact, with shipping and taxes, CDNow can end up being no deal at all.
Overall, we'd say CDNow is fair with the potential to be great, but they're really missing the boat.

When we first purchased our new DVD player, we were often referred to Buy.com as having the best prices on DVDs. Tied into the movie database Reel.com, Buy.com does have an enormous selection and very good prices. They ship quickly and all is well and good except when there's a problem.

We ordered the two volumes of Dame Edna's Neighbourhood Watch. Volume 2 shipped immediately and we were advised Volume 1 was backordered. When Volume 1 finally shipped, it was another copy of Volume 2! The very nice telephone rep promised to correct the situation. That is, once we sent back the incorrectly shipped item (at Buy.com's expense). Despite thinking it stupid that we should have to wait even longer, we went ahead and returned the mis-shipped item. Buy.com promptly sent us yet another copy of Volume 2. Are you confused? So was Buy.com. We spent quite a long time on the phone trying to convince them there was a problem in their warehouse, like the fact that whoever was pulling the order couldn't tell the difference between the numerals "1" and "2". This should be a red flag for any business!

We started to get a little frustrated. At one point a "resolution expert" suggested we send back the DVD, get our card credited and we purchase the title elsewhere.

We finally did get someone at Buy.com to realize there was an internal problem and they fixed the problem immediately. In fact the next day.
The lesson learned is that if you talk to anyone who is not really fixing your problem and you suspect this person might have trouble spreading jam on toast, ask to speak to his or her supervisor immediately. Your time is too valuable.

Despite this wild situation, we would order from Buy.com again.

Barnes & Noble
This site is nice and on an aesthetic level, we actually prefer it to Amazon. We like that they seem to be focusing on books and entertainment, but actually ordering from Barnes & Noble was rather an unpleasant surprise.
Book delivery was not particularly fast. This might have more to do with their distribution system and our location but Amazon consistently beat them with shipping.

The problem comes, like with most of these vendors, with backorders. We ordered the DVD documentary, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For. Not exactly a collection of Backstreet Boys hits, but not an obscure Monica Vitti film, either. What was supposed to be a one to two week delay became five weeks. We spotted the DVD in a Barnes & Noble store and were reminded that we had ordered it and never received it. We sent an email suggesting that since the DVD was so late, they might want to upgrade the shipping at no cost. A very nice email came back, saying they would be happy to, once the DVD came into stock. Now this is fine, but if Barnes & Noble were a fabulous store, they would have had one of their stores send it directly. Even still, we were satisfied and continued to wait.

Several weeks later, we received an email stating the DVD had finally been shipped, via something called Smart Mail from the post office. When that didn't arrive (2 weeks later), we called and were told it was lost. The telephone agent told us our card would be credited and she would rebook the item with free overnight shipping. We then received an email stating that they couldn't send our compact disc because they needed credit card information. Compact disc? We ordered a DVD! Why did they need our credit card information again? We wish we could tell you this story has a happy ending or that it ends here. It doesn't. The details are somewhat tedious but we can sum up the experience as "Never Again!" Nothing was done as promised and nothing is worth the frustration of dealing with this company.

We called the public relations department of Barnes & Noble to clarify their policies. A nice person took down all the details and we never heard back from them, which pretty much sums up the Barnes & Noble experience.

As the big players in online shopping slowly but surely start raising their prices, we've noticed A1Books continually being the cheapest game in town. We've ordered from them three times and we have no idea how their customer service is because they shipped perfectly and on time each time. Granted, they prepare you for a bit of a wait, but it was never longer than estimated at the time we placed our order. If you're not in a big hurry, we'd start here for online shopping.

So was it worth it?
Sometimes. We would advise you to call the minute you smell something fishy going on with your order. If the customer service rep promises you anything, whether it's free shipping, a cancellation or a return call, have them send you an email confirming this. No matter how frustrated and bored you are waiting on hold, when they finally answer, get their name and phone extension. They will promise you something, it will not happen and you will look like an idiot because you don't know their name. If you don't get the answer you want or have the distinct feeling that your customer service rep isn't the brightest penny in the well, excuse yourself, hang up and try again and talk to someone else. There is no way a stupid person is going to understand that their own internal problems causing your order to be delayed or mis-shipped are not your problem.

If you've changed your mind, given a wrong address or done something to confuse the issue, be patient and polite and try to correct the problem. But your order with a vendor, online or in person, is an agreement. You agree to pay and they agree to ship as promised. Any variation on this theme is not your problem and it's up to the online store to correct it. Demand excellence, readers, and you just might get it. Accept shoddy service and you will in fact end up with a culture that honors Backstreet Boys as Soul music and Barry Manilow as Classic Pop.

Now let's go get a drink.



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