Marco's Blog

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YHIHF: Do Internet Shopping Companies Ship by Access?

2010-07-09 3 min read Electronics Anonymous marco

It’s been a few months now that I noticed something odd going on. Whenever I buy something on certain online shopping sites, nothing happens for a while. Then, when I log on to check what’s happening with my order, mysteriously it ships on the same day.

It all started with this deal site. I ordered a refurbished computer, and while the site stated they were shipping within two days, after four I had no email confirmation, no tracking number, nothing. When I went to the site, it said it was undergoing construction, and that sent me into Scam Prevention Mode. I sent them an email demanding an update and alerted my credit card company.

Next morning, UPS faithfully delivered my computer. Overnight shipping. At that point, I thought they had just somehow messed up and wanted to make up for it.

Then I started noticing it with other sites. At first, it was an argument with a big online vendor: I checked their Super-Saver Shipping box for my new Acer laptop, and they sat on the order for a week. When I told them their policy was that free shipping allows them to perform a slow shipping, not a slow fulfillment process, they gave me drone talk for a while, but then made it happen. (Coincidentally, the laptop ended up arriving the day before I unexpectedly had to fly to Germany for a funeral.)

Then it was other stuff, and more and more consistently. I’d buy something, and shipping would be slow. I’d typically just have to go online and check, and suddenly there was progress. The only frequent shipper that I use that consistently kept reliable and speedy delivery times is Vitacost. (No wonder they are doing so well!)

I thought about it, and if you have limited inventory – or even on-time inventory – then this approach works quite well. Until someone goes online and checks on status, you can assume they are not too worried. When they check, you get an idea they started wondering what’s going on, which means it’s time for you to show progress. A little like the employee that comes to work five minutes before the boss so that (s)he looks like always at work. Only that here, it’s five minutes after the boss.

The problem with this approach is that it becomes too obvious, and hence the manipulation became manipulatable. It also leaves a very bad impression. Do you remember when it was shown that a big online retailer (I’d give the name, but I can’t find a news article to link) showed higher prices to its own registered users? Well, it was a very stupid move, because it was easily circumvented (just nuke all Amazon cookies), and it left the loyal users out in the cold.

Same thing in this case. Now I learned my lesson and will follow up daily on shipments. It annoys me that I have to do that, which means that I am less likely to buy from sites that I suspect follow this kind of user tracking, and I am looking forward to the first shopping sites that positively proclaim they don’t do that.