Online shopping

December 16, 1999

The View from Taft


I got pushed into buying online almost grudgingly. I'm a book lover, you see, and my idea of a nice Saturday afternoon is to devote two hours of browsing at my favorite bookstore, picking the books I like by reading and smelling the pages (So alright, I'm a weird book lover. But a good book must smell good.), lugging my selections

to the counter and paying up with a credit card. One satisfied customer.

In time book hunting would become less and less satisfying. It was the little things.

Irritant One: Books were being wrapped in plastic and all the plastic I was ripping - because I wasn't about to buy a book I hadn't read (or smelled) - was making me a bit guilty.

Irritant Two: Staff weren't always friendly. Once, after a particularly good hunt, I proceeded to the charge counter with seven titles. The charge counter lady looked at my haul and - I swear - gave an exasperated sigh. Sure, the line was long that day. But, I thought to myself, if she didn't like my business, I could gladly take it elsewhere. Brave thoughts, I realized. How many bookstore chains are there?

Irritant Three: The last straw was when I asked a bookstore lady about a title and was told that it wasn't in stock. My instincts told me otherwise and a couple of minutes of searching the shelves proved me right. I grabbed the book, went back to the lady, and with thinly veiled indignation told her that they, indeed, had the book. She looked at me with an expression that basically said, "So you have your book. Aren't you happy?" I left the lady, the book and the bookstore in a huff. One dissatisfied customer.

I have old-fashioned expectations from service personnel. I expect them to know their work and their stocks. I expect them to smile when I give them business. And I expect them to apologize when they make mistakes.

I felt taken for granted and it was in this vulnerable state that I fell into the welcoming embrace of online shopping - an act of infidelity to my favorite bookstore that you might call a "one-click affair."

I logged onto a famous online bookstore and searched for a while punching the key words. I focused on one title and was instantly told that they had it on stock along with a dozen other related titles. I was told that I could get my book in two months, two weeks or two days, depending on how much I was willing to pay for shipping. I chose the two-week option and entered my credit card number.

Not instant gratification but since I was doing this while drinking my morning coffee in the comfort of my home as the rain poured outside, it wasn't too bad. I received the book in two weeks as promised.

My next purchase was even easier. The login page declared: "Hello, Benito Teehankee. We think you will like these items." The recommendation list made my mouth water. The online database had tracked all my search key words and had automatically triggered a search of new items since my last visit and displayed these to me. I bought some more.

My third time was a disappointment, it seemed. I received one wrong title (though a nice and expensive one) out of three I ordered. I shot off an e-mail complaint and, wonder of wonders, got an e-mail apology within two hours. I was assured that I would get my book and that I could keep the wrong one with their compliments. I got my book the next week. Not a bad recovery.

What was an old-fashioned guy to do? This store calls me by name after one visit, remembers what I like and offers me more, and apologizes when it bungles my order and promptly makes up for it. I was smitten.

I was happy for several months before I hit the downside of all this cyber-bliss. The credit card company was billing me for two online purchases I never made.

My credit card number had been hacked! I was guided by a friendly phone assistance guy at the card company on how to lodge a dispute letter so that they could take care of it.

I had read about card hacking, of course, but reality bites. Though the card company blocked my old card and issued me a replacement immediately, I haven't made another online purchase since.

Have I given up on online shopping? Let's just say I'm in cool-off period while the online security kinks get worked out and our congressmen twiddle their thumbs on the E-commerce Bill.

In the meantime, I'm back to ripping the plastic off new books and smelling the pages before I buy them.

But, just like first-time cell phone cloning victims, I know I'll get over the card hacking incident and buy online again.

A friendly advice to retailers out there. Take care of your customers while there's time. They may not be too faithful to you once e-commerce gets into full gear in the Philippines. And you'll have only yourselves to blame.