There’s a downside to our modern way of doing business, procuring goods and services and working with vendors, that we don’t usually think about. When things go well, we think about the money we are saving, the opportunities we have and the speed at which complex tasks can be completed. When things go wrong, we are left to sit and wonder “where do we go from here?” We wonder that with a weird sense of dread, because, very often, we don’t know where we are.
If you’re old enough, techie enough or just someone who was well read in the early 1990s, you probably remember Peter Steiner’s cartoon, that was published in The New Yorker in 1993. We joked about that caption, as the Internet was stumbling along, trying to become a thing. We didn’t realize how often the caption of that cartoon would cause us the problems referred to above, including ones I suffered last week.
I spent most of last week fighting with a technology vendor that appears to be bigger than they are. It’s a complex story with a just-in-the-nick-of-time happy ending that was due to the hard work of my staff – not the vendor. I wanted to share that story, but it’s techie and boring, I’ll share another one that might be easier to relate to.
Ten years ago, I wanted to buy my wife a garden cart for Mother’s Day – yes, I am just that romantic. I didn’t want some junky thing from Home Depot, so I began a search on the Internet. I found a company out west that was advertising remarkable looking carts. They were lined up on a grassy knoll with mountains in the background. The site spoke of quality manufacturing and a commitment to customer service that seemed amazing – just the kind of merchant I was hoping to find.
When the cart didn’t arrive in time for Mother’s Day. I wrapped a picture of the website.
When the cart didn’t arrive in time for Father’s Day. I tried to cancel the order.
When the cart arrived in early July, I realized it had been drop-shipped from Harbor Freight, where I could have bought it for 50% less than what I paid.
This “company” (a one-man show) existed to sell one thing, a product he didn’t make, didn’t stock and didn’t support. I couldn’t cancel my order, because he couldn’t cancel his.
If you’re thinking “poor Dan” and taking comfort in the fact that we are dealing with larger, more reputable vendors today, you might be enjoying a false sense of security. There are still many companies that buy and ship products they never see. They buy them from factories in China and, in some cases, they buy them from Wal*Mart, Home Depot and Harbor Freight. They have them delivered to logistic vendors’ warehouses or drop-shipped to you while they smack your credit card as if their extended family is busy out back, fulfilling the order. They ramp up the SEO tags on a particular product, move to a good spot in the search results and make a living selling you something you could buy for less, if only you looked harder.
During the Christmas holidays, my wife found a vendor selling a brand of cookie on Amazon for four-to-five times what they used to cost in the grocery store (that had stopped carrying them). She kept looking and found the cookies on Wal*Mart’s website, for the normal price.
You can find these companies at their own websites, on Amazon, eBay and other shopping sites. Most of the time, the products are delivered and function as advertised. The worst thing you might suffer is learning that you didn’t buy something unique and / or you could have spent much less money if you had looked around.
Although you might be dreading the thought that, due to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, states can now force Internet vendors to collect and remit sales tax, there is an upside. That action will make it harder for some of these vendors to operate. It will also level the playing field for small, local vendors who might just be able to put your favorite cookies back on the shelf.
Today’s gallery photos were collected in the early morning walks with Maddie. The cartoon attribution: Fair use, Wikipedia Commons