I am not making this up*.
On Feb 1st, my wonderful publisher EG&J Press shipped me a box of author copies of the Spark VIII anthology containing my story A Cold Welcome. As expected, I received an e-mail with the tracking code, which I could use to follow the transatlantic progress of my books on the UPS I-Parcel website.
“Package received”, the tracking page said.
Then things got weird.
For more than a week after that, the status of my package did not change. And when a friend mentioned that she had received her author copies already, I decided to send a polite inquiry.
The following exchange ensued.
Thanks so much for reaching out. We’re looking into your parcel so we can get you up to date information on the delivery status. We’ll update you when we have the information you need, it might take up to 48 hours to get this.
In the meantime, please keep tracking your order at https://www.i-parcel.com/en/ to see any updates.
All the best,
Note the mention of “up-to-date information on the delivery status”. Also note the referral to their tracking page. Finally, make a special note of the promise to respond in “up to 48 hours”, which seemed excessively long for information that should be available at the press of a button. But hey, it says “up to”, so they may be quicker, right?
Seventy-two hours later, I got this:
Thanks so much for reaching out. I’ve checked into your shipment and the service level used is a non-trackable service. Even though Amazon gave you a tracking number it’s non-trackable service.
Sorry I can’t provide anymore details than that but rest assured your package is on it’s way.
All the best,
I-Parcel had just spent three days discovering that they did not, in fact, have any information for me at all. Of course, this begged the questions why I had received a tracking number at all, and why I had been explicitly referred to the tracking page by Emily’s colleague Stephanie in the first place.
The snail-like speed with which they had retrieved this information awoke a sneaking suspicion in me, which was enhanced by their unprompted invention of Amazon as the sender of my books.
Honestly curious about these matters, I decided to ask the begged questions, and in passing point out that Amazon had nothing whatsoever to with my shipment.
This time, my query was escalated to manager Taylor, who wrote:
Thanks so much for reaching back out. I am sorry for the troubles. Please note this shipment is not trackable. Even though Amazon gave you a tracking number, we are not provided updates once the shipments exports our facility. At this time if you have not received the shipment within the time frame given by the merchant, please contact the merchant directly.
All the best
By now, I was beginning to understand that their “All the best” closing phrase wasn’t so much polite as an expression of deeply felt hope that they would never hear from me again.
And of course, there was Amazon again.
I gave a last half-hearted attempt to get some sense out of them, again including the information that Amazon was an innocent bystander in our dealings, but their next response was even less useful, if you can believe it: not only did they fail to address my mystified questions, but they actually included contact information for Amazon customer service.
I gave up at this point, writing I-Parcel customer service off as useless, accepting that my tracking number wasn’t actually meant for tracking, and waiting patiently for my package to arrive. I even archived these emails, so as not to be reminded of my books every time I opened my Inbox.
Cut to yesterday, when I suddenly realized three weeks had passed since EG&J shipped my author copies. Just for the hell of it, I loaded the tracking page, and checked the status of my shipment.
It seemed it was time to inquire once more:
I sent Taylor the Escalator a message, expressing my confusion that my package had been returned to sender without as much as a single attempt at delivery. The reply, unexpectedly, came from Stephanie, took less than ten minutes, and went like this:
Thank you for your email. I am very sorry for the trouble. Unfortunately as you have stated, your parcel was returned to sender as we were unable to set up the shipping logistics successfully to the Netherlands.
At this time, we suggest you contact Amazon directly. You can reach Amazon’s customer service department through their website at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_navbox_center_cncl?nodeId=595034
or by telephone at 1-866-216-1072.
Of all the inexplicable content in this enigmatic and infuriating message, the first thing I noticed was the closing. They had moved from exasperated desire to be rid of me (“All the best”) to regretful compassion (“Kind regards”). That did not bode well.
But then I focused on the message itself. The repeated referral to Amazon, however infuriating, had by now become routine, so I could concentrate on the first paragraph, and in particular on this fragment: “we were unable to set up the shipping logistics successfully to the Netherlands”.
Wait, what? They have to reinvent the wheel of transatlantic shipment every time anyone sends anything? As in: attempt to ship? And these attempts can fail? My sneaking suspicion rose to a certainty: they have computers for email only, and do everything else by hand, or rather, by the seat of their pants.
I’m imagining a flurry of activity in their office after my box came in.
“Jack, this box is for the Netherlands. No, Netherlands. N-E-T-H-… yes, that’s it. Can you look it up on the map? Monica, isn’t that out your way? Right, sorry, Nebraska, totally different. Listen up, everyone. We have a package to the Netherlands. Ideas? No, Maurice, I don’t think drone batteries last that long. Come on, people, how hard can this be? What’s that, Shanice? Sure, worth a try. Okay, everyone, a big hand for Shanice, who has just volunteered to take the box to the airport and slip it into a Netherlander’s luggage. Back to work, all, those piles of boxes won’t ship themselves!”
More on this as it fails to develop.
* Though to anyone following my blog posts about customer service, this should not come as a surprise.