Online Nirvana - How difficult could buying a notebook online be?

It was Friday 29 November, in the year 2002, roughly 12:10pm.

I had finally and not without some considerable wrangling decided to hang up the spurs on my trusty old Dell Inspiron 7000. This Pentium II 366Mhz with 256Mb Ram and 8Mb graphics had served me well from March 1998 and one day will be inducted to Potter's Hall of Fame for service beyond the call of duty.

With my decision made and not of a mind to prolong the waiting I headed to PCPRO.CO.UK, who's ALIST confirmed that the Inspiron 8200 was the current notebook come desktop replacement of choice and then headed over to DELL.CO.UK to buy it.

Every piece of major PC hardware I have purchased in the last 4 years has been a DELL, primarily as a result of favorable reviews and my blissful relationship with Dell in the past. This relationship has resulted in my purchasing a desktop unit and recommendations to several friends, which has also resulted in much happiness.

So it was with some considerable excitement brewing in the pit of my stomach that I now found myself stooped over neat pages of web based product info, scrolling backwards and forwards, selecting the bits I wanted adding on, de-selecting the bits I didn't and ending up with a specification that would make any byte junky break into sweats. The cost made me sweat a little, VAT what a pain.

There was a moments conundrum as I sat in front of my computer screen reviewing this list of choices that made up my biggest purchase outside of a house, divorce, wedding and car in the last 5 years (in that order). Now should I order via the digital medium, giving up my precious card details to a soulless computer or make a connection with a carbon based life form. Probably as a result of my (often misplaced) faith in the digital world and the £35 discount for heading down this route, the decision wavered in favor of soulless computer. I clicked on the submit button and without a moments further deliberation went about confirming my order.

Finally, with the transaction processed I sat back and looked at a screen anyone who has ordered online will be familiar with, the purchase confirmation, and a 15 character number displayed in large, bold characters, 3 parts down the page, proceeded by a warning to make sure you save this reference. I almost didn't as it would be in the emailed order confirmation, but did anyway and copied the number to a dellorder.txt file.

I then clicked on the close button and fired up Outlook, the confirmation email would confirm the purchase details, as well as supply all the relevant codes required to track my order through assembly to delivery so that, ultimately, I could be home to receive a piece of technology that would be my constant companion for a few years to come. It would go with me whenever and wherever and should it find itself in half as many places as its venerable predecessor, better traveled than your average backpacker. I don't take it on holiday of course, only ever with work, but work these last few years has been far flung and mighty interesting. I almost packed a study guide pre-holiday once, before noticing a frosty pair of female eyes tracking my movements.

Some 30 minutes after willingly handing over my card details and clicking on the 'go for it' button there was no confirmation email. No great shakes, these things can happen, so off to Friday afternoon lunch and down the local for a roast and a pint.

Two hours passed and still no email. Having trusted the cost equivalent of a luxurious holiday to a far flung country with golden beaches and all inclusive poolside bar's to a faceless silicon component and transaction authorization system that I prayed wasn't authored by Microsoft (which at best would have meant I hadn't had the reply as they were probably re-booting the server!), I decided to go the carbon route.

After bouncing around a few voicemail systems for, it has to be said only a few minutes, the phone was answered by a dalek with attitude and a severe larynx issue. My initial responses had to be based on time honored telephony protocols as I really couldn't make out a word she was saying. Complete concentration and my finger plugged so far in my left ear that I could almost tickle my cortex had the person on the other end of the phone sounding like a wraith with a cold shouting at the phone mic. from the other side of the room.

So, struggling on, I assumed she would be asking for my order number, so quoted the number that had been displayed in large, bold characters. It all went quiet. Eventually after some pause that was probably no more than 20 seconds but felt like five minutes I heard something like a crackle, it sounded like the static you used to get on calls to the other side of the world mid-80's. If it was a response it was to long to be 'yes' or 'no' but couldn't quite make it out. Some two pardons and a 'sorry I can't hear you' later, I received a very loud and clearly audible 'your number is not recognized on the system, you have to wait 24 hours before we can track your order'

With my ears ringing and my adrenalin warming to the possibility of some action, I made some equally load remark about her needing a new headset at which point the phone went dead. I assumed that only a 'her' could manage to turn a feeble, deathbed voice into a spine chilling messenger of absolute clarity at a moments notice.

Leaving the Hulk within to simmer down I then left it at that and towards the end of the day fired off an overly curt but polite email to their customer support, once more quoting the large bold 15 character number. I didn't think that there would be any confusion as to my displeasure, although I had been careful not to be rude, after all, when the notebook eventually turned up, as surely it will, it would not do to find the cd-rom inserted to the battery compartment!

Saturday morning and I was doing some work around the house when my Inspiron sounded off in a manner than would indicate new mail had arrived. So, in due course, I found my way upstairs and lo and behold there was an email from Dell. This wasn't the order confirmation that was now becoming an obsession but never the less, an email from customer Support. They acknowledged that the order had been placed and provided me with an order number which was not in the least bit similar to the 15 character number. They suggested that should I have any further queries I should contact them without hesitation.

Of course, proceeding to the Dell web site and their order tracking system with my new number to hand ended in 'your order number is not recognized' and indicated that I really needed a customer number with my order number, which of course was the one piece of information I still didn't have.

So, Monday I traveled back to Harrogate and by the time me and my Inspiron had arrived in the golden autumnal dales and semi-suburbia of HG2, plugged ourselves into the network and downloaded messages, there was an order confirmation. I didn't think computers took weekends off but it looked like the order taking computer at Dell did and even seemed to be on flexi as it had apparently gone AWOL roughly 12:30 Friday afternoon. However, my order had been duly attended to when it got back to work on Monday morning. Wonder where it went? Spect it had a better time than I did.

Of course the customer and order number supplied with the confirmation were not recognized when I typed them in to the Dell web-site to check the order status, but I had my order confirmation and was happy for the time being. I signed into Dell's 'Order Watch' which promised, now that it had the order number and customer number to keep me informed through each step of my orders build, testing and shipping, once that started.

Order Watch did come through on its promise first thing Tuesday and I was able to monitor its progress through build, testing and preparations for shipping, just like they said.

On Thursday afternoon I got an email from Order Watch stating that my order was about to be shipped with an estimated delivery date of the next day! Whooppeee. I booked the Friday off and prepared to travel home that night. The email contained a reference number for the 3rd party haulage company that did deliveries, whose web-site of course failed to recognize my special delivery code. So once again it was back to trusty old carbon based humans, who advised me that the order would go on their system once it was picked up by them, which they hadn't done yet as it was likely to be on a ferry from Ireland as we spoke, which meant it would not be delivered the next day (Friday). I was informed by a melodic voice that a representative from their company would ring to arrange a delivery date when it arrived. So I agreed, with a probably over acted nasal sigh, un-booked my day off and re-booked my nights accommodation.

Friday. Just as I am about to leave work to weave my merry way back to Suffolk my mobile starts making noises in a pocket or section of clothing that results in a few frantic moments searching, its the haulage company. 'When would you like your order delivered?'. 'Tomorrow!', I answer without pause. 'Sorry Sir, we don't do weekends'. Yeah! I know, Handy init!

Tuesday was confirmed as the day and after stashing the mobile there was a shout from the other end of the office, 'Pottteerrr, there's a call for you, their having a bit if a trauma in south london'. Things are going wrong, users and managers alike are seeing their 'rrses, as they say up 'ere in Yorkshire. Find the concept a bit confusing myself but you get the drift. The upshot is I make a mental note not to drive up the A1 monday morning but instead turn left onto the M11. No worries.

Monday and South London looks like it might be two days so, on the blower to my haulage company, ever so sorry but could you deliver wednesday as I have been detained away from home. 'Yes, Sir no worries, I'll change that now for you!'

Tuesday 10 December and I manage to make it back from London by early evening, skipping round the M25 just before all the traffic skidded to a halt. I'm at home mid-week which is always good and the Dell is going to arrive tomorrow! Fantastic. So I go out with a pal for a spot of grub and Kronenberg while fretting over my impossibly bad luck playing pool.

Wednesday, D-Day. Being paid by the hour and having booked the day off I looked forward to my little package arriving early so I could make the most of a day away from the office and more importantly, if I wasn't going to get paid (it would have been hard to justify working at home with everyone knowing full well I would have spent the day un-wrapping and playing) I would make best use of the time.

Oh how it just doesn't do to take anything for granted. I don't know why but I did totally believe that my order would arrive that day, totally. I never bothered to check the web site for tracking info and never bothered to ring them because they do say it could arrive at anytime between 8am and 6pm. So about 3pm I gave up looking out the window. Nah! I didn't do that really, but do you remember doing that when you were a kid, knowing that your Uncle or Grandparents were on the way with the pressie you had desired more than anything since the last more than anything present. Anyway, 3pm and I got sidetracked and next time I look at the clock its 6:30pm. Bummer. I finally decide to check the web site and to my complete amazement it tells me the order has been delivered. I pinch myself.

I take the number and ring, more interfacing with carbons, always a good thing, however, as I put the phone to my ear and get ready to do the numbers I hear the tone. Johnies got a voicemail. As soon as I hear the day of the message my heart does a double somersault and then belly flops, its my next door neighbor, yesterday, about 10 minutes before I got home, she's got lots of parcels for me.

Submission: December 2002
Revision: none