A jovial middle-aged man pokesthe order button on a touchscreen fromthe comfort of his armchair. Minutes later hes ambling through the bucolic Cambridgeshire countryside at the bottom of his garden topluck a parcel from the ground. Its his Amazondelivery materializing like manna from heaven thanks to the high-profile PrimeAir drone trial hes been selected to participate in. One of just two U.K. customers living in the picturesque, rural area Amazon has chosen to kick the quadcopter chops of this oh-so-boutique beta trial.
Meanwhile, Im sitting at my computer not-so-quietly fuming that the Amazon Marketplace delivery I ordered on November 25 due for delivery between December 7 and 10 has just as spectacularly failed to arrive in my house. YetAmazons delivery interface cheerfully informs me that mydelivery has been made. Which it has not. I have had to burrow deep into the many menus ofthe websitesawfullyconfusing customerinterface trying to find a button that will allowme to inform Amazon that my parcel has not, in fact, been delivered. No such button exists. Amazon is not, after all, the seller for this transaction its just the highly branded platform facilitating the sale. Buyer beware and all that.
But over in Prime Air promo land, Richard A, the friendly looking fellow starring in the Prime Airmarketing video, is already back in his cozy front room unboxing his Amazon Fire TV and packet of air-freighted dog biscuits. I should be so lucky. Instead, I am sitting indoors wearing fingerless gloves and a woolly winter scarf over my TechCrunch jumper becausethe electric heater I ordered on Amazon is sitting useless in someone elses building. Multiple messages to the seller querying where my delivery has gonehave gone unanswered.
Buried deep within the bowelsof Amazons Marketplacemessaging interface I eventually unearth a failed delivery message, which suggests an attempted delivery was made on December 7, after which the delivery company wrote thatit wouldtry again the following day. Yet its now days laterand I still dont have my delivery, so I switch tactics andtry to get hold of the delivery company. The best route for that appears to be Twitter, where a DM query to their customer service account gets their attention within minutes. They alsoclaim my delivery has been made, and ask for my email so they can send me the delivery slip. I reply immediately hoping for a quick resolution but hear no more from them forthe rest of the day.
The following morning I get an email with the delivery note attached. The documenthas indeed been signed by someone just not by me. Theres an identification number for this person that is not my ID number. The address on the slip also looks partial, as if the seller failed to include my flat number along with the street number whichthe Amazon ordering interface delivered tothem when I clicked purchase.
Now although I finally have some information about where the delivery has gone I still have no clue who has my heater, because the signature is an indecipherable squiggle. Nor do I know where it is because the address on the slip is not complete.I definitely still dont have it. ButAmazon and its Marketplace seller have my money. I am not happy. I immediately DMthe delivery company telling them that the signature and IDnumber are not mine, and reiterate that I have not received the delivery. They say they will contact the relevant department tosee what they can do. No more DMsare forthcoming from them forthe rest of the day. Were settling into a pattern that requires an awful lot of patience over and above the nearly two weeks Ive waited to receive the heater I bought on Amazon. It seems especially unjust when I considerthe less than 30 minutesRichard A had to wait for his impulse gadget purchase plusdog treats to turn up just beyondhis doorstep. How the marginal fraction ofAmazon drone delivery beta testers live
Later in the day, a few hours afterthe Prime Air promo video has been tweeted out by Jeff Bezos, an email from theMarketplace seller lands in my inbox. They blametheir radio silence on being extra busy over the holidayperiod, and claimmy delivery wasmade on December 9 a day when, incidentally, I was at home listening for the doorbell that was never rung by the delivery person who didnt turn up. This detail is extra odd because Amazons track package feature consistently informed me my delivery would arrive on December 10. I waited in all morning on that day, too. Yet apparently the package had already been delivered by then.Just not to me. Behind the shiny facade of Amazons e-commerce platform it seems there are a lot of wires notplugged into anything at all.
Of course thesellers proof of delivery isthe same delivery slip that the delivery company already sent me. I email back right awayrefuting all thisand pointing out theyseem to have missed theapartment number on the address slip routing my parcel to somewhere else on thestreet, presumably, just not to me. Given it took the seller a full two days to respond to myfirst message I am not hopeful of a speedy response. And sure enough the email exchange lapses right back into silence. Its getting dark outside now. It feels like its going to be another cold night. I pullon another pair of socks to ward off the chillI am being forcedto endure while I wait to see if theheater I ordered for the winter months will ever be delivered. Or if I can get a speedy refund which would free me from this Amazon Marketplace delivery limboto be able to go andbuy a heater from an actual shop and deliver it to my actual house myself. So much for theconvenience of online shopping.
What does this carelessun-deliverytell us about Amazons Prime Air drone scheme? That its first and foremost a brand marketing exercise, existing in another realm entirely to the reality of shoppingonAmazon outside a chosen handful of regions andmarkets where delivery has been hyper-prioritized by the company. These can include urban regions where it offers its Prime Now two-hour delivery service. Or the minuscule U.K. drone delivery trial-cum-marketing exercise. Or even its Prime same-day delivery service. All of those Amazon-branded delivery services are partial in multiple ways, such as where they are available; and whichgoods can be delivered this way. Prime is also a fee-payingmembership club. The prime goal is to convinceusers of the utility of locking themselves into an ongoing e-commerce relationship withAmazon by signing up for Prime membership. Yet outside the handful of slickly managed delivery-cum-PR channels, Amazons sprawling marketplace can be the very opposite of a convenient consumer experience as my experienceamply illustrates.
Also not mentioned in any Amazon promotional material: how technology convenience can carrya steephuman costfor the workers sweating to fulfill its overlyexpeditious promises.
Amazon Marketplace limbo has at least been a useful experience in illustrating technologys flip-side. Andconvinced me never to order anything from Amazon again. I have lost count of the number of bricks-and-mortar shops I have walked past in the weeks of waiting that have just the sort of electricheaters I need on sale there and then any of which could have been sitting in my apartment keeping me warm all this while. Many of which are also less expensive than the one I ordered. Once again, the convenience of online shopping is lookingincreasinglyrelative.
Im also left wondering how Amazon will cope when drone deliveries go wrong. Will it add a button for my drone never arrived? Or my drone arrived but myparcel wasnt attached? Or my drone delivery got ruined in the rain? Or will it just gear its systems to pump out mindless delivery affirmations that claim all is well with Prime Air even if its not, and not really bother connecting the dots to be in a position to help whenstuff goes wrong? Maybe Bezos and Co. will sweat to make drone deliveries function seamlesslyeven when things inevitably go, awrybut even so, they will still only be catering to amarginal fraction of customers with this vanity impulse buy service. Prime Air drones are there to sell more stuff on Amazon, not provide a vital utility at anyscale. And as the saying goes, if its inaccessible to the poor, its neither radical nor revolutionary.
So while Amazons marketing machine continues to pump out its one-sided narrative of push-button on-demand lifestyle fodderconsumerism,it pays to remember the reality of thise-commerce empire is a lot messier, complicated andconflictedfor thoseoutside itsVIP club.
On-demand? At this point Ill settle for actuallydelivered.