26 April 2011

Shopping without Borders: A Rant

I will freely admit that I am a late bloomer when it comes to technology.  Like, eons late.  In a world that is dominated by email and instant messaging, texting and tweeting, I am a veritable Cro-Magnon.  It is, without exaggeration, a minor miracle if I can turn my computer on each morning without incident.  I have a blackberry issued through work that I've been using since 2007, and only just figured out how to accept calendar invitations through it.  Seriously.  For the last three years, if it hasn't been your basic sending-or-responding-to-emails, I haven't done it.  My blackberry is often more effective as a paperweight and alarm clock than anything else, but even so I have managed to convince myself that I can't live without it.

My technological limitations also extend to online shopping.  There's no doubt I am much more comfortable in the virtual retail sphere than anywhere else online, but even here in what could arguably be called the biggest global mall on the planet I frequently come away empty-handed, and not for lack of trying.  Shopping - even, and sometimes especially, online - can be frustrating, disappointing and utterly defeating.  But why should it be?  Shouldn't having access to a global retail outlet guarantee shopping success?

It's a question I've asked myself many times, but none more frequently than these past few weeks when I have spent great gobs of time online sourcing and purchasing new materials for our reno and redecoration process.  What I have discovered is that "global" doesn't mean global in the truest sense.  Websites I can access, view and even fill a virtual cart to the brim with items may not always deliver to Canada.  Even in times such as these, when packages can fly half a world away overnight and communication can be transmitted in the blink of an eye (or the click of a "send" button), many online retailers restrict their delivery routes to local destinations only.

An example?  I have mentioned in a previous post the wallpaper I selected for our front foyer, a beautiful
Hummingbird pattern through Anthropologie.  I am in love with this paper, absolutely in love with it ... I think.  From what I can tell on the website it's beyond perfect and exactly what I'm looking for, but honestly?  This is a best-guess only.  Anthropologie's shipping parameters do not include Canada so I wasn't able to obtain a sample of the paper before I purchased it.  Without seeing a sample, I could be in for a terrific disappointment as there are many factors - among them my own eyesight (I wear glasses); the color settings on my computer; the integrity of their online image, to name a few - which could lead to the real thing not being nearly as perfect as the online image.  If there is any discrepancy between the picture and the real McCoy, I could be in a real design (and financial) pickle.

In a bold move that is entirely unlike me, however, I DID purchase the paper on spec.  The purchase price was a huge commitment (US$198/roll are a LOT of bones to shell out to confirm - or not! - that it is indeed perfect) and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it's just as beautiful (if not more so) as it appears on the website.  Even if there are small variations I am hoping I can still make it work in my space.  The challenges don't end with the decision to purchase, however.

For their Canadian clientele, some companies (such as
Design Public) have partnered with a US-based shipping company called Bongo International.  Bongo offers a unique service whereby an international resident can register online with contact, payment and delivery information, and Bongo will link a shipping address to your account within the continental United States.  This address can then be utilized to complete online purchases at retailers who accept only US-based address information and when the package is received at your specific Bongo location (your assigned shipping address), Bongo then arranges for international shipment of your item.  Arguably this service costs more on an individual level than if the retailer itself shipped directly, but it ensures that international shoppers can purchase beyond their own borders and retailers are not subject to prohibitive delivery and shipping fees to expand their product to a wider audience.

The process is not without it challenges, however.  Upon registering for a Bongo account, it takes
at minimum 3-to-5 business days to receive confirmation that your account is active.  Bongo's policy is to apply and then refund a nominal charge to the credit card you've provided on file, to not only ensure it is active but also to protect against fraud and identity theft.  Once this amount appears on your statement, you must log in to your Bongo account and submit the amount processed, so they in turn can confirm you are who you claim to be.  It's an effective process and a necessary one for the protection of both client and service-provider, but is not at all timely.  Up to, and sometimes exceeding, five business days is a long time to wait for a culture that is accustomed to instant online gratification.  Furthermore, once your account is live and you've begun wracking up your online purchases, adding a secondary address and shipping process to delivery means an added wait time for your purchases to arrive home: another frustration in what is often a frustrating and difficult process.

So what of my wallpaper, then?  I wasn't aware of service-providers such as Bongo when I made my purchase, so I did the next best thing I could think of: I sourced out a relative of a relative who lives in the States, plead my case and, when they agreed, had my paper shipped there.  The relative middleman (or middlewoman, in this case) was planning to head down south in early April but had to cancel unexpectedly.  Her next trip is scheduled in May and so far no conflicts have cropped up, so we're hopeful to have the paper home (and installed?) by June.  Three months is an awful long time to wait for a purchase, but I have nothing but gratitude and thanks for those who've offered their services for this shipment and inconvenienced themselves for the sake of my decorating ambitions.  Were retailers who are globally accessible online to actually
deliver globally - either directly or via a partner company like Bongo - wouldn't online shopping (and shopper satisfaction) increase exponentially?  Wouldn't the demographic expansion and increase in target market correspondingly increase profit margin?  People are willing to pay - and pay more - for premium items shipped from any location.  All we ask is that retailers grease the wheels and facilitate the path from our wallet to our door!  Is that so much ask??