Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Perils of Ordering Online

Special Offers

I do love to see special offers online, or back in the day I'd get excited when the Maplin special offers catalogue landed in my mail box. It pushes my buttons, fascinates me, even if it's stuff that I'm never likely to buy. In the past I've bought various items (or lemons), and then once they've past the novelty stage they've either languished in drawers or I've passed them on to family or friends. Here's a list of some of my past mistakes:-

  • A cheap camera with a 12x zoom lens (but no anti-shake technology).
  • An mp3 player that uses compact flash cards (limited to a few hundred songs).
  • A 2.4" Android tablet with resistive touchscreen (a terrible device to use).
  • Scalextric Start Track extension packs (which doesn't fit standard track).
  • And various computer parts over the years that have just not been very good (but we've all done that one, right?).
And I can't be the only one that this happens to, leave me examples of your special offer mistakes in the comments!

Ruth (my lovely wife) has many similar stories regarding online food shopping such as when ordering a kilo of bananas resulted in the delivery of just ONE curved yellow fruit.

I very nearly ordered that AMD E350 based system board the other day, just because it was less than fifty quid. Yet I know that it would been another one of those lemons. It's a good deal if you're making a cheap mini-itx based desktop machine, but no good as a server. So how do I manage to fend off these urges?

Well you can't, but I do have two simple tricks to stop myself from buying:
  1. Never order the same day you see that 'must have' item. If you really need it then sleeping on it will help you confirm this. (It's amazing how many times I've changed my mind using this method)
  2. Always do web searches for product reviews. It only takes 15-30 minutes and then you'll have an idea as to why this item is on special offer. Is it superseded technology that they failed to sell, or did they make the mistake of stocking rubbish. (Either way you need to know)

The Dreaded Blister Pack

Some online shops offer free postage when you spend over a certain amount, and god bless them for it. But I have the desire (and maybe it's by design, not just chance) to whack as many other items to the order to maximise on my perceived good fortune.

So when I found myself with only an mSATA card in my basket and free postage I started looking around for additional products. After five minutes or so of looking I found a third party Wiimote and Nunchuck controller for £22 which was described as being "Wii Motion Plus Compatible". Great, we have a copy of Sports Resort Island that won't work without a Motion Plus controller. It'd be great to try that game.

But even a tech-savy guy like me gets caught out with wording, "the devils in the detail" and all that! When the order arrived and I tried the Wiimote in the Sports Resort I still got the same "Please attach Motion Plus device" instruction on the screen. After some confusion and inspection of the chinglish instruction slip, I realised you could attach a Motion Plus adaptor, and it doesn't have this built in like the later Nintendo ones do,.. BUM!!

Annoyed (partly with myself) I fired off an email to their customer services department explaining the confusion and after a couple of days I got the following reply. 

"I am sorry to hear this. I can confirm that this can be returned as item not required within & days as long as it is in a resellable condition."

Hhhmmm,... the blister pack it came in had to be dissected in order to extract the product, and there's no way it would now be re-sellable in it's current condition. The blister pack has eroded away some of our customer rights and we've all just sat back unaware it was happening.

It's a bit like when people blame supermarkets for the excessive packaging that comes with food. But I'll always argue that nobody forces you to buy it, and often there's a similar item with less packaging, or with packaging that's easier to recycle.

BUT, you can't see the packaging when you order online!

So what IS a blister pack?

A blister pack is a vacuum formed from clear thermoplastic and it's commonly used for small consumer goods, food and pharmaceuticals. There's a version called a clamshell that's folded around the product (often with a cardboard insert) and then welded along the three edges. Opening them can be tricky, (cutting around the edge with sturdy scissors seems to work best) and it does offer one or two benefits both to the customer and shop.

In the shop they hang on wire racks allowing the customer to see the item without tampering with the contents. They're generally quite rugged (especially when you try to open them) and they do quite a good job of protecting the product.

For the consumer you get to see the product, and they give you the guarantee that it's not been tampered with & all the parts are present.

Like many things in life, they're an example of modern inconvenience.

Remember to post examples of your lemons, I look forward to reading them :-)


  1. I undertook the onerous task of opening one of these clamshell packs this evening. The consumer rights erosion hadn't occurred to me until now. The fact that they are ridiculously difficult to get into did occur to me!

  2. I think that's just the start of what's wrong with clamshell packs. You try wrapping them up as a gift, or returning the item back into the packaging for storage or perhaps reselling on ebay.

    At least the plastic can be put into the recycling these days.