Category Archives: Not excellent

Too Big Not To Fail

A while ago, we received a pretty nice Delta kitchen faucet via UPS. It was addressed to us, and had a UPS tracking number. We had not ordered it.

This was not brushing—it’s Costco, not GriftAsInfrastructure, and nobody’s going to brush with $190 items. But we hadn’t ordered or paid for it, so the right thing to do was return it. That is what I tried–really tried–to do. I could not.

It can be difficult to find out what company sent you something if it is sent via courier. There was a return address on this package, but the company name was Frederick Ecommerce. That’s a fulfillment center for Costco in Maryland. You can find that out by using a search engine, but you’d have to want to.

I spent 30 minutes on the phone with Costco, trying to figure out what should be done with this thing. Mostly, I was on hold, working on other stuff and enjoying the 35 second music loop, while the extremely helpful and polite support person and I waited to hear back from someone higher up.

This was the third time in 12 months that I’ve tried to do this, with three different companies. It’s pretty obvious that none of these companies have a procedure in place for dealing with orders that get sent to the wrong person. At the volume that online sales work at, especially right now, there should be. These mistakes are inevitable.

As with every other time I received stuff I wasn’t supposed to, the answer was “we can’t really trace where that item was supposed to go.” I was told that, if I wanted to, I could drop this thing off at a Costco. The implication there is that if I wouldn’t like to do that, I just got a new faucet.

This means that, for Costco and at least three other companies (I got some other stuff a couple years ago the same way) the only way these errors can be dealt with is by either just shipping another product to the customer who didn’t receive it, or spending time arguing with the customer about whether they DID receive it. Both of these are expensive options, which are added on to the cost of giving me a faucet AND shipping it to me.

I’ve worked in retail, and in warehouses, and I knew that, if I took this item to my local Costco, it would just create a huge headache for whoever ends up having to deal with it. They don’t stock this item in-store and would have no record of how it got there. It’s going to end costing them more time, and probably end up getting junked or sitting somewhere forever.

I understand that, when you work at high volume, this might be the least expensive way to deal with problems like this. I will bet you a nickel that if you run the numbers on fixing this, it is more cost-effective for companies to just keep giving away stuff when these mistakes get made than it is to add the tracking (and more expensively, people) and whatever else would be required to resolve these issues. It’s much more wasteful, but it costs less.

So on one side, profitability and speed, on the other, less waste, more cost, lower efficiency. It’s all a matter of what you value more.

I gave the faucet to someone who could use it.

Bonus tip: If you should ever have a kitchen faucet sent to you by mistake, it is perfectly reasonable to try to think of which of your friends and family members may have sent it to you. But I don’t recommend you pursue that line of inquiry too strenuously. It is remarkable how fast a conversation dies when you start it with “Hey—did you send me a faucet?”