How ordering online turned into a nightmare

I remember going shopping with my grandmother. A leisurely event, we wandered happily from grocer's shop to butcher's, watching coffee being freshly ground and neatly packaged in hand-made brown paper packages, seeing lamb chops skilfully cut and wrapped.

Everywhere we went, my granny had a conversation, 'How are you?', 'How's the family?', with shopkeepers who knew her and valued her custom.

Alright, I know, there's no point harking back to the glory days of the high street. Now, in spite of all Mary Portas can do, high streets are dying before our eyes.

There are mobile phone shops and charity shops where once the grocer and the butcher filled their windows with tempting local food. And I buy everything from coffee to lamb chops from my nearest well-stocked supermarket.

Online splurge

But what about saving petrol and ordering online? I have a little cottage in the New Forest that has been the focus of so much family happiness. But the beds were bought more than 25 years ago, and one of my daughters complained about being cramped and bruised after a night in one of them. So I splashed the cash, and bought three new beds from John Lewis, which was to deliver them.

While I was about it, I thought it might be an investment to buy mattress protectors, and we found an online company that promised to deliver anywhere.

It was January – you may remember there was a lot of snow. The beds arrived, and when the wonderful delivery men from John Lewis realised they couldn't get the mattresses around my crooked, 17th-century cottage corners, they pushed, pulled and hauled them through a window – with the help of David, my guardian angel neighbour – and that was fine.

Truth to tell, I thought the mattress protectors must have arrived at around the same time and had been fitted, and I forgot to check. Only when spring arrived and angel David wandered through the garden did he find them piled underneath a hedge.

They had arrived just before the snow. The courier had not obeyed instructions to leave them by the front or back door if we were out and had failed to ring or email me to warn me. When we opened the parcel, we found the two at the bottom had repulsive mould growing all over them.

The blame game

There then followed a month of irate emails. I was told it was the courier company's fault. That didn't help. I persisted. So then I was asked to send a photograph of the mould. I did. Then I was told it was all my fault because I had failed to complain within the
three-week time limit.

I explained that was because they had been hidden by a hedge, and I hadn't known they were there.

Finally, it refused to refund the cost or replace the two double-mattress protectors without a full written complaint, by which time my daughter had put the mouldy mattress protectors in the bin, so I no longer had the evidence.

At which point I decided that I would put the £40 loss down to experience, and I ordered replacements from John Lewis. They arrived in perfect condition, on time, and were delivered to the right place.

So what is the moral for online retailers? First, be courteous, fair and welcoming, and we customers will give you our loyal affection, and our money. John Lewis, once again, did it right. Mrs Irate, who tried to blame me for an error by her useless courier firm, was wrong and has lost me as a customer for ever. And in future, before I buy anything more online, I'll check reviews on the seller's website and if there aren't any, I will go elsewhere.

The best firms have one principle, which is that the customer is always right. Or at least in my grandmother's day, they did.

Esther Rantzen is a renowned broadcaster and founder of ChildLine. Email her at

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Your Comments

From the article it would seem that the solution is to be a successful journalist & broadcaster then,as these are the only people who can afford John Lewis!
As for the rest of it...well I don't know if this is down to gender,age or whatever but as a man in my late forties I can tell you that my memories of the high street are totally different.All I recall is 20-odd years of untidy,overcrowded shops,rip-off pricing & untrained,disinterested,underpaid staff.
Since the beginning of the retail park phenomenon in the 80s you can add to that overrepresented food & drink outlets selling rancid meat & foul coffee (3 quid a cup? I'll wait til i get home thanks) Oh...& while we're at it...just because your job has an Italian name it doesn't mean you're an artist.Serving drinks is a servants job matey,kindly get over yourself.
If the high street is dying all i can really say is it serves it bloody well right! To me,shopping has never been the leisure activity they seem to want to promote it as.It's a miserable chore.Get it over & done with.
I adopted the internet early so have been shopping online pretty much since it was possible to do so & have had minimal problems.The pitfalls are easy to avoid.As far as couriers go,find out which one they use.If it's Yodel,laugh at them & say "well you're not getting my money then" Otherwise it tends to be fine (although try to avoid City Link unless you're retired & at home all day every day.Just to be safe)
Give me the comfort of my computer chair,a coffee that cost me 30p & a leisurely hour & that's my shopping done.Plus I can do it in my underwear which I imagine John Lewis would take a dim view of.
So,if you really need to experience the headless chicken rush of humanity & don't mind spending a weeks rent to give Starbucks a tax free income,by all means head for the high street.Meanwhile I'll be reading a good book or enjoying some music.
Oh...& just in the interest of being 'controversial' I have a suspicion that those people who champion the high street on the grounds of it providing "a sense of community" are actually referring to "the chance for some inane gossip"
Viva .com!