A review of ShopMate – Australia Post’s US shipping service

https://shopmate.auspost.com.au/
We Aussies live on an island in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes that makes getting things from other countries a little tough. Just before Christmas, I wanted to buy myself a Kindle Oasis from Amazon! Normally this wouldn’t be too much of an issue, however Amazon suffered a bug where the site refused to ship Kindles to AU addresses temporarily.

Having recently heard of AusPost’s ShopMate service, which is largely similar to MyUS, Stackry and Reship, I thought I would give them a go, as obviously AusPost is an Australian company.

I placed my order, got the item shipped to the ‘Virtual’ US address provided by ShopMate, and thought I was on the way. After the item had been marked as delivered by Amazon, I went 24 hours, then 48 hours and heading on 72 hours when I started to worry. The item had been signed for, however I couldn’t see any details on my ShopMate account. I started hunting around on the internet and found a large number of scathing reviews about issues people have had with the service already, and began to get worried.

Before I go on, let me say that in the end, I got my package and I got it on the time that was promised, however, I was largely exposed to some of the rather fatal flaws in the system. I was one of the lucky ones, and there are some things that I learned which I will certainly be keeping in mind in my ‘risk assessment’ of whether I choose to use ShopMate again. I thought it would be good to do this review of ShopMate to ensure others could keep this in mind should they wish to use the service themselves.

Some of the issues I encountered include:

  • There are no direct contact details for ShopMate in the US, all you get is an email address.
  • The email address creates an enquiry with Australia Post here in AU, they have to manually intervene and liaise as a go-between for the customer to ShopMate US.
  • My enquiry was escalated to ShopMate US and I got a phone call from them, alas I just missed the phone call, they said they would email me, to which the email never arrived. It appears that the email was definitely sent and never arrived. (For those wondering, I run my own webservers and checked all the logs, no connection attempt was ever received from an Australia Post server at or around the time and date which matched the parameters of the email they sent… hence, it definitely didn’t end up in my Spam folder. I provided this detail and offered my expertise to troubleshoot, the offer I extended was never followed up).
  • This whole process resulted in me having to call back, wait on hold, and have the email then read out to me. I was informed I could not have a direct line of contact with ShopMate in the US, the information I received really gave me no new information other than ‘we have to wait, it should be here, but we have a backlog’.
  • The Australia Post team skirted around the question repeatedly as to whether the person that signed for my package actually worked for ShopMate in the US. It was a simple question requesting validation of the name of the person that signed for the package, to this date they never answered in the positive or negative and seemingly avoided the question which I asked numerous times.
  • During the time waiting, I found some rather unusual statements on the ShopMate website FAQ page including: ‘Delivery issues have been identified across the US delivery providers with parcels being delivered to incorrect addresses (not the ShopMate USA warehouse).’ which was rather concerning. Also the page states that goods that can’t be delivered include ‘dangerous or prohibited items as determined by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. These commonly include perfume, items containing lithium-ion batteries, ink cartridges and aerosols.’ Generally I would say that is fair, however, from what I could find, this list does not completely match the official details as described on the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service site. This seems like a dangerous catch-all that could be used as a fallback when in fact, it is not true in all cases. It may simply be inaccurate if instead it should refer to any limitations imposed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (which doesn’t appear to restrict Australia Post directly) or Australia Post’s own, seemingly self-imposed restrictions.
  • Finally the tracking (or lack thereof), when my parcel was finally found, and forwarded on by ShopMate, it spent a week in limbo with no other scans or tracking available. Australia Post were unable to tell me anything about the package because ‘the package is sent via another carrier and we have no visibility of that until it reaches Australia Post here in Australia’. Hold the phone… ShopMate is an AusPost service, and they consider it to essentially be ‘external’ to them for which they have no visibility. This really summed up how the whole experience had been and does not leave me feeling that my package was in good hands.

I give kudos to the team here in Australia, they did everything that they could with very little (read as no) information available. To be honest, given the distinct externalisation of the service from Australia Post, I feel this carries a higher level of risk than using one of the other dedicated international carriers that would use something like UPS or FedEx to get the package to you.

Would I use the service again? In it’s current state I would say no, the website, the service, the support are all far too segmented to provide any real benefit (if you are reading this Australia Post, how about bringing up my Parcel Collect addresses as addresses in the ShopMate site). While my package arrived on-time, it was a snafu of it being missing with no information and waiting in the hope that it would appear. I can certainly see how many people have been stung with things being lost, unable to get support and being sent round and round in circles with ‘Please contact the merchant you purchased it from to make sure it was delivered correctly’.

Perhaps given time, Australia Post will work out some of these teething issues, improve the integration and improve access to customer service so that you can get rapid access to the US team that actually know what is happening with your package. Until then, buyer beware, have a read of some of the reviews, there are a couple of happy campers but many many unhappy people. You must always remember that people will complain when things go wrong and rarely praise, however there are already a LOT of unhappy customers.

Just my 2C, hope these things can be fixed up with time!

Australia Post Concord – Policies, Procedures and Bad Communication

When a monopoly exists with any service provider it is a cause for concern. As many of you will know the only provider of Australia wide standard postage services is none other than Australia Post (@AusPost).

So, what do you get when you mix a monopoly with unusual policies and procedures as well as the dreaded ingredient of bad (or non existent) communication? You get a customer experience such as this…

Let me set the scene for you, I had a delivery coming from Telstra, I will leave it to your imagination as what this could be 😀 and the item was left at my local Australia Post store in Concord to be picked up.

So I go onto the web and look up my local post office and see this:

Australia Post Concord Open Hours Screenshot

 

I think great, there are out of hours parcel collection services, just have to go to the PO Boxes to pick them up (at least that is what I assumed where it said Location: PO Boxes Only (which is where the pickup point is… I knew this from past experiences).

However, low and behold I get to the Post Office this morning at 7:30am sharp and see this on the door next to the PO Boxes:

Australia Post Concord Parcel Pickup Screenshot

Which states: “TO OUR CUSTOMERS: PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT EARLY COLLECTION APPLIES TO PO BOXES ONLY FROM 7:30AM TO 9:00AM. PLEASE COLLECT YOUR CARDED ITEMS DURING OUR BUSINESS HOURS FROM 9:00AM TO 5:00PM SHOULD YOU REQUIRE FOR AN EARLY PICK UP, PLEASE PHONE 13 13 18 AND ARRANGE TO HAVE YOUR PARCEL READY FOR COLLECTION WHEN YOU ARRIVE. ALSO, PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT OUR OFFICE IS OPEN EVERY SATURDAY FROM 9:30AM TO 1:00PM.”

So I knock on the door and let them know that this was not stated elsewhere and I am informed that this is policy and there is nothing the lady can do. She mentioned that my parcel would be downstairs but she was expressly prohibited by management from walking down to get the package. There was nothing she could do and I would have to talk to Linda (Lynda?) the manager. When I requested the manager’s contact details I was told the only way I could speak to them was to call the 13 13 18 number and they were not allowed to give out the contact details of the store.

Running Tally

So lets give everyone a running tally of where things sit at this point from my perspective:

  1. I have a parcel left at Australia Post for pickup.
  2. I check their website which makes no mention of what is posted on the door (though in hindsight it appears that a crude attempt at using the “Location” field may be an attempt to sum up in one word what is signposted on the door, having said this, it also states “This is an alternative option to in-store parcel collection.”).
  3. I attend the post office to find that policy is different to what is publicly stated on their website.
  4. I am then informed that policy explicitly prohibits the staff member from walking down some stairs to obtain my package from a shelf.
  5. I am subsequently informed that no contact details can be provided to me and I must call the general number and go through the rigmarole to try to get into contact with the store manager. For me this really shows no accountability and ownership of customer issues at the store level.

Now the way I see it here, we have a poor lack of communication (items 2 and 3), very poor policy which discriminates against those people who do not have a PO Box (item 3), quite ridiculous policy that prohibits a staff member from walking downstairs to get a package (item 4), and unacceptable policy that makes it immensely difficult and time consuming for a person to get into contact with the manager of the store (item 5).

Furthermore, there is inconsistency between service provided by different Australia Post stores. At the Broadway store, for years I have been able to pick up any package at their early open hours, furthermore I used to be able to do the same at the Concord store as well (to further add insult to injury).

After going out of my way (without a car this morning no less) and getting off busses to change services so that I could attend the post office I was visibly frustrated. I kept my cool with the lady at the post office itself… she was just echoing what she had been told by management and hey… you can’t shoot the messenger).

Tweets to AusPost

Therefore, when back on the bus (without my package), I posted the following stream of tweets to Australia Post:

So I now await further details from AusPost and will keep you all up to date with what they come back with, most importantly I am looking forward to hearing more about this policy and why it was enacted (specifically with relation to discriminating against non PO Box holders), and seeing the formal written version of the policy that was signed off by head office (if such exists).

Update 1: September 30, 2015 9:48 AM

I have phoned Australia Post and spoken to Amy (who was lovely and should be commended) to lodge a formal complaint (ID: 03076749). At the same time I have now requested my parcel be made available for early pickup. Subsequently, I have provided a link to this blog post and requested a formal written response that can be posted here.

I have provided all the details here and also stressed that I do not fault the staff member that I consulted with, she was just following the policies and procedures handed down to her by management.

Looking forward to a formal response.

Update 2: October 1, 2015 8:59 AM

There were some further discussions between AusPost and myself on Twitter last night:

At least my awesome Twitter friends get it:

Update 2: October 1, 2015 11:04 AM

I have just received an SMS from Australia Post stating:
“Your enquiry Ref: 3076749 is progressing and is under investigation by our network. Thank you for your patience. No Reply.”

Also forgot to mention that I did eventually get my package this morning… now I just want to see these issues reviewed (as it was a saga to say the least).

Update 3: October 1, 2015 7:12 PM

Received the following from Australia Post this afternoon:

Hi Stuart,

Thanks for your time on the phone. Below is the response we received in regards to your enquiry.

1. Enclosed are copies of the PIAC cards which the customer would have received & used to collect his carded article. It shows “ PO Boxes only “ in the Early parcel collection space.
2. Here is what is shown on the website: Because the “PO Boxes only” information is shown against the “Location” details, the customer could have misunderstood or not realised that the option was only for POB addressed carded articles
48 Majors Bay Road,
Concord NSW 2137
13 13 18
(02)9743 6587

Opening hours*
· Mon – Fri9:00am – 5:00pm
· Saturday9:30am – 1:00pm
· Sunday Closed
* Week commences on a Monday.
Different operating hours may apply on public holidays.
Additional parcel collection hours*
· Mon – Fri7:30 am – 9:00am
* This is an alternative option to in-store parcel collection.
Location: PO Boxes Only

3. In answer to the customer’s allegation that there are Early Parcel collection services at all outlets except Concord & why not at Concord
a. Not all retail outlets offer the option. It can only be offered if staffing, PO security, & local operational considerations can accommodate this option. Examples where the early parcel collection option is not offered are: Balmain PO, Australia Sq PO; Coogee PO, Kensington PO, Randwick PO, Kingsford PO and many others
b. Due to the physical layout of Concord PO where street addressed parcels are kept on the ground floor and can be accessed only by using 2 flights of stairs, and because of staffing levels, Concord PO is unable to offer early parcel collection services for street addressed carded mail. (Pls see PM’s report below). There are safety & delivery service standard issues that will affected.
c. These arrangements have been in place at Concord since the start of the “Early Parcel Collection” option advertised on the website. There have been no changes except the change in hours, ie, it changed from 6:30a-9a to 7:30a-9a in Feb 2015 due to the change in time the mail gets dropped off at Concord.

4. Solution for Customer:
a. Customer can contact CCC and arrange for next day early parcel collection for street addressed parcels from Concord PO – again pls see PM’s response below

Thanks,

I have now replied with the following:

Hi Priscila,
Thanks so much for that.

1. As I mentioned on the phone, the Star Track card that was left for me had no mention of the restriction on picking up packages (hence why I referred to the website for opening hours). Perhaps Australia Post could work with those providers to correct the missing information on the cards that they leave?
2. I completely agree that this is a large part of the cause for confusion. I would like to see a commitment for Australia Post to update the entry on the website within 30 days for all affected Australia Post stores to use the location field for it’s purpose as demonstrated on the Broadway Shopping Centre entry. I feel that it should state almost identically what is posted on the door at the store. Had this been clearly stated on the website I would have made a call 24 hours before to request the early pick up, and none of this would have presented an issue. I am also concerned that it is acceptable policy to use a website field (Location) for a purpose other than which it is designed. As you can see, this has caused a significant amount of confusion, if there are additional notes, they should have bene put after “* This is an alternative option to in-store parcel collection” as that itself lead me to believe it was available to all packages rather than just PO Boxes and the “PO Boxes” only referred to the pickup location.
3. a) That makes more sense, I would in that case ask what options could be offered in future. Something like the option to pay $5 and have the article moved to a parcel locker would be an amazing help to making life easier for those that are unable to get to the post office in time. This is especially true as articles are returned if you are unable to make it there within 10 days.
b) That is good to know that there is a valid reason, it would be good to explain this to people, when someone is provided a valid reason as to why something can’t be offered they are far less likely to react negatively. Essentially what I mean to say here is… the policy makes sense, but on the day having someone telling me that they are “explicitly forbidden” from walking down the stairs makes the management look rather stupid. Once again here, communication is key. Also I have not been provided a copy of the PMs notes, if they could please be included to me that would be appreciated so that I can address the additional comments (specifically I am curious as to specific safety and delivery standard services that would be affected).
c) I moved into the area on 22nd June 2013, ~ two weeks after I picked up a package out of hours (early) at no such time was a policy in place, there was no such notice on the door and the staff member quite happily obtained the package for me without question (I remember this specifically because it was a modem from iiNet that I had connected just after I moved in).
4. I have now done this and have the package. However, customer would like proper measures and appropriate communication of policy on the website to ensure other people do not suffer the same confusion in future. Again, if the PMs response could please be included that would be appreciated.

Look forward to hearing back from you.
Kind Regards,
Stuart

I also had the following exchange on Twitter shortly after:

Dell Laptops – Thermal Issues, Laptop Replacements & Unacceptable Customer Service

Dell Laptop on FireWhat do you get when you cross a Dell laptop, overheating issues and Dell customer support…  If you can spare 5 minutes for a quick read I can answer that. In short you get a lemon, a load of stress and a long time with an inoperable machine. For any of you that own a laptop, Dell or otherwise, I write this article to outline my case and publicly tell the tale of what I have gone through. I not only welcome your thoughts as comments but also your stories of issues you have faced with Dell or even another manufacturer.

To set the scene in mid 2009 I purchased a shiny new Dell M4400 Precision Mobile Workstation, at $7500 AUD it really was the top of the range and bleeding edge system which I believe was the first Dell business laptop to contain a quad core CPU (the Intel Q9300). After moving houses I began to notice thermal issues with the laptop (about mid 2010), in my previous house I was always in a very warm room so during the summer months had an air conditioner running right next to the laptop) therefore it was not till I moved to a new house that these issues became apparent.

Any time the laptop was used in a room with an ambient temperature above ~23-24 degrees Celsius the laptop throttled the CPU by 87.5% (rendering it unusable) and while it was in a usable state would output heat that would burn your hand if you left it in front of the vent for more than a couple of seconds. In October 2010 after doing my own diagnosis and deciding there was a genuine hardware issue I logged a call with Dell under my 4 Hour warranty (which I paid a large premium for which entitles me to a technician and parts on site within 4 working hours). After breeching the service level agreement (SLA) due to part availability and having to get parts from interstate the tech replaced the heatsink and fan in the laptop in the hope that this would resolve the thermal issues. Over the coming months this proved to be an ongoing issue and therefore I logged a new call to Dell.

This brings us to the fun part:

  • Dell on site to replace CPU, new part is a dud and tech has to come the following day with a new part as Sydney only had a single unit in stock
  • New CPU does not resolve issues, on site tech admits there is something seriously wrong.
  • On site tech boots the laptop the moment the computer booted up the CPU was idling at 65 degrees Celsius, the rated maximum for the Intel Q9300 is 70 degrees Celsius. The tech from dell on this occasion looked at me and said the guys back in the office have no idea how you have worked for this long on the laptop… he agreed it was obviously a fatal design flaw and the Dell M4400 model was never designed to handle the thermal dissipation required to cool the quad core CPU.
  • Dell takes my M4400 offsite for two days for internal testing. They attempted various CPUs to try to rectify the thermal overheating. Alas they were not able to and in turn were able to conclude that I had a wonderful $7500 Lemon.

After all this I was tossing up between a refund or a replacement system and as Dell informed me that the refund would only be ~30% of the purchase price I opted for the replacement. I was informed this would be about 10 working days (or at least that was my understanding, the account manager said today that she stated 10-14 working days, YAY for he said/she said). Regardless of this fact after the order FINALLY being placed today I was informed that the laptop would in fact be 14 – 21 working days… Now… a little maths for you. I pay through the *nose* to get a 4 hour warranty, I am then told it doesn’t cover a replacement laptop and that requires additional time… something that I never believe it stating it was restricted to. However even if we say take 10 working days at 8 hours a day, a 10 day delay is over 20 times the 4 hour warranty I signed up for.

The puzzle that Dell does not seem to appreciate is that when I purchased this Laptop, I paid a massive premium to, according to my understanding, resolve any issues within 4 working hours. If there has to be a slightly longer duration to cover lemon replacements… OK I can accept that however I fail to see how 28-42 times the duration that I deemed to be appropriate repair and resolution (i.e. 14-21 working days x 2 possible repair windows every 8 hours for a working day) is deemed to be a FAIR time for replacement.

After speaking once again to the account manager today I was told to blatantly and rudely to “deal with it” and if I wanted to I could “take it further”. So I have, called up customer care and requested a call from the complaints manager, and I have logged a call to fair trading. So as I have had to deal with these consistent issues, constant warranty (SLA) breaches, constant unavailability of parts and the fact that Dell really does not seem to be able to get me a replacement system in a fair and reasonable time frame I decided I had to share.

What I ask of you fine reader is… what would you consider to be a fair time for replacement… I told them 5 to 10 days as I realise they need to get the order from Malaysia but even 10 working days I feel is pushing far beyond reasonable when you consider that upon purchasing the system originally I did so with the understanding that any issues would be resolved in a very timely manner. I use the system for work, study and personal affairs and therefore without a working laptop I struggle immensely.

So go nuts… what are your thoughts?

Stuart