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

Screenshot of 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!

Foxtel iQ3 – The worst piece of technology this year?

Foxtel IQ3 Website
Ladies and gentlemen, it appears that we have a definite contender (and likely winner) of the 2015 Shonky Awards! When you pay a premium for cable television, it is every Australian’s right that, they get premium hardware… or that at least works… or that works on occasion… at least I now know, this was a woeful fallacy I was under.

On IT News (http://www.itnews.com.au/CXOChallenge/404155,innovating-for-your-life.aspx#ixzz3aeJON2n7) an article which seemingly Ms Nell Payne (Group Director Technology and Operations at Foxtel) had input into states the following:

“The company faced a bit of a hiccup when the iQ3 first launched over performance issues, though the cacophony of complaints has now hushed.”

To IT News (which was likely paraphrasing discussions with Ms Payne) and to Ms Payne herself, I provide the following response… I have an “iQ3 Saga File” My summary file on the saga currently sits at the following (time to grab some popcorn):

The first block is things that I have personally raised or have encountered myself. Wherever possible I have provided a link to at least one relevant forum post for the major items. I also highly recommend the “Overall less than spectacular operations during release” section.

At the very bottom (“Posts that say it all”) I have gone through the last two pages only of one of the forums (user feedback only, I figured this was more than enough to illustrate my point).

Throughout the process I have been very active on the forums (some of the post linked below are my own or posts I have been involved in), I like to think I am an extremely level-headed individual and I work in I.T. and know what system design, development, and testing is like… I do it day-to-day. This is one such post that I believe is quite level headed http://community.foxtel.com.au/t5/Foxtel-iQ3/class-action-regarding-IQ3/m-p/56879# (first reply).

The only way I have succeeded in using my box is to use it primarily for watching TV live or download SD catchup (recordings have been too flaky). I have been lucky enough that after much complaining and a formal complaints process, Foxtel agreed to re-activate my old IQ-HD box for 6 months at no cost until the issues were ironed out (I feel it is only fair to now let the community know) they also agreed to refund the full cost of install and the IQ3 (not all has been applied to my account yet).

The questions I ask of Foxtel are:

  1. Why have we gone just shy of 60 days since release with no update? Bundling everything into one will only likely cause new bugs rather than logical, incremental fixes with time to test in between.
  2. Why has senior management not addressed the Foxtel community yet?
  3. What will be done to compensate those that have suffered had crippled iQ3 boxes for two months (and counting)?
  4. What is being done to review your user acceptance testing plans and procedures? As has become apparent, the testing that the iQ3 was put through has failed to reveal an embarrassing number of issues.
  5. What plans are being put in place (if any) to put in place a sufficient beta testing program including real life users to test real world scenarios of future updates (to better put them through their paces)?

So feel free to vent and/or add your comments below is there anything I have currently missed from the below?

Cheers,
Stuart

My current outstanding list of bugs include:

User Interface Issues:

In some ways it has been a step backwards as well:

Overall less than spectacular operations during release:

Posts that say it all:

Squirrel Street – How all of my bills and receipts finally found a home

Squirrel Street (formerly Shoeboxed Australia) may have just taken me from being 100% reactive at tax time to 100% proactive and that (in my books) is a massive win! Although it has an unusual name Squirrel Street takes all the receipts out of your “shoeboxes” and makes them accessible online. For me, I hope that this will make preparing my tax return  more straightforward and streamlined and I may just be on the way to a 100% paperless tax return.

A major benefit of Squirrel Street is that their scanned receipts are Australian Tax Office (ATO) accepted, so for those of you that are Australian and submit a tax return to the ATO each year, Squirrel Street is an accepted storage mechanism for your receipts. For those of you outside Australia and New Zealand, Shoeboxed US also operates in the US and Canada as well so you are covered there. As a guy I can say that my tax return is usually the last thing on my mind each year, I find myself scrounging for my receipts, donation receipts, work related expenses and all the other things that I need to put together my tax return each year.

I also tend to submit my tax return online at the *very* last minute possible before the deadline as it takes me so long to set aside a day to hunt down all the receipts… so anything that makes my life easy is definitely a win. I found Shoeboxed some time ago, which since rebranded in Australia to Squirrel Street (to be honest I have no idea how I stumbled across it) but the idea of being able to shove all my receipts, bills and other documents into an envelope and have them magically appear online for me to search, access and categorise sounded like a dream come true.

For the first month I decided on the Business $99.95AUD plan which came with 500 “documents”. This includes documents that you mail in, scan and upload yourself (that you opt to have automagically processed) and snap and upload with the Squirrel Street Mobile App. This was more than enough for me to clear out the last year of backlog (I figured this financial year was more than enough) and get a really good feel for the service. With the exception of the occasional receipt that I have to re-label (as the receipt may have been entered with the company name of “Vendor” and another “Vendor Australia” where sometimes they could be one or the other) I have to say I am really happy with the results.

I have also set up a forward that takes the document details and automatically uploads them into Evernote to enable extremely easy searching of all the receipts via another mechanism (and I treat this as a good backup).

After you mail in a series of receipts you will start to see them appear in your account classified including the category (which can be automatically or manually set), total amount, total tax, date and company/person that was paid:

Shoeboxed Example Receipts Screenshot

As you can see from the above image, there are numerous categorisations, the Yellow categories are ones that I have added and assigned to a particular store/vendor that I want then to be listed under, it will also tell you (where it is listed on the receipt) whether it was paid by Cash/Credit or Debit Card/Cheque etc.

There are a range of other great features and I have to say I am really looking forward to having more of a play and finding out just how good the searching and reporting features are come tax time. As soon as we hit June 31st I am going to be giving Squirrel Street a run for its money to see just how easy it can make my life for submitting a tax return and keeping all the receipts on file for my records.

There are lots of other little features that I have yet to get my hands dirty with, I have dabbled a little bit in searching and sorting and uploading business cards as well (which is insanely easy from the mobile app). Support has been extremely helpful and been able to explain things to me when I ran into some early issues understanding how the email integration worked.

Why would you:

  1. You find yourself struggling to keep track of your receipts/invoices/bills throughout the year
  2. You want the time saver of just stuffing all your receipts into an envelope, posting them in, and having them appear in an account for you to categorise, search and archive
  3. You run a small business and need what you could almost define as an online bookkeeper
  4. You would like to better prepare for audits
  5. You would like to share your receipts electronically with your accountant (Classic plan and higher)

Why wouldn’t you:

  1. The price is something that people may be put off by, I guess it is one of those things you need to weigh the convenience against the price
  2. You prefer not to store your receipts and invoices online.

The two things I liked most:

  1. Being able to set up email rules on my mail account to automatically send monthly invoices from all my online subscriptions straight into Shoeboxed without any intervention from me
  2. Receiving free envelopes that can be fillled with receipts and sent back (available on the Classic or higher plans) that then magically appear in my online account (you can then opt to have everything shredded or instead mailed back to you). Correction: New envelopes are posted out after the old ones are received and processed

The two things that I liked least:

  1. User interface was a little confusing in the beginning, even as a geek it took me a while to understand where some things were and there were certain things in the UI that confused me then (and still confuse me now)
  2. The FAQs seemed a little bit light on information when I ran into problems which required me to contact support, (don’t get me wrong, the support was exceptional) I would just like to see their FAQs rounded out a bit.

Hints if you want to give it a go:

  1. Make sure you check out the Squirrel Street email address under your account, it will let you forward emails to the address which will then be processed and added to your account (very handy, especially if you set up some auto forwarding rules in your email client for those that come in each month).
  2. If you are in for the long haul, by signing up to the yearly plan you can get between 250 and 1000 “kick off” scans to help you clear out your backlog as well as 2 months free for the year. As I was not 100% sold on the idea originally I will admit I just did this by paying for a larger plan for the first month so I could give it a good trial first but they do have a 30 day money back guarantee.
  3. If you can go for the Squirrel Street Classic or higher plan you will get emailed “magic envelopes” weekly which are reply paid envelopes that you can just fill and send back, this makes the whole process brainless and painless :D. (Note: your receipts will not be returned to you on the Squirrel Street Lite plan).
  4. If you send/upload/email more documents than your quota for the month there will be overage charges (depending on your plan) therefore make sure you plan early and plan accordingly.

I will keep this updated when I post the next stage of my review in a month or so’s time.

*corrections made to Magic Envelope delivery details April 16, 2014 12:54 pm

*changes made to rebrand Shoeboxed Australia to Squirrel Street April 28, 2017 9:05 am