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Editor's Rant: Rage Against the Machine!

A Rant Column by Andy Grieser
November 2 , 2000

For many months, I was a huge fan of Urbanfetch. Sure, the site began as a sort of knock-off of Kozmo — both promised deliveries of food, movies, entertainment stuff and other gifts within an hour — but Urbanfetch quickly won my heart with added extras like cookies and T-shirts. These little bonus items were tucked into orders, so that every delivery was like waiting for the Easter Bunny.

Then, a dark day fell, and Urbanfetch decided to suspend its delivery service to all but corporate clients. Sure, Kozmo would fill the need for spontaneous music or video needs, but they never stuffed their deliveries with added extras. Clearly, it was time to make one last order, both for old times’ sake and to get one last T-shirt or magnet or whatever.

Coincidentally, I had been lusting after a Palm Vx. For years, I’ve carried around a battered Dayrunner organizer, but it became more hassle than help. Heck, the calendar inside is still from 1995, just because I never got around to buying refills. And instead of neatly writing contact information in the phone list, I took to scrawling numbers on scraps of paper and stuffing them into the Dayrunner’s pockets. Besides which, the Palm Vx is a gadget, which always makes me coo with pleasure like a magpie eyeing something shiny.

I almost bought said Palm from the neighborhood Staples, but it was priced exactly the same on Urbanfetch. While I had planned to use my last order on compact discs or even Game Boy cartridges, I now decided to blow it all on my beloved PDA. I mean, come on — I’d be spending $400. Surely they’d throw in two or three shirts!

And so, on Monday, Oct. 16, I placed my order.

First bad sign: Deliveries weren’t scheduled until the next day. Kozmo and Urbanfetch built their businesses on one-hour deliveries, so we busy corporate types don’t have to leave our laptops to shop. Still, I’d heard a rumor that Urbanfetch was laying off delivery folks, and I was sure everyone else in the city was placing one last order as well, so I happily chose a time for the next day.

Now, as a busy corporate type (read: forgetful), I always put a note with my Urbanfetch order that the delivery can be left with a doorman or receptionist or other convenient person. I did the same here, in case I was unable to meet the delivery person.

Monday night, I began to rethink my purchase. The price was awfully steep for an impulse buy. I looked around at some of my other impulse buys: a digital camera, broken during either a trip to the beach or a night at a bar; aforementioned Game Boy, purchased for a cross-country train trip more than a year before and not used since. You get the idea. Problem is, Urbanfetch had said all sales were final, what with them closing and all. I made a mental note to pay extra on that month’s Visa bill to cover it, and went to bed.

Tuesday, I felt like a kid at Christmas. I stuffed the old Dayrunner into my backpack and headed into the city, envisioning all the ways my new toy would make my life more efficient. I did stop myself when the fantasy began to involve winning the lottery. Well, soon after, anyway.

The earliest delivery time available was 11:30 a.m., which snuck up on me. As I’d anticipated, I was stuck in a meeting, and afterward noted the voicemail on my phone. It was the receptionist; the Urbanfetch guy was there and wouldn’t hand over my package without seeing an ID. That’s odd, I thought. They’ve never asked for one before.

No matter. I rushed to the front desk, but neither an Urbanfetch delivery man nor the receptionist who had called were there. The receptionist who was there said the other had left word that she’d be right back, and that I should wait. And so I did. And did. And did. No sign of her. I asked whether there were any packages that I could just take. The fill-in receptionist didn’t know; she’d just walked in.

I tired of waiting and went back to my desk. About half an hour later, I called and finally got the woman who’d left the voicemail earlier.

"He wanted an ID, and wouldn’t take mine," she explained. "So he said you should call and schedule another delivery time."

"Did he leave a number?"

"No… I don’t think so. Let me check and call you back." Click. I didn’t hear from her again.

The only number listed on the Urbanfetch site was for some cell phone service, but I dialed anyway. And got a recording explaining they weren’t taking calls, and that I’d have to e-mail their feedback address. Right. Like anyone was checking that. So I added one to the number and dialed that. Aha! The corporate office. I pressed 0 for the operator and got a puzzled man who quickly disavowed the Urbanfetch online service ("we’re a separate entity within the company") and recommended I write to Feedback.

Fine. I did. And waited two hours with no response.

So I called back, and talked to the same man, and tried not to sound like the same shlub who’d called earlier. This time I sort of finessed the truth by claiming I’d been told to call that number by the delivery guy. He sounded puzzled and gave me the number for something called Urbanfetch Express. Victory! Surely these were the people I needed.

The woman who answered this second number was confused. I, well, finessed the truth again, and made it sound like my company was awaiting a package. Because, you see, I’d stumbled across the corporate delivery branch, the one that was being kept active while the regular-shmo service was shut down. She bought it, too, but of course couldn’t help in the end. She said I should write Feedback.

Which I did, again. And promised that I would wait until noon the next day, and then have Visa reject payment on that order.

Another hour later, a co-worker said I should check on my account status, see whether they might schedule a delivery through that. I loaded the page and saw a big ol’ "Cancelled" next to my order. Wha--? So Urbanfetch had suddenly decided I didn’t need my new toy after all? My monetary concerns of the night before were gone — now something of mine was being kept from me, dammit!

That’s when I paged back and saw that my account had been updated again. It showed a credit to my Visa in the amount of the order. They’d not only cancelled my Palm, they’d already given the money back. All in a few hours. Like they never cared at all whether I bought the damn thing.

So here I am. I am taking deep breaths, trying to remember the good times. Images of the Palm still dance through my head, but I’m determined to wait before I buy, so it’s not totally an impulse purchase. Wouldn’t want the new PDA to think it was just a rebound gadget, after all.

I’ll never give my heart to a delivery service again.

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