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Last Updated: Friday, 13 January 2006, 11:41 GMT
'Convenience? It's inconvenient'
Sometimes the real thing is more convenient than the virtual one
Internet shopping, banking and the 24/7 society are supposed to make life easier for consumers. But think about the flipside, says Grant Woodhouse in our Readers' Column. If you'd like to write a column, tell us using the form at the foot of the page.

Most people who do their daily chores online - shopping, banking, whatever - say they like the convenience. They can order from the comfort of their own home, at any time of day.

It's a big plus to using these services. But I find that this convenience also has a downside. We've used online grocery shopping for several years now, but regularly have to switch vendors as the service level slips.

When asked if a substitution is OK, I always say yes, believing that if my favourite brand isn't available I can make do with an alternative. But 'substitution' can be defined very loosely. Once we ordered vegetarian sausages and received Premium Pork & Leek ones (good job we're not strict vegetarians).

Once we ordered vegetarian sausages and received Premium Pork & Leek ones as a substitution
Grant Woodhouse, Orpington

So we actually look forward to receiving our groceries to see the peculiar substitutions or unavailability - one supplier had no semi-skimmed milk for weeks.

Sure, by buying online you save the hassle of going to the shops. But then you have to wait in for the delivery, often at the whim of the delivery company.

Supermarkets make much of their 'convenient' delivery slots, chosen at the 'convenience' of the customer. So we book our one-hour slot, only for it to be missed, often by hours, and in spite of any instructions we've given, such as delivering before 3pm as we need to pick up the children from school.

Other retailers post items, which always seem to be delivered between 6.30 and 7.30 am - now I'm either in the shower or already on my way to work by then, and luckier people are still asleep.

And just before Christmas there was a story in the media about a gas engineer turning up to reconnect a couple's supply at 3.35am. Exceptional circumstances, but increasingly those who supply us with services expect us to be available after-hours. My bank often rings me of an evening: 'Hello sir, we're just calling to check on the service you received today when you got some money out. Was it satisfactory? On a scale could you rate the following: the helpfulness of the staff member assisting you? The choice of décor? The shine on the plastic plant leaves?'

It appears that 24/7 availability is a curse of the modern world - if we expect our suppliers to be available, are they wrong to expect the same of us? They assume so, or perhaps it's for our convenience.

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