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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 21:34 GMT
This could be the last time
Mick Jagger Waiting for Mick and the boys


BBC News Online's Mike Smartt finds buying CDs on the Net is not as easy as it sounds.

No traffic jams, no parking fees, no disappointment when what you want is out of stock, no long queues to pay if you're lucky enough to find your chosen item.

The internet puts an end to all the frustration of shopping in the high street. You order the item one day, pay for it in 30 seconds by credit card online and your purchase drops through the letterbox the following morning.

That's the theory anyway - and a few months ago, it seemed to work.

CDs, because their size and weight make delivery easy, are among the most popular items to shop for online. And on a couple of occasions in the autumn, I successfully ordered and received compact discs from a UK site called Audiostreet.com.

At launch, everything was 9.99 with free postage. Prices have gone up since but postage in the UK is still gratis.

However, now it seems everyone is at it and things are not going so well.

The long wait

Although being a child of the Sixties, I have never owned a single Rolling Stones track; more of a Who man myself. So when I spotted the triple CD pack The London Years, with most of Mick and the boys' early and mid-career hits, for 14.99, I ordered it.

No satisfaction this time though. Nothing arrived for week.

So, I went back to Audiostreet and checked my order history. A good feature this, where you can track what has happened - or not as in my case - to a particular order.

Checking me out?

My Rolling Stones pack was delayed because of a "credit card query". I assumed this to be the same as when in ordinary shopping, an assistant checks you are in funds with a quick data-call to the credit card company.

But it doesn't normally take a week.

Still nothing.

Several days later, I e-mailed Audiostreet. They replied immediately that the credit card which I had registered several months earlier had expired.

They were right. But the trouble is you only register the card on the first visit to the site.

If you use it for subsequent transactions without re-registering - a very good time-saving idea in principle - they don't remind you prominently enough to check it is still valid each time you order.

So I re-registered my new credit card. But still no CD.

Another long wait

It was only after I e-mailed again that the company said it would re-process my order and the Stones finally rolled into my CD player, over two weeks late.

Just to prove I am not picking on Audiostreet, I then ordered a fairly obscure but current CD from the new music service offered by the famous US Amazon company in the UK (they've been selling books over here for some time).

That was on 10 November and I am still waiting. Twice, without prompting, Amazon have e-mailed their apologies at not being able to source the item and offering to cancel the order - but they shouldn't have advertised it if they cannot deliver.

Undeterred, I tried Audiostreet again, ordering the latest release by jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, a highly rated film soundtrack that was Audiostreet's featured jazz album on the day I visited the site.

Gone missing

More than a week later, the order was "still being processed", according to my onsite order history. Audiostreet said they were having trouble locating this item, even though Metheny is one of the world's top jazz sellers and, remember, the disc had been the site's featured album.

Then a different story; they said my credit card expiry date was wrong in my site details. I checked and it was, indeed, one digit out. But then how could the Stones discs have been delivered using exactly the same details? An online mystery.

Audiostreet's customer service official was apologetic but like many businesses on the internet, he admitted, Audiostreet were a victim of their own success.

Business was up 30% a month but apparently, I suggested to him, service was down by just as much. BBC News Online initially grew at a similar rate so I do have some sympathy.

The company, he said, was considering installing software to validate credit cards on registration and automatically e-mail people when their card expired - both good moves if they are not to lose customers like me.

So it looks to be back to the mad Christmas crowds for the CDs I shall be buying for other people this Yuletide - in the high street. Perhaps they'll have it sorted online by next Christmas.

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See also:
06 Dec 99 |  Business
UK internet shopping set to boom
29 Nov 99 |  Business
Christmas shopping on the web
06 Dec 99 |  Business
America's E-Christmas boom

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