No one works harder at logistics than Amazon except, maybe, the U.S. Army. And when those efforts work, they can be head-spinningly efficient. But when they don’t, watch out. Or get out. Or just try to get out….
My descent into the Amazonian abyss began with what seemed like a simple single-item order. I even bought a one-week Prime sucker membership to be sure of having it well before Christmas. On a Wednesday, I got word: the package would arrive in three days (so much for overnight Prime), on Saturday. “On the day of delivery, we will email you a one-time password to provide to the driver in-person for delivery,” the email message added. Ah well, I thought, it’ll probably come in the morning, and I can still hit a trail in the afternoon.
Come Saturday, I did something I’d never done before in my (admittedly spotty) history of ordering from Amazon: check a package’s progress online. Yes, indeed, the site said, the item had arrived at the depot and was going out: “We will deliver it by 10 pm.”
Ten pm?! Even the cable companies give you a window of two or four hours to wait for their service techs. And they’ll call when they’re on their way. Amazon had no qualms about telling me to wait up to 13 hours, with no warning call. Good thing the fridge was stocked.
I pinned up a note informing the notional delivery driver that the doorbell did work and sat down to my work, trying not to think about when the package might arrive, just as the young Leo Tolstoy tried in vain to not think of a white bear. Then I tracked it anyway.
At 4:01 pm I received a message: “Your package is on the way but running late. We’re sorry for the delay. Now expected by December 18 [Monday]. Track your delivery for the latest updates.”
Forget about 13 hours. Figuring “by December 18” meant December 18, I made plans to get out on Sunday, December 17.
Sunday morning, however, I had a new message, “Your package will be delivered today,” together with the fabled “password,” actually six numerical digits. “For security, the recipient of this package must provide this one-time password or the last two digits [see, they do know what digits are] of the delivery address phone number to the driver in-person to receive the package.” Once again, the package would arrive “by 10 pm.” Once again, but more impatiently, I waited.
Around noon, as I recall (I seem to have deleted that message), I got another message apologizing for running late once again and saying that the package would still be delivered later today. I took that to mean I had a hall pass for a few hours and headed out to do what I had put off doing the day before. But just to be sure I got the delivery, I left an additional note, signed and dated, on the door: “If you get no answer, please waive in-person delivery and leave package on porch, behind railing and bamboo. It will be safe. Password: 880433.” To be doubly sure, I authorized delivery to a neighbor in the “additional instructions for the driver” box online.
An hour later, while I was out, I received another message: “We tried to deliver your package but, per your instructions to the driver, did not leave it. We will try to deliver it another time.”
The next morning I had another message: “Your package will be delivered today.” Visions of 10 pm danced in my head. Fortunately, the driver arrived before noon and called the number I’d provided pinned on the door. Before she’d release the package, however, she demanded the “password.” I scrolled through my phone, found the original message with password and showed it to her. “No, that’s incorrect. Can you tell me the last two digits of the phone number on file? You only get one chance.” You mean the number you just called? I asked—the only one I recalled giving Amazon. “No,” she replied, and then gave a prompt that saved this day from going the way of the preceding two days. “The two digits that come after 84….” Aha! She had the number for a landline I canceled nearly a decade ago. The package was mine!
You could say that last kerfuffle was on me: I’d given her Sunday’s passcode, not noticing the new one sent Monday. Otherwise the whole scheme seemed ingeniously designed by Amazon to torment customers. But the company does disclose another motive: “Due to the value of some items, a one-time password (OTP) is required on delivery for some orders. An OTP adds an extra layer of security to your packages.” Cryptic warnings follow: “Please don’t share the OTP or the delivery address phone number with the driver over the phone…. Please don’t add your phone number in the delivery address instructions.”
The reason for those warnings can be inferred from an article on the news site Which?, a British counterpart to Consumer Reports. It seems Amazon drivers over there have been using the OTPs to steal pricey items. In one case, a driver told the purchaser of a laptop that his password was incorrect and he’d have to wait for a new one, took the laptop back, and then turned in the OTP as proof the laptop had been delivered. Amazon repeatedly rejected the victim’s request for a refund on grounds that once he gave up the OTP, he was liable. He finally got his money back by contesting the charge with his bank.
In another case reported by Which?, the driver took the password and hopped back in his truck with the £600 item in tow. This time Amazon eventually released a refund. Another customer found the laptop she’d ordered had been extracted from its box and replaced with printer paper; she’s still trying to get it refunded. No wonder Amazon wants to switch to drone delivery—though the drones may get hacked and steal stuff too.
So we have a system that confines customers to their homes, sometimes for multiple days, and helps crooked drivers – alerted by the OTP requirement as to which packages have valuable cargo – steal orders. Clearly, there is one way to avoid this situation: Do not have anything expensive delivered by Amazon. How expensive? My purchase (which was big and lightweight, clearly not a laptop or anything else likely to be resellable) cost $250, plus tax. Around the same time, a $180 tablet got dropped on a porch without the OTP requirement. So $200 seems like a likely cutoff.
If you do want to buy something costlier than that, arrange to pick it up at an Amazon Locker, though that undercuts the convenience of online ordering. Or go buy it someplace where you pays yer money and takes yer merchandise. Like a local store.