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Thanks for the thanks. Is online shopping not always like this?

Posted on 17 February 2010 | 10:02am

It is as a statement of fact, rather than with any pride, that I confess to a certain phobia about online shopping.

True, I am not that big a shopper anyway, and tend to come out in something of a rash on my annual supermarket visit, on the second day of our summer holiday. But the online variety brings out in me even greater anxiety and purchasophobia.

We did have something of a minor celebration in the house recently when I successfully booked my own train tickets online. Well, I kind of did. I used the traintracker service to find out which trains I wanted, but when it came to the actual purchase I got on the phone and had a nice chat with a man in Bangalore who took down my credit card details.

But my latest experience of the online shopping market has been as a seller rather than a purchaser, and it has been a fascinating experience, not least for the politeness of people when they are served properly.

A fair proportion of online chatter is of the abusive and insulting variety. Feed in any footballer or showbiz celebrity’s name, let alone a politician or a banker, and you will see what I mean. So much of our media discourse also operates only at the level of fury and rage.

And I sense from the response to the service we have been running that people have a lot of bad experiences of shopping online. Because the response has been characterised by an extraordinary politesse and thankfulness that something is ordered, paid for, and arrives as promised within a day or two. I’d love to know whether this really is out of the ordinary, but it has been nice to get the emails, tweets, direct messages and letters thanking us simply for doing what we said we would.

We have a good little system going here. My son monitors the site overnight, grabs me at some point in the day to sign any books that need signing, with the message as directed, then he gets them out the next day. I’m glad it seems to be working, and raising a bit of money for the party as we go.

Remember, it is the trade paperback of The Blair Years we are selling, at £15, with £7.50 going to the party. Go to

Meanwhile, feel free to share online shopping horror stories or otherwise.

  • Charlie P

    Your book certainly arrived quicker than my last purchae, a pair of trainers. My experience generally is seven out of ten

  • Trudi Giles

    Online shopping takes away the real pleasure of shopping, which is browsing amid the actual products, and being pampered a little by sales people. It may be a man woman thing though. My boyfriend hates it. Doesn’t exactly come out in a rash, but tends to wait outside if I take more than five minutes.

  • Carl Porter

    Problem is online is putting real shops out of business. Our high street now like a charity conference

  • @jlocke13

    your system works well but imagine if sales really took off and you had 500 books a day to sign!…I have been shopping online for many years and (touches wood) have rarely had a problem, usually it is the fiddle of returning something that turns out not to be suitable, though the better online retailers have this down to a fine art. I am not sure why you hesitated to buy your tickets online, giving you credit card to an encrypted site is far safer that that man in Bangalore…!

  • Mark \’Elvis\’ Wright

    I was so impressed with the prompt delivery service of Alastair Campbell’s Diaries through this website I’m now ordering my mum’s birthday present, a roll of underlay, a ‘toy’ for my girlfriend and all my Christmas shopping through

  • Bryony Victoria

    I was genuinely delighted to find my signed book delivered from you after just a day and a half after ordering. Most of my online purchases involve Ebay, Amazon, Train Tickets (which I collect) and gig/event tickets.

    Normally things take at least 3-4 days to arrive, even after promises of First Class. Gig tickets are the worst nightmare, even after massive booking fees the tickets usually arrive just a couple of days before the event and on more than one occassion – after.

    Did have to wait about 3 months for a hairdryer my mother wanted from Comet after they let us order and then rang a week later to say it was out of stock – thought that was a bit poor.

    However, I don’t like going in a lot of shops either because I don’t like it when staff approach and get pushy (PC world is always terrible for this, I go in to buy printer ink and they start trying to sell my anti-virus that I need) and I don’t like getting barged aside by other customers intent on looking at what I’m looking at.
    I find Supermarkets hellish and have moved to online food shopping, although this has the drawbacks of continuously ‘replaced’ items and missing items.

    I think both online and ‘real world’ shopping can be equally annoying at times. Can’t win!

    /rant over.

  • Alan Quinn

    For the personal touch you can’t beat going into a shop you can also look at the items, get some product information and feel it in your hands or look at it on you.
    Online is OK if you know exactly what you want but it can be a pain if you have to send the product back. I’ve had good experiences and bad ones eg birthday presents not arriving, phoning the supplier to be informed that it wasn’t sent because the product was out of stock.

    Ebay can be fun too, I’ve bought everything from coins, Australian Pink Floyd tickest,alloy wheels,freeview boxes, DAB receivers to DVDs. Last night I won the Mesrine DVD, service is usually very good but never as quick as yours.

  • chaz

    Alastair, anxiety and purchasophobia is so right. I had to smile about your booking train tickets online, but being not quite sure enough to press the ‘sold’ key, reminds me of the time I wanted to book a return (on the day) bus ticket, but not brave enough to buy online I went to the office, booked and paid, thinking HaHa sorted, only to find for some odd reason that on the actual day, I’d omitted to book myself to come back.
    Ended up going by car.

    I’ve never bought on-line. Don’t know anything about pay pal, and if I did I’d probably not trust it. I just can’t be persuaded.
    It’s only since I read about Prezza’s book, and now yours that I’m fed up.
    I’d really like them, so is there any other way to buy these signed books?
    I’d happily send a cheque, or card details, or pay some other way that doesn’t involve the internet.
    You could be missing out on a large amount of cash for the Labour party from folk like me – and you.
    Idea. How about I send my original copy of Blair Years to you with £10 tucked into the fly leaf, and you sign and return? ;0) Bit bulky…?

    PS. I think your first commenter who bemoans the closing of shops is right, maybe before long we’ll all be buying online from warehouses.

  • Jane A

    I shop online a lot (it beats shops and I also think it beats car parking charges) and largely, stuff is late, delayed, battered about, etc. Anyone who delivers stuff to me within a day or two or order is miraculous. Good for you and your son, AC – maybe you should give Amazon a few tips.

  • Liz

    I rarely have a problem with online shopping – and I’ve just realised I’ve been shopping online for 15 years now…

    If I’m ordering from an individual or small company, I do always send a quick e-mail to say something’s arrived and add thanks if it’s been quick; it just seems polite. When you think of the numbers of pleases and thankyous that usually accompany a purchase in a shop, there’s sort of a moral obligation to say thanks in the online environment, too…