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Ordering from Harry and David … or A Comedy of (Technology) Errors

Each year, Michelle and I order fruit from Harry and David for some of our family and friends. (It always feels like we simultaneously order too much and too little; we order more than we plan, but always seem to miss people we care a lot about.) The fruit is a bit overpriced, but it’s really good, people enjoy receiving it, and it reminds me of my mother, who always ordered some. This year’s order was a fascinating [1] experience.

So, Tuesday night, Harry and David were having their annual sale on pears. So I clicked the replicate last year’s order button and then tried to make changes. To start with, instead of choosing a reasonable delivery date, it chose by Christmas. So I had to go through all of the orders changing the delivery date. Next, it seemed to have made some interesting choices about formatting names. For example, I might have written Freda&Bill [2] last year, and it changed it into FredaBill this year. So I got to go through and change those.

Now, I didn’t need to change everything. Unfortunately, their wonderful UI [3] forces you to go from each entry to the next to the next, rather than skipping around as necessary. It also reloads the page at every change, which takes surprisingly long when you have a lot of entries. And, because it took awhile to reload pages, I sometimes ended up clicking in the wrong place. Oh joy and bliss.

At some point, I also added one of the stupid Join this club and get free shipping things. $29.99 for the club beat $9.99 per order for shipping, given that I had at least a dozen orders. That part was easy. I just clicked Yes, please enroll me and I agree to all of these insane terms of service.

But I wasn’t done yet. I also wanted to update the greeting messages. To add further joy to the UI, it adds unexpected spaces to the ends and beginnings of lines. It also caps the number of characters on each line. That combination means that copy and paste has some problematic effects, such as dropped characters. So I spent more time on those. And remember, each time I updated a greeting, it reloaded the page, slowly.

I started at 10:30 p.m. or so. I should have finished at a reasonable hour. But all of the stupid UI stuff meant that it was suddenly midnight. What happened at midnight? If you guessed All of the prices went up, you’d be right. But you probably didn’t guess that it decided that all of the presents should ship to the same person. Yes, that’s right, some bug in the system converted every address into one address (the last address).

So I did what any sensible person would do, I called their customer service line. The friendly person there listened to my explanation and said If you place the order and call us back, we’ll rebate the difference between the price when you put them in the cart and the price we charged. When I asked about the addresses, they said Just delete everything from the cart and reinsert it, or use the address book to update everything.

I chose the latter route. And then I experienced the next joyful part of their UI: Each time I’d modified an address (e.g., to replace BillFreda by Bill & Freda or Bill + Freda or Bill/Freda, since I likely tried different variants while figuring out what worked), it inserted a separated address into my address book. So choosing the right addresses took awhile. I’m still not sure I got them all, and I know that I wasn’t willing to correct them when they were in the stupid BillFreda or even Billfreda form. I think most of the shipping dates ended up close to right. I chose one greeting for everyone. And so I managed to finish by 10:40 or so. I quick ten-minute call to customer service to get the refund, and I was done. Off to bed.

Now, you may think that my joy of errors essay is just about the wonder of that UI. But you’d be wrong. It’s just the start. At about 3:30 a.m., Michelle’s phone got a text [4]. It read Did you authorize a charge of $xxx to Harry and David? Press 1 for Yes and 2 for No. Now, I’m not sure why a call about my charge card goes to Michelle, rather than to me, but we’ll just call that the next error in the comedy. Of course, since it’s the middle of the night [5], Michelle doesn’t read carefully, and just types Yes. She gets a quick response of the form Thank you for your information. We have cancelled the charge. As far as I can tell, their clever programmers decided that anything that wasn’t 1 was a No. That’s the next error.

We thought about going back to sleep and just dealing with it in the morning. But I spent so much time on the order that we were both worried. So I got up and called Chase. Now, calling Chase isn’t as easy as it should be, because we had a fraudulent charge over the summer, and so have higher security on our account. So they got to ask me some fun questions. Which of the following streets have you lived on? …. Um, none of the above, as far as I can tell. Okay, what color is your Chevy Equinox? Um, I don’t own a Chevy Equinox. I’ve never owned a Chevy Equinox. I think those are the next errors, but maybe those were intended to trip me up [6].

After a bit of back and forth, we finally established that I was who I said I was. I said We indicated that we wanted to approve a charge in response to a text, but it was rejected. Can you fix that? They said Is that the charge of $yyy at 1:00 a.m. or the charge of $xxx at 4:00 a.m.?" ($xxx was a slightly smaller amount.) I saidHmmm, I only made one charge to Harry and David. There shouldn’t be two. Let me check." So I looked at the receipt which I’d printed, and it was for $yyy, the 1:00 a.m. charge. So then I got a lesson on what to do for fraud and identity theft, and instructions for reporting to the police. But we ended with a plan for me to call Harry and David.

I think I spent ten minutes on the phone before getting through the hold queue. I gave the friendly rep my order number and he said I only show a charge of $xxx. I said, That’s strange, because my order has $yyy on it. After some discussion, and some more waiting on hold, I ended up with a manager. They also said We only show one charge, and it’s for $xxx. I think that’s the next error. Oh, they also assured me that they had set up a refund of $zzz (the difference between the sale price and the price I got charged).

So I called Chase again. Fortunately, they answer relatively quickly. By this time, I’d set up a password on my account, and so didn’t have to spend too much time verifying who I was. They indicated again that there were two charges from Harry and David, so I asked that we do a three-way call with a manager at Harry and David. Another ten minutes on hold, and then five more for the manager, and we were finally able to talk about it. We figured out that the difference between $yyy and $xxx was about the cost of the free shipping program that I mentioned way too many paragraphs back. Then the manager said something interesting: 1-800-FLOWERS handles the automatic shipping. They may have charged you separately and then this came back to us. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to that information. They open at 7:00 a.m. Eastern time.

By then, it was about 5:00 a.m. Central time, and I drive youngest son to swimming at 5:30 a.m. So I stayed up writing a memo or two. By the time I was done driving him to swimming and finishing the memo, it was 6:00 a.m. So I called 1-800-FLOWERS. They said Oh, the $yyy was just a hold; we’ve charged you the $xxx and that’s already been transferred. I informed them that Chase didn’t think it was a hold. They didn’t believe me. Is there another error here? I think that treating a hold as a charge (or vice versa) is potentially an error.

I called Chase. They called 1-800-FLOWERS. I waited for awhile. When they came back on the line, they said The 1-800-FLOWERS rep I talked to said we should call Harry and David again. Fortunately, I was able to convince them to call 1-800-FLOWERS again with me on the line for another three-way call. The Chase rep confirmed that they saw two charges, the second of which was denied. The 1-800-FLOWERS rep continued to claim that the first was just a hold, and that the $xxx had been transferred. The Chase rep indicated that wasn’t possible, since the $xxx charge was denied. Yeah, I think that’s another error. We left it that since most of the money had been transferred, things were probably temporarily okay, but we expected that I would get a second charge for the stupid free shipping program. I asked that they confirm that I would get my packages (and that they do something to handle the fact that their software did not correctly interact with Chase), and they said that they’d have a manager from Harry and David call.

I think I got back to bed at 8 a.m. I sent an email to my support assistants to put a Sam is unavailable this morning sign on my door. And I slept until noon.

I finally got the call back from Harry and David at about 7pm. Unfortunately, I missed the call, so I had to call back (and wait on hold). And, guess what? They couldn’t access the main information back at 1-800-FLOWERS, so they have to put in a ticket with their treasury investigators, which takes about a week to handle. But they did assure me that the packages are on the way.

Is there a moral to all of this? It’s probably that bad software causes problems.

Is there anything good that came out of it? Well, I hope my friends and family enjoy their fruit. (I’m sorry if you don’t get some this year; with this chaos, I’m not sure who I got and didn’t get, and I’m not trying again.)

At least Chase doesn’t think I’m the victim of identity theft, so I don’t have to report it to the police. But my account is now on high alert, which means everything I want to do is likely to be much harder.

Thanks Harry and David. You may have great fruit [7], but you have crappy software. I wonder what you’ll do to make good your guarantee that You and those who receive your gifts must be delighted, or we’ll make it right with either an appropriate replacement or refund. Always. I’m certainly not delighted.

I promised a comedy. Didn’t you think this was funny? Maybe it’s just that I’m still not caught up sleep, but I find it funny how many bad designs appeared in this situation [8]. And, in any case, I’m not sure whehter it helps to do anything but laugh at this situation. It beats cursing the work I didn’t get done because of it.

Oh, if you don’t get fruit from us this year, I’m sorry. As I said, I ordered both too much and too little; more than I’d planned, not enough to cover all the people I care about. And then the fun with the system happened, so I’m not sure that the send list matched the original planned list. And, in the end, I’m not sure that I could afford to send fruit to everyone I care about.

Updates from Friday, December 2.

  • Harry and David Tweeted back at me that they will look into this.
  • Although I had two charges on Thursday night, one of $xxx and one of thirty-some-odd dollars for the free shipping club, I now seem to have the right amounts on my statement.

[1] Well, more precisely, frustrating.

[2] No spaces because it was limiting me on the number of characters.

[3] User interface.

[4] Michelle’s phone is on all night.

[5] Middle of the morning?

[6] The legendary ErynO tells me that questions with no real answer are a common test. Isn’t that fun?

[7] Well, usually.

[8] No, that still does not delight me.

Version 1.1.3 of 2017-05-28.