Dear Silicon Valley,
I need your expertise. Can you find my refrigerator?
Maybe it’s you, Amazon, with your visionary fleet of robotic drones? Or perhaps Uber, will you begin to operate as a problem solver rather than a problem child? Or Apple, maybe you can build a find-my-fridge app. New York City — and maybe all cities — needs a smart delivery service to help save local businesses from themselves.
The refrigerator I ordered is somewhere in a delivery truck in the tri-state area. Don’t ask me where because there’s no way to track it. I spent an entire work day waiting in vain for my appliances, including a medium-grade 30-inch Whirlpool bottom-freezer fridge with accu-chill that never came. And when I called the third online customer service rep at PC Richard, the local seller that advertises “honesty, integrity, and reliability” to determine why I received no call, no text, no knock on the door between the hours from 7:45AM and 11:45AM (my original delivery window), I was told they had tried to reach me on my phone before running off with the refrigerator.
My refrigerator is running — this is not a crank call.
I was assured that the PC Richard’s delivery man would return in two hours to install my fridge. I left a series of additional contact numbers with the “online” customer representative, but was told that I would have no direct access to the delivery driver. Expecting the worst, I called the toll-free number again an hour later to confirm his whereabouts and was placed on a lengthy hold for 30 minutes, until I was finally told that PC Richard delivery was done with deliveries for the day. It was only 1:30PM.
I have been told that the future will be lived in cities. But navigating logistics in the city where I live, New York City, can break you. Its imperfections remind me that we’re still not living in the future. It begins at the gateway, the notoriously inefficient Laguardia Airport, the choked-up trail of cars at the Holland Tunnel, and the delayed subway trains. It continues to the long lines at Trader Joe’s on a random Monday night. This place is like Level 3 autonomous driving in a blender: a giant ball of double-parked, semi-automatic customer disservice.
In the old days of mom and pop stores, I could have gone into the store and talked to Joe, the refrigerator salesman, whose nephew was probably also the delivery guy. Or if I had purchased from Amazon, like I do for more and more of my shopping these days, I’d have a clear path of escalation and could have at least tracked my refrigerator’s whereabouts. But here I found myself in the awkward middle ground, caught between an online service department and outsourced delivery service united only by their ability to disappoint me. I was a faceless voice on a phone with no clear course of escalation.
We are in a surreal moment of semi-automation. A local company can appear to be modern by selling goods on its website, but is unable to meet the baseline expectations of modern order fulfillment set by the internet giants. My only recourse was to call, call, call, again, and hold, hold, hold.
I explained my frustration to the fourth online customer service soldier whose job is to field calls from indignant customers like me. “How about we knock that refrigerator price down?” he said. “The only thing that’s going to make you happy is we deliver today, and that’s not going to happen.”
Is this rant nothing more than a one-star review? No it’s a real plea: help me find the proverbial refrigerator, along with a way for companies to better organize their automated procedures. I could have ordered my appliances from Amazon Prime, but I want local businesses to thrive. But to do so, they require modern logistical support. Otherwise New York City, like much of America, will just become another Walmart, USA.