To say I love the Internet is a bit of an understatement.  So many facets of it, but with the development in the last decade with advancements in how we, Americans that is, shop, has been completely leveled.  Ordering pizza from the Internet is a possibility, placing an order for prints from your digital camera and picking up up in 20 minutes is a reality and most importantly, price comparison is extremely easy.  No longer are we confined to local driving distances, the whole world is accessible, and Google’s Beta program, originally called Froogle and now simply called Shopping, has helped pave the way.  It is here where American companies could shine, but China is coming full force.

My recent online shopping experiences have helped reinforce this. Growing up in the mid-80’s I remember seeing Made in America and Buy American campaigns on packaging, commercials and seemed to be a pretty common slogan in stores, who were proud to sell American made products.  I don’t know when this trend stopped, but it is kind of a shame.  Just as shameful though, American companies are giving Americans a reason to shop with the Chinese.

Over the last two weeks I’ve made three purchases online, and in each case I shopped via Google Shopping and in one case, eBay.  The first item was spark plugs for my car.  I figured it would be good preventative maintenance to do them since I’ve owned my current car for nearly 10,000 miles and am not 100% when they were changed last.  I used the Internet to first research what the best ones would be, then checked my local auto parts store.  By local, I mean it’s barely a mile down the road and they stock nearly everything I could want.  Sure enough, they had them in stock and ready for pick-up, for $3.99 a piece.  Curiosity got the best of me and I checked the parts store that’s a few blocks from my work, again in stock, but slightly cheaper at $3.79 a piece.  Needing only four, it wouldn’t be a huge savings, but enough of one to warrant choosing one over another.  Since I didn’t need them right now, I opted to also search online stores.  To my amazement, dozens of options came up, most all of them much cheaper than local.  I ticked the box in Google’s advanced search for Free Shipping and new results were shown to me, and again ticked an option to let me sort by price, least expensive to most expensive.  A company I’ve never heard of offered them for $1.99 a piece, free shipping, a 50% savings over my local options.  After verifying that the ordering card was secure (look for https:// in the browser), I placed my order using a credit card.  Sidebar: never use a Debit card online, credit cards give added protection in cases of fraud.

A week and a half later my rear brakes started to make some noise and I determined it was time to replace the pads.  Again looking at my local options, they didn’t have a product I wanted, so I was forced to use the Internet, not a problem.  eBay tends to be a great place to get quality automotive products for cheap, and that’s where I ended up, finding a listing with a Buy-it-Now option, promptly paid and included a message to the seller that I would appreciate if they could ship them out the next day, being Monday, so I could replace them as soon as possible.  This was an American based business who also sold on eBay.

That same night I blew a headlight in my car, having aftermarket HID headlights meant once again, no local option would work.  I chose to buy from the company that makes my lights, who have a California mailing address.  This order was placed within an hour of the brake pads on Sunday night.

Monday morning I got an email from the headlight company saying my order was received and should be shipping soon.  It wasn’t a standard order confirmation email, much more personal, which I appreciated.  I wrote back and relayed that I was driving with one bulb out and would appreciate if they could get it in the mail sooner than later.  A few hours later I got shipping notification and a tracking number from DHL that my headlight bulbs were leaving Beijing, China.  No information about my brake pads was sent.

Tuesday it dawned on me that a week and a half had passed and my spark plugs weren’t yet here.  Notification finally came that a shipping label was generated for the brake pads, but they had not yet been picked up.

Wednesday comes and the tracking info for the headlights, coming from China, indicates they’ve already made it to the US and were three quarters the way across the country already, delivery was expected to be Thursday.  Wednesday after work my spark plugs were in my mailbox, just under two weeks after I ordered them.

Thursday comes and my brake pads are scheduled for delivery on Friday, but here’s the kicker.  They originated from less than 150 miles from my home.  Meanwhile, my headlights were delivered from half way around the world!

Now, I’m not 100% certain if the company I bought my headlights from is an American based business with a warehouse and shipping department in China, or a Chinese company with an American business front-end to handle the money.  Neither the headlights nor the brake pads had expedited shipping paid them, nor was it drastically inflated from what I’d expect to pay.

The company from which I bought my spark plugs on mailed them via USPS Priority Mail, which delivers in 2-3 days (6 days a week, unlike FedEx or UPS), so they clearly sat on my order for a few days.  The brake pads didn’t actually go out until late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, again meaning the company sat on my order for nearly 48 hours.  The headlight company in turn, had my item picked, packed and shipped within 8 hours.

This isn’t my first experience ordering items from China either.  In the past, most orders have arrived within 5-7 business days without a bloated shipping charge and in every single case, they’ve shipped the item within hours of it being placed.

Make no mistake, I love my country and I support it and the people who work and live here, however, when customer service is clearly lacking, I will seek out other sources.  If you run an American company that sells a product or service, you need to deliver the absolute best possible customer service along with a competitive price or your business is going to fail.  I chose to buy spark plugs from an unknown supplier because I didn’t have to actually drive to a store and saved 50% by doing so.  The 50% savings did however come at a near two week delivery time.  I chose to buy brake pads online because I didn’t like the brands available to me locally, the Internet helped enable that and as a result, I got the brand I wanted at a competitive price, but the time it took to actual pack and ship my order was unacceptable.  My intentions on buying light bulbs was, from what I thought was an American company (and still might be), that shipped me a product from China faster than anyone in the USA has.

Price is no longer the only consideration for shoppers.  Some, like myself, can wait for an item to be shipped if the savings are worth wild or the product is not available locally.  In these situations, the global marketplace is available, and repeat business a consumer gives will be based on the first impression.  That first impression, if it’s lackluster as was my case with two companies, means I won’t ever use them again.