Shopping online. For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Agency

Bollywood actress Sonakshi Sinha was rightly miffed when she got what looked like a steel tap carefully wrapped in bubble plastic instead of the headphones she had ordered.

To add insult to injury the customer service apparently did not wish to help so she went full steam on social media blasting the famous American online retail giant from where she had placed the order.

I can empathise with her as I too had gone through a similar nightmarish time with the same company just a few months ago, waiting, waiting, and fuming while listening to cheerful tunes on the phone, the genre of music same as the one that plays in American hotels elevators. (If the American conglomerates that have made a foray into the humongous Indian market, wish to cheese off their customers they could try playing Himesh Reshammiya and his nasal-voiced songs as a music on hold track. The singer incidentally underwent vocal cord surgery and now sings in both a nasal and a low bass voice, which seems interesting).

When I finally reached customer service, a chirpy woman asked, “How may I help you?”

“You guys have lost my package.”

“Hello, Mr Saberi please hold on, let me check.”

I was taken aback, how did she know my name. Then I realised I am registered with these guys and they know everything about me, even which smartphones I lust after. But I am getting ahead of myself. I can imagine Sonakshi’s disappointment at not getting what you paid for.

You do not upset an actress who usually has hundreds of thousands of followers and one negative word from her about your service can spell doom for you. One good thing about online shopping sites is that they treat everyone equally, just as a democratic country does to its unequal citizens.

Strange dark place

Instead of sympathising with her, the online trolls started praising the retailer for its impartiality. “You guys scam everyone equally,” said one. “At least you got the bubble wrap,” said another, sneering at the actress. The online world is a strange dark place. When I ordered headphones for a relative, I got a message saying, thank you for shopping with us, click on this link and you can follow the voyage of your package.

But watching my package travel in the virtual world was as stressful as looking at the on-board videos of foggy cams on the outside of the plane, especially if you have a fear of flying and you are strapped in the very last seat in the back of the aircraft that feels the most turbulence.

Here’s the timeline: 11am, somebody picks up the package from the warehouse in the heart of Hyderabad, south India. He is now on the road and seems to be at a standstill, but that we can understand as traffic is usually horrendous everywhere.

A couple of hours later: “Our man has given it to the third-party courier who now takes off (presumably on a motorbike or a ‘scooty’).” It is 6pm and the traffic is murder.

To cut a long story short, the gift never reached the recipient. When I cancelled the order, the company said it will send someone to take back the non-existent package. That man then got lost and I kept getting updates.

I called customer service and she cheerfully told me everything will be sorted out. Please give your comments about our service she said at the end of the conversation.

I scoffed and said I will not.

Finally, after the gift receiver and the gift giver were reduced to nervous wrecks, the package got delivered.

Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi.