The Perils of Online Shopping

Whatever Happened to Bouncing on a Bed Before Buying?

Box #1: What have we got here? | Credit: John Holman

“My back hurts — we need a new mattress!” said my wife, trying to extricate herself from the giant sag in the middle of our old mattress.

“We do?”

“Yes, we’ve had this one a long time!”

We hadn’t shopped for a mattress since the ice age, or at least the Great Fire of London. Our daughter had just bought a super-duper deluxe one, “custom-made to fit the contours of your body and sleep position.” I have a lot of contours on my body, so I thought this might be just the thing!

“Where do we purchase it?” constituted my contribution to the process.

“Online. I’ll give you the link,” my daughter replied.

At this point, I have to declare an aversion to buying anything online. I remember in the not-so-distant past, one could wander into an actual store and try things on. Those perks I gave up when the stores mysteriously disappeared. Hence, I’ve been disappointed when the color of a sweater hasn’t matched the glossy color jumping from my iPad, or when the pair of 34/30 pants resembled something a stick insect might have problems squeezing into. When half of America’s population is morbidly obese, why is everything slim fit?

The website stated that all we had to do was fill out a form containing mass, weight, and density, then, with one click of the mouse, the price would be revealed. The price was revealed after a gazillion add-ons, including a mattress cover, pillows, sheets, blankets, quilts, quilt covers, covers that cover the quilt cover, and anything else that their marketers could come up with that might vaguely be associated with a mattress. Ignoring the temptations, I clicked, and the checkout revealed an amount that would have bought a small car the last time I bought a mattress. If I’d included all the add-ons, I could have bought a large car.

I placed the order, then waited and waited for it to be delivered. After a couple of weeks, I contacted the company. “Our product is of unparalleled quality and comfort … and being built specifically for you in our factory.” According to them, their supply was having trouble keeping up with the demand. According to me, it was stuck in a container somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

Meanwhile, my wife decided we needed a new bed. So (yes, you guessed it) we went online, where we found hundreds of furniture companies. I suspect they’re all the same company owned by a billionaire posing under different names to avoid income tax. After a week looking at a mind-blowing range of beds that popped up on Facebook, Instagram, Metaverse, and bed averse, we settled on a farmhouse model made of distressed wood. By this stage, I was feeling a little distressed myself.

Bed parts — old and new — still in the garage. | Credit: Courtesy John Holman

An email came from the company: Would you like us to take your old mattress away?

“Yes, that’s a good idea” was my response.

“Not before they deliver the new one” was my wife’s response.

Another couple of weeks passed. Another email from the furniture warehouse announced: Your bed will be delivered any day now … and will be arriving in two shipments.

A FedEx gentleman staggered up the driveway, bent double with a long, narrow package. The outside of the package stated: Headboard and footboard. Assembly required. I didn’t like the sound of that. Thoughts of spending whole Christmas Days struggling to assemble toys for my kids sprung to mind. After cutting through layers of cardboard and plastic, what popped out were a gazillion parts wrapped in more cardboard and plastic that constituted … the base of the bed.

In the meantime, I called my daughter to see how long it took for her mattress to be delivered: “About a week!”

“Well, ours hasn’t turned up, and it’s been a month.”

“Must be a supply chain problem,” she responded.

Next day, the same FedEx fellow staggered up the driveway, carrying a small package. “Here’s your mattress,” he huffed and puffed.

“That’s a mattress?” The box, taped up on all sides, looked like it had fallen off the back of a truck.

“We never recycle open-box items, sir; our products are custom-made to fit your body,” the company responded.

“Well, this one must have been custom-made to fit a juvenile leprechaun’s body.”

“If you’d read the instruction manual, you’d have seen that our mattresses are vacuum-packed.”

An instruction manual … for a mattress?

“You need to place it on the bed and take off the wrapping. Dad, I think you should try some CBD,” my daughter said.

“What’s that?”

“It’s cannabis oil … without the bad stuff.”

“Uh?”

“It’ll help you handle the stress. You can order it online.”

Online! What could possibly go wrong?

With the mattress now on our old bed (I hope you’re keeping up), I cut through enough layers of plastic packaging to fill the county dump, then snipped off the last bit of tape … and the mattress burst open like one of those time-lapse films of a flowering tulip. But this was real time, and with the force of a mini-tornado, the mattress sprung to life, sending me flying across the room. I grabbed the instructions en route: Warning! Don’t lie on the mattress for two hours after unpacking. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to lie on the thing from Planet X writhing and expanding on the old bed.

Meanwhile, shipment number two of the bed still hadn’t arrived.

“FedEx says they delivered it yesterday,” the company responded.

I looked up and down our driveway. Shipment #2 was nowhere to be seen. That night, there came a knock on the door; an elderly man stood in the doorway.

“Are you Mr. Holman?”

“Yes!”

“Well, I have a package for you. It got delivered to my house by mistake… I’ve the same street number, but I live on the street behind you.”

“Ah! Mystery solved!”

“My front door is up a long flight of steps,” he said. “The package looks heavy. You’d better come in the daylight.”

“Why don’t you call FedEx to come and pick it up?” said my rational wife.

“No, I can do it. It’ll be quicker,” said the irrational me. Besides, I felt sorry for the FedEx man.

After climbing up a long flight of steps to the old man’s front door, I had the unenviable task of figuring out how to get the package back down the steps. I tried to lift it, a task that would have stumped an Olympic weightlifter. Instead, I used the theory of someone much smarter than an Olympic weightlifter: Isaac Newton. With my back braced against the wall, I shoved the package (with my legs) toward the steps and let gravity do the rest.

Once we’d opened the box labeled Made in Malaysia. Baseboard, I pulled out the headboard and footboard. BUT … they’d sent the wrong headboard and footboard!

“What do we do now?” I said to my wife.

“We need to tell the company we want our money back!” she said.

The agreed to refund our money. “If you don’t hear from our merchandising department within two weeks, you can keep the bed.”

We never heard from the merchandising department. The mismatched parts of a bed are filling up the garage, along with our old mattress, which we are keeping, because the new mattress smells of chemicals that I am assured by the company “will go away in a couple of weeks.”

“But will we survive asphyxiation? And what about my goddanm CBD?”

“I’m sorry, sir, we don’t sell CBD.”

“Well, maybe you should.”

When my brain finally stopped spinning, I texted the CBD company.

“Oh, it was shipped four weeks ago!”

“Yeah, right.”

“Here’s the tracking number.”

I proceeded to read through its multiple pages. The package had departed Van Nuys on October 30. It arrived on November 29. Somehow, it traveled via Williams, Arizona; and Countryside, Illinois. (Is Countryside, Illinois, an actual place or a generic name for anywhere in Illinois that’s not a town?)

While pondering that weighty question, I downed two drops of CBD oil and went to sleep on the chemically infused thing from Planet X resting on our creaky (circa 1984) bed.

In the morning, I asked my wife how her back felt.

“It still hurts!”

Shoot me now!

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