INUTECH: To Amazon, or not

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 22 January) – I’ve been an Amazon customer since I got my first credit card way back in 1997. Books, of course, were my first orders in my first few years of online shopping, Amazon being the first to revolutionize the selling of books, far more than what National Bookstore or Barnes and Noble could ever imagine.

Then Amazon branched out, selling anything and everything, bringing vendors of all sorts under the wide expanse of its massive roof, long before Lazada or Shopee.

Aside from books, I’ve bought a Kindle, digital cameras, CF and SD cards, CDs, Palm Pilots, coffee gear, and even a light saber (a replica, of course).

Some I had shipped direct to my home via post office and delivery took a while, a few months. One medical book I ordered for my wife didn’t arrive after three months when Amazon promised it’s supposed to get here in a few weeks. I wrote Amazon where my book was. They said, can you wait a little longer? So I waited another month, and still nothing. When I wrote them again, they said, okay, we’re sending you one via DHL. And it arrived maybe four days later! But then a month later, the book shipped via post office finally arrived. I informed them about it and asked what should I do with the book. Just keep it or donate it somewhere, a library maybe. So we donated it to the local medical school where my wife was teaching.

But because I don’t want to wait that long again, I did what most Pinoys did at that time (20 or so years ago) and even up to now – had the items bought from Amazon shipped to JohnnyAir Cargo (JAC) in New York or California. Then JAC brings it to Pinas, for an additional shipping fee. 

I’ve bought a lot of items from eBay, too – items big and small like camera batteries and laser printers – all shipped via JAC. And even bought A LOT of green coffee beans from Ethiopia and Brazil and everywhere else via an online vendor based in California, shipped via ocean freight.

Since then, more Filipino-owned forwarding companies sprouted across the US, bringing in balikbayan boxes full of goodies bought online. I’ve tried a few – shippingcart and pobox – aside from JAC. If the items I can get from Amazon and other online vendors in the US are still much cheaper compared to local prices even if you add the additional shipping cost, then why not?!

To many Filipino online shoppers’ delight, Amazon announced last year that they will be offering free shipping to the Philippines on selected items. Whoa!!! No more JAC or shippingcart?

This I should try.

My first orders were Amazon rechargeable AA and AAA batteries. I ordered what I thought were more than enough for my needs, but total was way below the $49 minimum purchase to qualify for free shipping. I added an eight-bay battery charger, still below minimum. I asked a friend if she wanted those batteries, too. There you go, it’s more than $60 now, thanks to pasabuy.

It was a test if there’s truth to Amazon’s claim of free shipping. To my delight, it arrived on the 10th day, courtesy of a Ninja Van delivery guy. Ohlala!

Okay … what’s next?! Right on cue, the wife said she wanted a faster laptop. And so I went laptop hunting on Amazon.

I’ve bought three laptops via Amazon before, those “refurbished” or “renewed” computers that were returned by customers because they have slight defects (but repaired and inspected, Amazon claims), or no defects at all, just because the customers didn’t want them. These were top-of-the-line laptops, or almost at the top, during their release a few years earlier but now significantly cheaper, thanks to the fast developments in the computer industry. The laptops served my wife well, more than enough for her basic needs. Those laptops, of course, were shipped via JAC.

But now I can get one with free shipping all the way to my home! There’s one with an i7 processor, 16gb of RAM and the 12.5-inch monitor that Miriam is accustomed to. Light enough for a small woman to carry around. Bonus – it has a 1080p resolution, rare for that size of a monitor. Add to cart and… check out! In my previous laptop purchases at Amazon, I always chose laptops below P10,000, refurbished i5 units that are more than enough for the simple needs of her clinic – a patient database, to print her Rx, and to browse the internet about the latest approach to treating certain diseases. But because the peso was so devalued last November, even though the laptop was only $179, I had to pay over $60 in import duties, for a total cost of around P15,000. Not bad for a computer of that caliber, which will easily kick DepEd’s P58,000 Celeron laptop in the ass 20 times.

The waiting game starts. Amazon promised a delivery of around four weeks, or after the New Year. Why so long when my earlier order of batteries arrived in just 10 days? Argh!

To my surprise, it arrived in 23 days, carried by an LBC van. Merry Christmas!

Then comes the unboxing. Wow, safely packed with a lot of padding. Plugged it to the wall outlet, press the power button … and … the moment of truth … alarm alarm alarm! What?! 

Even before the Windows logo could show up: “This battery may need to be replaced.”

Bummer!

A defective battery! I proceeded to set up Windows nevertheless, and succeeded. Wow, this laptop is f-a-s-t for its intended use! But when I unplug it, less than a minute and it dies.

Dear Amazon, thank you for shipping me the laptop for free. But what do I do with this dying battery? Can’t use it as a laptop if it’s always hooked to a dextrose. Dear Mr. Timonera, you can return the laptop without cost to you. Dear Amazon, but I waited so long for this laptop, I want to keep it. Just send me a battery replacement. Dear Mr. Timonera, here’s the link to the vendor. Please contact them for tech support. Dear Vendor, what do I do with this laptop now? Can you send me a battery replacement. Dear Mr. Timonera, yes, we’d happily send you one. Please provide shipping address. Dear Vendor, here’s my address. Dear Mr. Timonera, we can only ship to a US address. Dear Vendor, how come this entire laptop was shipped to the Philippines, but you can’t ship a very small battery? Dear Mr. Timonera, we’re sorry, but it was Amazon who brought that to you.

Dear Amazon, the vendor won’t send me a battery to the Philippines, only to a US address. Dear Mr. Timonera, yes, they’ll send replacement only to the US address you provided when you bought it. Dear Amazon, I opted to buy this laptop mainly because of the free shipping offer all the way to the Philippines. Dear Mr. Timonera, wait a moment please, I’ll see what I can do. Sincerely, Ching.

Ching?!

Dear Mr. Timonera, okay, here’s what I can do – I’ll provide you a $30 discount coupon for whatever item you’ll buy from Amazon next. I’m sure that will cover for the cost of the battery if you buy one locally, and there are a lot of good technicians here that can install the battery for you. – Ching. Hi Ching, so you’re here?! Yes, I’m here. Okay, Ching! $30 is good enough, I can see that the battery replacement for this laptop is only a little over a thousand pesos on Shopee, plus a little more for shipping. Ching: So that settles it now? Me: Opo! 

I of course installed the battery myself, easy peecee. And now the laptop is very well alive, working at the speed of light, the battery could last long enough for my wife’s clinic hours. (But to be sure, I got her a spare charger for the clinic.)

There may be a lot of criticisms against Amazon, but on a personal level, the way they treated me as a customer, they had me at $30.

So yeah, I’d keep shopping from Amazon, especially for laptops and other gadgets that are sold cheap in the US but expensive here. 

But, should you? If you or have someone close who has some know-how on troubleshooting laptops and other gadgets and know exactly what to do to fix them, sure! But if you’re mostly clueless on what to do in case something is wrong with the item, I suggest you stick to buying them locally where you can get local tech support.

And please don’t ask me to buy you a laptop from Amazon and promise to pay me when the laptop gets here. If there’s an issue with that gadget, I don’t wanna inherit the headache that’s supposed to be yours.

A week later, when a friend asked if I still have that monitor calibrator I used to calibrate his Mac long ago – nope, it won’t work anymore with new hardware and more modern operating systems – and I found one on sale from Amazon … add to cart, checkout! Free shipping, of course, less the $30 discount promised by Ching. 

(Bobby Timonera enjoys tinkering with gadgets, starting with typewriters, mimeographing machines, film cameras and darkroom equipment since his college days.. He’d often DIY his way when it comes to obtaining otherwise expensive technology, not just to save money, but also for the challenge. In this column he shares the “inut” ways he has learned along the way. You can reach him at bob at mindanews dot com.)