December 21, 2000, 12:58 PM — MY APOLOGIES TO A BOY named Kevin who lives in Avon, Conn., for keeping what should have been his copy of Harry Potter No. 4, still in its plastic wrap, in my study for two weeks. The outside of the box was addressed to me, the inside label was addressed to Kevin, and the result was confusion. My order, you see, had been sent to me, and Kevin's to him. The computer said so.
I imagine Kevin as a cheeky 12 year old who was irked with his parents for not taking him to the bookstore at midnight to buy a copy of the tale about a wizard-in-training orphan. His parents knew something he didn't -- that his favorite aunt had ordered the book for him from Amazon.com. But his surprise, I can only assume, was not at the gift but at receiving an order for S.D. Scalet of Cambridge, Mass.
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was supposed to be the event that made online bookselling as real as The Velveteen Rabbit. Amazon.com teamed up with FedEx to give the first 250,000 customers who ordered advance copies a free upgrade to delivery on the Saturday release date. Amazon.com received more than 400,000 preorders alone, and FedEx lined up 100 flights and 9,000 delivery personnel and vehicles from 700 stations to deliver the 2.7-pound tomes.
Things didn't go quite as planned, though. The next week, a spokesperson from the Web's biggest retailer sheepishly admitted that a software glitch screwed up 3,800 orders, which doesn't include the mix-up that befell Kevin and me. Although I was counting on my order to keep me company on a business trip, I wasn't nearly as upset as some Potterites, who, according to The Boston Globe, flamed Amazon.com on chat sites when the white and purple truck didn't round their corner that Saturday. But I didn't mind so much, really. A gift certificate, not my credit card, had paid for the book.
I shop online. It's mall shopping without the crowds, catalog shopping without the clutter. I've purchased everything from books and CDs to water filters and camping goods to sweaters and shampoo to cat litter and boxes of cereal. I've received gifts never seen by the sender and sent gifts I never saw. And nearly every time, one thing has powered my click-happy finger: a bargain. Gift certificates are good, free shipping for eschewing the catalog is better, and ridiculous deals are the best. Once I spent $30 to get $30 off, which left me wondering whether my name and address were really that valuable. Still, online shopping is worth the trouble only if a good deal is involved.