Is this the latest method of boosting profits at bigcompany.com?

I’m starting to wonder if I’ve uncovered their latest method of boosting profits for a large UK-based retailer with an international presence. As much as I dislike the company in question, I’m familiar with their product range and they considerably less expensive than where I would prefer to shop. Every couple of weeks I place an order with bigcompany.com* and it feels like every time I have to ask for something to be refunded (not counting the normal substitutions, which they always deal with at the point of delivery). At this point I’m faced with calling them (at my cost, admittedly local rate, but last time I tried, I was placed on hold for 22 minutes before I gave up because the call had cost more than the mistake was worth) or e-mailing (and, confusingly, the order confirmation comes from customer.services@bigcompany.com but the online customer service desk is at online@bigcompany.co.uk!).

We’re not talking large sums here – typically between 1 and 3.5% of the guide price for my order but if extrapolated over many customers (who may or may not notice the error) the figures could potentially become quite large.

Order date Order value (guide price) Value of error Potential increase in bigcompany.com’s revenue (if I hadn’t spotted the mistake)
3 July 2007 £116.14 £1.94 (meat which went off before it’s use-by date, despite being refrigerated from the point of delivery onwards) 1.67%
17 July 2007 £215.22 £6.41 (mistakes with substitutions and multiple charges) 2.97%
14 August 2007 £180.46 £1.85 (missing bag of potatoes) 1.03%
29 August 2007 £113.98 £3.99 (missing box of breakfast cereal) 3.5%

To be fair to bigcompany.com, they always respond with an apology and a refund but at what point does a series of mistakes (which I may or may not have noticed) become a pattern? And when does a pattern of mistakes become accepted business practice?

Of course, this post is based almost entirely upon speculation (together with my customer experience) and I’m sure that such a reputable retailer would not seriously consider defrauding its customers but I don’t imagine there are many online businesses that could sustain such a poor inventory/delivery/billing effort.

* Name changed to protect the potentially innocent. Despite the preceding paragraph, I don’t fancy being sued for libel and the retailer in question’s resources to pay for legal representation are almost infinitely more than mine, so I’m avoiding using their name here; however bigcompany.com is a pseudonym for the online business of an extremely profitable company.

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