Sometimes we assume too much.

Shortly before Thanksgiving I wrote about timesavings in e-commerce. It was the unrecognized force that guaranteed future growth. As part of the story I wrote about the purchase of some wine:

"…A few weekends ago my wife and I were in Austin. One evening we ordered a glass of the house white wine at the Four Seasons Hotel. It was Canyon Road Chardonnay. We both liked it and figured, if it was the house wine, that it couldn't be very expensive. Wouldn't it be nice to have some at home?

"Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to be available in Dallas.

"It is, however, available on www.wine.com for $7.95 a bottle with a 10 percent discount for a case. Not bad in the gruesome world of rising California wine prices. A case is on the way, shipped for just under $20.

"Again, how does that $20 shipping cost measure up against the invisible cost of getting in a car, driving to a liquor store, searching for a wine that may not be there, and then, if it is found, lugging it home? Pretty well, I think."

Well, it turns out my conclusion was a bit premature.

With the column filed and wine ordered, my wife and I drove the 650 miles to Santa Fe to await the arrival of our children, grandchildren, and case of wine.

After six shipping days--- and two days before Thanksgiving--- we were still waiting for the UPS truck and our wine.

So I call wine.com.

They tell me that my wine had been signed for and delivered.

I visit our immediate neighbors, thinking it might have gone to them by accident. I am also starting to wonder. How, on a rural dirt road with only a handful of houses and neighbors that sometimes visit each other on horseback, could my wine go to the wrong house?

Wine rustlers?

My neighbor says they didn't get any packages but there is someone a few streets away with the name signed for the wine. Would I like to call them?

I call the neighbor. They get a lot of UPS deliveries, I am told, but there has been no wine. So I call UPS and they tell me to call wine.com because only wine.com can initiate a trace.

More phone calls. Thanksgiving comes. And goes. I tell UPS that if it can't be found and delivered by Monday, it has to go back to California because there will be no one to sign for it. I tell the same to a concerned representative from wine.com. On Monday I learn that the package was never delivered. That it was the driver's name we were discussing, and that the driver has tried to deliver twice but has been unable to find the address. He was also unable to use a telephone, it seems, since he had our phone number but never called.

So the wine went back to California and the purchase was voided.

The Achilles Heel of e-commerce is, quite literally, 'where the rubber hits the road.'--- unless the truck driver knows what he is doing and where he is driving, there will be problems.

This problem is not unique to UPS or another lovable quirk of "the city different." A few weeks ago FDX delivered a package for my wife to a stranger four doors away. No note, nothing.  Contents of the package: $600 of fabric, a rush-order for one of my wife's interior design clients. (I have regularly suggested that the Burns manse needs a loading dock, not a front door.)

Again, the problem was the driver. It was that last mile, the actual delivery.

Is this representative of experience with UPS and FDX? I don't think so. They would not be growing as fast as they are if people were routinely vexed and disappointed by their service.

But that isn't the point. It only takes a few errors to lose all the time Internet commerce promises to save.