In Space

Chasing the E-tail: online commerce puts customers on hold

In Space
Illustration By Jason Chalker

You know the Ouroboros? That ancient alchemic symbol depicting a snake chasing its own tail? The one that supposedly represented the Wheel of Time? Well, here's an update for 2005: If you shop online, you might find yourself feeling like that loopy reptile in your quest to hunt down some real customer service. Consider this: Folks will spend more than $6 billion online this season, according to one leading Internet analyst. You'd think these Web sites could afford a switchboard.

A few years ago, Austin writer and tech maven Ellen Hobbs was erroneously charged for an extra item while shopping online. The refund process was a byzantine click-fest she had not anticipated. So Hobbs resolved to find the elusive direct phone line to Her saga (including some interesting correspondence with the company) is documented on her Web site, (, along with all of the customer service connection you'll ever need with the monolithic bookseller. A number of other brave Internet agitators, including Paul English – whose Holy Grail of service lines ( also includes specific instructions on how to navigate the maze of prompts to reach a real live human – have taken it upon themselves to post the hard-to-find contact info. We thought we'd summarize this information for you here and include a few helpful Web links to some informative sites with greater details and more listings. After all, when it's holiday time and that coffeetable book on fruitcakes is running late, it's not your own tail you'll want to be chewing.

Happy clicking. – Kate X Messer

ONLINE RETAIL 800/201-7575 or 206/266-2992 800/843-2665 877/780-2464

CD Universe 800/231-7937 or 203/294-1648

eBay 888/749-3229 or 800/322-9266 (an eBay company) 800/545-9857

Home Shopping Network 800/284-3900 (phone orders) or 800/933-2887 (online orders) 800/434-IKEA 800/221-8180 or 800/426-6027

Netflix 888/638-3549 800/843-2446 or 800/989-0135 888/221-1161

QVC 800/367-9444


Apple 800/676-2775 (customer service) or 800/275-2273 (tech support)

Compaq 800/652-6672 800/624-9897 (customer service) or 800/624-9896, 888/560-8324 (tech support)

Epson 800/922-8911 800/846-2000 or 858/799-3459

HP 800/474-6836 or 888/560-8324 800/426-4968 (IBM-4YOU)

Microsoft 800/936-5700 800/222-7669 (when prompted, say, "agent")

TRAVEL 800/397-3342

Orbitz Inc. 312/894-5000 or 888/656-4546 888/TRAVELO


DHL 800/225-5345

FedEx 888/GO-FEDEX (at message, say, "representative")

UPS 800/PICK-UPS (hit 0 twice to reach a human)

USPS 800/275-8777


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