February 9, 2001, 12:00 AM

Another Christmas story

Twas the week before Christmas…and while you toiled, I sweated over gifts ordered online. Though I shop the Internet all year long, I had never put my entire Christmas list to the test. The results were mostly positive, but two experiences stand out.

From Art.com, I ordered three posters, one of them framed. I was more than a little nervous about the latter choice-considering the risk of shipping so fragile an item, not to mention the gamble of picking out the frame and matting online. Yet I chose a simple design and colors, and I had no time to tote the print to my local frame shop.

An e-mail confirming the order said to expect delivery in 10 days. Well past the two-week mark, I was worried enough to call. The office wasn’t open yet, so I left a message. Within an hour, a customer service rep called to confirm that the order was enroute. Not only that: She’d traced my packages and was certain they would arrive that afternoon.

Sure enough, a box the size of a bicycle was waiting on my screened porch that evening. The size worried me: I’d measured the artwork and frame when I ordered, but this was more than twice as big. I needn’t have worried. The framed poster, surrounded by acres of bubble wrap, was packed in the center of the box. And it was beautiful.

I was impressed, emboldened. Online shopping rules! At that rate, the copy of Tuesdays with Morrie I’d ordered for my sister seemed like a sure thing. I placed the order with Barnes & Noble on Dec. 7. Since I was sending the book directly to my sister, I paid an extra $2 for gift wrapping. That, plus the shipping, did not make the book a great bargain, but it certainly was convenient.

An e-mail informed me when the book was shipped less than a week later. Then my sister left the following message on my answering machine: “Hi! Did you send me a book about doll collecting? I really doubt it, since there’s someone else’s name inside the package. Let me know what to do.”

My sister does not collect dolls-and the last thing any gift-giver wants is to inconvenience the recipient. So I e-mailed Barnes & Noble and told them so. The next morning, I decided to call for good measure. A customer service agent apologized and assured me that he’d send the correct book via next-day air, along with a postage-paid return label for the incorrect book. For my trouble, the rep offered to waive the shipping fee and, at my suggestion, the gift-wrapping charge.

An e-mail reply arrived the next morning, obviously canned and not very promising: “Thank you for visiting barnesandnoble.com!” it began. The message confirmed that a replacement was being sent, but it did not reflect free gift wrapping, and the way my account was credited, I was still paying 95 cents for shipping. I fired off another e-mail, telling “Marge D” that I’d struck a better bargain over the phone and expected to get it.

Marge still hasn’t replied, but Tuesdays with Morrie showed up well before Christmas-alongside the copy my sister gave me.

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