Happy birthday Paul

Dave Wilson experiences e-commerce prior to his son’s birthday and discovers some issues that still need to be resolved with on-line trading.

<b>He said I’m sorry it’s come down to this, there’s so much about you that I’m gonna miss – I Can Still Make Cheyenne (George Strait).</b>

Just yesterday afternoon, I had a call from the significant other. Seems like the Midi-compatible polyphonic keyboard that she had spent over £150 on for my son Paul’s birthday today wouldn’t work without the necessary PC software, which, of course, he didn’t have.

That, she suggested, would be a nice gift to buy him, if I didn’t have anything else in mind. And, as things go, I didn’t.

So, since I was connected to the Internet through my rather zippy broadband Internet connection, courtesy of those very kind folks at BT (Stop plugging the advertisers – Ed), I decided to have a snoop around to see what I could find.

It wasn’t all that difficult. After the mandatory Google search, I discovered a UK vendor that could ship the $50 software in one day, all for the rather inexpensive price of around £6.

So I entered their site, selected the software with relative ease, and then entered the billing system to pay for the goods.

But it was there that things started to go rather pear shaped. You see, the system had obviously been designed by a person who had made the assumption that one would only purchase such software to have it directly shipped to your home address.

Unfortunately, my son does not live with me. And so the billing address (my address), and his address, differ. But the system offered me no room for manoeuvre. It simply asked for one address – the address of the person who would be paying for the software.

Rather miffed by the whole deal, and unsure of what to do after spending a considerable amount of time entering my name, my telephone number and his address into the system, I decided to abort the transaction. I decided that a trip to PC World (Do they advertise yet? – Publisher) a couple of miles away would probably prove more fruitful.

I considered the whole deal to be done and dusted. Until the very same evening, around 7.30 to be precise, I had a telephone call from the man who actually owned the company that I had attempted to order the software from on-line.

I expressed my concern that he would try to reach me by ‘phone disturbing my privacy in the quietude of the evening by attempting to convince me to purchase the software in question. But he assured me that this was not the case. He had logged my details and was simply concerned to know why the transaction had not gone through.

Not being quite sure whether the man was genuinely concerned for my well being as a customer or not, I explained to him my apprehension about the incompetence of his on-line software, and clearly stated that I was no longer interested in purchasing the product on line. (To make him feel a bit better, I took his name and number just in case I changed my mind.)

But reflecting back upon the whole fiasco, one thing became quite clear to me about all of this on-line e-commerce stuff. You see, just as companies that live in the real world must put the needs of their customers at the forefront of their minds, so too must those vendors who live in the virtual world of cyberspace.

And it’s usually the simple things that can make the difference between a transaction that works and one that falls through. In this case, just two fields – one for a billing address, and one for the recipient – would have been enough.

So if you have an e-commerce web site, why not sign on as a customer and see how well you fare. I’ll leave that one with you….

In the meantime, happy birthday, Paul!

<b>Readers reply:</b>

Sir:

This is the same with airline tickets etc. (Try living between two countries and using one credit card on line).

The problem is said to be with security. I could bill £££ of stuff to adodgy address, have it sent to a temporary address, then leave the country, allegedly. It’s the insecurity in the billing process that they are trying to protect by only sending stuff to the billed address. And of course this stops credit card fraud.

Welcome to the frustrations of those of us who just thought we were asking too much!

Emma J Wright

Sir:

Maybe it is not the case with that particular store, but here in the US it is very common to only ship the goods to the billing address to reduce the possibility of credit card fraud. That way even if someone steals your card you will get whatever they buy with it!

It is rather inconvenient, I agree, but it seems to me a very effective solution to the fraud problem. Big companies can afford insurance to cover the refunds to victims of theft and keep them as happy customers, so they ship anywhere, even to different countries.

It is usually the credit card operator who covers this insurance anyway, but fraud related problems certainly do not help a small company. My particular case is somewhat different, perhaps even more frustrating.

I am living in the US temporarily, but I plan to return to my home country, Chile, in a few months. Back there I have an old CJ-7 Renegade (a 4×4) and a classic Oldsmobile. Both of them need very rare parts that I can only find here. No problem, I just use my credit card and buy things online, asking the company to ship them to my home, which is the billing address of course.

Well, not so easy, my Chilean credit cards are issued in Chile obviously, and therefore the billing address can’t be verified in the US. And if I want to use my US card, they would only ship to my US address!

I wanted to buy a new transmission, and apparently the only way to take it to Chile will be to buy it here, have it shipped to my US address and then take it with me in the plane back to Chile!

Nestor Espinoza