David Madore's WebLog: e-commerce is great… when it works!

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(Thursday) · Ascension Day

e-commerce is great… when it works!

I'd just like to share my annoyance.

e-commerce is great when it works: one just (click click click) selects the items one wants to buy, then (tap tap tap) enters one's shipping address and credit card number, and finally (click) sends the order and relaxes. Wonderful. Except that when it doesn't work, it's just a cause of headaches and frustration. And it just happened to me now: your credit card has been declined, they tell me. Only, of course, they won't tell me why or how, and I have no way of knowing. How am I supposed to trace a problem that doesn't produce any kind of error message? I know my VISA card number by heart and am sure I didn't mistype it; and the expiry date is correct as well. And my bank account should clear the charges (note: in Europe, credit cards, although they're called credit cards, are actually debit cards, in that they'll automatically deduct the amount from the bearer's bank account, without him having to write a check). So I have no idea what the problem could be.

VISA is grotesquely opaque in its functioning. There doesn't seem to be any way you can access any kind of trace of all payments and attempted payments from one's VISA card except when they finally get through to one's bank account (and, of course, attempted and rejected payments are not indicated, and therefore no reason-of-failure can be read). Why, there isn't even a (globally unique) serial number for all VISA transactions, apparently! So the e-vendor cannot say something like: transaction number [some very large number] attempted on your VISA card was declined: please contact VISA for information as to why—that I should have some reference to recall to VISA or my bank in attempting to get some explanations.

Some more annoyances: my bank has this ingenious system to make e-commerce safer where, instead of giving one's real VISA card number on the e-vendor's Web site, one will connect to the bank's site, indicate the amount that one wishes to pay, receive a temporary VISA card number valid for just one transaction for this amount, and then return to the e-vendor's site to use this temporary number. I like the idea. But I suspect it may be what is getting in the way of my normal transaction (with my real VISA number, because I never used this secure transaction service). So I figured, I might as well try it (maybe if my real VISA number won't work, a temporary one will). I can subscribe to the service in question (click click click) directly from my bank's Web site… and of course I then discover that they will “send me an account and password” by snail mail within ten days. What a joke. There's nothing I hate worse than these electronic services which they claim you can subscribe to with just three clicks of a mouse, and when you do you discover that there actually needs to be some snail mail transfered and it takes days.

Oh, and of course the bank's secure transaction dedicated Web site requires goddamn Macromedia Flash, the technology that set the Web back ten years, and which is so broken that it hangs my browser every other day. I'll be writing to the bank's webmasters to point out that it would take perhaps ten minutes to write a trivial-but-usable HTML version of the site and that it would gain their clients considerable amounts of time not having to wait for Macromedia Flash to do its junk and hang every now and then. But somehow I know that my suggestion will be (politely) ignored. I just hate and despise Macromedia Flash, in case you hadn't noticed.

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