Online Ordering: Won't Somebody Take My Money?

by Nora Dunn on 24 February 2008 25 comments
Photo: Conor Lamb

I have finally decided to take the plunge into the wonderful world of online ordering. Partly at the cajoling and encouragement of my peers, as well as due to sheer necessity (I am currently in Hawaii, to where very few specialty items find their way).

And almost perfectly coinciding with my decision, both my cell phone and laptop gave up on me, making it (somewhat urgently) necessary to move on this.

 

Here are a few lessons I learned by being plunged into the wonderful world of online ordering:

 

Credit Card Addresses Must Match

This was the big and terrible downfall I fell pray to. My credit card billing address is my permanent address at home, and my shipping address is different. Sometimes online companies will allow you to have separate billing and shipping addresses, and some won’t. Beware.

The big issue I had was that my permanent address is in Canada, and many US shippers don’t seem to want to recognize foreign addresses. (Gee – I didn’t have this trouble when I ordered stuff from the US while I was in Canada, but there you go).

Solution: I called my credit card company, and had them change my billing address to the temporary address I am currently living at, with the provision that statements will still be mailed to my permanent address. Problem solved. Sort of.

 

Even if you aren’t fighting cross-border issues, the address verification process with credit cards is meticulously scrutinized. Even if one address spells out “Street” and the other is entered as “St”, you can expect problems. Names, initials, dashes, number signs, and apartment numbers must all be absolutely identical.

 

You Must Baby-sit the Order

On my first attempt to order a laptop, I went through PC Nation. They sent me an email confirmation of the order, and I received nothing further until six days later, when I got an “urgent” email to call the customer centre (which of course closed shortly after the email was sent) to resolve a credit card issue. Interestingly the “urgency” was communicated via email, not telephone – a much more immediate way to contact somebody.

The following day I called, only to find out that the order had been on hold for days and days now (nobody told me), because they couldn’t verify the credit card billing address. And now – seven days had lapsed since the order was placed, it was automatically cancelled, and in the meantime they ran out of stock.

Thank you for calling PC Nation, have a nice day.

 

I ran into similar trouble with my next vendor of choice (Buy.com – to whom I had to pay an extra $100 for the same product), but this time I was wiser. When I hadn’t received anything further than the confirmation email for a few days, I called in to see what was up. You guessed it – credit card verification problems.

Over the next 3 days, I went back and forth between my credit card company and various escalated levels of Buy.com to resolve the issue. It was extremely time consuming, painstaking, but ultimately effective. The order was only delayed seven days before being shipped out. Ha. Only.

 

Online Companies are Run By Monkeys

In my tribulations with Buy.com, the issue ultimately lay with the address verification department. Interestingly though, I was never able to be transferred to this department – I suspect because people don’t run it. Monkeys in computers do. Had a human being in address verification been able to talk to another human being at my credit card company, they would have been able to resolve it in record time. But instead a computer program couldn’t make heads or tails of my account and simply put it on hold. Without letting me know (hence the need to baby-sit).

 

In addition, every time I called in to check on the status, I had to go through at least two customer service representatives (and sit on hold for each of them), each time verifying names, addresses, credit card information, and names of first born. Once “level one” verified that I was who I claimed to be, they would immediately see that my file was escalated, and transfer me to the next representative, who would put me through the same paces.

 

One sad day when placing a separate order, I decided it might be easier to place the order with a phone representative as opposed to online. After 15 minutes of torturous conversation, where everything from getting my name right (it’s pretty easy – four letters and all) to finding the model I specified was like pulling teeth, I hung up and decided that the only way to place orders with such companies is indeed online.

 

Online Ordering is Not Easier

With purchases like laptops and cell phones, there are a million models to choose from, with detailed specs that boggle the minds of anybody not intrinsically connected to the industry. An almost imperceptible change in one of the specs can mean a totally different machine that may or may not be suitable for your needs.

In the “old days” when we could walk into a store, we could chat with the sales representative, outline our needs, and they could guide us through the purchasing process, indicating what we need and why. If they didn’t have what we needed in stock, they would order it to the store – no charge to us, the consumers of course.

In this “new age” of “convenient shopping”, the onus is squarely on our shoulders to research the heck out of what we want. That means scouring countless websites, comparing reviews, asking questions in forums, and finding competitive prices. I wasted days upon days trying to discern what model of laptop and cell phone I needed. It’s not rocket science either, and I’m pretty quick on my fingers with regards to surfing the net and finding what I need. But it was just that difficult.

 

 

Online Ordering is Riskier

Whether you are ordering through a supplier on Amazon or Ebay, or through a direct online distributor, you are always putting money up front for your order. You pay dearly for shipping costs too, and after you pay you simply pray that your item arrives as ordered.

If it’s not what you ordered, you have to send it back to the supplier, and you must wait for a new product. Gone are the days of walking back into the store and walking right back out again with your replacement or refund. In many cases you are also on the hook for shipping again, especially if you want to make a return.

 

Beware of Return Policies

Some companies will only accept returns within as little as fourteen days of the shipping date or even ordering date. So let’s see: if it takes two to three days to process, and three to five days to arrive, then you may have as little as six days to determine if the product you ordered is right for you, before ponying up the cash to return it. Great – all that time spent researching, ordering, and waiting for your item, only to have to pay shipping two ways because you didn’t like it or (even worse) because it wasn’t what you ordered.

 

 

I don’t necessarily blame the online companies for their policies or systems. I simply have had a terribly poor experience with online orders (big dollar ones too), and am jaded by the process.

And with these expensive orders, constant hand-holding, baby-sitting, arguing, and escalating, all I can think is “Won’t Somebody Take My Money”??

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Linsey Knerl's picture

sounds like a nightmare!  I online shop for everything, because of my location.  I'm 50 miles away from the nearest anything, and found it to be the ONLY way to shop.  I have had problems with address verification in the past, but since I got myself a PayPal credit card, I now just pay everything via PayPal, and I can send anything anywhere, with no questions asked.  (Plus I've been racking up some points to use for free Ebay purchases.)

Like you, I hate having to research everything at length, but figure it is the only way to be sure I know what I'm getting.  I just bought a laptop, ordered custom from Dell, and just like my last 3 PC's from there, have had no problems at all.

I can't say I have any idea what it's like to order across the border or in Hawaii (where I understand you might not get to participate in all the free shipping promos that us mainlanders do.)  I have had the same mailman and UPS driver for 15 years.  They know me so well that if they see me doing shopping in town, they come over to my car and leave my packages for me.  Small town does have its advantages, I guess!

Thanks for the article.  I'll be sure to keep my records current for my future orders!

Linsey 

Guest's picture
Cheryl

I feel your pain! I ordered a flat screen TV from buy.com and found out about 10 days later that the order was cancelled because I had it shipped to my office address, which was not on the "approved shipping address" list for my credit card company. And of course, the item was then backordered when I went back to reorder it. Several phone fits later I got what I wanted, but jeebus! Why does it have to be so hard? No one called, no one e-mailed, no one sent me a letter, nothing.

Guest's picture
Ginny

I almost never go into stores anymore, because service there is so awful, the stock is limited, gas is expensive etc etc
The one thing that is absolutely necessary for online shopping is a Paypal account. You do NOT want to be giving out your credit card info to everyone you buy from, if at all possible. You can also use Google Checkout, but it's not so widely available, and there are some more you can use, but Paypal is the big one. I believe there's an escrow system also, but I've never used it. Incidentally, Consumer Reports says not to order things like TV's online. They recommend mom and pop stores. They show Amazon as the one online site with the most customer satisfaction.

Guest's picture
Justin

The helpful monkeys at the store don't know very much, if anything, about what they are selling anyway. They may know how to turn a computer on, but that's about it.

Guest's picture
Guest

You took the "plunge" into online ordering? This is 2008 right?? This article seems to be about 10-12 year old?

Guest's picture
Looby

I guess I've been luckier, but I love online shopping, I use it for everything, books, shoes, undies, groceries, electronics... I avoid actual stores as much as possible. Mostly because as Justin points out the staff in store are often not very knowledgeable, or they just don't care. I've often used a UK credit card to have things delivered in Canada and have only once had a problem with a small company who fixed the issue with one email.
For me any issues with online shopping are far outweighed by the benefits, no crowds of obnoxious shoppers, no queues, no awful muzak blaring, and the fun of getting parcels in the mail!

Guest's picture
Guest

[rant]

I am in total agreement with Looby. I also live in Hawaii and have had more than a few problems with online stores. I have had much better luck using Amazon, (and some of the more established stores etc.) always using PAYPAL if at all possible.  I had problems with some online sellers, to include e-bay and large online stores that use UPS or some expensive service to mail parcels.  The problems I had were, in my opinion, "aggravated assault on Hawaii-online-shoppers." We ARE part of the United States. NO exceptions will be made to accommodate our order by making an exception and use the United States Postal Service. The cost of shipping and handling should be reasonable. A huge problem if they even ship to Hawaii, is the cost of shipping and handling. C'mon!!! You know it doesn't cost $19.00 to buy a 3-pack of guitar picks. *tears out hair*.

This past Xmas I bought all my presents through x-tremegeek.com. The order was expensive enough to buy a cute car, but the shipping was ridiculously low, so with blind trust and new hope growing in my heart, I believed the promise from the Order taker, “there should be no problem receiving the parcels before Christmas. Check your email we’ll send you a confirmation.” Well, I checked and I checked. No email sent. Frantically I call them 4 days before Xmas..After 20 minutes of yelling it occurs to Customer Service that they have two companies, two names and the email was sent from the other company. That email came from a company name that looked like spam so I deleted it. They didn’t try to call me by phone, or do a follow-up when I didn’t respond to the e-mail.

I didn’t get the parcels before xmas and not even xmas eve. I rang them back and had a tantrum. Never buy another thing from them again. They ARE monkeys.

I just tried to buy items from Robe.com and was declined as well. I remember seeing an advertisement here in Hawaii “Online stores won’t ship to Hawaii? Let us help” I’m going to go check that out. Good luck to you all.

[/rant]

Guest's picture

I feel your pain. Try from Puerto Rico! Even though PR is still part of the States, it is treated like no one has ever heard of it. Even if you find a company that will ship here the price of shipping is usually crazy. The funny thing is US Mail is the same cost as if you were shipping to someone in the States. Try telling that to a company who does not want to take money from Americans in a US territory...

Oh well...

Guest's picture
Olivia

We've had fairly good success with online ordering. But then again we live where we're billed and we live in the states. A couple of ebay purchases that needed to be corrected and only one out and out scam. However, we got an Alienware computer from Ztronics recently and it was totally not what was ordered (no packing slip included, not all the software needed for reformatting, etc), they will not respond to any customer service inquiries and when we had a geeky friend look it over, it was worse than we suspected (stuff is missing). BLAH

Guest's picture
Guest

I love online buys
http://www.tech-exposed.com

Guest's picture
Scott

I love ordering online. I'd much rather find the item myself at my convenience. Run by monkeys? No, those are the things that occupy brick-and-mortar places. You know, they walk around like zombies and don't care about your time because they get paid by the hour, no matter how many customers they help. if they do get commission, then they pressure you like a used car salesman. In both cases they are ignorant about the technology they are trying to pawn off on you.

A company that won't let you ship to a different address than your billing address? That's a clear sign not to give them your credit card number!

Risky? Meh. with one-time-use credit card numbers, I'm not worried about that (which you didn't mention). Paying up front? That should never happen. Payment should be charged when the order is processed. Shipping? Not really a factor. Yes, often you have to pay, but often times you don't. And if you're a patient person and don't need next day or second day, it's not outrageous. Compare shipping costs to the tax at the brick-and-mortar, then compare total cost, including my time wasted with monkeys. Online wins almost every time.

Yes, your credit card address must match, but that's only common sense, and it is a protection mechanism. I'm glad for it.

Lastly, re:babysitting an order, I've never had to do that. I place my order, I get an invoice. shortly thereafter I get a tracking number. Once I get the tracking number, it's out of the seller's hands. I may check progress once a day on the shipping company website, but I don't babysit.

All that said, the advice to be aware of return policy is very good.

Now it's true that bad experiences do happen from time to time, but I think you're painting with a rather broad brush here. You've had a bad experience. I wouldn't shop a place like that more than one more time to see if it was a fluke. If it turns out to be a pattern, no more money from me. I'll find fast efficient businesses like new egg. They are speedy, return policy is decent and clearly spelled out when you place an order, and shipping is often free.

Hope you have better luck in the future!

Guest's picture
blumagus

Having lived in Hawaii for over four years, I can feel your pain regarding online shopping. I've been shopping online since '98 or so and never had as many problems as I did in Hawaii. Shipping being the biggest problem I encountered. It was probably not as bad as trying to get something to Puerto Rico but having to hunt for someone willing to ship outside the contiguous 48 states is quite a feat. I started using Amazon for everything, especially because their free shipping works to Hawaii.

Contrary to what Scott says, I would keep on eye on Newegg, unless you are making a big purchase (multiple items) their shipping to Hawaii makes no sense. I needed an addon board for my computer which only cost 19 dollars and was smaller than a network card. They charged me another 19 dollars for S&H. Course no else that carried it would ship to Hawaii, so I had to pay the premium.

In regards to your hassle with researching which product you need, I found my friends to be invaluable. I've never been up on the latest tech/trends (outside of IT which I make my living at), so I always ring up my friends who follow or have some knowledge about the products I'm looking to pick up.

Guest's picture
Kathryn

I think one thing to keep in mind about online ordering (or any sort of purchasing decision, really), is that if you always go for the lowball price, you often get what you pay for either in terms of inferior product or inferior customer service (or stocking issues, etc). The closer an offer is to "too good to be true" territory, the more likely it is to wind up in a hassle.

I've been shopping online for eons, hundreds of transactions, and had only a couple that were kinda sour. It's hard to imagine that any reputable online retailer would not allow separate billing and shipping addresses--necessary for gift orders, corporate orders, and so on. Why are you getting statements mailed, anyhow? Like someone else said, this is 2008--wake up and smell the e-statement!

Guest's picture
Lucille

I have found that buying online from existing B&M stores or from major web retailers is usually the best. I try to find sales combined with free shipping. Amazon is quickly becoming my favorite option to avoid stores.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

I lived in Hawaii for 5.5 years before I moved to California, and shipping to there is more difficult.  A lot of online stores add an extra surcharge.  Usually I don't have problems with online ordering though.  Just recently I ordered a chair online, and my mom ordered her bed online too.  She calculated that she saved 500 dollars by buying it online. 

Guest's picture
Guest

And dont you just love the line:

"Free shipping!!!!!!!except to Alaska and Hawaii

Then they charge you an arm and a leg, like say paying $17 for a light bulb which they will only send Fedex ground who doesn't deliver to PO boxes.

And I am not even going to go into the story about how it took my husband 2 months to get a camera delivered when it was supposed to take 5 days.

Guest's picture
Guest

I second Kathryn. I'm not familiar with either of the stores you used, but since online stores are such a nebulous concept, I think it's one of those places where you want to stick with the tried-and-true.
I order a fair amount of merchandise online - mostly tech-gear where it's hard to find the exact models I'm looking for locally.
It's worth a couple extra dollars to me to be sure that the company will accurately report its inventory, send me the right thing, and be there later if I have a warranty issue. Newegg is one of my staples, though I do use other places. I've heard about reliable discount stores online, but haven't used them myself. Dealing with bad customer service just isn't worth it to me.
If a site doesn't clearly spell out warranty, shipping, and return policies that you're happy with, it's probably not worth the savings.
The credit card address issue is a pain (particularly if you live somewhere temporary, like a college dorm) but I think it's a reasonable trade off for the security.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm sorry but this is a terrible article. You order from a couple of shady sites/known to be less than reputable sites, have bad experiences and suddenly all of online ordering is terrible. Furthermore, your issues are due to your credit card/address situation while I'm sure is a pain, is not even remotely the norm for most people who would read this article. Would you prefer a online company not even think twice when they have an order paid by a credit card without verifying at all? I'm sure you would think twice if your credit card was stolen.

Plain and simple, if you want to order something online do your research of a vendor first. Would you buy a new blender from a guy with a shack on the side of the road?

I've gotten plenty of things online with no issue - have i had issues before? Sure, just like i have had issues with some items i bought in stores - just use common sense, have a healthy dose of skeptism and stick to reputed sites like amazon.com and the like

I've been checking this site out for two days and i gotta say, do a little *solid* research before jumping to conclusions or producing articles with such limited insights. This site has an editor right?

Guest's picture
Guest

I don't suppose YOU live in Hawaii or Alaska?
The amount of energy you put into your comment really was a waste. Everyone has a right to their opinion, even you.

Aloha

Guest's picture
Guest

Oh and BTW, my comment above is for commenter 17

Guest's picture
Andrea

I don't think there's anything at all wrong with going out and doing the research necessary to be a smart consumer, but since you seem to want to have someone holding your hand through the process of buying a product, I'll give you this tip: The larger, reputable online retailers of technical equipment have handy-dandy online tools that will allow you to plug in what you need to do and what features you want with your computer/cellphone/etc. It will then spit out a list of products that meet your needs.
I guarantee you that the product results you're going to get from these tools are just as good as the ones you would get from the 18-year-old working the computer section at your local Best Buy. In fact, they'll probably be better because you'll have more than the four laptops sitting on the shelf to choose from.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

Thanks for all the comments!

And even in the harsh replies, I am detecting that problems with online ordering aren't limited to my situation alone. I will admit that in my trial by fire I have also successfully placed 3 orders without much grief. It's when I have wanted to spend the big money that I've been stopped in my tracks, with nowhere to turn and nobody to help me seemingly.

Upon further reflection, I do have two compelling cases for online shopping:

1) It seems to be more environmentally friendly. There is less energy used to keep retail stores open, lit, air conditioned/heated, and maintained.

2) I guess I've had better experiences overall with in-store clerks, but I'll concede that oftentimes the salespeople are monkey-ish in their nature.

BUT

1) Online shopping and warehouses take away jobs from locals. If the advent of retail stores are going by the wayside, to be replaced with warehouse clerks in a centralized location and phone clerks anywhere from Idaho to India, will this pose a problem for local economies?

Just a thought I'm throwing out there....

 

Guest's picture
Kaye

Online ordering isn't so bad as long as you check email about your orders (yes, that's how they communicate) and use secure websites (https:// in front of it). I found that it's much easier to research your options using the internet and I personally use credit cards instead of debit cards because I don't feel that "real" money is missing if some information does get stolen (although I've never had that because I have software to detect spyware and I use secure ordering sites).

However, I have to say that paying extra for shipping is a small price to pay for you to get to live in Hawaii while the rest of us are outside of paradise. :)

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

Ha Ha! Touche - I guess that's the price for living in the middle of the ocean in "paradise"!

What confuses me is that the shipping is free from LA to NY, a distance comparable to LA to HI... 

Linsey Knerl's picture

We've been discussing the effect on the local economy here at my house lately.  I think it's hard to say.  On one hand, I could buy over-priced cotton balls at my local grocery for $4, and keep them in business.  Or I could pay $2 at Amazon, and save $2, which would likely be used to eat at a local restaurant.

Another way to look at it is this: I couldn't afford to live in my community without online.  There is limited amounts of everything.  You can't even buy milk some days of the week!  Online keeps me right where I'm at, paying taxes and using the local services of my small town.  Otherwise, I might have to live somewhere more convenient.

Great discussion!