The dark side of etailing

Well, my comments on credit cards and overseas etailers certainly brought in some comment. Thanks to everyone who emailed me with a story and/or an opinion. I apologise if I haven't responded to you all personally - the response was quite overwhelming.

Well, my comments on credit cards and overseas etailers certainly brought in some comment. Thanks to everyone who emailed me with a story and/or an opinion. I apologise if I haven’t responded to you all personally – the response was quite overwhelming.

Actually, the first response came from Anthony Doesburg, honourable editor-san, who sent me a copy of a story that ran in Computerworld in March, 2001. It seems that these sorts of problems aren’t new or even very unusual.

General consensus amongst the merchants I heard from was that the fraudulent order rate was more like 1 in 50, not the 9 out of 10 asserted by the chappie who first wrote to me about this problem. It might, of course vary from merchant to merchant depending on the, um, merchandise on offer. That said, 1 in 50 is still a lot, at least by traditional retail standards.

Although New Zealand isn’t quite to credit cards what Nigeria is to banking, some US-based agencies that handle credit card transactions on behalf of online merchants do, indeed, blacklist New Zealand customers. By doing so they may well be in breach of the credit card companies conditions of use.

So, what can the erstwhile punter do when confronted with having their credit card refused by an online merchant? You could try complaining to your credit card issuer. If the merchant is breaking their conditions of use, they should get a kicking. That is, of course, assuming the credit card companies give a damn and, quite frankly, I’m not so sure that they do.

Another option is to seek alternative forms of payment. One of my correspondents had a very good experience once using a direct credit via wire transfer to the US. The only problem with this kind of payment is that you have no comeback if the goods fail to turn up or aren’t what was promised. I assume there must be some kind of payment escrow services available for this kind of thing but I’m not sure it’s feasible to use them for buying books, CDs and hockey jerseys.

The final option (and the one I personally endorse) is to simply shop somewhere else. Bugger them if they don’t want your money – front up at your local village shops (not your overseas-owned mega-mall, thank you very much) and spend your money there. The experts say that Americans spent $US26 billion online last year, but if we aren’t welcome to join in then so be it. New Zealand is still about the best place in the world for consumer goods. Sure, some specialty items (like, for example, ice hockey gear and mountain bike parts) are relatively expensive here but I think that’s a small price to pay for the other good things about living here.

All this said, you do still have to feel sorry for the merchants. The fact that they have to pay lots of fees and still wear all the risk is a bit on the nose. For some poor punter trying to make a go of it online, our Brave New World of online opportunity probably doesn’t seem very brave or very new and it’s likely that the promise of having the world at their fingertips just doesn’t seem so attractive any more.

Swanson is IT manager at W Stevenson & Sons in South Auckland. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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