Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Some more experiences with eCommerce and poor web-design II

with 4 comments

Sometimes, I feel like tearing my hair out—fortunately, what little is left is cut too short to get a good grip…

Prior to and after writing the previous installment ([1]), I tried to use the German Bauhaus for some major purchases for and/or some works on my apartment, having made good experiences as a minor customer in the physical stores. This included replacing my (awful) current kitchen.

For this purpose, about two weeks ago, I brought home a 1500-page catalog, which I assumed would be extremely helpful in preliminary planning, both with regard to what I wanted to do/buy and whether Bauhaus was a suitable partner for the task. This turned out not to be the case, because (a) large parts of my interests were not covered sufficiently (including that much of the kitchen products that they do have were not present), (b) almost all products that I checked (and actually found…) lacked a price. Instead of a price, there was a lowest-price guarantee—if I found the same product cheaper somewhere else, Bauhaus would give me an even better price. But what help is that when planing?!? When it comes to areas like furniture, house-hold appliance, and whatnots, prices between products in the same category can easily vary by a factor of ten, with a much smaller variation in quality. For my purposes, a current-price-with-reservations-for-changes would have been much more helpful than a lowest-price guarantee. I suspect that the same applies to most other customers, who will not decide on a certain product (“it’s just diviiine”) and then compare prices.* Instead they will look at products of a certain type and compare them—with price, it self, being one of the most important criteria.

*There might be some few that do decide before knowing the price, e.g. because they are very rich or lack price consciousness. But: Are those very likely to compare prices or look for lowest-price guarantees? They might not care about the missing price, but they have little benefit from the price guarantee either.

I tried to compensate for this by also looking at the associated website—slow as molasses, dependent on JavaScript, and guilty of the filter-change-causes-reload issue discussed in [1]. It was so horrible that I gave up and decided to use Bauhaus only as a fallback for the major buys/works, in case the many competitors did not work out.

Early this morning, I spent some time browsing the catalog, just in case, and decided that I could at least use Bauhaus to order some shelves (prices were usually present…), and I went to the website to look in detail at what was present and what matched my intended measurements. Here the many search criteria (including dimensions and material) really came in handy. The speed remained agonizing low, however, mostly due to the filter-change-causes-reload issue,* and interesting products often turned out not to be currently available or not available in the online store… I was sorely tempted to just give up; but decided to push through, seeing that I had postponed the shelves for close to a year already.

*Cf. [1] where this was less serious due to the very limited number of criteria. Here a greater number of criteria were present, I wanted to apply several of them and had to wait again and again: Max width—reload. Min width—reload. Min height—reload. Max price—reload. More specific product type—reload. Reduce to a certain brand—reload. Try another brand—reload twice. (Once to deselect the first brand; once to select the next.) Etc. Note that the great number of products made the alternative to filtering an even slower manual check of hundreds of items.

I made my choices, entered all my data, proceeded to pay, and … payment turned out to be impossible! I first tried my credit card, ran straight into 3D-Secure* hell, and opted to go back to try something else. Lastschrift* was offered, I clicked on the corresponding button, and was immediately met with a message to the effect that “we cannot offer this payment method at this particular time”. Odd: Two seconds ago, you claimed that you could! Next attempt: Invoice. I clicked on the button—and was met by the same absurd message! I tried to go back for something else, but found nothing that was usable. (I do not recall the exact options, but one was “gift card”, which is useless for someone who does not already have a gift card**…)

*See below discussion for more information on some payment methods.

**To which can be added that gift cards make lousy gifts: Never buy them, never use them as gifts. (I know that I have written something on this before, but I cannot find it on short notice. The gist: Gift cards lock money up to the advantage of the merchant. The customer is better of with regular money.)

To boot, these messages are hard to explain technically: There might be some odd case where a payment with Lastschrift is not possible, because a service provider somewhere has a technical issue; however, this should be very rare and would require a more reasonable error message. For invoice*, on the other hand, there is no excuse that could reasonably apply, short of an internal problem that made more-or-less any purchase impossible—which should then be explained well in advance.

*Yes, there are some sites that use an external provider to check the credit-worthiness of the customer before allowing invoice purchases. No, this is not a valid excuse—if this had been the case, Bauhaus should have accepted the (small) extra risk, rather than refusing the customer. To boot, most setups would likely have this check and Lastschrift independent of each other, which reduces the risk of a simultaneous error considerably.

This evening, I came home to find that Cyberport (cf. [1]) had refused to accept “invoice” as means of payment—after the fact and without voicing any type of complaint at the time of my original order.

To boot there was no good information on how to proceed, just a list of alternate payment methods, most of which are problematic or out of the question entirely (and which well illustrate the problems with online payments):

  1. Nachnahme (roughly, cash on delivery): Comes with a 6.90 Euro surcharge*. This is payable by the recipient of the package, although the sender is the beneficiary. The sole benefit for the customer is that he can be assured to have received his package at the time of payment, but, unlike e.g. invoice/credit-card/Lastschrift (cf. below) he has no additional recourse if the contents of the package are faulty.

    *If using DHL at the time of writing, according to official information. Other providers might have different fees; and fees change over time.

    To boot, this applies per package and is outside the control of the recipient: If the sender decides to split an order into more than one package, the recipient has to pay this fee multiple times.

    As an aside, there are legal restrictions to the degree a merchant can enforce fees on means of payment towards the customer. Whether these apply to Nachnahme is, unfortunately and in my understanding, untested—and without a legal block, the customer is still stuck with paying the fee that by rights should be paid by the merchant.

  2. Credit card: This used to be a wonderful means of payment. Today, there is a considerable risk that 3D-Secure* (or a similar mechanism) is used, which leads to a very high error rate and/or requires additional technology (e.g. a smart-phone), and increases effort considerably to boot. (See parts of [2] for why 3D-Secure is a negative for the customer and brings benefits only to other parties.)

    *I am still waiting for feedback as to whether Cyberport uses 3D-Secure.

  3. PayPal: Apart from the extra effort to create an account and whatever might apply, I have heard so many* stories of abysmal customer treatment or even outright fraud** from PayPal that I would not even consider opening an account there.

    *I used to work for a competitor of PayPal’s. During this time, I read a fair bit about the competition and heard quite a few “trade” stories. There are entire websites dedicated to this topic.

    **In the characterization by the customer. I have not investigated the actual intent behind the events, but the mere fact that customers are lead to such characterizations point to business methods that are, at best, negligent of the customer’s rights and interests.

    (I am uncertain what rights the customer has when having paid for undelivered or faulty merchandise. If these rights are weak, this is an additional issue.)

  4. Sofortüberweisung: An idiotic, unethical, and by rights illegal* “service”, which forces the customer to hand log-in information to his online banking to a third party**—in gross violation of both common sense and the typical terms and conditions* of the bank. I would never, ever, resort to this absurdity.

    *In my understanding, a very regrettable law change has made this type of approach legal and required banks to change their terms and conditions to allow it. The motivation (IIRC) was something along the line of allowing competition—the rights of the customer were not mentioned with one word. Much better would have been to crack down heavily on such abuse and to make clear that an account (be it bank, computer, service, …) holder must never be forced to give out such information.

    **Who then logs in to his banking, transfers money, and tells the merchant that the transfer was successful.

    (I am uncertain what rights the customer has when having paid for undelivered or faulty merchandise. If these rights are weak, this is an additional issue.)

  5. Vorauskasse (advance payment): Because the customer pays in advance, he has no protection against fraud and he is left to the whims of the merchant in case of problems.

    I have used it myself and got burnt by Beyer. I would only use it again if I trusted the merchant—never for a first buy, as with Cyberport.

  6. Giropay: A means of payment provided by the banks that provides a similar functionality to Sofortüberweisung, but does so in a manner that respects the users rights, does not drastically reduce security, and is compatible with the interests of the bank. (In fairness, there have been some concerns about sharing of non-login data, e.g. addresses, with the service provider in a non-transparent manner.)

    A decent protection of the customer is (IIRC) present in the case of undelivered or faulty merchandise, but I am vague on the details.

    I would be willing to use this, but have so far never had the opportunity, and I cannot vouch that it usually works technically.

What is not on the list is what non-negotiably should be present—the German gold-standard of payments: Lastschrift.*

*This allows the merchant to transfer the amount in question directly from the customers bank account, while the customer has the right to cancel incorrect transfers after the fact. The result is quite close to a credit card without having to have a credit card. (But without an actual credit, obviously.) While it might sound dangerous at first glance, it actually works quite well.

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Written by michaeleriksson

March 27, 2019 at 11:49 pm

4 Responses

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  1. […] recently wrote of my negative experiences with Bauhaus [1] and eCommerce, including the inexplicable payment […]

  2. […] of my recent (and past) problems with eCommerce (cf. e.g. [1], [2], [3]) were worsened by a fundamental flaw in the typical* legal view of how a (B2C) purchase takes […]

  3. […] a further follow-up to recent writings ([1], [2], [3]) I have to categorically advice to stay away from Cyberport. What has transpired here is so […]

  4. […] already discussed in [1] and [2]; around payment methods, web-design, etc. in e.g. [3] and [4]; and some other aspects in an up-coming […]


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