Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

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Follow-up II: Deliveries

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As a probably final follow-up on Hornbach ([1], [2]), I have just canceled the remainder of my order. Even now, and even after contacting Hornbach directly, my shelves have not been delivered and no guaranteed date for delivery has been set.

This is the more annoying as the one part that has been delivered is something that I only ordered on the assumption that there would be one single, joint delivery of all items in one go. With a separate delivery, the order of this item (a smaller shelf) borders on being pointless, and I would probably not have ordered it all. (And, cf. [2], this item turned out to be damaged…) What I actually had my eyes on, the actual purpose of the order, has not been delivered.

As a general observation, there is a strong tendency for German companies to not in any way, shape, or form try to reduce the customers’ problems or to compensate him for them. On the contrary, the general attitude towards contracts seems to be that they are an obligation for the customer to pay—while the product or service that is to be provided is left to good fortune. In particular, it is considered acceptable by businesses that a customer spends more time on trying to resolve something directly or indirectly caused by the business than the product, the fixing of the issue, or the intended recompense is worth.* In as far as a recompense takes place, the business presumes to unilaterally decide what it is to be, the sum is usually an absolute trifling, and the form is almost invariably some type of coupon “to use with your next purchase” (yeah, right). This is demonstrated e.g. by IDS’ refusal to deliver on a Saturday, despite having had the audacity to dictate a date and time for delivery and then not show up… To me, it would have been a given that if I screw something up for a customer, then I go the extra mile for the customer to get things corrected, including that I work on an unusual day or at an unusual time. Similarly, in a last effort, I gave Hornbach a final opportunity to deliver with the if-all-else-fails suggestion to just have one of the regular employees of the local physical store drive-out the same product to me—something entirely reasonable (unless out-of-stock), seeing that it were poor choices by Hornbach that led to the situation, including a spurious split of the delivery and the hiring of severely incompetent or negligent service providers.***

*As a specific example, this shelf cost 69 (?) Euro. Assuming that the damage lowers the value by 20 %, we have 13.80 Euro. Now, consider the effort and delay (especially in light of recent events) of arranging to send the shelf back and getting a new one in return. Unless I am compensated for my actual efforts, it makes more sense to live with the damage. Similarly, I did demand a refund of 20 %, which Hornbach refuses to honor without photographic proof—but photographic proof implies that I have to search for my (not used since I moved) camera, hope that I have compatible batteries (or new ones must be bought), take photographs, transfer them to my computer, and then email them. Again, hardly worth the trouble. (But, in all fairness, the photographic evidence is one case where I do not consider the requirement undue in principle, seeing that someone could claim a damage for an undamaged product. Indeed, I demanded the refund more in the hope of getting a message across than of getting money back.)

**Note that this is not a hypothetical: I have run a small business for several years, and that I e.g. have spent a few hours extra to clean up something has happened. Indeed, I have stayed late, come early, or similar to help with situations not caused by me…

***But I was not the least surprised that this did not happen. Again, this was more of an attempt to get the message across than something I actually expected to happen.

I note that it would be highly beneficial if businesses did take or were forced to take such responsibility: Things will only change for the better if the costs of errors land with the actual source of the errors. This applies in particular to deliveries, where the sender sees its job as done when a package is given to the delivery service, after which it is the problem of the recipient to arrange for actually getting the package—but where the recipient is more-or-less powerless against the delivery service, because there is no contract between them. The delivery service, in turn, does what saves costs, even if it falls well short of a reasonable expectation of performance—-the sender will not complain and the recipient is powerless. Also see a text on force majeure for a more general discussion of this principle.

Another interesting thing is the refusal to deliver on Saturdays*, per se: A delivery service worth its salt should deliver when it can expect to find someone at home. Refusing to deliver on Saturdays is absurd—just like the stubborn insistence on trying to deliver at times of day when most people are at work. The result is, again, that the effort lands with the recipient, who has to make arrangements, go out of his way, take a day off from work, go in person to the post-office, whatnot.

*Note that a Sunday delivery is probably ruled out by antiquated German legislation—just like supermarkets are still, in the year 2019, forced to be closed on Sundays.

As a personal conclusion, I will probably forego eCommerce entirely in the foreseeable future—there is simply too much that goes wrong. If I deviate, I will do my darnedest to keep to my own advice and never pay per “Vorauskasse”—as long as the seller already has the money, I have no bargaining chips. Cf. the problems around deliveries 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 text.

As a correction to my previous texts: It appears that the package that I did receive was the IDS package, which shifts the blame (cf. [2]) from DPD to IDS. On the other hand, DPD is guilty of causing a complete non-delivery of the other package. To boot, it is odd that the larger package was sent by DPD (in my understanding, a “postal package” delivery company), while the smaller was sent by IDS (in my understanding, a “bulky goods” delivery company).*

*A possible explanation could relate to weight: I believe that I at some point saw a weight of 26 kg for DPD, vs. the 31 kg from IDS. If so, it could be that some cut-off was used in the decision. However, the difference is fairly small, the volume difference remains, and the fact that IDS was used anyway would have made it reasonable to just deliver both packages at once by IDS. To boot, I am not certain that 26 is a reasonable number, as this would imply less than 13 kg per shelf (subtract weight of packaging, divide by two), while a similar-but-considerably-smaller shelf purchased earlier (in person) weighed 16 kg.

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Written by michaeleriksson

April 18, 2019 at 12:13 am

Follow-up: Deliveries

with one comment

My DPD-package (cf. [1]) has unexpectedly arrived: I had explicitly, per web-interface, chosen Saturday as the date for the next delivery attempt. Today, Friday, I came home to find the package standing between the house-door and the stairs, where any of the neighbors could have walked off with it.* Apart from the risk of theft, this approach denies the recipient the right to turn away a delivery for reasons like a damaged package** or a cancellation of an order—and it removes any proof of delivery, to the disadvantage of the sender***.

*Not that I consider it likely that they would; however, if we look at the overall number of daily deliveries, it is a virtual given that a considerable loss of property will ensue, even should the likelihood be small in any given case. Correspondingly, such careless treatment of deliveries is inexcusable, unless the recipient has explicitly consented to it (I had not).

**Note that a blanket rejection of anything with non-trivial damage to even the outside of the package is a common recommendation,

***For instance, here I could have just claimed never to have received the package, demanded my money back or a replacement delivery, and no-one could have proved that I was lying. At best it would be word-against-word vs. the deliverer, and due to risks like a mistake in house or a later theft, even a good-faith claim by the deliverer would not be sufficient evidence of delivery.

Worse: The product turned out to be damaged. One of the sides of this shelve has a crack and a bit of a curve in the area surrounding the crack. Unless the product was faulty leaving Hornbach’s care, the delivery service has obviously been so careless that the package has been bent and the product damaged. (A similar bent is present on the other side and the back, but to a far lesser degree and without cracks, likely because the cracked side was on top during the bending.) Fortunately, the shelve could still be put together and looks to be functional enough, so I have decided to live with the beauty error rather than taking on the hassle of trying to return the defect product and starting over with a new wait for a re-delivery. Of course, this is a manner in which the sender can actually profit from poor deliveries: if it is too much of a hassle to receive corrections, then fewer people will ask for corrections. (However, once the rest of the delivery, expected for Monday, has played out successfully or unsuccessfully, I will communicate the repeated problems to Hornbach and demand a partial refund—not because it is a worth-while use of my time, but because it is important to signal that events like these are not acceptable.)

As an aside, the package weight was as much as 31 kg (not the 26 mentioned in [1]), which is considerably more than I had anticipated for the smaller shelve. The larger shelves, if and when they do arrive, I will almost certainly have to carry up in pieces. (But I stand by my claim that any of the neighbors could have taken it, even if some, like the old lady on the first floor, might have needed a collaborator—I hand no problems with getting it up to the third floor single-handedly.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 12, 2019 at 7:26 pm

Deliveries

with 3 comments

The never-ending story of eCommerce continues. I had moved my shelve order to Hornbach, and the ordering was surprisingly free of problems. The delivery? That is a different story…

  1. The delivery has been divided into two parts in a customer hostile manner. This forces me to be present on two different days over long stretches of the respective day. In my* case, this is a limit on what I can do when; for many others, it could imply having to take two days of from work, instead of one. Generally, web stores (and post-order companies, etc.) seem to be completely oblivious to the problems caused by having to take a delivery.

    *I am still on a sabbatical, and have, besides, decided to give professional writing an attempt at its end. Correspondingly, I have no office hours, no colleagues that need me, no supervisors who might dislike my absence, …

    It is possible that this division makes sense for Hornbach, e.g. because different products might have been stored at different locations, but the coordinating effort cannot have been that large and costly. Moreover, looking at past experiences, I would not rule out that they unreflectingly send certain* products with one type of delivery and others with another—even when part of the same order. For instance, in December 2016, I tried to address the furniture issue the first time around. Placing a large order with IKEA, I decided to throw in a bath-room mirror—taking for granted that it would be delivered in one go with all the larger items, saving me a trip to a store to pick one up. No: The mirror was sent separately by DHL, incurring an additional cash-on-delivery fee, and causing me more** effort than if I had picked it up in a store… (At that point, I canceled the entirety of my order, this being the last straw after a series of problems.)

    *Here e.g. by the criterion that this-smaller-shelve-is-small-enough-to-be-accepted-by-DPD vs. those-two-big-ones-are-too-large-for-DPD (cf. below).

    **DHL implies that I have to go a DHL shop several hundred meters away and up a steep hill. There are stores with mirrors that are closer to my apartment. There is far less hill to cross, and I would not have the additional volume of the packaging materials to cope with. Obviously, the stores have no cash-on-delivery fees either… (And delivery to a neighbor, which I loathe to begin with, was practically ruled out by the cash-on-delivery.)

  2. One part appears to have been sent by DPD*. My first sign of any activity from DPD was a notification that I found in my (snail) mail today: allegedly, two calls had already taken place and been unsuccessful. This might or might not be true (I do not spend the entire day in my apartment), but why no notification after the first attempt? Besides, who tries to deliver a 26 (?) kg package of some bulk without prior notification?!?

    *A DHL-style delivery service.

    I have now requested delivery for Saturday. I was given no indication as to when on Saturday this delivery might take place. By all means, I understand that times can be quite hard to predict for this type of delivery (e.g. due to variations in what other deliveries take place on the same day). However, by not even mentioning e.g. “morning”* vs. “afternoon”, after or before a certain time, or similar, DPD effectively locks me in the entire day until delivery takes place. Similarly, I have no idea whether I can sleep long or must be awake by a certain time. Etc.

    *Of course, such statements are only sensible if being used correctly. One deliverer, many years ago, gave the choice between “morning” and “afternoon” delivery. The morning ended at 2 PM and the afternoon began at 10 AM…

  3. The other was sent by truck, specifically through the transport company IDS Logistik. It should have arrived today. At around 12:30, I heard my door-bell ring. I immediately went to my apartment-door, pressed the button to unlock the house-door,* put on my shoes, and went down the two stocks to the house-door**. Once there, possibly thirty or forty seconds after the ring, I saw no sign of anyone in the vicinity of my door, not even around the corner. I went back up again, thinking that it might have been pranking kids or something of the sort. Some time later, the stated delivery (10–14) interval started to grow short, and I visited IDS’ website to look at its delivery tracking—only to be met by the claim “04/10/2019 12:27 pm Hilden Your consignment could not be delivered because no recipient was on the location or the receiving department was closed (delivery before 16 clock).”***

    *There is no intercom, otherwise I would obviously have started there.

    **Delivery conditions were curb (“Bordsteinkante”), not apartment-door.

    ***Original text. Why in English rather than German is unclear, but I note that many a German would have problems with understanding this text. (“consignment”, “recipient”, “receiving department”, …) To boot, the reference to “Hilden” (a German town) is confusing, seeing that IDS appears to be situated in Hilden, but that the event took place in Wuppertal.

    Here, I can only assume that the deliverer pushed the bell, (metaphorically or literally) counted to ten, noted a delivery attempt, and then took off, without giving me a reasonable chance to react and without even leaving a notification*. And, yes, I do have the impression that individual delivery-staff members are often looking for excuses not to deliver.* For instance, I have repeatedly received DHL notifications of you-were-not-at-home-please-come-pick-up-your-parcel when I most definitely was at home, I have heard several colleagues relate the same experience, and the German sit-com “Pastewka” has used this scenario for material**. On one occasion, the deliverer from a post-order company claimed that he could not reach my then apartment due to a market in front of the house—there had been no such market.***

    *Something which is made plausible by rumors of undue time constraints and similar. However, pushing the efforts and costs onto the recipient is inexcusable—and has the side-effect that conditions for the staff will not improve.

    **To my vague recollection, the eponymous Pastewka is actually shouting at the delivery man that he is at home—only to be ignored.

    ***This was roughly twenty years ago, so the problems are not limited to recent years.

    I note that if so short reaction times actually were an acceptable requirement, then the recipients would land in an unconscionable situation, e.g. in that going to the toilet or answering the phone at any time in the four-hour interval would involve risking missing the delivery: Even when terminating such activities fairly abruptly, these very short times could still be used up by the time the recipient was at the door (let alone at the ground floor).

    To boot, Hornbach had stated that the delivery would be preceded by a phone call to coordinate date and time—it was not. Instead, I received an email on Monday evening, less than two days in advance, where a four hour interval in the middle of the day was unilaterally dictated by IDS. I can imagine how such delivery terms will end for many employees: “Hey, boss! Can I take all of tomorrow off to take a private delivery?”—“Are you crazy?!? We have work to do. The next time around, ask a week in advance!”

The whole mess is in need of radical changes, including that delivery services start with evening deliveries, that the recipient is given legal/contractual/whatnot rights* towards the delivery service, that payment to the sender is either always after delivery or through some form of escrow mechanism,** that customers are given the say on when*** and how an order may be split into separate deliveries, and that delivery services be prevented from the large scale cheating that goes on (e.g. with blanket you-were-out notifications, cf. above). Should this lead to higher nominal costs, this is acceptable—these costs will be transparent, much unlike the current hidden costs, and likely smaller to considerably smaller on average.****

*Today, the sender is the contract partner of the delivery service, and the recipient can do nothing but complain to the sender—who usually does not give a fuck. (Cf. e.g. my experiences with Beyerdynamic. I note that this text contains the advice “Never, ever pay before delivery—not even when you have reason to believe that the business is not one of the many outright fraudulent web shops.”—advice that I did not heed with Hornbach…)

**With the seller carrying any extra costs than might be involved over payment-on-invoice, because these costs serve to protect him—not the buyer. This notably for cash-on-delivery fees.

***There are cases when this can be a valid option, e.g. when waiting on one part would delay the entire order by several weeks. Even then, however, this must be the customer’s choice, because he might still prefer the one delivery.

****For instance, an optimistic estimate of the time needed to go by the post-office to collect a parcel that was not delivered (even on a pretext) is twenty minutes. Assume an hourly net-payment of (a highly unimpressive) 21 Euro when working, and the hidden cost is 7 Euro, not counting other costs that might apply (e.g. gas for a car). This is more than the nominal price for most package deliveries. Now: How much is the nominal price likely to rise if DHL et co. actually do what they are paid to do? (The hidden cost is actually likely to be even higher, even with these cautious assumptions, because the hourly rate is an average over regular working hours, while here a marginal rate for additional time should apply, e.g. through the over-time rate at work.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 10, 2019 at 7:49 pm

Follow-up II: Some more experiences with eCommerce and poor web-design II

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As 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 Kafkaesque as to stretch the believable.

I placed my order on the 26th March, received an email request for choice of alternate payment methods on the 27th, and immediately replied. After having received no reaction by the 29th, I sent a reminder and additionally set a deadline for the 1st of April. On the 1st, I received an email incorrectly claiming that I had not replied to the request from the 27th, with no indication that my reminder from the 29th would be known either. I immediately replied, quoting my previous emails and requested an immediate resolution.

Today (i.e. the 2nd), I received what amounts to the same email again—and again with no acknowledgment of any of my replies and reminders.

I note that I have had no email problems on my end, including no error messages, no bounces, no indications that other recipients would not receive their emails, …, and must conclude that Cyberport has a severe email problem on its end, is unable to perform even the most basic customer service actions, and/or is deliberately* doing something inexcusable.

*I tend to apply Hanlon’s Razor, but it is noteworthy that the 1st of April is involved. Combine this with an individual employee with an inexcusable attitude, and it is not impossible.

I have now unambiguously rescinded my order.

Excursion on computers:
In parallel, I have looked for alternative providers. Apart from the problems of finding OS-free computers and an online store with reasonable payment options, I am puzzled by the current price and “bang for the buck” levels. It has been quite some time since I last followed price developments, but there does not appear to be a significant price advantage for desktop computers anymore (despite the savings on the display, keyboard, whatnot, and from the lesser need to keep things small). Very many systems sell for absolutely astronomical prices*, probably because the desktop market has been skewed towards very high-end gaming computers. The cheaper systems, on the other hand, have considerably worse** specifications than I would have expected from the standards and trends from, say, five years back (when I was much more up-to-date).

*Often upwards of two thousand Euro, quite often upwards of one thousand Euro—are we back in the 1990s?

**Many systems have dual-cores below 3 GHz. None of the cheaper systems (and far from all of the more expensive) have 16 GB of RAM, many fail to have even 8 GB, and I have even seen some with a measly 2 (!) GB. As a comparison, my 2012 desktop had 2 GB, and was not a very expensive one. By Moore’s Law, I would have expected 16 and 32 GB to dominate even among the lower end systems.

Excursion on shelves:
After Bauhaus’ failure, I visited some other websites, and found that of competitor Hornbach to be much more user-friendly. It, too, suffers from excessive reloading, but is so much faster that this is acceptable (but still not ideal). I have replaced my Bauhaus order with a roughly equivalent one from Hornbach. (The payment options were similarly weak; however, I decided to risk prepayment, seeing that Hornbach, unlike e.g. Cyberport, is well-known, “brick and mortar”, and has a history that goes back decades.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 2, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Follow-up: Some more experiences with eCommerce and poor web-design II

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

I have now received an email answer from Bauhaus to my request for a solution to enable the purchase despite the technical problems caused by Bauhaus. This answer is depressing and shows a complete disregard for customer interests, leaving me with a grand-total of possible two hours* of time wasted with nothing to show for it—and, yes, I was too optimistic in ascribing the behavior to an unintended technical problem.

*Including the phase two weeks ago described in [1], but not including the time spent writing texts. The single order that failed might have taken around an hour, including browsing the catalog and working with the abysmally slow website.

I will certainly never use Bauhaus again, not even the physical stores, unless it backs down from this customer-hostile stance. Factoring in the extreme slowness of the website, I can only encourage others to avoid it. I note that Bauhaus’ website has by now cost it the chance at orders over thousands of Euro of products and services (most of it relating to events in [1] prior to the current order). The issue is the more annoying, because I basically had already decided against using Bauhaus for any of the intended orders (cf. [1])—I made the mistake of still ordering the shelves from Bauhaus and was immediately burnt.

To quote pertinent parts*:

*A few minor manual corrections were necessary after copy-and-paste, since Bauhaus appears to have used non-standard characters or encoding. Reservations for undetected problems caused by this.

Bei jeder Bestellung erfolgt eine automatisierte handelsübliche Prüfung der Adress-und Bestelldaten, auf die wir keinen Einfluss haben.

Die angebotene Zahlart ist abhängig von verschiedenen Faktoren.

Abhängig von Warenwert, Größe und Gewicht der Artikel sowie der Kategorie der Artikel stellt Ihnen der Online-Shop eine Auswahl an Zahlarten zur Verfügung.

Wir behalten uns nach dieser Prüfung vor, bestimmte Zahlungsarten im Rahmen des Bestellvorgangs auszuschließen.

Translation (with reservation for the correctness of terms of trade):

For every order, an automatic customary-in-the-trade (“handelsübliche”) check of address-and [hyphen present in original] order data is made, on which we have no influence

The offered payment methods depend on different factors.

Depending on the value of the goods, size and weight of the article and the category of the article, the online-shop gives you a selection of payment types.

We reserve the right to, after this check, remove specific payment types from the order transaction (“Bestellvorgang”).

This might have been acceptable in principle, had the payment options not already been offered. Filtering out the options before the user makes a choice could be OK, but doing so after he has already started choosing, and then choosing based on faulty premises, is inexcusable. To boot, there was no prior information that this might take place and no obvious means to make a preliminary check—to avoid spending all that time waiting on and searching on the uselessly slow website.

Further, either I was filtered out based on flawed criteria* or a very large proportion of the users will meet similar problems. I note that while some type of credit or similar check is not unusual, it is usually very explicit** and to speak of “customary” (“[handels]üblich”) for whatever checks Bauhaus used is extremely dubious.

*My credit rating should be flawless and not an obstacle. I also do not recall having given an authorization to perform a credit check, implying that this would boil down to me living in the wrong place (“address”)—if so, intolerable. The order value was small (possibly, around a 150 Euro) and would not be a legitimate cause for concern. The size and weight might have been well above average, but there is no obvious legitimate reason as to why this should have affected the payment methods. Further, both the value and size/weight were known before showing payments methods, and (for what should be a strictly internal check) it cannot be justified to not make the corresponding check in advance.

**E.g. in the form of a request to do a credit check or, for invoicing, a request to send data to a separate service, e.g. Klarna. I note that doing such a check without my consent would involve an illegal use of my data.

Also note that there was no indication of any connection to a check made in the messages displayed, including no mention of credit rating, size, weight, whatnot having had an impact. On the contrary, the impression of a Bauhaus wide restriction for everyone is created. This gross miscommunication is a further time waster.

As for the Cyberport issue discussed in the same text: Cyberport had per email requested that I state my preferred other payment options. I did so on the 27th (same day) and requested further instructions, due to the vagueness of the request. I am still waiting on a reaction from Cyberport. (But note that a lack of reaction within, at the time of writing, 46 hours need not indicate a major problem. It still compounds the delay, however. Even if Cyberport eventually honors my order, it will arrive at least three times later than originally indicated.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 29, 2019 at 7:16 pm

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.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 27, 2019 at 11:49 pm

Some more experiences with eCommerce and poor web-design

with 5 comments

Since I have spent (and intend to continue to spend) a lot less time traveling, I have just ordered a desktop computer to get more comfort over my laptop.

This provided several good illustrations of how poorly thought-through many web-shops are.

For instance,* during the actual order stage, I found that copying my VAT-identification into the corresponding field led to an unspecified error—allegedly, something was wrong, but no word was given as to what. A bit of experimentation revealed that because I had not typed the VAT, the field did not recognize that an entry was present… This is idiotic on at least three counts: Firstly, this is the type of information that should be copied as a matter of course, to reduce the risk of accidental errors (and work needed). Secondly, a good developer would not have let himself be fooled by something like that.** Thirdly, a reasonable error message should have been given, e.g. that a mandatory field was empty. This would have made the error search much faster and would have avoided red herrings like a syntax error or an accidental copying of the wrong value (or an incomplete copying of the correct value). The error message displayed also showed the design error of appearing (only) at the top of the page, instead of next to the field. This was especially bad because the top of the page was not visible without scrolling when the field was visible… (However, at least the field was actually marked red, so that the user knew to search for an error message—I have seen even this be left out on some other sites.)

*At http://www.cyberport.de

**Most likely, a heuristic was used that “if the user has typed something, the field is not empty”. This is highly naive and the (easy) check whether the field actually was empty would be much better.

Similarly, there was one of those idiotic* “please re-type your email address” fields. Of course, I just grabbed the original entry and pasted it—and nothing happened. Apparently, instead of realizing that this type of field is an idiocy, the designer had decided to block copy actions to force a re-type. To boot, this was done without any discernible error or warning message.

*Email addresses, too, are best copied from a fix source—not typed. If it is copied, there is no risk of a mistype and the “re-type” field is a pointless time-waster. Most non-copiers will likely rely on auto-complete, which will almost always either give the correct result or the wrong result twice. Again the “re-type” field is a pointless time-waster. For those who do type, the clear majority can be expected to either type and double-check sufficiently carefully that the address is correct in the first field, while those who do commit an error will usually do so due to a memory error, which will usually be repeated in the “re-type” field… Again, this field is a pointless time-waster. (A better approach could be to e.g. put a warning text next to the first field, to indicate the communication problems that could ensue if the address is mistyped and “please double-check it”.

Earlier, I had visited a number of category pages from one of Germany’s most popular physical electronic stores.* This with an eye on looking for other things that might be interesting, the store(s) having a very wide selection of products, be it on- or off-line. Not only did I have to jump through hoops to get to these pages,** but once there, they were all empty… Whether this was due to an internal error or an unprofessional reliance on e.g. Google***, I do not know. What I do know is that I wasted a fair amount of time, bought nothing, and definitely will not return in a hurry.

*Conrad resp. http://www.conrad.de

**There were usually several clicks and a lot of scrolling needed (instead of the one click that should have been needed), because the original links did not lead to the category pages—but to information pages that contained a link to the real category page somewhere towards the bottom.

***Google (and a few other companies) provide extensive APIs that can facilitate web-development. For an online store, it should be a given that these are installed locally. However, some developers fail to do so, and instead rely on versions running on Google’s (or whoever’s) servers. This brings problems both with reliability and user privacy, and I have blocked some of these servers to protect myself from privacy violations.

The search criteria in several stores were abysmal*, missing even basics like the ability to filter computers based on e.g. OS (specifically, no** OS), amount of RAM, and similar. Typical sets of criteria were brand (rarely interesting***) and price (interesting, but not enough) and possible something else of lesser import (e.g. whether shipping could take place now or only in two days time). This resulted in result lists of dozens to hundreds of entries that had to be manually filtered. (With the effect that I looked through the first one or two pages, foregoing the many entries on later pages entirely…)

*Including http://www.cyberport.de

**As a Linux user, I do not want to pay extra for a Windows installation that I am just going to remove later. Of course, even among those content with a pre-installed OS, the question of which OS is often quite important. As an aside, the proportion of computers that still come with a pre-installed Windows is depressing—the year is 2019, not 1999, and it should be a given that a Windows installation is optional.

***While some might have a brand preference, it is usually far more important what characteristics the computer has, and in those rare cases where someone is justified in looking at the brand first, he would be better of going directly to the manufacturer website (for research, if not for the actual purchase; of course, after research, he could just search by product number and would never need the brand). A possible exception is a means to exclude some brand; however, this was never present. (Except by selecting all brands, and then de-selecting the one—with possibly disastrous time waste as the result. Cf. immediately below.)

A particular annoyance was the slowness that came through attempts to be interactive—confirming my observation that the more interactive and “helpful” a website tries to be, the slower and less helpful it tends to become. Notably, changing any filter setting leads to an automatic re-load, which implies a re-search or re-filtering server-side, which implies a considerable delay until the page is available again. However, it is rarely the case that the user only wants to change one filter setting,* and it would usually** be better to have him toggle the reload manually after making all changes. Consider e.g. prices on http://www.cyberport.de: Per default, they ranged from a few tens of Euros*** to many thousands. Naturally, I wanted to trim both values to, respectively, ensure that I got something actually usable and did not pay a fortune for something I did not need. However, to trim the range to e.g. 200–500 Euro, I had to change two filter settings. Both caused a reload with a significant loss of time.****

*Unless, obviously, the number of settings is too limited to begin with…

**One exception is when the one choice alters what other choices are available. This was not the case on these websites, however. (And when it is, it is usually better to pre-load such alterations in a manner that allows a client-side change of filter options without reloading the actual results from the server.)

***Presumably, either non-computers misleadingly put in the computer category or extreme mini-computers (Raspberry PIs or similar).

****To boot, the settings were not even input fields, but some type of weird bar, where the user had to move the ends of the bar until approximately the intended values appeared.

Excursion on email:
While a bit off topic, I note that Cyberport provided yet another example of the grossly unethical practice of not having a means to provide an email address without also consenting to spam, insteading forcing the user to revoke consent at a later time. (Of course, not providing an email address at all is not an option.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 26, 2019 at 9:37 pm