I’ve spent several months trying to understand what the problem is with the Paypal payment option in our online shop. For most people, it works just fine, as it always has.
But then, usually in the night when I am abed, there are a cluster of failed orders, and in the morning a bunch of anguished emails to deal with from people who are worried that they might inadvertently have paid twice (rare, but if it happens, it takes me just seconds to action a refund, so don’t worry) or are frustrated and want to know what to do next.
I made test payments, I Googled to see if others were having the same issue (they weren’t), I wondered if our site had a technical issue that could have been intermittently causing the problem (not so likely), and in the end, I came to the provisional confusion that the problem was SCA, which Wikipedia tells me came into force on Sept. 14th 2020 in Europe.
I’d vaguely heard of it from our banks and online payment providers (Paypal, Amazon, the credit card processor). We’re talking about strengthened security measures to reduce fraud, supposedly to protect customers like you and I from losing our money, actually to protect the big guys from having to make refunds when a cardholder is cheated by a criminal, or a cardholder IS a criminal.
S = Strong, C = Customer, A = Authentication, and it’s that last part that causes the problems, I concluded.
During the payment stage, the payment processor MIGHT (not ‘will’, not ‘always does’, just randomly ‘might’) ask the customer to authenticate themselves, perhaps by responding to an SMS notication on their smartphone. At which point, if you’ve been reluctant to give away your cellphone number in the past, no SMS can arrive and so the payment request will time out. At which point the payment processor automatically tells our shop to cancel your order, but tells you that WE have cancelled the order. I was in bed, so don’t blame me.
Persistent people may try again, meet the same issue, then quit. Goodness knows how many sales we’ve lost in the past few months as a consequence.
Persistent people with an engineering mindset and a determination to not be beaten by the man might keep trying, and so eventually figure out what they need to do to satisfy the SCA requirements and get their ebooks/online lessons or whatever. At which point their payment will succeed, I will delete the cancelled orders, process the one that succeeded, and Bob’s your zio. A happy ending!
Because of this mess with Paypal, we introduced a new payment option. If you happen to be about to buy something and want to avoid avoidable stress, look out for the ‘Pay by credit card / Stripe’ option, and select that one. It seems to work 100% of the time. Stripe is a payment processor – a sort of bank – they protect your card details, process the payment, take a commission, and send us the remainder. Smoothly.
Trying to figure all this out, I Googled ‘human error’. Wikipedia writes that “Prevention of human error is generally seen as a major contributor to reliability and safety of (complex) systems.” Indeed, Paypal. Think on that.
I once published a poem, which was intended to satirise the way that companies change their technology without a thought to how elderly people will adapt. It was panned by several OnlineItalianClub.com members as ageist (read it for free here, buy a book of poems here) but I maintain, the point is valid.
When a technology changes, or a completely new technology is introduced, the young seem to adapt rapidly (life’s a game for them) whereas those of us with accumulated decades of experience of how to get by in the world suddenly find that what we thought we knew about how things work is no longer relevant.
Which brings me to BLOODY EBOOKS, which have been driving me up the wall this week, with the ‘Half-price Ebook of the Week’ offer, and will no doubt do the same for the whole of next week when we have our Autumn Sale.
Premise: I always sent ebooks out manually, as an attachment to an email, knowing that people have difficulty with download links sent automaticaly. It could take up to 24 hours but most of the time people were happy to wait and were unconfused by the idea that they would, eventually, get an email from me personally with an ebook ATTACHED to it.
But Covid 19 and the like. English classes at our school were cancelled in the spring, the English teacher retired, so I now find myself facing the prospect of teaching a bunch of kids’ classes (aged 3 to 18) to make up for what we owe the families.
Which means I will have less time for manually sending ebooks. Which lead me to the unescapable conclusion that I would have to start acting like one of those bad supermarkets that introduce carnivorous self-service checkouts to save money on old-fashioned and expensive, but friendly, helpful and human till-operators.
I hang my head in shame, but needs must. So, this last couple of weeks we have fully introduced the ‘buy an ebook, automatically get a download link the instant your payment is confirmed’ system for delivering our ebooks.
The result? Most people love the new system! It’s great that they get their ebook (via the download link they are emailed by our shop) IMMEDIATELY, without having to wait until it’s morning in Italy and I grumpily haul myself to the computer to process the orders from Australian and U.S. customers that have piled up overnight. But for some, it hasn’t worked out so well, and I’ve spent the whole week trying to figure out why.
The typical problem is summed up as “I haven’t received my ebook”, to which I reply, “You were sent a download link by our shop immediately after your payment was confirmed”, to which the resonse is “No, there’s nothing”, to which I insist “Check your spam/junk folder”, and so on and so forth.
I’ve literally spent an entire week writing emails like this – to maybe five people (the other ninety-five buyers are either fine or have yet to contact me to express their perplexity). I could have written ‘War and Peace’ in the time I’ve spent. But I have, at least, become an expert on the many ways to mess up with email.
So… trumpets sound, drums roll… in order of ‘duh-ness’:
1.) Some people delete all emails they receive, often without reading them. One person, for example, replied to the email WITH THE DOWNLOAD LINK IN IT, asking where her ebook was. I scrolled down, checked the link was valid by clicking on it and downloading her copy of the ebook myself, fixed the system so it still gave her three downloads and seven days to do them in, then replied (kindly, I hope) that she had in fact received the download link, in the email she had replied to, and that all she needed to do was click it to initiate the download. She wrote back that she had deleted that email, and all the others (some of which also contained download links) received from our shop. Less patiently, I suggested that deleting emails relating to an online purchase without reading them carefully and BEFORE receiving whatever you had bought might not be the best approach.
2.) “The download failed, all three times!” Click the download link we send you and it WILL WORK, just like barcodes on supermarket products work, however surprising that might once have seemed. Click it once and the ebook will be downloaded to the default location on your device. On a decent internet connection, that takes maybe a second? “Oh look, nothing happened! I’ll click it agian! And still nothing! One more try! Well, that’s not very good, is it?” One assumes that this person was expecting the ebook to fill the screen of their device, as happens when you click on an attachment to an email (my own fault for changing the system and trapping people in the cogs of an unfeeling machine…) Whereas what you have to do, AFTER clicking the download link, is to navigate to your Downloads folder, find the ebook .pdf, which will have a recognisable title, click on it to open it, and then save it some place safe. Click once, check your Downloads folder has the ebook in it. If not, look where your downloads usually go. No need to click three times, really. Save the other two clicks for if you need to do the same thing on another device.
3. Sent from my iPhone / Sent from my iPad. My heart always sinks when I see that at the bottom of an email complaining that “the email with the download link hasn’t arrived, AND I’ve waited 24 hours, SO what are you going to do about it???” I enquire if they’ve checked their spam/junk folder. “Well obviously!” comes the reply, so I ask: “Did you know that your iPhone/iPad might not synch the spam/junk folder of your email, so as not to waste your data/battery life showing you stuff you won’t want to see? Which means that the spam/junk folder seems empty when, in reality, it isn’t?” No, of course they didn’t know that. Unless you are an expert with your smartphone, and who is, you need to check your spam/junk folder on a COMPUTER. And there, hopefully, you will find the email with the download link, along with lots of other stuff that may or may not be important to you, which you didn’t see on your iPhone/iPad when you looked there. You heard it here first.
4.) “My old email address forwards everything to my Gmail”. Last but not least we have the people who once had an email address that they used regularly, let’s call it manuremail.com, perhaps it was free, back in the early years of this century. These people used the manuremail.com email for their Paypal account and for various websites, and even though they stopped checking it years ago, and have probably lost the password, they still use it for things like buying ebooks. But no worries – the manuremail.com email automatically forwards everything to the wonderful Gmail (thanks guys, for almost never causing me problems – I love you!) Except, no. The manuremail.com tech guys, who are not billionaires like those nice Google boys, have been penny-pinching on their electric bill and so set your trusty old war charger of an email account to save them cash by NOT forwarding spam. Ditto, they were skimping on the spam filter software, so our emails ended up in their spam and were never forwarded to your new email account. Which is somehow my fault…
OK, there are about a million more ways that sending ebook download links by emails can get messed up. But, other than going back to sending everything manually, which means delays and not having time to teach pre-schoolers, the only solution is that I try to educate club members about buying stuff online. If you already knew all of the above, forgive me. If not, here’s a summary:
- If you don’t see the obvious messages (order received, order being processed, order completed) then please check your spam/junk folder, and NOT on your iPhone/iPad. Pretty please?
- Still nothing? Get a decent email account. Gmail is reliable. Send me your ‘proper’ email address and we can resend everything to that.
- Read the emails you receive! If you’re buying an ebook or ebooks, one or more of them will contain download links. Even if they have a boring subject line, such as INVOICE, they might still contain the download link. Read the emails. I beg you. I’m holding a pistol to my head, waiting for you to reassure me you will do this.
- Don’t delete anything related to a purchase until AFTER you have received what you paid for, and are sure that you are happy with it.
- If you need help, write and ask me. Don’t bug Lucia, our teaching manager, or your teacher, if you have one. And for the love of God, don’t waste your time contacting the payment processor. Just write to me (reply to one of these emails if you wish.) No need to send photos of receipts, etc. If you ordered and paid, I’ll be able to see that clearly in our system so won’t dispute it. But do reassure me that you have taken the common sense steps above (and NOT ON YOUR iPHONE!) Otherwise, whatever I resend will end up in the same place as before. See?
P.S. Half-price Ebook of the Week, final reminder!
Next week we have our Autumn Sale, but there are still a few more days of the half-price Ebook of the Week offer, which ends on Sunday. It’s two different versions of the same story, this time. Don’t buy both, will you?
Both ebooks can be found on the Catalog page of our online shop, along with many other great options at different levels, from beginner to advanced.
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