Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rant: Bad Internationalization

A lot of websites don't seem to "get" the fact that the Internet is international. I'm not talking about things like being translated into multiple languages or outputting content in UTF-8 (in this post). What really annoys me are sites that seem to actually go out of their way to make life difficult for international users and/or customers.

Credit cards have the nice property that they work internationally. If someone accepts Visa or Mastercard they'll normally accept those cards no matter what country the cards originate in or what currency the account is in. Currency conversion is handled automatically by the credit card issuing bank. A number of websites seem to be incapable of dealing with this properly, however.

Air Canada

An example I recently encountered is Air Canada's website. I was going to purchase some plane tickets for some family in Canada. After going through the ordeal of finding flights that met the various constraints I got to the payment page. I then entered my credit card number and most of my billing address only to find that "United States" wasn't in the country selector. "Is it listed as America? USA?" I thought to myself. Nope. It just wasn't there.

After a few minutes of trying to figure out what was up I noticed a paragraph in the sidebar that helpfully pointed out that the United States, as well as a handful of other countries, had been intentionally left out of the available options based on the country selection I had (apparently) made when I first visited the site. The only rationale I can think of for this is that it's a way to charge customers in different countries different prices. Blech.


Another incident happened back around Christmas. I was going to order a present for my father, who lives in Canada, from Dell. I first tried using, but it wouldn't let me ship to Canada. I then tried, but the billing page had the country field hard-coded to Canada. My US-based credit card wasn't going to work.

After failing with both websites, I decided to try and get in touch with a human. "I'll just call the number on", I thought. The number is 1-800-WWW-DELL (phone over HTTP?), and it's the same number on Calling the number from the US connected me to Dell US, not Dell Canada, and they wouldn't ship to Canada. I asked if they could connect me to Dell Canada, and the sales person suggested that I just have the present delivered to myself, in California, and then I could ship it to Canada myself.

This idea is all kinds of terrible because it would mean more work on my part, be more expensive, take longer for the gift to arrive, and it'll also mean that the recipient would have have to pay GST -- not a very nice Christmas present. (GST is a tax applied to items as they cross into Canada.) By ordering from Dell Canada I could pay the GST, rather than the recipient having to pay it, the shipping would be direct (and presumably from a warehouse in Canada), and would be included in the price.

Eventually I was able to convince the Dell US salesperson to give me a real phone number for Dell Canada sales, and I was able to order the gift. Still, this would've been far less painless if just let me choose the billing country for my credit card. Better yet, should allow shipping to Canada by forwarding my order to Dell Canada for me.

With the Dell example I think the reason for this screwup was less malice, more oversight/ignorance/stupidity. However, in some ways it's even more sad that even Dell, a company known for being relatively 'net savvy, can't seem to get this right.

posted Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Both cases aren't i18n bugs; they're deliberate business decisions. Air Canada charges different ticket prices based on your country of origin. Dell has different pricing and warranty policies based on your home country.

The business policy is stupid, but the product is working as intended. Although they could certainly do more to warn you up front.  
  Blogger Nelson on July 12, 2007
Hi Nelson. Yeah, I figured that the Air Canada issue was deliberate, and probably based on a dumb business policy.

The Dell one still doesn't make sense to me, though. Why can't they treat the shipping address as the "home address" for figuring out which price/warranty to give me without putting restrictions on the billing address? As it stands, this looks like the classic sort of i18n problem where the spec said something like "behave like X when user's country is Y", but "user's country" was never actually defined. The implementers then went and conflated shipping country and billing country, probably without even realizing it.

Part of what annoys me about both of these cases is the fact that the billing address of my credit card really isn't any business of the merchant at all. The only reason they need it is so they can pass it along to their payment processor for fraud protection (ie: address verification service).  
  Blogger Laurence on July 12, 2007
Guess there's must be problems regarding taxes and international shipping (for example, being european like me, right now, buying to Dell directly in the US would suppose to pay up to 30% less than in Europe because of the Euro value against the Dollar).

Anyway, from the customer side, it's just idiotic... There must be a way to do this kind of "special requests".

Kind regard from Spain,

  Blogger Paquito on July 28, 2007
it s really bad about taxes ordering from us to r gonna pay anything the 40% more...  
  Anonymous Anonymous on November 10, 2007
I am noticing this more not less as the net matures , my kids live in England so I when i try to get gifts for them it can seem like a circle of pain

US based companies do not ship to UK
UK companies sometimes do not take US credit cards

Not sure if it's because of stupidity or the growing problem of online fraud
  Blogger steve on December 14, 2007
Dell has different pricing and warranty policies based on your home country.
The suggestion made by the Dell representative is fraught with danger.
What would happen if you bought a product that was not supplied (and therefore not covered by warranty) in Canada ?

What is required is to be able to buy a "foreign" supplied product with a "foreign" warranty for delivery to a "foreign" country. What the vendor doesn't get is that depending on the product I might not mind paying the "local" price even if it was higher than the "foreign" price !!!

BTW, another example is thinkgeek - a lot of their electroncis can not be shipped outside the US / Canada.  
  Blogger Martin English on January 14, 2008