Saturday, December 18, 2010

PayPal stupidity

It seems that every year, while doing my Christmas shopping for relatives in Canada, I discover another major e-commerce site that doesn't understand that billing addresses and shipping addresses aren't necessarily in the same country.

This year I was surprised to discover that PayPal, who you would think would have a clue, doesn't let you set a shipping address outside of your account's country. I was attempting to order an item from a Canadian website to be shipped to a Canadian address but because my PayPal account is a US account it will only let me create US shipping addresses.

This issue isn't unknown to PayPal, either, as evidenced by the "adding a shipping address in canada" and the "How do I use a foreign address?" threads on the PayPal's Community Help forums. This appears to be the official response:

It is not possible to add an foreign address to your PayPal account within PayPal. You can open a new account with your Canadian address and Canadian financial information.

Given that this appeared to be my only available option I decided to try and set up a Canadian PayPal account. This required that I come up with a new e-mail address for the account, since PayPal uses a single namespace for all accounts (arguably the right thing to do, but it doesn't interact well with the boneheaded policy of requiring a separate account for each country). Luckily I have an unlimited supply of e-mail addresses. The sign-up process then wants you to enter banking or credit card information. Of course, they are restricted to the country that you have selected, in my case Canada. I do not have a Canadian bank account or credit card (anymore). I was about to give up, but then I realized that I could just click on “my account” and bypass this step entirely. To complete my purchase I then:

  1. Attempted to purchase with the merchant. This was just to find out the exact amount I was going to be charged.
  2. Transferred funds from my US PayPal account to my Canadian PayPal account by “sending money” to myself. Having a second browser open was useful for this step. Thankfully, I was able to choose which currency to use in my US PayPal account so I didn't need to do any currency conversions by hand.
  3. Waited several minutes for the funds to show up in my Canadian PayPal account.
  4. Actually purchased the item from the merchant.

A few minutes (!) after purchasing the item PayPal actually called me on the phone. They wanted to make sure that I "still had control of my account", referring to the new account I had just created. I told him I did, and then I mentioned the annoyance of having to create a second account just so I could ship to another country. They confirmed that what I did was basically the only option, and said the reason for this is to make sure that each account complies with the laws of the country that it is associated with. This seems bogus. I could maybe understand only allowing banking information from a single country per account, but there's no good reason to put the same restriction on shipping information. PayPal does nothing with the shipping information except pass it along to the seller.

posted Saturday, December 18, 2010