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Feeling awfully secure…

I have ranted on several occasions in the past about British approach to customer service. While the problems that I described before – particularly, incessant handovers from one department to another, with attendant need to go through “security questions” and the description of the issue at hand again and again, – still exist, I am starting to realize that my view of the American approach may have been inexplicably tinted in rosy undertones.

We have identified the new camera that we want to buy. It is no secret that buying electronics in the States is somewhat cheaper than in England (although if you search long and hard, you may be able to find a deal in the UK that approaches the best price that can be found in the US). A business trip to Chicago is coming up in less than two weeks. My brother lives in Chicago. :idea::idea::idea:

Natasha finds a pretty sweet deal at J&R store in New York. We make a purchase online, using our US credit card, with billing address at my parents’ house. The shipping address is that of my brother’s. The website does mention in tiny print that providing the same shipping address will expedite the order, but I pay little attention to that. I am thinking that there will be an e-mail asking me to click and confirm the order or something.

The e-mail does arrive next day. Only it directs me to get a confirmation number off my answering machine and call back with that number. Now, my contact phone number for the purposes of this transaction is the one that goes together with New Jersey address. So I ask my mom to get the number off her answering machine. But the message was left partially undecipherable, and she can only figure out part of the number.

I call J&R credit department, sit on hold for a couple of minutes, and finally am asked for the confirmation number. The digits that I can give them is not enough. I need the entire number. What’s the solution? I can call you back right now and give you another number, says the not entirely unpleasant girl on the other end. But I am not at that number at the moment, says I. Which number can I call you back on? she asks. How about this number in England? I respond. Oh, no, it has to be a number in the US.

For those who know me well, I do not need much to lose it when faced with something ludicrous. Unfortunately, I always try to appeal to common sense first. Listen, I say, I am calling you right now; why don’t you confirm my identity, ask me to repeat the credit card details to you, the addresses, the whole thing, and be done with it. The girl responds curtly, I cannot release your order without that confirmation number.

Her only suggestion is for me to gain access to the same answering machine, and repeat the procedure with two phone calls. Since my mom is now home, I probably should surrender, but I’ve already lost it. I’ve made an online purchase, shipped it to my brother, and now you require me to make four phone calls and waste time on hold in order to get what I bought? No way! Not doing business with you! Cancel the order!

She transfers me to a sales agent, who is a lot more apologetic, but still powerless to change anything. I vent, point out that the stupid practice just caused them to lose a $600 sale, even demand to talk to a manager. After a few seconds of being on hold, we get disconnected.

The guy actually immediately calls back – to my mom, of course, – and apologizes, and that’s the end of it.

We are buying the exact same camera in the UK, which will be just a tiny bit more expensive in dollar terms. It will probably reach us even before my Chicago trip…

Having cooled down a bit, I admit that I should not have made such a “principled” stand. It’s not like calling the US costs me extra money and negates my bargain savings; nor was the time on hold exceedingly long. I can certainly understand the logic of trying to prevent fraud before it happens – and two distinct addresses for billing and shipping, even when linked by the same, however uncommon, last name are an obvious red flag for potential fraud. If the fraud is perpetrated and later the charge is disputed by the credit card holder, either the merchant or the credit card company will assume a financial loss. I appreciate their desire to prevent it from happening in the first place.

The problem is inconvenience. Someone at J&R designed a secure way of preventing fraudulent transactions. It made completing a purchase a lot less convenient to anyone who would want to, say, buy a gift online and ship it directly to the recipient. In my extremely rare case, where physical location was halfway across the world from either billing or shipping address, the situation was even less tenable. But if the process of confirmation was painless – and I admit that I do not know if a fool-proof process can ever be painless (not to say that I believe that this calling back crap is fool-proof) – I would not be as bothered. Make the process inconvenient for me – no matter the justification – and I will stay away.

I have a feeling that occurrences such as this are likely to increase in the near future. Natasha recently experienced a similar thing trying to buy a gift card online. On the other hand, we sent flowers and bought gifts on Amazon in a similar manner without a problem.

But I am also still working out some loose ends of the recent fraud on our own card, so why exactly am I complaining?…

Posted in Customerography


  1. Kisintin

    It might depend on the business, i have on numerous occasions bought something online, and shipped it to an address different from billing, and never encountered a problem. Never even raised a flag for the tender. They include, Amazon, Best Buy, Circuit City, even ABT, which is certainly an J&R equivalent of MidWest.

    I must admit, though that I was the first one to recieve a call from an 718 number, with guy asking for Ilya, however having our Mom’s phone for billing contact. Apologies are in order, for me not realizing who was calling, although i asked them. If the person calling did not hang up on me, or i was more quick-witted, some nerve tissue damage could have been saved.


  2. Ilya

    No problem, Kostyan!

    The fact that they called you makes it even more idiotic. What if I was buying you a surprise gift…?

    Fewer regrets now, truly.

  3. papa

    as you know, my office is a 10 min walk form J&R. You’ve should call me and I would buy you your camera over the lunch time and get it for you to Chicago.


  4. Ilya

    Thanks, Dad.

    We did not want to bother you with lugging a fairly sizeable box to Chicago.

    Anyway, we actually received the camera on Friday morning – after ordering it last Wednesday night – so there is something to be said about buying local. Brugge trip was already photoed with the new camera – results to be published soon…

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