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 dell.com, but it wouldn't let me ship to Canada. I then tried dell.ca, 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 dell.ca", I thought. The number is 1-800-WWW-DELL (phone over HTTP?), and it's the same number on dell.com. 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 dell.ca just let me choose the billing country for my credit card. Better yet, dell.com 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 at Wednesday, July 11, 2007