Saturday July 3, 2010

How not to resolve online ordering problems

This afternoon, I received a call from an online vendor whose web site we recently used, attempting to make a purchase. He said that our recent order used a flag indicating that a 10% discount code was enabled, but we had no such discount authorized. I expected him to suggest an adjustment and/or ask exactly what we did, so that he could try to reproduce the problem.

Instead, he started off about how the "only way" this could have happened was that we (clearly computer programmers; he had looked us up on the web!) had reverse-engineered the JavaScript code and sent a bogus flag to his server. I told him that we were computer professionals and that we didn't do that sort of thing, whether for fun or profit. And that a 10% discount did not seem to be worth much effort, in any case.

I also said that he probably had a bug and suggested that he send us a note with the particulars, asking for our help in tracking down the problem. But no, he was on a roll. "This is the first time in tens of thousands of sales that this has happened, so it can't be a bug." or words to that effect, followed by more accusations and implications of attempted system cracking on our part.

I told him that he was not taking the right approach to resolving the problem and that he was also being insulting. I said that we would be happy to help him reproduce the symptoms, but that making accusations of perfidy and evil intent, without proof, wasn't the way to go about it. He responded that he's cancelling the order; whether he will send us the suggested note and/or try to track down the bug remains to be seen...


As a computer programmer with 40+ years of experience, I can definitively say that bugs can lurk for months or years (and millions of user transactions) before emerging. In terms of web commerce, "tens of thousands of sales" is a very small test sample. In any case, the question is not how many times the expected logic path was followed, but how this user got onto an unexpected path.

As a small-scale entrepreneur (I ran Prime Time Freeware for a decade or so), I can also say that I would never have accused a customer of trying to scam a discount, even if I was pretty sure s/he had done so. Rather, I would have tried to:

  • complete the sale and make the customer happy

  • make sure that my code rejects invalid discount codes

  • ascertain the details, in order to reproduce and resolve the problem
'nuff said...

How not to resolve online ordering problems in Computers , Technology - posted at Sat, 03 Jul, 17:01 Pacific | «e» | TrackBack

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