It's more pleasant to pull teeth than to buy something online with a credit card in Europe

When designing the purchase experience for Money for Something, we wanted to make it as easy as possible to buy the book. With that objective, we integrated Stripe’s technology — the customer enters their name, credit card details, and clicks “Place Order”. A moment later, they have the book.

Even though Stripe does the processing on their servers, the experience is fully integrated within our own site. It couldn’t be more elegant or efficient.

Contrast that with the experience someone living in Europe typically has when buying something online from a European organization.

Buying airline tickets at Air France

This morning, I wanted to buy airline tickets from AirFrance.es, and pay with the business credit card issued by my German bank.

At checkout, I’m asked to enter my name, credit card details and billing address. A stern warning advises that if the data doesn’t precisely match the billing address of the credit card, the transaction will be denied.

Already setting a dire tone, and raising questions. Should I include the hyphen in the street name, “Robert-Bosch”? Should I spell out “Strasse” or leave it just “Str.”? I take a guess and hope for the best.

Clicking “Pay”, I watched the browser cycle through various URLs on different domains before landing on a blank screen with an iFrame inserted in the middle. The content looks like something out of a 1999 HTML web design book and it’s in German, rather than the Spanish I was seeing on the AirFrance site. In fact, it’s completely bank-branded.

I’m asked to enter my MasterCard “SecureCode™”? Off I go to Yojimbo, hunt around for my MasterCard note, decrypt, and thank god, there it is, my MasterCard SecureCode. Yes!

Enter it, click “Weiter” (continue), and…

“Your SecureCode has expired. Please create a new one.”

Of course it’s expired. What self-respecting SecureCode doesn’t expire?

Right. How do I create a new SecureCode? The message gives no indication.

Calling my German bank, I wait on hold for a while as they look for somebody that speaks English. That person informs me that to create a new SecureCode, I need to start the purchase process again, but this time, click “Forgot SecureCode” on the confirmation screen.

Yes, that’s how you create a new SecureCode; you click “Forgot SecureCode”.

(Naturally, to even get to the confirmation screen again, I had to delete some browser cookies, which are stuck in the state of “Your SecureCode has expired.”)

So it ended up taking me five minutes to configure my flight, and 45 minutes to pay for it. Awful.

Buying vitamins at MAS Musculo

Yesterday, I visited MasMusculo.com to purchase some multi-vitamins. Again, it took about five minutes to find my vitamins, which came to a total of 27 Euros.

Once again, though, the purchase workflow was interrupted by an awkward visit to some unrelated URL, where I was shown a blank screen with an iFrame containing content from my personal credit card provider, Deutsche Bank.

On this screen, I’m asked to enter my personal PIN, and the code from coordinate “G5” on my SecureCard™.

What’s a SecureCard™? This is a card containing a grid of numbers, identified by alpha columns and numeric rows, one of which you’re randomly asked for (in my case, “G5”). Sigh. Off I go hunting for my SecureCard™.

Of course, you can’t just type in your PIN and data from the SecureCard. No, somebody could have installed a keylogger on your computer, and over time, collect all the data from your SecureCard™ and then fraudulently buy vitamins!

To enter your PIN and SecureCard™ data, I’m shown a virtual keyboard with the key locations randomly distributed, i.e. it’s not 1, 2, 3… but rather something like 6, 3, 9, 2.

(No, this is not a million dollar wire transfer. This is a 27 Euro vitamin purchase.)

After carefully punching in all the data using this mind-numbing virtual keyboard, I hit “Pay”, and wait. Yeah, you know what’s coming…

Your data did not match, or there was a system error. Please contact the System Administrator.

Bang. Head. On. Desk.

Three more tries, and they all fail. I call Deutshe Bank and can’t get through to an operator because “Your PIN number is incorrect.” Finally, after jumping through some second-level security questions, I get to an operator who tells me my PIN is in fact correct, and the SecureCard™ issue number is correct. So they have no idea why the system is failing, and they don’t know who my System Administrator might be.

So what do I do? I go to Amazon.co.uk and purchase the same vitamins from the United Kingdom for 45 Euros (including shipping). I pay an additional 60% on my purchase, to get one-click convenience, and save additional lost time.

Europe — the land of ancient cathedrals and still not-quite-sure about this whole credit card thing — is ripe for company like Stripe, Square, PayPal or somebody else in the payment space to come in and make life easier.

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