If you want your organization to benefit from the global economy, take heed. As an American who lives in Canada and has family and friends on both sides of the border, I can say we have a long way to go before international e-commerce becomes a pleasant experience -- or, often, even a successful experience.
Let's take an issue that hit me recently as an example: iTunes gift cards. My mother wanted to purchase some for my husband's birthday. She lives in the US, and since so often gift cards can only be used in one country, she couldn't purchase them in a US Apple store.
So I went to Apple Canada's site and found the gift cards link. I sent it to my mother, who soon reported that there was no way for her to enter a US address and credit card, leading to the realization that there is no way for someone in the US to purchase an iTunes gift card for someone in Canada, short of driving across the border. That's a bit of a commute for someone in Florida.
My mother ended up sending a check. Of course my husband is happy for the gift regardless, but Apple completely lost the sale. Once someone resorts to sending a check or cash, there's no guarantee that the recipient will spend the money at the store the sender intended.
Of course, this issue crops up with more than gift cards. It's depressing how often I have to give up, or a family or friend has to give up, when trying to arrange a purchase or gift. Once my brother in the US tried to order a gift from Future Shop
in Canada and have it delivered, and the gift never arrived. He had to call to find out that his credit card had been declined for being in the US. The site had reported a successful transaction and never notified him otherwise.
Then there are the companies that have international arms but only really stock one of them. For the longest time, Amazon Canada only carried books, and it was impossible to get anything but books and CDs from Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) sent to Canada. If you wanted, say, to pre-order a video game through Amazon you had to have it sent to a US address from the US store, even if you were in Canada. Today that's changed, but there are many goods that you still can't order from Amazon Canada that are available on Amazon US, and you can't get a lot of them shipped across the border either.
Now, I know there are certain realities involved. Some goods are impossible or very difficult to ship across certain borders, like fruit, flowers, and many cheeses and meats (just try sending a gift basket across a border). Sometimes there are legal issues around digital media. For example, only Americans can get streaming music service Pandora because of international music licensing issues.
Other realities are financial. With international corporations, each country's arm (Apple US, Apple Canada, etc.) is an independent entity. So handling gift cards internationally brings up important accounting issues. There's also the problem of credit card fraud, requiring extra care around online purchases. All of these problems are real and complicated things, but they're not insurmountable, and by taking the easy way out a lot of companies are losing out on significant sales.
Not only that, but since many companies aren't clear on their policies up front, they waste a lot of people's time going through sometimes complex order processes just to find out that they can't complete the sale. I know that, personally, it's enough to turn me off of buying online, and sometimes even off of buying at all. While my wallet appreciates a frugal decision, it's not great for a company's bottom line when no one buys. And I'm tired of being embarrassed (or making people feel embarrassed) by suggesting gift cards from companies that make it painful and ultimately impossible, so I'll probably stop doing that, too.
Let's not forget the sites that do allow cross-border purchases but seem to think every country follows the same postal code format, making it impossible for anyone outside their country to complete the transaction. Some sites reject you if you live in one country and your credit card comes from a another country (a scenario that's more common than you'd think). I can't change my iTunes account to use the iTunes Canada store because of this, and I'm not even trying to make a purchase.
Somewhere along the way, we need to find the right balance among customer service, credit card security, border restrictions, and making a global economy work. Even the ability to walk into a physical Apple store, for example, and order a gift card for someone in another country would be better than the situation as it stands now. There has to be a more Internet-enabled solution as well. At this point I would be happy to jump through a few hoops to do pre-verification rather than put up with this anymore. And I know I'm not the only one.
Unless your organization focuses on those who prefer to shop local at all costs, you need to give this some thought.
— Dee-Ann LeBlanc (www.Dee-AnnLeBlanc.com) has been a computing professional for the last 20 years.