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Ecommerce Stuff Nobody Tells You

Amy HoyAmy Hoy

Well, we’ve solved our latest credit card validation problem and it seems like a good time to give a quick recap of the lessons we’ve learned during this whole sordid process. Things that nobody bothers to tell you, not even the people you’re paying to do just that. This is 2008, but credit card processing is a technological throwback to the Dark Ages.

Things nobody bothers to tell you, version 1:

  1. The web sites for credit card processors & merchant account services are completely useless. Do not try to use them, not even the big fish that everybody respects (e.g. Authorize.net). You will only waste your time. Instead, call their tech support. We’ve found their human support to be unfailingly friendly and helpful, at least when it comes to answering direct questions rather than making suggestions (hence the Stuff Nobody Tells You). The hold music’s so beyond awful it enters into laughable, though.
  2. If you want to process AmEx, you have to call them directly, set up an account with them, and then talk to your merchant account service. Just because your CC processor’s interface shows you that AmEx is active, and your merchant account people tell you that everything is systems go, doesn’t mean there aren’t hidden things you have to do to, you know, actually process cards. Or that the errors will be helpful.
  3. Address verification (AVS) is voodoo. Not real science. AVS is inclined to reject real, valid cards all the time, even when you don’t count “user errors” (e.g. your bill says Apt 4 and you put #4). D’oh.
  4. Test charges are pretty much unavoidable. So, since AVS essentially doesn’t work, the way to verify a card is to make a tiny charge on it and then void the transaction. It’s not a charge you’ll ever collect on, but it’s not exactly a hold either. To us, it’s a bit squicky to think that this is the only way to verify a credit card number in this, the 21st century.
  5. Some banks will reject small test charges. About 10% of cards used to sign up were declined. Thanks to Stuff item #6, we couldn’t tell why from the error reports. Nobody could tell us why, either. We called Auth.net and they had no suggestions. We only found out as fast as we did because one would-be customer, our friend (& tasty designer) Johnny Bilotta, called his own bank to ask if there was a problem. Trying to be considerate internet citizens, we had set our test charge to $.01. His bank told him they reject small test charges under $1.00, but our credit card processor never thought about it. Even though it’s their business. Useless buggers.
  6. Errors are incomprehensible and your credit card processor is useless at helping you solve validation issues. The error you’ll get in most cases is General error. In other cases, you may get Declined, but there’s no way to tell why. Calling your CC processor won’t help you, either, because in many cases, they can’t get more information than you’ve already got. In other cases the phone reps just aren’t trained in spotting what must be common problems (e.g. the low test charge).
  7. When you ask why stuff doesn’t work, even due to Stuff Nobody Told You, they think you’re kinda dumb. Despite the support being, as we said, unfailingly friendly, there are always these awkward pauses when we’ve asked about Stuff Nobody Told Us. For example, when we called and said “So our account says we can accept AmEx but they’re all being rejected. Can you help us?” The nice lady asked, “Well, are you set up for AmEx with your merchant services provide?” and I said “No, what do you mean?” Awkward pause ensues. The lady assumes she is speaking with a polite nitwit and then the rest of the conversation takes twice as long as it would have if she hadn’t thought I had a room temperature IQ. Which is too bad, because there’s no documentation or on-ramping process that tells you this, and nobody thought to mention it, either, when I asked if I made the calls to both Auth.net & the merch acct people to ask “Hey, we’re going to live. Do we have everything in place?” last week.
That’s all for now, but I’m sure there will be more.
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After years of waging war as an employee and consultant for big (and small) businesses, Amy left the trenches to become a full time Product Crusader. Product strategist and teacher by day, fine furniture enthusiast by night. As a web developer & interaction designer, Amy has created an empire of cheerfully bootstrapped products in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same.