An interesting problem with an e-shop

I wanted to order something from a major Czech computer e-shop. When making the order I chose online payment as the payment method, was redirected to my bank, paid the order and then … nothing. My money was transferred and no order got created. I was without my money and without any order!

I guess the problem might be caused by security features of my Web browser preventing leaking information from the payment portal back to the e-shop. If this speculation is true and it wasn’t just a very weird random error then there are two interesting observations:

For first, the order is created only after successful payment. Definitely not a good engineering practice.

For second, user client assistance may be needed to create an order after successful payment, in addition to internal communication between the bank and the e-shop. It’s more speculative observation but in case it applies it indicates other stupid engineering decisions.

How did the story continue? My situation was covered in the e-shop FAQ so I followed their instructions. After writing three e-mails to their hotline about the problem my situation was finally acknowledged and they promised to check and handle it. After next three hours my payment was assigned to a new order and later on the goods was sent.

Persons on the hotline were helpful but communication with them revealed other technical issues. Their e-mail/ticket processor cripples e-mails sent in plain text. Moreover it apparently can’t handle forwarded messages inserted as MIME parts and discards them. The staff probably doesn’t have (easy) access to previous communication related to a given ticket. And communication related to a single ticket was handled by different persons each time. All that makes problem handling a bit more complicated and frustrating than needed for both the staff and the customer.

Finally, my previous experience with the e-shop is that just browsing their Web pages results in occasional errors.

I’m not going to make online payments at the e-shop again. I can choose offline payment instead which is basically the same except that I make the payment only after the order is actually created and that I have to copy the payment data to the payment form myself.

To be fair, the e-shop is not as bad as it might seem from my story, it works well most of the time and I’ve made several orders there without any problems in the past. But the observed problems indicate something.

We can be frustrated at our jobs by various constraints hurting software development and resulting in misfeatures of the software we make. But even a big and profitable computer e-shop runs on a software of very questionable quality. Not counting unofficial horror stories about software problems in banking or accounting systems. Many people here could experience embarrassing problems on Web portals of multinational phone operator companies with excessive profits and no shortage of money. There are well known stories about failures of software ordered by the government. So it’s difficult for any institution to obtain non-trivial working software. It’s nothing surprising but I’m still sometimes surprised by the level of stupidity of particular engineering decisions and processes in expensive software.

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