Does anyone actually like eBay and PayPal?

Last night I bought something through eBay for the very first time. It was a DVD set that I'd been looking for for a while. I actually discovered the aution through Google. The price to "buy it now" on eBay was lower than any other sites I could find and the auction ended in an hour, so I figured, "Why not?" As it turns out, because it's a lousy online shopping experience. That's why not.

Let me state right up front that, aside from one technical issue, I didn't actually have any problems making my purchase. I successfully signed up for an account, paid for the DVD set through PayPal, and today received a notice from the seller that it had shipped. So in terms of actually getting what I wanted, it worked perfectly. And yet, the process of setting up an account and buying the item through PayPal was so thoroughly annoying that it put me in a foul mood for the rest of the night. It's almost a case study in how not to implement an online shopping system.

Problem 1: Long, annoying registration

My first problem with eBay was the long, annoying account registration form. Actually, I think it might have been multiple forms. There were so damn many forms involved in this process that I kind of lost track after a while.

However, I do clearly remember that eBay needed a credit card number to register an account, even though they claim they won't actually charge it and they don't directly handle payment. This alone made me uneasy. So that's -5 points for eBay right off the bat.

Problem 2: Broken AJAX

Related to the annoying registration form was the one actual problem I encountered. As part of the registration, you have to select a unique eBay username. Of course, to me this was nothing but a hinderance, because I don't give a damn about establishing any kind of identity or reputation on eBay - I just want to buy the stupid DVD and get the hell off their site!

Anyway, to make the registration process somewhat more "user friendly", the username box had a button to check that the name you entered was unique. This button disabled the username box and form submit button, started a little "waiting" progress indicator, and made an AJAX call to eBay's servers.

Unfortunately, the AJAX call never returned. A quick look at Opera's error console indicated that this was actually due to the JavaScript violating cross-domain security rules. This cause Opera to (correctly) terminated the script. However, that left me high and dry, because the script had disabled the form's submit button, so I couldn't test the username the old-fashioned way. Instead, I just had to refresh the page and fill in the form again. That's -10 more points for eBay.

Problem 3: Confusing payment

Now that I had an eBay account and had committed to buy the DVD set, it was time to pay. Like a fool, I selected the seller's preferred payment method: PayPal. In particular, I used a credit card through PayPal.

This proved to be somewhat more confusing than I would have thought. For the payment, I was redirected to a third-party payment service. However, I was paying through PayPal, and was eventually redirected to them. Don't ask me why. I don't really understand why I couldn't just go straight to PayPal.

What's worse, at no point during the payment process was I actually sure that my credit card had been billed. At one point, I thought I had successfully paid, but was them prompted to login to PayPal or create an account. After that, my transaction was apparently complete. I think. Or maybe I didn't need to create a PayPal account. I'm still not clear on that.

I'd say this is -20 points to eBay and/or PayPal. I mean, I'm a computer programmer, for crying out loud. I'm not supposed to get lost navigating thought payment forms. I know I'm not perfect, but even on a bad day, a process like that has to be pretty poor for me to get as confused as I was. Hell, I still don't know what the heck happened. All in all, the whole process had a really ad hoc feel to it. Too ad hoc. When it comes to dealing with money, I don't like to feel as if software handling the transaction is held together with the code-equivalent of Scotch tape and bubblegum.

Problem 4: Saving my credit card

I had a couple of nits to pick with the PayPal signup process. The first was that they unilaterally decided to save my credit card information to make future purchases more "convenient."

The problem is, I don't want PayPal to store my credit card information. I don't trust them, or anybody else, to keep that on file. In fact, when I have the choice, I make it a point to never let any online store save my credit card info. I want them to hold onto it just long enough to get the charge authorized and then forget it.

I say that's -20 points for PayPal. It was nice of them to inform me that they were saving my info, and it was nice that it was easy to delete it after the fact. But they really should have offered some kind of opt-out feature. Is that too much to ask?

Problem 5: PayPal vitiates its own credibility

You know what smacks of incompetent, amatuer web design? Pages that play sounds. And that's exactly what one of the pages in PayPal's setup process did.

It was on a page with some kind of coupon offer. When the page loaded, a voice actually started reading some kind of instructions. I couldn't believe it. It was like a bad flashback to Geocities circa 1996.

And to make matters worse, the page was already really text-heavy to begin with. So not only did I have all this text to deal with, but I also had to listen to somebody yammer on about something I probably didn't care about. All I can say is, "Thank God for the mute button."

I give PayPal -100 points for that little "feature." That was the straw that broke the camel's back. It completely destroyed any trust I had in PayPal. In fact, at that point I seriously considered just walking away from the whole transaction and buying from a different site. And if I hadn't already entered my credit card information, I probably would have. I was already a little wary of PayPal, so the last thing I wanted to see was fourth-rate incompetent "webmaster" crap like that. If that's the best they can do, I don't want them handling my money.

The end

So there you have it. A happy ending to a miserable experience. I wasn't cheated or misled, and yet I regretted making this purchase before I was even done with it. I felt a little better about the whole thing in the morning, and a lot better after seeing that my purchase had shipped, but the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't know if I'll ever use eBay or PayPal again. But at the very least, I won't be running off to do so any time in the forseeable future.

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