“No, it’s not my home address…”

I’ve just wasted another hour of my life on the phone to a UK customer services department, wondering not for the first time how the hell the world is still turning. This time, I made the mistake of ordering some winter clothing for my son online, and had them delivered to my mum’s house. Why did I do this? So that I don’t have to contend with the grossly overinflated prices that this particular brand is subject to in my local shopping mall, so I have more choice in what I am buying that’s actually available in his size, and finally so I don’t have to pack any of it. However, I’m beginning to wish I had just bought it all here and put up with the expense and inconvenience.

I stupidly assumed that all online shopping works the same way as that most wonderful of sites, Amazon: You choose what you want, put it in a virtual basket, pay for it and give a billing address, then tell them where you’d like it to be sent to. Well, apparently not. Apparently, if you shop at Next online, it goes a little more like this: You choose what you want, put it in a virtual basket, pay for it and given a billing address, tell them where you’d like it to be sent to, then they send it there, decline your credit card without telling you, set up an account for you without asking and then email you a month and a half later to tell you you owe them money. Then they refuse your card again, then you call customer services, then they tell you that you have to pay for the goods with a card registered to the delivery address and that the only way for you to pay if you don’t have a card registered to that address is to borrow the money from your mum who does, and perform a completely unnecessary bank transfer to pay her back.

When querying this slightly crazy payment system, I was told it was in the T&Cs when I set up the account. That will be the account I didn’t set up, of course. I actually thought it was pretty strange that they just set up an credit account for me without asking. Most websites that don’t like a my heebeejeebee foreign muck credit card tell you by rejecting you outright; they don’t tend to deliver the goods, send you a catalogue and set up a monthly billing plan. But regardless of what the policy is, the thing I found strangest was that the customer services person in question didn’t seem to wonder why it would be useful to be able to take a foreign credit card for a UK delivery. Or indeed any card not registered to the delivery address. And in fact I did try asking what would happen if I wanted to buy a gift for someone and have it delivered to them, but apparently you can’t do that either, unless you have their credit card details or get it sent to you, both of which sort of defeat the object. It suddenly felt all very familiar – we have often found ourselves rejected from buying in US online stores too because they also adopt the policy that unless you have a US address for your credit card, you can’t shop. Given I can walk into any store in the US and purchase items using the same foreign credit card, I’m not sure what their point is. But rarely have I found this to be the case on a UK website and it really took me by surprise. Maybe I’ve just got too used to buying everything from Amazon.

So, back to my phone call, which by now of course was starting to wind me up a little. I asked if I could change the delivery address on my account to my UAE address I could make the payment. But the answer was no. In fact, they suggested I should have set up the account here, not the UK, and then I wouldn’t have caused myself and them such a problem. Aside from the fact that they don’t even have a UAE website, I DIDN’T SET UP AN ACCOUNT, THEY DID. Also they don’t deliver internationally, so even if I managed to set up an account I didn’t want in a country they don’t cover, they would have charged me in Dirhams and delivered it here. Which of course, is completely futile when I could nip down to the mall and actually go in the shop in half the time.

The point of online shopping, surely, is to be able to acquire items for gifting purposes or because you can’t conveniently walk down the road to buy them. Most people don’t get annoyed by technicalities such as I experienced because most people buy for themselves and in their own country. But given the world is supposed to be getting smaller, there seems to be a distinct lack of understanding with regards to the needs of the people that actually travel it. Maybe I am completely ignorant when it comes to international financing laws, but surely I should, in this day and age, be able to go onto any website, buy something for delivery to an address of my choice, and pay for it however I deem appropriate? And I’m sure there is some hugely technically or legally complicated reason, but if some sites can do it, why can’t everyone? It’s time to put the ‘world wide’ back into WWW, people.

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