27 July 2007

Making it difficult

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that I'm trying to buy a new digital camera. That probably seems like excess to some, since I have three digital cameras already. The problem is that two of the old ones are very old — I acquired them in 2001. They are veritable antiques by digital standards. And they are both getting kind of creaky and crotchety, even though they still take good pictures when all goes well.

Don't even ask about the third camera. I haven't had it very long, and buying it turned out to be a mistake. It doesn't have a long zoom (just 3.5x) and it doesn't have one feature I have come to appreciate greatly, which is image stabilization. I wish I had never bought this third camera, even though it does take very nice macro shots in bright daylight (flowers, grapes, and so forth).

The new camera I'm getting has three good things going for it: it has a long zoom (10x), it has IS (that's image stabilization), and it is lightweight. My old Canon camera that has a 10x zoom weighs in at 25 oz. (700 g). The new one, a Panasonic, weighs just 7 oz. (200 g), one-third as much. That's a pound less to lug around.

The Panasonic Lumix TZ3 camera has a 10x optical zoom,
image stabilization, and a Leica lens, all for just $300 U.S.

With the low dollar these days, it is much to my advantage to buy this camera in the U.S. rather than in France. Searching price comparison web sites like Kelkoo.fr, the lowest price I find for the TZ3 camera in France is about 380.00€. At current exchange rates, that's $525.00 U.S.

In the U.S., however, I've found a vendor, Buy.com, that lists the same camera at $298.99, and with free shipping and no sales tax if I have it shipped to an address in North Carolina. I tried to place an order on the Buy.com site.

I ran into a problem before I could complete the check-out process. On the page where you enter your credit card information, the site requires you to fill out a form showing the billing address for the card you are using. One of the required fields on the form is State. There's no provision for specifying an address outside the United States of America.

Well, I no longer have an address in the United States of America. My permanent and principal and unique address is in France. I'm out of luck. This has happened to me on many U.S. web sites over the past few years. These companies don't want my money. I'm not asking them to ship products overseas, but just to let me pay.

This time, however, I noticed an option on the site that would let me pay for the purchase using a new service called Google Check-Out. I clicked on that. Google welcomed me to this new service and cordially displayed a form where I could enter my payment, i.e. credit card, information. The first field on the form was labeled Country and the field was "populated," as they say, with the word France. Cool!

Saint-Aignan sunrise, 27 July 2007

I entered the number of one of my credit cards, including the three-digit security code on the back. I entered my billing address, which is my street address in France. I entered my mother's address in North Carolina as the shipping destination. I was good to go.

A few days later I found out, by nosing around on Google's site and the Buy.com site, that my order had been canceled. At first I thought my credit card issuer, a credit union in Washington DC, had refused the transaction. They sometimes do that, for "security" reasons. That turned out not to be the case, however. Buy.com had rejected my order because my billing address was not in the U.S.

I called the Buy.com 800 number in the States (which is not a free call when you live in France). The woman who answered the phone asked me for all the same information I had put on the Google Check-Out web site, including my billing address. It all matched, she said. The problem was that Buy.com won't accept payment by credit card unless the card has a U.S. billing address, even though Google Check-Out leads you to believe that they will.

I thought it ought to be enough that the billing address listed by the bank matched the one I specified on their web site. "Don't you have an address in the U.S.?" the woman asked. No, I don't. And even if I did, my U.S. credit and debit cards are all billed to my French address.

"We don't accept international credit cards," the Buy.com agent said. "But they aren't 'international' cards," I huffed, "whatever that means. I have a card issued by Wells Fargo in California, one issued by Bank of America in North Carolina, and one issued by my credit union in Washington DC."

The woman switched me over to somebody in the Buy.com sales organization, who told me exactly the same thing. Well, not exactly: she said they had noticed that my "IP address" was not a U.S. address. At first I was confused, because IP to me means Internet Protocol and an IP Address comes in the form xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx — four groups of digits. How could you know whether a string of numbers was U.S. or French? Then I realized that at Buy.com, "IP" means Internet Provider. Because my e-mail address is @wanadoo.fr, I'm not allowed to place an order.

That's what an e-mail I got later said: "We regret having to cancel your order due to international IP, and we look forward to future business with you." I was a faithful Buy.com customer when I lived in California, but that company is deluding itself if it thinks I will give them any future business. Actually, I tried opening a new Buy.com account using my @gmail.com address and my Bank of America debit card to place the order, but that order was canceled too. Same problem: unacceptable address on the bank account.

I have to take back what I said earlier about the poor state
of the grapes this summer. These look pretty good.

The other sentence in the e-mail from Buy.com that raises my hackles is this one: "We regret to inform you that your order has been cancelled for your protection." Ha! Laissez-moi rire ! How hypocritical can you get? It's not for my protection, it's for theirs, and they ought to say that. If I am actually me — that is, if I'm using my own card rather than committing fraud by trying to use somebody else's — how in the world are they protecting me? They should say they are trying to protect themselves and the cardholder, who is not necessarily the person placing the order.

I don't understand why having a billing address in France should matter, as long as the address given by the purchaser matches the address that is on file at the bank. But then there are a lot of things I don't understand. The company can wait until the credit-card issuer has paid up before they ship the product out, can't they? How can they lose?

My American friends who have a house near Saint-Aignan had a similar problem when they wanted to order a refrigerator on the Darty.fr web site. There was no provision on the Darty site for using a bank card that did not have a billing address in France. They still live in California and get their statements there. I finally had to buy the fridge for them, and they reimbursed me.

After my Buy.com experience, I did some more Internet research and found the Panasonic TZ3 camera at Amazon.com for exactly the same price that Buy.com was charging. The only difference is that I have to pay a $9.00 shipping charge. I ordered it. Amazon had no problem with my so-called "international" credit card. I didn't think they would, because I've ordered books from them recently, for shipping to U.S. addresses.

The camera is supposed to be shipped today.


  1. This is the kind of thing that would have driven me crazy too! :(
    How stupid can they get?
    You should get yourself a gmail email
    That doesn't say where you live, no fr, that might help.
    And you can get your wanadoo mail through it too, AND it's very good with spam!

  2. I've been drooling over that camera myself for a while...but decided I need to wait until Christmas before I buy another one! I'd be interesting in a post about it though, once you get it.

    And I keep an address in the US for that exact reason - though even then, I get stuck sometimes if I ask them to ship it outside the US. I understand this though, because just like with TV, there are distribution rights for technology too, and often times it's the maker of the product that won't let the company sell it outside of the US. Certain products are only made for the US, or are sold at different prices, so if everyone could buy from the US, no one would end up buying the products in their home country.

  3. With respect there is a considerable amount of fraud associated with international transactions. eBay is full of such cautions - we won't ship here, we won't ship there - and you may say Ship to NC! but I think ship-to may be a proxy for bill-to. Would you expect a Nigerian credit card to be welcomed?

    I don't know how Amazon mitigates this risk and Buy.com doesn't, of course.

    I do wonder if there is any trouble with using a US credit or debit card in France? I mean locally, in a store or restaurant.

    BTW, Ken, please let me know if you need any more info on that USB-to-IDE adapter.

  4. Here is a great lesson on buying products in the US. However, I am going to make your life so much easier! You can use a company called Bongo International (http://www.bongous.com). This company will set you up with an American address and they will forward any purchases you make in the US directly to your door. The best thing about them is that you can consolidate multiple items into one box. In other words, they would have taken your camera and any other purchases you would have made from other vendors and put them into one box. This makes your overall costs per item significantly lower. Great service and they will make the purchase for you with a US credit card and you can pay them for the transaction and the shipping.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?