Friday, September 27, 2013

Try Again Later: The Amazon Payments Fail

We all know that sometimes things just inexplicably work and that sometimes just trying again later will help. Another common remedy is closing and reopening the application or rebooting the computer (Roy from the TV Show The IT Crowd found he could automate the beginning of his tech support calls).

I recently had a problem with my blog and all of Google+ loading on my computer for about a second and then getting a blank screen. Eventually I realized that the latest AdBlock update caused this problem for all users (it was fixed about a day later). I now know that the next time something like this happens I should temporarily disable AdBlock (and any other browser add-ons), but trying again later would also have worked, since someone was actually working on the problem.

However, as a customer, when I hear "try again later" I often translate this as "I have no idea what's wrong -- please go away," especially if the application or website seems unstable in general and is very slow to resolve issues.

I recently decided to back a Kickstarter project called "Robot Turtles: The Board Game for Little Programmers" which required me to create an Amazon Payments account. This account is supposed to allow consumers to purchase things on other sites but have the payments go through Amazon. I have a regular Amazon account so setting this up didn't seem like a big idea. When I set up the account I got a message that the Privacy Act required me to enter a bunch of information such as address, date of birth, SSN, etc. I entered this info and submitted the form.


I get a generic "try again" message when my account information can't be verified.
Yeah, I know, sometimes there is just a temporary glitch, and trying again fixes the problem. So I try again, and get the same error message. I think I just moved on at that point and did something else.

Then the emails started.





Obviously there is a problem I need to fix in my account -- but where do I go to fix it?
Every day or so I would get an email saying that Amazon Payments still needed information from me, but it didn't have a link to the form I needed to use. It's probably good that there wasn't a link -- clicking on account links in emails is a bad idea since fake links to account info is common in spam and it's a bad habit to click on it. However, there is no hint in this email about how to navigate to Amazon Payments once I am logged into Amazon (which is what I was expecting to have to do at the time).

Amazon_Payments_Bug1: Amazon Payments emails should indicate how to verify account information. (Foreshadowing: Message should also say, "You must log in to the full Amazon site to do this (not the mobile site).")

However, when I log into my account on my phone I cannot find any way to get to Amazon Payments once I am on Amazon. There is only one search box on the page (not separate ones for searching for products or searching for Amazon help topics). Searching for "Amazon Payments" in this text box doesn't work (although the fact that the second search suggestion is the book "Amazon Web Services For Dummies" is funny).

Amazon_Payments_Bug2: I should be able to search for Account help on Amazon mobile site.

I am glad the mobile site does allow me to click a link and go to the full Amazon site (the right approach to take, and thank you). Once I get to the full Amazon site, I am expecting there is some sort of "message" waiting for me to tell me what to do. Not so much.

Amazon_Payments_Bug3: Problems with my Amazon Payments account should show up as a message on Amazon (with links to correct the problem) when the user is logged into their Amazon account
It almost goes without saying that someone should still be able to use their Amazon account to browse or buy things without having to resolve this problem first, but I would sure as heck write that in a formal bug based on experience.

I can understand why Amazon might not put a link to my account in an email, but there's no excuse for helping me get to the right place once I'm already logged into my Amazon account. I select the "My Account" page. It takes me awhile to find Amazon Payment Account options, since there is a large, featured "Payments" section on the page, but I eventually find it under "Other Accounts."

Eventually I find "Amazon Payment Accounts" under "Your Other Accounts."
I am prompted to sign into Amazon Payments. I realize "Oh -- I should just go directly to this site next time, not the regular Amazon site." If I had ever used Amazon Payments before, I probably would have known that, but the whole reason I'm here in the first place is that I was new and having trouble, so whatever.

It is often the case that the relationship between different products and user accounts is somewhat clear to the people that work at a company but bewildering to the customer. At least there is a link on Amazon's site to Amazon Payments. On the full Amazon site (not the mobile site) searching for "Amazon Payments" gets it in one:
Amazon Payments gives me a useful message when I log on.


Good! I get the message I needed with a link to fix the problem! Now I just have to fill out a form:
I have to give Amazon Payments personal info to verify my identity.

I fill out the form again. Same error message.

I try two more times on different days. Same error message.

Ok, so since "my" Kickstarter project is about to end and I don't want to miss out, I decide to contact Amazon Payments customer support.

On the plus side, I was able to talk to a live (as far as I could tell) human being right away. She was able to tell me some useful information about why verifying my personal information could fail:

  • no credit history
  • recent move
  • not 18 years or older
None of these applied to me, however. I also learned that the message I received meant that my identity information couldn't be verified, and that they couldn't research my specific problem (supposedly) because they were trying to protect my privacy.

Amazon_Payments_Bug4: If the user's identity information could not be verified, give them a specific message with information on possible causes and resolutions.

At the very least I would have liked a more useful and specific error message on the page rather than a generic please try again message:

We're sorry, but your identity information could not be verified.
 This can happen if you:
  • have little or no credit history
  • moved recently
  • are not 18 years or older
or have been locked out of your account because of too many retries.
In order to protect your privacy, we cannot give you specific information about why your identity information could not be verified.
If you want to talk to Amazon Payments support, the number is ...


At least that message will save you a call to customer service in some cases, and save you from trying again and again uselessly.

I would really suggest the Amazon Payments team explores ways to give customers more useful information (either directly in an error message or after calling customer support) if their identity cannot be validated. I have no idea why my identity couldn't be verified, so I expect that their are one or more bugs in the UI (I tried removing the apostrophe from my last name, but it didn't work). I assume that a lot of money is on the line if some customers cannot set up Amazon Payment accounts and can't get any information about why not.

For the short term, I made my husband use his Amazon Payments account to fund the Kickstarter project, since I couldn't get my account to work. Customer support told me that they will call me if they get any information.

A web search for "Amazon Payments can't verify information" makes it pretty clear it's not just me (I never know whether to feel good or depressed about that).

I'm guessing that Amazon Payments will eventually fix this problem after they lose or are about to lose one or more BIG CUSTOMERS.

It's impressive that Kickstarter created its own web page clearly in self-defense (to protect its customer support from fielding tons of support calls about Amazon Payments). And based on this Kickstarter site, there are a lot of customers complaining about Amazon Payments and Kickstarter is, "keeping a close eye on PayPal's new Adaptive Payments service..."

Perhaps we have located the BIG CUSTOMER that will eventually convince Amazon Payments to fix this problem. Or perhaps I should just try again later <sigh>.