How to Prevent – or Fix – eCommerce Blockers for International Travelers
At last – though with restrictions – international travel is starting up again. Whether for business, vacations, or long-awaited reunions with family and friends, people are beginning to cross borders and visit locations outside their home country. This of course means these travelers will spend money on transport, lodging, food, entertainment, and other shopping.
Local pandemic restrictions, their own precautions, or habit might force reliance on online services. Travelers may need to use meal or shopping delivery services such as DoorDash, Grubhub, Instacart, or UberEats, make online purchases from local stores, purchase a ticket for public transport, or simply order clothing gifts in the right size for the grandkids they haven’t been able to see for two years.
It's easy, right? So many businesses and organizations accelerated their move to digital during the pandemic: touchless payments, curbside pickup, delivery services for everything you can order online. It’s all the norm. If you take public transit – trains and buses – you can pay with apps on your phone, often linked to your online wallet or PayPal account. You and your neighbors have been buying like this for over 18 months. What could go wrong this late in the game?
Sadly, we cannot assume that if a digital process works smoothly for the local consumer, it will be fine for everyone as borders open. Regardless of language barriers, digital purchases and online processes may turn into a problematic and frustrating struggle for the international traveler (“Can’t Read, Won’t Buy – B2C”). Any digital experiences that have not been exposed to visitors with foreign bank accounts and phones may have bugs, unless developers tested the entire customer journey with scenarios that include visitors from outside their borders.
What’s the Problem?
Anyone who has visited another country is likely to have experienced the joy of their bank blocking their credit or debit card. The bank’s algorithms monitor spending patterns and automatically flag deviations as possibly fraudulent, even when you have communicated your travel plans. Authorizing payments should be the only challenge for the traveler: it’s a good thing that the bank is diligent in crime prevention. It’s even better if the block can be removed by a simple text message rather than a phone call or time-consuming online chat across time zones.
But the experience for travelers is more complex than a bank blocking a single out-of-the-norm activity. A digital purchase relies on many interacting components: an app, or sometimes two or more interconnected applications; their phone’s app store; the payment method plus bank account and/or online wallet or other fintech software account; and either a digital delivery process such as for travel or entertainment tickets, or a physical shipping address. Addresses are also important for validation of the payment – software validates the customer’s payment method with their billing address. If any one of these components does not work with the traveler’s data and equipment, the purchase process breaks down – leaving a potential customer without their desired outcome and denying the enterprise a sale.
It is important to recognize that international travelers have billing addresses that do not match the purchase location. It is also vital to understand that app stores differ from country to country, but visitors oftentimes only have access to the apps available in their home store. Even if they switch their phone’s SIM card for the visit – or add a second, local SIM – the app store is still bound to their home country. It’s tied to their Google or Apple account, and it’s a nightmare to switch – don’t even suggest it. Instead, make sure your app is available in all app stores – not simply restricted to the local one.
What Happens Today for International Travelers?
These are some errors experienced recently by international travelers:
- Difficulty registering with apps for food delivery or online purchases due to an international billing address or a zip/postal code that doesn’t match the form (DoorDash).
- Failure to complete a purchase for delivery to a local address because the bank account for payment has a billing address in another country (Target, Old Navy).
- Inability to pay for a purchase using PayPal because the account is registered abroad (Target, Old Navy).
- Impossible to install and use a mandatory app due to its unavailability in the app store on the visitor’s phone: it is only available in the local store (BART).
- Difficulty purchasing a transit ticket because the process requires one app plus an online wallet – and forces the update of the wallet through the local app store, not the store on the traveler’s phone (BART).
- Inability to plan in advance of arriving in a location, because website is not accessible from outside the US (SacRT).
- Problems buying a tram ticket via an app because it only accepts local debit cards (SacRT).
- Repeated and unexplained errors when trying to purchase through an online store which offers international fields for billing addresses, even though someone using a local debit card encounters zero issues paying for the exact same order (Target).
- Difficulty clearing a block on a bank debit card because only the home country could clear it during their own business hours and the usual text/SMS process wasn’t in operation (HBSC).
How to Prevent – or Fix – eCommerce Blockers for International Travelers
If your organization has thoroughly tested your end-to-end experience with cross-border activity, kudos! If not, or if there is any doubt, here are some recommendations to help your international visitors have as smooth a journey as your local customers.
- Be pragmatic. Expect there to be some challenges as travelers use digital experiences that are new since the pandemic. Be ready to identify issues and to fix critical process bugs (“Global Mobile App Development”).
- Monitor feedback. Check with your call center and examine digital sales metrics to see if there are issues that relate to international users of local applications. Look out for complaints about failed purchases or apps not working – they may indicate holes in the internationalization of the purchase process.
- Be prepared. Identify errors that international travelers are likely to encounter and equip call center staff with solutions and workarounds. Help your support agents to know what to ask when troubleshooting. Prepare them to enquire about the billing address for the customer’s debit card or online wallet or the country where they set up their phone account. You might want to add a new error category for monitoring this type of issue and measuring the cost.
- Take immediate action. Make the app available internationally. Recognize that international visitors will want to find your software on smartphones with accounts registered outside your home country. Make sure that every traveler with a smartphone can install your app. For example, software must be available in the French Google or Apple app store for a visitor from Paris to travel on your transit network or order your food.
- Don’t let it happen again. Provide developers with guidelines for international availability of apps (“Localization Checklist for Mobile Developers”). Add an international traveler use case to ensure that testing traps any issues with apps, forms, software, processes, and delivery logistics going forward (“Automated Testing at the Speed of Now”).
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