My mom wanted to surprise her sister in Switzerland with an iPad for Christmas. Naturally, my mom has no idea how to buy an iPad in Switzerland (or even in the US). So, she calls from her home in LA to my home in Boston and asks for help. The resulting transactions were thing of beauty.
I though it would be best to buy it via Apple in Switzerland. That way it would get there faster, avoid any export restriction issues, and arrive pre-configured to run in German, with German packaging and instructions. I guessed that Apple must have a Swiss Apple store online, so I tried http://apple.ch. Genius! Immediately I’m being asked if I want to proceed in German or French. (I pick German.)
I navigate to the iPad page, pick the right flavor iPad, and proceed to checkout. Now I’m asked to enter either my iTunes login or proceed as a guest. Will apple.ch know my USA iTunes account? Why yes it does. Brilliant! My billing info is filled out and ready to go.
I enter my Aunt’s address near Zurich as the delivery address, include a gift box and a gift message (which my Mom gave me over the phone), I agree to the Apple Store terms of service, and I’m ready to complete my transaction. I click the (German) buy button. Darn it! My AMEX is declined. I thought this might look fraudulent, and I was apparently right. Nonetheless, now I’m a bit annoyed and wondering what kind of hoops (and how many levels of automated attendants) I will need to jump through to get AMEX to approve my next attempt.
And then, literally within 5 seconds of the Apple Store’s tactful “declined” message, my phone rings. It’s an automated fraud alert agent from American Express. Before the automated AMEX voice can finish saying “This is American Express fraud protection…,” an email from AMEX shows up in my in-box telling me there has been suspicious activity on my card. Back on the phone, it takes only about 90 seconds of answers to the AMEX auto-attendant, and before I know it they are telling me “Thank you, you’re all set. If your charge attempt was declined, you may now try it again and it will be accepted.” Ridiculously (and wonderfully) efficient.
I bounce back to the Apple store, still open in my browser. I click the buy button again. One second later Apple is thanking me for my purchase. With free shipping from Apple, my Aunt will be playing with her iPad by Friday. (Today is Wednesday.)
Wow! I spend all day online, and between my startup and personal life I buy lots of stuff online from lots of sites. Some experiences are good, some mediocre, many are bad. But how beautiful was this? Apple has always been known for savvy and efficient design, so it’s less surprising that my interaction with them went so smoothly. But AMEX could not have done a better job either — while both protecting me and then immediately and painlessly enabling me to proceed.
Apple and AMEX know what they are doing, and most other companies could learn some excellent lessens from them. Which reminds of a recent experience with AT&T. But that was such an absurdly bad experience that it’s worth it’s own post…