Google Checkout secure, but too slow, say shoppers

Merchants and shoppers are complaining that Google Inc.’s Checkout often takes too long to complete sales transactions and sometimes cancels orders unjustifiably and without warning.

The problem apparently stems from the review process Google performs on the Checkout transactions to prevent fraud. While they applaud antifraud efforts, users of this high-profile service, which was launched in late June, say Google needs to speed up the review process and improve its review-related customer service and communications. Otherwise, Checkout, which observers have characterized as a potential “killer” of rival service PayPal, risks failure, some warn.

Google hasn’t replied to a request for comment, but at its Web site, Google explains that it employs standard credit-card verification methods in Checkout, as well as more specialized risk modeling, fraud detection and manual reviews if deemed necessary. Moreover, in the official Checkout discussion board for merchants , a Google staffer in the Checkout team routinely posts comments and answers under the name GoogleCheckoutPro, and on July 27 addressed the review delay issue, saying Google is committed to fighting fraud and minimizing risk.

“I know there’s frustration about the delays due to the order review process,” the official wrote, adding to what is one of the longest threads on the board with over 30 postings. “At times it may seem we are overly cautious, especially when an order from someone you know personally is being held up. We are working as fast as possible to fix this issue. The good news is that we have some upcoming changes which will both speed up the review process and make it more effective at filtering out the bad guys.”

The planned changes may come too late for a disappointed buyer. “I’d have to hear a lot of good things about Checkout before I try it again,” says Rhys Ludlow, who tried buying a camera from using Checkout.

After four days, with the order still under review, Ludlow contacted and was told the Checkout approval process could take a week. This floored him.

“These days you expect things to move at the speed of, you know, the Internet,” says Ludlow. He needed the US$106 camera for his business Ludlow Media Services in Corte Madera, California.

He canceled the transaction and bought the camera directly from over the phone. Ritz Interactive Inc., which runs, declined to comment.

Review glitches also affect merchants. A corporate client attempted to buy a photo from David Sanger’s Web site , but Checkout unilaterally and without warning canceled the order.

After several attempts, a flustered Sanger reached a Checkout official by phone. This official acknowledged a Google mistake in canceling the order when Checkout couldn’t match the buyer’s name with the credit card number. This is a common discrepancy when employees use corporate credit cards. The official told Sanger that Google was aware of this problem and that his client should try again.

Google again axed the transaction.

“I apologized to the client. It was very embarrassing for me and for her,” Sanger, a professional photographer, says. She sent him a check overnight via a commercial courier service.

“They really need to improve their communications with people. They need a 24-7 customer support call center or at least rapid-response e-mail support,” Sanger says.

Sanger, who lives in San Francisco, hopes Google improves Checkout, because for the most part he likes the service and finds it can save him time and effort in the processing of orders.

Michael Adberg, who beta tested Checkout, calls it a “wonderful” service, except for the review delays, which have prompted complaints from some customers. Luckily, Adberg, co-founder of Weaknees, a TiVo products and services provider in Los Angeles, hasn’t lost sales. The review process has gotten faster but “I hope it comes down further,” he says.

Meanwhile, Kirby Witmer reports problems both as buyer and merchant.

He attempted two different purchases from Inc., but both transactions failed due to what Google described to him later as Checkout technical “issues,” giving him “a 100 percent failure rate,” he wrote via e-mail. Getting the orders canceled took over two weeks and multiple communications with Google and didn’t reply to a request for comment.

As a merchant, Witmer, who runs computer sales and repair business KirbTech in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, had — you guessed it — a client’s order delayed while Google reviewed it.

When asked for Checkout improvement suggestions, he offers only one: “Eliminate or streamline the process of reviewing the order.”

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