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Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, December 04, 2009

The PayPal Mystery Loop

Today’s post is a bit more disjointed than usual.

Every year I’m amazed anew when the shoppers swarm exactly when the calendar says that they will. Another last-minute stroke of luck rescued November. I kick-started last weekend by accepting a customer’s lowball price offer for all 35 of my remaining dark green 2-LED caps. A superlative 13-transaction Saturday then proceeded to push the month $500 over LY, and the frenzy commenced. I’m hitting 400 visits a day now and routinely closing 20+ sales. That will continue through next week unless I run out of merchandise.

Despite the warning about supply problems that I laid out last week, I'm getting caught short in a couple of areas.
Panther Vision has actually run out of Power Caps (can you believe that?) and their new shipment isn’t due until the week of 12/7…if it clears Customs promptly. Those caps are my bread and butter and meat and potatoes. I haven’t been this low on them in years. I sold out my Peace Sign Ornaments very early on. I'm nearly out of LED Peace Sign Tree Toppers. The sales rep for that company has ignored my last two emails, and now it's too late to reorder.

This December can’t possibly match LY, but I’ve known that all year. This fourth of the Six Weeks of Christmas was better than expected given that the corresponding week LY was supercharged by my NY Times mention. The fact that I’m actually within hailing distance of that high water mark is impressive. My open-to-buy is back in the black and my cash on hand is in five figures. I feel rich!

Facebook has surpassed Octopus Overlords among my top referring sites. Those news bleets that I send out periodically must be drawing a little traffic.

Besides managing the sales rocket, I’m trying to define a couple of bugs prior to going after Turnkey for them.

The PayPal bug: Four or five people have complained of being unable to complete PayPal sales. When they return to Curio City from the PayPal interface, Sunshop takes them back to the account setup screen rather than forward to the checkout confirmation screen. They can’t get out of that loop. I’m still getting the expected number of PayPal transactions so it’s not a general problem. But I figure that for every person who reports the behavior, several more probably give up and either go away or pay by another method. I don’t know how much business I’m losing to the PayPal bug, but I must be losing some.

I can’t reproduce the bug on my own business computer, my gaming computer, or my wife’s computer, using either Firefox or Internet Explorer 8. None of the complainants have yet given me any useful information – they all seem to be low-skilled computer users who can’t or won’t answer simple questions about their browsers and computers. If I can't duplicate it, I can't understand it, and if I can't understand it, I can't fix it. My suspicions, from most to least likely:

  1. It is a cookie handling error tied to a specific browser, probably IE, and possibly an older version of IE.
  2. It is caused by products with Option Stock. Sunshop tracks and enforces the quantities of each separate color or style option for products that have them. PayPal sales complete properly when a customer buys only one variant of a product with options stock, but I haven’t tested it yet with multiple options of the same product. (See the Google Checkout bug below).
  3. It is caused by a virus or spyware on the user’s machine. It’s easy to blame the customer, but they do seem to be inexpert computer users, and those are the people most likely to have infected computers.
  4. It is caused by simple user error, such as completing their bill-to or ship-to information wrong. Again, I’m reluctant to blame the user...and Sunshop should prevent them from leaving the account setup screen in the first place.
  5. It is caused by large sales. I hadn’t had a PayPal transaction exceeding $100 in months. But I got one this week, so I think I’ve ruled this one out.

It’s hard to test PayPal. I can’t check out using the same Curio City account that’s receiving the funds and I don’t have a separate, personal account. I should create one and perform some tests. I obviously don’t have time for that now.

The Google Checkout bug: I recently noticed that when somebody uses Google Checkout to buy a product with Option Stock, the individual Option Stock inventory numbers get updated properly, but the product’s overall In Stock number is not debited. I think that this caused one instance of selling more pieces than I actually had in stock as the program consulted two different on-hand quantities. I don’t have a GC account so I can’t verify this directly or demonstrate it for the developers. It must relate to Google's callback API -- but is the problem on Google's end, or Sunshop's end, or did my last upgrade introduce an implementation error?

The Google Checkout bug suggested possibility #2 for the PayPal bug – since I'm pretty sure a bug exists, it might logically affect both payment types. Both of these bugs most likely appeared with the Sunshop upgrade to 4.2.0. So the ultimate question is whether they derive from an error in the upgrade process, or an error in Sunshop’s code.

Turnkey’s Support forum is full of developers, not merchants, so they never see real-world operational bugs (and most merchants lack the tech savvy to recognize stuff like this). The Turnkey company rep is primarily concerned with denying and disowning bugs, as is the way of software companies everywhere. So their Support forum hasn't been any help so far, and I haven't had time to force the issues.

If you can suggest a possibility that I haven’t thought of, please leave a comment. I'm leaning toward believing that the GC bug is a straight-out Sunshop flaw, but I'm baffled by the PayPal loop.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats. I hope I contributed a little to that facebook uptick :)


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