I’m a big fan of Omaze.com, a site that raises money for charity via exciting online raffles. While I’ve never won anything, it’s fun to enter some of these contests, and rewarding to know that they’re raising money for worthy causes.
The other day, I decided to enter a raffle there for a tricked-out Sprinter van, and went to do a basic entry — 100 chances for $10. Only, something weird happened. When I went to check out, it showed the total in Canadian dollars:
At first, I simply thought: “Well, that’s weird” (as I’m in Portland, Oregon). I then plunked around for a bit to see if there were any controls to switch to USD, but there weren’t.
I soon had that “aha” moment, though, when I remembered that I was connected to a VPN IP address in Vancouver, BC. So, that’s why it thinks I’m Canadian, I thought.
After that, I reconnected to a VPN IP in Seattle and went back. But, via caching or a session variable or whatever, it still thought I was in Canada. So … I gave up. I didn’t want some screwy foreign transaction fee on my CC, and I couldn’t get the site to understand that I needed USD. (I later went back in an incognito window, and indeed got it to work correctly, and purchased my raffle chances for a $10 USD fee!)
That was a charity, of course. But, for many ecommerce web sites, that’s a potential sale lost. And it might not be just ten bucks!
The problem arises, of course, when sites automatically assume that, just because an IP is known to be associated with a certain country, the user must also be a resident of that country and a user of that country’s currency. These days, with VPNs being quite commonly used, we just can’t make that kind of assumption. (And few basic users are going to be both hell-bent enough and tech savvy enough to do the incognito approach I described.)
The Simple Solution (At Least Conceptually)
The solution, of course, is to include a currency control somewhere on the site (prominently placed) so that, if a customer wants to be charged in a specific currency, they can click-and-fix. Granted, that may be easier for some than for others. If you’re coding up your own platform, then I think it’s worth considering. If your site is running some 3rd-party platform or extension for Wordpress or Joomla, implementation would depend on whether such functionality is available using your solution.
Google has this figured out. Here’s a snapshot from Google Domains where, right at the top, it knows I’m in the US (as I’m now connected to a US-based VPN IP), and so it shows me USD. But, often when I’m abroad, I see my fees totaled in the local pesos or rupees or whatever the country’s currency is. No problem there, though … just click the flag and select my currency.
Of course, one thing that can annoy me from time to time as a web developer is when clients point to a giant, world-dominant site and say, “See how Google does it?” And then I laugh and say, “Well, sure, but Google made literally $45 billion last year … and what’s your site’s budget again?”
So, sure, we can’t fix ALL of the web-based problems in the world with the same solutions used by the giant tech firms. But many are within our grasp, and this is one that should be fixable for many systems.
I don’t mean to pick on Omaze.com, of course, as I’m sure zillion other sites also do this. Again, I’m a big fan, and a repeat customer. They just happened to be a site I’ve noticed this on lately, and wanted to state my opinion. :-)
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains three blogs — Hawthorne Crow, Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine, and Wonderful Words, Defined — and contributes to various Medium pubs. Connect at JPDbooks.com, Amazon, FB, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest screwball literary novel, CHROO, is a guaranteed good time.