ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

How to Lose $900m on Surface 2

11/16/2013 3:19:38 PM

Disclaimer: I have this paradox in my life – my Apple-equipped friends consider me a Microsoft shill, and my Microsofty friends think that I publicly whine about MSFTs problems too much. This is going to be one of these whiny posts, but I do it because I care and don’t know where to send it privately.

So we had these sweepstakes

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The main hook of this campaign was that we have launched it in early September, when neither Nokia nor Microsoft would even acknowledge that they have products with these names. So the contest is over now and we are ready to award the winner. Lumia 1520 is not widely available yet, so the obvious decision was to have Surface 2 as the main prize. I’ve checked MicrosoftStore.com and learned that the Irish store ships to Lithuania (where we are located), so I was calm that we can always ship it to ourselves first and then mail it to anywhere in the world.

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But we wanted to randomly pick the winner first and then, depending on his/her location, determine the best way to get the Surface to them. After all, if the stars aligned so that the winner was from US, it would be much easier to ship the prize directly to her. The winner has been selected, but not announced yet. <SPOILER ALERT>He is not from US or any other Surface 2 launch countries.</SPOILER ALERT>

So having this information we decided that the most logical approach would be to buy the Surface 2 in the Microsoft Store Ireland, ship it to Lithuania and then ship it to the winner.

And that’s where the problems started…

At this point I’ve spent at least 5-6 hours trying to order a fricking gadget from an online store.

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I just went to MicrosoftStore.com, switched to United Kingdom, added Surface 2 to my cart and proceeded to checkout. There I selected Lithuania in the list of Shipping destinations and fill out the form. When I clicked Next I was presented with this “Include postcode” error. I’m absolutely sure this is the right postcode. Sometimes people include LT or LT- in front of it, so I tried that – no luck. Tried to enter some real UK postal code (just to check) – still nothing. So I went into the help section to try to figure out what’s going on. And there it said:

Where we ship:

Microsoft Store United Kingdom can only ship to United Kingdom locations at this time.

Hmm… OK. So why exactly do you have Lithuania in the shipping country dropdown? And it’s not like they have all the countries in the world in it. There are like 20 European countries in that dropdown.

While I was looking at the screen puzzled, a popup appeared asking if I’d like to chat to a live support person. Sure! So I started to chat to a person who was really trying to be helpful while I was trying to do something to that form. Unfortunately I did something that forced the page to refresh and my chat window disappeared. The funny thing is, that day I wasn’t able to find how to start this support chat again. Another person confirmed to me that chat button appears and disappears pretty much randomly. Seriously :)

The next day I remembered that I’ve seen that Irish version of the store ships to all European countries. So I went there and … hit the same “Include postcode” error again. What does a geek do when he sees a validation error like that? Hits F12, of course. This is obviously beyond what a normal person would do to pay someone money, but anyway…

So after some research and trial and error, I figured out that the form expected Lithuanian postcode to be a 4 digit number. This would even be correct… if it was like 1997. Anyway, I presume that local post, FedEx or whoever would be handling shipping could figure out the real postcode without the first zero, so that’s what I did. “Yay, I’ve hacked the system!”, I thought. “Not so fast!”, said a voice from above.

Next step was to enter my credit card information. I did just that, hit Purchase and was presented with a message that there were some technical problems and I should contact technical support. I’ve tried that a couple of times and all the times the site was able to successfully reserve 1 Euro in my account, but not sell me the damn tablet.

OK, so let’s try to contact technical support and order the thing via phone or email. Here’s how support page of the Irish store looks:

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Notice this nice 800 number? It’s great that Microsoft have a free sales line, but have you tried calling it from outside of Ireland? Right, you can’t.

By that time I was already pretty upset (as you can guess) so I started venting on Twitter. @MicrosoftStore on twitter really tried to help and gave me an idea that maybe I should call a Lithuanian support line, not Irish. OK, let’s try that… Unfortunately, Lithuanian Microsoft Store doesn’t sell Surfaces and they weren’t able to help me with my issue.

I was hoping that I can send all the info to some support email and consequently avoid this post altogether, but @MicrosoftStore informed me that there’s no email support. Huh?

I’ve been in and out of the Microsoft Store Ireland site and this time the “Live chat” button appeared. I’ve started chatting with one person, explained my problem, was transferred to another person who was really polite and tried to help me with all the suggestions from the guide book that I’ve already tried (obviously). After almost an hour of back and forth the person suggested that I shouldn’t chat to her but to someone from Irish support and provided me with a link to the Irish Microsoft Store. o_O Excuse me, but that’s exactly where I clicked that “Live chat” button! So I gave up on “Chat support”.

I’ve talked to some people from Microsoft (not Store related) and they suggested that I should definitely be able to order it via the phone (and apparently some people already did that). The trick is how to get to the phone sales when the number can’t be dialed? So I called that other phone “Questions about Microsoft products bought elsewhere”, got to the switchboard and asked them to connect me to the store. And it worked!

The sales rep was really nice and helpful and offered to call me back, so I don’t waste my precious Skype credits :) It took him a few seconds to confirm that he can sell Surface 2 to Lithuania. “Yes, we can definitely ship that Surface 2 to Lithuania!” Hooray!

So for the next 15 minutes we proceeded to try and enter Lithuanian street names, etc. over the phone. Not an easy task but we’ve managed…

- Hmm… it tells me that the postcode is not correct…
- Oh, really!? ;) You can try removing that first zero, I think it will be OK without it
- Yes, OK, we are good. How do you want to pay?
- Visa
… (confirmed CC number, etc.) …
- Hmm… Just a minute, please, while I try to figure a few things out

- Hmm… Just one more minute, please

- Let me call you back in 5 minutes, OK?
- OK, thank you very much!

… and he didn’t. And that’s where I’m at as I write this. The only reason I got to that point is that I really need that Surface 2 specifically. No sane person would go through all of this just to buy one of the hundreds of tablets that are available on the market.

In conclusion

When in 2010 Microsoft announced that they will only accept Windows Phone developers from about 30 countries, I was upset and whined about it, but at least I wasn’t given any false hope (which is always worse than hard truth). It was unambiguous. It was a strategic decision that I didn’t like, but it was clear.

Lithuania wasn’t a launch country on the consumer side of Windows Phone 7 either, but you could buy an HTC Windows Phone 7 through most of the local carriers (meaning it was officially available). Windows Phone 7 didn’t have a Lithuanian UI (which is not an uncommon thing here), but a crazier part is that it didn’t even have a Lithuanian keyboard. You just can’t release a consumer product like that.

When Surface 2 was announced, Lithuania, obviously, wasn’t one of the launch countries. And I’d be completely fine (not happy, but used to) not being able to purchase it through official channels. But then they decide that maybe we can hack a form together and sell it to 20 more countries without even trying to go through that form once with a real address. Hint: you can almost always find a Holiday Inn (or other chain hotel) in most places in the world and see that it has a 5-digit postcode in Lithuania for starters.

I wanted to end this with a Dilbert comic strip which shows a “company with strategy” that picks up a phone and just says “We don’t do this!”, but I couldn’t find it. (maybe it wasn’t Dilbert?) The point being, it’s a paradox, but Microsoft could’ve saved me almost a day by just saying that they can’t sell me the Surface directly.

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Local(ized) Developer Resources Are A Waste of Talent

8/31/2011 7:02:12 PM

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Photo by Stuart Caie

Living in a small country forces you to learn English to some extent to be successful in any area and especially in programming. On the other hand, developers in larger countries like Russia, China, Japan, etc. can be successful with no working knowledge of English, because of large internal communities. And even for them, I would argue, being able to at least read in English is a critical skill that should be learned before everything else. That said it’s pretty obvious why large developer platform companies like Microsoft invest into encouraging local talent in these larger markets to blog and speak about their technologies in local languages. It’s an open market and whoever serves it best wins.

But, as I mentioned above, developers in smaller countries comprehend English technical texts as good (if not better) than in their native language. After all not many know all the “artificial” local technical terms. We may suck at writing and speaking (like I do), but we are pretty good at reading. It’s nearly impossible to be hired for a developer position without being able to read in English.

Unfortunately large corporations have a generalized view on local evangelism. Local talent in small countries is encouraged to blog in the native language, creating content that is either already available in English or that 0,0002% of world’s population can read. Usually both. I think it’s a wasteful practice. Instead of creating real value for the worldwide developer community (and for themselves) these talented individuals waste their time on work that shouldn’t be done at all or done by translators.

And market rules that are easily applicable in large markets do not apply here. Because, guess what? No one cares about reading a blog post about solving a general programming problem in Lithuanian. And if I’m looking for a solution to my problem and can only find a blog post about it in Hungarian it’s a waste of someone’s talent. I could’ve solved my problem. I could’ve subscribed to this person’s blog, followed her on Twitter and suggested my local evangelist to invite her to an upcoming conference. But none of this happens because the global policy is to foster original localized content.

I think it’s stupid.

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