The Cheapest Generation

The Cheapest Generation is an interesting piece over at The Atlantic about “why millennials (Gen Yers) aren’t buying cars or houses, and what that means for the economy.”

In short, the emotional appeal of owning a car or house that their parents had is no longer so strong. They prefer, instead, to have access to connectivity—everything from smartphones to car and bike sharing services.

Whilst some economists will panic because of the decline in selling big, physical things, the article points out that in places like Germany (where I live) home ownership has long been low and the German economy is the healthiest in Europe. People rent here for many years. To live in the same rented place for 30 years is not uncommon. This has a useful side-effect, which is to prevent the housing market from overheating so much that nobody can afford anything without heavily overextending on credit (c.f. Sydney) and we all know where that ended up.

I see a lot of the kind of “closed suburbs” in Germany that the article also mentions. Many people cycle here and, as a result, many services are nearby, which means families need either only one car or no car at all.

Services, not products. Access, not ownership. It’s the key to decoupling resource usage from economic growth.

Got ripped off in a MacHeist? It’s a UI failure.

No, not a hold-up in McDonalds, but the MacHeist Mac software bundle sale/game.

Like many, I got charged ten times and received nothing and also heard nothing back from MacHeist’s support, which is pretty lame. The culprit for all the multiple charging was a terrible bit of user-interface design, which goes to show how crucial UI design is.

When clicking on submit to place the order, the server responded with the form page again and the error “* This transaction cannot be processed.”.

The problem is that it’s a programmer’s kind of error message. To the user it either means nothing or, worse, it suggests the transaction didn’t go through, so they (like me) feel they should try again. As a result, many people got charged every time until they gave up.

What should have happened is that the transaction was immediately cancelled and error said “This transaction cannot be processed, your credit card has not been charged.” This gives the user comfort and errs on the side of being secure. A follow-up e-mail confirming the failed transaction would be pretty good too.

Alternatively, if for some reason the system couldn’t deal with that, the error message should have at least explicitly stated “please do not submit your order again, contact customer support on, etc.”.

They also should have responded immediately to all the e-mails they inevitably got sent, but they didn’t. Not at all. (I still haven’t heard back from my five e-mails throughout the week).

Instead they are relying on a MacHeist forum thread to communicate, which surely is being missed by plenty of people.

It adds up to a lot of disgruntled customers, damage to the MacHeist brand, random serial numbers floating around out there, the Mac software developers losing out and a big headache for someone to sort it all out. All of it could have been saved by a decent bit of interface design that accounted for the worst case scenario.

Next time I’ll buy direct from the developers.

It’s not been a good week for customer service.

UPDATE: Amazing how someone can make things go from bad to worse in a very short time. John Casasanta, one of the founders of MacHeist responded to the double charing thread without bothering to apologize and with not a little surliness. Of course, it added fuel to the fire ending with this wonderful piece of customer relations:

Ok, now your posts are starting to get inflammatory. I’m sick of your BS and the next time you do it, I’ll be imposing a 30 day ban on you.

A ban? On the customers you over-charged and didn’t deliver to? On a forum that’s useless anyway?

I’ve stated SEVERAL TIMES that we’re doing what we can to fix EVERY problem but you’re acting like a spoiled child. And I have no patience for it. Instead of getting issues resolved, I’m now trying to placate a whiner in the forums and this is what we’ve been trying to avoid all along.

With 44,000+ sales, there will be some support issues. And we’re working hard to fix then, not blow you off. So you seriously need to take a deep breath and chill the hell out.

Some companies will go to the ends of the world even when a customer decides to sh*t all over them and you’re definitely dealing with the wrong person here if you expect that kind of service from me. We’re doing whatever we can humanly do to resolve any and all issues but you’re insane if you think I’m going to take the childish insults you’re throwing at me.

It’s not the most confidence inspiring response. A simple blanket e-mail to everyone in the MacHeist database would have cleared the air and would have taken five minutes to do.

UPDATE 29.1.2008: If anyone is still reading this (!), MacHeist have done the right thing and sent out bundles to most of the people affected.

John Casasanta remained mostly irate on the forum thread, proving that some people can do marketing well, but not customer service.

I came up with some speculative numbers of MacHeist’s profits in response to some comments that customer support costs money. It turns out my numbers were pretty off, though based on Gus Mueller’s post about the MacHeist deal last year. Some developers took umbrage and let me know they were quite happy with the percentage they got (so, not a flat-fee as in Gus’s post). The point was never to complain about them making money, but even if they only took a 2% cut, it would be enough to pay for someone to man support for a few weeks. In any case, a blanket e-mail to all customers would have cost them nothing.

It turns out that most of the problems weren’t MacHeist’s doing but, surprise, surprise, PayPal’s hellish service, which is making it very hard to track erroneous transactions.

[tags]MacHeist, John_Casasanta, service, ripoff, user-interface, error, paypal[/tags]