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Digital River is awful

(Posted February 15, 2001)

I like buying things online. I especially like buying software online, and I especially like it when I can buy software I need online, direct from the software company who made it, and get it instantly downloaded onto my computer and use it immediately. It's ecommerce at its sweetest, imho.

But sometimes it goes wrong, horribly, horribly wrong. And you know what? When it goes wrong, chances are you've been sent into the evil realm that is Digital River.

See, Digital River is an ecommerce company. They specialize in selling software for immediate download. They were early into the market, and many different software companies understandably were eager to use someone else's solution and service to sell their software to their customers in this incredibly cool way. Digital River also sells their software to other companies so they can set up their own online software store if they don't want to outsource their software store. Some of my favorite software companies use Digital River.

Problem is, Digital River sucks.

I don't say this lightly. If you poke around the rest of this website, you'll see that I'm generally a thoughtful individual, who values coherent reasoning, integrity, and understands that doing technology is challenging and sometimes breaks despite the best efforts of smart, well meaning people working as hard as they can. I cut people all sorts of slack. But once you've used up your slack with me, I cut you off, big time. I reach this point only very, very rarely. But Digital River has gotten there with me, and then some.

My advice? If you ever see you're about to purchase software through Digital River, just don't do it. It's taken me three horrible failures in the past three purchase attempts to learn, each worse than the last as D.R. finds new and exciting ways to fail in both their technology and customer service. Every single time - every single time! - it would have been quicker to order the thing from Outpost, who at least GET customer service (and have technology and policies that support their customer service). I would have saved time and frustration in placing the order and dealing with Digital River's mistakes, and I would have ended up having the product sooner.

Learn from my mistakes. Avoid Digital River like the plague.

Oh, and if you've got software to sell, and you want to have your customers get off on the right foot with you, avoid Digital River like the plague!

Alright, that was the introduction. Now, on to my most recent, and final, Digital River debacle. Rather than re-tell the story, I'm just going to post my emails to and from Digital River and FWB as I attempted and failed to purchase FWB Hard Disk Toolkit 4.0.

Email #1 - attempted posting to Digital River's customer service website email submission form, about 1 hour after starting the purchase attempt.

Dear Digital River: I am tremendously frustrated.

I tried to purchase FWB Hard Disk toolkit ($64.95, with free CD-ROM toolkit), and successfully downloaded the product. I looked at the confirmation web page, and it said I should print out the page if my product was "serialized" but

* I do not have a printer hooked up to this computer.
* There was no indication my product was "serialized" that I noticed.
* I saw nothing on the page that looked like a serial number, only an order number.
* I saw a notice that I would receive an email with all details pertaining to my order.

My download completed successfully, and I quit my web browser to do the installation.

Only then do I find out, I need a serial number to install it!

Ok, I'll check my email. Again. Again. Again. It's been an hour and I still haven't received the information.

The ONLY reason I bought this software was because I needed it TONIGHT. And I have it, but I can't install it. I went to the customer service area and got as far as the page where I can search for my order using my email address. I do this, but apparently there is something wrong with the server, as I only get pages of error messages, using either IE5 or Netscape 4.75. I'll try appending the error message to this email but typing this in a 3-line text box is not easy so it may be garbled.

EVERY time I order software through Digital River, I have problems. They are always different problems, too. (Just last month I had a completely different problem with a different company's software order through DR.) Every time DR seems to come up with a new way to interfere with my ability to purchase software from companies I want to do business with.

A copy of this message is going to FWB; I will also update them with your response and my satisfaction with it. Please do whatever you can to get me the information I need to use the product I have already paid for and downloaded. Please forward this message as high up Digital River's command chain as you can. In addition to wanting this issue straightened out immediately, and wanting to receive my serial number immediately, I would appreciate a personal phone call (my number at work is 206 587 0430) with an apology from someone of at least Director, Vice President, or above rank within Digital River for continually having such abysmal system problems that lead to the absolute worst e-commerce customer satisfaction track record of any company I have had more than one transaction with. If I had any choice in the matter, I would have stopped ordering software through Digital River long ago, but you seem to be the fulfilment service of choice for several companies whose products I use and need, and when I am ordering software for electronic download it is because I need it NOW.

I hope whoever is reading this email as a front-line customer service person does not take it personally, and understands that anyone going through this experience would be frustrated by it, especially when the whole point of the experience was to get the software immediately. Actually, if I had left the house and gone to the store when I started this order, I would have been able to drive to the nearest CompUSA, get there before closing time, buy the product, drive home, and have it installed all well over an hour ago; instead I am emailing you and I still don't have access to the software I've paid for already. This is ecommerce? No, it's just horrible. Digital River's management should be ashamed that their customer experience causes them to receive an email like this. Please treat me like an actual human being who is your customer, and make this right.

Thank you
Dan Becker

Here is the error message that is displayed when I try to search for my order using my email address:


Here is the error message that is displayed when I tried to submit the problem through your website's form as you prefer:

Thu, 15 Feb 2001 06:18:51 GMT ORA-06502: PL/SQL: numeric or value error: character string buffer too small ORA-06512: at line 14 DAD name: v2 PROCEDURE : ec_MAIN.Master URL : PARAMETERS : ============ P_NAME: SP P_VAL: 10107 PC1: -1 PC2: -1 PC3: -1 PC4: -1 PC5: -1 ENVIRONMENT: ============


Having failed to use D.R.'s customer service web page to submit the problem, I found an actual email address to use. So I inserted this "cover letter" and appended the above email to it, and sent it on to Digital River.

Dear Digital River: I am incredibly, tremendously frustrated with your systems right now. In short, I need a serial number for FWB hard disk toolkit 4.0, and I needed it a few hours ago when I started trying to purchase this software.

I purchased and I'm sure was charged $64.95 for electronic download of FWB hard disk toolkit 4.0. I was able to download the product. I did not receive an email with my serial number, and I am unable to access my customer record online because the server keeps returning an error message (included below) when I try to search for my account using email address and last 5 digits of the credit card I used.

Here is the situation.

I will do my best to remain calm, but as you will see, I do not think a reasonable person would be anything but upset by the experience your systems have put me through tonight.

I just tried to submit this customer service request through your customer service web page, and received *yet another* error message from the server. I will include this second error message at the end of this email.

I also sent a copy to a marketing person at FWB (since the only other email address I could find on FWB's website was for tech support).

Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2001 23:12:47 -0800
Subject: ecommerce
From: dan becker <>
To: <>

Hello, Mark - I am hoping you can forward this message to the person within FWB who oversees your ecommerce operations and strategy. I apologize for not going through "proper channels" but the only other contact email address I spotted on your website was for technical support, and this is not an FWB technical support problem.

It is a problem with one of FWB's business partners and the terrible customer service they provide.

To the person who ends up handling this: I have very high respect for FWB and its products; I have used them with great results over many years of providing computer support and problem solving with technology. This is why I turned to FWB when I had a "crunch" situation. I could have done the old "hack Drive Setup" trick, but I knew a professional, reliable solution from a company I trusted was needed, so I turned to you.

I read the product descriptions on your website, and verified that the latest version of FWB Hard Disk Toolkit would solve the problem that I need to solve, and proceeded to purchase it for electronic download and immediate use.

All in all, a textbook perfect ecommerce scenario, right? Absolutely.

Except....the immediate use part never happened. Your ecommerce partner Digital River has let you and me down very, very badly. I have downloaded the software but cannot install it because I still have not received my serial number -- and I am unable to access my customer transaction record on DR's website to try to look it up; it seems they are having multiple technical problems that stymie my every effort to solve this problem for myself.

I am tempted to place a second order in hopes DR will get it right this time (I need this THAT urgently) but a little voice in my head keeps saying "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me..." I have had this experience many times before with Digital River when purchasing products from other companies, and I have seen many, many complaints about Digital River on mailing lists, in newsgroups, and in the computer industry press. If it was just me, just this one time, I know all too well that glitches sometimes happen with IT. But this is a consistent, widespread pattern that matches my extensive personal experiences with them, and I don't think the combination can be easily dismissed.

Based on this, I would strongly encourage you to reevaluate your relationship with Digital River.

If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me via email or phone.

Thank you
Dan Becker

So far so good, right? It gets worse. I called Digital River and spoke with a rep, who wasn't able to help but at least gave a clue as to what happened, and said maybe in an hour or so he'd be able to send me my missing serial number.

Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001 00:36:58 -0800
Subject: re: FWB HD toolkit order - can't get SN
From: dan becker <>
To: <>

Hello - I have an update to my previous email from earlier this evening.

I finally found that there is a phone number to contact Digital River customer service -- kudos on answering the phone quickly and having a pleasant person to speak to. Unfortunately, due to circumstances apparently caused by poor planning on DR's part, the rep was not able to resolve my problem.

The rep I spoke with was not able to find this transaction when searching on my name, credit card, or email address (though they were able to find past orders I'd placed). He said it looked like the order had not gone through at all, but when I told him that I had successfully downloaded the software, he was quite puzzled (as you know, you can't normally download the software before the transaction is verified), then asked when I placed the order. I told him, and he groaned and said he bet he knew what happened.

Apparently I managed to place my order while DR was upgrading the server, and the order was logged to a backup database, and no one, human or computer, has access to my serial number at this time. Perhaps in another hour or so the customer service rep I spoke with will be able to email my serial number to me (it is in the backup database which hasn't been synchronized back into the main database, if I understood correctly), about four or five hours after my ordeal began.

It sounds like my problems were caused by placing the order during a scheduled system outage, but putting some sort of notification in place to let me know that I would NOT be able to immediately use the product I was about to order, before I placed the order--or even afterwards!--was not important.
Knowing the details behind this specific problem just makes it that much worse; this was not some random glitch but rather the result of planned work, and no one bothered to say "gee, maybe we should warn our customers that we'll be taking their money but not providing them with their product for a while, and give them a chance to do something else". If I had seen that message when I was placing the order, I would have gone to a store instead to make my purchase, have happily used FWB's software to save the day, and gone to bed, rather than be sitting here still waiting for my serial number so I can do the work.

Instead I was left to flounder helplessly for hours, and the whole thing could have been prevented by putting up a notice saying "sorry, we're doing routine maintenance, come back in 30 minutes to place your order". Or sending me an email that there would be a delay. Or anything would have been better than being left to flounder helplessly.

Boo for poor planning and causing yourselves customer service headaches. Boo indeed. No valentines for DR this year.

Dan Becker

So, off to bed it was for me! I woke up the next morning, fed the cats, fired up the PowerBook, and checked my email while the coffee was brewing. You'll never guess what I didn't find in my inbox -- that's right, still no serial number. So I email Digital River customer service again.

Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001 08:22:03 -0800
Subject: Re: FWB HD toolkit order - can't get SN (3rd email, 2nd call,
still no SN)
From: dan becker <>
To: <>, <>

Hello, Digital River -

Now I am starting to get really irritated. I still have not received the serial number I was told by a customer service rep he would look up and email me last night within "an hour or so" of me calling after midnight pacific time. It's now almost 8am. Even if for some reason he was not able to get my serial number, the minimum standard of customer service clearly require that when a commitment is made, if it can't be kept, a message to me informing me of the status and apologizing for not meeting a commitment would be appropriate.

I am going to check your website now to see if I can finally access my order information (using the customer service webpage at:

No, I get the message "We Could Not Find Your Order.
Please, Check the Information You Have Entered and Try Again."

Fine, I will call. Incidentally, why on earth do you hide your customer service phone number behind a questionaire, and only display the phone number if the questionaire is answered correctly? I feel like I have to pass a test in order to talk to you, when in fact it is Digital River who is failing this test.

Ok, I called and was placed in a hold queue at 7:55AM. "Toby" answered at 8:00. He can't find my order either. He is trying, I give him credit for that. Now he's going to 'ask someone about this' - nice to have a situation escalated without having to insist upon it. On hold again.

Back at 8:10 - Toby was not able to find my order. He suggested I place the order again. He did not even say "I'm sorry you had this problem" until I prompted 'don't I get an apology?', and even then I was given excuses instead of an apology for the trouble I was put through, and excuses instead of an apology for the lack of followup from the first customer service rep I spoke with.

Now I'm in the position of being supposed to place this order AGAIN. Now, put yourself in my shoes, and ask youself -- why on earth would I do this, based on the experiences I've had thus far?

And shouldn't it worry FWB that I was able to download the software from Digital River without being charged for it, and that Digital River has no record of it ever happening? How many people have downloaded "free" software from Digital River? I bet there's no way of knowing. And if I was unscrupulous, I could easily get a pirated SN from any number of sources.

If there is anyone out there interested in retaining me as a customer, I am readily available at or (206) XXX YYYY. Your move.

Dan Becker
ps: I have submitted this message through FWB's tech support website as well.

I finally received an email response that had at least the trappings of empathy, though the effect was greatly undermined by calling me "Dear Customer", and ultimately this person was just as unable to actually help as anyone else has been. Here it is (quoted)

> From: Customer Service <>
> Reply-To: Customer Service <>
> Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001 11:16:09 -0600
> To: dan becker <>
> Subject: Re: FWB HD toolkit order - can't get SN (3rd email, 2nd call, still
> no SN) (KMM2074746C0KM)
> Dear Customer,
> I have searched both our back up system and our main system and am
> unable to find the order at all. I wish I had an explaination for how
> you received the download with out having purchased the program, but to
> be honest, I don't. If there is anything else that I can do to help,
> I'll be more than willing to do so.
> Please accept my sincerest apologies for any inconveniences that this
> ordeal may have caused.
> Thank you for contacting Digital River. If you have any further
> questions or concerns, please "reply" to this e-mail.
> Sincerely,
> Customer Service
> Digital River, Inc.
> Chris Letourneau

I also received a more sympathetic but also ultimately unhelpful message from FWB Technical Support which placed the onus on me to continue to try to have my problem escalated, and did not provide an email address to do so, instead directing me to make along distance phone call. Probably all this poor tech support rep is empowered to do, which is another customer service mistake. Don't rely on an outsourcer for your core business, which is relating to your customers!

>Subject: HardDisk Toolkit - Trkng No. 5.23171700E
>Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001 11:42:00 -0500
> Thank you for contacting FWB Technical Support.
> Hi Dan,
> I'm sorry to hear about all of your troubles with Digital River.
> Unfortunately, Digital River handles all product downloads and is a company entirely
> seperate of FWB. You sent this e-mail to the Technical Support department, and we are
> unable to access sales records or any records of that nature.
> Since you are having trouble with Digital River, please contact our Sales department at:
> 408-969-8623; they should be able to help you get this all sorted out.
> I hope this information is helpful. If you have any other questions, let me know at your
> convenience. Please be sure to include a copy of this email (including your original) so that I
> will know where we left off.
> -T

So, you might think that's the end of the story, right? Oh, no, not at all....we haven't hit the punchline yet!

Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2001 01:46:46 -0800
Subject: Re: FWB HD toolkit order - can't get SN (3rd email, 2nd call,
still no SN) (KMM2074746C0KM)
From: Dan Becker <>
To: Customer Service <>

Hello, Digital River - I simply can't believe it. I should be used to it by now, but I'm flabbergasted in spite of myself.

After I spoke with Toby at 8am this morning and was left with the resolution that the only way I was going to get a serial number for my software was to place another order, saying "the ball is in your court if you wish to retain me as a customer" and getting a complete lack of assistance in solving my problem from both FWB and Digital River, I decided to find a different solution for my problem instead of purchasing FWB HD Toolkit, did so, and moved on with my life.

I received at about 9:15 this email, where I finally got an apology from someone at Digital River. Thank goodness, I thought to myself, we have closure and I can put this whole episode behind me at last.

Imagine my dismay when at 9:30am I received the missing confirmation email! Here it is:

Enclosed below is the confirmation message I received just 15 minutes after receiving the final "sorry, we can't find your order anywhere" email message.

Received: from [] by with ESMTP
(SMTPD32-6.04) id A20F72D00E4; Thu, 15 Feb 2001 12:29:51 -0500
Received: (from griz@localhost)
by (8.8.8/8.8.8) id LAA18447;
Thu, 15 Feb 2001 11:29:24 -0600 (CST)
Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001 11:29:24 -0600 (CST)
Message-Id: <>
Subject: Order Confirmation
X-UIDL: 279355577
Status: U
Dear Dan Becker,
Thank you for ordering through the Digital River Commerce System. The following email is a summary of your order. Please use this as your proof of purchase.
Take 10% off your next purchase!
This offer isn't available to everyone.
It isn't transferable either.
It's an offer just for you, our valued customer.
Just bookmark the URL below and through March 31, 2001,
Get our best products at our best prices.
It's our way of saying thanks.
For assistance with your order, you can go to and perform the following tasks.
- Re-download your product
- Check shipping status
- Print an invoice
- Contact customer service representatives
- Get answers to general questions
For technical support with the software you have purchased, please contact FWB at
You can request information regarding the following tasks.
- Questions on installation
- Errors in software
- Help with features
- Upgrades, new drivers
- General questions regarding the product
Additional information for: *FWB Hard Disk ToolKit 4.0 Digital River
Additional information for: *FWB CD-ROM ToolKit Special Edition Digital River
The file you have downloaded is a compressed .hqx file for Macintosh. You will need to expand it by using StuffIt Expander. NOTE: Macintosh files must be expanded with Stuffit Expander 5.1 or later. Please open StuffIt Expander, go to "file", then "expand", and choose the .hqx file from the list. If you do not have StuffIt Expander, you may download a free copy from
Customer Number: 914xxxxxxx
Order Number: 915xxxxxx
Order Date: 14-FEB-01
Dan Becker
fwb@fullerbecker.comProduct Name Qty Ordered Platform Delivery Method Price
*FWB Hard Disk ToolKit 4.0 1 Macintosh Digital River $ 64.95
*FWB CD-ROM ToolKit Special Edition 1 Macintosh Digital River $ 0.00
Sub Total: $ 64.95
Tax: $ 5.59
Total: $ 70.54

It turns out I have been charged for the software after being told REPEATEDLY that there was no trace of the transaction and I should place a second order if I wanted to get it!

(I specifically said in my conversation with Toby that I was very wary of placing a second order, since given my past experiences with Digital River, I was afraid my first payment would mysteriously resurface and I would end up being charged twice. Turns out I was right.)

I would like a refund of the $70.54. I was told the transaction never happened, and there was nothing that could be done about it, and I took that as true and proceeded on. At that point I did not want the software anymore, and certainly did not want to attempt another transaction with Digital River. I was told that there had been no transaction.

Given this, and given that I still do not want the product as I have found another solution to my problem instead of purchasing the FWB software, I find having this transaction put through after all this is completely unacceptable. Being charged after all these repeated attempts to get what I paid for, and after finally giving up, is quite galling.

Please credit my credit card $70.54 and confirm to me that the credit has been placed; you can provide the confirmation either by sending me an email at or by calling me at (206) xxx xxxx.

FWB and Digital River, you have both lost a customer for life. I have posted this entire history on my website and will submit it to search engines; I have also sent this to Ed Foster (InfoWorld's Gripe Line columnist). Hopefully this public exposure of your abysmal service will come up when people search for your companies and people will take it as a cautionary tale before doing business with you. And don't forget to hop on the cluetrain!

Most Sincerely
Dan Becker

But we're not through, oh, no, not by a long shot.

> Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2001 23:10:55 -0600
> To: Dan Becker <>
> Subject: Re: FWB HD toolkit order - can't get SN (3rd email, 2nd call, still no SN)
> (KMM2093836C0KM)
> From: Customer Service <>> Dear Customer,
> We appreciate this feedback. Please let us know if we can assist you
> further with this issue.
> Thank you for contacting Digital River. If you have any further
> questions or concerns, please "reply" to this e-mail.
> Sincerely,
> Customer Service
> Digital River, Inc.

Wow. What can you say to this level of cluelessness?

Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 10:13:25 -0800
Subject: Re: FWB HD toolkit order - can't get SN (3rd email, 2nd call,
still no SN) (KMM2093836C0KM)
From: dan becker <>
To: Customer Service <>,

I am absolutely speechless. "We appreciate this feedback, please let us know if we can assist you further with this issue"?

Did you completely miss the part where I said I wanted a refund, and requested either email or phone confirmation that you were crediting a refund to my credit card?

This really casts doubt on how much Digital River is paying attention to your customers' feedback, regardless of what the canned message I was sent says.

Here's the deal. If I do not have a credited refund and an email or phone message confirming that you have credited my account for $70.54 in one week, by Saturday 2/24, I will initiate criminal legal proceedings for fraud by contacting the Minnesota and Washington State Attorney Generals' offices.

I am not interested in playing games any longer; I want my money back. Digital River had no right whatsoever to charge me after you told me repeatedly that the transaction was canceled by virtue of never having taken place, was irretrievably gone, and the only way I would get my product is if I placed a second order. This is no longer a customer service issue, this is outright theft.

Dan Becker

PS: Updates to this saga are being posted on my website and are being submitted to internet search engines and ebusiness review sites. I am also in continuing correspondence with Ed Foster of Infoworld's Gripe Line; I suspect Digital River's management would prefer not to look too stupid in print but they're really running out of opportunties to behave decently!

Last thought: remember the cluetrain: "#12: There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone."

So, that's the end of the story. let it be a lesson to you. Don't be fooled like I was fooled, don't waste your time, just stay away from any Digital River software transaction. And tell your software vendors not to use Digital River for order fulfillment!

Digital River and FWB, if you're out there and have anything to say for yourselves, I will post any reply you care to make on this page if you want to tell your side of the story.

To any other Digital River customers (or "attempted customers") out there, if you have anything interesting to add or know of links that you think would enhace this page, send 'em along.

Update - a day or two after my final email, Digital River finally gave me my money back:

Dear Customer, I talked to my supervisor, Gavin, and he was more than willing to give you a refund. Your order has been refunded. Please allow 5 - 7 days for the credit to be applied to your credit card. Thank you for contacting Digital River. If you have any further questions or concerns, please "reply" to this e-mail.

Customer Service
Digital River, Inc. - online since April 1999
This page updated March 10, 2001

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