Why Operating a Web Service in Canada Sucks – Part II: Google Checkout

July 10, 2006

Google Checkout looks pretty cool (even though it was banned by Ebay) and has great potential for many very small businesses out there looking for a good online payment solution.  Unfortunately, like many other services including PayPal Website Payments Pro, it is not yet available to Canadian merchants.

Now I can fully appreciate why the people at Google and PayPal would focus primarily on their US customers (it is the largest market and their home base), but for goodness sake, can they not communicate that a little better so poor saps like me don’t spend half an hour getting it all ready to go only to find out at the last step that it won’t work unless you have a US tax id and address. Of course if I had taken the time to read the fine print (below), I would have known straight off that it doesn’t work in Canada.

Before you start, you’ll need:

  • The federal tax ID number (or a credit card and an authorized Social Security number) for your business.
  • A text-only version of your return, cancellation, and shipping policies.
  • A shopping cart on your business website to accept online orders (unless you’re integrating via Buy Now buttons).

But no, I had to walk through everything and get all excited about trying out the service before getting to the final step that asked for my tax id.  Funny enough, the exact same thing happened to me about six months ago when attempting to sign-up for PayPal Website Payments Pro.  I think they have improved communications since then, but initially it stated nowhere that you had to be US based.  It was worse than Google because I actually finished the setup and then attempted to try it before I was thwarted.

Since I didn’t get to try Google checkout, here’s what some others are saying about it: Mark Evans isn’t too impressed, Mathew Ingram thinks they are in for a fight with PayPal, and Ian Lurie does a complete review here (thanks to Seth Godin for that post).

The frustrating thing is that this happens not just with payment services, it happens all over the web.  Just ask Mike when he spent a half an hour getting an awesome deal with Expedia.com only to find out he had to have a US address to receive the plane tickets.  Or talk to my fiancee who tried to order a gift for a friend at Williams Sonoma and the service is only available for US customers.  Baaahh.

I think Tara Hunt would agree with her Pinko marketing philosophy that it would be very worthwhile for these companies to get things setup for us hungry Canadians, or at the very least have a big banner that says US ONLY!

So, alas, this post was going to be about the great new Google checkout service, but now its a rant about expanding new online services to Canadians.  I really have to get one of those US addresses and tax id’s sooner rather than later.

about the author

Co-Founder & VP of Operations, FreshBooks Levi is a professional engineer with a BEng from the University of Victoria. Before co-founding FreshBooks as the VP of Operations, Levi managed projects at Apex Systems Integrators Inc., where his clients included Canadian Tire, Nestlé and Parmalat. Levi’s long term goals include: never losing the contest to wear shorts to the office for as long as humanly possible, some day growing back his mullet he had in the eighties and getting on the jumbotron at the Raptors game at least once a year.