Samsung’s online shop is broken and it makes me want to scream.

This is a rant. The tone is more grouchy than my usual blog posts. You’ve been warned.

Let me start by sharing an open secret: when you type a billing address into a website, most of what you type is never used. In the United States, the only thing that matters most of the time is the ZIP Code. I have placed orders online with a billing address to the name “Dingus Dingus,” and it went through just fine. In my experiences working in restaurants, old-school card terminals never even ask for a complete address - they just ask for a ZIP Code.

The billing ZIP Code is used to verify that the cardholder is who they say they are. Since all the other critical info is printed on the card itself, the ZIP Code acts like a weak password (sort of).

Don’t get me wrong, billing addresses aren’t useless. They’re helpful for businesses, because they allow invoices to be sent to one address while the actual product gets shipped somewhere else. However, a billing address’s only purpose for regular folks like me is that very rudimentary form of verification. When done correctly, that verification only uses the ZIP Code.

If you don’t think about it for more than 2 seconds, you might think that you can enhance the security of this system by validating a larger chunk of the address, like city or state. If the ZIP Code acts like a rudimentary password, adding the city or state will make that password longer, right? And that’s good!

No. NO. No, no, no, no, no. Bad. Stop.

I live in a small town near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Naturally, when I write my address, I write the name of my town. However, when the US Postal Service writes my address, they say “Milwaukee.” Why?

The borders between ZIP Codes don’t line up with the borders between towns. That means that bits and pieces of many towns can share a single ZIP Code. But, the USPS designates a “Recommended City Name” to each ZIP Code to simplify things. “Milwaukee” is my ZIP Code’s recommended city name, so that’s the city that shows up on a lot of my mail. You aren’t required to write the recommended city name, though. The correct city name is also valid, and it can be helpful to reduce ambiguity about a package’s intended destination.

As far as I can tell, most multi-town ZIP Codes only cover two towns. For example, if you live in 48203, you might actually live in Detroit, but your mail will say “Highland Park.” Other ZIP Codes contain many towns - one of the crazier examples I found is 55118, where your mail will say “Saint Paul” even though you might live in any one of four other towns within that ZIP Code’s limits.

It gets even more chaotic, though. A handful of ZIP Codes even jump across state lines. If you live in East Fairview, North Dakota, in ZIP Code 59221, your USPS Recommended City Name is Fairview, Montana!

All of this means that you cannot reliably use an address’s city or state to verify a buyer’s identity. Multiple combinations of city and state can correspond to the exact same physical address, and those combinations can and should be used interchangeably, because that’s how the mail works.

Back to Samsung’s broken-ass website.

Samsung won’t tell me exactly what’s going on, so I’ve had to figure it out myself. I’ve spent hours grokking bank statements, chatting with Samsung support representatives, and talking with bank support folks. I have tried FOURTEEN TIMES to buy a Samsung Galaxy S24 from their website, using five different payment methods on four browsers, three different devices, three different email addresses, and two different phone numbers. I have placed orders as a guest. I created a Samsung account and tried to place an order that way. When that didn’t work, I made another Samsung account and tried again. I must admit that some of the following is conjecture, but I like to think it’s based on an adequate amount of research.

Samsung doesn’t seem to be aware of the edge cases in the ZIP Code system. You can’t even place an order on Samsung’s website unless you use the USPS recommended city name corresponding to your billing ZIP Code. Clicking the “Place Order” button will simply cause an error message to appear at the top of the page. This is incorrect behavior. Even the USPS’s system will tell you it’s totally fine to write the names of the other towns within the ZIP code, as all of those city-ZIP combinations are valid.

On its own, this would only be a mild annoyance. Because the credit/debit card networks only validate the ZIP Code, the transaction will go through without a hitch. That lines up with my experience - all of my banks happily accepted Samsung’s transactions when the ZIP Code matched their records, and rejected Samsung’s transactions when the ZIP Code didn’t match their records. From the bank’s perspective, everything is going swimmingly. However, Samsung tried to be clever, and in doing so, they have completely broken their billing system.

After charging your account, Samsung tries to verify your whole billing address. Remember, you were forced to use the USPS recommended city name. Your bank isn’t as stupid as Samsung, though, so they might actually have the correct city on file. If your bank has your actual city on file, instead of the other city that Samsung forced you to write, Samsung will cancel your order, send your money back, and then send you a vague email about how they somehow “couldn’t verify your info,” even though they just charged and refunded several hundred dollars to your account.

If you’re like me, and you keep poking and prodding until you figure out what’s going wrong, you’ll eventually submit so many orders that their anti-fraud system will start rejecting your orders even when everything lines up perfectly. This seems to be what’s happening to me.

Samsung’s support representative was professional and kind, and he really tried to help, but he came up empty-handed just like me. My issue ended up getting “elevated,” whatever that means. I was told to expect a “response in 24-48 hours.” It has been 4 days, and I’ve gotten nothing. Of course, Samsung’s competent, intelligent support professionals can’t just place the order for me. That would allow them to be helpful, which means it’s too much power for them to wield. Or something like that.

This situation could be avoided if Samsung didn’t arbitrarily restrict certain phone colors to their crappy website (see footnote 1). This situation could be avoided if I wasn’t so picky. This situation could be avoided if Slack didn’t brick old app versions (see footnote 2).

One can try to point fingers elsewhere, but this problem is Samsung’s fault. Their e-commerce service makes false assumptions about how addresses work, and it causes false alarms in their anti-fraud system. Samsung has wasted several hours of my time, and they made my bank statements look like a Christmas tree. Samsung, with all its money and engineering prowess, has crafted the worst e-commerce experience I have ever had.

End rant.

In the end, I was able to buy my phone. I had to use someone else’s card, name, phone number, and email. But, I was able to use the billing/shipping address that I was using previously, so it seems like that part isn’t getting flagged.

Footnote 1: No, I can’t buy the phone from somewhere else

I want the orange Galaxy S24, which is only available on Samsung’s website. And no, I’m not getting a different color. If you think I’m going to drop $900 on a phone and have it not be exactly what I want all the way down to the color, I have bad news for you. God forbid I be picky about the device I’m expected to carry with me every day for the next 4-8 years.

Footnote 2: Slack sucks

I don’t really want a Galaxy S24, I want my old phone. I like it, and it works fine. I can’t have my old phone though, because Slack decided it’s too old. They bricked the UI, even though the app underneath still works fine. I really want to emphasize this: THE APP STILL WORKS. I still receive Slack notifications, and I can still reply to Slack messages by swiping down on the notifications and typing stuff in there, but the app itself is made unusable by an unclosable alert message telling me to update the Slack app… to a version that doesn’t support my version of Android. Every professional who has had a perfectly good phone rendered useless by Slack’s stupid update dialog should mail their old phone directly to Slack’s office so that they can measure the amount of e-waste they’ve generated.

Footnote 3: ZIP Codes actually work really well

ZIP Codes are frought with edge cases, but they play a critical role in a very effective system for delivering the mail. In 2023, the USPS processed 127.3 billion pieces of mail, and their total operating expenses were $85.4 billion. That’s about 67 cents per piece of mail, one cent less than a regular postage stamp. ZIP Codes are weird, but the end result is remarkably cost-effective.