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By | Dan Goodin 27th May 2008 21:05

Paypal glitch hits merchants with 12-day headache

Software update gone bad

PayPal customers are up in arms as a series of fresh glitches cost them time and money. Once again, eBay's inability to accurately say when the problem might be fixed is adding insult to injury.

The most serious malfunction affects what's known as the "handling_cart," a feature within the PayPal shopping cart that tacks on custom charges for handling, shipping and other services associated with a particular item. On May 15, it suddenly stopped working. The failure has caused many online merchants to lose money each time they use PayPal to sell items that used the feature. As of Tuesday - 12 days after the glitch began - PayPal's support team was still unable to say when it might be fixed.

This ongoing inability to estimate how long the outage will continue is what has ecommerce consultants who work with PayPal especially steamed. Register reader Alan Hatch says he's prepared to work around the problem by removing handling cart fees from a site he maintains, but that will require a God-awful amount of work.

"If PayPal said it would be weeks to fix, we'd do this," he said, in an email. "We'd hate to re-price all the shipping and put the coding changes in just before they fix it and have to change it all back, which is why an ETA to fix or some basic information regarding the action they are taking would be very useful."

As things stand now, his unnamed client is losing £3.95 on every order placed. Countless other merchants who rely on PayPal are also losing money and have taken to this forum to vent a spleen.

A PayPal spokesman said the glitch presents itself when merchants use PayPal's Website Payments Standard product and customers reside in another country. "We understand and recognize that for these merchants and their international customers, this is a serious issue," he said. "We apologize for the inconvenience that this is causing to their business. We are working to correct the problem and expect it will be fixed within the next few days."

This latest malfunction comes two weeks after a separate meltdown in PayPal's instant notification system made it impossible for many merchants to process international transactions. Making matters worse, the problem caused credit card holders to be billed even though they were unable to take delivery of the goods or services they had purchased. PayPal fixed the problem a few days after it began.

Both glitches are said to be caused by a software update PayPal made on May 15. Typically, large-scale upgrades can be rolled back when they're found to result in major glitches. PayPal's inability to do so "is not very confidence-inspiring," Hatch said.

In addition to the misbehaving handling cart, some PayPal customers are also reporting their inboxes are being hit by a deluge of confirmation messages. Reg reader Jamie Edwards counted 9,013 confirmations for a single transaction. The irony is that two weeks ago, PayPal was having difficulty sending confirmation emails at all. Now, it's sending thousands of them where one would work just fine.

A PayPal spokesman said he was investigating the reports. ®

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