29 July 2009

I can't order British groceries from Asia

The first time I gave a public lecture about "Internet Borders", one of my former students in the audience shared a story about his recent experience with online borders. He and his wife had been traveling extensively in South East Asia and they were preparing to return to England. They had been away for a long time and knew that their kitchen was empty. They also knew that they would be exhausted after the long-haul flight.

So they had a brilliant idea: they would log on to the web site of their (very well known) UK grocery store, and place an order for some groceries. They could schedule delivery late in the same day that they landed. Anyone who travels long-haul over multiple time zones will see the brilliance of this plan. Here is an opportunity to stay in-doors and recover without the need to go out shopping.

One problem: the UK grocery store web site was strangely inaccessible. The web browser and net connection was working, but it became clear that this specific traffic was being refused. Once my student and his wife landed in England they were able to connect immediately.

I have not been able to confirm this with the grocery store in question (and thus I will not identify them) but my working hypothesis is this: someone who runs the web site reasoned that people outside the UK do not need to order home-delivered groceries from a grocery store in the UK. (Perhaps the traffic was only refused from points originating outside Europe?) Therefore such "foreign" traffic was likely to be a nuisance (at best) or a prelude to fraud (at worst).

WHAT ABOUT YOU? Have you ever tried to order something online "back home" while away on a trip and found that you could not? If so, please place a comment here explaining your encounter.