Archive for the ‘E-Commerce’ Category

Service of the Custom of Traveling with the Goods

Monday, November 5th, 2018

Photo: travelpulse.com

I was 15 the first time I traveled alone internationally and my parents warned me to never accept a package or letter from a stranger who’d ask me to pop the missive in the mail when I got to my destination. Fast forward and airline agents for years now ask whether you packed your suitcase and if anyone has given you anything to take with you.

Photo: dissolve.com

This custom has changed dramatically with the advent of Grabr, an online company that introduces travelers to shoppers in foreign countries who count on them to carry purchases. Customs charges are the responsibility of the traveler who is supposed to ask enough of the shopper to cover them. They negotiate the amount before the trip.

Wrote Andrea Fuller in The Wall Street Journal, “Grabr works like this: A shopper posts on Grabr’s platform that they’d like to buy an item, such as a new smartphone. A traveler who plans on visiting the shopper’s country then agrees to transport the phone for a delivery fee negotiated with the shopper. The traveler then buys the phone, packs it, and gives it to the shopper, who pays them back via Grabr’s system. The company earns a commission on each transaction.”

Bangkok Airport. Photo: youtube.com

Some travelers pay for their trips. Grabr pays for others “in lieu of per-item rewards.” They “transport suitcases full of goods assembled by Grabr staff.” [The company says it is phasing out this part of the business.]

Duty free limits range from $300 in Argentina to $500, in Brazil, for example. “Travelers to those countries should owe customs 50% of the portion of the value of items over the duty-free limit,” wrote Fuller.

Kevin Hartz, whose company invested $250,000 in Grabr–it attracted $14 million in all–who had also invested in Airbnb which, in its infancy, faced doubts about the legality of home sharing, said about the concept: “This is just a matter of sentiment change.”

Grabr’s co-founders Artem Fedyaev and Darla Rebenok say the company’s terms of service require users to comply with customs.

In my experience, customs officers are smart. They know that a Gucci handbag costs many multiples of $450, should a traveler try to get away with the smaller amount on a customs document, and that people don’t travel with three smartphones and four laptops for personal use. If they don’t already know about Grabr, they soon will so there won’t be any savings at the customs counter for travelers-with-the-goods. I wouldn’t be surprised if customs duties in certain countries increase.

If you’re planning a trip to a country where electronics and other items are pricey, would you be interested to give Grabr a whirl? Do you believe a stranger will pay for the items you give them? Can you predict the success of the business model? Has customs ever stopped you—and have you had to pay up–in this or another country?

Photo: aisino.com

Service of Where’s the Milk? Confusion When Grocery Stores Move Things Around

Monday, October 8th, 2018

Photo: aldridgeonline.com

If you routinely visit a grocery store that’s being remodeled, you know your shopping expedition will take longer than usual while you search for the milk, favorite cookies or pasta. One of my favorite stores also keeps switching things in the meat department even though its renovations are over. There must be a good reason, other than to hope I become tempted by other items while looking for what’s on my list.

Expecting to pick up a bag of M&Ms at the checkout counter at a grocery chain? Soon some will have freezer cases placed in front instead. Heather Haddon wrote about the motivation behind major product location shuffles as stores prepare for increased orders placed online for in-store customer pickup. They hope these customers, as they wait for their order in the front of the store, will add a few major items–an ice cream cake, a few frozen dinners or bags of fries and veggies–rather than a pack of gum or a candy bar. She wrote about the displacement of impulse items and other anticipated changes in her Wall Street Journal article “E-Commerce Reshapes Grocery Stores.”

Photo: supermarketnews.com

Americans spend $800 billion a year on food and drink, she reported, and supermarket chains don’t want too big a chunk going to Amazon and other giants. Haddon wrote: “E-commerce represents less than 5% of U.S. grocery sales currently, but food and beverage sales are growing far faster online than in traditional supermarkets. Forrester Analytics predicts that by 2022, the U.S. online grocery market will total $36.5 billion, up from an estimated $26.7 billion this year.”

According to Haddon, Walmart and Kroger are “spending tens of millions of dollars to acquire digital-ordering technologies, implement home-delivery systems and build thousands of store pickup points for online orders. Kroger, the U.S.’s largest supermarket chain, has hired or assigned nearly 19,000 workers to run an estimated 1,400 pickup sites for online orders, covering roughly half of the company’s stores.”

Photo: edgylabs.com

Haddon identified risks for the chains from the enormous upfront investment to irritating traditional customers who compete for goods whisked off shelves to fulfill online orders. Currently, supermarkets don’t have warehouses as Amazon does, though they may in future.

Meanwhile, “Clerks fulfilling online orders can clog aisles and checkout lanes or pick over the best produce, customers and grocery consultants say.” Haddon concluded “Through it all, grocers are struggling to find a balance between encouraging customers to place orders online and drawing customers into their stores.”

Do you shop for your groceries online? Are you tempted? It must be a time-saver to simply show up at a store and drive away minutes later with packages of groceries. Does the concept work for cities where people don’t usually own cars? Would you miss seeing what’s new in categories such as ice cream, frozen food, bakery and yogurt? Do you ever pass an aisle, see something like mustard or strawberry jam which reminds you you’re about to run out? How will internet ordering gain such purchases without irritating customers with popup suggestions?

Photo: petco.com

Service of a Crack in the Surface of E-Commerce

Monday, September 10th, 2018

Photo: physics.aps.org

A Wall Street Journal article about traditional retailing and E-commerce made clear that those who see the latter annihilating traditional retail shouldn’t order the funeral flowers just yet. Some retailers of both luxury and discount goods are spending big bucks on their brick and mortar stores. In a second article the same day the Journal reported that WalMart has started to refuse to ship heavy items–because of the cost– by claiming they are out of stock. This approach may be temporary and therefore, potentially less significant in the long run.

What’s In Store?

Photo: pinterest.com

Target was also a focus of John D. Stoll’s Wall Street Journal article, “Tiffany’s $250 Million Bet on a 78-Year-Old Store.” He wrote “It turns out that all over the ravaged retailing sector, companies are rethinking the mantra that the future is digital, and pouring money into actual brick-and-mortar stores.” Target plans to spend $7 billion. It doesn’t break down the superstore’s expenditures though “a spokeswoman said stores are an ‘incredibly important linchpin.’”

Why this confidence in physical stores? Stoll wrote: “Because the bulk of America’s retail is still done the old-fashioned way. Target has consistently increased online sales, but ecommerce represents less than 6% of its revenues. Online sales are closer to 7% at Home Depot but under 4% at Walmart.” Tiffany’s stores produce 90 percent of its revenue.

Photo: logos.wikia.com

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ annual Consumer Insights survey showed weekly purchases from stores has risen from 36 percent four years ago to 40 percent in 2015 and 44 percent this year. Stoll wrote: “Retailers are smart to better integrate the physical shopping experience with people’s online habits, but now is not the time to give up on making stores better.” On a recent Wednesday, he reported, Tiffany’s new café in its NYC flagship had 1,000 on a waiting list for 40 seats.

Cupboard is Bare

So what about Walmart’s shipping policy? People need the products involved such as household cleaners, nonperishable groceries, pet food and cosmetics so they will buy them somewhere.

I marvel at how CVS often covers the cost of shipping heavy items with no minimum purchase required, in conjunction with a sale many times, and wonder how long the windfall will last.

Photo: walmartcareers.com

Sarah Nassauer in her Wall Street Journal article wrote that the Walmart “has begun telling online shoppers that some products in its warehouses are ‘out of stock’ after the retailer changed its e-commerce systems to avoid orders deemed too expensive to ship.” Some suppliers were surprised. To address the policy they’ll “stock their products at more Walmart warehouses around the country to keep sales steady, according to an executive at a large food company.

“The shift is part of a test, Walmart said, to see if it can deliver more products via ground shipping, a cheaper option than air shipping, in two days or less.” Spokesman Ravi Jariwala “said shoppers shouldn’t notice a big increase in out-of-stock items because walmart.com will suggest similar products from nearby warehouses.”

Do you think retailers like Tiffany’s and Target are throwing away their money in this retail climate by upgrading their traditional stores? Is there an aura about some stores—like Tiffany’s—that compels shoppers to visit? Will retailers figure out cheaper ways of shipping heavy goods or will customers increasingly pick up in stores their online orders deemed too heavy/expensive to ship? Walmart says it’s a test but if profitable, don’t you think the “shortages will be permanent, potentially impacting online sales? When you buy online, do you stick to your shopping list more than you do when you’re in a store?

Photo: flickr.com

Service of Why Don’t You Say So?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Say so

Communications is often not our strong suit. The cost? Customers pay the price in wasted time and/or mistakes.

Taxing

I ordered an item online from a high end men’s store and noticed, in checking out, that I was charged tax. For clothing that costs $110 or less, New York residents don’t pay tax. While it wasn’t much, it irritated me that tax appeared on my bill but because it was the last day of a super sale, I approved the order and wrote customer service [which was closed on the weekend].

TaxFirst thing Monday I got a response telling me that they will charge the correct total {without the tax} “when the order is ready to ship.” I was notified, but the tax was still there. So I whipped out another note–thank goodness for cut and paste and email. The correction was made.

Given that the store has a NY branch and that I assume more than one customer orders from NY, it would have been easier to note on the invoice that NY residents won’t pay tax for items under $110. Staff in billing should be similarly instructed….although I suspect that I may be the only one to care.

Check this out

I was having an annual checkup and on arrival dropped into the ladies room to wash the subway off my hands. There was a note warning patients not to urinate if they were having a sonogram. The office offers sonograms in a few parts of the body so out of curiosity I asked one of the technicians whether this directive applies to all sonograms. She said that it only applies to pelvic ones. So couldn’t that one word have been added to the warning?

Do it yourself and guess

USPS self service and binI used the do-it-yourself package mailing system at the Grand Central post office. One of the questions is “Will your package fit in the bin?” which it would. When done, I tried to open the adjacent bin and it was locked shut. So I had to wait in line anyway to find out where to put the stamped package. An exasperated postal worker, who looked at me as though I was dumb, pointed in the direction of a large canvas container on wheels placed well below the counter where nobody would see it with nobody nearby to secure it, either.

Was there a note stating what to do with a package on the bin parked next to the scale/shipping computer? No. Was there a note above the hidden container that collected packages? No. US Postal Service customers take note: Bring along your ESP next time you drop by.

Cross street please

When a business posts its NYC address on its website, if on an avenue, please note the nearest cross street.  I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and I don’t always know this information. [See 666 Fifth Ave and 546 Broadway, in photo below.]

Have you noticed that increasingly few businesses put themselves in their customer’s shoes in planning websites or procedures by anticipating questions or sharing clear instructions in the first place? Do you have other examples?

 Cross street please turned

 

Service of More Born Every Minute

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Suckers

Sorry to have to share more scams for suckers but it’s important to get out the word.

Moving right along

Did you hear about the Douglas County, Georgia family that hired a moving company through Craigslist and with the exception of one box, lost all their worldly goods?

Moving van plainThe movers had stolen the U-Haul truck [that the vehicle didn’t have the name of a mover painted on the side would have given me immediate pause]. According to Richard Elliot of WSB TV, after loading the truck the movers “appeared to be heading to the family’s new home in another county. But along the way, the homeowner said, the movers ditched her and vanished.” Estimated loss: $75,000. The box was recovered on a sidewalk by Cobb police two days later.

The homeowner was grateful. She’d said “If I don’t get anything back, I want that box, because it has all of our social security, birth certificates in it. It has death records from my mom and son,” she said, as well as the family Bible. The iPads and phones were missing from the box.

The naïveté of the customers made me sad: Most would have kept small electronic items and personal papers with them or stored them with friends. No wonder they were easy marks. I have to give it to the movers: They cleared the house in four hours. That’s lightening fast. Given my recent experiences in moving, I’d guess they didn’t pack or protect much; they must have tossed the furniture and other belongings in the truck.

Vote by hanging up

Telephone town hallHave you been invited to attend a town hall meeting on the phone with a political candidate? Take care warned Catherine Fredmen on www.Consumerreports.org where she shared intel from David Dewey, director of research at Pindrop Security, a firm that sells anti-fraud detection technology to call centers and others.

If you’re enticed by scammers that take advantage of the season and you give your credit card number to donate to your favorite pol, “Not only have you handed over money to an unknown entity, you have opened the door to identity theft.” She advises if the call is unsolicited, don’t play ball.

Not playing around

V TechWrote Fredmen, “Scammers are after more than your credit card number. Instead, they glean personal information to build detailed profiles that can be used for sophisticated forms of identity theft that may not be immediately obvious.” Her example is VTech, a toymaker. She continued: “For example, scammers could exploit the VTech data breach, which compromised the profiles of 6.4 million kids around the world, to hack identities for years. Because kids have no credit history and their parents generally don’t check their credit reports regularly, the theft might not be noticed until the kids grow up and apply for a credit card or financial aid for college.”

Mobile wallets on the move

“Dewey put the security of mobile wallets to a little test,” such as Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, Android Pay and PayPal, added Fredmen.  “First, he secretly copied credit card numbers and expiration dates from a few colleagues at Pindrop. A little Google investigating revealed the answers to ‘secure’ identification questions (such as a colleague’s mother’s maiden name) needed to activate the colleague’s card under Dewey’s mobile wallet account. Within minutes, Dewey had strolled over to Whole Foods and bought lunch for the office—paid for by his unwitting colleague. (The colleague was reimbursed.)”

Are you familiar with these scams or potential breaches? Know of others?

Android pay

 

 

 

Service of Online Sales—Such A Deal Or Not

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Great deal

I had to buy Oreck vacuum cleaner bags online and was surprised to see the price range, from $15 plus postage on the brand’s website to $9.69 plus postage on Amazon.com to $9.12, no postage, at Wal*Mart. [I really wanted to find a store near my office that carried them but was unsuccessful.]

My experience with this product was the opposite of most according to David Streitfeld’s front page Sunday New York Times article, “An Online Deal Just For You (Oh, and Everyone Else, Too).” He wrote about the public’s perception that they get bargains online because the asking price is much less than the “list price, suggested price, reference price or manufacturer’s suggested retail price.” He observed that “hardly anyone is charging” these.

Le Creuset skilletOne of his examples was a Le Creuset 11 ¾-inch iron handle skillet in cherry [photo, right] which Amazon claimed was $200 due to a $60 discount off list. At the same time everyone else was charging $200—Williams-Sonoma.com, CutleryandMore.com and AllModern.com, with posted list prices ranging from $285 to $250. Meanwhile the brand’s website was charging $200.

Another was a Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus Processor [photo below, left] that on its site costs $40 but that Amazon claims costs $75 and you can get it from them for $40. “Mary Rodgers, a spokeswoman for Cuisinart, said the $75 list price was ‘the highest price you could actually see the product being sold for.’ She said as far as she knew, no one was selling the processor for that price,” he wrote.

Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus ProcessorStreitfeld quoted pricing strategy expert professor Larry Compeau of ClarksonUniversity, “Everyone expects a deal on the web. Nobody wants to pay retail. Some sellers are now willing to deceive consumers to make the sale.” He said list prices are meaningless.

Overstock.com may be paying the price for deceit. According to Streitfeld, the company is appealing a $6.8 million fine in California for false advertising. Just one example in the case: A customer paid $450 for a patio set at a supposed 55 percent discount from $999 list but the same set cost $247 at Wal*Mart.

Wrote Streitfeld, “Overstock said it followed ‘standard industry practices’ to come up with its reference prices. Internet retailers including Wayfair, Walmart, Rakuten (formerly Buy.com), Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma employ list prices to varying degrees. Amazon, the biggest e-commerce player, uses them extensively and prominently.

“If some Internet retailers have an expansive definition of list price, the Federal Trade Federal Trade ComissionCommission does not.” According to the Code of Federal Regulations, he wrote, “To the extent that list or suggested retail prices do not in fact correspond to prices at which a substantial number of sales of the article in question are made, the advertisement of a reduction may mislead the consumer.” Translation: You can’t say that a pen that everyone charges $7.50 for originally cost $15, when it never did.

Streitfeld reported that originally, the list price was to protect consumers who might see one price on a box and a much higher price at the cash register. We’ve come a long way from those days for sure—and not in a good sense.

Do you always compare online prices before punching in your credit card number? Are you enticed by what appears to be a deep dish online discount?

typing in credit card

 

Service of Free Shipping & Returns

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

delivering package

Loretta Chao wrote “More Retailers Offering Free Shipping on Returns,” which caught my eye because I’m spoiled by online retailers who swallow the cost of shipping back and forth instead of foisting the charges on me. She wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “About 49% of retailers now offer free return shipping, according to a new study released this month by the National Retail Federation, underscoring how companies that had long been resistant to footing the bill for returns are being forced to do so by their customers.”

I see shipping as an e-tailer’s cost of doing business just like rent in often expensive neighborhoods and the salaries of sales associates are costs that standard retailers shoulder. I’m irritated when an e-tailer asks for a minimum purchase that’s too high–like $100–to qualify for free shipping and I pass on the opportunity if I only need $39 worth of goods. If there’s a generous sale involved, I can accept a minimum order without gripe.

ecommerce fulfillmentThose in e-commerce would do well to guarantee free returns, even if they charge for the initial shipping, or people may increasingly be reluctant to buy more than commodities. Sizes of clothing and shoes are zany and the vase you thought Aunt Irene would love may not be a fit. It’s inconvenient enough to repack a box and deliver it someplace without adding the insult of another charge.

“The added costs will put a strain on retailers gearing up for the peak holiday season, which historically is followed by a surge in returns,” wrote Chao. “In January, returns were up 15% over average return rates for 2014, and the volume is growing, Mr. Jindel said.” Satish Jindel is president of SJ Consulting Group Inc. and shipping data firm ShipMatrix Inc.

Another industry expert, Chris Dunn said that in the past e-tailers thought people simply wouldn’t return things so they didn’t have to worry about offering the service. Chao quoted Dunn: “‘They’re starting to realize that you’re still going to return, and you’re not going to buy from that retailer again.’”

Do you pay attention to shipping costs when you buy online? Have you ever balked when you’ve seen what the shipping costs will be even after taking the time to identify what you want and fill out all the charge and address information? If you’re buying something that needs to fit a person, a bed or a window, or a gift that someone might want to exchange, do you cancel an order if you, or the recipient, must pay to ship the return?

 carrying package

Service of Holacracy

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

 

Confusion

“Holacracy is a radically different management system that changes how an organization is structured, how decisions are made, and how power is distributed. 300+ organizations are already running with holacracy”– http://holacracy.org/

 

 

zappos 1The policy at Zappos, according to Rachel Emma Silverman, has been to pay a month’s salary to any new hire who wants to quit because Tony Hsieh, whom Silverman called “the leader,” only wants employees who are “truly excited” to work there. From one to three percent accept the offer. Now, for the same reason, he’ll pay at least three months severance to any employee who isn’t comfortable with a change in management structure and 14 percent—210 people–accepted the severance. Zappos is an online retailer, originally headquartered in San Francisco and now in Nevada, that sells shoes and clothing.

In her Wall Street Journal article “At Zappos, Some Employees Find Offer to Leave Too Good to Refuse,” I first heard about Holacracy. Silverman wrote: “The exodus comes amid the company’s transition to an unusual management structure called Holacracy, in which employees essentially manage themselves, without traditional bosses or job titles.”

Leaving the companySilverman continued: “The company has acknowledged that the transition to this new form of self-management has been a difficult one. In March, Mr. Hsieh sent a 4,700-word memo to staff stating that Zappos, an independent subsidiary of Amazon.com, was taking too much time switching to this new management structure.” That’s when he offered the severance.

On May 20th, Silverman wrote a front page Wall Street Journal article, “At Zappos, Banishing the Bosses Brings Confusion,” which goes into the concept more fully. In the second article Silverman quotes 26 year old Brironni Alex: “I am managing the work, but before I was managing the worker.” Silverman continued: “Ms. Alex says the changes give her more time for a workplace diversity committee and to perform on the Zappos dance team.” Alex is also on the team to convert the company to the new management system.

The article was illustrated by a wall of cut-off neckties because of the retailer’s “no neckties allowed” policy. I saw this at a steakhouse in Dallas, Texas some 20 years ago so I was surprised a company that tries to distinguish itself by being hip fell for such a tired idea.

It’s unusual enough to motivate employees to stay by paying them to leave. It will be interesting to follow the success of the self-management style which is great for self-starter types that most people claim they are during job interviews. Entrepreneurial types would also excel.

Have you heard of Holacracy before? Do you know anyone who has worked in such a management system? Have you instituted a new system or worked at a company that did? What was it like? Do you think people make such changes to keep employees alert and on their toes?

confusing management chart

Service of Small Town or Spooky

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Small town

I was born and brought up in NYC where life is as anonymous as you want it to be so I’ll never forget my first adult small town experience. I’d just moved into temporary quarters in a North Dakota town—population 300– north of Minot Air Force base and went to do laundry in one of the few businesses. A woman approached me and said, “Are you the wife of the Air Force lieutenant who just moved in to Sheriff Avery’s apartment?” I was. We’d been there one day. Shudder.

bike with boxA year later on an Air Force base in Turkey, a neighbor asked me: “How was your party?” “What party?” I asked. She explained that she’d seen me riding my bicycle with liquor boxes in the basket so she’d assumed we were having a party. Wrong: I needed the boxes, which were empty, to ship home Christmas gifts. Tremble.

apt mailboxThat old familiar uncomfortable feeling is back. We moved three months ago. I was diligent in letting friends and family know our new address as well as the post office, motor vehicles bureau and businesses that send bills. So when I get advertisements and catalogs from businesses from whom I’ve bought nothing, addressed to me or my husband at this address, I wonder: Who sold this information? I can run but I can’t hide.

I also feel stalked when I see something I researched on the Internet haunt me every time I open Facebook or in emails from a website like Amazon that sells the category of item I was looking for or maybe just researching for a work project.

Is what I interpret as intrusive really someone being friendly? Are businesses simply making me feel at home, trying to be nothing more than a helpful pal? Do you think it makes sense for some regulatory body to limit invasion of privacy whether virtual or actual?

Stalking on the Internet

Service of When it is Good it is Very, Very Good: Amazon.com at Its Best

Monday, February 16th, 2015

very good

My confidence in large companies was restored when I responded to a notice Amazon.com sent me because my credit card information didn’t work for an order placed three months before. They needed a new one to ship it.

My response was more complicated than “here’s the new number.” I easily found on the Amazon website how to contact someone. Most large companies make you work for this information and often you fail to find it. Amazon gave me a choice.

emailingI chose email.

I explained that:

 

  • 1) I no longer wanted the book. I’d ordered it early in October and received a notice in November that if I didn’t again hear from them by December 15, the book wasn’t available. Meanwhile, I later saw a paperback of the book, ordered it and received it from Amazon early in January.
  • 2) My credit card number had changed since early October, I wrote, because of the hacking at Home Depot requiring millions to get new cards and numbers. I noted that Amazon has my new number, as I’d made several purchases since October.

In minutes I received a gracious email response from Pratik K saying he had cancelled the order. I thanked him, and he again responded and when I took 20 seconds to fill out my satisfaction-with-the-correspondence survey linked to his note, and wrote how remarkable and fast the service was, I quickly received an email from Khay C.

Khay wrote: “Thanks for writing back with your kind words. I’m glad to hear that my colleague, Pratik K., was able to assist you, and I’ll be sure to forward your message. We want to provide service on a level customers will remember, and it’s great to know we’ve succeeded. Your comments are greatly appreciated, and I thank you for choosing Amazon.com. We look forward to seeing you again soon!”

Has your confidence in customer service been similarly restored recently by a comparable instance?

Confidence 2

 

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