Service of Too Good to be True

February 9th, 2017

Categories: Quick Fix, Sales, Scams, Shipping Charges

F rated

David Segal, “The Haggler,” wrote in The New York Times about Lola Backlund’s experience with exorbitant shipping and handling fees—almost $50–after purchasing a $10 bottle of furniture scratch remover featured in a late night TV commercial. She estimated that the box might have cost $12 to wrap and send. While the Tarrytown NY marketer of the product claims it will refund money for its products, customers won’t see a cent back for its sky-high shipping charges.

Segal investigated and learned that the Better Business Bureau gave the marketer, SAS Group, an F rating and posted 169 similar grievances. The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office ordered SAS in 2011 “to pay restitution to consumers who said they were overcharged for shipping and handling fees after buying as-seen-on-TV products.” In addition, it “was prohibited from making false and misleading statements in future.” No more promoting a free product when it wasn’t really: Shipping and handling charges count.

SAS returned Ms. Backlund’s money immediately after the Hagglerreturning money intervened. But the point is that they—and others like them—continue to entice gullible viewers with claims of miracle products which may not be [though Ms. Backlund didn’t mention whether the scratches are gone from her furniture] and cheat on the transport charges. By the way, rubbing olive oil into a scratch or stain on wood will often tone down the wound.

We all wish for a phenomenal product that dices and slices, dusts and irons, sews on buttons and makes dinner in 10 minutes for $19.99 and sometimes we fall for the pitch. Have you? Were you sent shipping or other charges that were more than anticipated?

Shipping boxes

Service of a Small World

February 6th, 2017

Categories: Coincidence, Small World

228 East 45th Street lobby

228 East 45th Street lobby

Manhattan had 450 million square feet of office space according to a September 2015 article in crainsny.com. Who needs a statistic: Look around and you see plenty of offices. So was I surprised when I noticed two people who also work in my innocuous 18 story office building [photo above] who lived in apartment houses I once lived in. By NYC standards, with from 19 to 30 apartments, they are considered small.

mount vernon nyI mentioned this coincidence to friend and colleague David Reich, who was born, brought up in and still lives in the small Westchester community of Mount Vernon. His wife Roz marvels at the number of people they meet—from Maine to California—each with roots in this tiny city, population 67,292 as of the 2010 census.

Such happenstances haven’t often occurred to me. I was a kid on a vaporetto in Venice with my mother when she waved at a woman I’d never before seen. I think she was a distant cousin and the fluke had such an impact on me that I remember she was tall, wore her dark hair in a large bun at her neck and had a speech disorder as she was deaf, but not her name.

Have you experienced this kind of happy coincidence?

vaparetto

Service of Everything Old is New Again: Automat 2017-Style

February 2nd, 2017

Categories: Restaurant, Technology

 Eatsa back wall turned

Dashing down Third Avenue for a morning meeting I passed a business I couldn’t figure out at first glance. Was it a dry cleaner? No—no counter. Laundry? No. No washing machines–though I wondered what that wall of plastic bins were in the back [photo above]. Anyway, a laundry would be a nutty addition to a midtown neighborhood—43rd and Third Avenue–a block from Grand Central Terminal.

eatsa logo turnedI dropped in later to inquire. I gleaned food was the objective. I didn’t see the name, Eatsa, on the window—it’s on a wall inside. Right now pedestrians see only  a logo–a bowl of food with heat radiating from it [like the one on the white shopping bag, left].Eatsa has been open in NYC a few weeks.

Horn & HardartIn fact, Eatsa is a modern-day automat, an early 20th century concept. In the day, food was sold cafeteria-style from vending machines.

I returned at 1:00 and there was a short line that moved fast. Two young women guided people to iPads on stands [photo below, left]. I swiped my credit card, placed my order by tapping my choice and waited for my name to pop up on a screen on the wall. Soon it did and soon again a number popped up, much like the arrival time of a subway, telling me to go to cubby 19. There, in a cubby with my name on it [photo below, center], was my “No Worry Curry”—stir fried quinoa [pronounced KeyNois if you say the nois part like “nut” in French]; egg, arugula, roasted potato, spaghetti squash, pickled onions, red Thai curry, apple cabbage slaw and curried wonton strips. For $6.95 there was plenty for two. My mouth glowed for a while after lunch…the no-nonsense curry. The wonton strips were a wonderfully crunchy addition.

Eatsa ordering on iPadsThe concept was born in San Francisco. Founder, Dave Friedberg, made his money selling a weather data startup to Monsanto. According to Beth Kowitt in her New York Times article, “the tech-driven approach is a means to support a bigger mission: selling nutritious and sustainable food at a reasonable price.” I predict that eventually, the business won’t even need the ushers—everyone will know how to get their food from systems like this as they do their money in ATM machines.

Kowitt reported that automated ordering means he charges 30-40 percent less than Chipotle, his “fast-casual rival.” Because meat has what Friedberg calls an environmental cost, he doesn’t offer it. “Friedberg’s strategy to stay mum on the company’s environmentally friendly and nutrition bona fides comes down to his ambitions to reach more than the wellness and eco-warrior set. It’s a decision that distinguishes him from the rest of the restaurant industry, which is scrambling—and in many cases stretching—to claim its food is ‘clean’ and healthy.”

He’s invested in quinoa and is exploring other ways to make protein efficiently. “Friedberg, a lifelong vegetarian with a degree in astrophysics, then put together a spreadsheet that calculated the net energy to produce all different kinds of protein. His findings showed that quinoa required the lowest amount of energy to produce. It was also a complete protein and required a lot less water and fertilizer than other crops.”

I wonder if Friedberg knows that his first NYC restaurant is a block from where the last fabled Horn & Hardart stood. Until 1991 it was on 42nd and Third. It was late to the table, opening in 1958 when the first one launched in 1912. Then a cup of coffee cost a nickel. For years all the food cost increments of five cents.

The restaurant ushers said how the right food gets into bowls and to the correct bin is a secret nor would they divulge who or what is behind the wall of cubbies–a person? A robot? My name was also printed on the tape that ensured my container of food stayed closed.

What do you think of ordering food this way? Do you predict that fast food will increasingly be sold like this with minimal staff?

Eatsa door with name on it

Service of Luck IV: Watch Where You’re Going

January 30th, 2017

Categories: Gratitude, Luck

Luck

I’ve had a spate of good luck recently. Within a few weeks I found two MetroCards on the ground, each with money on them, one, $9+ and the other, all you could use and good for three more weeks. It was worth at least $115 if you take only two rides a day back and forth from work and to run errands on weekends. 

A few days later, walking by the 99 cent pizza shop on 43rd Street adjacent to St. Agnes Catholic Church, I saw $10 on the ground very near to a young man munching a slice. As I swept down to pick it up I noticed he hadn’t treated himself to a soda, plus it was a freezing day so I determined he wasn’t Mr. Moneybags as he’d be eating his lunch indoors. I asked him if the bill was his. He said “yes,” and it probably was.

A few weeks after that, walking home along Second Avenue, I found a wallet in the street with everything in it: Credit wallet on the streetand insurance cards, cash, receipts. Fortunately, along with an appointment card for a Chicago dentist, there was a business card with a name that matched the plastic. I called, the woman was visiting her daughter in NYC and within a few minutes, she and her daughter were in the lobby of my apartment. She’d just arrived from Chicago and her wallet had fallen out of her tote bag as she exited from a cab. We hugged and her daughter said “See Mom? I told you not to worry. There are many nice people in New York.” The next day she sent the most glorious bouquet of flowers [photo below].

That wasn’t all. My husband couldn’t find a credit card and he refused to call the company. He said nobody had charged anything to it and wasn’t worried. I scoured our apartment and house, even checking inside the washer [he thought it was in the pocket of a shirt I’d washed and ironed]. We’ve had a few snowfalls upstate and a company that clears the snow disrupts the gravel in the driveway. I noticed something unexpected sticking out of a pile and there was his blue/gray Visa card. Whew!

Do you keep an eye on the ground where treasures might be found? Any luck lately?

Flowers for wallet

 

Service of a Sleeper Brand: Morton Williams Shines Bright

January 26th, 2017

Categories: Food, Supermarket

morton williams supermarket fruits

I live in an area that doesn’t have the better known and oft-touted grocery stores Whole Foods, Fairway or Trader Joe’s nearby. I travel to these when I want something they sell but I’ve discovered that a neighborhood grocery chain—Morton Williams Supermarket–without the fame, media coverage and advertising budget of the others nevertheless offers a remarkable variety of high quality options at fair prices. [This wasn't so when the brand that preceeded it filled the space on Second Avenue in the 40s. It pays to check back.]

My apartment is sandwiched between two branches. Both occupy typical NYC modest spaces–microscopic by out of town standards. Nevertheless, this grocer often carries what I can’t find elsewhere–such as bright red current jelly [for cookies] or Siggi’s liquid yogurt, just two of many examples. I’ve complimented the manager at the 908 Second Avenue branch, Bob Siefring, on this accomplishment. Vegetables and fruits are fresh. When they have a sale, it’s a good one. [I wrote about one in a June 2016 post.]

Speaking of Siggi’s, I dropped by at a time an employee was filling Siggis Yogurtrefrigerator shelves  and asked if he had any of the blueberry flavor [the best]. He left his post, walked briskly to the storage area and brought out a bottle. Another time I couldn’t find mushrooms and the young man neatening the onion display stopped and walked with me to the spot when he could easily have pointed me in the right direction.

We live above a grocery store that bears a well known name in the city and apart from milk, water and seltzer; it rarely has what I am looking for. In spite of sky-high prices, it doesn’t carry fresh cider bottled locally. Morton Williams does. [There was a time you could only buy this cider from the farmer’s market or a specialty food store.]

Do you have a local grocery store—or any establishment—that’s a diamond in the rough, one that surprises you because it’s so much better than you might expect it to be?

morton williams supermarket logo

Service of the Comfort of Vintage

January 23rd, 2017

Categories: Candles, Fashion, Films, Gifts, Movies, Old Fashioned Things, Vintage

La la Land movie poster

Whatever “vintage” means to you—if you’re 20, 1980s films, fashion and décor might describe it while if you’re 50, it could be all things 1950. For some there’s comfort and perhaps a soothing visual to live with a grandparent’s furnishings; for others, reminiscences shared with an uncle while watching Audrey Hepburn on Turner Classic Movies brings smiles.

I thought of this after seeing “La La Land,” a movie I enjoyed. The writer/director Damien Chazelle is 31 yet he picked the 1940s/1950s romantic musical genre for the setting of his story. He added zero pyrotechnics, violence or gore and none were missed. The film set a record at the Golden Globe Awards winning seven including recognition for best motion picture—musical or comedy—performance by an actor and actress, director, screenplay, original score and original song.

Elle.com ran a article about what’s in or out in fashion. Nikkitight jeans Ogunnaike reported we should “anticipate a shift toward contrast denim styles in vintage silhouettes.” [This look is in contrast to skin- tight jeans popular today.]

I’d saved a December, 2016 section of The Wall Street Journal‘s “Off Duty,” because of its cover story, “Presents with a Past,” that featured 50 nostalgic gifts “whose origins date back decades and beyond.” The subhead continued that the gifts will “conjure a simpler time when the holidays were lower-voltage, but just as bright.”

Sidney Garber bracelet

Sidney Garber bracelet

Speaking of voltage, most of the suggestions would burn a hole in most wallets. There was a gold bracelet by Sidney Garber reminiscent of flexible metal coils first popular in the 1930s for $12,200; a 3-day slumber party at a historic English country estate @ $15,600/night for 16; Prada’s jewel encrusted mules for $1,150; a $685 pair of retro headphones; a mink stole for $5,500 and a chauffer to drive you from Paris to Versailles in a period Citroen starting at $370.

I don’t spend that kind of money for the loved ones on my list. The Wall Street Journal editors chose a few things under $100 too. There was a box of Turkish delight [$35]; a rubber band-propelled toy car [$25]; an apron [$47]; a ‘70s popular fondue pot [$95]; traditional Belgian speculoos cookies [$20]; a Mickey Mouse wall clock featuring a 1930s style rodent [$65], and an Italian knit necktie [[$90].

The J. Peterman Company catalog seems to be going strong with its focus on vintage-inspired men and women’s fashion.

Have you noticed vintage influences creeping back more now than in recent years? Do you welcome them or consider them old fashioned and therefore not worthy of your attention? Do you think that in turbulent times people look back to what they recall or think may have been a calmer period?

 Belgian Speculoos cookies

Service of Marketing that Hits a Sour Note: Details and the Devil

January 19th, 2017

Categories: E-tailing, Magazines, Marketing, Newspapers, Promotions, Publishing, Restaurant, Retail, Subscriptions

New Yorker circ photo

I bought some items online during an after Christmas sale and almost three weeks later got a notice from the store that one of the items wasn’t available. OK. That happens. “LET US MAKE IT UP TO YOU,” came a proposal for a “gift”–$10 off a $100 purchase. This hit a sour note: It sounded like “heads they win; tails I lose.” Otherwise I like the store.

The next two examples are courtesy of the circulation departments of a magazine and newspaper considered top of the line in their categories. I subscribe to and admire both. However, they appear to be trying to save money by selecting under par fulfillment and promotion partners at just the time they need to excel.

  • The magazine has been nagging me to renew my subscription months early and if I do, I’ll get a free subscription as a gift. [Always suspicious, I envision losing the months I’ve already paid for, between now and the end of the original subscription, and I don’t want to waste time untangling this potential glitch.] Fine writing and elegance are just two of the magazine’s selling points and the subscription is costly. That’s why I didn’t expect to see a typo in the first word of the third line ["your"] printed on a piece of cheap scrap paper enclosed in their correspondence seeking my business. [See photo above.]
  • The newspaper didn’t deliver its weekend and Monday issues last week. I called customer service on Tuesday making clear that we didn’t want the credit, we wanted the newspapers. The operator [from a far-off land] said he understood. On Wednesday we received a second copy of the Tuesday issue. I called back and was told they would have to mail us the weekend and Monday copies and that this would take from seven to 10 days. I had already spent far too much time on this mistake and snapped “fine, do that,” and hung up. Still waiting.
  • All this reminds me of a restaurant we went to in the Berkshires years ago that served remarkable food in an enchanting setting with a terrible hostess who ran the room like a general during a military operation readiness inspection {ORI}. The tension her approach achieved added a false note to an otherwise pleasant experience. We learned later that her husband was the chef. Nevertheless, she ruined the evening.

Do you have other examples of an irritating detail that conflicted with the otherwise high quality of a product or service?

$10 off $100 turned

Service of a US Inauguration: Traditional Passing of the Baton or is it Different This Year?

January 16th, 2017

Categories: Politicians, Politics, Protest

Marching band 1

I’ve been weighing for a while what I heard about Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. I drive by often so my ears perked up when the college was in the news a few weeks ago—and not about the results of one of its well-regarded polls.

After applying previously with no success, the college’s 30 year old band was chosen this year to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate the inauguration. The application was submitted in the spring of 2016, long before the election. Even so, some in the Marist College community squawked loudly.

David Yellen, the college’s president, wrote them a memo. An excerpt: “Some critics of the President-Elect, pointing to his controversial or inflammatory statements and policy proposals, view Marist’s participation in his inauguration as either a political statement in support of Mr. Trump, or an ethical lapse for not speaking out against him.”

Noting the college hosted a campaign event for Bernie Sanders, which also didn’t constitute an endorsement, he wrote: “I believe [these concerns] are based on a misunderstanding of the role of a college in a free society….A college community….holding a wide range of political views cannot itself be a political actor by staking a claim to any one position.” He wrote that the college will support students whether or not they participate.

Yellen’s point that–“…participating in the ritual of the United States’ peaceful transition of power [does not] constitute a political statement”–was also made by two other Marching band 2university presidents whose communities objected to their participation in the parade. On insidehighered.com, Scott Jaschik observed that this year is different from others, where before “students and their institutions have boasted about being selected to march in the parade.”

The colleges, some of whose constituents also objected, are Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais Ill. and Talladega College, Talladega, Ala. No Washington DC-based high school band nor Howard University will participate this year. “Several other colleges and universities will also be participating, but are not drawing criticism.” reported Jaschik.

According to him, Billy Hawkins, president of Talladega College, a traditionally black institution, wrote: “We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade. As many of those who chose to participate in the parade have said, we feel the inauguration of a new president is not a political event but a civil ceremony celebrating the transfer of power.”

Those who were in favor of marching made hay.  According to Paul Resnikoff, in “All-Black Talladega Marching Band Raises $320,000 to Play Trump Inauguration,” they made more than enough to pay all expenses to attend via a Gofundme page.

Marching band 3More than 900 people signed a petition urging Olivet Nazarene to withdraw. “Sadly, President-elect Trump has consistently articulated and advocated policies that undermine the Christian commitments of communities like Olivet,” the petition began, noting sexism, alliances with white supremacists, hostility towards immigrants and refugees as “just a few positions incompatible with Christian teachings in general and the Nazarene message of holiness in particular.” The college president, John Bowling, made the same point as the other two presidents. The parade is “a civic ceremony that provides the students with the opportunity to visit Washington and observe the process of transition firsthand.”

If you were in one of the college bands, would you attend this inauguration? Do you think that the protestors have good reason or don’t they understand the point of the inauguration according to the college presidents? Are you planning to watch the ceremony on TV?

Marching band 4

Service of Interpretation: Cartier, the One Percent vs. Everyone Else

January 12th, 2017

Categories: Jewelry, Marketing, Retail

Cartier window January 2017 turned

Funny how one image can cause two people to come to such different conclusions.

I was walking by Cartier’s windows on a recent Sunday and after I’d passed by I backed up to take the photo [above] because something was so clearly missing: Jewelry.

I showed the shot to my husband Homer Byington and said “How sad. Look where we’ve come. The jeweler can’t display a thing in its windows on a Sunday when it’s closed for fear that someone will steal rings, necklaces and pins. Imagine the rent paid yet the store can’t take advantage of this marketing tool to showcase its wares.”

Homer replied “I think Cartier didn’t display its jewelry to signify to the one percent how valuable and expensive their pieces are—far too precious and priceless for a window display. The store isn’t interested in whether the 99 percent can see what it can’t afford to buy anyway.”

What do you think? In addition, should a brand with this stature think of a clever way to decorate its windows for the times it doesn’t show product for whatever reason?

Service of a Wet Blanket–Much Ado About Little: the New Second Avenue Subway

January 9th, 2017

Categories: New, Subway, Transportation, Wet Blanket

Second Avenue subway tracks

I finally had a reason to try the new 2nd Avenue subway in NYC. It’s not new, just an extension of the Q train. I got on at 2nd Avenue and 86th Street.

My destination, 51st and Lexington Avenue.

That was my mistake–thinking I could conveniently go anywhere on the East side below 63rd Street using this east side train. Forget it also if you’re hoping to get to Grand Central Station or Union Square in a reasonable amount of time.

I exited at 63rd Street–where I took three long escalators to reach the street–and followed instructions to transfer to the Lexington Avenue subway at 59th street. I could have walked to 51st Street but I wanted to test the system.

It failed.

For one thing, I had to pay another fare. For another, had the weather been stormy, freezing or sweltering or had I been lugging anything, the clumsy four block walk would irk. And the clock was ticking—what a waste of time.

Speaking of time, I waited over 20 ++ minutes for the Lexington Avenue local. OK–it was a Sunday. But really. This is Manhattan for goodness sakes. And last—and this is a frivolous complaint. With all the talk about the new subway I’d expected to travel in a new train. It wasn’t.

The subway extension is super for some:  People coming from Coney Island, Brooklyn to the upper east-east side [as far as 96th Street for now], or for those who live way east and are going to theatre. After 63rd, the train heads west and stops at Times Square on its way south.

There are engineering reasons, no doubt, that the train doesn’t connect to the Lexington Avenue subway, but this is 2017–we can do anything, no? Oops! I forgot: It took almost 100 years to get this far. We don’t want to rush things.

wet blanketI’m more the cheerleader type and dislike being a wet blanket. I love this city. But we haven’t been getting much right of late. Returning home in the snowstorm on Saturday afternoon I heard the welcome scraping noise of a snow plough. Where was it? Not where the cars are on First Avenue but on the bicycle lane. With two inches of frozen slush and more snow coming down, who made that decision? Granted the subway extension is a state project and the city cleanup belongs to the local sanitation department but the impact of poorly thought through decisions hit citizens equally.

Do you love the “new” Second Avenue subway? Can you point to an infrastructure or other major project about which much is made with disappointing impact? Do I have unrealistic expectations?

Much ado about nothing

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