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Friday, July 27, 2018

A Tale of Two Idiots


By idiots, I’m talking about the web design and marketing folks for two online sellers of major appliances.

Washing machine went out in the “getaway” house – a place that isn’t visited frequently.   

A repairman (repairperson?) came, bowed his head and shook holy water on the old one and I wanted to get a replacement installed before leaving for a few weeks.

So I logged on.  Searched the majors looking for what I needed and found it.  A one-type-each white agitator driven top loading washing machine with 4 stars or better. $499 at one site.  It had a snipe that said “Today only, $479.”  That was better than the $519 on another site though both had free delivery. 

I took the $499.  Went through the process.  Stuck it into the cart and went through checkout.  At that point, it added $55 delivery.  I backed up, checked my work, and went at it again.  Same results.  Lo and behold the bottom of the page.  Phones manned (sorry, I just can’t say “personed”) till 2AM EDT.  I called. 

“I think I know,” the voice at the other end of the phone said, after I navigated the maze that they call a phone tree.

“OK”

“The twenty dollars off put you below the four-ninety-nine minimum for free shipping.”

“So your discount is going to cost me thirty five dollars more than without the discount.”

“Yes.”

“Can you fix that?”

He wasn’t even contrite.  “No.”

“Can you sell it at the regular price?”

“No.”

“Well, can you do me one favor?”

“What’s that?”  Now he was bored. I could tell but I woke him up.

“When I hang up, would you send an email to your chief marketing officer, webmaster, and the crack MBA that’s overseeing your sales policies telling them that you lost a five hundred dollar sale and then explain what happened?”

There was a long pause then, amazingly, he asked, “So you don’t want the washer?”

“This call’s being recorded, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then, no.  And further, this type of stupidity reflects on the entire company and makes me reconsider any future purchases from you.  Please tell ‘em that, too, would you?”  Maybe those weren’t the exact words.  I was a little harsher.

The call ended.  As I was talking, I was already on to the other tab.  “Five-nineteen it is,” I thought to myself.  “But look, free installation if I have them haul off the old washer.”  I was going to do that anyway so, good.

I went through the purchase.  During checkout, I saw the price change to $545 and change.  I looked around on the page.  Aha.  Here it is:  The free installation only applied if I bought their new stainless steel reinforced hoses at $29.99.  OK.  I get it.

Backtrack.  Tell them never mind on the installation.  I figured they still had to take out the old one to remove it.  Finally, I got through checkout – at least as far as the credit card.  There was no place for me to give separate delivery and billing addresses.

Well, look at that – a chat box popped up. 

“Enter your name,” it said.  So I did.

“Yes. Len.  Let me help you.”

I could put the whole transcript here but let me summarize.  He had a form pop up in the chat box that allowed me to pay.  Except.  Nope.  Didn’t like a different billing address.  For the heck of it, I tried entering the delivery address as the billing address.  That prompted a fraud alert text from my bank.

Tried a couple of other ideas and nothing worked but while chatter and chattee were at it, chattee was on the phone with his bank.  I explained what I was trying to do.  Well, the bank got it done.  It took about 15 additional minutes but it’s done.

So it’s in, did four fine loads of laundry in day one.  I’m happy except for the fact that it took me more time to buy online than had I gone the store.  Of course, had I experienced the silliness that they foisted upon me while in the retail establishment, I may have had additional charges from a bail bondsman. (Once again with the person/man thing.)

This just in:  I called a tree service a little after 5.  Got the answering service. 

“XXX tree service.”

“Is the service or their answering service?”

“Answering service.”

“Could you have them call me in the morning?”

“May I ask what this call is regarding?”

I wanted to say that my coconut palm won’t talk to me but I held back.


Monday, March 5, 2018

If Bricks and Mortar Acted This Way...

I walked into Macy's yesterday.  Zigzagging my way toward the casual shirts, a sales guy threw himself in front of me.  He held up the Sunday FSI with Macy's sales items.  He started his sell job on the first one.  I gave him a strange look and tried to walk past.

Instead of letting me continue toward the shirts, he flipped to another item.  Then another.  After turning down 4 or 5 items, he finally asked where I was heading.  I told him "shirts" and he proceeded to describe everything they had.  At least he was allowing me to make my way in that direction even though I had to put up with his dogged selling.

I got to the shirts and found out that they were strewn out on the floor.  You had to guess where your size might be - no categories like neck size or sleeve length.  Even colors were mixed.

After about 5 minutes, I gave up and left.  Down the street, I found the same shirt - and did so by walking in the front door and looking at the store map which clearly identified where products were located.  Up the escalator and to the right and there they were.

The Macys visit kinda tired me out so I wanted to grab a bite. 
Courtesy PhotoStock, Modified
As I tried to enter the restaurant, a nice but firm person at the door asked for my name, age, and zip code.  I asked her why she needed it.  She had no answer but wouldn't let me through the air lock without telling her.  I finally shouted through the Plexiglass, "If you need that, let me tell you that I'm just going to go across the street to Al's Grill.  I can walk in, sit down and eat.  She shrugged, turned, and walked away.

Al's was closed.  Tail between legs, I crossed the street and knocked on the door again.  After trading my name, age and zip (which, by the way, she could have gotten - along with lots more demo info - at the end of the meal from my credit card) she opened the second door and showed me to a seat. 

A very ornate menu was handed to me along with the request for a drink order.  When I asked for an unsweetened tea, the waiter asked if I might prefer a beer.  He said they had a great microbrewery in the back and I'd love it.  I turned it down.  He came with my tea and took my order, but not before recommending three other entrees which I also said no to. 

When the plate came, I noticed that under the porcelain was a logo for a car dealership with an actual ad printed there.  It kinda bothered me, shoveling mashed potatoes from around the driveshaft area of a new Lexus RV but I finished.  Got the check, gulped the last of the tea, and put my credit card in the little folder. 

The waiter grabbed it and immediately, his place in front of me was filled by a young man selling all sorts of odd items.  I had to say no to five or six of them before he got the hint and stepped aside, allowing the waiter to return for my signature.  I took the receipt and my card and vowed never to return.

Home!  Turned on the water to make coffee.  It was interesting - the water ran for about a minute then spurted a few times and quit.  I had to turn it off and turn it back on a couple of times to get it flowing again.  That happened for a few cycles and it also would stop then start again by itself.

I gave up. Turned the pot off and opened a bottle of water.  Finally.  Something simple...that worked.

Here's the deal:  None of the above happened.  Who would put up with it?  But we seem to tolerate all of that - and worse - in our daily Internet lives. 

Sites put up barriers of all sorts to their pages.  I call those designers the "Sales Prevention Department."  Many of them may have come out of the supermarket world, you know, "Put the stuff people really want waaaaay at the back.  Make them pass the cookies, desserts, ice cream, frozen pizza and anything else we can foist off on them before they can get to the milk."

A MAJOR streamer requires year of birth, zip, and gender in order to view/listen to a stream.  Really?  Maybe that's a fair trade?  What if they asked you every time rather than setting a cookie to tell them that they already have the information?  Yet it's happening all over. 

Then, instead of allowing you to go to the stream, there are prerolls, popovers (not the blueberry kind that I like, either), coverups, fly-bys and myriad other ads that get in the way.  And they could deliver those without interrupting your stream.

This just in:  a listserv I frequent had a posting of a URL with a "Hey, anyone tried these guys?" comment.  I went to the site (carefully), looked at it, looked at it, looked one more time.  "What do these guys do," I asked myself.  The site danced around what they offered, even told me that there was a $50/mo plan that might be a great starter.  But it did NOT say, "We provide THIS service to broadcasters."  There was a great slide show that occupied the top half of the frame.  Showed some folks with mics, others with computers.  All had smiles so I figure that whatever the product, they were happy with it.

I was curious so I opened a ticket saying that I'd like to know about their product since their home page and the main links didn't really address that.  I got the immediate automated "We'll be back to you shortly," response.  A couple of days later, I received a real email saying, "Hi, and thanks for getting in touch.  How can we help you today?  Best regards, (name).  That despite the fact that I had spelled out the issue, "What do you do?"  So I responded, explaining again.

Well, that one got an interesting response that started with (I'm not kidding, this is a quote) "I read your ticket. I'm not sure what more to say. If you seriously have no idea what we do, then it's likely the product isn't for you."

Well, grumpy old man that I am, I thanked him for the ES&D email (think about it) then told him I had done a quick SEO study and that the site A) relies for graphics to communicate and even then doesn't tell the story of what they do and B) doesn't state anything of what they do in HTML.  Then told him that in my check, his Google ranking was way down - well below the 10th page, you know, that depth that none of us goes to unless we reeeeeally want to find something.  The response was simple - they didn't need my business.

You may not realize it but your site may be telling prospects exactly the same thing without you even knowing.  So, if you're a CEO, go to your site.  I've said it before, even recommending that you take a bottle of your favorite liquor and a crying towel.  Look at it as if you're arriving for the first time.  What does it really tell you.  And if you're head of marketing for one of these companies and you're happy with your site, you may want to look for someone who knows a little more about web users.  (Hint:  they act the same with bricks and mortar stores, restaurants, and service centers).  It's your choice.  I know that I've settled on a competitor to the unidentifiable site above.  The unidentifiable site doesn't know that but apparently they don't need my business anyway.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Stay Calm, Take Your Drugs, and Do Parodies Right

Let’s pass a law to regulate physics.  Oh wait, we already did.  I wrote about it in 2012, the passage of The CALM ACT. If you want to call it by its full name, that’d be Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act.  This was Congress’ response to complaints to them and to the FCC about commercials being “too loud.”  You can read the act and my earlier blog for more but the bottom line is that this is another great example of congress pandering to its constituents rather than explaining to them how sound “works,” how ears “work,” and that some things can’t be mitigated

Well, it’s 5 years later and, guess what?  It isn’t working.  Millions of dollars of equipment was installed to manage sound levels of commercials while TV viewers thought that engineers were purposely “cranking up the gain” on the sound during commercial breaks.  Note that it doesn’t address sound levels in programming.

When I say it isn’t working, I mean that you can still hear plenty of excessive loudness in commercials – yes, even with everything in place.  So, what’s the deal?  Well, the first is the finger pointing.  With about 18 percent of Americans watching television over the air, it’s hard to deal with the other 82 percent who view via cable, satellite or other delivery systems.  Stations blame networks and cable carriers. Networks blame stations and cable and all the rest of the permutations that go along with it.

I have confirmation from two cable systems and one satellite service that they have all of the equipment in place.  Also have confirmation from 2 Chicago stations.  But the deal is that you are deemed compliant if you have the equipment installed.  That’s it.  Can a station get fined if they ignore the rule?  Only if they don’t have the gear.  If they do, it may be misadjusted.  And who’s to say what’s “louder?”

The whole thing ties back to “dialnorm” which originated in the Dolby laboratories.  It evolved to ATSC A/85 here.  Europe’s involvement got it to the ITU as BS.1770.  If you’re having trouble sleeping, check out the latest version here.  The craziness in all of this is that if you complain, the commission will send a letter to the station.  The station can then reply with, “Our equipment is in place and operating.  We adhere to algorithm (insert your favorite here) and that algorithm was in use while processing the signal at that time.  Our operator deemed that the audio from Dan’s Used Cars and Aquarium Supplies was within the prescribed limits.  That’s it.  They’re right; you’re wrong.

Now what brought all that up was a series of spots I heard more than once.  I think you’re familiar with the practice now – buying spots that bookend a break (first and last commercial in a pod).  One, for a soft drink is particularly annoying in the first place but it’s clearly in violation of the CALM act, at least psychoacoustically.  And they bought positions 1 and 6 (may be 1 and 8 or 9 in some breaks) just to bug me.  You say, “Buck up.”  Yeah, you’re right.  But again, the point is, you can legislate against the laws of physics but they don’t have to follow your legislation.

On to topic two.  Europe may have gotten something right with their rules for advertising pharmaceuticals over the air.  By and large, it is severely limited.  The thinking is that doctors should know what is good for you.  You, however, can’t process all of the information necessary to choose a particular drug or treatment.

Our FDA decided in 1997 that people should know about what’s out there.  OK, I get that.  But many drugs have scores of side effects that have to be managed.  Yet, big pharma can get folks really revved up about results that might be attained when using an advertised drug.

Courtesy, venividivelo.com
The latest I saw pictured a man, woman and child riding bikes down a lane then through a covered bridge and to a picnic gathering in a field.  The audio went something like,

Anncr: (VO) Troubled by fast-growing nose hair?  Yamusbenuts finally brings relief.  Bill and Janie both suffer from it but are now leading almost normal lives with one daily dose of Yamusbenuts. 

Anncr Voice 2 Interrupts (VO) Yamusbenuts has had limited human tests.  There is no certainty that your case of nose hair will respond to Yamusbenuts.  Yamusbenuts has been found to cause loss of hearing, sight or taste.  Some test subjects have lost sense of touch.  Some have died for over 3 months.  Hangnails and difficult breathing are common.  Do not eat bread or calamari or breaded calamari while taking Yamusbenuts.  If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, ask your doctor before taking Yamusbenuts as your unborn child may be born with extended nose hair.  Your neighbor may develop poor driving habits from your use of Yamusbenuts.  Do not pet sheep or goats.  Always take Yamusbenuts on a full stomach.  

And, of course, as the music swells, mom, dad and child are handed food-filled paper plates.  They smile, nose hair-free while a super pops on, "See our Ad in Barbershop Monthly"

Seriously guys.  10 second description and 50 to 110 seconds of disclaimers?  Cut it out.

And that brings me to the last item on today’s agenda:  Parody music.  Let me say it succinctly, if you don’t know how to do it, don’t do it.  You look like idiots. That includes writing lyrics that don’t fit the rhythm of the original song exactly.  Can’t do that?  Get a different song (or get a different job).  Addition of notes or changes in the melody?  If you have to do that, it's, again, the wrong song.  Either pay the rights fee, find something that’s public domain, or do something that’s far enough away that it hints at the original without trying to imitate it.  And on a related item, the phone “rhythm” is the US is XXX-XXX-XXXX.  It’s not XX-XXXX-XXXX.  It’s not XXXX-XX-XXX-X.  Just sayin’.  But Kevin James says it better.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Put on a Tie. We're going E-shopping

Boy have I learned a lot from e-shopping this year.  Most of it is what sites shouldn't do.

We've dealt with this in the past but they're out there in force this season and I'm having a tough time understanding that so many destinations are so poorly structured.  Makes you think they have sales prevention departments.

Where to start:
If you haven't properly mapped your site for search engines , you're cutting your possible purchases by as much as 90 percent.  That's ninety, OK.  Howzatt?  If I'm searching for a coffee pot and the best your site can deliver to search engines is a link to "appliances." 

Visitors won't stick around to rummage through dishwashers, clothes dryers, televisions and ultrasonic ring cleaners to find a coffee pot.  But if you're comfortable with having that link, check your bounce rate.  How many people are referred by a search engine and don't go past that referral page.  Hellooooo. McFlyyyyy.  Those are lost sales.  You didn't even get a chance to show your wares.  You have to take advantage of SEO elements including page titles, metadata, site maps and dynamic linking to really be a competitive sales organization.  If someone's searching Duck Duck Go for magnetic wallpaper and you sell magnetic wallpaper, find a way to give them that page.

Page organization...are you paying attention to the layout?  Really?  Can a visitor see a picture of the item above the fold?  Is it large enough to make out the item?  You may want to go with annoying them by providing an automatic blow up on mouseover, or launching a video with sound up full.  More level-headed thinking would tell you that if you were referred to by a search engine, the closer you can come to showing the referred visitor that you have what they're looking for and what it will cost them - on that first click from the search engine - the better chance you have of closing a sale. 

Wait! Are you one of those sites that makes me put the item in my cart to see the price?  You know that that's like passing a football, right? Two out of the three things that happen next are bad.  The first is the shopper (me, for sure) moves on to the next site.  No time for that stuff.  The second is that the price isn't to the shopper's liking or he/she's seen lower prices elsewhere.  In that case, you've cast yourself as a loser site for good.  In case you've forgotten, it's easy to lose consumer confidence and very hard to get it back.  So, go ahead, hide the price.  But when you get intercepted by the competition and they run it back for their own sale, it's your fault.

Here's another great one:  Long running scripts.  When I get one of these warnings, I don't waste any time.  I'm off to another site.  While I'm doing so, I'm usually also thinking, "What in the world are they trying to database here?"  I know you want to compare whatever you can glean from the current session with what's in the databases that carry info on me but, man, you're costing yourself a sale. 

If I walked up to the counter at a camera store (wait, do they have those any more?) and said I wanted a Canon 5D Mark III, and the sales person greeted me with, "Hi.  What kind of car do you drive?" or, "You married?" you can bet I'd turn on my heels and walk out.  So cut that out.  Yeah, yeah, yeah...if you know that, then it can gin up what you present me in next topic, the "You might also like..." or the "Others who bought this also bought..."  Nothing wrong with that.  Especially if the thing only runs with a 10.8 volt 10ah battery that doesn't come with the product.  But when you let it crowd out the prospective purchase, you run the risk of confusing people.

Speaking of confusing.  Two areas where a lot of sites fall apart are shipping and tax.  Right off the bat let me ask that you tell me about the tax.  Tell me you charge it for my state.  C'mon.  Let me factor that in.  You still may have a reasonable price that, combined with your reputation, makes me want to buy from you. 
 
And then, with respect due Jerry Yester, along comes shipping.  And it never gives me kicks.  Instead, it just makes me crazy(ier) as I try to shift through the options.  Let's see.  It's Thursday so if I insert the code DiPstick between 7 and 9PM and my order is over $112, I can get free 30 day shipping.  Oh wait.  Only if my order is under 47.6 ounces.  Well rats.  What's second day air?  $150?  How about priority mail.  They haven't broken anything of mine recently...

Guys:  just spell it out.  Cut some of the attached strings and make it simple enough to understand that free shipping is: (your free shipping here)

OK.  Almost checked out.  Well, rat fink.  Typo in my address.  Let me edit that.  Good deal.  And save.  That's right now.  (Expletive.)  The lousy site just wiped out most of the info I entered on the page.  Oh sure.  I'll come back here again.

This year online sales will soar once again.  For some companies.  They're the ones who have optimized their sites to deliver you information on the products you want with as few clicks as possible then provide a convenient and up-front checkout.  It ain't rocket surgery.

If your site's sales didn't climb, you might want to look at the site, not the products it's supposed to be selling.

Whatever you celebrate, celebrate hard with my best wishes.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Captain Hook and his Pirate Radio Buddies


“What are you doing there…with all that electronic gear on your boat?”

“Ayyyyy, Matey.  I’m runnin’ a pirate radio station.”

“Really!”
 
“You bet your lime barrel.  We are transmittin’ on 103.9 FM.  Look above the topsail.  You’ll see two bays of antenna peekin’ atcha.  We’re transmittin’ away.  Go back to your car, landlubber and tune us in.”
 
“Well, I’m afraid I can’t do that.  Seems you’re using the wrong verb tense.”
 
“What’s that ya’ say, Matey?”
 
“Wrong tense.  You’re not transmitting.  You were transmitting.  You’re shut down.  Now.  I’m from the enforcement bureau of the FCC and you were operating a pirate station.  Now you’re not.  See – look over there.  One of our staff just literally pulled the plug on 103.9 FM.”
 
“Go ahead.  Try.  I’ll be back on in a day.”
 
“Maybe, but that’ll make the fine that much bigger.  Hey!  Your parrot just ate my badge.”
 
I envision a conversation something like that.  Well, actually, nothing like that.  There are a few pirate stations on boats but those usually try to stay in international waters.  Most of them are on land – and around us.  [As an aside, if you have a chance to see Pirate Radio, do it.  Fun film.]
 
Some are relatively benign.  Those are the ones that operate on vacant channels, not really interfering with licensed stations but siphoning listeners from them.  Then there are the dirty birds, willfully and/or maliciously interfering with licensed signals or transmitting profane or indecent language and music at all hours.
 
It’s the FCC Rules and Regulations, a subset of the Code of Federal Regulations that permits stations to broadcast on allocated frequencies for which they are licensed.  Unless you’re operating under what’s called “Part 15” at extremely low power, you can’t flick the ON switch on a transmitter without a license.
 
For some time, the commission has been relatively, well, for want of a better term, “relaxed” in their enforcement of anti-piracy.  Part of that is the political clime but it’s more a function of reduced budgets and small field staffs. 
 
That said, it doesn’t mean they’re asleep at the switch.  This page shows the number of enforcement actions by state since 2003.  It’s not really clear what that means.  The action could be a “ticket” (violation), Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL otherwise spelled f-i-n-e), property seizure or even stronger action.  So, they’re out there.  Not tuning and listening like they used to (anyone remember the Allegan, Michigan monitoring station?) but certainly, if they get a call or two, they’ll do some level of investigating.
 
Well, a couple of folks complained awhile back1and a couple of weeks ago, the commission announced a fine of $144,344 against an alleged pirate in North Miami, FL.  You can read the release here but, bottom-lining, these guys had been around the pirating block more than once.  So how many warnings before the camel’s back breaks? 
 
The question from a lot of people is, “What’s the big deal?”  After all, everyone should be allowed to voice his/her own opinions, play his/her music over the airwaves.  A great argument in the 1950’s but, today, specious at best. “80/90,” which vastly increased the number of FM stations across the country gave more and arguably varied voices.  Low Power FM (LPFM) added yet another level of stations, most of which really are operating in, as the Commission says, the Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity.
 
Also consider that, as you would guess, pirates don’t employ EAS equipment so if the nukes come, you won’t get the warning.
 
Despite all of this, the pirates are there.  Maybe it’s the thrill of evading the law.  Doubtful it’s monetary – while there are pirates out there selling advertising time on their ersatz station, it really can’t be much.2
 
However, if the commission is charged with protecting the airwaves for the public and that protection is extended to willful and harmful interference and impact on legal station listenership and revenue, then it’s time to enforce the law.  We could change the law but if you want to see anarchy in action, just change that one.  Since there’s no longer a rule that you must have a construction permit before buying a transmitter3, they’ll be on every corner.  Heck, they’re almost there now.
 
Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly had a great summary in a 2015 FCC blog.  Basically, he said pirate radio is not innocuous, It’s not innocent and it’s not even multicultural.  It’s a violation of law.
 
There may be some angry emails coming my way but, seriously, the rules/laws are there.   If you want to do your Part 15 partying, go ahead.  But beyond that 100 milliwatts, turn it off.  Oh, and, please – disconnect that lousy mini-FM transmitter you’re using to feed your smartphone audio to your car radio.  I hear you at every intersection.
 
1The complaints actually started in 2012 but the activity began years before!
2I checked Ad Age.  They don’t track pirate radio revenue
3Just go to ebay.com and search for FM transmitter.  And while you’re perusing, keep in mind that a high percentage of these do not comply with US emissions rules so not only are they causing interference on their tuned frequency but at numerous other frequencies, too.  Then call to mind the frequency assignments just above the FM band:  air traffic control.  Just sayin’.