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Getting the most out of Black Friday

Posted in black friday, howto, shopping, smart by commorancy on November 29, 2019

black-friday-tagBlack Friday is a quagmire of sales prices across many stores both online and brick and mortar. It can be difficult, if not impossible to navigate your way to the best deal on any specific item. Let’s explore how to find your best deals during Black Friday.

Focus on Specific Products

While you can run to Target or Walmart or Kohl’s looking for random deals, and sometimes this can be great fun just to “see what’s out there”, if you’re looking for the best deal on a specific item, make a list of items you want. Let’s start with the elephant in the room, Electronics.

Electronics Deals

Clearly, electronics or technology items are the biggest sellers in any store during Black Friday. These include the immense flatscreen TVs, earbuds, cell phones, game consoles and even video games themselves. In fact, so many of these deals are really about splitting hairs… and here is where your best deals come.

So, what is it that’s important to you? Do you want instant savings today, this very moment or can you be satisfied with savings on a future order? Here’s where the nuances come into play.

Black Friday deals are no longer about the door buster 50% off deals. Now, many stores throw in store gift cards and additional store coupons to sweeten the deal. Ultimately, it’s not simply just getting a great percentage off, it’s about getting the most savings you can get… so take advantage. Let’s start with Target as an example.

Target’s Deals and Reward Cards

Target is a company that is out to offer savings in many different and subtle ways. If you have a Red Card (credit or debit) store loyalty card with Target, Target will automatically give you 5% off of your total purchase 365 days a year. That’s an amazing savings every single day. Better, this savings stacks with all sales deals which offers you even more savings. This is particularly useful during Black Friday. So, whip out that Red Card and take advantage. Granted, if you’re using a Cash Back or Rewards card, here’s where these savings can get murky.

Unfortunately, you can’t double dip between the Target Red Card and using a Cash Back credit card, so you’ll have to take your pick: 5% discount using Target’s Red Card or ~%1 Cash Back using your credit card. For me, it’s a no brainer, 5% is a better deal. If you really want that cash, go for it. And then there are reward credit cards…

Reward credit cards offer rewards instead of cash back. Here’s where things get a bit more murky. If you’re using a Delta credit card to get miles and you fly a lot, those miles might make a huge difference. This is where you need to decide what’s important to YOU. In the case of flying frequently, miles may be way more important to you than a 5% instant discount using the Red Card. So, choose your rewards carefully when shopping. Of course, when you’re shopping at many stores, you can pick and choose which payment method to use, so you can spread the rewards across many cards if that’s your best option. You will want to examine all rewards systems you have and what’s most important to you during your Black Friday shopping.

When visiting a store that doesn’t offer a discount or reward program (such as Walmart), you’ll want to use any reward cards you have in your wallet. For example, Walmart, while they do offer a wallet pay system, does not offer any rewards for using their wallet. Walmart assumes that their in-store savings should be enough and so they do not offer a loyalty program. Walmart, however, assumes wrong as their prices are typically no better than other discounters who do offer discount systems and loyalty programs, such as Target.

Read Coupon Terms Carefully

Some stores offer in-store savings, coupons and instant rebates. But, read those terms carefully. Many items are not included in the savings even though it appears they should be discounted. Retailers have obligations to their suppliers, such as Apple, Samsung, Haggar and Hanes. Always read the terms of discount coupons carefully as it might not apply to that thing you’re looking to buy.

For example, many discount coupons given almost never apply towards gift cards. They may not even apply towards Apple, LG or Samsung products. You might find that the only things you can buy in the store with added discount coupons is the in-store brand. Be cautious when a store offers you a 20% off coupon good on your next order. It may not be as great a deal as you think… unless you’re willing to make concessions.

Even instant savings coupons found by scanning an item’s barcode in the store can have important limitations. For example, Target’s Circle program (formerly Cartwheel) typically limits the discount to 4 of the item. However, you’ll want to read the Circle small print terms. In those terms it will tell you exactly how many items you can buy discounted… sometimes it may even be just one. You can buy more discounted, but you’ll have to separate the items out across several separate orders at the check-out lane. It might be easier to do multiple orders at self-checkout than when using a staffed register… particularly if you have 3, 4 or more different orders. Target doesn’t limit how many times you can apply a Circle coupon on separate orders… but they do limit how many discounts it will apply on a single order. Don’t bother trying to argue this issue with the Customer Service desk. They’ll look at you like you’re crazy. If you want to buy a large number of items discounted via Circle, be prepared to separate them out into multiple orders at the checkout lane.

Membership Discounts / Loyalty Programs

Target is a store that not only offers sales and instant in-store discounts, it also has a discount program / loyalty program called Target Circle (formerly known as Cartwheel). Circle offers additional savings on in-store items, though items chosen for discounts are almost always Target’s House Brands, such as Up & Up and Market Pantry. It’s rare that Target Circle discounts apply to major brands, but it can happen occasionally. However, they will occasionally apply to soft goods major brands, such as Hanes or Jockey, but more often than not it will apply Target’s house brand, Merona.

If you’re happy using Target’s house brand items, you can rack up fairly substantial savings towards these items. Savings such as 5% Red Card + 20% Circle + 20% Promotional savings coupons. That’s a whopping 45% savings off of whatever price is listed. If it’s also on sale, then that’s likely an additional up to 50% savings. You won’t get the item for free, obviously, but you can reduce the price by up to 80% just by stacking. This stacking almost never applies to major name brands. The best you can do here is typically 5% Red Card + any in-store applicable discounts (perhaps up to 15% off). Don’t expect to run over to Electronics to get that 80% discount, but sometimes it can happen.

I picked up a Vizio 55″ 4K TV for $768 at a time when the full price was around $1200 in-store. That was a mid-summer price, too. It was not during the holidays. This stacked Red Card savings, an in-store electronics coupon and a sale price. All three stacked to give me a whopping $432 instant discount or a 36% discount. Today, a similar TV might sell for $500-600 which is still not far off the discounted price I paid several years ago. With Target, you don’t necessarily have to get your best deals during Black Friday, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Free Gift Cards and their Benefits

Another promotional system is offering free gift cards of a certain amount for specific purchases. Here’s where you can get a great deal, if you’re cautious and you are willing to invest in the cost of whatever items are needed to get that card.

For example, Target offers a Black Friday deal that will give you a $400 gift card for the purchase and activation of a modern Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ smart phone. If you’re in the market to buy this specific item, then you can certainly take advantage of this deal. However, be cautious. There are a lot of terms and expenses in buying a smart phone and in being under contract with a carrier. Those terms have fees attached. Fees that you may need to pay for up to 2 years. Even though Target may be willing to hand you a $400 gift card to spend at Target, you may end up spending $5000 over the term of that 2 years. $400 isn’t that great of a deal considering you can only use it at Target and not towards paying down that expensive phone you just purchased.

However, a $400 gift card could be useful towards accessories such as a case, extra charging cables, better earbuds and so on. This is where value to you becomes important. If you’re willing to live with the terms of a new phone contract, then that $400 could come in extra handy during your next shopping trip at Target. And yes, you can use that gift card towards anything in Target (yes, even Apple products).

Gift cards are ways for stores to allow for discounts without restrictions. Looking for deals that offer you gift cards is better than looking for percent off coupons… so long as you’re okay shopping at that specific store. However, I have found that by and large, there are very few deals in Target that offer gift cards for purchase. When they do exist, it’s usually tied to a large purchase, such as a tablet, smart phone, expensive large screens or bulk sized household cleaning supplies (mega size toilet paper rolls, bulk paper towels, monstrous jugs of detergent, etc). Usually, you’ll need to spend at least $30-45 to get a $10 Gift Card.

The downside, however, of buying these items is that if you need to return an item for refund. The store will deduct a portion of the gift card amount from your refund. In fact, some stores may require you to return the gift card in full along with any items in the bundle before they will allow a refund. You’ll need to talk to the customer service desk for details. While the free gift cards are great for purchases you intend to keep, returns can become a problem. Be cautious with these if you have a tendency to frequently return items.

Importance of the Above on Black Friday

Why is all of the above important during Black Friday? It’s important because these are the nuances of the savings you’ll run into. When you go download a cost savings app, these apps are likely not taking into account these above nuances, such as in-store loyalty programs, membership discount programs and so on.

Apps that compare prices between stores are likely comparing discounts without any added loyalty programs. This means that the price comparisons won’t show you any additional discounts which may apply to you.

This means you could be lulled into thinking that Walmart has the best deal on that TV when Target is actually offering you a 5% Red Card discount, a 10% Circle discount and a $40 Gift Card (assuming you buy something else with it). These are the kinds of added savings that you can get by shopping at Target.

If you don’t or can’t shop at Target regularly, then these added discounts may not apply to you or may not be convenient. However, if Target is a store you frequent regularly, then this deal is likely much better than Walmart’s deal.

Price for Price, however, Walmart’s deal may look better on paper. Now, let’s talk about Black Friday products.

Electronics Brands

To pull off Black Friday, Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s and even Amazon, swing deals months in advance for specific products to sell on Black Friday. These deals were likely swung early in the year to give the manufacturer plenty of time to manufacture the quantities needed for as many stores as these chains have.

What does that mean for the product itself? It means that these products can be exclusive to Black Friday only. How is that a bad thing? Well, many of these TV brands are lesser known or off-brands (i.e., Westinghouse) trying to their name back into the good graces of the public. This means they’re willing to swing deals with Target and Walmart for Black Friday. They’re willing to sell a 65″ LCD TV for $350 (plus discounts and promotions). It also means these specific product models are likely only made and sold during Black Friday. They are not sold throughout the year. You should ask the store if a Black Friday electronic deal is specific to Black Friday. You don’t want to get saddled with a lemon.

It doesn’t necessarily mean the quality is bad, but it could mean that because it’s not a normally stocked brand / model throughout the year, the quality of the product is unknown. Thus, buying these Black Friday deals could lead you into a product purchase that might break 1, 2 or 3 months down the road. When buying Black Friday electronics, be sure to ask lots of questions and if you purchase, buy an extended return policy / service plan to go with it (when applicable). You just don’t know what kind of quality you are buying when you buy an “exclusive” Black Friday deal. Always be cautious.

This also brings up another point that is related…

Apple, Last Gen Models and Black Friday

Apple is a brand that heavily relies on last gen sales to continue its business forward. However, this situation muddies the water when it comes to Black Friday. Because Apple’s products (and packaging) mostly look alike, it’s difficult to tell an old product apart from its current generation brethren. Be cautious when buying Apple products on Black Friday for this very reason.

The current generation may be the sixth generation, but Target or Walmart are actually ‘clearancing’ out the third generation under the guise of Black Friday. Here’s where the deal is too good to be true.

This situation isn’t exactly deceptive or fraudulent by the retailer, but it definitely skirts that thin grey line towards shady. While an ad might say “Third Generation”, it might not. Even then, the ad DOESN’T tell you which model is the current model. You have no idea if “Third Generation” is the latest unless you keep up on Apple products. The use of this ad nomenclature is shady at best. They tell you its a third gen model, but what they don’t tell you is how many models old it is. If it’s a third gen model and the current is the sixth gen, then that product was manufactured at least 4-5 years ago. It also means that Apple will likely stop supporting it in about 1 or 2 years. You don’t want to buy into a product that has about 1 year left before it becomes obsolete.

Don’t kid yourself, once a product becomes obsolete in the Apple universe, it turns to crap. Apps stop working, apps stop being updated, memory problems begin and the overall device degrades into a potentially useless mess. Don’t buy products that are about to be obsolete, particularly not Apple products.

No matter how great that deal appears to be, no matter how pristine that Apple box appears, no matter what other discounts the retailer throws at you, don’t buy 4-5 year old (or older) Apple, Samsung or any other computer product. Anything that’s about 1 year from being obsolete is worth, at most about $50-100 no matter what it is. If Target or Walmart is selling it on Black Friday for $350, it’s a rip-off! Do your homework and find out 1) what generation is current and 2) what generation is being sold and 3) when that generation was made. Don’t buy old generations of computer products. Just don’t do it. The manufacturer won’t continue to support those products forever.

Smart TVs

If you rely on your Smart TV’s apps to feed you with content, be careful of these also. App developers have already begun dumping apps on lesser brand smart TVs. For example, Netflix and Amazon has stopped producing its app on some brands of smart TVs, particularly older TVs. If you want to watch content on your smart TV, don’t rely on the TV’s built-in apps. Instead, pick an HDMI smart device to plug in. Treat your Smart TV as dumb by ignoring the built-in apps and simply plug in content devices to your TV. Some popular devices are Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku and Amazon’s Fire Stick. You can easily replace these low cost devices and get updated apps via these dongles simply by upgrading to the latest.

The Smart TV, on the other hand, is a fad that seems to be fading. Name brand TVs such as Samsung and Sony may be in the App game for the long haul, but lesser brands like Vizio apparently are not. Even then, there is no guarantee that any developer will continue to develop for bigger TV brands like Sony, LG or Samsung. Instead, relay on small plug-in HDMI devices to give you access to your favorite “channels”. You can even find these devices on Black Friday deals for super cheap prices.

Movies and Music Content

The one place where you can get some of your BEST savings deals is on disc based movies and video games. Here’s where $59 priced games can be as low as $20. Here’s also where some of the latest Blu-Ray and UltraHD 4K movies can be had for as low as $6-15. Picking up UltraHD 4K movies for $15? That’s a great deal you’re not going to find at any other time of the year. These deals are great no matter where you find them… whether at Target, Walmart or on Amazon. This kind of content is a winner no matter when or where. I always recommend shopping through movie and music content because Black Friday is a time that offers the steepest discounts of any other time of the year. This is the best time to pick up some of the top blockbuster films for low, low prices. For example, Spiderman, Shazam and Aquaman UltraHD Blu-rays are all priced at $15 at Target in 2019. Normally, these cost around $29-35 per disc. Still, that’s costly for a film at $15 when you can rent them for $2 at RedBox or see them on Netflix at some point, but UltraHD Blu-ray 4K discs at $15 are practically a steal of a deal. Take advantage if you have the disposable income.

Gift Cards and iTunes

Don’t just focus on physical items when you’re shopping. Some retailers will discount gift cards, like iTunes cards, XBox Live or PS4 PlayStation Plus subscriptions. You can then get a decent discount when purchasing one or more cards. For example, Target usually puts iTunes gift cards on a discount every year on Black Friday. For the last two years, they have offered a buy-one-get-one-30%-off deal. This means that $100 in iTunes credit (two $50 cards) will cost you $85. If you’re subscribing to Apple Music at $99 a year, for example, this means you’re only paying $85 for that $100 in credit which you can apply to your Apple Music subscription. Yet more savings simply to use a well established music service. You’ll never get a discount like this from Apple directly. But, when buying iTunes gift cards, that $100 credit spends like all $100 credit… and can be used towards your subscriptions. In fact, Apple has no idea that you bought the cards for $85 versus $100.

Black Friday Savings

Ultimately, to get your best deals, you need to look at ALL of the offers a store is giving. You’ll need a sale paper for that. Don’t just look at the price at its face value. You may find stores are willing to give you much steeper discounts by using loyalty programs, gift cards and coupons for later use. Stores can sometimes even couple items together as a bundle and get deeper savings for both items than you can get by buying them separately.

For this reason, you can’t simply take Black Friday comparison apps at face value. You need to visit the store to find all of the deals they are offering you. This is why it is a bit more complicated than simply visiting an app store and downloading a Black Friday comparison app. Many of these comparison apps don’t consider loyalty program discounts as part of the Black Friday deal. If you’re an active Red Card holder and use Target Circle, you can get even steeper discounts on top of the Black Friday deals. Don’t forget about these extra discounts if you are a member in loyalty programs.

To get your best deals, you’re going to need to get your hands onto a copy of the sale paper from each store, then comparison shop between the sale papers. Even then, some stores offer in-store only deals that you can only find once you are in the store… which means you’ll need to spend time physically heading over to the store to 1) find out what special deals they offer and 2) whether the item is in stock.

On the other hand, be careful of buying older generation computer products which, at face value, may seem to be a great Black Friday deal. Unfortunately, that great deal may turn sour within a year because the manufacturer as stopped supporting the device. It also seems that discount retailers rarely put the latest generation of computer devices on Black Friday deals. If you want any kind of a discount on the latest greatest device, you’ll need to visit a manufacturer’s store, like the Apple store. And yes, the Apple store itself does offer Black Friday deals. They’re not always the best deals, but for Apple they’re some of the best deals available on new Apple products that you can find from Apple throughout the year.

Finally, focus on specific items that you really need. Don’t just go and browse. If you want to find the best deals on those things you need, you’ll need to stay focused on finding the deals on those items. If you spend your time browsing stores and randomly looking, you’ll never get to other stores to see if they have a better deal. I also don’t recommend calling the stores to ask for pricing. More often than not, Black Friday is way too busy for them to talk on the phone. You’re more likely to sit on hold only to hang up. Just head over to the store for yourself. Additionally, many stores do allow you to download digital versions of their Black Friday sale papers. Just be sure to download the one for your specific store so you can see what that store is offering.

Happy Black Friday Shopping!

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Amazon How-To: The ASIN

Posted in advice, Amazon, shopping, tips by commorancy on May 24, 2019

Amazon-LogoMany thousands of people shop Amazon daily. Did you know that every product at Amazon has a unique identifier? In most stores it’s called an SKU or stock-keeping unit. Amazon’s stock code is called the Amazon Standard Identification Number or ASIN. Let’s explore.

Product Identifiers

Every product stocked at any retailer uses a product identifier to locate that product in its database. In fact, many retailers have their own unique identifiers which are separate from such other identifiers as the Universal Product Code (UPC) or the Industry Standard Book Number (ISBN). In Amazon’s case, its unique identifier is the ASIN, not the UPC. The ASIN is visible on the URL of every product you view on Amazon. It’s a 10 digit code containing both letters and numbers. For example, a pair of cut resistant gloves has the ASIN of B012AFX9VY.

Many store products might have as many as two, three or even four unique identifiers. Books, for example, use the ISBN as an identifier in addition to the UPC code and Amazon’s ASIN. However, stores and online retailers typically use their own product identifier to identify stock in their system. For example, Target’s stock identifier is the DPCI code which goes back to Target’s original days of price stickering or tagging its merchandise with a Department, Class and Item… hence DPCI.

Even the UPC code, which is typically used at the register to ring up items, is simply translated to Target’s, Best Buy’s, Walmart’s or Amazon’s unique product identifier to locate the item and its price in its database.

How is the ASIN helpful?

Knowing the ASIN is useful because this quick identifier allows you to locate to a product on Amazon easily. If you’re on Amazon’s web site, you simply need enter the product ASIN into Amazon’s search panel and it will immediately bring up that item’s listing.

If you’re off of Amazon’s web site and you have the ASIN, you can easily craft a URL that will lead you to Amazon’s product listing in your browser. To craft a functional URL, is simple…

Append the ASIN number to the following URL: https ://amzn.com/ASIN … or in the case of these gloves: https://amzn.com/B012AFX9VY.

While that domain may seem strange, Amazon does own the amzn.com domain. This domain is actually intended to be used as a URL shortener for locating Amazon products in combination with an ASIN. Simply by post-appending the ASIN to this much shorter URL, you can feed this into your browser’s URL field and get right to the product’s details, pricing and all of that information. You can also use it on social media sites as a much shorter URL to aid with character limit restrictions.

Product Reviews

Many of us rely on Amazon’s product reviews to know whether the product is worth considering. Many of us also contribute to Amazon’s product review area for the products we purchase, particularly when we feel strongly about the item’s quality (good or bad).

Amazon has recently taken its website backwards in time (before Web 2.0). Amazon’s older editor was much more feature rich than its newest editor.

When writing product reviews, you could immediately search for items right in the ‘Insert Product Link’ area and then insert those product links and place them into your product review. Unfortunately, with Amazon’s recent interface change, Amazon web developers have inexplicably removed the insertion of product links via this former feature. Now, you have to know the product’s ASIN and craft a product link yourself.

Worse, you can only get access to this ‘Insert Product Link’ feature when you’re crafting a new comment on a product reviews, not when creating or editing a new product review. Odd. You don’t even get it when you edit a comment.

Here’s the latest search panel when attempting to insert a product link:

AmazonProductLink

As you can see, it’s odd. I mean, why even change it to this non-intuitive interface? Now you are required to open a new browser tab, go chase down the product using that separate browser tab, copy the URL then come back to this panel and paste it in and hit enter. That’s a lot of extra work which could be done (and was previously offered directly) in this panel. After that, it will either find the product and offer a SELECT button or fail to provide you with anything. And that “http ://…” nonsense is entirely misleading.

You can enter ASIN numbers right in this field and it will locate Amazon’s products from this panel strictly using the ASIN only, even though it does not indicate this in any way. No need to type in that silly http:// stuff. I’m not even sure why they want you to spend the time to go find and insert URLs here. Why can’t this panel search in Amazon’s product database directly with key words? Ugh.. Oh Amazon, sometimes I just don’t get you and your want to be obtuse.

Creating / Editing Product Reviews

Let’s move on. The new product review editor no longer offers a facility for inserting product links via a search helper tool. It’s simply gone. Poof. Nada. However, you can insert them if you happen to know the format, but you’ll have to manually craft them using the ASIN or ISBN.

If you’re wanting to add product links to your review, you have to now do it ALL manually. I’m entirely unsure why Amazon’s web development team decided to take this odd backwards step in its user interface, but here we are. You would think Amazon would be pleased to have people hawking additional products in their product reviews, but based on this step backwards, I’m guessing not. Either that, or someone at Amazon is clueless… maybe it’s a bit of both? *shrug*

Crafting Product Links in your Product Reviews

When you’re writing a product review and you realize you’d like to insert one or more product links into your review using the completely idiotic ‘new’ (and I use the term ‘new’ very loosely) and far less intuitive editor, you’ll need to craft them yourself.

The format of an Amazon product link is as follows:

[[ASIN:B012AFX9VY The Product’s Description Here]]

Example:

[[ASIN:B0792KTHKJ Echo Dot (3rd Gen) – Smart speaker with Alexa – Charcoal]]

The format of the product link is:

[[ID_TYPE:ID_NUMBER PRODUCT_DESCRIPTION]]

where

ID_TYPE = ASIN, ISBN or any other product identifier which Amazon supports
ID_NUMBER = The product’s unique identifier, like B012AFX9VY
PRODUCT_DESCRIPTION = The description of the product with spaces

Once you create a product link, you can use it in place of words and it will show a clickable link. Take note that there’s no space after [[ or before ]]. For example:

This product offers you two pairs of [[ASIN:B012AFX9VY Black Stainless Steel Cut Resistant Gloves]] for use in the kitchen.

once published, the sentence should translate to…

This product offers you two pairs of Black Stainless Steel Cut Resistant Gloves for use in the kitchen.

Questionable Changes

Because Amazon seems intent on sabotaging and gutting its own web user interface at the expense of important and useful features for shoppers, it’s possible that such product links may no longer function at some point in the future. You’ll want to try this out and see if this tip works for you. If it doesn’t work, it’s very possible that Amazon no longer allows product links inside its reviews. However, they are still available as of this writing. If you find that product links no longer work, please let me know in the comments below.

However, the https ://amzn.com/ASIN should continue to work unless Amazon loses or dumps this domain. Note that this feature doesn’t work when using https ://amazon.com/ASIN. Amazon’s primary domain of amazon.com is not set up to handle short ASIN link syntax. You’ll need to use the amzn.com domain instead.

If this information helps you, please leave a comment below. If not, then please leave a comment below and let me know that, too. Happy shopping and reviewing!

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Amazon’s “Not Helpful” Button Missing?

Posted in Amazon, business, politics, reviews, shopping by commorancy on April 13, 2019

A Reddit user posts that the “Not Helpful” button is missing from Amazon’s reviews. Several other commenters had stated that the button was still there for them. Let’s explore.

Not Helpful is actually not helpful

Amazon has been undergoing changes to their older review system. The first was to remove their discussion boards. Because Reddit really does discussion boards better, there was really no need for Amazon to keep their own. As a result, Amazon Discussions disappeared.

In addition to the removal of Amazon Discussions, Amazon decided to revamp their review system to be more useful. I’d personally complained several times about the “Not Helpful” button.

Why is the “Not Helpful” button not helpful? Because the only thing that button ever did is “downvote” a review in Amazon’s relevance sort. This means that those reviews that received the most helpful votes with the least not helpful bubbled to the top of their relevance sort. Effectively, the “Not Helpful” button was only used as a way for users to move reviews down in the relevance sort.

What ultimately came out of that was…

Abuse

With every system built, someone (or many someones) will find a way to abuse and game the system. The “Not Helpful” button became a target for abuse on Amazon. Instead of being used for the intended purpose of marking a review as not helpful, it became a target to screw with Amazon’s relevance sort and its “recommended” reviews for the product. For example, Amazon has two reviews it places into the top of its review area:

  1. Most Helpful
  2. Most Critical

These two reviews are at the very top above all other reviews. These are coveted positions. People want their review in that spot. To get another reviewer’s review out of either spot, a person (or many persons) would need to mark the review as “Not Helpful” (thus asking their friends to do this too). Over time, salty reviewers learned they could knock these reviews not only out of these two coveted spots, they could also lower their relevance scores and raise their own reviews up, potentially into these coveted positions.

As I said above, if there’s a way to game a system, people will find it and abuse it… and abuse the “Not Helpful” button they did. It took Amazon years to realize this problem, but it seems that Amazon finally understands this problem and has now removed “Not Helpful” from its interface.

Complaints

I’ve complained to Amazon several times over the years regarding the “Not Helpful” button. Not only did it not provide any actual helpful information to those reading reviews, the only thing it did is send high quality reviews to the bottom of the relevance list because of salty Amazon reviewers… people who just couldn’t stand to see a high quality review shown above their lower quality review. People figured out they could game the review system by getting their friends and coworkers to mark certain reviews “Not Helpful” and knock them down in the relevance list.

There was only one situation where “Not Helpful” didn’t have much of an effect. That was on Amazon Vine reviews. For whatever reason, if you’re part of Amazon Vine, pressing “Not Helpful” on Amazon Vine reviews didn’t do very much. I believe that Amazon intentionally weights Amazon Vine reviews much, much higher than a standard review. These reviews don’t get as much of a “ding” against them if someone presses “Not Helpful”. The Vine reviews always seem to get top placement in the relevance sort no matter what other people mark or say against them.

With regular reviews, the “Not Helpful” button just didn’t achieve what it was intended to achieve. It also didn’t give a review reader any useful information about that review. This button was only intended to help sort reviews with, supposedly, the most helpful at the top of the relevance sort. In fact, because users ended up gaming the “Not Helpful” button, the relevance sort actually ended up pointless as many of the best reviews actually ended up way down the relevance list.

I also complained about this problem to Amazon, but that complaint was also summarily ignored.

Amazon has Awoken

It’s taken years, but Amazon has finally realized the error of the “Not Helpful” button. Not only does Amazon no longer show “301 people out of 455 found this helpful”. Now Amazon simply shows “301 people found this helpful”. There was no reason to show the “Not Helpful” clickers… especially now that the “Not Helpful” button is gone.

If Amazon had forced the “Not Helpful” clickers to justify their click by requiring a comment on the review, that that would have actually been much more helpful. As review readers, we need to understand valid reasons why someone clicked “Not Helpful”. The only way to do that is by writing a comment. If a “Not Helpful” clicker chooses not to write a comment, then they don’t get their “Not Helpful” click counted. It’s only fair.

Unfortunately, that opens a whole new can of worms. Even if Amazon forced the “Not Helpful” clickers to write a comment, they could have written a garbage response and then deleted it just to get past that requirement. That’s also “Not Helpful”. It’s also a can of worms that Amazon couldn’t easily solve. They’re a retailer, not a technology company. Some efforts like this simply go over Amazon dev’s heads.

Instead, Amazon awoke and realized that it was simpler to remove the “Not Helpful” button and avoid the entire relevance engine gaming problem. It’s a very late fix in coming, but it’s still a much welcomed change. Gaming a review system is not the reason for that button’s existence. Reviews exist to inform potential buyers of problems they might encounter by purchasing that “thing” (whatever it is).

Review Snobs & Trolls

In any system that you create, there will be those “snobs” (and trolls) who believe that they know better about that system than anyone else. In reality, Amazon’s reviews are fair game in any way that they’re written. This includes pricing problems, listing problems, seller problems, shipping problems, customer service problems, packaging problems, purchasing problems and, yes, it also includes actual product problems.

A review should be about ANYTHING product related including Amazon’s handling of that product to you. Amazon doesn’t like reviewers (and it is now against Amazon’s terms and conditions) to write disparaging remarks against how Amazon handled the shipping, packaging and so forth of the items you purchase. Instead, if there’s a problem in the Amazon area, they don’t want that information in the review. Amazon wants you to contact their customer support team and lodge that complaint there, not write it in the review.

If you do place such a remark in the product review, your review is not likely to be published. Even Amazon is getting its own snobbery into its own review system. However, so long as you follow Amazon’s own snobbery rules regarding its review system, you’ll be fine.

That doesn’t mean you’ll be fine against the Amazon review trolls…er, snobs. These are the folks who feel the need to either report the review or leave a nasty comment regarding the content of the review. I’ve read many reviews that are not only articulate, but also have quite valid comments regarding the product. The reviews are quite apropos and definitely relevant. Yet, there’s inevitably some review snob who believes the review didn’t live up to their own snobby ideas about what a review should contain. To those folks I ask, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”

Too many of these review snobs still exist on Amazon. As a blog writer, I typically write long, but concise reviews of products I purchase from Amazon. Many people don’t seem to like my longish reviews. Instead of refuting any of what I’m saying, they pick out one tiny little thing (a thing that makes no sense when taken out of context) and then write a complaint comment (and when the “Not Helpful” button existed, they would also press it). I could even swear that there were the same people trolling my reviews and intentionally marking them as “Not Helpful” so they can keep their reviews high in the relevance area.

Considering the length of my reviews, the depth and detail at which I discuss the product(s), how it works and my dissatisfaction with whatever parts didn’t work, they ignored all of that and focused on their own out-of-context remark. These are the very definition of “Review Snobs”. These are the folks who do not belong on Amazon and definitely need to have their review comment ability revoked. If Amazon offered a user blocking system, I’d have blocked these folks ages ago. If I could delete their comments from my review, I’d have done so. In fact, I have intentionally deleted my review and reposted it to get rid of some awkward and stupid comments.

It’s entirely a waste of my time to justify what I wrote in my review to some random “review snob” just because they feel the need to intentionally take something out of context. The review is there. Read it, understand it, learn from it. Don’t argue with me about some perceived injustice in my review that simply isn’t there.

Fan Boys & Girls

Unfortunately, far too many people are fans.. well, “fanatic” is more the correct word. And with fanatics comes fanatical behavior. That’s exactly what you get on Amazon. If I review the latest Britney Spears album and give it two stars and a rather scathing review, I guarantee some of these fanatical fans will come out of the woodwork to justify how “great” that album is… and how could I give it two stars?

Don’t question someone else’s opinion. With music and movie reviews, it’s all subjective opinion. You either like it or you don’t. Don’t come to someone else’s review and try to sway them to your belief system. That’s not how Amazon’s reviews work. Amazon’s reviews are always intended to be a mix of both high rated and low rated reviews. The intent is to allow people to state the things they liked and didn’t like about that “thing”. Trying to sway everyone to raise their rating isn’t the point of the review system. In fact, I’d like it if Amazon would let reviewers disable comments on reviews.

I should also mention that, in the case of Britney, instead of just talking about the beats or her singing abilities, I also discuss the production quality, the recording quality and even how the music was mastered. These fall under what I consider objective criteria. An album is professionally produced or it isn’t. An album is professionally mixed and mastered or it isn’t. An album is cohesive track to track or it isn’t. There’s lots of objective criteria about an album that can be heard in the tracks. Sure, the songs themselves are subjective, but the production of the album is most definitely chock full of objective criteria which is easily described.

With other products, like foods or kitchen gadgets or even toys, you can judge these by objective standards, also. For a gadget like a can opener, you have to ask, “Does it open a can?” Then you ask, “Was it easy to open the can?” Some can openers just work, others are a hassle. If the can opener breaks after the second use, then objectively the product was poorly constructed. These are all bits of information that should make its way into a product review. With a kitchen gadget, you have fewer fanboys and fangirls waiting out there for your review. For the latest Britney Spears album or the latest EA video game, you have lots of fanboys and fangirls waiting with baited-breath for those reviews to appear so they can be torn down.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a one star or five star review, these fanboys and fangirls will tear down anything. If it’s a one star review, it’ll be torn down because “nothing they like is ever one star”. If it’s a five star review, it’ll be torn down as “Fake”. Even something as simple as not having the “Verified Purchase” next to it is enough to mark a review as fake.

Verified Purchase

Amazon marks purchases made directly with Amazon as “Verified Purchase”. This signifies that the purchase was made through Amazon. Yet, Amazon allows you to review any product without having purchased it from Amazon.

For example, you can purchase the Amazon Dot, Amazon Kindle and other Amazon electronics from Best Buy, Target and other retailers. Yet, if you leave a review on Amazon having purchased these from a brick-and-mortar store (other than Amazon), you won’t get the “Verified Purchase” label. However, the review snobs come out of the woodwork without this label making it one of the first comments on a review. They claim you didn’t actually purchase the item at all. So then you’re reviewing without having purchased? I call BS on that. Are these people so stupid to think that Amazon is the only place where you can buy an Echo Dot or Kindle?

I’ve purchased many items from retail stores, including Echo Dots without purchasing it through Amazon. That doesn’t make my purchase or review any less valid. Sure, I should leave a comment on Best Buy’s site if I buy it there, but I also have an obligation to leave a comment on Amazon’s site for any Amazon-made product I purchase. Even if it’s not an Amazon product, Amazon purchasers need to know what they might be in for if they purchase the product through Amazon and it’s particularly bad.

Amazon Reviews

To come full circle, I’m happy to see that Amazon has finally done away with the useless, unnecessary and abuse-worthy “Not Helpful” button. It had no place in Amazon’s review system and served no purpose other than to allow review snobs to game the review system. That’s not a user’s call. Amazon should be the call of which reviews get moved to the top of the pile and which don’t. The “Helpful” button should only be one in many metrics used to move a review to the top of the relevance list.

If you don’t like a review, leave a comment and leave it at that. Not marking a review as “Helpful” is the same as formerly marking a review as “Not Helpful”. Simply avoid the review entirely if you don’t like what was written or leave a constructive comment on why you think the review is misguided.

Review systems, including the one at Amazon, are there to let you read a user’s experience and make a determination whether that product fits with your needs. It’s not there for you to argue with the review author over some perceived injustice. If you don’t like what was said, write your own review… or write a blog article.. or report the review to Amazon. Amazon doesn’t need review snobs running around trying to sway review authors into someone else’s way of thinking. Simply give that idea up. You can’t sway a review author’s mind with a few sentences in a comment.

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Shopping Tip: Target App and Prices

Posted in botch, business, shopping by commorancy on February 7, 2019

img_4265.pngTechnology has finally caught up with “live pricing”. While shopping at a competitor grocery the other day, I scanned an item while in that store within Target’s app to get a price comparison. What I found before and after visiting Target was surprising. Let’s explore.

Target App and Item Scanning

Assuming you have a smartphone running iOS or Android, the Target app is a way to both shop online as well as comparison shop. However, I found the following money saving trick that you’ll want to use to save money at Target.

Target’s phone app offers a UPC code scanning feature. This allows you to scan the UPC code and check that item’s pricing at your local store. As I said above, what I found when scanning away from Target versus inside of Target was a little unsettling… but is also handy trick to save money when shopping at Target.

Scanning Items In-Store

When you’re inside a Target store, you can scan each item’s UPC code and it will show you not only the price of the item in the store, it will tell you which aisle it’s on. It may also trigger a Cartwheel discount if you’re lucky. For example, if you happen to find a random loose item sitting on a shelf in the store (stray merchandise) and you want to know where it’s located in the store, you simply need to scan it in Target’s app and it will tell you what aisle it’s on and it actually shows you a map in the store. It will also tell you the item’s price. This actually works in the Walmart and Home Depot apps too.

This means you can easily find items in the store and determine the item’s price. This locate feature is particularly handy after a Target store remodel when items that were formerly on the left side of the store have been moved to the right side of the store. I’m not terribly a fan of such remodels, but I guess Target thinks it makes their stock seem “fresh and new” when it simply makes it confusing to find stuff in the store. It’s also a way for Target to raise in-store prices.

Cost Savings

Now for the cost savings tip that you’ve been waiting for. Target’s pricing shown in the app is entirely based on proximity to the store (assuming you have a GPS on your phone). For example, I was at a local grocery looking at Gold Medal Self-Rising Flour. The cost for a 5lb bag at this particular store was $3.99. I decided to pick the item up and scan it through Target’s app for a price comparison. The price at Target came up as $3.69. I thought, “Great, I’ll save 30¢. I’ll stop by Target on the way home and pick it up. Little did I know the surprise that my Target store had waiting for me.

A few minutes later, I arrived at Target and wandered through to their baking section and noticed the exact item priced at $4.29. I’m like, “Hold up.. what’s this?” When I scanned the item in the Target app inside the Target store, it again showed $4.29… not the $3.69 price I had been shown when at the other market. I had even confirmed that the “my store” location was set to the store where I was. Yep, that’s my store.

I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on with Target’s App, so I drove back to the other market thinking the UPC code might be slightly different. I hadn’t bought that other item over there before heading to Target. When I arrived at the other market, I again scanned it in Target’s app and it again showed the $3.69 price. I also took a picture of the UPC code so I could compare when I got back to Target. Stumped at this discount pricing I was being shown, I decided to add the item to Target’s cart and buy it via Target’s app for in-store pick up. Surprisingly, this worked.

By the time I arrived back at Target, my order was ready for pickup. In fact, the “Your Order Is Ready” notification arrived on my phone just as I drove into Target’s parking lot. I walked in, picked up my order and headed towards the door. I did actually get the item for the $3.69 price. Before I walked out of the store, I scanned the UPC code on what I had just purchased for $3.69 and it showed $4.29. I compared the code to the one from the local market. Same UPC code. I’m like, “Hmm…” I decided it had to do with Target’s proximity beacon. The app knew that I was in the store and raised its Target app pricing to reflect the store’s shelf prices.

As I had drove away and while waiting at a traffic light in front of Whole Foods Market (a store about a block away from Target), I scanned the item in the car. It once again showed the $3.69 pricing. Aha, Target is using its store proximity beacon to raise its prices to match its in-store shelf pricing.

Cost Savings Tip

If you’re looking to get your best savings from Target, you need to scan your items in Target’s app away from your local Target store. Because you’re not in proximity of the store, you could find lower prices on some items. Unfortunately, you won’t know that you’re saving money until you get to the store and scan the item inside the store. For this reason, ordering for store pickup may save you money over visiting the store and physically shopping in the store.

Just be aware that Target changes its prices on items in the App depending on where you are and whether you’re in or out of a store. It may even detect when you’re in a competitor’s store and mark prices in the app to compete with that competitor. Note that if you do place an order for pickup and find that an item you ordered is cheaper in the store or there’s an in-store coupon, Target will refund you the difference as long as you’re still within the return period. You simply need to ask.

For the reason of proximity pricing, you should save the UPC codes from your regularly consumed items in a drawer and scan them in the Target app at home. Then, place an order for pickup. You may find that you can save more money at Target before ever leaving home. It also saves you time because you don’t have to roam the store looking for stuff. It can also save you money by not seeing and buying random stuff that you don’t need.

If you scan for a price in the Target app while away from the store, take a screenshot. Screenshots are your friend for lower pricing. You can then compare those screenshots to price scans you make in the store to see if the pricing has changed. Because I’m assuming that scanned prices can go both ways (up and down), you might not always find your best deal in the app. However, it seems more likely you’re to find a better deal using the app away from the store than in the store. For this reason, taking a screenshot of the items you scan saves you hassles later. Whether or not Target’s customer service team will honor a price markdown as a result of a screenshot taken away from the store, I’m uncertain. You’d have to visit the customer service desk with the item in hand and ask. Target is usually willing to give the lowest price if you bring it to their attention, but in this case who knows? Worst case, just drive away from the store and order the item for in-store pickup. Then drive back to Target and wait for the item to become ready.

Proximity Pricing

Because most everyone is looking for a savings advantage when shopping, proximity pricing is likely to become an even bigger deal as we move forward. That Target is now using proximity pricing in its app shouldn’t be a revelation, but it is surprising to see Target using it in this way.

Always consider scanning items in the Target app when you’re looking for cost savings at Target. It can save you money without ever leaving home.

Trick of the Eyes

Here’s the part about proximity pricing that I don’t like, making this is a bit of a rant. When I first scanned the package of flour away from Target, Target’s app showed me the $3.69 price. When I visited the store and scanned the exact same item on the aisle, it scanned at $4.29 (30¢ more than my local grocery market at $3.99 and 60¢ more than the Target app had previously shown me). I couldn’t get the app to show me that $3.69 price no matter what I did while inside of Target. I felt that this was a kind of bait and switch tactic, something I have never before seen Target use.

This meant that I couldn’t get the app to show me that price at all while at Target. I was understandably miffed, particularly after having spent the time to drive over there thinking I would get the $3.69 price.

As a result, I couldn’t show that lower pricing to the customer service desk nor could I even prove at all that that pricing had ever been shown to me. The history in Target’s app is practically non-existent. What is there shows you the price wherever you happen to be… not what might have been shown to you earlier. I actually had to leave the store and travel a quarter mile away before I could see that $3.69 price again.

For this reason, that’s why I decided to order the item for pickup while still in the parking lot of my local grocery market and away from Target. To my surprise, I was able to add the lower priced item to my Target app cart and place an order. When I arrived at the store, I walked away with my order at the lower $3.69 price.

Higher In-Store Pricing

The proximity pricing problem signifies three things: 1) Target intentionally marks up items when you’re physically visiting the store, 2) these markups are impossible to detect (or argue) while you’re in the store and 3) you can only find these markups while away from the store.

You’re required to check the prices before and after arriving at the store. This means making a list of prices while away from the store, then again at the store and then see how proximity affects your Target’s in-store prices.

Ultimately, it’s a scammy practice by Target. It’s a scammy practice by any store that performs this kind of proximity markup. If anything, this article intends to call out this practice and warn consumers that the pricing you see in the store may not be the lowest price that store is willing to sell you that item. While you can’t haggle with a store (other than via competitor price matching), you can be armed with ways to cut your costs by being a shrewd shopper, particularly by taking full advantage of each store’s app proximity mark downs and avoiding store mark ups.

Note that this kind of proximity pricing is not considered under the store’s “price matching” guarantees. Whatever the store’s in-store pricing is, you’re expected to pay that… even if you find that the app shows you a cheaper price while away from the store. If you want that cheaper price, you’ll need to place an order in the app for in-store pickup. The unfortunate part is, you won’t know which is the cheapest price until you compare the item’s away app prices against in-store prices.

Even then, Target may offer differing prices in the app when in a Big Lots than when in Safeway. This means you might need to run around town and visit various discount stores to find your best price in the Target app. Yes, kind of a hassle.

Update for April 2019

I’ve run into yet another product with lower pricing away from the store versus inside Target. I didn’t intentionally check the pricing in the store first this time. I simply ordered the product online for pickup, only to run into difficulties later.

I ordered the item about an hour before Target opens. I expected to pick it up later in the day only to find that the item was “out of stock”, or so the order status said. With out of stock items, I’ve always found that it’s a good idea to recheck the store as the store staff aren’t always very diligent at checking and locating items. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if the staff doesn’t feel like picking the online orders, they’ll simply mark the item(s) out of stock without even checking. But, that’s a separate topic entirely.

I hadn’t even checked the order status when I stopped by the store. I naturally assumed it would be ready and waiting. Instead, after getting in line at the Customer Service desk, the order status in the app informs me that the item is “out of stock”. I think, that’s got to be BS. So, I cancelled the order right then (because that was the only option) and I walk back to the household area to check the stock myself. Lo and behold, it’s actually in stock just as the app told me (and still tells me).

What I find is another pricearoo switch. The item is Combat Max 8 large roach traps and online it was marked $7.89. In the store, it’s marked $9.19.

 

 

So long as I remained in proximity of the Cupertino Target store, even on LTE service, the $9.19 price remained. As soon as I left the area entirely, the price dropped to $7.89.

This one was a little more of a hassle than the first, primarily because the store refused to sell this one and instead marked it “out of stock”. I ended up grabbing the item in the store, heading up to the Customer Service desk and then proceeded to ask for the $7.89 price. They obliged and marked it down… but that’s only because I showed them the online order I had placed and then cancelled.

Target’s playing games here and it’s not making me very happy. If you’re going to show me a price in your app, then you better be willing to honor it.

Better Luck and Happy Shopping!

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Whole Foods: Everything wrong with Amazon in a store.

Posted in botch, business, shopping by commorancy on September 20, 2018

When Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017, I wondered exactly what that meant for Whole Foods as a brand and as a store. In 2018, I have found out, and so have the store employees. It’s not exactly what you might have predicted. Let’s explore.

Drastic Changes on the Aisles

One thing is clear, Amazon isn’t keeping Whole Foods stagnant. No, sir. However… are the changes being made inside the stores great? In many cases, no.

At one time, Whole Foods had a huge aisle of bulk tea ingredients. Today, they have maybe 10-15 jars total. Most of the jars are of the caffeinated varieties. Other than loose Rooibos, there was very little in the way of herbal tea ingredients. Whole Foods was the only real place where you could go get bulk tea ingredients. I was sadly disappointed at the state of affairs in visiting Whole Foods this weekend. The sad handful of jars seemed off, but I guess that’s what Bezos wants. In fact, the whole store seemed a little off.

Another department that has undergone drastic remodeling is the health and beauty area. Where they once carried clothing, scarfs, plush toys, mounds of loose organic soaps and various other eclectic HBA goods, today the area is nearly barren with only tiny amounts of certain items. They’ve also decided to do away with the HBA counter and rebuild a new kiosk for Customer Service there, so they can put in more cash registers. As if they need more registers… they barely man the ones they already have.

One other area of HBA (and other products) is product reformulations. I had been using the Whole Foods house brand of 365 glycerin bar soaps. Recently, I purchased new bars only to find a new label. After opening one of the soap bars I noticed a change in the fragrance. Clearly, Amazon is trying to cut costs by changing manufacturing of some of their house brands to new manufacturers.

I’ve also found other brands of products which have now changed. Where once Whole Foods had carried specific brands for years, these are now gone, no where to be found.  Whole Foods was really the only place that stocked these brands. I can’t imagine what this has done to those brand sellers. Whole Foods was likely their lifeblood. Without Whole Foods, they’re dead in the water. Safeway has never considered ordering those brands and likely never will. Good luck trying to find those brands ever again as those manufacturers are likely out of business.

Also, Amazon has started adding in small lockup rollabouts stocking Echos, Fire Tablets and Kindles, among other electronic and gadgety things. This is a grocery store, not Best Buy.

Checkout Lanes

Another change is that the Express lanes were always open with at least 1 or 2 people manning them. In the last 2-4 months, this no longer is true. I’ve walked in in the morning or in the evening and the Express lanes are always closed. Now they are keeping a few regular registers open. Not sure what’s going on with this change, but it seems odd considering the majority of people unloading their carts had less than 10 items to buy. Express lanes make more sense.

Not All Changes Are Good

I never performed my whole house grocery shopping at Whole Foods. It was always too expensive for full cart shopping. I only visit Whole Foods for very specific items that I cannot find at Safeway or other supermarkets. Today, I do most of my grocery shopping at Target, to be honest. Since Target has fully built out a respectable grocery section, when combined with Cartwheel discounts and the extra 5% RedCard discount, it’s usually worth my while to grocery shop at Target. They may not be the cheapest at everything, but considering the amount of discounts I get there, it’s more than worth it in the end.

Why this diversion about Target? Because Amazon and Whole Foods are trying something similar, except they’re mostly failing at it. Certain sale items and items with blue cards give extra discounts if you’re an Amazon Prime member. Considering how few items actually end up on actually discounted with Prime, it’s really not worth it. If Amazon could see fit to offer something like Target’s 5% off the entire basket + extra discounts like with Cartwheel, it might be worth it. Even then, I still find Whole Foods prices to be well above where they should be and nowhere near competitive with Target.

Worse, while Amazon seems to have cut some quality products down in an attempt to make even more money, nearly all of the dry goods still suffer from what I call, “highender syndrome”. What that means is that these items are sold at prices that are intended to entice buyers of a certain affluence level or above and feel make them “special”. However, what I’ve personally found after trying these products is while the price is well above where it should be, these packaged foods when prepared are lackluster and mostly taste of cardboard. Anyone willing to shell out that kind of dough for cardboard food, I got a bridge to sell ya.

As this section began, not all changes are for the best. The changes that Amazon has been making to Whole Foods have been questionable and seemingly geared toward selling Amazon products in a retail store environment. Amazon, if you really want to open an Amazon store, then just open one. Don’t ruin Whole Foods to make it a platform for Amazon products.

Workers Seem Disenchanted

I spoke with one worker at Whole Foods recently who is just as disenchanted with Amazon’s changes as I am. One thing he mentioned was that before Amazon’s purchase, the store could restock individual items as necessary. This meant that items were almost never out of stock and aisles were always full. I certainly noticed this change recently. When I visited to buy my glycerin bars, I noticed the unscented bars were out of stock. I purchased a couple of the other bars to hold me over for a bit. I then visited a day later and they were still out of stock. I’d say all told, I visited the store about 3-4 times before I finally found them in stock.

This employee told me that after Amazon took over, Amazon’s changes stopped allowing individual item reorders. This leaves shelves bare of products until the next whole shipment arrives. This is one of the things I always liked about Whole Foods before Amazon. I could walk into the store and nearly be 100% certain that the item would be in stock. In fact, I can’t even remember a single time when I visited Whole Foods and those soap bars (or pretty much anything else.. especially house brand items) were out of stock before Amazon’s involvement.

Hot Food Bar Changes

At the hot food area, I spoke with another worker who was disenchanted to see the home cooked prepared meals area has disappeared. No longer can you find the hot foods like mashed potatoes, cooked lamb shanks, meat loaf, grilled veggies and other staple foods they carried there every day. Now they’re gone and have been replaced by a Pizza display area. If the food isn’t on the hot food buffet area, too bad, so sad. I always liked buying those mashed potatoes there. They were the best in the store. The mashed potatoes on the buffet bar were plain and flavorless, as is most of that hot food bar food. The home cooked food they made at the food counter was much, much tastier.

Shopping at Whole Foods

Amazon has made no efforts to reduce Whole Food’s overall prices. But, Amazon has done much to remove, change, reduce and limit availability of items. I’m uncertain of this chain’s longevity. One of the things about operating a higher end gourmet grocery store like Whole Foods is attention to customer service and attention to product detail. Amazon doesn’t get it. Draeger’s gets it. Piazza’s gets it. Bianchini’s gets it. I realize these are SF Bay Area high end gourmet markets, but I’m sure you have some like these in your area, too. Whole Foods used to get what it meant to be classed as a gourmet grocery store, but since Amazon, they don’t.

As for the store proper, the reduction in products, the change in brand formulations and removal of mainstay brands doesn’t say Amazon knows what Whole Foods is really about. You can’t just begin gutting the fundamentals that made this gourmet grocery store and expect it to survive. Amazon is playing with fire making these changes to Whole Foods this fast. So far, I still see a fair amount of people shopping here. With each and every product removal or switch, the store will lose more and more customers.  Those customers who once frequented looking for that specific item only available at Whole Foods will end up over at Draeger’s, Bianchini’s or Piazza’s (or any of a number of smaller high end markets).

I know I’m not the only person who stops shopping at places when they kill my favorite brands and products that I relied on. Amazon hasn’t yet fully killed my last remaining reasons to visit Whole Foods, but changing soap manufacturers doesn’t bode well for at least one of those products.  Let’s hope I can use the new formulation without skin problems. We’ll see. They’ve also changed their brand of unsweetened ketchup. Yes, they still carry it, but the new brand jar seems quite a bit smaller for the same price. So far, they still carry the Stevia liquid brand that I use and at a “reasonable” price.

Feedback and Thank You

If you’ve gotten this far into this article, I’d like to thank you for spending your time here reading Randocity articles. In this YouTube age with people putting their faces out there as hosts, I have also contemplated setting up a channel for Randocity. Each time I have considered this, I realize that writing this blog is what I enjoy about blogging. Vlogging has its own set of constraints, time sucks and technical problems that to me don’t seem very enjoyable, particularly buying all of the necessary equipment and spending hours editing videos together.

If your shopping experiences have changed as a result of Amazon’s purchase of and changes to Whole Foods stores, please leave a comment below explaining what problems you have encountered in your shopping experiences. I will consider extending this article to include quotes from various reader’s recent shopping experiences. I’m always interested in hearing reader feedback. If you work at Whole Foods and are willing to speak up, please leave a comment below.

If you would like to be notified whenever new Randocity articles are published, please click the Follow button in the upper right corner of the screen.

Shopping Frustration: When coupon codes don’t work

Posted in shopping by commorancy on September 4, 2012

Nothing is more frustrating during online shopping than when e-tailers send out a coupon code for a one day sale that doesn’t work.  I have to wonder, are these sites just stupid, clueless or technically inept?  Let’x explore.

Holiday Shopping Spree

If you’re like me, I tend to shop for things when people send me coupon codes.  Specifically, I shop when things are wearing out. I try to make sure these purchase times match up when coupon codes are available.  So, I like to wait for sale days like Memorial Day, President’s Day or, like today, Labor Day.  So, I’m happy when companies where I like to shop send me a 20% or 30% off coupon.  I generally like to take advantage of these deals because they don’t appear that frequently and I can shop for clothes that are wearing out.

Clickable Ad Banners in Email

Unfortunately, many of these e-tail sites are so inept or mismanaged that they email out the code but they forget to activate the code.  Sometimes they deactivate it too early.  Worse, they send an email with a big clickable banner ad describing this ‘Sale’ that, when you click, takes you to their home page and not to the sale items that apply to the code.  This action leaves you wondering what the heck is actually on sale?   One word comes to mind: inept.  Retailers, this is a seriously stupid practice.  If you send out an email that you’re having a 20% off sale, a click should immediately take you to the sales item(s).  Don’t make your customers guess what’s on sale.   In the case where I am taken to the front page, I close the browser, delete the email and move on.  Sorry, you’ve just lost a sale and I simply won’t shop there.  I know I’m not alone in this.  A lot of people fill their carts and either abandon the cart or clear it out because of stupid things like coupon codes that don’t work.

Coupon Codes that Don’t Work

I’ve had many times where some company sends me a coupon code that when you type it into the cart and click ‘Apply’, the message says ‘This coupon is not valid’ or ‘This coupon does not apply to the items in your cart’.  This goes back to the above issue.  If you’re planning to issue a coupon code and spend the time and effort to email your email list with this code, you damned well better test that code to make sure it works and you damned well better make sure the customers know to which items the code applies.  Don’t make your customers guess.  Additionally, for 24 hour sales, you should make also sure that code works until midnight.  And by this I mean, make sure it works until midnight of the customer’s timezone, not just your company’s timezone. That coupon should not expire at midnight your company’s timezone time as that could be midday in some locales. The code should expire at midnight wherever your shopper resides or better, expire it the following day sometime during the day to prevent expiration before the day is over for every customer and also lets late customers take advantage.  After all, isn’t the idea behind a coupon code to get people into your site to purchase?

Customers walking away

Making stupid moves like not activating coupons, deactivating them early or making your customers guess as to what merchandise the coupon applies is just a stupid practice.  You probably think I’m talking about small mom-and-pop shops here.  No, these are well known well respected companies that are making these most basic mistakes, like Jockey, Tommy Bahama and Zagg.

Nothing is more frustrating than filling up your cart with merchandise expecting to use a coupon code only to find that it doesn’t work.  Or, worse, not finding the merchandise to which the sale or coupon applies.  In these cases, I empty the cart, close the browser window and delete the email.  If these companies do this more than once,  I remove myself from their email list as it’s quite clear that these companies do not have their act together.  Which, if you think about it, is completely odd.  These are retailers in business to make money.  If you’re planning to offer a sale that uses a coupon code and that code doesn’t work, do you really think people are going to pay full price anyway?  No.  Selling your merchandise is your bread and butter and if you want people to buy your stuff, then you need to make sure your email ads reflect the reality of your site.  If it doesn’t work, then you have even more serious issues on your hands, not the least of which might be considered fraud.

Amazon Better?

I just don’t understand this practice.  This is why Amazon is kicking butt.  With Prime, you get 2 day shipping included and the best price without hassling with coupon codes.  Sure, you might be able to find it slightly cheaper at some mom-and-pop shop.  But, the hassle of setting up a new account and dealing with yet more email that can’t do it right outweighs the few pennies of savings you might get from that mom-and-pop shop.  So, I always find myself back at Amazon buying, at least for hassle-free purchasing.  I don’t want to deal with coupon codes that don’t work, sites that don’t specify what’s on sale or silly stupid problems like this.

For those sites that do this, fix your sites or lose the sale and be trampled by Amazon.  It’s quite simple.

Amazon Kindle: Buyer’s Security Warning

Posted in best practices, computers, family, security, shopping by commorancy on May 4, 2012

If you’re thinking of purchasing a Kindle or Kindle Fire, beware. Amazon ships the Kindle pre-registered to your account in advance while the item being shipped. What does that mean? It means that the device is ready to make purchases right from your account without being in your possession. Amazon does this to make it ‘easy’. Unfortunately, this is a huge security risk. You need to take some precautions before the Kindle arrives.

Why is this a risk?

If the package gets stolen, it becomes not only a hassle to get the device replaced, it means the thief can rack up purchases for that device from your Amazon account on your registered credit card without you being immediately aware. The bigger security problem, however, is that the Kindle does not require a login and password to purchase content. Once registered to your account, it means the device is already given consent to purchase without any further security. Because the Kindle does not require a password to purchase content, unlike the iPad which asks for a password to purchase, the Kindle can easily purchase content right on your credit card without any further prompts. You will only find out about the purchases after they have been made through email receipts. At this point, you will have to dispute the charges with Amazon and, likely, with your bank.

This is bad on many levels, but it’s especially bad while the item is in transit until you receive the device in the mail. If the device is stolen in transit, your account could end up being charged for content by the thief, as described above. Also, if you have a child that you would like to use the device, they can also make easy purchases because it’s registered and requires no additional passwords. They just click and you’ve bought.

What to do?

When you order a Kindle, you will want to find and de-register that Kindle (may take 24 hours before it appears) until it safely arrives into your possession and is working as you expect. You can find the Kindles registered to your account by clicking (from the front page while logged in) ‘Your Account->Manage Your Kindle‘  menu then click ‘Manage Your Devices‘ in the left side panel. From here, look for any Kindles you may have recently purchased and click ‘Deregister’. Follow through any prompts until they are unregistered. This will unregister that device. You can re-register the device when it arrives.

If you’re concerned that your child may make unauthorized purchases, either don’t let them use your Kindle or de-register the Kindle each time you give the device to your child. They can use the content that’s on the device, but they cannot make any further purchases unless you re-register the device.

Kindle as a Gift

Still a problem. Amazon doesn’t recognize gift purchases any differently. If you are buying a Kindle for a friend, co-worker or even as a giveaway for your company’s party, you will want to explicitly find the purchased Kindle in your account and de-register it. Otherwise, the person who receives the device could potentially rack up purchases on your account without you knowing.

Shame on Amazon

Amazon should stop this practice of pre-registering Kindles pronto. All Kindles should only register to the account after the device has arrived in the possession of the rightful owner. Then, and only then, should the device be registered to the consumer’s Amazon account as part of the setup process using an authorized Amazon login and password (or by doing it in the Manage devices section of the Amazon account). The consumer should be the sole responsible party to authorize all devices to their account. Amazon needs to stop pre-registering of devices before the item ships. This is a bad practice and a huge security risk to the holder of the Amazon account who purchased the Kindle. It also makes gifting Kindles extremely problematic. Amazon, it’s time to stop this bad security practice or place more security mechanisms on the Kindle before a purchase can be made.

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Online ordering: Some companies just don’t get it

Posted in shopping, technologies by commorancy on December 12, 2010

In the past week, I’ve run into two different companies that obviously haven’t the first clue about running their online presence.  I’ll bet that this is just the tip of the iceberg, but there it is.

Online ordering with store pickup

Fry Electronics doesn’t get it. The point to online ordering with store pickup is to save time.  Unfortunately, using Fry’s store pickup by ordering online saves you no time.  In fact, it takes more time than just buying directly in the store and leaves more questions than answers.

I found an item on Frys.com web site that I wanted to buy and noticed they now offered store pickup.  I thought, “Great”.  So, I proceeded to place the order online.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a profile with Frys.com, so I had to create one along with entering shipping and billing info, credit card number and various other information they required.  So, this usually takes about 5 minutes to complete.  Granted, it doesn’t take that long to enter this information, but you’ll soon see that this time was completely wasted.

So, I enter the information they require, choose my store for pickup and click ‘Place Order’ like you normally do on any e-commerce site.  So, the order is all placed, I have my receipt in hand and on the receipt it says to to remember to bring the card you used to the store.  I think, “No problem”.   I ordered after hours.  So, I knew that I would have to pick up the order the next day.

The next day I take my printed receipt with the order number to the store, like they request.  I walk into the store and ask where to pick up online orders.

First mistake

The door greeter tells me to get in line and pick up the online ordered item at any cashier in the front.  I thought, “Uh oh, this is not starting off well”.  No dedicated desk means the cashiers will be completely inexperienced in this process and, to my lack of surprise, they were inexperienced.  Anyway, I step up to the cashier and hand her the online receipt.  She proceeds to type something into the register, looks confused about something and then tells me to hold on while she goes and locates the order.

Second mistake

Twenty minutes later, after wandering around and disappearing, she finally comes back with the item in hand.  I could have wandered the store, found the item, visited a cashier and exited Fry’s in the time it took her to locate the item.

Third mistake

With item in hand, she proceeds to tell me that I need to finish paying for the order at her station.  I’m thinking, “What?”  I had thought I already paid on the Frys.com web site as I was given fully completed receipt for the order with a valid order number.  So, I attempt to validate this information and ask, “I have to pay again?  I thought I already paid on the web site”.  She proceeds to explain that it’s not actually an order but a ‘reservation’ for an item.  I asked, then why do I have to give fully detailed information (billing, shipping, credit card, CVV, etc) for a reservation?  Of course, she’s a non-native English speaker and plays dumb like she didn’t understand what I said.  So, I try to verify this again and she says that I won’t be double-charged (which is, of course, my first thought considering I had to provide my CC card info full and complete).

So, not only did they waste my time online asking for information they didn’t need to create a ‘reservation’, the cashier wasted 20 minutes trying to locate the item in the store which wasn’t picked and stored properly from my order.  Worse, after walking out of the store, I still have no idea if my card is to be charged twice.

I head home and call Frys.com to clarify what the hell went on.  I explained that what they are doing is less than clear and the whole process is time wasteful.  Every other online order with store pickup system I’ve used at other stores charges for the order online and then only requires identification to pickup at the store.  They might or might not even print a receipt.  But, you definitely don’t pay for the item in the store like Fry’s requires.

Fry’s made major mistakes in this process.  Wasting my time by making me enter all of that information, not properly picking the the item requiring the cashier to wander the store in search of the item, and then  requiring the consumer to pay at the register for an item that already appears to have been paid.  The additional mistake that Fry’s made was not having a dedicated pickup desk to handle online pickups.   There is no reason to require the consumer to stand in line for a cashier.  Online ordering with store pickup is supposed to save time.  In fact, I probably doubled the amount of time that was needed to get the item.  I would have been better off just heading to the store, finding the item and heading up to the cashiers to pay.  What a waste.

Out of stock ordering

Virgin Mobile doesn’t get it. This issue isn’t limited to Virgin mobile, it just happens to be the most recent example of this problem.  So, I decide want to buy one of Virgin Mobile’s MiFi 2200 devices.  I visit the site and try to place the item in my cart. Instead, I see a red error message that says ‘Sorry, that item is currently unavailable’.  It doesn’t say anything about being out of stock.  Just that it is unavailable (whatever that means).  Ok, here’s the issue.  If the item is ‘Out of Stock’, that’s fine.  Just tell us this.  No cryptic messages.

First Mistake

Even if the item is out of stock, but you know you’ll have more back in stock tomorrow, then take the order against the future stock.  The mistake here is that Virgin has lost a sale.  I may not come back tomorrow and purchase.  I want to purchase today.  I made the decision to purchase today.  Tomorrow I may change my mind and go with something else.  In fact, I may go with something else simply from the stupid fact that Virgin mobile wouldn’t sell it even when it’s ‘Out of Stock’.

Second Mistake

I called the sales line and the ‘sales rep’ proceeded to transfer me to the ‘Broadband help desk’.  Where they transferred my call is not an order line.  It’s a help desk / customer service portal.  No where on the line does it say ‘Press 1 for sales’.  In fact, it doesn’t mention sales anywhere on the line.  So, I press on and get through to an operator.  The first time I call, the representative on the ‘help desk’ tells me that there is web site trouble and I should order tomorrow (see Virgin Mobile first mistake above).  I call back and the second person says the item is ‘Out of Stock’ and they should have them in ‘tomorrow’.

So, I’m at a loss.  If you’re in a company selling online, an item is out of stock but you know it will be back in stock tomorrow, why would you want to prevent taking orders against that future stock?  I mean, seriously, this is stupid. Just tell the consumer when they should be back in stock.  The consumer can make the decision to wait or not.  If you prevent ordering altogether, you’re losing sales.

You would think companies the size of Fry’s and Virgin Mobile would have their act together, but they don’t.  Companies wonder why their sales suck, yet they don’t look at these convoluted processes that don’t work and that throw roadblocks in front of the buyer.  So, instead of the buyer buying, we walk away and don’t buy.

Retailers, wake up.  Just because you think a process is working for you, you need to reevaluate just how it impacts the consumer.

Shopping and haggling at the checkout lane

Posted in shopping by commorancy on May 10, 2010

While I know the economy is not in its best shape right now and people are looking to pinch every penny, there is one pet peeve of mine that I just have to write about here. That peeve is when someone gets to the checkout lane at a store and begins price haggling over every item in their cart. The thing that annoys me about this practice is that the checkout lane is not the place to haggle or argue about the price of a garment or item. I mention garments because it’s almost always a garment that’s in dispute. Worse, though, is that it’s not just a single item, it’s usually every item in the cart. So, those of us behind you are stuck waiting while you haggle and argue with the checker.

The checkout is not the place to shop

Once you get in line to check out, you need to have already decided what you will and won’t purchase. If there is something in your cart that you don’t need or want, then politely tell the cashier and they will take it from you. Don’t stand there and argue over the price (or lack thereof) of that item with the cashier. Don’t hem and haw and decide if you want it. The checkout is not the plate for making long decisions or doing additional shopping. The store is where you shop, the checkout is where you buy. It’s really a very simple concept.

Getting price checks

In most department stores today, it’s easy to find a price so long as it has a barcode. If so, locate a sales person on the floor or find a bar code scanner. Most stores today offer scanners around the store for just this purpose. However, should you find a garment or item without a barcode, don’t wait until you get to the check out line for for pricing and then decide if you want it. Go to Customer Service or ask a floor person to price the item. It will save you and everyone behind you lots of time at the checkout. You might even be able to derive the price by finding the rack of items and looking for a similar style, color or design. So, use your own resources to find something similar and decide if you really want it at that price. If you really can’t find the item on the floor or the price, take it to the Customer Service desk. They can always help find the price. In fact, Customer Service is probably more efficient at finding prices than just about anyone else in the store. Considering they do returns all day long, they have to have an easy way to locate prices. So, take it to Customer Service and ask them attach a price tag to the item before you get in line to check out.

Haggling

If you live and work in the US, then you know big box retailers don’t haggle. So, why do people try anyway? Seriously! I understand there are a lot of non-US citizens living in the US on visas or maybe they’re working towards a green card. And yes, many countries require haggling to get the best prices. But, not in the US. So, when you live in the US, you don’t go to Wal-Mart and try to haggle with the cashier. Not only does the cashier not have any power to haggle, it wastes your time, their time and everyone else’s time who is in line behind you. So, don’t haggle with the cashier. Once in line, you either want the item at the price that’s marked or you don’t. If feel the need to haggle on pricing, then go to stores that sell on commission or talk to the manager on duty. Granted, there are no big box department retailers that use commission sales, but car dealerships, furniture stores, appliance stores and even some electronics retailers are still on commissions. Some more expensive clothing stores may even be on commission, but never deep discounters like Wal-Mart or Target. If you really want to know if a store is using commissions to pay their employees, then ask. If they say yes, then feel free to haggle all you want. Other places you can haggle include swap meets, garage sales, flea markets and farmer’s markets. You may even be able to haggle pricing shopping in locally owned and operated stores.

But, once again, don’t haggle at Wal-Mart, Target, Safeway, Whole Foods, Lucky, Albertson’s, Sears, JC Penney or any other well known big bix chain. And don’t even try to do it with the cashier. The only exception to this rule and only for Sears and JC Penney is the furniture department, appliances and possibly big ticket electronics. But, never on clothing at the stores and never with the cashier. Only haggle with someone working in the department prior to purchasing.

Time wasting practices

Once you get into line to check out, you need to have already decided what you want to buy. In fact, you should have decided what you are buying when you placed the item(s) into your cart. The other thing you need to do before getting into line is check for price tags or bar codes. If the item doesn’t have a bar code, take it to representative on the floor or the Customer Service desk and ask them to locate the price and price it. This not only saves you time checking out, it saves time for everyone behind you. It also shows you the price so you can decide long before you get in line if you want to pay that price.

Too many times I’ve seen someone bring up 10-20 garments to the checkout lane and hand them to the cashier for scanning. But, the items do not seem to have any bar codes. It’s not just one garment either. It’s like this person specifically searched for items that didn’t have bar codes (or somehow removed them all). I’m guessing they think that if the cashier can’t scan it, they can haggle for a price. This tactic doesn’t work. In many stores, garments or items where prices cannot be located will not be sold. That means you will have completely wasted your time and everyone else’s. In fact, I’d really prefer it if every store adopted a policy of not selling items where prices or bar codes cannot be located. Worse, though, is if the cashier decides to be nice and try to look up the price of the items. So, the cashier calls or radios for a price. That means someone on the floor has to go look for a similar item or stop by the checkout lane and pickup the item for reference.

When a cashier uses a floor runner to price an item usually takes 3-5 minutes. That’s 3-5 minutes that cashier is tied up doing nothing and everyone in line is caught waiting. So, get your items priced before you get in line.

If you feel the need to rip the price tags and bar codes off of items at Target, don’t. It’s not going to save you any money and will just cause you (and everyone else) to wait longer to check out (or possibly, you won’t purchase those items at all). If you don’t want to pay retail at places like Target or Wal-Mart, then go to Ross, Marshall’s, TJ Max or even Steinmart. If you want designer stuff, then visit outlet malls where you can find outlet stores for Coach, Tommy Bahama, Ralph Lauren and other name designers. You may even be able to haggle at an outlet store.

Ultimately, when you get in line, make sure your items have bar codes, don’t rip tags off hoping to get lower prices and don’t shop at the checkout. If you can’t find a price, ask at Customer Service. Make your decision to purchase before you get in line, not after. If there’s something you don’t want, then give it to the cashier who can send it back to the floor. If you forgot something, don’t hang the whole lane by running and getting it. Ask the cashier to suspend your transaction. Most stores can do this now. Then, go get your item(s) and get back in line (at the end of the line). The cashier can then bring up the suspended transaction with your new items and proceed checking you out. And most of all, think about all of the people behind you in line that you are making wait by not observing these most basic shopping courtesies.

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Malls and shopping

Posted in shopping by commorancy on July 11, 2009

I like shopping, for the most part.  But, I shop only for the things I need and I like to feel I’m getting my items at a good price.  However, more and more when shopping locally, I find myself visiting shops that are independant of malls.  Frankly, I don’t really like shopping in malls for several reasons.  The first reason is parking. In the ‘better’ malls, it can be difficult to find parking on the weekends or during other busy times (e.g., holiday shopping).  Rarely, however, do I find this difficulty when visiting stores in smaller venues or independent stores like Best Buy or Ikea.  The second reason I don’t like malls is that the retailers have to pad their prices to cover their overhead of being in a mall.  For me, I don’t need to buy their items bad enough to help them cover their mall rent.

Cookie Cutter

More and more, we have become a society of cookie cutter items.  Items that you can find at thousands of other stores.  This goes for just about every item imaginable… from clothing, to appliances, to food, to electronics, to computers.  There’s really very little made these days that is one-of-a-kind unique… with the exception of art.  Even music and movies are cookie-cutter items.  They may be unique to the content producer, but they want that material disseminated widely, so there are potentially millions of copies produced.

Gone are the days of items that are produced in small quantities.  Yes, occasionally items will be produced in limited editions.  But, the reality is, even these items while numbered and limited may not actually be limited.  The reason, the producer will turn around and repackage the item in a mass produced package that’s sold to millions.  So, the limited edition package is limited, the actual product isn’t.

Digital World

In our up-and-coming digital world, uniqueness will be a thing of the past.  Because digital items can be produced in mass quantities easily, there is effectively no way to produce a limited edition digital item.  Even if there were, how could you guarantee the authenticity or genuine uniqueness of the item?  You can’t. So our digital economy will move us more and more away from unique individual hand produced items.

Arts and Crafts

On the other hand, arts and crafts including individual tailored fashions will be where the unique one-of-a-kind items will be created.  You will need to commission an artist and pay the price in order to get unique items.  I mean, items that no one else has.  Fine artists also produce these items and will continue.  By fine art, I do not refer to such boilerplate artists like Thomas Kinkade.  I refer to actual artists who paint their own works, knit their own clothes or create their own pottery.  These are the unique items that make shopping unique and fun.  It means you have something that no one else in the world has.

Malls

Malls are frustrating, at best, to walk around in.  They are big and, at times, crowded.  As you walk around, the kiosk staff bombard you with silly offers of cleansing your face with goopy mixtures to dropping RC helicopters on your head to AT&T staff hawking their phones while you walk by.  And. these are in the ‘high class’ malls.  Is there any decorum left in these malls?  I’d rather go to a store like Target where the staff actually has shopping interferance rules.  For example, when was the last time you went to Target or Wal-Mart only to be harrassed by an employee to clean your face with some goop or hawking some latest thing?  It never happens.

On top of the markup overhead of a mall, the mall experience is simply annoying at best and frustrating at worst.  The stores do not provide unique items, yet charge high dollars for their non-unique items.  And yet, considering the cookie-cutter nature of a mall, it can still be difficult to find the right item, size or style.  Usually because what you want is not in vogue for that year, so no one actually has it.  Yet, last year they were everywhere.

Worse, the costs for a retailer to inhabit a mall is so high that you only find the most expensive chains in these malls. It’s rare that a smaller mom-and-pop sized store can afford to be in these malls just due to the square footage costs.  So, Malls themselves end up being cookie cutter by the stores they can afford to attract.  So, when you walk into the mall, you can pretty well expect only the most solvent and biggest chains will be there.  Gone are the smaller retailers and independants from these cookie-cutter outlets.

Shopping Experience

Over the years, the shopping experience has changed.  Malls used to be a reasonable fun place to visit.  There was a good mix of big chains and small mom-and-pops.  Today, it’s more about the Abercrombie and Fitchs’ of the world.  It’s less about unique items and more about bigger retailers and staying in business.  With the economy the way that it is, the mall is not the place to shop.  Yet, one visit to a mall and you will still see people there shopping and spending money getting their cookie-cutter items.  Frankly, I’d rather not deal with this hassle and, instead go to a smaller strip mall or an independent retailer and avoid that hassle.

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