Digital Shopping Experience – Coming Soon To A Store Near You: Part 3

As mentioned in my previous posts on the Dx3 Digital Shopping Experience (Part 1, Part 2), I attended the Dx3 Canada (#Dx32014) conference in Toronto on March 5-6. The Dx3 conference brought agencies, brands, publishers and retailers together for two days of networking and education on current innovations of digital marketing in retail.

This is the last in a three part series of posts that describe what shopping experiences you might see coming soon to a store near you. I have one more post coming out for retailers who want to create exciting shopping experiences for their customers, but this will be the last one describing the shopping experience itself.

Before I get into the  digital shopping experience content of this post, I couldn’t help myself from including a picture of an automated display that I passed by at the conference. The display was meant to simulate a human greeting and then give a product pitch. I’m not sure what to think of it, but it definitely caught my attention as I walked by. On the other hand, although it caught my attention, I admit it felt a bit creepy to me. I think I’d still prefer to be greeted by a real person at Walmart.Welcome Display

On to the main digital shopping experience blog post content …

Since this is the last post on the shopping experience, it seems fitting that I should talk about a session given by Aran Hamilton of Vantage Analytics. Unlike my last two blog posts, I’m not going to introduce you to a new shopping experience this time. Rather, I want to talk about Aran Hamilton’s presentation, because I felt he did a good job of describing the general set of characteristics that all modern shopping experiences should include …

His expectations for a digital shopping experience are …

1) Shopping experience needs to be integrated with shoppers’ mobile phones
2) Let shopper do real-time product scanning with their mobile phones to access product information and ratings as required
3) Customer self-service where possible
4) Access to expert customer support and curated recommendations when required
5) Shopping experience needs to be integrated with social media
6) Personalized targeted offers
7) Self-checkout option unified with Loyalty Program and Point of Sale checkout technology

As a modern shopper, I believe Aran Hamilton did a good job of summarizing what you should expect, and even demand, from the stores that you shop at. There are many reasons that stores won’t work hard to provide the best experience, don’t let the fact that you’re not asking for the best be one of those reasons!

Let me know what you think. If you’re a shopper would you like to your shopping experience to include these types of interactions? If you’re a retailer, what do you think of the risks and rewards to create an integrated shopping experience for your shoppers?

 

ThankYou.2

 

 

Digital Shopping Experience – Coming Soon To A Store Near You: Part 2

As I wrote in my previous post (Digital Shopping Experience: Part 1), I attended the Dx3 Canada (#Dx32014) conference in Toronto last week. The Dx3 Conference brought agencies, brands, publishers and retailers together for two days of networking and education on current innovations of digital marketing in retail.

This is the second in a series of posts on what I learned at the Dx3 Canada conference. There were many great new shopping innovations everywhere I went at the conference. In this post, I want to tell you about a demonstration store I found in the middle of the conference floor.

As you can see in the pictures, it was branded with LXR & Co, but it underneath the covers, it used technology powered by Thirdshelf, Exponents and Shopify. The demo store showed off the concept of a fully digital interactive fantasy store of the future. I was given a walk through of the experience, and boy oh boy, was it ever delightful!

The main experience design components found in the concept store were …
1) Personalized product discounts
2) Integrated Store and Mobile/Web experience
3) Interactive Display Advertising in-store
4) Social Media Sharing

Let me take you through the steps that were presented to me at the show to give you a good picture of the shopping experience I received …

1) Download app and register for LXR & Co profile
2) Physically browse around the store looking for interesting products
3) Watch display advertising for product sales pitch
Smart Displays 1 Smart Displays 2

4) Use in-store tablet to find product details
Tablet Product Information
5) Scan the tag and look-up product details on your own phone
Scannable TagsMobile Product Information

6) Receive personalized sales promotions
Personalized Discount Offers

I admit I’m unlikely to personally purchase a vintage Gucci handbag from LXR & Co, but if you’re in the market for Gucci, Chanel, Prada or other luxury names, you may be interested to know that they have boutiques in Beverly Hills, SOHO, as well as, having an online presence at LXR & Co. Rumor has it that they may also be considering opening a store in Toronto. Hopefully you’ll find the digital shopping experience I received, at the conference, in a store near you soon.

Let me know what you think of this experience. If you’re a shopper would you like this type of shopping experience? If you’re a retailer, what do you think of the risks and rewards to create an integrated shopping experience for your shoppers?

 

Digital Shopping Experience – Coming Soon To A Store Near You: Part 1

Hointer

 

I attended the Dx3 Canada (#Dx32014) conference in Toronto last week. The Dx3 conference brought agencies, brands, publishers and retailers together for two days of networking and education on current innovations of digital marketing in retail.

Wow! I saw great shopping innovations were everywhere I went at the conference. In the upcoming posts, I want like to share with you a sample of what you might find coming soon to a store near you. (Digital Shopping Experience Part 2)

In this post, I’ll talk about a concept store found in Seattle, called Hointer. The store concept is to move the focus away from the typical showroom theater to an interactive experience for trying on clothes (jeans as a first trial) in the fitting room.

Nadia Shouraboura, Hointer founder, gave a presentation at the conference describing how she hopes Hointer technology will remove many of the frustrations today’s shoppers have shopping for clothes. She explained that Hointer can remove the typical issues shoppers have when buying jeans, and let them focus on the experience of finding clothes they like and making it easy for them to purchase.

Shouraboura pointed out that removing a hovering salesperson from the experience may appeal to many men. As a personal preference, I can see how this idea is appealing to me. But if you’re a social shopper, don’t despair. Hointer’s experience also includes the ability for social sharing while you’re trying on your clothes. I’m pretty sure you’ll find the Hointer experience appealing for both genders!

The best way to communicate what I learned from Nadia Shouraboura is to let you see for yourself. Take a look at the following two videos.


You may not actually see a Hointer store opening at your local mall, because it intends to license it’s technology to other retailers rather than opening up a large chain itself. However, if Shouraboura is successful, you’ll find this experience in one of your regular clothing stores if they license the technology.

Let me know what you think. If you’re a shopper would you like this type of shopping experience? If you’re a retailer, what do you think of the risks and rewards to create an integrated shopping experience for your customers?

How To Buy: Internet TV

Black Friday is here, and Christmas is right around the corner. This means we’ve entered the biggest shopping season of the year. Woo Hoo, let the games begin!

Of course if you are not waiting in long lines at the store or looking for a parking space at the mall, it’s probably a good idea to moderate the shopping by spending time with friends and family. No need to feel too guilty about shopping, because much of the shopping will be for gifts that help make our relationships stronger, or just take a friend with you on the next shopping trip. 

Today I want to go shopping for an Internet TV. This post is partly inspired by the start of the Christmas shopping season, but also because of feedback I received on my last two posts. Thank you for the comments. Please keep them coming.

I guess the best place to start is to consider what options you have when buying an Internet TV.  Here are a few things for you to think about …

Factors to Consider:

Content: TV, Movies, Netflix, YouTube, Home Videos, Music, Photos, etc.

Content Source: TV signal (Broadcast, Cable or Satellite), Internet Connection (WiFi or Ethernet), Home Photos/Video (Bluetooth or WiFi to Home PC Storage). etc.

Display: Screen Size, Pixel Density & Refresh Rate

Controllers: TV Remote Control, Keyboard/Mouse, Audio Control, Gesture Control

TV Applications: Web Browser, Netflix, YouTube, etc.

It’s sometimes easier to understand what you’re buying when you know a little bit about the technology used inside a product. One way to think about an Internet TV is to imagine a PC built inside the TV. It’s not quite the same, because you don’t have access to the PC’s Operation System (e.g. Windows) and desktop user interface. However, an Internet TV is different from a traditional TV because you do have an internet connection (WiFi or Ethernet) and access to content from the Internet (e.g. Netflix, YouTube, etc.) just like you do on a standalone PC.

I strongly recommend you visit a local electronics store and see how the Internet user interface works on the TV works before you make a purchase. Don’t make the mistake I made a few years ago when I bought an “Internet” TV on sale after Christmas, and I did not find out that the TV did not include a general web browser application until after I got it home. I think most new Internet TVs now have the web browser application. Also note: during the research on an earlier post, I read that Panasonic Viera TVs (past models?) did not include the Netflix app. Double check that the Internet TV you intend to buy supports the applications you expect before buying. This might save you from the dreaded “Buyers Remorse”. 

I took the following picture at a local Future Shop store (owned by Best Buy) to show you an example of applications found on an Internet TV. This is for a Samsung Internet TV in this case you were wondering.

The last last thing you may want to think about is whether you really need a PC tightly coupled inside your TV, at all. An alternative configuration is to simply connect your standard HDTV to a laptop PC using a HDMI cable (your laptop must have an HDMI interface for you to get the true value of the High Definition visuals). When you want Internet connectivity on your TV screen, plug in the the laptop with the HDMI cable. When you don’t need it, disconnect the cable and use your laptop as a regular laptop. Your controller will now be the laptop, of course. You won’t have the other controller options mentioned above, but this may or may not be important to you. 

If you want to add something to the topic or if you have any other questions, please write a comment. Otherwise …

Happy Holidays and Happy Shopping Everyone!

More Resources

LG 
Panasonic (UK)
Samsung (Canada) 

Samsung (USA)
Sony

Sorry for sending you around the world to get more information on Internet TVs. I got these links from a quick Google search. You’d think that the international TV manufacturers would make it easier for us shoppers to understand what we’re buying at a generic level. Once we’re ready to buy, they could THEN send us down to country specific purchase points. Ugh.

 

How To Buy: The Best Internet Service

 

Comparing Interet Service Offers
Internet Service Comparison Factors

How do you know you’re getting the best deal on your Internet service? We all know the value of the internet, but we don’t all have the technical background to understand the serivce that is delivered to us. If you want tips on how to compare and buy the best Internet service for your needs, please read on.

I’m reluctant to over complicate this post with technical, contractual & marketing details. So, I’ll suggest to you that there are three basic things that you need to understand when buying Internet service from anyone. Namely … 1) Speed, 2) Usage & 3) Price. These are not the only things to consider when shopping for Internet service, but if you can use this information to cut through the marketing and sales hype from the Internet service providers you’ll have a good head start.

By the way, understanding speed metrics, usage metrics and price will help get the best value whether you want low-speed, high-speed or mobile Internet service.

Speed

Speed is the rate of data being served to you. Internet technology does not always match speeds in each direction, so it’s important to consider speed rates in two directions. DSL for instance will always send data faster to you (download speed) than sending data from your computer to the Internet (upload speed). For most consumers, download speed is more important than upload speed. Internet speed is measured in bits per second (bps). For high speed access, you’ll typically find rates quoted in Megabits per second (Mbps). If you’re not afraid of technology, you can investigate which technologies the service providers use and how that effects speeds. However, if you don’t really care about technology, then just stick to understanding the speed of the Internet service product offering.

As a side note, take a look at the Internet Speedometer  I found it with a quick google search. It might help you prove you’re actually getting the promised speed that you’re paying for today.

Usage

Usage is the total amount of data that is served to you over a period of time, typically one month. The metric used is typically Gigabytes, or GB. Some service providers don’t have usage limits. This is a good thing if you are a heavy Internet user (e.g. dropping TV service to get your news and entertainment over the Internet). The other case where this may be important to you is if you don’t want to be worried that you’ve gone over your usage limit and paying ridiculously high usage fees. Sometimes in the news you’ll hear when someone miscalulated their usage fees and they receive a $10,000+ monthly bill from their service provider.

All Internet Service providers should provide you a tool that let’s you monitor your Internet usage. I recently found out it was imporant for me to use the Telus usage app because I went over my monthly data usage by mistake. If your Internet service has a monthly usage cap and you don’t know how to measure your usage, then you may get an unpleasant surprise at the end of the month. Make sure you ask your Internet service provider how to do this.

Price

Now you’d expect that price information would be straight forward, wouldn’t you? Hold on there. You’ll need to be cautious about a couple things.

First there’s the question of how Internet service providers communicate prices to you. You may have to cut through the “marketing speak” of some service providers (think of a used car salesman) to find out the real cost of your Internet service. For instance when I was looking into changing my serivce provider from Bell Sympatico to Tek Savvy recently, I noticed two very different ways telling me what the cost of their services were. The most meaningful price to you is the after tax monthly charges that will be coming out of your pocket. So, when I told the Tek Savvy person this is the way I wanted him to talk about prices he willingly adapated his communication style to what I needed. Unfortunately, the Bell people had to stay on script and could not talk this way. They clearly had a sales agenda that was not aligned to my shopping needs. I guess they thought that they could trick me into thinking there price was less. In reality it annoyed me that I had to do extra calculations in order to figure out the true cost after they gave me their “discounted” numbers.

The second thing that you need to worry about with price is what is included and what is not included in the quoted price. For instance, the monthly Internet charges for Tek Savvy did not include the initial cost of modem equipment. Luckily for them, they were very upfront about this cost when I told them I was comparing their prices to Bell Fibe. In fact, the sales person told me that Tek Savvy offered the equipment at a certain price, but that if I knew what to look for (specific technology standards), I could probably get the modem cheaper by picking up the equipment myself. The Bell Fibe equipment was cheaper during the first round of negotiation, but eventually I talked them into throwing in the modem for free.

When you have to add fixed costs into monthly charges to make a good comparision between company offers, I find it makes sense to combine the initial equipment cost with the ongoing monthly cost by dividing the equipment cost by 10 or 20 (i.e. amortize it over 10 months or 20 months) and then add it onto cost of the monthly internet service.

Putting It Altogether

Let’s put all this information together and compare quotes I recently received by Tek Savvy and Bell Fibe.

1) Bell  6Mbps, 60 GB, $64 after tax   [Service as of Sept 2013 after recent price increase]

2) Bell Fibe 15Mbps, 60GB, $41 before tax   [Faster service & lower price, hmmm, sounds interesting. Too bad I don’t trust Bell because of the poor customer experience they’ve given me.]

3) TekSavvy 7Mbps, 75GB, $34 after tax [$360 per year cheaper than the services I received in Sept 2013, but requires company change (risk) and the purchase of a new modem]

4) TekSavvy 7Mbps, 300GB, $39 after tax [higher usage rate which might make sense if I cancel my Shaw Satellite TV service]

Again there are more factors than just speed, usage and price, but you can see how I’ve used this information to organize my thinking. It certainly helped me focus on the important information for a first pass on my product/price comparison work.

More Resources

Shopping for High Speed Internet Service – US Government

I hope you found this post useful. Please leave a comment and let me know how well I’ve done. You can also let me know if you want me to write on another “How To Buy” topic in the future.

Bell Fibe Broke My Netflix! or Was It My Fault?

 

Bell Fibe Broke My Netflix!

I upgraded to Bell Fibe on a Friday afternoon a few weeks ago. I didn’t noticed until Saturday night that it broke my Netflix!

[Update November 13, 2013: Or Was It My Fault??? – see updated information below].

It was my original intent to write my next blog about how to purchase the best internet service, but I can’t believe that Bell Fibe broke my Netflix. So, this post is about what happened to me, and how you can avoid the same hassels from Bell Fibe, possibly by avoiding Bell Fibe in the first place.

The truth is upgrading to Bell Fibe broke all apps on my Sony TV not just Netflix. If you “upgrade” to Bell Fibe, be prepared to spend extra hours talking to Bell support to get them to do the right thing and not block internet service to your TV.

The background for this story was my Bell non-Fibe internet service monthly bill went from $57 after tax to $64 after tax over the summer. I used this as an opportunity to explore how Tek Savvy Internet serivce compares with Bell. I’ll write a blog on that topic in the future. After dealing with poor service from the Bell Loyalty department, I finally decided upgrade my existing Internet service with Bell to Bell Fibe as an temporary solution to lower my monthly bill to $41 per month before tax. Was that one of my mistakes? Maybe, but let’s continue with the Netflix story for now. Again , it looks like I’ll have to write another post to share my customer experience with Bell Sympatico later.

Here is the basic story.

Thursday: Old Bell Sympatico Internet Service: Netflix Working on my Sony TV
Friday: “Upgraded” to Bell Fibe 15/10
Saturday: Netflix not working on my Sony TV
Saturday: Bell Chat Support won’t help and hangs up on me.
Next step: Call 310-SURF and mention CRTC

Today’s blog is to tell you Bell’s reaction to my problem report. [Please look for the chat exchange I had with Bell support below]

Here’s a screenshot of the Bell Fibe router admin panel. Notice that the “TV Status” is disabled. Clearly Bell Fibe does not provide true Internet service, because the Internet does not discriminate by what types of devices are connected to it. Bell, I think we have a problem.

Bell Fibe Modem blocking Netflix and other Sony TV internet services.

It looks like I’m not alone. I did a quick google search for “Bell Fibe Broke Netflix”, and I found this video of someone with a slightly different problem. I know blogging about Bell Fibe problems might not be the most captivating of topics, but I really wish Bell tested out the Netflix problems before rolling out their new Fibe product, grrrrrrrr.

I’m pretty certain there’s a configuration setting somewhere that will fix this problem, because it was working perfectly before upgrading to Bell Fibe. My fear is that Bell has protected this configuration setting on their side of the network. Oh well, wish me luck, and don’t worry I’m sure Bell customer service will give me more to write about in the future.

 

Bell Live Chat from Sept 28, 2013

chat representative will be with you in about 0 minute(s). Thank you for waiting.

Chat representative Dietrich has joined the session and is ready to help. To start, please provide your name and home phone number.

Dietrich: Hello! Welcome to Bell Internet Services. How may I help you today?

you: hi, I just had a new modem installed by bell on Friday afternoon

Dietrich: Hi. Good evening!

you: the tech person made sure the internet would work with my pc – good

you: but I’m now having trouble connecting to the internet with my sony tv – not good

you: it worked with the previous modem

you: I tried switching ethernet ports on the modem, but no go

Dietrich: I understand that you are unable to connect to your Bell modem with the Tv. Am I right?

you: yes

Dietrich: To validate your account,may I have your B1 number and the complete billing address in this format street number, street name,city, province & postal code?

you: sure

you: b1******

you: ****************************************

Dietrich: Thank you for the information.

Dietrich: Are you trying to connect wirelessly or wired with the TV?

you: wired

Dietrich: Okay! I am sorry that we do not support configuration in TV as we do support only Internet configuration in computers.

Dietrich: For this, you will have to contact your Tv support.

you: are you serious? 😮

you: it was working fine until Friday afternoon.

Dietrich: Yes. I am sorry for that.

you: the new modem broke my existing service

you: one second, I’ll be right back

Dietrich: Okay! Are you been prompted for any information for connecting your modem?

you: back

you: prompted on my TV?

you: no, I have a valid MAC Address and IP address assigned to the TV when I check the modem admin UI

Dietrich: Okay! Yes. On your TV.

you: the modem understands the TV exists on the ethernet/IP network

you: I’ve never ever been prompted on my TV

you: with the new modem or the old one.

you: just plugged in the ethernet and go

you: the previous modem worked fine

Dietrich: Okay! If you are in need of any username or password, I can certainly help you in that and if not, I am sorry that you will have to contact the TV support as the modem works fine with the computers.

you: No problem, I’m calling Tek Savvy on Monday morning to switch from Bell. Your service is very very poor. 🙁

Dietrich: I am really sorry to hear like this from a valuable customer like you.

Dietrich: I apologize for the inconvenience.

you: no cut and pasting your text please

you: I’d prefer to talk to a real person

Dietrich: I am sorry for that.

you: me too

Dietrich: To speak with us over the phone , Kindly contact Bell us at: 310-SURF (7873) from Bell phone line or  Non-Bell phone line: 1-800-773-2121

you: do you understand that my internet service was working fine until the modem was changed?

Dietrich: Yes. I do certainly understand that.

Dietrich: Also your Internet works fine with computers now.

you: you are an internet service provider, not a device provider

you: so why do you care what device I’m using on the internet?

Dietrich: If your TV prompts for any username or network name, I will be able to help you in regards with that and in connecting any modem configuration.

you: I guess Tek Savvy will be more helpful than you.

Dietrich: But since that does not asks for any information from the modem or Internet connection, I will not be able to assist you in this regard.

Dietrich: I’m sorry to hear that.

you: Can you please confirm that you will not support my Sony TV on the new modem that Bell installed on Friday?

you: That’s the key question I’m asking.

Dietrich: It is not just Sony TV, We do not support configuration in TV. For this you should be subscribed to Fibe TV services and could you confirm the light status corresponding to TV in your modem?

you: Please confirm … your internet service does not support TV devices unless I want to subscribe to the Fibe TV?

Dietrich: If that is just a plug and play, our Internet service would support, but we at support level does not support the configuration of Bell Internet in TV.

you: ah, thank you.

Dietrich: Welcome.

Dietrich: Do you have any other questions or concerns that I can assist you with?

you: My device worked plug and play until you changed the modem.

you: the new modem does not allow plug and play

Dietrich: Okay! It seems that you have upgraded the plan to Ontario DSL Fibe 15/10 and the new modem is only suitable for the  new plan that you are subscribed to

you: can you please confirm that the Ontario DSL Fibe 15/10 plan will not support unrestricted internet access to a Sony TV?

Dietrich: It is not the plan that restricts the access, but the modem that you are using now. However for the specifications of plug and play regarding the modem, please check the manufacturer web page of the modem.

you: are you serious?

Dietrich: Yes, It is not the plan that you are subscribed to. It is the modem configuration that we do not support.

you: and you understand that Bell installed this modem yesterday afternoon. I did not choose this modem.

Dietrich: So, for further information key in for the Sagecom F@st 2864

you: Does Bell accept any responsibility for downgrading my service when I switched to the new Fibe plan?

Dietrich: Yes, This is the modem that Bell provides for residential Internet connection.

Dietrich: Could you please explain more specifically?

you: Okay, let’s try this 🙂

you: 1) My internet service was working fine for all my device yesterday morning

you: 2) Bell installed a new modem in my house yesterday afternoon

you: 3) Today you tell me that the modem that Bell installed broke the internet service that was working fine yesterday morning

you: 4) and then you say it’s not the Bell Fibe plan, but the modem Bell installed that broke the service

The chat session should begin shortly, thank you for your patience.

The chat session should begin shortly, thank you for your patience.

Could not send

It seems to me you’re not accepting responsibility for breaking a service that was working fine yesterday morning

 

November 13, 2013 UPDATE:

This is one of those embarassing times in my debugging career when it turns out that the first idea I had about the source of a problem turns out be wrong.

So, here’s what happened today. I finally got around to looking at the Internet TV problem that began a few weeks ago. I started debugging by going back to basics -> checking out the cabling. To my surprise I noticed a problem with the ethernet connection from my DSL modem to my TV. Whoa!

It’s been awhile since Bell Fibe was first installed, so I wasn’t sure if the connection problem existed at the time of my orginal complaint. I know I definitely moved the cables around after the Bell Fibe upgrade, so it’s possible the connection problem was introduced after upgrading to Bell Fibe. However, if the connection issue was there from the start then I might have been blowing a lot of hot air. Shoot! I hate when that happens.

So, I fixed the ethernet connection issue and retried Netflix on my Sony Internet TV. Guess what? It worked! Woo Hoo!

Lesson to be learned from my embarassment? Check the cabling before asking for help. If a friend or family member is also available, it would not hurt to ask them to independently check the basic cabling connections too.

By the way, I’m still not happy with the way Bell managed my pre-Fibe Internet service (see previous posts). At least now it looks like all my devices are working at the same service level as before upgrading to Fibe. Whew!

I think I’ll go forget about the public embarassment of my debugging skills by watching a little Netflix on my Internet TV using the Bell Fibe Internet service. 🙂

 

 

Back to School Shopping Tips for College and University Students

This time of year many young people are going back to school. Parents, dare I say Moms?, are anxiously running around town shopping for the best school supply and fashion deals. Have you seen those great Walmart commercials on TV? I love them. This is probably a familiar experience if you are the parent of a young child. In my case, however, I don’t have to worry little ones going to primary school any more. This post is directed at my oldest son, and anyone else for that matter, who is going to College or University, possibly for the first time. These students are older and must take on the responsibility of fending for themselves. I recognize the days of telling my son what to do and expecting him to listen are long over, but if you’re going to college or university and you’re willing to listen to advice from someone who has done this before, feel free to read on …

Okay, if you’re still at home before making the “BIG” trip to school, let your parents help you one last time! No big deal. Let them feel useful to you just for a little while longer. Eventually you’ll be on your own, and it would be nice to let your parents enjoy the feelings of a needy child for a little while longer. However, once you get to school … WooHoo! Party Time! Okay, it’s probably a good ide to enjoy yourself a little and make sure you get out to make new friends. Everyone is in the same boat. But don’t forget to do the laundry or all those new friends you’re making won’t last long. Oh yeah, have you learned how to shop for groceries? Survive on a budget? Make your own meals? The hop from high school to college is a big one. Education is obviously the main focus of students going to college, or at least hopefully it is. But don’t forget that for many of you, this will be the first time where you will be away from doting parents who will feed you and do your laundry. Yes, you may have more freedom, but at the same time you’ll have to learn to fend for yourself on the homemaking front.

Here are a few links that might help a university student learning how to survive on their own for the first time.

The Most Outrageously Thorough, Ridiculously Detailed College Shopping List You Will Ever See

Interactive Student Budget Calculator

10 proven ways for students to save money

Hopefully you’ll find the links useful. Let me know if you find other links that you find particularly useful with this hop.

Good luck with school and the next big step in your life!

Oh yeah, feel free to send me questions on how to optimize your shopping for student life. I’d love to help out if I can.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Capital One

Have you noticed the way many corporations love to sign you up for new products and services, but ignore you when you’ve decided it’s time to move on? It’s one of the biggest reasons I choose not to accept most marketing invitations for new products and services.

I signed up for a credit card with Capital One a couple of years ago. I thought I did my homework. I searched the Internet and tried to compare the different offers. I was looking for a card with the best cashback rewards. Capital One  seemed to fit the bill, so I applied and was accepted. This part of the relationship building was smooth and fast.

When I tried to use their reward system, it turned out that the marketing material did not accurately describe how the reward system worked. I was disappointed. It was not what I thought they promised me. So, I decided to move on. The basic strategy was … 1) Apply for a new credit card somewhere else, 2) Get the new card and make sure they delivered on what was promised, and finally 3) Cancel my Capital One credit card.

I have high expectations which financial companies I trust. Basically, if I feel I need a lawyer when I sign up for a new service, then that’s not the type of company that I want to do business with. When it comes to who I let manage my money, trust is a mandatory requirement.

Today I tried to close my Capital One account. Their 1-800 number was useless. It was almost impossible to figure out how to cancel my card. Eventually, I found the right option and started my expected wait. After waiting for 15 minutes with dead silence on the line, I decided to look at their website. Guess what popped up on my screen within 15 seconds? 😮 A chat window offering to connect me with someone who would sign me up for a new account. I thought cool, maybe I can speak to a representative from Capital One who will help me close my account. I wasn’t sure if if it would work, but why not give it a try. You can see the transcript of my attempt below.

Hopefully, I can break up the relationship I have with Capital One faster using this technique than expecting them to answer my phone call. Breaking up is hard to do, but some companies make it harder than necessary.

Wish me luck!!!!

Chat Transcript …

Chat InformationHi and welcome to Capital One live chat! One of our specialists will be right with you.  Your chat may be monitored and recorded.
Chat InformationYou are now chatting with Sinclair.
Sinclair: Thank you for visiting Capital One’s website. I’d be happy to answer any of your questions about our online credit card offers. How can I help you today?
You: I’d like to cancel my account please
Sinclair: Alright. Let me help you with that information.
You: great
Sinclair: We’re confident that you’ll enjoy your Capital One card. If you still want to cancel and you have a zero balance, you can call Customer Service at 1-800-481-3239 and they can help you with your request.
You: I’ve called them but I cannot get to a representative
You: can you please help me?
Sinclair: I’m sorry for the inconvenience caused.
Sinclair: I honestly wanted to help you. Unfortunately as you have reached the wrong department, we do not have the access to check on existing accounts due to security reasons. Here we help our customers with new applications.
Sinclair: However, not to worry.
Sinclair: I’ll help you to get connected to a phone representatives.
You: you type fast, but maybe cut and paste is easier
You: that’s perfect
You: maybe someone can call me?
Sinclair: Thank you. I really appreciate your patience and understanding.
Sinclair: I’m really sorry. Currently we do not have the option to call our customers.
Sinclair: If none of the options are working for you and you are unable to connect with the representatives, I’ll suggest that you wait till the end of the call and you’ll be automatically connected with our  representatives.
Sinclair: This way you will get connected to one of our representatives directly and quickly.
You: I’ve been waiting for a long time and nothing is happening
You: not quickly
You: in fact quite a long drawn out process 🙁
Sinclair: I’m sorry for that. may be all our representatives will busy with the calls.
You: it seems you’re quicker to accept a new account than being able to help your existing customers
You: why can’t you help me?
Sinclair: Please allow me a moment.
You: sure
Sinclair: Thank you.
Sinclair: As this is a sales chat support we do not have the access to check on existing accounts. however, not to worry. I’ll surely take this as a priority and make sure this reaches the top level at Capital One.
Sinclair: Right now, what best I can do to get your issue solved at the earliest is, I’ll initiate a call back.
Sinclair: Once I initiate the call back, you’ll get a call from our account specialist/application team who has the authority to look into your account and help with this concern.
Sinclair: Would that be fine with you?
You: That would be very helpful 🙂
Sinclair: Thank you.
Sinclair: To initiate a call back, please provide me with the following information.
Sinclair: Full Name:
You: David Mackey
Sinclair: Phone number and Alternate Phone number:
Sinclair: Email address:
You: [phone number edited out]
Sinclair: Time of availability:
You: anytime other than tomorrow (June 26)
Sinclair: Okay. Can I also get your Email address?
You: [email address edited out]
Sinclair: Thank you, David.
Sinclair: I have initiated the call back for you. You can receive the call anytime from now.
You: Thank you. I appreciate your help  🙂
Sinclair: It’s my pleasure. I really appreciate your understanding and we value your precious time.
Sinclair: Is there anything else that I could do to better assist you today?
You: nope, it’s all good
You: Thanks!
Sinclair: You’re welcome. It was a pleasure chatting with you today.
Sinclair: Have a good day. Take care and Bye!!!

Shopping On A Rainy Day In New York City

I was asked to be a chaperon on my son’s band trip to New York City a couple weeks ago. The trip was a lot of fun, but there was one rainy morning that I wanted to share with my ModShopper friends. We were supposed to tour Central Park, but that didn’t seem like much fun because of the rain. So, we went shopping at FAO Schwarz and the Apple Store on 5th Ave. to pass the time. Both these stores were an absolute delight to visit.

 

Rainy Day in NYC
Rainy Day in NYC

 

FAO Schwarz

What a fun place to shop! Every display I saw was inviting to the eye. The service was uniformly friendly and warm. Staff demonstrated toys in the aisles so shoppers could see what they were buying. Kids were allowed to play with the toys. FAO Schwarz truly lived up to it’s reputation as being a fun place to shop.

FAO Schwarz Pinterest

FAO Schwarz Stuffed Animals
FAO Schwarz Stuffed Animals
Fao Schwarz Piano
FAO Sweetz
FAO Sweetz

 

Apple

The Apple Store had a completely different feel to it, but the presentation was equally awesome to what I experienced at FAO Schwarz. From the street, you only see a large transparent glass cube with an Apple logo in the middle. When you enter, you walk down a circular staircase into a lower lair. I felt like I was walking into Luke Skywalker’s first home in Star Wars. The display tables were well laid out and staff was only a step away if you had a question. Well designed. Well executed in real life.

NYC Apple Store Pinterest

Apple Store NYC
Apple Store NYC
Apple Store Entrance
Apple Store Entrance
Apple Tablet Display
Apple Tablet Display

 

Both these companies have done a great job in presenting their wares to shoppers. They both deliver the highest quality shopping experience possible to their customers. This is the standard that shoppers want and that retailers should deliver!

Honey, You Remembered Everything At The Store, Didn’t You?

I’m having guests over to the house for a special meal this coming weekend. I don’t entertain too often, but it’s nice to invite friends over once in awhile. The funny thing is I notice the house always gets extra cleaning before the guests arrive. Am I the only one that works harder at cleaning before guests are expected? Housecleaning, however, is not part of the story today. It’s the shopping story that I want to share with you.

Grocery shopping before a big meal, you know the deal … 1) Figure out how many guests will be coming, 2) Find out the best day/time when everyone is available (especially hard with multiple families during holiday season), 3) Figure out who likes what type of food, 4) Plan the grocery list. Do you worry about finding the store(s) with the best prices or do you just go to one store to save time, because you need to clean up the house before the guests arrive? I figure a big meal deserves a good plan. So I did my homework. I talked to everyone about what they wanted and built my grocery list (in my head – uh oh!) and then looked at fliers to see which stores had the best prices. Luckily, as I mentioned, I have time to do the house cleaning tomorrow.

I started shopping with a good feeling that I wasn’t rushed, and I knew everything that I needed for the meal. After shopping I returned home satisfied with my “hunter/gatherer” accomplishments. Life is too good, you say? Yup. That smug feeling of accomplishment quickly changed with a simple question … “Honey, did you remember to get the [fill in the blank]”. I’m sure I did, because [fill in the blank] is very important for one of our guests. Hmmmm, first comes the sinking feeling, then GRRRRR, then #$@#! Nope, of course I forgot the [fill in the blank – sausages this time]. Life would be too simple if I had just taken a little extra time to go to the meat section to pick up the sausages when I was at the store.

And so I reluctantly get back in the car …

1. Deja Vu – Been Here, Done That
2. Getting Close to the Goal
3. Sausages, Eureka!!
4. Picked up cookies I don’t need, but they were on sale.
5. Bonus! This time I remembered to pick up the mail that I also forgot on the first grocery trip.

Round trip time – 1 hour.

Yes, it was sausages this time, but I’ve done it before, and I’ll likely do it again.

I guess I won’t really miss that hour, but gee, it is very annoying when I forget to pick up [fill in the blank] at the store!

Does this every happen to you too? If yes, please let me know that I’m not alone. 🙂

 

Are You A Customer From Hell?

I’m a big fan of looking at issues from multiple perspectives. So, since I’ve done a post on “Are you and unwanted customer?”, I thought it might be fun to look at “Customers From Hell” this time.

I’m a strong proponent of demanding the highest level of quality and support from stores who want my money. If you don’t ask for the best deal or the best service, you’re unlikely to get it. However, there is a difference from being a “demanding customer”  and a “customer from hell”.

Some retailers think anyone without money is a customer from hell. They are welcome to their opinion, but it might be short sighted. It might be better to view people without money as potential future customers not as customers from hell. No, true customers from hell are the ones that commit fraud, theft or just expect a free lunch in a belligerent way. These are the people that store owners need to be prepared for.

There are two perspectives about every sale in the shopping experience, the customer and the retailer. Satisfaction on both sides is the goal, but disagreements must be expected from time to time. Good customer service should kick in when disagreements pop up. Hopefully issues can be resolved to the satisfaction of both parties, but sometimes you may have to agree to disagree. The Internet is an excellent place to voice disagreements and bring the power of transparency to shopping. A thoughtful review is much more useful to others than mindless rant. I’m sorry, there is no such thing as a free lunch. It’s not valid to get mad just because you have to pay money for product or service. Although it’s easy to do on the Internet, it makes no sense to me to write personal attacks or throw a temper tantrum on the Internet. Demand the best deal, but don’t be a Customer from Hell.

As for cases of outright fraud and theft, that’s a completely different matter. Unfortunately, there are people out there who pretend to be customers, but who’s true intent is theft. These people not only hurt the stores they steal from, but they also hurt us honest customers indirectly too. In the long run, it’s the honest customers that have to bear the costs of higher prices due to store security and inventory loss. Stores can’t stay in business if they don’t earn a profit. It just makes sense.

I realize good behaviour and cooperation/compromise between customers and retailers is not something that happens all the time. Money tends to attract dishonest and unethical behaviour. However, I am hopeful that a transparent marketplace with the Internet will help shed light on abuses caused by both shoppers and retailers. Let me know if you are as hopeful as I am. 🙂

Are You Being Stalked (by your friendly neighbourhood store)?

As part of researching my new business adventure, I went to my first Internet Marketing Meet-up last night. I know that a successful marketing strategy is critical to all businesses. I also know that Internet Marketing and Digital Marketing are exciting and emerging fields that will be very useful to achieve the marketing goals of most companies in the future if not already today. These new marketing techniques improve the way businesses communicate and track customers. However, as the Search Engine Marketing experts were describing the tricks and techniques of Google’s search and tracking capabilities at the Meet-up last night, the inevitable push back appeared from others in the room who did not like the feeling of being watched by Big Brother, even if Big Brother Google [or Bing/Microsoft, or FaceBook, etc.] tell us to not worry, just trust them with the details of how it works. Hmmm, are my spidey senses of distrust tingling for no good reason? 😮

As a business owner trying to sell a service using Internet & Digital Marketing technology, I concluded it will be important for me to go beyond the technical and monetary details of how the new technology works. It will also be vital to understand how the use of the technology might inadvertently lead to the negative feelings of “creepiness” and loss of privacy in my customers. I  certainly don’t want to be perceived by my customers as an “Internet Stalker” or as a company that secretly profits from undisclosed selling of their information. The potential loss of trust could be disastrous.

For business owners, my personal belief/hope is that Internet/Digital Marketing technology will continue to evolve. But the use of the new marketing technology will be guided by concepts found in 1) ClueTrain Manifesto and 2) Pull Marketing (John Hagel III). New advances in Internet and Digital Marketing will continue. This is a good thing, but it’s never too late to overlay an ethical marketing filter to whatever marketing strategy you adopt for your business.

For consumers, pay attention to what information you give to companies and how it comes back to you. Demand that companies protect your privacy. Avoid doing business with companies that you don’t trust. The Internet gives you more power to speak out when companies do not respect your privacy. Use it!

Are You An Unwanted Customer?

No customer wants to buy a product that does not work. In fact, product manufacturers work very hard to minimize defects because product returns are costly to their profits. However, no one is perfect and mistakes happen sometimes. Just hope that when you have a problem the failure is catastrophic. In other words, it’s better for you if the product, or service, is completely broken. Why, you ask? Because if it’s completely broken, it’s easier for you to prove the problem exists and confirm the problem has been fixed.

Let me tell you a story about the troubles I’ve been having with my Pontiac SunFire in the last few months. I know some of you will immediately jump to the conclusion that the troubles are my fault for choosing a product from General Motors. If you fall in that camp, please forgive my sense of loyalty to General Motors products. I grew up in Oshawa, a city that was dominated by General Motors manufacturing plants (at least in the 60s, 70s, and lesser extent 80s). I do my best to be a rational consumer, but I still like to consider purchasing products made in my community when they produce a reasonably valued product.

Before I bought my car, I did some due diligence and visited my local library to look at what Consumer Reports had to say about the Pontiac SunFire. Sure enough there was a warning about electrical problems, but I found a good deal so I bought it and hoped for the best.

For the most part, the car has been reliable and when I’ve needed repairs the parts have been readily available and reasonably priced. However, it’s the “occasionally not working” fuel gauge that’s causing me grief. So, what’s the problem you might ask? Just take it to the local garage and have them fix it. Aha! That’s what I thought too. lol. Unfortunately, when I took into my local Gary’s Automotive, they did not have the skill or the tools to isolate the cause of the problem. In fact, I spent over $300 for the privilege of them telling me they couldn’t fix it and that I needed to take it to the local GM dealer if I wanted it fixed. Okay, sure electrical problems are difficult to fix and cost money/time. I understand that, but I was willing to work with them and give them money to diagnose trusting they would actually fix the trouble in the end. It turns out I became an UNWANTED CUSTOMER because they did not want to invest any more time on the admittedly difficult electrical problem. Since their patience ran out on me for my fuel gauge issue, I don’t think I will trust them again with the easier more profitable repairs on my SunFire in the future. Hello Mr. GoodWrench Man!

The moral of the story is not so much “don’t buy GM products”, but rather be aware that some problems are harder to fix than others. When you do have products or services that are marginal (i.e. work sometimes but now always), be prepared to pay more for diagnostic tests and make sure the person you rely on to fix it can actually fix it. It’s bad enough troubleshooting difficult problems, let alone having to switch repair companies in midstream.

$350 Saved, But No Service Improvement

An update with my Internet service troubles …

My Bell Sympatico Internet service is still cutting out periodically, so I called them today to cancel my Internet and phone service. I ended up with talking to someone in the “Loyalty Department” and managed to get my monthly bill for Internet and phone service cut from $ 78.82/month down to $49.39/month. That’s a savings of over $350/year. Assuming I stay with Bell, which may or may not happen. lol.

Before I called, several friends told me I should talk to the Loyalty department. If you want the best deal possible on your phone/Internet/mobile service, you definitely should call the Loyalty Department too. Unfortunately you may need to put them on speed dial, since it sounds like the “deals” change constantly. The lack of transparency disappointments me. I wonder if Bell Sympatico should change the name of their “Loyalty Department” to “Disloyalty Department”.

Here’s the painful part …

The loyalty lady could not tell me when the optical fiber upgrade was coming to my house, so she passed me to a “Senior” second line support person. His first response to me about when I when I asked when I will have fiber to my house was that it would be “soon”. I admit his vague response triggered a little anger because my original service complaint experience. I mentioned to him that his response is a poor way to run a business and then asked if he could get me more detailed information. When he came back the second time, he told me that the service is expected in my neighbourhood at the end of the summer. Hmmmm, this meant the information I received just a couple weeks ago has changed, or more likely that I was not told the truth on the original estimate in the hopes they could delay my decision to cancel their service. It always bothers me when companies hide the truth from their customers. It’s like aren’t mature enough to deal with reality, or more likely they prefer to lie to their customers to keep the money rolling in. Oh well, it’s not my problem if they want to destroy whatever level of trust I had with them .

Bottom Line:
1) I continue to have crappy service from Bell Sympatico.
2) At least the crappy service might not cost as much while I look into changing service providers.
3) My level of trust with Bell Sympatico continues to drop. Funny the more I interact with them, the less trust I have. lol.

When will these companies learn this is not not the best way to treat a customer? It’s simply bad business in the long run.

In the meantime, I’ve had reasonablely good Satellite TV service from Shaw.ca, so I may switch to them. Unfortunately, they don’t offer phone service in my area, so I’ve been looking at ComWave. I’d have to swtich from POTS (Plain Old Telephone Switch) technology to VoIP, but the savings could add up to $100/year.

Internet Service Insanity

I had another run in with my Internet Service Provider, Bell Sympatico, a few weeks ago.

We had been regularly losing Internet service for 5 minutes a day for about a month or so. I finally had time to complain a few weeks ago. I try to avoid calling large companies unless absolutely necessary, because of the pain and suffering I typically receive at the hands of their so called “customer service” process.

I was not disappointed this time.  The 30 minute wait on the phone just to get a first line support person who wants me to reset my modem again is always an annoying start. Ten minutes later I’ve followed her script, and I’m allowed to talk to a second line support person. This is where the amazingly bad service starts. The second line support person wants me to wait for him to test the DSL line. I said PARDON? Why do you want me to wait on the phone while you do your work? Get this … His response was that if I hung up the phone, another call would come in and he would not be allowed to work on my issue anymore. 😮 It’s hard for me to understand how long Bell Sympatico expects me to wait for them to fix a problem with their service. Being annoyed with the additional delay, I kindly asked the second line support person to wait for a few seconds while I wrote down what he just told me. This is the funny part. He hung up on me!!! It appears Bell Sympatico wants their customers to wait for them, but they don’t like it when their customers ask them to wait a minute while they report about the bad service on the Internet. It was at that precise point when I decided I needed to start looking for another provider. Unfortunately the search would have to wait, because after an hour and fifteen minutes into the call, I ran out of time. I needed to take James to a lacrosse game. Life must go on.

The good part of Bell Sympatico’s customer service is that they called a day later to find out if I still had a problem. Of course, I still had the problem. Unfortunately, their second effort didn’t turn out much better than the first attempt. They decided to send someone out to my house to look at the wiring in my house. I had to wait at home from 8am to noon the next day to find out the verdict. Guess what, the technician didn’t find anything wrong. He then told me I had to wait for four weeks until a new fiber optic network is being installed in my neighbourhood. I like the idea of upgrading to the fiber technology, but I have no confidence that they won’t try to boost the price for my Internet service rather than just fixing the original problem that I called in about.

I’m still investigating about switching to another Internet provider. Does anyone have an Internet service provider that they like, or do they all have the same bad customer service?

By the way when I was complaining to my friends about the bad service experience with Bell Sympatico, a few of my friends told me about talking to the “Loyalty” department at Bell Sympatico to get the best price. It sounds like a secret club. I’m not sure “secret” deals last very long in the modern shopping age, but maybe I’ll look into it while I’m still with Bell Sympatico.

In Store Search Shopping Experience

I don’t know about you, but this type of experience happens to me all the time.

I went to Shopper’s Drug Mart last week looking for QTips and Rubbing Alcohol required for cleaning the drones on my bagpipes. The Drug store around the corner is not too large but let’s say it has about 10 aisles of products with five shelves for each aisle. (I’ll try to remember to size it better next time I’m in the store.) I made a reasonably good guess at which aisles the products were in based on the signs at the top of the aisles. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any luck finding the specific products. It’s possible that I have the “Can’t find the butter in the fridge even when it’s right in front of you” syndrome, or maybe it’s because I’m a man (yes ladies, I’m finally aware of my gender disability). Luckily a female store clerk walked past me in my time of need. She knew exactly where the products I wanted were located (aisle, shelf, etc). I was impressed with her knowledge (not all store clerks have detailed knowledge of product location), and thanked her for her help.

Okay, so you may not share the experience of having to find QTips and Rubbing Alcohol for your Bagpipe maintenance needs, but I bet you occasionally have trouble finding specific products when you visit your local stores, especially the big box stores who don’t hire enough store clerks. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an In Store Search tool? Let me know if you think this is a good idea, or better yet, do you have examples of retailers who have already solved this problem?

Birthday Gift Shopping Experience

I think it’s important to understand the current shopping experience before improvements can be targeted. To that end, I plan to share my shopping experiences with you from time to time. You’re welcome to share your experiences too. Rants and Raves are encouraged. 🙂

So, I was shopping for my son’s birthday last week. Sometimes I’m on top of the gift list, but not so much this year.  James gave me a few helpful hints as his birthday approached. Unfortunately, I did not record the hints in a wish list. It turns out my memory doesn’t work so well when I don’t write things down.

When I finally started to shop for the gifts before his birthday, I surprised myself in that I successfully anticipated one of the gifts even before he asked for it (a Microsoft XBox wireless controller). I was able to buy it on sale when I saw it advertised in a newspaper flyer. I also remembered the most important present, an Xbox Minecraft game. It was released a day before his birthday. During my online research I found out that it could only be purchased online. Not my preference since I did not have an account with Microsoft, but oh well, I decided to wait until his birthday and let him order it online with my credit card. Last but not least, I totally forgot about the Electronic Arts Sims3 game. I felt a little guilty for not remembering the Sims3 game, but part of parenting is learning to roll with the punches and make a quick recovery. Maybe I can avoid the bad feelings next year if I find a better way to track the wish list.

So the birthday comes. James gets his Xbox wireless controller. Unfortunately, when we tried to order the Xbox Minecraft game, the Xbox website would not accept my credit card. The Microsoft website told me to call my credit card company. So, I did. The first person I talked to at Captial One Mastercard was very very unhelpful. To start with, I’m not happy with Capital One Mastercard, but that’s another story. When the customer service person repeated the same thing over and over and expected me to be happy, it only made me more frustrated. I finally had to speak to the customer service manager. She was helpful, because she gave me more information about what was happening and what I could do about it. Ultimately, I had to call Microsoft Xbox support.

I received great service from the Microsoft support process from this point onward. I found the support web page. It asked me if I wanted to chat with someone online or if I wanted someone from Microsoft to call my home. They even gave me an expected wait time for each option. Nice. The phone option was quicker, so I clicked on it and waited. Sure enough they called my house within a few minutes. I worked with a support person (based in the Midwest USA) for about 30 minutes trying different things. He finally decided the Microsoft payment system was not working, offered a month of Xbox Live for free and suggested that I try again later. I thanked him for his help and gave positive feedback about the excellent service to his manager. I don’t usually do this, but the service representative was particularly good.

The Microsoft support guy really was helpful, but the initial web error message sent me the wrong way and unfortunately for Microsoft they could not accept the money I wanted to give them.  In the end we went to Best Buy to get the Sims3 game that James wanted. It turns out it was even cheaper than ordering it from Amazon.ca.

All in all, it was a more eventful shopping experience than I had hoped for. James was happy with the gifts he got, but we still haven’t had time to go back and purchase the Xbox Minecraft game. I’ll have to make sure that happens soon. 🙂