2006 Online Christmas Shopping Experience Roundup

This is the first year I’ve tried to proactively do as much of my Christmas shopping online as possible. In the end I managed to order roughly 90% of the gifts I needed to get online.

I ended up ordering from six vendors and with the exception of Apple ITunes everything was ordered on the same day (December 10th).

Here’s a summary of the results:

  • Toys R Us
    This was the second time we’ve ordered stuff from Toys R Us – It was the first package to arrive out of any of the orders. Ordered Saturday and arrived on Wednesday. Toys R Us doesn’t have any sort of free shipping offer but some items are marked as having free shipping (Seemingly arbitrary). The most puzzling thing was how the items were packaged when they arrived. We ordered two items and they came shipped in separate boxes even though both would have easily fit in the bigger of the two boxes. Seemed like a whole lot of waste to me.

    Hits: Quick Shipping, Reasonable Shipping Costs
    Misses: Wasteful Packaging, Arbitrary Shipping Pricing (Why no blanket policy?)

    Overall: HIT

  • Amazon.ca
    I’ve ordered a lot from Amazon over the years so their performance wasn’t surprising at all. Regardless of timing their items consistently arrive on time, and their shipping discount policy is straight forward. The most frustrating issue this time was actually dealing with the site. For example: we were trying to order a cookbook for one person, it turns out though that most cookbooks aren’t readily available. Not a big deal but there was no obvious way to filter those items out. In general Amazon needs a filter for “Show me only what you can ship right now”, especially though as you get closer to Xmas.

    The other Amazon head scratcher is their Free Shipping policy of arbitrarily delaying the Super Saving shipping orders 1-3 days. At the end of the day I don’t see the point of holding the orders. At least in the Toronto area we’re right on top of a distribution point. I got the “Your order has been shipped” email Wednesday night and the package beat me in to work on Thursday morning. 6 books packed in one dense tiny little box exactly as ordered.

    Hits: Free shipping, Quick Shipping despite arbitrary delay, Efficiently packed
    Misses: Arbitrary Shipping Delay, Lack of search filtering slowed order process

    Overall: HIT

  • Obadiah Parker
    I encountered this band after seeing their lead signers amazing cover of “Hey Ya” on Youtube. After poking around I found their MySpace page, and finally their main homepage. Their site only had pricing for shipping to the US but they provided an email address to inquire about International shipping. I fired off an inquiry and within a couple of hours I had a response, pricing, and the order placed via PayPal.

    Unfortunately this package missed getting here in time for Christmas by a day – but it was there waiting in the mailbox the first day we had mail delivery after the holiday. When I ordered the discs I was somewhat skeptical that they would arrive on time so it wasn’t a huge disappointment. Given the time of year and the fact they’re a one person “shop” I can cut them some slack. The album is great, Highly recommend everyone check them out.

    Hits: Fast response (even on a weekend), Good Value
    Misses: Missed Christmas by a Day

    Overall: Neutral

  • FutureShop.ca
    I first tried Futueshop.ca to order an iPod accessory for my cousin. Faced with the option of paying for shipping or free, in-store pickup I figured I’d give the pickup option a try. A few hours later I got an email back from Future Shop telling me that they couldn’t fill my order in store.

    As I mentioned in an earlier post I thought it smelled a bit fishy, the email came through right before the store opened for that day even though the site said the store had them in stock. It reeked of “It’s two weeks before Christmas, we’re busy and can’t be bothered”. Understandable to a point but here’s the kicker – they hadn’t just delayed my order, they cancelled it. At that point I would have continued and just either a)picked a different store or b) paid the $2 to have it shipped to me, but I couldn’t do that – they had automatically CANCELED the order. To change my shipping option I had to recreate the whole order. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    Hits: None
    Misses: Can’t change delivery method, Automatic canceling of Order

    Overall: MISS

  • Bestbuy.ca
    Knowing their both owned by the same people I hesitated using the Best Buy site as an alternative to Futureshop.ca but I figured at least my original order would still show as a lost sale on the Future Shop site. Rebuilt my order, selected shipping and I thought I was done.

    The next day I get an email telling me they were unable to process my order until I called them from the phone number on my credit card company’s records. I was at work at the time and couldn’t call from there. What drives me nuts about this is that they don’t give you any warning that this step would be required – like the Future Shop process of automatically canceling an order – this is just a stupid design flaw that they could resolve if someone spent five minutes thinking about customer experience. I’m not even sure why they have this step (especially on low cost items) – every other site manages to use address verification etc. – I just canceled the order and moved on to my next idea.

    Another lowspot is the new AJAX’y catalog they’ve put into both sites (Futureshop.ca & Bestbuy.ca are powered by the same CMS). You can now browse through the catalog you can dynamically filter your search etc. but there’s no state! If you click through a product to view it’s detail screen it loses all your filtering etc, so when you click on the back button to find something else you need to start over from nothing again. This one drove me right up the wall.

    Hits: –
    Misses: Frustrating UI, Suprise Extra Order Step

    Overall: MISS

  • Apple iTunes Store
    With the Future Shop/Best Buy frustration I had blown a few days and it was getting closer to Xmas so I wasn’t so sure anything could be shipped on time.

    I figured I’d be able to buy my cousin some credit at iTunes for my cousin and after all, it was an purely virtual store I shouldn’t have to have something shipped to me right?


    Of course not. The purely virtual iTunes store only allows you to order Gift Cards in physical form and only in either $20 or $50 form. Throughout the process the site is also promoting that you have to order a certain amount before you get free shipping. Then I finally get to the order confirmation screen and it tells me shipp
    ing is free on Gift cards. The site was also telling me over and over that I was a couple days too late for guaranteed shipping before Xmas – but then, on the same confirmation screen it told me to expect the cards between December 19-22.

    Both were odd mixed message that had it not been getting to crunch time would probably have sent me elsewhere for another gift idea.

    As of today the cards still have not arrived.

    Hits: –
    Miss: Confusing messages re: shipping costs & timing, Missed Christmas by a long shot – missing New year’s too

    Overall: HUGE MISS

In Summary:
Overall the three misses were all in the name of getting the same present. Amazon.ca and Toys R Us I wouldn’t hesitate the order from again, they met or exceeded my expectations and have every other time I’ve ordered from them. 8 of 10 gifts arrived quickly, as ordered. 1 was understandably late and 1 was a total disaster.

At the end of the day I spent no time in crowded malls, gave up one afternoon “shopping”
and got almost everything I needed. I’d rate this year as a success.

Overall: HIT

Boxing Day Shopping Heads Up… (Early deals)

I mentioned to a few folks ove the past couple of weeks about how Futureshop & Best Buy both put all their boxing day sales online as of midnight (ie. between christmas day & boxing day).

Well this year they’ve changed that tradition so here’s a quick heads up – the deals start TONIGHT (Dec. 24) at 8:00pm.

Happy shopping! – although a couple recommendations:

1. Don’t bother with “In Store Pickup” – I tried ordering something last weekend and even though the site said it was in stock it it was noted that I would get an email from the store confirming that I could pick up the product. Five minutes before the store was set to open I got a “Order could not be completed”… It seemed an awful lot like someone just went through the queue of stuff in the “To pickup” line and said “Not gonna bother” (semi-understandable in the Xmas chaos) and said no to everything. Problem being? Instead of letting you pick a new store or switch to delivery the site automatically CANCELS YOUR ORDER. How stupid is that. They lost my business.

2. Expect a call – With either company they have this ridiculous process where they won’t ship anything to you until you call them back, from the phone number on your credit card company’s records. Best Buy did that to me last year and thankfully they called right before I was walking out the door for a 10 day vacation. I figured I’d be okay this year because they verified me last year. Nope. Had to do it again. Canceled the order and got something else from a different store.

I did 90% of my Christmas shopping online. The Best Buy/Future Shop (same ownership) were 2 of the 3 misses in my experience (The third was Apple) — I’ll summarize the online shopping experience along with hits and misses next week (when it won’t spoil any surprises).

Rise of the Z-Listers….

Over the past couple of days I’ve seen a parade of blogs linking to the Z-List Meme that got started by Mack Collier. His notion, start a list of blogs he thought of as interesting but which may not get noticed by the masses- then ask people to post the list on their blog and add some of their favorites to it. As it moves through the ‘sphere it hopefully introduces people to a new wave of blogs from outside their usual echo chamber and hopefully gets everyone a few new readers.

The end result is a lot of blog posts with an ever increasing (and varying) list of blogs. I’ve grabbed the most current list off the last branch of the list that I’ve seen, but there’s now countless iterations I’m sure.

You can see some of the iterations here.

The list (with a couple of additions) :

Creative Think
Movie Marketing Madness
Blog Till You Drop!
Get Shouty!
One Reader at a Time
100 Bloggers
Critical Fluff
The New PR
Own Your Brand!
Work, in Plain English
Buzz Canuck
New Millenium PR
Pardon My French
The Instigator Blog
Diva Marketing
Marketing Hipster
The Marketing Minute
Funny Business
The Frager Factor
Open The Dialogue
Word Sell
Note to CMO:
That’s Great Marketing!
Shotgun Marketing Blog
Customers Rock!
Being Peter Kim
Andy Nulman
Billions With Zero Knowledge
Working at Home on the Internet
MapleLeaf 2.0
Darren Barefoot
Two Hat Marketing

The Engaging Brand
The Branding Blog
Drew’s Marketing Minute
Golden Practices
Tell Ten Friends
Flooring the Consumer
Kinetic Ideas
Unconventional Thinking
Conversation Agent
The Copywriting Maven
Hee-Haw Marketing
Scott Burkett’s Pothole on the Infobahn
Multi-Cult Classics
Logic + Emotion
Branding & Marketing
Carpe Factum
Steve’s 2 Cents
Popcorn n Roses
On Influence & Automation
Servant of Chaos
Make it Great!
Presentation Zen
Dmitry Linkov
Urban Jacksonville
John Wagner
Nick Rice
CKs Blog
Design Sojourn
Frozen Puck
The Sartorialist
Small Surfaces
Africa Unchained
Marketing Nirvana
Bob Sutton
¡Hola! Oi! Hi!
Shut Up and Drink the Kool-Aid!
Women, Art, Life: Weaving It All Together
Community Guy
Social Media on the fly
Jeremy Latham’s Blog
SMogger Social Media Blog
Home Biz Notes
Small Business Boomers
Success From The Nest
Levite Chronicles
Found in Translation
Warpjam’s Blog
Thought Flickr’s

Copy, Paste, Add to & Post It Folks!

Why Blogs Aren’t Going Anywhere (and Aren’t Remotely close to Peaking)

Because of various Internet Connection issues at the office and a marathon 22-hour bed-to-bed, one day trip to Chicago I had fallen way behind on the feeds in my reader and despite endless scrolling (literally endless thanks to the river scroll on Google Newsreader) my number of unread posts continued to stay at “100+” – thankfully today seems to be a slow posting day so after some concerted early morning effort it seemed like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s hard to just purge as I’m admittedly one of those people who hates to think I’m missing something.

After spending a few hours actually getting real work done I turned back to finish the last little bit of the “Backblog”…

This was the last post in my reader. I started reading Russel’s blog a few months ago after I followed another blog’s cross-linking “rabbit hole” and ended up there. Each month he does a poll of his readers looking for what they consider to be the best post of the month, anywhere. This month’s winner was “The Amateur Gourmet ” and his post entitles “Chutzpa, Truffles and Alain Ducasse” – It truly is a brilliant post and worth a read – I actually laughed out loud as I read it.

It also sent me off on a completely different thought tangent though. After scrolling through several hundred, and varied, blog posts over the past couple of days it really reinforced just how at the end of the day the reality is everyone just wants to be heard and, if possible, considered “relevant” once in a while.

Before the web the extent of your ability to have a “voice” depended on how deep your pockets were or who you knew at the local paper etc. These days sharing your voice takes only 5 minutes at a site like Blogger, a few clicks of the mouse and you’re online, listed in their directory, and putting your thoughts out into the world for any or all to read. Message boards/forums are a great example of this kind of transformation starting to take place.

As odd as it sounds I think one day blogs will almost be considered theraputic by many people. Personal case in point recently I’ve had a handful of truly frustrating customer service experiences – in the past I would fume about it, probably complain to my wife about it and then it would hang over me for a few days. Now I can blog about it, (usually) share how I think they can fix their issues and know (thanks to stats) that at least a handful of people from that organization see it. Five minutes of typing and I’m cooler, calmer and it’s out of my system.

On a side note: The scary reality ‘business’ in general needs to realize that the stats of how many people happy people tell vs. how many people disgruntled people tell are getting much, much bigger. Before the stats were somewhere around a person sharing good experiences with 8-10 other people and bad experiences with 18-25. The last two “customer rant” posts I did both received north of 100 views and still get traffic to this day. (Here’s the kicker though, the happy experiences also tend to get a higher portion of hits initially but anecdotally I don’t see them getting as much follow-on traffic down the road – people don’t tend to search for other folks having good experiences….)

Blogging is still very much for the early adopters but as the months go by I have to admit I find more and more people who I’m surprised to see they have a blog. A major challenge right now though is it takes some know-how and even technical ability to get your site properly indexed by the right sites (i.e. Technorati, Google Blogsearch, etc. etc.) as such it is also harder for people to build traffic which I think makes a huge difference in people keeping up with posting on their blog. It’s one thing to have a voice, it’s something else to have Sitemeter or Feedburner tell you no one is listening.

As we see these systems become more tightly integrated and turnkey (There’s no reason why Blogger shouldn’t have a screen during setup that sets you up in Technorati etc.) I think the medium as a whole will become a lot more approachable. At the end of the day I fully expect that by the time my two-year old gets to high school age Blogs (or whatever they morph into) will be an important part of their English & Communication classes (Creative Writing, Current Events etc.). I do believe we’ll hit a point where having a blog is just something you do.

One thing I’ll be really curious to see, and I hope the Freakonomics guys look at one day in the future, is how certain things like violent crime (especially school related and serial killers etc.) relate to the rise of the blog culture. many of these types of crime are people lashing out at something, essentially a cry for help when all of their other venues of having a “voice” have broken down. I’ve seen several cases personally where people on a message board or blog have rallied around someone in a moment of crisis. In many school shootings it’s later discovered that the person had notes, art or even webpages that would have been massive indicators that something wasn’t right. Will things like blogs start to help people identify problematic situations before they happen rather than provide hindsight clues to why someone did what they did?

Just imagine how things might have been different if some people in history had blogs, both good & bad. Off the top of my head: Martin Luther King? Hitler? Jeffery Dahmer? Anne Frank? How would blogs have changed how their life, and their impact on the world/society? How much faster and easier would King’s words have spread? Would Hitler have continued to grow as a successful artist and sold his works through his PhotoBlog/PaintingBlog & PayPal instead? Would someone have recognized that Dahmer needed help? Can you imagine if rather then emerging years later as a book Anne’s story was told through her blog?

Her first diary entry:

“I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.”

During the recent skirmish between Israel and Hezzbollah I read the daily updates (when he had power/internet) of a young artist who was living in Lebannon when fighting broke out. His daily illustrations and comments provided a unique, and very different perspective of what was happening (I’ll try and find the link again) compared to the traditional media. He wrote it for no one in particular yet intended it for everyone. It really was one man putting his voice out there for all to hear – I wonder too, did his blog become a new alternative for him to doing what was likely the only other option available to young, angry Muslim men for so long (joining Hezbolah and taking up arms)?

At the end of the day we’re still very much in the infancy of this medium, sure it’s old hat for the Tech crowd but I think it’s only just beginning to enter the mainstream from a readership point of view, let alone the stage of active contribution.

Blogs aren’t going anywhere. And whoever is trying to claim it’s peaked is just linkbaiting.