Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category
We purchased Nicki’s Easter dress crazy last minute (last Saturday afternoon). The original price of the dress she wore was $39.99, but under the price scanner it came to $25.99. These days I always double check everything with the price scanner. I’ve been burned too many times with sales signs that were put up before the sale actually started, or left up after the sale ended. But I trust the price scanner to be right. I mean, it’s the same backend system as the cash register, right?
After Nicki went to bed I sorted through the day’s purchases. That’s when I was suddenly struck the notion that my receipt didn’t make sense. I purchased 6 items, three from the clearance rack. Aside from the dress I bought the next two most expensive items were $12 regular price. My three “big ticket” items totaled $50, how in the world was my total $90?! (Confession: I have a really easy time remembering individual prices, but I’m terrible at guessing the total.)
I went back to the receipt and was shocked. My $2.25 St. Patty’s day shirt (bought ahead for next year) rung up at full price – $8.99. The dress, $39.99! And I got charged for 3 Pairs of pants, not the two I purchased. I was livid. I remember both those prices precisely because I did not want the items at full price. But the store was closed for the day, and, of course, nothing was opened Easter Sunday.
My best guess as to what went wrong with the receipt was that I didn’t read the fine print. Babies r’ us was also having a buy one-get one free (BOGO) deal on Fisher Price toys. I started kicking myself from having bought two Fisher Price toys on Amazon earlier that day, and doing the mental math to see how much I could have saved. That is, until Domingo pointed out the super fine print that said the first item had to be at least $29.99 and the second item could not exceed $24.99. I wouldn’t have qualified for the BOGO deal. My guess is there was a similar fine print for the St. Patty’s day shirt (ie it was only 70% off if my total purchase exceeded some amount) as well as for the dress. So I probably wouldn’t have been able to argue the different prices. Regardless, I should not have been charged for that non-existent third pair of pants.
I was left with two options: suck it up, cut the tags off the dress and get the Easter photos I wanted, or go back Monday to attempt argue for a different price and/or return everything thus waiting until the following weekend to do Easter-style spring photos. Normally I would be cool with the latter option, but this time I was taking photos more for grandparents than myself, and I wanted to be able to send them somewhat timely. So after twenty solid minutes of fuming, I cut off the tags. I will still be irate about this for weeks to come, have no doubt about that.
Fast forward to today I went after Easter sales shopping at Target, Wallgreens, etc. I was specifically looking for an Easter book I could read to her next year but I was tickled pink that one store had such a huge college of not just spring themed books, but classics like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Peter Rabbit in the Easter sale bin for 50% off! They were designed to be Easter basket filler (and were slightly smaller than normal print books), but I didn’t care. I picked up five books, including a ‘touch and feel’ baby animals book, Guess How Much I Love You and a glittery egg shaped ‘peel back and see’ book.
This time the price checker reported full price for all five books. Not a good sign, but I figured I’d ask the sales associate working the cash register. No dice, only the candy was on sale. Disheartened I headed back to the Easter display, but when I saw the big “50% off” sign plastered all over the books bin I decided to ask a second person. She wasn’t sure about the sale and thought only the egg shaped book, and maybe Peter Rabbit were on sale, but called over the manager to verify. The manager confirmed that none of the books were on sale and proceeded to remove all the sales signs. I was so bummed. But right before he left he looked back and said “Except hers, hers are on sale.” Score!
So I saved $18 on books, but was jipped out of about $21 in clothes this week. Still so so mad over the clothes. I guess now I’m going to have to check every item on the receipt before leaving the store. Everyone else in line are going to hate me.
It’s that time of year again! Hallmark has released its dreambook sneak peek to its keepsake ornament club (KOC) members. Over the past couple of days and weeks the information is slowly starting to leak out online, which means I’ve been ogling ornaments again.
I will absolutely be getting this year’s A Visit from Santa and Cookie Cutter Christmas. Seriously, how cute is Cookie Cutter Christmas? Last year’s was nice too, but this one I think really shows the series potential. They have a special KOC event Tropical Version which I also love, but afraid it’s going to be too rich for my blood. It’s a KOC event ornament which means it’s only available to KOC members, and only on a specific date, and only at specific stores. The only way I’d be able to get it is on ebay, and probably will be too rich for my blood. There was a similar ornament 2011 Sweet Snowmouse that goes for over $100! Yikes! Another KOC event ornament I’m pining over (although a little less so) is Baking Bears Club. Adorable.
I’m definitely going to get One Sweet Gingerbread Boy (I love the gumdrop ornaments!).
The rest of the ornaments I’ve seen so far we’ll be passing on. This year’s Season’s Treatings is as disappointing as last years. I feel like the series has taken a cartoonish direction that’s just not my style. I’m starting to consider selling my 2011 one. The only reason I bought it was because I thought there was a chance I’d want the full series. I’ll also be passing on this year’s Snowball and Tuxedo, it has a cute concept but I don’t think it executed well on the idea. It’s not clear that the Tuxedo is whispering in Snowball’s ear.
I’m also skipping on Playful Penguins. It’s cute and all, but I don’t like the metal spring. I’m really picky on those sort of things. If an ornament doesn’t hang right, or has a too visible hook, I pass.
It’s an unusual year for me. Normally there are some ornaments that I make a mental note to try and snag at an after Christmas sale. Or at least some ornaments that I wait to see what they look like in the store. Not this year. I either love it, or hate it.
When I was looking for this year’s ornaments I stumbled upon some secondary market stores and realized past years ornaments are right now 10-40% cheaper then the typical going rate! I confirmed this on e-bay and bought 2005 Arctic Adventures for $22 shipped. Normally you see it for ~ $35 + shipping. Note to future self, buy past year’s ornaments in March/April.
My sister and I had those big boxes of legos and k’necks growing up. They came with instructional booklets on how to build twenty to thirty different things. After building everything at least half a dozen times, we started coming up with our own designs. We built race cars to launch from the top at the stairs. At first the goal was to have the car that remained the most intact and go the furthest, but it quickly devolved to whose car could break apart the most.
We must have thought we were boys.
Domingo and I were in the toy isle at Target and noticed that the toy that is the basis of so many child hood memories is not the same. Gone are the generic kids with large instructional booklets in favor of very specialized kits, and they’re no longer gender neutral.
Boy legos are for building and exploring new worlds: the wild west, dinosaurs, space travel and deep ocean adventures. What could be cooler than building your space station, and then visiting the National Air and Space Museum? Or building your deep ocean explorer and seeing the sharks in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Legos are a great learning tool in their own right, building toys promote spacial awareness, but you can build on the interests sparked by those kits for all kinds of opportunities to learn.
Girl legos are pastel. You can build beauty parlors and bakeries. Where do you go from there? Good job with the bakery, Nicki, now let’s make some cupcakes? I love to bake, and I hope my daughter enjoys baking with me as well. I also like pink, and pastels, but that doesn’t mean I want Nicki to be awash in pink things. I hope she dreams of space travel, or exploring the ocean in her own submarine one day. Why should she be regulated to little plastic figures with budding breasts, and focus her attention on beauty and food?
I don’t fault Legos for this ‘girl legos’ design, it’s a response to consumer demand. If they didn’t sell, stores would stop carrying them and manufactures would stop making them. And the good news is there is a consumer shift. Swedish toy manufacture produced a gender neutral catalog, and while there was a backlash to the catalog, Metal recently announced they’re making a Barbie construction set. Although, I’m sure it’s primary color will be pink.
In the mean time, this consumer has made a decision: Nicki will be playing with boy legos too.
Well, Black Friday has come and gone, and, as predicted, I did all my shopping online. The only thing I bought in person was a haircut.
We finally got a new TV like we had been talking about for years. We’ve been thinking about moving into a bigger house when I finish gradschool, and I didn’t want to have to deal with moving the old rear projection behemoth that probably weighs more than me. Yet, we have no way of knowing what sized living room we’ll have in the new house, though. We also know so little of flat panel TVs that I don’t know what features are must haves and what are market hype. So we’re starting with the cheapest one we could find – a starter TV, if you will. I followed @bestbuy_deals on twitter and the new TV was their deal of the day.
It’s hard to say how good the deal was. The price went up between $30-70 after the deal of the day ended (gotta love those price fluctuations). CamelBuy seems to think it’s a good deal. It does include free shipping and take away of the old TV. I estimated that would have cost us $70-$100, so that’s definitely something.
I blew this one. Everyone and their mother seemed to offer a discounted Sonicare Toothbrush and my old one needed to be replaced. I decided to wait it out and see if there would be a lightening deal, or a price matching price drop occur. Only I didn’t think to use camelcamelcamel to alert me to the price! I know I said I was going to, and I did for other products, but didn’t think to do it for the sonicare. It wasn’t until a friend mentioned being alerted on a price drop for a DSLR for his wife that it occurred to me to check camelcamelcamel. Sure enough, there was a temporary $5 price drop that I had missed. Drat. So I bought it at the advertised black Friday price.
I confess, this one was going to be an in store purchase. I noticed Target was selling Jumperoos at a discount in their pre Black Friday sale, and I assumed the price would continue into the weekend. Since I wasn’t sure which one I wanted, I thought I would take a few days to think about it. Come Friday I discovered that the sale had ended. Luckily, Amazon was still price matching the earlier deal. It’s already shipped, and although I did not pay extra for expedited shopping, it will be here in one day. Score!
I needed given the insane number of photos I take of Nicki. In fact, it was the purchase I was most adamant about. I found BestBuy was offering the best deal, and I hovered around the website starting at 9pm on Wednesday (technically Thanksgiving day on the east coast.) At around 10pm the deal went life, and I snatched it up! Of course, the memory card was available all weekend, but I didn’t want to take that chance.
Online shopping was definitely a win. It was really nice to not have to worry about crowds or fighting for parking spaces, especially the baby, and there were plenty of good deals available online.
We also cut down greatly on impulse deals. (“Impulse deals” is a bit of an oxymoron, no matter what the deal price, it’s still higher than what you were planning on spending anything!) The only things we got that weren’t on my list were 2 CDs (one of which I’m currently listening to) and an HDMI cable (needed for the new TV).
Estimated total savings ~ 30%. Not bad, but I’ve done better.
As a perpetual bargain hunter, I know I sometimes sacrifice quality of customer support and customer experience when I hunt the lowest prices. The less I pay, the smaller the margins/profits the retailer has, the less funds there are that can be turned around to improve future shopping experiences. It’s the price I pay (pun intended.) But there’s one place that I didn’t expect to get burned – sears.
Now, I generally think I’m a good customer. I may gripe about a bad experience privately, but I give a company time time to fix the problem. I didn’t blog about my ShutterFly experience until the issue was resolved, and even then I made it clear that I was a happy customer who would shop from them again. If someone is willing to try to fix the problem, I’m willing to let them do it.
In this case sears is unwilling to address (or even acknowledge) the problem, so I feel free to voice my frustrations here.
A little bit of background
Some products are always on sale. The undershirt I wore for my engagement photos back in 2009? They are still on sale for $9 (regularly $18) at JCPenney.
Carter’s brand baby clothes is similar. They have rotating sales that are largely equivalent (Buy one get one free, 50% off, regularly $16 on sale for $8.) If you ever buy carter’s brand clothes at list price, you’ve paid too much. Sometimes you pay a dollar more or less, but it’s usually somewhere around 50% of the list price.
On Saturday at around 10pm I started shopping on sears.com for clothes for the baby. At about 10:10 I began the checkout process. I had $60 worth of merchandise pre taxes in my shopping cart. I verified my cart total to ensure my purchase qualified for free shipping. After entering my billing\shipping information, something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. The price of my order had ballooned to $134! List price!
I immediately abandoned my checkout. I went back and viewed each item individually, all were still showing as on sale. But every time I added them to my cart my cart reflected the list price – not the sale price.
I’ve since confirmed what happened by talking to customer support and by finding similar complaints on the web.
It turns out the website uses my local time in determining which sales to display. My local time was 10:10 pm on 11/17, so the 11/17 sale pricing was used. The backend system that processes the sale uses central standard time. According to the back end system it was 12:10 am on 11/18, and the 11/17 prices were invalid. But rather than use the 11/18 price, it wanted me to pay list price!
When I waited until just after midnight local time, the display price of the items in question changed to 11/18’s prices. The dropped the total back down to $68 – roughly 50% again.
That’s TERRIBLE website design. If your website shows a given price for an item, the backend system should honor that price. As a webdesigner, I can attest that it isn’t hard to synchronize all your systems on one time zone. Since Sears is a multi-national corporation, it should have occurred to them that different customers would be in different time zones, and they should have tested this scenario.
Why I’m so mad
I only just barely noticed the price in my shopping cart had changed. I don’t know about you, but once I begin the checkout process, I expect the price I’m paying to remain consistent. Had I not noticed it, I wouldn’t have realized there was a problem until I got my credit card statement, which would have occurred AFTER all the tags were cut and I couldn’t return anything. That’s $74 I almost got cheated out of!
The difference in prices on 11/17 and 11/18 was just $8. It would have cost sears $8 to honor the sales price the website offered me. Just $8. Instead their response to their website error was akin to “too bad, so sad.” Instead of feeling like a valued customer, I feel cheated. So to sears I say: “too bad, so sad” you just lost yourself a customer.
When I was pregnant with Nicki, we purchased mostly gender neutral gear for two reasons. Even though three separate ultrasounds confirmed she was a girl, there was always a chance they we were wrong. Secondly, there is a good chance that we would want additional children, and that those children would not be girls. To a lesser degree, I also didn’t like the overly pink/princess girl motifs.
Now that Nicki is here, my resolve to avoid the pink princess girlie gear is weaker. There’s now a face to a name, whereas “future kids” is still an abstract concept. I’ve also learned that babies are much less gentle on their things than you and I, and many items may not survive to become hand me downs. Nicki also looks darn cute in a splash of pink.
This month we’ll be starting rice cereal. Nicki is showing the signs of being ready. She watches us intensely when we eat. She is extremely interested in what we’re doing with our mouths, and makes a similar chewing motion. She sits well, and mouths everything she can fit into her mouth. But the biggest sign of all is it’s getting harder and harder to keep her satisfied with just breast milk alone.
I decided on Monday to go ahead and purchase a high chair, bowels and spoons. I couldn’t help myself and bought the Disney Princess Silhouette High Chair. It also didn’t hurt that most gender neutral ones had patterns that were too bold for my taste, or color combinations I didn’t care for.
Since it’s November, and Black Friday is getting earlier and earlier, Babies R’ Us was running a series of awesome deals. First, they were offering Sophie the Giraffe for $10 with a purchase of $100 or more (the high chair was $119 list – about a dollar different from Amazon.) Since Nicki is starting to teeth too, and the internet raves about Sophie, I decided to go for it. Next they were doing a 15% off baby gear for a purchase of $125 or more – $6 to go. Of course that was easy, they had a $10 Bright Starts Sensory Plush Toy. She’s been loving those sensory toys lately. So a ten dollar toy saved me close to $20, and a cheap Sophie. I am a happy discount shopper!
This is a bit of a long story. The TL;DR version is that I purchased that canvas print two months ago, but due to a series of print errors, I only just recently received it. For the first month I was in customer service hell. I finally got some one who was able to fix the problem by reaching out on twitter. Now I’m a happy customer once again.
On September 3rd I purchased a large canvas print of Nicki for her nursery. I loved the idea of having one of my photos blown up, and thought it would be very new-age-y and art-y to have. The canvas print that arrived, however, was all wrong. my baby was a reddish orange of an oompa lompa after a temper tantrum.
What I think went wrong
Print shops like shutterfly apply automatic color correcting before each print. Most of the time this software will enhance the photo, making it more vibrant. Even though I had already color correct my images, I’ve printed from them before (my wedding guestbook and Nicki’s birth announcements) and never had an issue with Shutterfly’s color correcting. The preview looked fine, so I didn’t give it a second thought.
The photo I was having printed of Nicki, however, was particularly light. She’s shoot against a white background with a white stuffed animal. My guess is to the computer, the over abundance of white made the image seem washed out. To ‘correct’ it, the software went overboard, upping the saturation to a comical level.
My Customer Service Nightmare Begins
I immediately called Shutterfly customer support upon opening the canvas print. The automated system told me the wait time was 30 minutes, and that they could hold my place in line and call back when an agent was available. I choose that option.
After an hour with no call back I started to really stew. I decided to call customer support again and stay on the line. If I got a callback while on hold I could hang up to answer. At least this way I was sure I was in the queue. This time the predicted wait time was 52 minutes.
An hour passed.
As I waited I poked around the shutterfly website. They had the option for ‘live help’ which apparently wasn’t ‘live’, but an email form even though it was still before 5 pm. I filled it out anyway.
Another hour passed.
Finally someone answered. At this point I had been on hold in one form or another for three hours. I was beyond frustrated. I explained the problem to the support person and he said he needed to put me on hold to ‘check something’. When he came back his response was “it looks fine to me.” (Note to any customer oriented people who may read this some day: If the customer is irate after a large order, the appropriate response is not “it looks fine to me”. This is going on my nursery wall, not anyone else’s. I’m the one that needs to be happy with it.)
The customer support agent gave me two options: return it for a refund, or snap a picture with my cell phone so he could verify the colors were off and they could try to reprint it. Since I still wanted a canvas print for the nursery, I chose the second option. Only I could tell he didn’t know what he was talking about. A cell phone image would not necessarily be true to life colors. I didn’t want him deciding the print job was fine and dismissing my complaint again. To make the problem as obvious as possible, I printed the image to put next to the canvas print when I snapped my picture.
I called back. This time the wait was reported as 103 minutes.
102 I-so-wish-I-was-making-this-up minutes later, the system hung up on me. The office was closed for the day.
I was livid.
When I woke up the next morning I had a response to the form I had filled out. Shutterfly was reprinting the canvas print. The next Friday I received another Oompa Loompa photo.
Since I was busy with Nicki all day, I hadn’t opened the package until the office was closed for the day. The next morning I wake up as soon as the customer service department opens up. Yes, I woke up before the baby just to contact customer support. This time ‘live help’ was working and opened up a chat window. The rep told me that “all appropriate color correction was done.” I asked what that means, since no color correcting was supposed to be applied. “Yes, that’s what I meant.” There was nothing she could do, I’d have to call customer support back on Monday.
I really didn’t want to spend another 5 hours on hold. I don’t want to waste another day on the phone. I can’t, I was still on maternity leave and had to watch Nicki while my husband is at work. I told myself I can live with the print. I have my friends tell me I can live with the print. But I just couldn’t. By the end of the week I still couldn’t bring myself to hang the canvas print on the wall.
I decide to try the email form one more time since that’s we’re I had the most luck last time. The customer support agent who responded was able to tell that vividpix was not turned off correctly. He suggestion I upload the image again and to turn off vividpix myself. He would apply free credits to my account so I could reprint it.
Since I don’t want to repeat this exercise yet again, and since the customer support agents didn’t seem to have a good idea what was wrong, I decide to send the image to the two most graphics experts I know, my sister and her husband. They theorized that the problem may be the color display. Basically, my computer and their printer may be processing colors differently. They showed me my photograph under different color displays on their computer and, sure enough, one looks particularly red. I do a little googeling and find that Shutterfly print in sRGB.
I contacted customer support to see if they can print the image in a different color display. Its a long shot, but would save me from recallabrating it. Short answer: no. The agent suggests I use the preview option to verify the image is correct after I upload it, promising it will print “exactly the same.”. Only I did, and it didn’t. In fact, not only did my photo look beautiful in the preview view, it looked wonderful on the receipt shutterfly printed and included with both oompa loompa canvas prints. The only option left, per her recommendation. was to change my color display to sRGB and color correct yet again. That’s when I discover my monitor is already set to sRGB. The color display wasn’t the problem.
It gave me an idea. Even though my monitor was in sRGB, I could still tweek the colors. There’s a range of acceptable skin tones. I split the color channel in my graphics program. Splitting the color channel shows me the proportions of red, green and blue. Sure enough, the red channel looks a bit blown out.
Here’s were we’re really expanding outside my comfortable zone and skill level. My goal was to adjust the skin tone so that it’s on the pale end of the acceptability range. That way whether it prints as is, or on the redder side, I will still be happy with it. Only, I’ve never done this before, and the current version looks beautiful to me. Since it wasn’t printing red at home, I would have no way of knowing when I tweeked it enough, or too much. I was flying blind.
Since I was modifying the image, it would be my fault if the image printed too pale. I couldn’t get mad at Shutterfly if this reprint was still not up-to-snuff. Thus I decided this is would be my last attempt.
I finish the redesign and login in to shutterfly to order the reprint. Only I have no promised credits. I email shutterfly again to ask for the promised credits. Their response? I would need to mail the canvas print back to them. On my dime. Totally Unacceptable. I just went through the exercise to fix the reprint myself. A month has passed since I first placed the order. I was not going to spend more of my money and time. I was willing to walk away, but this response had my livid once again. I was the paying customer, and I once again wanted (demanded?) satisfaction.
It’s been 3 phone calls, 5 hours on hold, 3 emails, 2 reprints and 2 chat. I took to twitter and complained loudly.
After a couple days of angry tweets I get a response. Through a series of direct messages she offered to reprint the canvas print again. Her plan was to ship it to herself and verify the quality of the print. Once she was satisfied the problem was resolved, she would send it to me.
Another month and three reprints later, she had a reprint she felt comfortable sending me. Shutterfly didn’t use my modified image and I never found out what was wrong. But it doesn’t really matter now, does it? I finally have a canvas print I’m happy with.
Would I use Shutterfly again?
Yes and no.
To their credit Shutterfly was willing to reprint the canvas print five times. I doubt there are very many places that would have gone to that level of effort. Shutterfly didn’t give up, and I really appreciate that. I achieved my goal of having a canvas print I could be proud of in her nursery. I am once again a happy customer.
On the other hand, the first month was hell. Each time I’d call back a different agent would direct me to do something else. While the first agent wanted a cell phone shot of the oompa loompa, the second one didn’t need it. I attempted to adjust the color map with the promise that I could reprint it, but they never used the tweaked image. I got the impression more than once that the customer sales agent didn’t believe there was a problem with the print, and thought I was trying to defraud the company. I wasted an awful lot of time and energy on this project, and spent too much money to be treated that way.
So yes, I will use Shutterfly again. Just not in the near future.
It’s a good thing I decided to test our online strategy early. Monitoring tweets with tweet alarm just isn’t going to work, at least not how I originally set it up.
The first problem is that I’m getting alerts for tweets like “Fry’s Black Friday 2011 Ads Finally Revealed”. Yes, that’s a recent tweet from today! Most likely it isn’t a legitimate account. I’d link to it, but the shortened link in the tweet is most likely a virus. It made me realize that tweet monitoring may be bad advice. If you decide to use tweet monitoring, be careful not to click on links from accounts you don’t recognize. The second problem is that I’m getting too many tweets. I can’t find the legitimate ones mixed in with the illegitimate ones.
I’m not giving up on social media for Black Friday. In the past I’ve used the websites Black Friday Ads and BlackFriday Info, both of which have twitter accounts (@BFAds and @blackfridayinfo, respectively). It may take me longer to get notifications of good deals, but at least I can trust the information.
It’s starting already. Apple and Amazon are kicking off the shopping season with the rumored announcement of the iPhone 5 expected this week and last week’s Kindles announcement. Even though I won’t be pregnant this time around, we still plan on focusing our shopping efforts online. I really don’t relish the idea of taking a sub five month old out during some of the busy shopping days of the year, in the middle of flu season! As such, it’s time to update our Back Friday strategy with the times.
We’re developing our strategy primarily to catch surprise deals – those we won’t know about in advance. Since we expect the deals to start prior to Black Friday, and continue well into Cyber Monday (which is more like Cyber Week…) we also want to make sure we don’t buy too early if someone else is going to have a better deal.
Dynamic Pricing is becoming increasingly common. It’s been speculated that retailers like Walmart and Amazon will rely on dynamic pricing this holiday season to undercut the competition. In order to capitalize on these price fluctuations, we plan to set up price watches.
We intend to utilize Camelcamelcamel (Amazon price watches), and it’s companion websites CamelBuy (BestBuy price watches) and CamelEgg (NewEgg price watches). Last year, many of the big chains had great deals in the days and weeks leading up to Black Friday for items like video games, books, music, toys, and electronics. They even had price drops for big ticket items as well like TVs and gaming consoles. Sometimes these price drops were advertised in advance, but not always. Price watching alerts you to sales as they happen, giving you the best chance possible to grab items as they go on sale before they’re sold out.
I have adjusted all my price watches on down significantly (I never buy during the black Friday season unless it’s an amazing deal!). Currently on my price watch? Memory Cards for the camera, and baby toys & books.
Price watching, however, can only get you so far. Bundles were common last year, and I suspect they will be again. Rather than drop the price of, say, an Xbox 360, retailers will bundle it with several games or with gift cards. Bundles are popular when manufactures control the price of products so retailers can’t discount them. Apple is a prime example. Many of these bundles will be announced for Black Friday, but some are surprises and will happen in the weeks and days leading up to it. Since bundles appear as new product listings, automated price watching won’t work.
When we were gearing up for our baby, I set up Google alerts in the hopes of catching sales from online stores too small to have dedicated price alert websites. I’d set an alert with the name of the product I was interested in, and the phrase ‘(Discount OR Sale)’. The strategy didn’t work for me. Turns out Google alerts were not real time enough. For this shopping season, I’m turning to twitter and social media. Nothing is more real time than twitter.
I’ve already friended companies in Facebook and follow them on Twitter already to watch for coupons. For the holiday season I plan to use saved searches, and set up an account with tweetalarm.com. Once those deals are live, you can bet some happy consumer will take to twitter to share the joy of their new purchase. Since I’m new to twitter, I’m testing both services out now. What am I searching for now? #Blackfriday! I want to catch any other good strategy ideas in time to use them.
While rocking Nicki to sleep this afternoon and reading the news on my mobile phone, I came across an article on Walmart. They are rolling out a new search engine, called Polaris. Polaris is so effective, according to Walmart, that they’ve seen a 10%-15% increase in the likelihood of the customer completing a transaction after conducting a search.
As I played around with Polaris, I couldn’t help but contrast the experience to one I had a few weeks ago. Nicki had been fussy all afternoon and I found myself at the end of the day without any clean bottles. Life would be so much easier with one more bottle. So while rocking Nicki off to dreamland, I wipped out my mobile phone to find out if my local target sold Dr Brown’s 4oz bottles. Typing with my free hand I entered the shortened query “dr brown” into the target search bar.
Screen Grab from my phone on 9/1
What the what??
The first item is at least a Dr Brown’s product. The second result at least has “dr” in the title, but “eye of the beholder”?! How is that relevant to my query? I scrolled five pages before giving up on that search.
Okay, I’ll change my query to be more specific. I typed “dr brown 4oz bottle”
Screen Grab from my phone on 9/1
Target, you are killing me!
Target’s search on the mobile phone is pretty much worthless, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are three easy ways to fix it:
1) Set a better threshold for deciding which items are included in the results. It’s clear from my two query examples that Target’s search returns any product that contains some words in the query. That’s why adding words to the query increases the number of results returned. While this is generally a good approach, it can run afoul when some of those words make up very important phrases (ie ‘dr brown’) but are also fairly generic (ie ‘dr’ and ‘brown’). As I scroll through my search results, I found furniture in a brown finish before I come across the bottle I want.
Unless target is using a very antiquated search algorithm, it should be scoring search results according to relevance, which is a prediction of how well the item matches the query. There are three ways to filter out bad search results.
* Set an absolute threshold. This is the easiest and most straight forward approach where any item with a score below the given threshold is considered not relevant.
* Set a relative threshold based off of the most relevant item. In this approach only the top n results are relevant, or only results within n points of the highest scoring item are relevant.
* Look for a gap in relevance scores. The best approach would be to look for a gap in relevance scores. Most modern search algorithms weight co-located terms higher than terms that occur in the description but not together. Thus while a Dr. Seuss book may have the word ‘brown’ somewhere in the description, it still is considered less relevant than a product that has the phrase ‘dr brown’. All ‘dr brown’ products likely rate much higher than all non ‘dr brown’ products. By looking for this gap, you can filter out results the customer is likely not interested in.
2) Allow customers to search by relevance like they can on the desktop version of Target.com. Or, if that’s what Sort by ‘Featured’ means, set it as the default and make it clearer. Searching by popularity only makes sense if all items are relevant to the query and the customer is otherwise unsure of which item they might want to buy. If I was interested in baby bottles in general, I could use ‘popularity’ as a proxy for value, trusting my fellow consumers’ buying choices. In order to find a specific product, however, I’d have to either guess how popular it is relative to other items target sells and jump to that results page, or scroll through every result on every results page until I find it. Price is only marginally better, as I can venture a guess as to how much a single bottle will cost.
3) Expand search results smartly. It might be tempting to return everything that evenly marginally matches the query to increase collateral sales. Instead, it just frustrates the customer who has to scroll passed more results to find the ones he or she is interested in. If you look at the most relevant results by the approaches described in step (1), a pattern typically emerges. For my query, the top results would all be in the baby category, manufactured by Dr. Brown, and be feeding related. Rather than return all results that marginally match the query, return those that that are also similar to the top results in these regards: other baby items, other items manufactured by Dr. Brown, or other items related to feeding. This approach is referred to as pseudo relevance feedback in the Information Retrieval community.
I want to continue shopping at target. With the new baby my days of browsing the isles on a whim are over. I rely on my mobile device not just to make purchases online, but to decide which stores to visit in person. The mobile site just has to work.
As for the bottle, well… it turns out Amazon sells them.
(Note: I’ve since installed the Target App on my phone, and search is much better – but that’s still no excuse for a broken mobile website in 2012! )