Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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12 November 2008
Filed under:E-commerce at2:42 pm

I used to use Ocado a lot for my grocery shopping – not least because I got £10 to £20 off coupons for each delivery. Of course they couldn’t keep that up, so to my dismay the amount of the coupons has been shrinking and the minimum purchase to qualify has been rising. Their latest marketing wheeze has been to offer to match Tesco.com on prices of identical branded goods. And now as part of that I have received an email showing me that thanks to this policy lots of products are loads cheaper.

Am I just being contrary in taking away from that email that I’ve been a mug for paying what Ocado used to charge me for all those months and that I would be better off actually going to Tesco.com to get the cheaper prices direct from the source, (plus cheaper own-brand goods and probably more generous special offers)?

It isn’t so simple, of course – Tesco charges a minimum of £4 per delivery while Ocado delivers late at night for free and with more convenient 1/2 hour slots, and Ocado’s Waitrose own brand products may be better quality, so we may continue with them for a while, but their email campaign remains an own goal in my view.

24 September 2008

I was intrigued when I heard about Offbeat Guides – a service that lets you “build your own travel guide”. A fresh, tech-enabled stab at tourist information. My vision was getting the best info from a variety of existing travel guides mashed up with info pulled from the net, having it available on my iPod Touch or any other PDA or phone. Turns out
a) The service is paper or PDF only (at least to begin with).
b) None of the existing commercial guidebooks’ text is available. Instead , “we pull our information from dozens of locations and we’re continuing to add more. Sources include Wikitravel, Wikipedia, Yahoo Finance, AccuWeather, Google Maps, and Eventful”. And the results are predictably rather weak and dull (at least when I made myself a guide to London). I suppose there may be a market willing to pay $10 for a PDF that brings together web information that would take an hour or so of of copying and pasting to compile, but I was hoping for something a little more attractive. If it were free and ad supported I might consider it…

PS The service is in closed beta at the moment – you can request a code to try it though and once you are in they’re giving people two free guides to try out – so don’t take my word for it!

9 January 2008
Filed under:E-commerce at3:02 pm

Since it is tax time again I find myself looking up my online bills. Only to find that they are only saved for a year or less, when I really need to see them back to April 2006 (beginning of the tax year 06/07). Would it really cost these companies too much to make available a couple more months’ of statements online? Or even make the records available indefinitely? Otherwise I will end up having to print out some of my statements before I lose them, this missing the whole point of going paperless in the first place!

7 January 2008

I recently got five free tracks from iTunes (Londoners with Oystercards see here) and thought I would buy Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Unfortunately, on some CDs it is divided into lots of tracks < 1 minute long, each costing £.79, while on other discs it is on a single track... but because of its length you can only download it if you buy the whole album (£7.99). Bah!

26 May 2006
Filed under:E-commerce,Personal,Weblogs at12:20 pm

In the spirit of Jeff Jarvis’ famous gripe I would like to offer my own beef with Dell. I bought a machine from them before without too much trouble but this time I have been having extreme difficulty just getting them to take an order from me. More details below (more…)

19 May 2006

According to a free online valuation by Leapfish (based on word length and other factors) this address, blog.org, is worth $202,000 or more. Offers in that region would receive careful consideration…

2 January 2005

Or has this been festering behind the scenes for months and only recently become public? (Or has there been argument somewhere I just haven’t been noticing?) It’s becoming clear that “Chris Anderson”:http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bios/andersonw.html – the Editor in Chief of Wired – has views on copyright that differ somewhat from the ‘bits want to be free’ ideology that the magazine has tended to espouse.

I noticed “last month”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_ecommerce.html#001325 that Chris A (as befits an ex-Economist writer) is keen to encourage commercial companies to sueeze every last penny of value out of their intellectual property while people like “Cory Doctorow”:http://www.craphound.com/ and “Lawrence Lessig”:http://www.lessig.org/ would rather copyright protection was somewhat loosened to make it easier for people to exercise their existing rights and to encourage more theoretically-marketable but marginal content to enter the public domain.

Now Cory and Chris have “locked horns on digital rights management”:http://www.boingboing.net/2004/12/29/cory_responds_to_wir.html. Cory it seems never saw a DRM implementation he liked – Chris is a little more open to persuasion. Certainly both Cory and Larry have been able to dig up plenty of examples of how stupid DRM software rules sometimes mess up consumers’ rights and how it is always possible to circumvent DRM if you try hard enough. But my guess is that even the clumsy DRM implemented today seldom inconveniences most consumers much and most consumers don’t bother trying to get around it, unless they are trying to do something they shouldn’t like giving away copyrighted content to their friends.

If companies managed to develop sophisticated DRM that didn’t significantly impede people’s legitimate desires to share media with their friends and their other devices I wouldn’t be against it if it encouraged companies to make more of their back catalogues available more inexpensively and conveniently online. At the moment the absence of a convenient and comprehensive commercial alternative naturally drives people to the free P2P networks (particularly for more obscure fare) and this just makes the ultimate day of digital convergence further away.

The EFF and others should be encouraging responsible DRM development not just slamming it. How about a code of conduct for responsible DRM coding?

23 December 2004

In an October Wired article I just got around to reading, the editor in chief argues the importance of what he (and others) have called the ‘long tail’. As we know most people want things that are popular (expressed through the so called “power law”:http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/01/13/inequality.php which indicates visits to web pages (or weblogs) tend to be concentrated on a few big sites, or through book and music shopping where most people buy blockbuster books or CDs). What the ‘long tail’ thesis suggests however is that there are still substantial numbers of people who look at, read or otherwise consume stuff outside the mainstream “bump” – and this article suggests that there is money to be made in serving them as well as more mainstream customers.

The author assembles several interesting facts including the figure that 57% of Amazon’s customers are buying books that aren’t in its ‘top 130,000 books’ (the number of books in a typical Barnes and Noble store).

As a frequent would-be consumer of goods in that ‘long tail’ I am all in favour of encouraging the kind of attention to diverse needs that the article goes on to call for but I have to note one or two flaws in the article’s argument. First of all, Amazon (and the other vendors they highlight) may have lots of ‘long tail’ customers precisely because they are known for the breadth of what they stock. If there were lots of people serving that market, the proportion of sales going to ‘long tail’ customers for any individual one may be lower.

Also, the author dismisses the impact of the free file sharing networks on music too quickly. These already provide much of the variety that conventional distribution has so far failed to offer and there is a danger that the longer commercial organizations stay out of the ‘long tail’ market the more likely consumers are to become used to and dependent on free file sharing networks. And as broadband gets more widely available, movies may increasingly ‘go free’ as well. Indeed, I am a little surprised Wired didn’t suggest this would be a good thing – or at least threaten businesses with this as an alternative future…

Interestingly this article is (perhaps at an unconscious level) an attack on one of the key planks of the arguments advanced by copyright reformers like “Lessig”:http://lessig.org/ (traditional Wired allies) who say that it is ridiculous to retain strict copyright rules for lengthy periods because the commercial lifespan of most material is limited. But if the Long Tail encourages companies to try to wring even small amounts of money out of their lower-worth properties they will have a stronger interest in sticking with existing restrictive copyright rules.

Update There is a Long Tail blog and there will be a book. Also it appears the 57% figure for Amazon (one of the more interesting ones) may be exaggerated.

My friend “Reid”:http://rae.tnir.org/ comments rightly:

The thrust of your post seems to indicate that Lessig et al are labouring to make copyright less restrictive than it is. Fine and good, but it would have been better to point out that this would just return to the way copyright was for years and years (centuries?) before companies in the US pushed to change them starting in the late 20th century.

They key issue is that the duration of a copyright is increasing at about one year per year. Needless to say, this is not good. Read more about all this at the Opposing
Copyright Extension

I agree on this point – copyright expiry dates need to be looked at afresh from scratch and a new balance needs to be struck (certainly for example the need to assert your copyright after x years in order to have it valid which was removed a little while ago in the US needs to be returned so works which have no residual commercial value would revert to the public domain faster).

7 December 2004

“BoingBoing”:http://www.boingboing.net/ which appears to be one of the top 5 weblogs on the Internet (by “these”:http://www.technorati.com/live/top100.html “measures”:http://www.bloglines.com/topblogs “at least”:http://www.blogstreet.com/top100.html) has “announced”:http://www.boingboing.net/2004/12/03/boing_boing_traffic_.html it is publishing its full traffic statistics. It’s as good a way as any to get an idea of the ‘upper bound’ of popularity of weblogs as a phenomenon. Their traffic has nearly tripled in the last nine months and in November they had 1,182,402 ‘unique visitors’ (though how you would compare that to conventional media I don’t know – a visit to a weblog doesn’t seem to me equivalent in significance to the purchase of a magazine, say).

Depressingly, the top four search terms used to find their site are ‘anal’, ‘hentai’, ‘porno’ (and ‘boing’). My top five are “interesting facts”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_interesting_facts.html, “free ocr”:http://blog.org/archives/001249.html, “basic origami”:http://blog.org/archives/000176.html, “am I going down”:http://blog.org/archives/000223.html (bafflingly) and, of course, ‘blog’. There’s a lot about my own statistics that I have to admit puzzles me. For example why is it I have so many Dutch readers? My stats suggest I have half as many Dutch visitors as I have (identifiable) UK ones. And what is it you want to find when you visit? Are you getting what you want?

P.S. If Boing Boing are in the mood for more disclosure I’d be interested to know what their financial situation is like. It must take a few $$$ to pay for a connection that can transmit 469.29 GB of data a month…

29 September 2004
Filed under:E-commerce,Useful web resources,Weblogs at12:42 pm

The “Watchcow”:http://www.watchcow.net/ creates an RSS feed that tells you when any product’s price changes on Amazon in the US, in the UK or in Germany.

Thanks to searchenginewatch for the link.

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