Sears screws up an order, loses sale.

For all of you who run an e-commerce business of some kind, here are some tips for avoiding lost sales in a down economy:

  1. Make sure that when the customer hits the ‘confirm order’ button that they don’t get some cryptic server error page. This is a critical part of the order accepting process, and most customers (including me) aren’t going to go back and re-enter all of their stuff to re-order it.

    When I was trying to place my order with Sears last night and the cryptic message came up I decided I’d just get my stuff elsewhere.

    But they sent an email explaining since I ordered stuff for store pickup and the store wasn’t open my order couldn’t be processed. When the store opened this morning I would get an email letting me know when my order was ready. If it were not for that email, I’d be shopping elsewhere already.

    Unfortunately the email alone was not enough to save the sale…

  2. Make sure that when your system tells the customer an item is in stock – better yet, says “4 available” and they’ve ordered one – that it really is. When my “Your order is ready for pick-up” email arrived just now, I discovered that 6 out of the 7 items I’d ordered were canceled. No offer to ship them soon, no mention of what other stores might have them, just that they’re canceled. Apparently if Sears doesn’t stock, I don’t need it.

    These are the same items that showed as all being stock when I’d placed the order. I’d chosen a particular Sears store because they had everything I’d needed. The only reason I’d ordered online at all was because there was a 24-hour sale online sale that ended at 6am this morning (yes, before the store would open.)

I will now be buying my few hundred dollars worth of tools from someone else.

I’m embittered by the fact that I’d mentally taken care of ordering the stuff I needed – it was an item off my list. Picking them up was something I’d been looking forward too. Now it’s a chore back on the list, I’m disappointed, and I’ve got to go hunt down a new place to get everything. Now my money is tied up at Sears and I have to wait for the return to process and make sure it doesn’t get screwed up.

In short, I started out planning to spend some money and get something I needed and wanted. Instead, I’ve (albeit temporarily) spent my money, but gotten nothing but wasted time and uncertainty.

There’s already enough uncertainty in my life right now, and I don’t need more. I now think Sears sucks. I’d prefer craftsman tools to the other alternatives, but not at the expense of rewarding an incompetent organization for wasting my time and making me feel like an idiot for ordering from them in the first place.

[UPDATE]

I just realized that there’s something that seems kind of crooked about this. I have an email saying that my order could not be processed until the store opens. So, the store opens this morning, they process the order, find that they don’t have most of the stuff I wanted. But my card was STILL BILLED FOR THE TOTAL AMOUNT.

Now I definitely think Sears sucks.

Ok, who has decent hand tools at reasonable prices? Snap-on, SK and Mac need not apply – I’m not paying their prices. I need 6 point sockets, 1/2″ drive, in standard and metric.

Tools

Adam over at Printmode recently wrote about the tools he uses, and invited me to do the same.

I have quite a few I guess, as a lot of the work I do is research oriented. I’m not sure I could name them all, but I can name the ones that I find especially useful:

First, I use Windows (I have to, as it’s what we use at work), Mac (bittersweet), and Ubuntu Linux (also bittersweet). I use Linux mostly because I feel I’ll end up there eventually, so I might as well start getting my feet wet. I also find a bit of delight in using very high quality software on a high quality OS, when neither has cost me anything. I do find that Open Office just doesn’t measure up to Excel, however, so I stick to MS Office for most documents.

Firefox. Without this browser I wouldn’t have had tabbed browsing for all the time it’s taken Microsoft’s geniuses to figure it out. During that time I’ve become quite hooked. I haven’t yet upgraded to 2.0, I’m still using 1.5.x on a U3 usb key. This way I have my environment on any computer I sit at, at home or at work, including the full Open Office suite, Thunderbird (if I desire), and lots of other apps.

Performancing
& Adsense Notifier are two Firefox plugins I use regularly, to write blog posts and see what my adsense ads are doing. No, adsense doesn’t do much more than defray hosting expenses, but I can dream, can’t I? I’ve used Blogjet and Ecto on Windows and Mac respectively, but most of my posts don’t have pictures so Performancing works just as well and is in the browser where it’s handy.

As for website platforms, I use WordPress for blogs (the non-hosted kind), phpBB for SpeakStrategy, soon to be upgraded to something that handles spam users better, Drupal for a work site, and SugarCRM & pmwiki for managing some personal stuff. It’s truly a pleasure to work with such high-quality, open source software and I’d recommend these packages (ok, phpBB with many caveats) to anyone.

For email, it’s gmail and fastmail.fm. Really, gmail does what I need these days. I have two accounts, one that is hooked to my email domain, which forwards to another because only non-domain accounts have real-time push to blackberry (I don’t rate a corporate blackberry, so I use my own). For encryption I use both the built-in digital-id based encryption using keys from Thawte, and PGP, although frankly neither sees a lot of use.

At work it’s the ubiquitous Outlook, with draconian quotas and attachment policies. I use Nelson Email Organizer to help maintain my sanity.

Google Calendar takes care of my non-work related events, and it’s easy enough to copy events from outlook to google calendar just by inviting myself at the appropriate email address.

Joe’s Goals lets me track a few things I’d like to control better. It allows me to put a graph here on Lornitropia to let everyone else see when I’m letting myself down ;-). Speaking of graphs, I use a neato graphing package on my run blog to track mileage, weight loss and other stuff.

Stat Counter
and Google Analytics allow me to see how my various sites are doing.

Google Reader is now my preferred RSS reader.

Linkedin, xing, Plaxo, and several other sites provide both good networking tools and good research tools, along with Zoominfo & Jigsaw. Anagram makes it easy to suck contact info out of anything and into Outlook’s contacts. The Linkedin and Plaxo toolbars for Outlook are both really handy, but are both pretty buggy.

Search engines used are Google, of course, but also Ask. Frankly, I keep hearing that one needs to use more than google, but I find it’s pretty rare that I find something that Google didn’t have. I also use Copernic, desktop for finding stuff on my machine, web for doing very thorough searches outside Google and Tracker for keeping tabs on websites I monitor.

Highbeam
is pretty useful, although they don’t have many printing industry publications. LexusNexus and Hoovers also provide some value, albeit at a very high price.

iTunes
and iPod mean the difference between listening to podcasts and not for me. Both are awesome products that just work like crazy.

As a main CI database I use Strategy Software, which is pretty darned cool.

Photos – Adobe Photoshop or The Gimp. For storing them, iPhoto is what I use now, but Picasa was very capable when I was using it.

Who’s Next?

Hmmm…

Dr. Joe Webb
Mike Rohde
Des Walsh

Tool Review: Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker

A short while ago I finally bought something I’ve been eyeing for a long time: A Spyderco Tri-angle Sharpmaker sharpening system.

It was inevitable

Now I’m a bit of a sharpening nut, and I’ve owned just about every gadget imaginable for putting an edge on something. I’m also a sucker for just about anything that promises to make it easier to do so. So it was inevitable that I would end up with a Sharpmaker in my shop eventually.

The sharpmaker consists of four stones, really ceramic sticks of triangular cross-section, and a plastic base to hold them at a few angles along with two brass safety rods to keep you from flaying your own hands in the process. Everything packs into a fairly small box – about the size of a large water stone.

The sticks are triangular and the base has star-shaped holes – the result is that the sticks can be oriented so that either the face or the edge of the triangle is the sharpening surface. The edges are faster, the faces leave a smoother finish. Each stone has a slot in one face, to facilitate sharpening awls and fishhooks and the like.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of how to use the system because it comes with both a good manual and a video to boot.

Glad I bought it

Overall, I’m glad I bought it. It will probably become my favored way of keeping an edge on just about any knife or pair of scissors I have. That said, there are a few things I don’t like.

But it’s not perfect

First, the base is flexible enough to move when you use the system, which allows the angles to change a bit. I’m not sure what effect this has on creating a sharp edge, but it certainly feels mushy and distracting. The base has counter-sunk holes for screwing it to a base or table, but that of course hampers portability.

Second, the holes for the sticks are loose enough that they wiggle a bit. This combined with the flexing really encourages a light touch and slow going. Maybe they designed it this way on purpose.

Third, the course sticks are coarse, but not really edge-repair coarse. If you have something that is dull enough to almost be childproof, you’re going to be at it a looong time with this system.

Fourth, while the system can be used (sort of) on chisels, plane irons and the like, it’s not really suited to that. In that case, you can get decent-sized ceramic bench stones.

Fifth, the stones load quickly and have to be scrubbed clean with kitchen cleanser (I use Barkeeper’s Friend). Just kind of a pain, but not as difficult as keeping oil or water on sticks held at a 60-degree angle 😎

Still, it’s good system, and a few strokes will keep any knife sharp.

What surprised me was how sharp. Normally, for any knife I would consider whittling with if it won’t shave the hair off my arm pretty effortlessly it’s not sharp enough. So any sharpening method had better be capable of creating such an edge. The Sharpmaker is. It did it in just a few minutes on my Victorinox Executive, which is my normal pocket knife, and was less than sharp from cutting boxes. I was impressed.

Thumbs up!