Is this any way to treat your customers?

Case study in how not to treat your customers:

Wandered into HMV in Scotch Hall (our brand new shopping centre in Drogheda) to buy a CD in the January sale – GoldFrapp as it turns out. Brought the CD home , ready to play it on my PC (where I listen to most of my music). CD doesn’t play , not until I register online and let them install software on my machine, neither of which I am keen on (see this BBC online article for one of the reasons why).

So here is the heart of the ‘bad customer experience’. While I think artists have the right to earn a living, and even lock their CD’s as much as they like (see related post here on Microsoft) I do expect to get what I pay for. Nowhere on the CD does it say ‘this will not work on your computer without registration/ software install’. What it does say is ‘Insert this CD in your computer and discover exclusive audio, video and more through opendisc technology’. Not a word about ‘additional proof of identity / security software install required’.

So , here’s a quick question: what would your customers do if you treated them like this?
a) Come back and spend more money with you.
b) Grumble and spend their money on one of the many other entertainment options available.

No prizes for guessing which on I am doing.

Why pay 400 Euro for Microsoft Office?

Like 99% of PC users, you probably have Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint installed on your PC. To get a copy of Microsoft Office you either:

  • Paid about 400 Euro to get a legitimate copy.
  • Got a copy from a ‘friend of a friend’.

While I’m no advocate of Microsoft, I think the 2nd option is wrong. It’s illegal and it’s theft by another name – either you want Microsoft Office enough to pay the money, however outrageous,
or you don’t and you have free choice to walk away. It’s also stupid, as there are good, low cost (or free) alternatives out there.

Some alternatives to Microsoft Office are listed below (and this ZDNet article lists some more). Given that most users only scratch the surface of available features, each of these is a ‘good enough’ replacement for Word, Excel , Powerpoint and in some cases , Access.

  • StarOffice – from Sun Microsystems , available for about 50 Euro.
  • OpenOffice – an open version of StarOffice , slightly more ‘techie’ but available for free.
  • ThinkFree – an alternative to office that runs within your web browser (like Internet Explorer)

Thinkfree Star Office Box Open Office Logo

Why are these so much cheaper? It just shows how much profit Microsoft is making from it’s Office suite when products of a similar quality are available for a 10th of the price.

So should you switch? Realistically , you have 3 options:

  1. If budget is important and you as a decision maker can push through the implementation, then go for either Star Office or Open Office. While these have every feature users need, they look just slightly different. If you can encourage users to give them a try for the first few days, then they’ll never want to go back.

    An example (heard 3rd hand) was a well known hospital in Dublin that tried , and failed to switch. The problem was that senior officers did not want to make the effort to change.

  2. If budgets are not a problem or if you use the extremely advanced features like macros, then stick to Microsoft office. If you don’t know what a Macro is, then chances are that you are not using them.
  3. Keep on using your illegal copy. You might have got away with it until now, but expect Microsoft to come after you as their (previously spectacular) revenue growth comes under pressure.

Go for either Option 1 or 2. For Option 3, expect Microsoft to offer increased incentives for employees to let the cat out of the bag, as well as new technical initiatives (building on the ‘Genuine Windows’ program to sniff you out. You have been warned.

The last person in Ireland to use Ebay.

Much has already been written about EBay – a lot good (100,000 plus people making a living from buying and selling items online, the ability to find items on ‘the long tail’, not just the items worthwhile for shops to stock), some bad (serious question marks have been raised over the Security of both the Auction site and the related Paypal service).

The reason for this post is that yesterday I bought my first item on EBay – a Nokia phone cover – for half the price I would pay in the local market in Drogheda. So why the delay you might ask ask, for somebody who tries to be ‘ahead of the curve’ on all things internet related? The first is that I find it very hard to find things on the site (although, given that millions of other people successfully buy and sell, I’m likely to be in a minority of one). The second is that  until now I tended to use the web for services (e.g. search for information as part of providing Java and Internet consultancy, airline and hotel bookings etc.). The third is that farmers who examine the back end of the tractor they’re about to buy, I’m more interested in the ‘ugly bits’ of the site – the API that allows you to write programs to automatically bid at auctions etc.

Now that the last person in Ireland (me!) has started to use Ebay , Irish business has a fantasyic opportunity. The Northern Ireland Equivalent of Enterprise Ireland (Invest NI) is already running courses on how to sell surplus stock on EBay. In these days of Ireland having the reputation of ‘rip off republic’, it’s also a good way of finding new,  low cost suppliers online.

(Related Post – outsourcing of services)

Did you notice how shops have changed ?

5 Years ago, you could walk into Waterstones in Dublin and see 8-10 filled with computer books. Walk in today and you would be lucky to see 1-2 sections, less than a quarter the number. The titles still being covered are the ‘mass market’ items – Word, Excel , Access, Microsoft Office. No longer can you find the items of specialist interest – JMX, Aspect Orientated Programming, Ajax and the like. Even slightly more mainstream books on Oracle and Enterprise Java are getting hard to find.

What is going on? Remember how the dot com boom promised to revolutionise retailing and that old fashioned retailers were doomed? It turns out that a both online and offline retailers are thriving. Specialist areas (the long tail – as explained in this post) are migrating online. Mass market hits (such as Sharon Osbourne’s and Will Young’s biographies) stay in the shop, where you’re more likely to buy them as a last minute present or impulse purchase.

From on online retailers point of view (e.g. Amazon), computer books are a perfect product. No ‘bricks and mortar’ book shop is going to be able to stock all the books I need, given that for a worldwide population of 6 Billion people, less than 20,000 copies will be sold of an book such as Java Messaging Service (JMS), even for a popular title from O’Reilly. This translates to about a quarter a copy a year for even an above average bookshop in Dublin , Belfast or Drogheda. Bundle them up into an online bookshop however, and 20,000 copies is a very nice market.

This process, far from being the death of traditional retailers is proving their renaissance. Companies like Tesco and Argos are mastering true Clicks and Mortar techniques. They can devote previous shelf space to high volume, high profit goods, while direct their ‘do you have this in pink in a size 20’ queries to their online store. Maybe not as convenient for techies in
search of the latest knowledge fix, but 3 days wait for a book is better than not being able to get that book at all.

Wired Article – The Long Tail

Before I got into IT, I was involved in Supply Chain Management – the stuff that gets your Cornflakes from a farmers field to your breakfast table.

One of the biggest problems in retailling has been an abundance of supply – unlike the previous 100 years where you could ‘never get anything in Ireland’ , be it staple foodstuffs or the latest Gucci Handbags, these are now available at Brown Thomas and shops all over Dublin (the Handbags, not the potatoes).

Unfortunately, shelf space can’t increase at the same rate, so most shops are stocking only the ‘Hits’ – the products that appear to the lowest common denominator of the mass market. This is a problem if you music tastes go beyond ‘Busted’, if you want an extra special Christmas present or or part for your Hifi that ‘they just don’t make anymore’

Step forward the internet. If you look at the success stories of the internet – Amazon, EBay, Online Travel, they all aim at the estimated 50% of purchases that are individual rather than mass market. Read the Wired Article here that explains more.