Don’t Panic…

…I tell myself.  I recently ordered a number of items from retailers on Ebay, all small, couple of pound items some from the UK some from China.  I haven’t ordered anything from Amazon though – this is important.  I received confirmation emails, then despatch confirmations for all items, from Ebay.

Then I received an email from Amazon saying my order had been despatched.  WHAT ORDER!

Before opening the email I googled the company listed in the email header, it was real, a well-known marketplace seller.  I tentatively opened the email, knowing that in spam or phishing emails the “from” address (amazon.co.uk) can be spoofed.  It was a normal Amazon despatch message containing my home address and sent to my usual email address.  The thing was that there was no products listed at all but there was a link to parcel tracking that I didn’t click of course.

When I eventually checked my real-world mailbox this morning I found a large flat cardboard envelope with Amazon.co.uk emblazoned across it.  Uh, huh?

I opened it and immediately understood.  Inside was a despatch note from the company listed in the email, on Amazon stationery so to speak, and the item I’d ordered from the UK Ebay seller.  I finally realised – the email had said it was from the Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) section – I’d bought from a seller under one name on Ebay but the item was despatched from their stock held in Amazon’s warehouse under a different name.  I hadn’t realised that FBA extended beyond purchases from Amazon Marketplace to Ebay and elsewhere too.

If the product had been listed on the emailI would have realised sooner but as it was I spent yesterday morning changing my Ebay, Paypal and Amazon log-ins and passwords to be on the safe side.

The strange, confusing world of online shopping logistics.

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99p is The New Free

Yes, it seems it’s ebook week on The Lunch.

Free books

Free books (Photo credit: randomduck)

On just about every high street in Britain there is some kind of mis-named Pound Shop, selling things for 99p, and it’s a well-known psychological effect that we think that 99p is vastly cheaper than a pound because it has less digits, even if our subconscious obsession with lower numbers in buying but higher in selling leads us to all have jam jars full of pennies.

The odd thing though is a shift in the area of “free” goods.  On Amazon and other ebook stores there are thousands of free ebooks, some are actual out-of-copyright classics, some are good books simply written for the enjoyment of it and given away, others are free just to be generous and helpful.  The problem is that we often assume that if something is always free then it must be of lower quality, whereas we will eagerly grab a book that’s normally £3.99 but is reduced for a day to £0.00.  This idea of low quality is reinforced by many writers and journalists who have said that only crap writers do it for free [Andy looks at own not-for-profit blog and sighs].

This is a problem for new authors who are publishing solely electronically – price it too high and buyers might not want to take a shot at an unknown, give it away and it’s likely that people will see the words “FREE = CRAP” with memories of bookstore remainder bins in the back of their minds.

There has emerged a middle ground, more and more books are being published at 99p, cheap enough to be a potential throwaway purchase but someone thinks it’s worth actually charging money for which gives you a bit of confidence that it’ll be worth it.  It also feels like you’re getting a bargain even if it’s not reduced.

Amongst the ebook chaff there is wheat and if this idea gets it noticed then it doesn’t matter whether crap gets sold at the same price – that’s what Amazon’s reviews sections are for.

 

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Wunderkindle*

Search cat

Search cat (Photo credit: zenera)

Last week I was in the Lake District once again and while I adore wandering around in the fresh air with the wonderful scenery, sun shining (much of the time) and birds twittering, there are always times to just sit back and relax.

This year I had a new distraction.  I’ve had a Kindle app on my tablet since about a day after I received it but due to the screen’s pesky LCD it doesn’t work too well outdoors so I decided to take the plunge.  I’d always said that the standalone ereaders were a bit pointless when you have a tablet but the more I’ve tried to use it the more I found justification for a read reader instead – another advantage is the lower weight, in fact when I finally had my Kindle in my hand I picked up what I’d thought of as a svelte and featherweight Nexus 7 and it felt like a housebrick by comparison.  When you’re reading for a couple of hours propped up in your favourite chair that makes a difference to your arm muscles.

My preconceived notions about the usefulness of another ebook reader meant that I ended up getting a bargain – a virtually unused latest generation Kindle bought from a lady on Ebay who didn’t really use it; having had it a few months I see that I could easily have justified the full price.  For novels and text books it’s so much more convenient and even though they’ve been out years the idea that you could take a couple of thousand books on holiday with you is still impressive, and easier on your luggage allowance.

Because I can download books that I might not have otherwise seen and read cheaply and not have to find space for them I’ve found that I’ve actually started reading more again and it may even get me back into reading more actual paper books again too.

I still use the tablet’s Kindle app for books with pictures or where jumping from one part of the book to another is easier with a touchscreen but being able to turn a page without moving my thumb away from the edge of the device was so much simpler, as was being able to also hold a bottle of cider in my other hand as it was no longer employed in holding a book open.   The fact that this ease of reading was achieved while I sat admiring mountains and a colourful sunset last week was a wonderful thing.

*Other e-readers are available 🙂

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Just Browsing?

English: Four retailers, Newport Road, Cardiff...

English: Four retailers, Newport Road, Cardiff Located on the west side of Newport Road, close to the Colchester Avenue junction are Topps Tiles (their banner states “Britain’s biggest tile and wood flooring specialist” Halfords Currys PC World. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like looking round a real-world shop and if I can get something I want from somewhere that I can look at it first then I’ll often be happy to pay a few quid more for it – as well as being able to get that instant gratification feeling of having a new shiny thing straight away.  Sometimes you find something you didn’t know you wanted.  Some things we can buy based on a picture and a specification, somethings are more subjective, they need to be inspected closely, handled to see if they will fit into our life, or indeed hand – as in the case of my recent mobile phone.

The trouble is that so often that thing you see in front of you is cheaper online, and maybe it is worth waiting a few days to save money, so you go home and order it instead – I’ve heard of people using apps on their smartphones to order things while they’re still in the shop even.  I admit I did this when I bought my current phone but only because I had built up a small cash-back to use if I bought it online direct from the network.

Understandably high street retailers are not happy about this and it has even been cited as contributing to the failure of some big-name stores recently – added costs of bricks-and-mortar stores being named specifically as the reason they can’t match online prices.  Yes people need to save money these days but if we abandon local shops altogether our town centres are going to be awfully quiet.

To fight back some retailers let you buy online for collection in store, getting a web-exclusive price into the bargain, Currys PC World for example, which will tempt some away from Amazon et al with the carrot of convenience while some remaining retailers are either trying to match online prices to gain volume sales instead or emphasising the added-value of personal service, which is certainly a benefit to specialist retailers like camera stores where knowledgable staff are invaluable.  Choice, availability, service and a reasonable price are what high-street stores need to emphasise.

One specialist food store in Australia though has taken the same route as supermarkets have done with parking, to discourage people who visit but not buy anything (and then go online) they charge $5 entry which is refunded when you buy something.  Which is quite a carrot, appropriately enough.

Be Careful What You Search For

Watching

Watching (Photo credit: Laddir)

You are being watched.  No, calm down, I didn’t mean in the real world, sit back down and stop looking behind your sofa.

For many years people have simultaneously worried about how their browsing habits were being tracked and perhaps used to monitor their activities while marvelled at how Amazon suggests new products for them based on their previous choices  – online data collection really is a double-edged sword.  In the UK we have a law where websites have to visibly inform you about browser cookie use and give you either a choice or instructions on how to enable them or otherwise.

The data collected by browsers is not always sent to advertisers, much is used today to improve services, make useful suggestions for stuff to buy, places to visit, people to friend on Facebook etc.  The data collected when you’re logged into Google’s many and varied services, for example, can be used by their Google Now service to provide real-time information relevant to you.  I was impressed when without being told my Nexus 7 knew where I worked and how long it would take to get there, giving me weather and travel information too.  My first reaction was “how did it know?”  I don’t take it to work, has it been talking to my phone?  Well, in a way, it used my contacts information, I think, I hope.  These computerised personal assistants like Google Now and Apple’s Siri are a wonder of our time, intelligently finding, collating and presenting information in truly intuitive ways, I’m still impressed whenever I ask my Nexus 7 what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow.

But the other day I discovered something about Google Now that could, in the right, or wrong circumstances be interesting or awkward.  I searched for Cromwell Weir on Google Maps on my laptop and later that evening noticed that my Nexus 7 was giving me, like the helpful little soul it is, travel information to Cromwell.  Later still I searched for a shop in Lincoln and again it was there saying “are you wanting to go there now?  I can show you where to go.”

Which is all very helpful until you’re searching for a hotel for a surprise weekend away for you and your other half on your PC while your tablet, in the hands of your beloved in the room next door is happily giving the game away.

So if you don’t want Google, or for that matter Siri if Apple’s assistant has similar abilities blabbing about your plans remember to log out before browsing.

Amazon Roulette

English: Amazon warehouse at Glenrothes

English: Amazon warehouse at Glenrothes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to buying things that are non-essential I tend to follow my gut instinct and be patient, waiting for the best deal and usually I get a bargain.  Sometimes this is because I’ve waited for the thing to be replaced by “next year’s model” and is discounted in a local clearance store or on Amazon, but many of these bargains have been through the wonder that is Amazon WarehouseI don’t know if other countries have this but we do in Britain.

I’ve had a slightly dinged Acer Netbook for half-price, £35 worth of ring binders for £2.76 which had only had the box opened it appears and a souvenir London 2012 notebook which only had a slight mark on the spine for a couple of quid.  High-street shops have been selling these “shop-soiled seconds” for decades as many people won’t buy things at full price if the packaging or the product is slightly damaged, or has even been opened.  Amazon’s back-room though is a treasure trove and it’s given me a little game you can play.

The prices of everything on Amazon can vary and you can use “Your Browsing History” to keep track of stuff you want and watch the prices, including the Warehouse prices which come under the “Used” pricing.  Recently I’ve been watching Sony Bluray players and the three models that have built-in iPlayer etc have been up and down like the proverbial yo-yo in the Warehouse for weeks.  First the basic model was cheap, then it shot up for no good reason, then the mid-range did the same, then the best one suddenly dipped below the price the basic one had initially dropped to – less than half-price for one with “slight cosmetic damage”.  I clicked “buy” and deleted them all from my history so I don’t see if they went even lower – if you are of the masochistic or pessimistic nature however you could keep watching.

Bargain spotting, 21st century style.  Just remember, in shopping as in life, patience is everything.

Parcel Farce Part Deux: One Camera’s Journey

English: Lagan Viking Irish Sea The Lagan Viki...

English: Lagan Viking Irish Sea The Lagan Viking one hour and forty minutes after leaving Belfast Harbour is photographed passing the Isle of Man heading for Liverpool. Image made from Portavogie Harbour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I often find that I see interesting photos while I don’t have my DSLR with me and while my compact camera does a good job when I saw the chance of an even better compact for half price (£60) on Amazon I decided to treat myself.  I no longer have Amazon Prime so didn’t expect to have to deal with couriers any more but this week I was proved wrong.

My camera was dispatched on Monday from Swansea and was meant to be delivered on Wednesday, some drivers for the courier it was being sent by (Hermes) have a habit of leaving packages outside our building so I was a little apprehensive when I arrived home to find nothing, not even a card to say they hadn’t delivered.  I checked on Amazon and the tracking information said “Possible delay in delivery due to arrival at incorrect carrier facility” – current location of my camera: Belfast.  It had taken the advice to “go west” instead of heading for me over here on the east coast.  Possible delay?  It had crossed the Irish Sea and was on its way to Tipperary for all I knew (which is a long way).

Thursday evening, it still hadn’t arrived.  It was in Warrington, having presumably briefly visited Liverpool.  I know not where it will go next but I am a little annoyed that it’s visiting more cities than I have time to do.

Update:  Saturday morning.  I suddenly thought to check where it was, went to Amazon, the tracking now said it had visited Peteborough and was out for delivery.  At last!  I looked out of my front window a few minutes later and down on the road outside was the Hermes driver just getting my box out of his car.  Perfect timing.

Book Exchange

English: A woman cuddling a pile of digital de...

English: A woman cuddling a pile of digital devices: laptops, smartphones, tablets, ebook readers etc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With new rules saying that book publishers should basically price ebooks fairly in relation to the fact that there is no physical object to manufacture I’ve had an idea.

Maybe someone has already had it but anyway let’s say, like me, you have a large bookshelf, some of the books you want to keep because of their aesthetic appeal, or sentimental value, maybe they’re signed. Others you keep for reference and would be happy to have as searchable ebooks.

You’ve already paid for the paper version so you’re reluctant to pay the same price again for the ebook version.  What if you could send your good condition paper version to either a charity or a company like Amazon and they’d exchange it for the digital version and then sell the paper book second-hand to cover the cost of your ebook.  You could save space and the charity/company could still make money.  Even if they charged you a pound to do it it would still be worth it surely?

[Gizmodo UK]