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.

All Wrapped Up

Shrink wrapped helicopters

Shrink wrapped helicopters (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ikea have a lot to answer for.  Well, not just Ikea really but retail outlets in general, combined with the general idea of everything being available to conveniently take away.

A while back a customer arrived to collect a mirror, this is a custom mirror, hand-cut, semi-hand-polished, we don’t have off-the-shelf mirrors, or double-glazed units, or windows, the world just isn’t that standardised, as I’ve discussed before.  Anyway, I brought the mirror out and carefully placed it down, sitting on its corner protectors which stop the polished edge being chipped.  “Is that it?”  he boomed.  “That’s the mirror you ordered.”  “But aren’t you going to wrap it up in something, it’s gotta go in my van, what the f**k am I going to do with that?”  I use a question mark there but it may have been a rhetorical question.  I said that we didn’t have any cardboard or bubble wrap.  “Right, I’ll go and sort my van out and wrap it up my f*ing self then.”

Someone else ordering a double-glazing unit recently asked “will it come packaged up?”

This is the thing, if you buy a timber door from a DIY store it’ll probably have a bit of shrink-wrap around it it protects it from rubs but not knocks as such, we don’t have the facilities to package everything and it’s impractical to keep packing materials in all the time, if we do have some card and people ask then we will wrap things up, the problem is the expectation of it being packaged and the reactions if we can’t.

Most of our products are supplied to trade people who turn up prepared, with vehicles suited to the task but more often people turn up in vehicles that are too small for the glass or come without anything to support it at all.  At the opposite end of the scale one customer used to turn up with a specially made tray on the roof of his car for carrying mirrors and another had built a timber support inside his car to move one glass unit – which was an impressive level of preparedness.  Most customers at the moment do come prepared in one way or another, even if it means five minutes of me standing by the car holding the glass while they remove jacks, toolboxes, shopping and so on from the car boot before spreading out an emergency tartan blanket as support.

For the rest though the explanation is the takeaway society – people expecting to not have to do anything themselves, just turn up, have it wheeled out and put in their unprepared car.  Their food comes in packages in the supermarket, their furniture comes in boxes, or delivered in vans, so it comes as a shock to find something that doesn’t conform to their expectations it’s just unfortunate that so many people’s reaction today is not to either ask politely if we might have something to put round the glass, or say that they’d go and get something themselves or a more suitable vehicle but instead to refuse to acknowledge that they may have overlooked the transport issue, to blame the supplier, to lash out with indignation and exclaim angrily that it should be wrapped up, that it’s our duty, that it’s the law – nothing comes unwrapped these days, don’t we know that, it’s a basic human right for goodness sake.

Ahem, sorry.  Anyway, it’s late here so I will just wrap this up for you now.

Don’t Take My Buttons Away

English: The Nikon D7000 is a 16.2 megapixel d...

English: The Nikon D7000 is a 16.2 megapixel digital single-lens reflex camera. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not alluding to the fact that my trousers would fall down or even that I’m addicted to little discs of chocolate, I’m becoming concerned at the proliferation of touchscreens and the like.

In computers, smartphones, cars and cameras it seems that push buttons and switches are seen as old-fashioned, not versatile enough, not eager to change colour or function at the drop of a hat, they’re so last century but wait a second, they still have value.

Some devices like a digital SLR camera have functions that you need to change quickly attached to a button, you instinctively reach for it with a finger tip, press it, twiddle the input dial and viola you’ve dialed in some exposure compensation.  The process of just knowing where the control is is called muscle memory and it’s very useful, so much so we often don’t realise we’re using it.  I’m using it now, I’m typing this without looking at the keyboard.  Now it’s true that’s possible with a touchscreen but only if you have a physical reference to start from and the display doesn’t change – with an actual button you only need to know it’s near your index finger, you just fish around for a second and know what the right one feels like, on a screen there’s, at the moment, no tactile cues.

The other problem with touchscreens is also that they tend to group all the controls on the back or front of the device so for example on the Samsung Galaxy NX camera, and other touchy-feely controlled cameras you have to take your eye from the viewfinder in order to fit your fingers between the screen and your nose.

So speed and practicality are on the single-minded, independent buttons’ side but what about safety?

Huh? you ask.  I’ve mentioned before how the same principle reduces the amount of time you’re looking away from the road when driving a car with physical controls rather than touchscreens or joystick-driven menus.  Until voice control gets to the KITT-level conversation style I’m not happy giving up my in-car knobs and dials.

As for voice control of phones and cameras, it’s fine until you find yourself trying to adjust a setting on your camera while not wanting to look away from the viewfinder but also being aware that asking your camera nicely if it wouldn’t mind changing the aperture to f/8 might be inappropriate to the setting.

Fashion seems to be pushing tech companies and car makers towards more minimalist devices, their faces just a screen of morphing, interactive controls, often for the sake of it, but good design shouldn’t compromise usability and sometimes the most usable control is the humble physical button.

An Object Choice

NYC - MoMA: Philip Johnson Architecture and De...

NYC – MoMA: Philip Johnson Architecture and Design Galleries – Digital Compact Disc (Photo credit: wallyg)

I have always generally stuck to buying CDs for music except for some recent digital download-only EPs and singles but the other day I was made to wonder why.

I’d been looking at an album that was available as a normal version and a deluxe version.  The deluxe had just three more songs but cost £17 as opposed to the normal version that had dropped to £5.  I thought I’d just go without the extra tracks and bought the £5 one.  All fine except that I’d noticed that there was a link to “download the MP3 version for £4.99” on the deluxe edition yet I’d still bought the physical CD of the normal version for 1p more.  At first I was fine with this but then began to feel confused, I felt a bit daft for buying the CD when by downloading I could have had more for the same money – was the plastic and paper really worth it?

I could have cancelled the CD, downloaded the MP3 but I still didn’t.  I’m still at the stage where I only feel that I have a copy of the music (or book) that I can keep forever if I have a physical copy – for me it’s not even about the cover artwork or the booklet as I hardly ever look at these.  But this experience, the doubt, showed me that even I’m accepting that the future of media is becoming more digital, increasingly virtual, that with digital booklets having the actual CD is less important than the music itself.

In many ways it’s better this way, content you effectively license can be accessed anywhere you can log into your account, a copy can be downloaded to your computer if necessary and even burned onto an old-fashioned disk.  Should the worst happen you don’t lose your collection.  It’s also more convenient to buy and store.

I’m still not so sold on ebooks though, I still like a paper book I can safely read in the bath but I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the waterproof Kindle Touch.

And as for my MP3 quandary, it turned out that the download wasn’t even the deluxe version after all so the decision was entirely virtual, ironically.

The Colour of Fashion

Blue ice

Blue ice (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

When is pastel blue not pastel blue?

When its the colour of a pair of skinny jeans that you’re trying to sell to men and you don’t want them to sound “feminine”.  The colour when applied to mens jeans is “Ice Blue” or “Ice Green”.

Ice.  Green.  Since when has ice been green?  Yellow snow maybe.

But yes, ice is cool.  Literally.  Ice, Ice , Baby, c’mon.  Yes, showing my age there.  Anyway, I am reliably informed by the link suggestions on the side of my WordPress screen that such coloured jeans are the new trend, it’s true, see the links below.   And the colours are not pastel, they’re ice.

This is the odd thing about clothing manufacturers, who do they ask when they’re conducting market research, it certainly isn’t me.  Take outdoor clothing, when it comes to mens’ garments the colour choice is boring to say the least – bright red, bright blue, green, navy blue and black typically.  You see the occasional bright green jacket and sometimes orange ones that just look like safety jackets or yellow ones that make you look like the Jolly Fisherman.  You see a purple one, a turquoise or teal one, a tasteful green or a red other than signal red and it turns out to be a womans’ jacket.  The only exceptions tend to be very expensive which is perhaps the crux of the matter and returns us to the fashion jeans – the only companies willing to take the risk on something different and individual in mens clothes are the ones with the highest price tags and exclusivity as a feature.

Update:  since writing this I have found a lovely almost teal blue winter jacket from Trespass at Winfields at Garforth near Leeds which was a bargain, sometimes you just have to be patient and travel to find what you want.

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.

But It’s a Bargain

The volume rocker of the Amazon Kindle 2

The volume rocker of the Amazon Kindle 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve just noticed on Amazon.co.uk that the top five kindle books at the moment are all priced between £0.20 and £0.99.  Is this a coincidence or is it the same reason I also bought the number one book (besides it being a QI book) – only 20p, I’m having that!

I’m sure they’re all good books but it also shows that almost giving content away can give a book, or music, momentum in the sales charts.  It’s only really been possible thanks to digital media’s lower distribution costs and the benefit is that once people have tried it they’ll tell others about it and maybe they’ll still buy it even if it’s at a higher price later.

The music industry needs to pay attention.  It isn’t devaluing, it’s marketing.