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Sears Social Media is Worthless

Sears Social Media is completely worthless but, as I discovered, it probably doesn’t matter since Sears is so dysfunctional and mismanaged they’re about out of business anyway.

In February of 2011 I wrote this post after being hammered on by Sears after buying some appliances from them. Sears Social Media, a group in Austin, TX, had a “case manager” followup and I suspect did so only because I was CC’ing the current head of marketing for Sears Holdings, Dave Friedman (who is now gone).

My wife and I made the mistake of buying a garage door opener from Sears a few weeks ago. Having forgotten to make certain I did NOT receive marketing/customer service phone call followups (like last time) I received a call Sunday afternoon from a robocalling service in Chicago, wanting me to partake in an automated survey, and I was under a desk assembling it for my sister-in-law. Exasperated I hung up and, after I finished assembling the desk, sent a tweet to @SearsCares (the social media group) and @Sears (some other Twitter feed). A “case manager” named Brian indicated he needed my contact info so I DM’ed him my email address.

Never received an email followup from anyone.

Next day (Monday afternoon) while in a business meeting my mobile phone rings. It’s another robocall coming in for the survey I never took. “Seriously?”, I thought. So after the meeting I started tweeting to their social media group in the hope I could get someone to intervene and stop the damn calls. Now “Diane”, someone who said twice, “Sorry for the delay in speaking to a case manager.We appreciate your patience. Thanks, Dianne cc:@Sears

I’ve heard nothing and it’s now been 20 hours since their last message stating that they’d help out.

So I went to Sears Holdings in an attempt to find out who runs Sears Social Media and discovered a few things:

  • Their Q3, 2012 results are so horrible that it’s no wonder the financial management of the company — obviously sucking the company dry — is clueless and probably milking the company as it dies
  • Their marketing and social media efforts are led by a revolving door of senior managers. After Dave Friedman left Sears brings in a high profile ecommerce strategist, Monica Woo, who stays just five months. It’s no wonder the ship is sailing all over the place since it’s without leadership and the rudder is broken.

Did I give up? Mostly. Especially since I had an “Aha!” and remembered that the phone number I’d given Sears after the LAST fiasco was my Google Voice number (which is set to ring my mobile) so I logged in and blocked the robocall number.

But isn’t that fixing the wrong problem Sears? Hopefully the next time I shop at Sears (um…that’ll be never) I’ll remember to give you a number I can block.


UPDATE: After nearly THREE DAYS of Sears social media “interactions” I received this email (I had sent two others to “smsupport@searshc.com” and also filled out a form on Sears website) and called ‘Gabriel A.” as requested. Turns out there is not much he can do — he certainly can’t affect Sears robocalling or other marketing — but he offered to “close the case” since I’d already blocked the phone number (and, of course, he gets scored or paid on how many “cases” he resolves):

Sears Social Media Customer Service <smsupport@searshc.com>
Tuesday, December 4, 2012 3:27 PM

Dear Mr. Steve Borsch,

My name is Gabriel A; I work for Sears Executive office we are an escalated complaint and resolution team. Please contact me at your earliest convenience so that we may discuss your issue in depth. Please contact me at your earliest convenience on my direct phone number that has been provided below along with my business hours. I look forward to speaking with you soon. We have also created a case number in which we reference when you call which is ____________.

Gabriel A.

Social Media Support – Case Manager
Sears Holdings Corporation
Phone: 888-266-4043 extension 92
Email: smsupport@searshc.com
Schedule: Monday – Friday 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM (CST)

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McKinsey: Cities and the rise of the consuming class

Gaining insight is one of the most important things you can do when identifying trends, especially now that the trend is toward an accelerating, global economic shift toward Asia. It’s one of the reasons why we stay close to what is delivered by McKinsey & Company, a firm founded in 1926 that has grown into a global partnership serving two-thirds of the Fortune 1000.

Their think-tank arm, the McKinsey Global Institute, has just released a new report entitled, “Urban world: Cities and the rise of the consuming class” and is definitely worth a read.

It starts out with this, “Cities have long been the world’s economic dynamos, but today the speed and scale of their expansion are unprecedented. Through a combination of consumption and investment in physical capital, growing cities could inject up to $30 trillion a year into the world economy by 2025. Understanding cities and their shifting demographics is critical to reaching urban consumers and to preparing for the challenges that will arise from increasing demand for natural resources (such as water and energy) and for capital to invest in new housing, office buildings, and port capacity.

But it gets better as it discusses how this new report finds that, “…the 600 cities making the largest contribution to a higher global GDP—the City 600—will generate nearly 65 percent of world economic growth by 2025. However, the most dramatic story within the City 600 involves just over 440 cities in emerging economies; by 2025, the Emerging 440 will account for close to half of overall growth. One billion people will enter the global consuming class by 2025. They will have incomes high enough to classify them as significant consumers of goods and services, and around 600 million of them will live in the Emerging 440.

Amazingly this report is free and they have made it available in variety of formats: an executive summary PDF; the full report as a PDF; a Kindle MOBI version of the full report; and an EPUB version for the Apple iPad, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader, and other devices. All available here.

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Skype’s Incredibly Confusing Product Mix

Since 2005 I’ve been an avid Skype user and enjoy its use for phone calls, international calling, screensharing, and even for podcasting and interviews. The quality of its audio is fantastic and I love having my contacts available everywhere. I have the unlimited subscription plan for $3/month so I can call landline and mobile phones in the U.S. and Canada, and usually leave a few extra dollars in the account so I can easily call my wife when she is traveling abroad.

To illustrate how embedded Skype is in my work and personal life, I even purchased a phone number some years ago so I could easily route calls to Skype. I then subsequently bought a Skype cordless phone so my account could be always-on and always-connected. Of course, I use the Skype apps on my iPhone and iPad too.

The #1 drawback with Skype, however, is how unbelievably confusing it is to give them my money and it’s even tougher to recommend to someone else how they can get set up initially. Some other issues include:

  • I’d like to add group video calling. This requires an additional subscription, separately managed, instead of an upgrade to my current account
  • For my business I set up Skype Business — mainly so I could allocate Skype Credit to others in my office — but I couldn’t “take over” my Skype account and manage it within the Business dashboard…I could only add additional credit. 
  • A friend wanted to get set up with Skype and emulate my account type. I had to screenshare with him in order to see what was on the screen since he had to buy a subscription.

It goes on and on. Now I have two sisters-in-law getting setup on Skype since one is traveling with an iPad and one is home. They needed to sit with me to figure out what to buy and why. I’d hoped that Microsoft buying Skype last year would have helped with making it easier to give Skype our money, but it’s worse. Just go to the Skype website and try to figure out what to buy and you’ll see what I mean. 

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3D Printing: Manufacturing’s “Big Bang”

Visualizing the future for me is so easy that I get very impatient waiting for it. Way back in 2005 I wrote a post called, Print 3D Objects on Demand which talked about a breakthrough in 3D printing technology that promised to turn computer aided design in to end-products in an instant. 

Since then we have come a long way but I’m still impatiently waiting for mainstreaming, even though I’m about to jump in to MakerBot, “…a company founded in January 2009 by Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer, and Zach Smith producing an open source 3D printer to democratize manufacturing. You order it, build it, and you have a machine that can make you almost anything!

But is mainstreaming close? Yep. The New York Times “Bits” column about “The Business of Technology” had a brief post on Sunday by Nick Bilton about 3D printing called, Disruptions: The 3D Printing Free for All which said, in part:

It won’t be long before people have a 3-D printer sitting at home alongside its old inkjet counterpart. These 3-D printers, some already costing less than a computer did in 1999, can print objects by spraying layers of plastic, metal or ceramics into shapes. People can download plans for an object, hit print, and a few minutes later have it in their hands.

Near the end Bilton writes:

A recent research paper published by the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif., titled The Future of Open Fabrication, says 3-D printing will be manufacturing’s Big Bang as jobs in manufacturing, many overseas, and jobs shipping products around the globe are replaced by companies setting up 3-D fabrication labs in stores to print objects rather than ship them.

No question we’re a ways off from buying a 3D printer for our home to make finished goods, “Honey! Will you come here and look at these designs online so we can start printing our plates for Thanksgiving?” More likely 3D printing is going to first enable organizations to rapidly prototype new designs and shorten the cycle times for taking a great idea or innovation to manufacturing. Later on we’ll undoubtedly head over to a “Kinkos for 3D Printing” to have stuff made on industrial-strength printers, like those made by my hometown dominant player in the space, Stratasys

But who knows? Maybe breakthroughs in nano-materials will enable us to buy a 3D printer at Best Buy and crank out all sorts of finished goods right at home. Finally I’ll be able to just ‘print’ my ideas vs. taking weeks to get a production-ready prototype.

To learn more:

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Why it’s so Hard to Shop Apple’s App Store

Often I’ll take time to browse the Apple App Store on my iPad to see what’s new and, far too often, buy an app. The frustrating thing? If I get just a few screens in and decide to view an app—and after viewing it go back to browsing—I’m taken back to the beginning of the category!

If you look at the screenshot above, there are over 4,000 apps in the Travel category. If I sort them on, say, “Most Popular” and start browsing by clicking through them, I’ll often end up several hundred deep in to the category.

If I click on one I can view it and then go back to browsing in the exact same deep-into-the-category spot I left. After viewing apps like that one or two more times, however, I’m suddenly brought back to the top of the category.

This means that I either have to start over and click through a bunch of screens to get back to the place I was, or do what I usually do: simply give up after looking at a few dozen apps. Why does Apple do this? You’d think they’d want to facilitate app purchases vs. making it such a pain to shop.

Please get your sh*t together on this Apple.

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STOP IT SEARS!

How would you like to do business with a retailer who absolutely HAMMERS on you with no way out? If you buy or get service from Sears, get ready to be a NAIL.

My wife and I haven’t purchased a major appliance (or much of anything, frankly) at Sears for many years. They do have a good selection of appliances and many more solid installers than does, say, a Best Buy, so when we were in the market for a new oven and cooktop we bought one from the local Sears store. The saleswoman was absolutely top-notch and she handled all the details…

…but that’s where the communications nightmare began with the “Sears marketing machine”.

[Read more…]

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SayMedia (Typepad) Unethical Billing Practice

In the same way that AOL screwed thousands of their customers by double-billing until they got caught, made it extraordinarily difficult to leave the service, and did this so often with practicesso egregious that almost every state in the union had its attorney general go after the company until they settled.

SayMedia, parent company of the blogging service Typepad (they acquired Six Apart this fall) among other things, has been billing for services not rendered.

After a few months of a painful migration from Typepad to WordPress—made all the more difficult by the Typepad practice of obscuring the image pathname as well as changing their permalink structure three times from 2004-2009 when I was with them—I posted about my joyful transition to a platform (WordPress) that had a pulse and some passion behind it. I cancelled my Typepad Pro service that month (June of 2009).

Now I discover today (from doing tax prep last night) that Typepad not only billed me LAST November (2009) for $149.50—probably because I was doing a blog for Scholastic Administrator running on Typepad and had logged in to Typepad in order to post to it and they must’ve matched the email and assumed I was logging in to the cancelled account—and now I found out that they billed me AGAIN for a yearly $149.50 for a year of pro service this November!

This is no accident. It is clearly intentional and, I’m guessing based on my past experiences in businesses going down the shitter like Six Apart is, that they’re sneakily and quietly billing everyone they can, hoping that some percentage will slip through the cracks.

Why do I say that? BECAUSE THEY ALSO HAVE BEEN BILLING MY WIFE WHOSE BLOG WAS *ALSO* SHUT DOWN IN JUNE OF LAST YEAR.

Typepad charges a year in advance. They just posted a credit for one charge and I’ve contacted them about additional credits for June-December of 2009 (a pro-rated amount) as well as this full year (since they charged me in November of 2009 for Dec ’09 to Dec ’10).

While using Typepad and seeing the acceleration in social media use, I was always stunned by how hidden from view Ben and Mena Trott were (the founders of Six Apart). They barely blogged, were reluctant to engage with customers or the press, and were clearly way over their head.

My interactions with former CEO Barak Berkowitz to the current one Chris Alden, as well as the former “evangelist” for them Anil Dash, my impression always one of them willing to initially engage but then they’d go strangely radio silent….in a very atypical way. I’ve worked with dozens of startups and with (and at) large software companies and the passive-aggressiveness, shyness, and what seemed like childlike timidity was one of the other reasons I abandoned Typepad. My gut told me they couldn’t possibly be successful with those attitudes, their business practices and what certainly came across as complete indifference to customers paying them money.

I’ll be one of the first ones to stand up and cheer when Six Apart goes out of business and/or shuts down Typepad (like they did Vox) because so many people have abandoned the service.

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Is Your Favorite Product Homeless?

What happens when one of your favorite products sees sales dwindle and it, in effect, becomes homeless?

My favorite coffeemaker, the Senseo®, uses coffee pods that are becoming increasingly difficult to find at retail and when I do, it’s usually for a flavor I don’t drink (like the Dark Roast pictured above). Any smart techie and ‘net user like me would just go online and order them in bulk, right?

The answer is “yes” but in a strange twist on the “I can buy that cheaper online” phrase many of us use when trying to negotiate while shopping in a bricks-n-mortar store, the online purchase of coffee pods are much higher ($.50 – $1.60 more per pack) than I could buy them at Target, Cub Foods or other outlets.

What’s driving this lack of inventory at retail? I’ll boil it down to one development over the last several years: choices in coffeemakers. From traditional percolators to drop-in little ‘cups’ to several different types and sizes of coffee pods, for retailers it would be like trying to stock DVDs in half a dozen formats so they just don’t and they’re bound to be out of one of them at frequent intervals.

But it’s not just specialized coffeemaker coffee that is homeless. [Read more…]

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Coffee is for Closers

Do you deserve coffee?

At least a dozen times at sales meetings over the past 15 years or so, many sales leaders have trotted out this video snippet from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross and then expounded on its virtues, clearly using it as a great kick in the seat of our pants as salespeople.  I’m here to point out how that this clip (after the jump and NSFW, by the way) is relevant to anyone who has to produce…whether you’re a developer/coder, factory worker, farmer, call center or support person, or in any field where results matter.

Alec Baldwin is on screen for less than seven minutes and, in my and many other people’s views, his is the defining performance of that movie and incredibly powerful. The premise, according to the Wikipedia article about the film, “Early in the movie Blake (Alec Baldwin) is sent by Mitch and Murray (the faceless owners of the real estate office in which the main characters work), to motivate them by announcing, in a torrent of verbal abuse, that only the top two sellers will be allowed the more promising “Glengarry” leads, and everyone else will be fired.” This confrontation sets up the rest of the film: the motivations that the characters feel that this rainy night is a make-or-break one; the reason the incident with the Glengarry leads that occurs later on; and the promise that — if only each salesman was better at closing like Blake — that they could achieve the same sorts of results as a guy that made $920k, drove an $80k BMW and sports a $25k gold Rolex.

Anyone whose been in sales for any length of time knows that there are many variables that enable one to achieve wildly successful sales numbers. An enterprise software salesperson in New York, L.A. or Chicago has more opportunity than one in Kansas City, for example, and top performers are usually in major markets. Same thing holds true for those who sell into vertical markets where they canvas accounts across many geographies.

But any salesperson who has been even modestly successful also knows one fundamental truth, and it’s a truth that cuts across all professions and labors.

[Read more…]

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A Penny Saved is Actually $0.17 Cents

This is the new design of the U.S. penny being minted now. The kicker? According to this March 2008 ABC News article, “It costs almost 1.7 cents to make a penny,according to U.S. Mint director Ed Moy. Each year, the U.S. Mint makes 8 billion pennies, at a cost of $130 million. American taxpayers lose nearly $50 million in the process. The penny’s not alone. It costs nearly 10 cents to make a nickel.

Why not just ditch the penny? “One reason there is a lasting attachment to those coins is because they are a part of our country’s history,” Moy said in that article. I’ll accept that or some of the other things I’ve read that it will kickstart inflation. Why? Because sellers will “round up” and not “round down” with prices so there will be an immediate jump in costs for everything from toothpaste to TVs.

How could technology make our paying with pennies more efficient? With more and more of us walking around with smartphones, micropayments may be one answer. This would be a method where each of us would have an account that incremental sums (i.e., amounts in pennies) would be sent to or subtracted from during a transaction. I shudder, however, when I think about all the systemic and behavioral changes something like that would require.

Funny (and admittedly tangential) story about pennies happened when I was 16 years old. There was a guy who owned a gas station near our house and he was a complete jerk and especially so to young people. My friend Jeff and I were in his Mom’s car and stopped for gas. The guy inadvertently put in $10 worth in the tank and we had $5 with us and Jeff had told him he wanted $5 worth…but the guy then blew his stack and threatened to call the police on us until we agreed to go get the $5 and come back (he also wrote down Jeff’s license number).

We came back an hour later and Jeff handed him a jar with 500 pennies. “Goddammit!” the owner screamed. “I don’t have to accept these pennies!” but Jeff put it on the counter and we turned around and left. The owner never did anything and, in fact, was out of business two years later (I assume for being a jerk and driving customers away).

When I think about micropayments, I’d actually like having an online slush fund for paying a penny, nickel or dime to read an article online. This would be trivial to do and might help fund an otherwise declining media base. But another thing to consider with payments becoming virtual are the privacy, free speech and other concerns. For a complete and exhaustive paper on the subject, read The Digital Imprimatur by Autodesk founder John Walker from 2003.