Entries Tagged as 'Shopping'

Re-Usable Shopping Bags

Rather than throw away bags that stores provide to you, why not consider purchasing some re-usable shopping bags?

Reduce, reuse, recycle…

You’re reducing the number of plastic (or paper) bags that need to be produced and recycled (or otherwise disposed of).

You’re reusing the same bag over and over.

You’re recycling, since almost every reusable shopping bag is made from 100% post consumer recycled material.

I know most vendors seem to want to charge around $1 each for these (and that’s ridiculous — and unconscionable to try and gouge a profit on people who are trying to do the right thing), but watch the sales at Walgreen’s, they put regularly advertise their smaller bag (which is perfect for most shopping) at 3 for $1 (with coupon in their advertising circular — look NOW).

Originally posted 2010-04-23 02:00:46.

How To Bid On eBay

Let me start by saying this isn’t eBay for dummies — you should familiarize yourself with the basic operation of the eBay web site through another resource.  What I hope to provide you with is a rational for how to bid successfully on eBay to enable you to purchase items at a fair price.

Let me start by prefixing all of this with the statement that what eBay has tried to do is create the feel of the type of auction commonly refereed to as an “Open Ascending-bid Auction”, also known as an “English Auction” — though they have modified it slightly to have a time limit rather than just go until their are no more bidders.  You can read many resources on auction types if you’re interested; there’s actually a body of game-theory that covers auctions for those so inclined.

Before we digress too far off topic…

First you need a little background on how eBay’s proxy bidding works, and an understanding that if everyone were to just enter in the actual price they were willing to pay when they first bid that would be all you’d need.

What happens on eBay when you enter a bid is fairly simple — eBay records the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for the item, and then will automatically bid as much as needed to satisfy the bid rules.

So if there are no bids, eBay will place a bid for you equal to the minimum bid set when the auction was created.  If there is already a bid, eBay will place a bid for you equal to the lesser of the maximum you set for your bid or the current amount plus the bid increment (which varies based on the current bid — it increases as the amount of the current bid increases).

If two people were to set the same maximum bid, the person who placed the bid first would be the one to have his bid recorded.

Like I said, if everyone just entered in what they were really willing to pay then that would be it, and when the auction closed the person who was willing to pay the most would win the auction.

But, that’s not how it really works out.

You see, people aren’t always honest (even with themselves), and people like to play games (even with themselves), and people always like to get a steal (or read that as great deal if you like)… and of course, people are emotional (so they get caught up on the splendor of the train ride — even when it’s clearly going to wreck).

So, what many people do is record a bid for the amount that they’d really like to get the item for — even though they are willing to pay (significantly) more.  That means that lots of people are continually upping their bid as they get outbid, and because they see other people “wanting” the item, they get caught up in a frenzy that they often loose control of… and end up paying more than they actually are comfortable with.

Remember, no one forces you to keep bidding — and no one forces you to watch the train you’re on slam head on into another (in fact, you’re free to jump off).

If you’re head is spinning — or you’re saying that I would never do that (many call that doing the back-stroke in that famous river in Egypt — d-Nile, or denial if you like) then you’re just an average Joe trying to win an auction on eBay.

I’m not here to slap anyone on their wrist; if you want entertainment, excitement, need to fill your copious amounts of free time, and don’t mind spending more than you’re comfortable with — by all means, keep getting caught up in the emotions of “winning” a bidding war; but if you’re just looking to get things you want/need at a reasonable price — read on.

How to bid on eBay…

You could use eBay exactly as it’s designed.  Just place an initial bid for exactly what you’re willing to pay for the item and be done with it.  Don’t watch the auction, don’t enter in any more bids… be content with your honesty (and do something more useful with your time).  But you’re not going to win very many auctions — in fact you’re probably just going to fuel the fire because of the interactions of eBay’s proxy bidding and people who have got caught up in the frenzy of bidding.

So how to bid on eBay successfully…

The answer is easy, you snipe.  Basically sniping the auction turns the English Auction into something more resembling a First-Price Sealed-Bid auction (at least from your view point).

Wait, what is a snipe?

Well, a snipe is a bid placed at the last moment.  Sniping basically allows you to place the bid you would have right away at the very end of the auction, giving other bidders no time to respond to your bid — and forcing the eBay proxy system to do it’s job without creating a frenzy of bid-and-re-bid.

There’s nothing wrong with sniping; in fact all you’re doing by sniping helping prevent other bidders from getting carried away with bidding.  It doesn’t make it any more likely that you’re going to get an item (if there are wild bidders — they may have driven the item up well beyond what you’re willing to pay long before the last few seconds of the auction).  And the number one thing it will do for you is prevent you from getting caught up in the bidding war and paying more for an item that you’re interested in.

You can bid by hand; just open up the auction; actually open up two copies of the auction, one to watch the count down clock, and in the other enter the maximum amount you’re willing to pay and click to the confirm dialog.  When the count down timer reaches under 10 seconds, submit your bid (you may need to submit earlier if you have a slow connection — and you may be able to time it to less than 10 seconds if you have a very fast connect — but remember as long as the amount of time left is less than the reaction time of a human being you’re not going to be fueling the frenzy).

Obviously sniping by hand is tedious and time consuming… so there’s automation to help you out.

JBidwatcher is a Java based tool that you can run on Windows, OS-X, or Linux desktop (or server) that will attempt to snipe auctions for you from your local machine.  Which means you need a stable internet connection and you computer has to be on and JBidwatcher has to be running.  It’s totally free, and works fairly well.

GIXEN.COM is a web based system.  It’s totally free, and works fairly well.  There is no limit to the number of auctions you can snipe; but there is a $6 per year upgrade that will give you redundant servers to place your bids (decreasing the chance of not getting you snipe in).

There are also a number of other systems that charge — perhaps they’re better, perhaps they’re not… but these two certainly work well enough for you to use to develop an understanding of how to effectively bid on eBay.

While I’m giving you the 4-1-1 on sniping, I should mention that there are two basic types of snipes — individual item snipes and group (also called multi) snipes.

In an individual item snipe it’s easy to understand — you enter a bid for the item in question and your bid is placed a specified number of seconds before the auction closes.  If you have the highest bid at the end you win, if you don’t you don’t — and it’s over and done.

In a group snipe you actually bid on a series of items (generally related — but I guess you might also use it for budget constraints).  You enter a separate bid for each item of interest in the group.  The sniping system will place your bid on the first item — if you win, it cancels all the remaining snipes in the group; if you don’t win, it goes on to the next item in the group.

With group snipes you have to be careful that there is sufficient time between the ending time of two auctions for items of interest for the sniping system to handle it (most systems will flag auctions that may be a problem and allow you to decide if you want to take the potential risk of winning both… obviously that’s a bigger deal than missing the second).

Also, most sniping systems let you have as many individual snipes or group snipes as you want (you have to be careful not to have the same item in an individual snipe and a group; or in multiple groups).

Also, most sniping systems will handle auctions that have multiple items available (in other words, it will place a bid for the amount and quantity — eBay’s proxy bid does most of the work).

Sniping might seem like it’s a lot of work; but actually it makes bidding easier in the long run, and more effective.

Remember, if you don’t win an auction sniping it’s not (generally) because the sniping system didn’t do it’s job — it’s simply because you weren’t willing to pay as much as someone else… in fact by sniping you’re increasing your chances of winning an auction at the price you’re willing to pay.

Let me remind everyone that I am not a fan of eBay / PayPal — I consider them companies of questionable ethics at best.

eBay Sniper


eBay Sniper

Originally posted 2010-10-08 02:00:32.

Managing On-line Orders

When I really ran my own business I used to keep receiving logs for anything I ordered, it was a nice way to track everything, but when you don’t generate purchase ordered and all the additional supporting paper work it would be a lot of trouble…

What I do now is use the task list in Outlook (you could use any task list).

Essentially when I want to order something I create a task entry; when I order it I update the task entry; when I get the shipping information I update the task entry and update the “end” date and put in the tracking number (if I have one).

It’s a really convenient place to gather all the information together in one place for an order so that you can quickly refer to when it was placed, where it was placed, when it’s due, how it was shipped, etc and it really doesn’t take much more time to copy the information over from a web site or email into the task (then you can file the email away and only refer to it if you have a problem that needs to be resolved).

Once you have the item, confirmed it’s what you ordered and isn’t defective — just delete the task and  free up room for your next order.

It works as well for mail and phone orders; just you generally don’t get a lot of updated information.  If you want to keep the task information for your records, just copy and paste it into an email and send it to yourself — you consider using OneNote.

Originally posted 2008-07-25 19:00:29.

Credit or Debit

When you use your check card bearing a VISA or Master Card logo at a merchant to pay for a transaction you’re given a choice of how the point of sale transaction will be settled — and that’s generally presented to you as “credit” or “debit”.

Should you care which?


Most merchants would prefer that you choose to settle the point of sale transaction as a debit; and the reason is very simple — money.  Most any merchant will make more from a debit card transaction than a credit transaction (but remember, they’ve built in the credit card charges to their pricing – so you’re not benefiting in the least).  Plus, the funds will be removed from your account almost instantly.  Also, when you choose to do a point of sale transaction as debit, you’ll have to enter your PIN (just like when you use an ATM).  While you might think having to use your PIN is far more secure, in point of fact you’re exposing sensitive information in a public setting — numerous times criminals have compromised merchant networks and obtained both customer debit card account numbers and their PINs.  Keep in mind, even if you can show that your number was used fraudulently, it will take a great deal of effort and time to get your money back — and that might just be the beginning of the nightmare.


When you decide that your transaction will be settled through the VISA or Master Card network (just like a credit card would be) by hitting the “credit” button you will get all the protection that would be afforded to you had you used a credit card.  Federal law protects credit card users; but both VISA and Master Card go beyond the scope of law with their zero liability programs; and if somehow your account is compromised having funds conditionally credited back to you is a simple phone call (and perhaps notarized affidavit) away.  Sure, it might cost the merchant more money for the transaction; but it doesn’t cost you more.  Plus, while the funds to cover the transaction might be placed on hold, they will remain in your account (earning interest perhaps) for several days.  Additionally, if your financial institution has a rewards programs, generally you only earn points in it with credit transactions (that’s because your financial institution makes more money when you choose a credit transaction as well).  Finally, since the transaction settles through the VISA or Master Card network; the fraud prevention systems of VISA or Master Card, in addition to any your financial institution come into play.

Why on Earth would anyone choose to do debit card transaction (using a PIN) when a credit transaction is much, much safer for the individual, and simpler (though you can argue if you have to enter your ZIP code you’ve typed one more digit than your PIN)???

Bottom line — choose wisely; choose credit!

VISA Master Card

NOTE: For debit cards issued by non-US financial institutions; or cards not bearing the VISA or Master Card logos, please contact your issuing financial institution or consult governing laws in your jurisdiction.

Originally posted 2010-07-30 02:00:40.

I don’t recommend “The OEM Shop”

On 22-Sep-2010 I placed an order for a “Motorola DROID and DROID II 1300mah Standard Battery” from “The OEM Shop” through Amazon.

I really hate dealing with Amazon Marketplace Merchants since my personal history of such dealings indicated that the likelihood of being disappointed is very high; and this occasions was in perfect keeping with my expectations.

The item was to have shipped by 24-Sep-2010, so when I didn’t see a change in status by close of business that day I sent an inquiry to the vendor.  I received back an automated reply that indicated that they were “on vacation” — and that they’d been on vacation even before my order had been placed (so I immediately considered the “contract” for purchase of an item had been entered into under fraudulent terms — ie, they knew before accepting an order that they would not meet the shipment commitment).

I immediately sent another message via Amazon requesting that the order be canceled.

The following week I got a reply from the merchant indicating that they had shipped the item on Saturday (the day after I’d sent a message to cancel the order — but within the time frame of the first message of their vacation).

I wasn’t sure I believe them; but I told them that I’d been refusing the item and it would be returned to them.

I also contacted Chase to open a charge dispute on my Amazon VISA for the item.

The item never showed up — and two days after I got the replacement item I’d ordered from another Amazon merchant (the order was placed on 27-Sep-2010) I requested that they provide me with the tracking information (which they had never posted to Amazon).

I haven’t heard back from The OEM Shop, I haven’t gotten the item, and I suspect they never shipped it.  I have gotten a permanent credit from Chase for the item so after posting negative feedback and this BLOG article I consider the matter closed.

My advice — don’t do business with “The OEM Shop” — there are too many good alternatives to them, and absolutely no reason to support questionable etailers.  If my experience isn’t enough to convince you — read the other recent feedback posts on 5-Oct-2010 and 4-Oct-2010 on Amazon.

“The OEM Shop” Storefront on Amazon

NOTE: I was notified by Amazon late this evening that a refund would be posted to my account (actually, since the charge-back had already been made permanent there isn’t any change from my perspective).

Originally posted 2010-10-05 14:25:36.

American Blinds

I spend a fair amount of time researching the window coverings I wanted for my home; and I’d decided on cellular blinds.

Like most things I don’t know a great deal about, I read up on a topic and ask questions — and window coverings was not exception.  It took me the better part of two months to educate myself to the point I felt comfortable making decisions [well, my office and the master bed room I’d chosen Plantation faux wood blinds for before I moved in — but partially out of necessity].

I learned the questions to ask about blinds, and detemined the options I was interested in, read reviews and got several quotes.

I decided to go with American Blinds; their prices were certainly not the absolute lowest, but they seemed to have a product that was very high quality at a reasonable price.

I ordered blinds for all the remaining windows in the house except the garage (that I could get for less locally, and I certainly wasn’t putting a cellular there) and the guest bed room (it has a perfect arch, and I haven’t decided what to do there yet).

It took about two weeks for the blinds to arrive; and the first window I was going to hang was the master bath room (also the smallest window).

I opened up the blind’s packaging (they were each labeled for the room / window they were intended), and immediately noted that the blind wasn’t finished — the pull string hung down over five inches below the bottom of the blind, then I noticed that the brackets were made of PVC not metal (as promised), and that there were no instructions to hand the blinds in the boxes (as promised).

I brought up a chat window with customer service who immediately provided me with the wrong instructions for hanging the blinds (I already knew how to hang blinds with metal brackets — in fact I already had the instructions for the blinds I was supposed to be getting); it took me close to an hour to get the right instructions for hanging the blinds, and then I had to download them from the manufacturer’s site (using the retailer’s log in information).  They couldn’t explain why the blinds weren’t finished, nor could they provide me with any written instructions on how to properly finish the blinds.

I’d had enough — I didn’t order a build-it-yourself blind project; I’d paid (via credit card) for a product, and this wasn’t it… so I told the customer service representative I wanted a refund — that these blinds wouldn’t do.

I did finally get a RMA from them; and they said that the manufacturer had changed the blinds and that they would be updating the information on their site (I have no idea if they have, and really don’t care).

All I know is I’m out $35 return shipping and quite a bit of my time– unfortunately I can’t get that back from my credit card company (who I filled a charge back with while I was on the road to UPS to drop off the blinds).

If you’re going to order blinds on line, make sure that they have a 100% satisfaction guarantee, and order one (small) blind to start with to make sure you’ll be happy with the quality.

Personally I’ll NEVER do business with American Blinds; and I highly recommend that EVERYONE avoid them — I find their ethics a little questionable at best.

Originally posted 2009-08-05 01:00:42.


IPTV has come a long way since the early 90’s and for most of the nation we’re on the edge of an era where digital entertainment in the home will be carried throughout our home (and enter our home) over a conventional data network.

At the moment, most media player devices are vendor specific in what they will do (ie, the U-Verse set-top box is an IPTV device, but is very limited in what it provides beyond allowing a consumer access to the U-Verse servers) — though there are some general purpose devices.

Sure, you can attach a Media PC or Home Entertainment PC, a XBox 360, a PS3, or a Wii to your entertainment system and use it as a somewhat general purpose media player — but it’s not really designed to provide a good user experience for media (they’re intended for general computing or gaming) – or you can purchase one of a growing number of media devices that are being offered that are targeted specifically to provide for a reasonably good consumer experience.

There are also a number of BluRay players that have media player capabilities — but since I consider BluRay a dying media format (and have since the day the format wars were decided) — I see no reason to invest in a player that’s likely to go the way of the 8-track; nor do I see a reason to pay for over priced discs (particularly when I already own a license for the material in another format, and no longer subscribe to making the MPAA richer when they offer me nothing).

There are also a number of display panels that have media player capabilities — but you’re going to find that the display panels that use the best display technology don’t contain the wizzy features to allow for streaming media. So my advice, is buy a solid panel and just realize that you’re going to have an external box (I don’t know of anyone who’s built a cable-card type module for IPTV at the consumer level let).

That leaves us with just the stand along devices — and if you decide that NetFlix is an absolute requirement you come down to three devices currently: Roku Streaming Player; Seagate FreeAgent Theater+ HD Media Player; and Western Digital TV Live Plus HD Media Player.

For my money the Roku is a joke — and I’m just going to pass right over it since I’ve already given it more attention than it deserves.

Both the Seagate and the Western Digital devices look like they have potential (note, only the WDBABX0000NBK is worth considering, the other models are in the same bucket as the Roku)/

The WD TV Live Plus; however, specifically supports the “play to” feature of Windows Media Player — which means you should be able to play any content on the device that you can play on a Windows 7 machine… which opens you up to a much larger potential source for entertainment.

Let me be clear at this point that I haven’t tried any of these devices for myself — I’m just in the phase of trying to figure out which would be worth my time to look at… once I have a device (and hopefully I’ll be happy with the first I get) I’ll write up a detailed post on the feature set — if you’re in a hurry, just read over the capabilities of each of the possibilities and decide what features you have to have to eliminate the number of possibilities down; and before you do that, if you haven’t looked at the value of the NetFlix streaming feature — acquaint yourself with that, and you too will likely consider it a “must have”.

Originally posted 2010-08-03 02:00:49.

Home Depot Online

In many respects Home Depot was a pioneer in the home improvement store industry.

Originally started in Atlanta in the late 70’s; four stores (recycled building from JC Penney’s failed attempt to enter the pharmacy retail segment) they build a chain that used technology for inventory control, checking out, ordering, stocking…

Now enter the new millineum where many brick and mortor retailers have figured out if you can use your online (web) presence to help customers purchase items and manage your inventory you can increase profits and lower costs.

Well… I wanted some shelving units — and I found pretty much what I wanted at a reasonable price.  But low and behold, I couldn’t elect to order it and pick it up at a local Home Depot store (I can do that with the competitor Lowe’s; or with Wal-Mart; or with hundreds of other companies)… they actually want me to pay for shipping.  Expensive shipping, and it’s not like their delivery service is going to bring those heavy items upstairs — so all I get out of it is having to wait.

I don’t believe they should only offer in store pickup; they should offer both home delivery and in store pickup (just like Lowe’s).

Not only does it save money for everyone to do in store pickup; but it allows me to manage my time better (I don’t have to wait around for a truck line to make a 350 pound delivery).


Let’s see now… who’s web site will I be clicking the “BUY” button on, and who will be getting my money.   One last bit of advice to Home Depot, you might want to close some more stores, because with this type of “exceptional customer service” you’re probably going to find yourself without customers.  Of course they started in store fronts of a failed venture, so they certainly should understand where it all can end up.

Originally posted 2009-02-15 01:00:35.

New Car Shopping Preamble

So you already know how the story ends — I’ve posted that already; but I felt it would be a good exercise to go through the exercise of buying a new car.

I’ll start with all the research I did online, all the possibilities (the field started out pretty large); my requirements for a vehicle, the items that became deal breakers… and finally what vehicle I narrowed it down to and then how I closed the deal; plus I’ll provide a little more information on getting an extended warranty.

Up front I’m just going to re-iterate what I ended up doing before we get into each of the posts.

I purchased a 2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited with Premium package; exterior Titanium, interior Black (leather).

I purchased my vehicle from Palmer’s Airport Hyundai in Mobile, AL.

I purchased my extended warranty from Palmer’s Airport Hyundai in Mobile, AL.

I purchased floor mats and a trunk mat made by Lloyds (Rubbertite) online (go with the absolute best price you can find and look for coupon codes).

The bottom line, I’m please with the car (it has actually exceeded my expectations thus far); and I’m happy with the dealership.

2011 Elantra Limited 2001 Elantra Limited

Originally posted 2011-05-17 02:00:38.

Circuit City “One Price Promise”

Do retailers really think consumers are stupid?

Take a look at Circuit City’s “One Price Promise” on their web site… pay particular attention to the exclusions.

One Price Promise?  Yeah… you can be confident you’re likely to be screwed over if you’re not an informed consumer.

I’ll spend my money elsewhere — though I’ll be happy to force them to better a lost leader price by 10% with there “Unbeatle Price Guarantee”!!!

Originally posted 2008-11-26 12:00:28.