Summer Solstice 2020

June 20 2020 21:43 GMT

Advertising in the COVID-19 era

It occured to me today that there’s absolutely nothing stopping a retailer from advertising a product at an extremely aggressive price in order to get patrons into their stores — and then simply having no reasonable supply to fill demand.

Most grocers has (at least temporarily) stopped issuing rain checks, and I’ve heard more than once something along the lines of — that’s a manufacturer’s sale price / coupon, we can’t do anything about extending the expiry.

One would hope that reputable retailers are more focused on continuing to promote long term relationships with their customers; however, it just seems all too convenient that the sale item is completely gone, and equivalent items are well stocked.

It saddens me that so many people living pay-check to pay-check, or those already unemployed cannot purchase the goods they depend on at the prices they’ve become accustomed to…

BJ’s Wholesale “Crisis”

Below is a letter I send to the executive staff of BJ’s Wholesale Pensacola location.

While I realize that during the COVID-19 panic stores are having a difficult time keeping items in stock — you’d think that a major retail (or “wholesale”) outlet would also realize this and not exacerbate the problem by sending out advertisements which do nothing by try to drive individuals into their locations and sell them whatever they might find (rather than what they went for).


BJ’s Wholesale
25 Research Dr
Westborough, MA 01582

ATTN:  Christopher J Baldwin, Executive Chairman

SUBJ:   Poor Customer Service

Sirs,

Yesterday evening I visited the Pensacola BJ’s Wholesale club location (for the first time). Like any “new” facility, it was clean, and appeared well maintained; however, like lipstick on a pig, there’s little that can be done to cover over a culture that lacks customer focus.

Let’s start at the beginning…

On 13 Oct 2020 I signed up for a membership, taking advantage of the offer for “coupons”, gift card, and two membership cards.

I received electronic information with my membership number, and started receiving email and postal offers.

Sometime later my secondary membership card arrived in the mail, and I gave it to my sister for who I’d ordered it.

When the facilities gas station opened, I applied for (and received) a Comenity Bank BJ’s Master Card and took advantage of a discount offer on fuel.

Last Sunday I received an email offer for “free” breakfast items… of course I still haven’t received my membership card _or_ my gift card.

When I arrived at the store around seven last evening there were none of these items in the offer to be found.

I went up to the membership store, and spoke with a fairly pleasant agent, but I simply wasn’t satisfied with my conversation, so at my request she called for the “MOD” – she had to call multiple times, and I waited for quit sometime before the “MOD” arrived.

From the instant he arrived it was clear from his lack of enthusiasm and body language that he wasn’t interested in hearing anything I had to say.  Even though I paused before saying anything he didn’t introduce himself, nor did he ask what seemed to be the problem. When I queried him about why offers for goods you had no stock of were sent out – he stated that these were manufacturer’s offers prepared several months in advance.  While I understand that many marketing campaigns are prepared potentially months in advance, they can be halted in a near instant.  Then he indicated that these items should be available at 9:30am (in limited quantities); and made the statement that “it’s a crisis, the beaches are closed”.  That statement, to me, indicated that he’d much rather be at the beach than working at BJ’s (since it had zero relevance to the conversation at hand).  At the end of my “conversation” I ask him how long I had to get a refund for my membership – to which he replied, he could refund my money right then.  Not the question I ask, and I underscored that to him.

Clearly your “MOD” had no interest in talking with me, and certainly wasn’t listening to me… he simply compounded to the utter waste of my time a trip to BJ’s had been.

I left the store as I’d come – purchasing _nothing_ except with a commitment to spend my money elsewhere.

BJ’s continues to send out advertisements for items which they do not have in stock, have clear knowledge that they cannot satisfy demand created by such advertisements, nor can they realistically satisfy the number of time-limited “coupons” they send out.  Since BJ’s is in fact still sending out emailings and postal mailings with “coupons” this may be a violation federal and state laws.

Irrespective of your intent, your actions say a great deal about the type of culture your company is built on; and it speaks to greed rather than to building a solid foundation of customer loyalty and trust.

You certainly haven’t engendered any trust from me – and honestly I’d rather drive an hour to a Costco than shop at a BJ’s (you realize the Pensacola store is the _only_ store within 300 miles of my home – a radius filled with a number of Costcos and Sams).

Sincerely,

Black Friday

It’s Black Friday… though I suspect with this economy most retailers will continue to see red rather than black on the balance sheets this year…

Oh, and just because the retails “report” good numbers – keep watch for the “revisions” for the sales numbers that are likely to follow.

Reality sucks almost as much as the economy.

Black Friday on Wikipedia

New Year – Same Down Economy

Retailers started releasing fourth quarter earning reports yesterday.

There’s no surprise here — Target, the number two retailer in the US, announced on Christmas Eve that sales would not meet there expectations; and Master Card also indicated that spending (via credit card) was down.

Wal-Mart, of course, tipped everyone off that they expected a bad retail season when they started their “Black Friday” sales three weeks before Thanksgiving and most retailers followed suit with deep discounts through out the retail season.

While a bad retail season doesn’t by itself mean that the economy will continue to slump, there are certainly enough signs to that effect (personally I’m ignoring the US Department of Labor’s unemployment numbers… they simply don’t make sense, they don’t seem to reflect reality, and they are designed to be misleading).

I certainly don’t have a crystal ball, but the long the economy continues the slide downward the harder it will be to revive.  My instinct tells me that this downturn, like The Great Depression, will not be ended by planning and programs — but by aggression, greed, and exploitation.

$35 Tablet PC

The government of India has unveiled a $35 tablet PC that they intend to use to replace text books in India.

The Laptop Per Child project (OLPC) developed a $200 durable notebook prototype in 2005 that’s designed use in schools in developing country and has plans for a $100 tablet.

India, though, has created a computing device that costs less than most text books, and the government will further subsidize the cost.

In a country where electricity is a scarce commodity in many regions (the tablets will have a solar power option for use in rural areas) they seem to have a much better grasp on the concept of leaving no child behind and creating a technologically empowered generation ready to perform the jobs of tomorrow.

The US leaves no child behind by simply holding everyone back to the level of the underachiever — easy to understand why we’re becoming a third world nation.

Remote Access

I’ve been using a combination of bitvise WinSSHD and Tunnelier for remote access to my home network.  It basically allows me to tunnel a RDP (or simple command shell) via SSH to a Virtual machine running on my server (actually each “user” has a virtual machine all to their own, so there’s no contention).

I really like the simplicity of the SSH tunnel, and find that running it on port 22 and port 443 provides me with a very good likelihood of being able to connect through all but the most draconian firewalls.

You will want to make sure that you implement good security policies on your SSH server, and that you either use pre-shared keys or certificates OR that you make sure you have a strong password.  There are a number of bots out there that try to break into an SSH server using a list of well know user names and dictionary attack for the password.

WinSSHD will lock out IP addresses after a number of failed attempts; but I created a test account called “test” with the password “password” just to see what the bot would try to do (the account was jailed without any write priviledge in a safe sub-directory with no files).  The bot got frustrated and went away, but I was trying to upload files, and I would guess execute them (probably propagating itself).

You can black list IP addresses, and if you’re like me you run the DynDNS client (I use DynDNS.org for my dynamic ip naming service; it’s free, and it works well) on your notebooks so that you “know” their IP address via a fixed host name (though in WinSSHD the IP black list superceeds a DNS name white list).

http://www.bitvise.com/

http://www.dyndns.org/ or http://www.dyndns.com/

Desktop Sharing

Maybe I’ve become spoiled, but I just expect desktop sharing (remote control) to be easy and fast.

Nothing, absolutely nothing compares to Microsoft’s RDP; and virtually any Windows machine (except home editions) can be accessed remotely via RDP; and all Windows machines and Macs can access a remote Windows machine.

Apple has their own Remote Desktop Client, and it works well — but it’s far from free (OUCH, far from free).  And Apple does build in VNC into OS-X (can you say dismally slow)… but they don’t provide any Windows client.

Linux and other *nix operating system you can use an X session remotely; or VNC (zzzzzzzzzzzzz again, slow).

As a “universal” desktop sharing solution VNC isn’t horrible (and it’s certainly priced right, and there’s plenty of different ports and builds of it to choose from), but it’s old school and old technology.

I personally think it would be a great standard to have an efficient remote desktop sharing standard, that all computers (and PDAs) could use… one ring — eh, got carried away there; one client could talk to any server, and operating system vendors would only need optimize their server and their client, other operating system vendors would do the same…

The Anti-Green – Junk Mail

Why does the United States Postal Service encourage companies to send “Junk Mail” by substantially reducing the costs of distributing it?

It just doesn’t make sense.

Sure, I understand that it may actually cost the post office a little less to distribute junk mail than it does to distribute first class letters and such — but take a look at how little junk mail you even look at… and how much ends up in your recycle bin (and I’m not even going to bring up the large number of people who probably don’t recycle since they don’t have curb-side recycling programs).

America needs to take action to reduce it’s carbon footprint — and as I have pointed out for the last few days it would be extremely easy to make a fairly substantial improvement without sacrificing anything most consumers care about — and in fact, it would probably improve the quality of life for most Americans not having a mailbox full of junk mail they have to sort through so as not to miss something that might be important.

Sure, the post office would probably have to raise the cost of postage, and possibly reduce the service level (hey — I have no problem with mail not being delivered on Saturday — of maybe being delivered only on alternate days or only a few days per week).  The overall effect would be a decrease in the waste (of natural resources and energy).

The solution to illegal immigration

Wow, it looks like the GOP really knew what they were doing by driving the economy into the toilet.

I guess the GOP realized that they weren’t really getting any traction on protecting American jobs from illegal immigrants through circumventing the law and harassment, so they just decided to make the economy in the United States worse than most every where else in the world…

…and it’s working!

Reports from the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that the number of illegal immigrants entering this country per year has been steadily dropping since 2007.

Maybe this is why the Republican’s have seemingly resisted all the efforts to get the economy back on track.

Region 2009 2008 Change
South Atlantic 1,950 2,550 -600
Florida 675 1,050 -375
Others combined 1,050 1,200 -160
Mountain 1,000 1,200 -160
Nevada 180 230 -50
AZ-CO-UT 700 825 -130

Source: Pew Hispanic Center

The South Atlantic consists of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. The Mountain region consists of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.