Online Commerce Slow-Down?

I am a big ecomm geek — from the first year Amazon was in business when I bought about $500 in books (primarily on Byzantine History, I am a Constantinople geek), to my present gig at Lenovo, where a major part of my portfolio of my responsibilities lies in getting customers in the virtual door of the virtual store, I have been, and continue to be a big fan of online shopping. Will it cure global warming, cut traffic, and drive the Long Tail? Sure, a little bit at least, and all of us, I’m sure, can make some testimonial to our love affair with the old online shoppe and the trips to the stores and malls it has spared us.

Over the weekend the august New York Times sounded the warning buzzer to the ecomm party, saying the progonisticators at Forrester and Jupiter and other crystal ball shops are predicting a slow down in ecomm growth rates. Well sure, we’re now in Year Twelve of the ecomm revolution, and as the venture capitalist Ben Rosen (Lotus, Compaq) once told me, it”s easy to double revenues when you start from nothing. The Times article had an interesting quote from a disillusioned online shopper:

“He and his wife, Liz Hauer, 51, a Macy’s executive, also shop online, but mostly for gifts or items that need to be shipped. They said they found that the experience could be tedious at times. “Online, it’s much more of a task,” she said. Still, Internet commerce is growing at a pace that traditional merchants would envy. But online sales are not growing as fast as they were even 18 months ago. “

Tedious. Memorize that word. Tedious is apt and accurate when it comes to describing the typical shopping experience. How many people dread the same form field fill-out (save those who use the Google auto-complete function), who enter into a shopping cart wondering if they will miss a required field, mistype a character, or run into some strange, opaque security threshold that reject orders that specify a different shipping address from a card’s billing address, or a vendor that screws military and government personnel seeking an APO delivery?

At Lenovo we’ve run in a serious rough path recently because of inaccurate Estimated Shipping Dates (ESDs) which give a shopper a sense of when they might receive their order, a crucial thing for small businesses and individuals who need a product to stay in business or start school. When the ESD is wrong — because the process for updating it is either manual or symptomatic of a broken back end system, then all hell breaks loose.

Dysfunctional ecommerce weighs heavily on my mind. Today, my wife confirmed for me what the Times was reporting. When the novelty wears off, when the sense of adventure in ordering a book online fades, when winning another eBay auction is as routine as buying a cauliflower … when that happens then the grumpiness follows.

So my wife decides to equip the household’s tennis players with some shoes, shorts, rackets, balls, etc.. Her business partner told her to order from a site, I think it is called “Tennis Warehouse” or something, but it doesn’t matter. The upshot is after spending close to an hour shopping, comparing, selecting and de-selecting, then committing the cart to her credit card, she received an email from the merchant asking to see a photocopy of her driver’s license, information about the originating bank, and other personal data that set her “phishing” scam bells a-ringing.

Fuggedabodit, I told her. Screw them. Go elsewhere. No merchant in their right mind asks for anything other than the little security code on the card. She was pissed, so pissed she called information, tracked the merchant down to San Luis Obispo, and flamed the first customer service rep unlucky enough to answer her call.

Turns out any order over $400 triggers the security measures. Solution? Split it into two orders — now she’s going on more than two hours for the transaction — resubmit, pay with PayPal and done.

Why can’t someone make an ecommerce experience that is seamless and secure and semi-fun? Remember when Amex came up with the lame-ass Blue Card? The one with a chip embedded in it? What was that about? Wave it over the laptop and watch the transaction go down? Not likely.

We may be a dozen years into the online commerce revolution, but it still feels like 1995 to me. Let’s “web 2.0-ify” the whole mess and get it to the next level.

Sex, Pranks and Reality – Forbes.com

Sex, Pranks and Reality – Forbes.com

“But this leasehold doesn’t fence out troublemakers. It turns out that avatars seem more interested in having sex and hatching pranks than spending time warming up to real-world brands. “There is nothing to do in Second Life except, pardon my bluntness, try to get laid,” blogged [emphasis mine, ed] David Churbuck, Web-marketing vice president for computer maker Lenovo. (Lenovo isn’t represented on Second Life.)”

Vote set on filling beach breach

CapeCodTimes.com – Vote set on filling beach breach
Chatham morons waterfront property owners want to spend $2 million of taxpayer cash to plug the breach in the barrier beach. Good luck.

“The selectmen called a July 30 special town meeting that will ask voters whether they want to spend about $2 million to dredge sand back into the inlet, which broke through the barrier beach during April’s northeaster. The breach has opened much of the opposite mainland shore to more intense Atlantic surf and threatens the town’s harbor with extensive shoaling.”

Blog Quotes — Part II

So, in the next issue or two of Forbes, will come the irony of ironies, the first time I’ve ever been quoted in the magazine where I worked for 13 years. And what is the quote?

“…there is nothing to do in Second Life except, pardon my bluntness, try to get laid.”

Nice, huh? The reporter and I talked for 15 minutes, and in the end she went here, to my November 29, 2006 blog post for the quote. Factchecker called Friday and checked the spelling of my name, title, etc. Another irony as it used to be me working with the factchecker on the other end of the pen. Nothing about my thoughts on open vs. closed platforms, browser versus downloaded interfaces, server vs. walled-garden control … nope, it all comes down to bumping uglies.

Smoking fish

The smoker is doing its thing behind the boat shop today, setting off a nice aroma of hickory smoke throughout the backyard and garden. I’ve been late this year, so it’s good to have another spring ritual underway.

My son Eliot, who is interning at the Barnstable Patriot — the local weekly newspaper — this summer, is the paper’s fishing correspondent, following in my footsteps from my stint as Cape and Islands FishWire Correspondent, for Reel-Time: The Internet Journal of Saltwater Flyfishing. In the belief that first hand reporting is the best of all, Eliot took a few friends out late yesterday afternoon and came home with five nice bluefish, which I filleted and brined in two quarts of water, a cup of soy sauce, a 1/2 cup of sugar, a 1/2 cup of brown sugar, a cup of kosher salt, red wine vinegar, worcestershire and cayenne pepper. Twelve hours later I rinsed off the ten filets, let them dry in the air for an hour until the pellicle — a metallic looking sheen developed — and then set them on the wire racks inside of my Luhrs-Jensen Little Chief electric smoker.

I’m on the second pan of hickory shavings now, will probably do two more as I like my smoked bluefish really smoky, and the fish should be done around sunset. Later this week, when I return from North Carolina, I’ll take four of the fillets and turn them into smoked bluefish pate in the Cuisinart, mixing in cream cheese, chives, lemon juice, cognac, worcestershire and a ton of spices to make the world’s best bagel spread.

Smoked Blue Fish Pate’
(Legal Sea Foods Cook Book 1988)

This makes a densely flavored pate’. 

1 pound smoked bluefish fillets
¼ pound cream cheese
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Cognac
1 tablespoons minced onion (or scallions)
¼ – ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Puree the bluefish, cream cheese, butter, and Cognac in a food processor. Add the onions (or scallions), Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice and pulse the machine on and off until the ingredients are combined. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. 

Pack into a crock and serve with crackers or thinly sliced pieces of toast. The pate will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days, or may be frozen for up to 3 months. (Makes about 3 ¼ cups)”

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Next project: get some blue crab traps and start amassing enough crabs for a crab boil on the deck. Clamming is on the wane until the fall — too much poop in the water and the months don’t have an “R” in them until September. Next fish to target — fluke, or summer flounder — season opens today.

“Might as well have the best ….”

The motto of Filson — a Seattle outfitter that has been in business since 1897 — is “might as well have the best.” What do they make? Clothing and bags for serious outdoorsmen.

Sample testimonial:

“I was in a severe airplane crash while working as a guide in Alaska. I laid in the snow for 11 hours at 25 degrees … I certainly would have died of hypothermia had it not been for you fine products.”

The stuff that makes Filson different from other outdoor clothing companies — EMS, North Face, REI, Patagonia — is their stuff is made out of the same material used in 1897. No GoreTex, no “performance fabrics”, just bullet-proof canvas the company calls “Tin Cloth” and leather.

I own two pairs of Double-Tin shorts. I expect I will be wearing these shorts in ten years.


These things are so stiff they can stand up on their own. They are the only shorts I have seen with suspender buttons. The double layered seat makes them perfect for sailboat racing. The waterproofing makes them ideal for fishing and repelling fish blood. These are not linen Bermuda shorts to wear to a summer cocktail party. These are what you wear when you’re backpacking in the bush and not shaving for two weeks.
Some of the other stuff in the Filson catalogue will give you a sense of their target market — brush chaps, pack bags (one of which is illustrated carrying a 250 pound Volkswagen engine), and boots worthy of the Yukon, which is why Filson was founded in the first place, to equip gold bugs bound for Alaska’s Yukon fields.

I wish Filson made a decent backpack. I’m now in the market for something to replace my trusty EMS which I bought in 2000 to tote around my laptop, files, chargers, batteries, Rolaids, spare contact lenses, pens, passport, etc.. I really want something I can hang onto for more than a decade, and nothing from the usual suspects — Bean, REI, EMS — is fitting the bill

I’ve been looking at Glaser Designs, but they make $1000 briefcases worthy of a lifetime of courtroom litigation:


I’ve also looked at Gfeller Casemakers — a leather case maker in Idaho that makes marvelous stuff for field scientists — where else can you buy a case to hold your acid? But their backpack isn’t quite there:

I know, somewhere out there, is the Rolls Royce of backpacks, if you know where (and I suspect Switzerland at this point), please let me know.

Axis of Evel Knievel

Axis of Evel Knievel: June 6

In the “guilty pleasure” department, comes this wonderful blog, which posts every day about some famous debacle in history — mass murder, accident, fire, free-beer night at a Cleveland Indian’s game. Sort of a daily darkside that goes way beyond what the local newspaper used to do. The tagline says it all: “Another Day. Another Pointless Atrocity”

Thanks to Tim at Walking the Berkshires for the pointer. I blew an hour last night reading in horrified fascination.

“Precisely 510 years after the Paris book burning, an enormous fire — the third in as many weeks — gutted a full third of Moscow. One hundred and thirty-seven years later, on 6 June 1889, a tipped glue pot in a Seattle carpentry shop caught fire and quickly spread throughout the wharf and downtown commercial district. Remarkably, no lives were lost in the disaster, although nearly sixty blocks of mostly wooden buildings were reduced to ash.”