Monday, March 28, 2011

Late for the party

I am not much of a shopper. At least not in brick-and-mortar stores. I don't enjoy the "experience" of shopping - browsing for just the right item. I much prefer, Zappos and online shopping in general. What's not to love? Easy price comparisons, delivery right to your home or office, no-hassle returns. All that's missing (for me) is being able to touch or try-on the items, and the instant-gratification that buying at a store provides. I do most of my gift buying - and a fair amount of my personal shopping - online. Which makes it all the more puzzling that I have only recently discovered the wonders of eBay, first-hand. Credit my wife. Donna had a Dooney & Bourke all-weather-leather handbag when we met. She loved it, but gave her purse to a friend a few years back. After that, it seemed a fading memory. Until I started teasing about her "man bag" - the not-particularly-attractive purse that seems more like a small piece of luggage; once an item finds its way into it, and settles to the bottom, there's not much chance of it ever being seen again. I've been told in no uncertain terms that they are quite "popular." My comments and her work friend sporting a "vintage" Dooney & Bourke that her husband bought her online spurred Donna to Google research. That led her to eBay and a breathtaking assortment of D&B items. After a quick and steep learning curve about auction bidding, she purchased a beautiful purse. Then another. Then I got hooked, and added to the growing Moon family Dooney & Bourke collection. Again, what's not to love about eBay? It can be online shooping at its best. A massive inventory, which changes by the minute. The fun of competitive bidding - it's almost as addictive as gambling - so that you control the price you're willing to pay. All the watch lists and instant notifications to keep you continually informed about the status of your bids. The social element of sharing photos and descriptions of items with friends. And of course, the ease of PayPal to complete your transactions, and encouragements to rate the sellers. Now Donna teases me about my "murse" - the man-purse D&B satchel I bought to carry my iPad. It's a good thing that I'm confident in my masculinity. Usually.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fumble Recovered

Among my Christmas presents from daughter Katie was an iTunes card. Music is one of my passions and I view gifts like this as a “permission slip” to load my iPhone with songs outside my usual well-worn comfort zone.

While preparing to add the gift card sum to my iTunes account online, I was a little too eager, evidently, and scratched off a portion of the 16-digit code along with the security tape that covers it from prying eyes. Whoops, now what?! Never fear, there’s an Apple store in San Luis Obispo. So, I thought, I’ll drop by on my lunch hour and see if they can help me. (If this had happened to my wife, she’d be Google-ing within minutes, and in retrospect, her approach would likely have been more efficient.)

My visit to the Apple store was disappointing. A friendly Apple employee reassured me that I was not a complete idiot – my iTunes card scratch-off problem happens to other people. But … he couldn’t help me. The iTunes “store” must be accessed online to reconstruct the secret code. He did not offer to walk me over to one of the dozens of live Apple products to help guide me through the process so I could self-serve myself right there and then.

So, back to work I went. That evening, I used my MacBook Pro to sign in to iTunes, access their “store” and navigate my way to a form to fill out. An immediate automated-response email message confirmed that my form had been received and I now had a problem resolution number and a commitment that I’d receive a personal response, within 24 hours.

Slightly less than 24 hours later I did, in fact, receive a personalized email message from “Manu” the iTunes customer support specialist. He (I’m making an assumption Manu is a man) was polite, seemed to care and, most importantly, fixed my problem; my iTunes Card code was located and step-by-step instructions were provided to redeem it to my account.

Oh, and 24 hours after that, Manu sent another message to see if I was experiencing any difficulties with the card or the iTunes Store. Nice touch.

After a shaky start at the Apple Store, this is a story of good service “recovery” and ultimately a satisfied customer. And I just ordered an iPad 2 … but that experience will have to wait for a future article.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fair Price, Good Value

There are two dogs in the Moon household. Long-haired dachshunds, to be specific: Chloe and Penny. And we prefer to shop locally. For many of our dog-related toys and treats, Lemo’s Feed and Pet Supply near our home in Arroyo Grande is where we shop, and for wet and dry dog food, Tails Pet Boutique in downtown San Luis Obispo is our store of choice.

Tails carries a special dog food that Donna researched extensively, and the store smartly manages its marketing tactics. As you walk up Higuera Street, you pass their large glass windows, where cats on loan from the local Humane Society are sleeping comfortably, and an easel with photos of dogs up for adoption is on display. I pass there most weekdays and frequently see people stopped at the photos or smiling and pointing at the cats.

Service can make the difference when offering commodity pet products. Tails prices are fair, and not much different than we’ve found on the Internet. The owner and staff are friendly and responsive. When I’ve wanted a case of dog food, and only a couple of cans were on the shelf, they’ve offered to order it for me; a couple of days later, I receive a call to let me know they’re holding the food for me. I like that.

Tails also offers a refreshingly low-tech frequent-buyer program for pet food. The reverse side of the store business card tracks six purchase dates and amounts (pre-tax); the purchases are tallied up and averaged, and the card can then be redeemed for anything the store sells. To me this is icing on the cake – I’d purchase the dogs’ food at Tails anyway, but the rewards program makes me feel appreciated for my patronage.

The products we want, priced fairly, offered with good service, in a pet-friendly environment, by local people who really seem to like what they do … it’s a winning combination. And the licks of appreciation after dinner from Penny and Chloe are warm, moist and priceless.