Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Create an account to shop ? No thanks !

It's one of my pet hates. I find a website full of really interesting stuff, and decide I might buy something. But there's a catch; you have to register with them. Why ?

It means they get all my information - name, address, possibly telephone number or date of birth, or whatever other daft questions they add to the registration form. It even means they could get a password. For many people, one password opens many doors, but luckily I'm a touch paranoid about internet security and never use the same one in more than one place. If you buy something, they can then tie all this data to your credit card details.

Although the vast majority of online retailers are honest, and many will have even done the right thing and registered with the Data Protection Agency, there's always a risk that the data could fall into the wrong hands. It only takes one virus or one visit to a dogdy PC repair shop ! Not that I blame the retailers; many of them will have handed their website development to IT companies who are great at making flashy websites, but can be somewhat less switched on about what makes customers want to go shopping.

So on our website, I code it myself and make sure we avoid all that. Customers can just hit the buttons and add stuff to the basket. I never see the credit card details (they are handled entirely through a secure Paypal checkout), and the only info I get is just what's needed to post the orders off and maybe a voluntary subscription to our mailing list. Just in case, I also spend a good amount on multiple layers of the best antivirus & anti-spyware software I know of (did I mention that I'm pretty serious about online security...).

All this means that the buyer's experience is as worry-free and smooth as it's possible to make it, and I hold very little information so there's no worry of it getting into the wrong hands. Oh, and I never, ever, ever pass details of our mailing list subscribers to marketing companies !

In the words of a certain TV-personality meerkat.... "Simples !"

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Whoops !

The funny thing about technology is how it sometimes does the unexpected and really takes you by surpise. Happened to me today !

Late last night, I decided it was about time to work out how the mass email function built into our Roman Cart checkout works. Not that I want to bombard people with emails (that's rude !), but just so I can send an occasional one to remind previous customers about SnM Stuff, promote any particularly snazzy new lines we get, and publish hints & tips.

Unfortunately, software companies these days tend not to publish manuals. I guess there's a sort of assumption that if you've got this far, you can work it out for yourself. So I gamely created a test email, worked out how to filter the contact list so it would send the test just to me, and duly sent it off. Ooops ! Somehow, I missed one small but vital setting, and the software happily sent the test email to EVERYONE who had opted in on the contact list. Very embarassing !

Luckily, I'm the kind of anorak that sets even tests up to be vaguely presentable, and included a bit of "hi there" text and the ethically polite unsubscribe link. It was by no means a finished professional email, but at least it wasn't just a blank screen with the single word "TEST" on it.

Next time, I'll do my experimenting when it isn't so late at night - maybe then, I'd check the screen over more thoroughly before hitting the send button !

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

New Style Website Pages (at last !)

I plead guilty - this post is blowing my own trumpet !

The MSN Office Basics website I use is actually quite a primitive beast, and I've probably made it do far more than the programmers originally envisaged.

The latest thing I've done, in response to a few customer comments, is start using thumbnail images that, when clicked on, open a new window with a full sized version in, and for items with several colour options, making the text with the colour name a link that does the same thing. That way, you can see the product in it's full glory, and the thumbnails have really small file sizes which help the pages load a little faster.

It's meant that I've ended up learning a lot more about my camera, as a lot of the images I used before were not really up to the job. With about 1800 lines, it's going to take a good time before I re-photograph everything, but all new products will be done new-style.

The first full page I've done this way is a completely revamped Chessex dice page. The old photos really didn't do the dice justice ! Some of the dice (especially the Frosted and Precision Edge ones) phtographed really well. The Black/Silver Phantom ones have actually become a nightmare; the camera picks up a lot of purple which isn't visible to the naked eye. I feel a photoshop session coming on......

I hope you like the new look - it's planned to gradually spread across the site. Probably at about the same rate we're all catching swine flu (slowly, in other words) ;) If you want to have a gander, the Chessex page can be found at

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Why the recession could be a good thing (part 2)

In my last post, I gave you reasons why I thought the recession could be a good thing for business in the long run. Now I'll do the same for individuals. Again, I recognise that for a year or three, a lot of people could be hit badly and go through a lot of suffering. But long term....

We will learn to live within our means. I think it'll be many, many years before credit becomes as freely available as it has been for the last couple of decades. This means we'll have to save up before we spend the money, which in turn means we'll think harder before making our purchases. The end of the instant gratification culture, maybe ?

We'll learn the value of money. With less people able to get any form of credit, combined with a long-lasting distrust of banks and increasing worries about online fraud, I see a shift back to a more cash based economy. This will probably happen despite the pressure from politicians and finaincial organisations, who are keen to get everything onto plastic - in both cases because tracking the use of plastic cards gives them information about our spending habits and movements.

The benefit culture will change or end. Those who lose their jobs because of the recession, those who are genuinely unable to work, and the people who keep their jobs but have steeply increased taxes to pay for others' benefits will become increasingly bitter about the types that make not working a career choice and play the system for every penny they can get. It will need a change of government (and government philosophy) but I hope we will move towards a culture where people get benefits because they truly need them, and only after contributing to society. However, I fear that unless we get a government that cares about the ordinary hard-working citizen, we'll end up with a damaging split between a permanent underclass supported by exorbitant taxes on (the few) who work.

With the pound at a lower value and the financial sector wrecked, if we get a government which cares for more than keeping their snouts in the trough, we'll see a move back to "Buy British", with support for UK-based manufacturers and technological innovation. This will create real jobs with real companies which make and sell tangible goods. Britain still leads the world in invention, but we have the opportunity now to use those inventions ourselves rather than just selling the patents off to the highest bidder.

Finally, we will learn to reduce waste. When things break, we'll fix them. When we buy food, we'll eat it rather than throwing 30% of it in the bin unused. This will do more towards saving the planet's ecosystem than any amount of green taxes, and we'll be making the best use of our money at the same time !

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Why the recession could be a good thing !

It's weird, I know, but the recession could actually be good for both businesses and (more importantly) the public. Don't get me wrong; a lot of people are going to have a tough time for a year or two, and I don't seek to downplay the pain this will cause.

If you look at the companies that are in the news for failing, there are basically three root causes, one or more of which apply.

These root causes are;
  1. Companies which have borrowed too heavily. This could be to fund expansion through acquisition, to prop up inefficient or outdated business models, or to pay inflated salaries to their top staff (often while the people doing the actual work are paid no more than national minimum wage).
  2. Blinkered and reactive management. You know the kind of thing; managers who treat their staff as disposable rather than their most valuable resource, directors who never visit the shop floor, and management teams who think the way they work is the best possible and won't consider ideas for improvement.
  3. Companies that have forgotten that the customer is king. They expect them to jump through all kinds of hoops, and then behave as if they are doing them a great favour by giving them a downright shoddy service.
The banks, of course, suffer from all three of these problems. Have you tried to phone one recently, or get a mortgage at a sensible rate ?

As the recession deepens, more and more companies suffering from these problems will go to the wall. I feel very sorry for the staff who will be made redundant while the top management jump ship with golden handshakes and safe pensions.

The good news is that the disappearance of these companies will leave a nice hole to be filled by newer, leaner, and more customer focussed businesses. The ones which are currently small or medium sized, but which value both their customers and staff. "No, sir, our computer system says you can't do that" will be replaced by "Yes - just give me a minute to work out how we can do that for you".

In the long term, we will all get better customer service from companies which have come through the recession and know that to stay at the top they must treat their customers right and work efficiently and flexibly. I plan to be one of those businesses !