Category Archives: Business

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It doesn’t really work like that.

This is why retail is in such trouble

To our surprise, we’ve discovered our youngest has terrible vision due to dud eyes.  He’s proven a superlative example of the brain’s ability to work around systems failures – his parents didn’t have the slightest idea his vision was as stuffed as it is.  The discovery that something was wrong was made at his 3.5 year overhaul child health check.  We got a recommendation to an optometrist who was reportedly good with youngsters; and she determined the exact problem and quantified it (without using any lasers at all, which seriously disappointed me). Medicare covers the entire cost of this testing.

Neither Cathy nor myself wears or has ever worn eyeglasses (I recently complained to my doctor that my vision had deteriorated, and after testing he told me to quit bitching because my vision has dropped to  20/20), so we were lost at sea when it came to acquiring and purchasing.

With a prescription in hand we went shopping, with prices ranging from $350 to $550 for a single set of eyeglasses that will need replacing in six months.  These prices seemed dramatically above what the cost ought to be; I’ve bought sunglasses before and paid between $1 and $100 a pair.  “To the Internet!” I cried. And lo, the Internet said that if we were willing to wait three weeks instead of one to two, it would hand over the same kinds of vision correction devices for $90 $78; actually that was USD, so it was going to be less again.  Not only that, all the stores on the interwebs had memory metal eyeglass frames, whereas the physical stores often didn’t carry that vital (in a three year old) option, hoping instead that arms that were double-hinged might be able to survive (or, given the warranties involved, perhaps even hoping they wouldn’t survive).

Australian retailers are in trouble and want GST charged on all imports into Australia, rather than with the $1000 limit that currently operates; the GST is the least of the problems with retail in Australia.  And the cost of collecting GST on imports is high:

The Productivity Commission said that reducing the threshold to $100 would raise an additional $472 million, but, based on the current customs processing charges, this would cost consumers and businesses approximately $715 million.

So that’s not taxing everything, just anything where $10 of tax could be collected.  An efficient way of taxing imports would be just to tax everything based on the cost of posting it into Australia; one could argue that if someone’s willing to pay $50 postage on something, the goods must be worth something more than… say $50… to them.  So charging Australia Post $5 for the parcel will collect some tax on the thing that we don’t know what the price is, but can make some guesses about its value.  AP will just pass on this charge to the postal services it operates with, pushing up the price of posting to Australia.  People receiving gifts would be able to fill out paperwork to claim this tax back.

The 55m parcels imported into Australia below the $1000 threshold account for a guessed $5.8b of value, that’s an average of about $100/parcel.  My proposal would collect… perhaps $200m, with a very low administration cost – 40% of the tax for 1% of the cost.

But none of this is going to save retail, because the problem retail has with eBusiness is that the fixed costs are so much higher.  Once property prices – and rents – drop to a reasonable level, retail will have a chance.  And for that to happen, many retail businesses are going to have to fail.  Until then, retail is going to need a 50% markup on everything, and will continue to struggle against competitors that don’t need that margin.

Interestingly, our optometrist probably has the right model for a business – they are a service provider providing a service that can only be performed in person, with an adjunct retail business selling glasses etc, ready to mop up consumers who don’t baulk at $550 for a pair of glasses.  They can justify these prices because have the right kind of warranty – two years, no question, anything happens and we’ll fix it.  Accidentally drove over them?  No worries, we’ll replace them.  Try getting that from the intertubes.

Of course, this whole discussion assumes capital and materials mobility, and low labour mobility.  If fuel costs skyrocket, or immigration becomes just a matter of getting on an aeroplane, the whole ball game changes.

Update: Ten days (six business days) after placing the order, the glasses have arrived from China.  That’s right in the delivery window suggested by local providers, and half the delivery time promised by the online eyeglasses retailer we used.  Everything looks great; I’ll whine if anything isn’t right, but with my limited knowledge, all seems well at the moment!  On the downside, our health insurer says that we choose poorly if we wanted a refund; the cheap Internet places they pay out with want $200 for the same glasses, so screw ’em – our out-of-pocket’s the same whichever way, and this way has less paperwork.

Skype: will it stay multiplatform?

So, as of today, Skype is available for:

Computer:

  • Windows
  • Mac
  • Linux

Mobile:

  • Android
  • iPhone/iPad
  • Symbian (some Nokia and Sony Ericsson)

Now that Microsoft has bought Skype, it’ll be interesting to see which platforms are supported in, say, 6-12 months time. I bet Windows Phone 7 will be there, but will any disappear?

As Office Watch speculates:

Skype has benefited from being independent of any operating system or platform. If there’s sufficient users for an operating system, Skype made the necessary software. Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, Android etc, all have Skype downloads because it was in Skype’s corporate interest to have broad based coverage.

Now, that corporate interest has changed. Any Skype development will go through the filter of serving Microsoft’s broader corporate agenda. Despite Microsoft’s assurances, that will gradually change Skype into something that gives preference to Windows, Windows Phone and other Microsoft products.

Wired also has a good piece pondering why MS bought it.

How not to run a corporate web site

I’ve noticed that Transport For London do this irritating thing: they move (“archive”) their corporate media releases content each month.

So this:
http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/media/newscentre/19678.aspx

— which has been quoted widely as the press release for the Royal Wedding Oyster Card, for instance on the popular Going Underground blog — gets moved to:

http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/media/newscentre/archive/19678.aspx

The old link returns a 404.

WHY? It just seems utterly pointless.

The other thing they do is fail to show, or even link to pictures on their media release pages, even in cases like this where the picture is of prime interest, as the story is “Mayor unveils design of the royal wedding Oyster card”. Instead they make you ring the TFL press office.

Perhaps they haven’t noted the rise of social media, where the messages you put out can be spread by bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers — none of whom will have the time or motivation to ring your press office to get hold of a photo.

If you hide the official information too much, people will end up relying on the unofficial information out there. Less detail, less reliability, and you’ve got less control of the message you want to put out.

Seems an odd way of doing things in the 21st century.

(I only had this rant because I was looking for a picture of the special Royal Wedding Oyster Card.)

New York Times paywall

The New York Times will shortly introduce a paywall. It won’t include front and section pages, but will include most other articles.

But it’ll include a feature whereby most users can read up to 20 articles a month without subscribing, and will include free access when following links from social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

We’ve set the limit high enough that many readers won’t encounter it. But if you’re a regular reader, we hope you’ll consider subscribing.
NYT web site

For many non-US readers, 20 articles per month is reasonably generous I suspect.

But I wonder how they count up your tally. By IP address could cause issues with people behind corporate firewalls. By cookies could be circumvented.

Subscriptions will be USD $20 per month. Will be interested to see how this goes. I reckon it’s the sort of model the Australian Financial Review should switch to… its current paywall is all locked up, and provides almost zero access to casual readers.

(via The Australian’s media blog)

Advertisers impersonating Facebook ON Facebook

This “Mailbook” advert appeared on Scrabble, just below the normal Facebook toolbar.

"Mailbook" ad seen on Facebook

Seems dodgy to me. It’s a quite misleading way to try and get you to click on the ad.

Surprised Facebook would allow something that appears so similar to their own navigation.

Maybe they haven’t spotted it yet. I wonder if the icons are pixel-for-pixel copies?

Josh has something even simpler than budgeting

Just write down what you spend your money on. At the end of the month, review.  You might want to classify things, graph total expenditure and other fiddling around with the numbers.  But that’s all you’ve got to do: just monitor things. If it turns you on, the monitoring etc can be done via a spreadsheet or personal finance application, but a sheet of paper marked out with every day in the month will do just fine.

When you become aware of what you’re spending your money on, and look at it as a proportion of your monthly spending, the awareness alone may be enough to change your behaviour to be more fiscally responsible.

Facebook Scrabble unstoppable advert

Oh Scrabble, you bastards.

Facebook Scrabble unstoppable ad

This new advert appears when opening up Facebook Scrabble (the international version).

Gripes:

  • Total advert length might be 45 seconds or more
  • Sometimes it’s a video advert, sometimes it’s a moronic Flash game or one of those stupid “You have a new message!” mock emails
  • Looks like you can’t stop it until there’s only 15 seconds left. After that it seems a Continue button appears
  • For videos, once advert has buggered off and the game fully loaded, the player details don’t appear properly. The video advert has stuffed it. Everybody remains “Anyone”

Apparently we weren’t paying the adverts enough attention, now they want to shove it in our faces.

Way to piss off your users.

Looks like I can stop recommending Scrabble on Facebook to people.

Sensis Yellow Pages

Dug this up from a five-year-old draft:

Sensis are nuts. They’ve totally shot themselves in the foot, and they’ve only got a limited amount of time to plug the gap before their Yellow Pages foot falls off completely.

Yellow Pages on the web doesn’t contain entries for all of the businesses listed in the physical Yellow Pages. Sensis charges businesses extra to list on the web. Not many have taken Sensis up on that option, meaning that YPW has remarkably few businesses listed – and because YPW has few businesses, consumers don’t turn to YPW to find businesses. And because of that, fewer and fewer businesses are listing… and so the death spiral goes.

If anyone there had one ounce of sense (sic), they’d be giving web listing away for free, or even negative price. For a while, while the network effect was being established. Then the charges would start hiking up, and the profits rolling in. But no, they had to try to be profitable before the monopoly was established. Bang! bang! Wow, my foot hurts.

I don’t think I was wrong.  When’s the last time you used the yellow pages online to find… anything?

Teledildonics

The interwebs are the kind of place that if you don’t watch yourself, you can find yourself wandering into all sorts of odd locations.  This thing is called a RealTouch.  It’s a USB controlled masturbation aid (like guys need some kind of aid) that synchronizes with especially encoded video pornography streamed from the publisher’s website:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but shoving your junk into a caterpillar track doesn’t seem to be a good idea.  Am I the only one who thinks of radio-controlled toy tanks when I look at this?  Remember to only use it with the shell attached kids!  There’s a heater built-in too.   Again, I’m not sure that strapping an electrical heater to your Johnston is one of the cleverer things you could do today.  There’s also some kind of thing to disperse lubricant.  All this for a bargain-basement US$150!

Apparently, computer controlled masturbation is a well documented field more precisely called Teledildonics.  It appears that geeks, given the opportunity to combine computers and self-pleasuring, didn’t attempt to restrain themselves and went in full-tilt.  There’s even a wiki dedicated to Teledildonics, with a page on this very device; it’s all very technical (your salami experiences Parallel Axis Actuation using two motorized belts).

Which is why you shouldn’t click on weird ads.

Five years on: VoIP? No. Well, maybe. But not really.

Five years ago we looked at dumping the POTS and going VoIP to save big dollars. It cost more to use VoIP.

So, recent events have suggested that moving to ADSL2+ is now a good idea. Now that the local loop is unbundled, true competition has smashed into the marketplace, and VoIP has finally gone mainstream. ADSL2+ prices are cheaper than ADSL. There’s dozens and dozens of VoIP providers, you can even port your existing POTS number to a VoIP number (for certain providers, from certain telecoms companies).

Interestingly, there’s a $10 difference between going with Naked ADSL2+ and ADSL2+ bundled with a home phone; typically you also lose some data allowance, for example going from 20Gig to 15Gig, and that 15Gig will have a further (quite small – I’ve seen an estimate of 30Meg/hr) amount consumed by ‘phone calls. So, you get less, and the question is, can you pull in VoIP functionality for less than the $10 price difference?

Well, maybe. If you insist on porting your existing phone number to the VoIP provider, there are charges (say $3/month), plus an upfront charge ($55). You’ll also need to acquire a convertery-thing to turn your Ethernet cable into a POTS connection for your existing phone handsets, or buy a network-connected VoIP phone, or whatever – some kind of connectivity to your network and thus the ISP and thus through to your VoIP provider is required. If you want a VoIP account with a Direct Inward Dialing (DID) number (you might know that as a phone number) they start at $5/month. So, of your $10 price difference, you’ve just chewed up $8. You get to amortize the connectivity hardware and charges over the $2 savings you’re making; if you’ve got the hardware lying around, the $55 port charge is will be clawed back in just 28 months. Did I mention you’re running with a smaller data allowance? And there’s also the cost of keeping the convertery-thing powered up each month. And the fact that if you lose you broadband connection, you lose your phone (POTS have very high availability rates; broadband not so much).

Now, admittedly, VoIP calls are hella cheap compared to POTS calls. If we made many, that might be a factor. But we don’t, so it’s not. Our phone line’s more for people to call us. If we wanted to place calls cheaply, VoIP accounts without DIDs start at $0; we’re looking at replacing the home phone, and the numbers still don’t stack up, even after all this deregulation and vastly increased competition. Which makes no sense.

Or maybe it does. If the costs are approximately at parity for VoIP and POTS, surely that’s showing that the prices are competitive?

Here’s another scenario. You go with POTS and ADSL2+, plus VoIP with a freshly allocated local number which you use for all outgoing calls. You still need the bridge, and now you need a second phone. You retire your POTS number (advise everyone you know of that you’ve changed numbers – doctor, dentist, home insurer, car insurer, friends, family, work’s HR department, your bank, etc etc – shouldn’t take more than a day or two), but keep it alive for, say, six months (this assumes your ISP loves the idea of you starting out with a POTS line and then dropping it after the six months; I haven’t checked, but I can guess what their reaction will be). You’re paying $15/month over naked prices (ignore bandwidth differences), but your call costs are lower. At the end of the six months you’re saving $5 a month, so another 12 months to break even, and then you can start amortizing the convertery-thingy at $5/month – about two years for every $100 it costs. And once that’s amortized, and you’ve recovered the price of the extra electricity you’ve been using, you’re making pure profit.

I can’t wait.

When the phone line is $5, or $8 for your existing number, rather than $30, that’s when it’ll make sense. But it’s almost at that price now, when you get down to brass tacks, it’s $10 plus they throw in a little extra bandwidth. So we’ve got a competitive situation (at least on the connectivity costs), and VoIP, as a result, sucks balls. Interestingly, bundled plans aren’t sold as “naked plus $10, and we’ll throw in some extra bandwidth!”.

Let’s say you were forced to change phone numbers anyway (perhaps an interstate move), so now it makes sense to go without the POTS number at all. You’ve still got to amortize the convertery-thingy at $5/month, but on the upside you’re saving money on your calls – if you make any.

Final analysis: if you’re forced to change you telephone number anyway, you might as well go Naked ADSL2+ and VoIP. Otherwise, not worth the bother.

Decimalization of eggs

A clear sign that the French have taken over.

I tried to find the Egg Farmers Free Range Eggs, 550g Pk 10 at Woolworths, but the site just doesn’t work, even with JavaScript turned all the way on. And how well does the Woolworths site worth without JavaScript? Not at all well. The blind can go f**k themselves.

A ten-pack of eggs.

I can’t figure out how this is making things better. We have six-packs, so that’s not it. Please, enlighten me.