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eComm Woes

October 27

I get odd looks from people when I tell them I make it a general policy not to order goods online. Sure, I pay for services and registration fees and the sort, but actual physical tangible goods? No way. And I realize that's ironic for somebody who works on the web, but there's a reason for it.

When I'm ordering from Canadian retailers, given shipping costs and waiting periods, it usually just makes more sense to walk into a local outlet of the store and buy whatever it is I need. Instant gratification being what it is, I've never adapted to the time offset between paying and receiving a book or a CD. Plus, it's slightly cheaper.

But the reason I bring this up is because my experience ordering from out-of-country retailers has been just plain awful thus far. If things go right, I place an order, pay for the item and shipping, wait, and then pay again when the item shows up. When something crosses a border, customs duties are involved. In the end I probably spend 25% more than I would have if I'd just bought a local equivalent of the item. (And that 25% is only because the Canadian dollar is relatively strong right now; 5 years ago I spent $50 CDN at Amazon on a book listed at $20 USD).

That's if things go right. So you can imagine that it takes special cases to entice me into ordering something from another country. This happens from time to time; and when it does, it's only ever gone wrong. How wrong? Here are two examples:

Crucial

Everyone seems to swear by crucial.com. Even with exchange rates and shipping and cross-border taxes, it seemed to me that upgrading my Mac's RAM a year or so ago would best be done by ordering from Crucial. So I decided to give them a try.

After two weeks my RAM showed up and I paid my customs fee of about $70. Once I popped it in the computer, it appeared I had only received 768MB, not the 1GB I ordered. After swapping the sticks and trying again, it was obvious that one of the sticks was labeled as 512MB, when it was in fact 256MB.

After a phone call I was sent a special envelope, in went the RAM, and then I waited. And waited. Long story short, it took me a month and multiple hours on the phone to actually get the replacement, and the kicker is that as it crossed the border, I got hit with a second customs fee of $35.

Naturally, Crucial's policy is not to cover that fee. Naturally, I do not shop at Crucial anymore.

Moo

Moo is this new company that does micro-printing for cheap, and it's all quite interesting. After seeing a few people blog their love for Moo, I decided I must have 200 Flickr mini-cards.

Order placed, cards selected, excitement building. Two weeks later, I received a delivery notice and went to pick them up. Customs officials were apparently as excited as I was that I was getting them, evidenced by the special envelopes in which they seal things they've opened up and rifled through.

When I went to pay my customs fee, I noticed two things wrong. First, there were two shipments, 100 cards each, separate envelopes. Each was declared with the total value of the order. So I paid duty on $80, instead of $40. This was Moo's fault. Second, one of them was calculated in pounds instead of US dollars (Moo is a British company but their transactions are done in US currency), so I was charged $7 more on that one. This was the fault of customs. A total of $28 extra to claim my order, almost as much as they're worth, and most of that charged in error.

So when I got home and found that 8 cards had been misprinted from each set, I was quite a bit less happy. To be fair, Moo offered to make it right by sending me two more free sets, but given that I'd already paid $70 or so, and would have to pay again for those sets, I decided not to take them up on it.

See the trend? If I order from out-of-country, and the shipper screws up, I'm the one left holding the bill for fixing that mistake. This is why I don't order tangible goods online.

I'm not sure there's anything for retailers to do about this; it's a government problem, and somehow I don't see it going away any time soon. But it affects retailers anyway, since I simply won't order if I know the potential exists for this to happen again.

I doubt it's unique to my country, I'm sure taxes on items crossing borders is a fairly universal thing. Be thankful if you live in a region where items ordered online aren't taxed; for those of us on the other side of the fence, your grass is certainly greener.

(And since we're on the subject, don't even get me started on PayPal…)

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WDN Registration Open

October 26

When we initially announced the conference just over a month ago, we weren't quite ready at that time to take registrations. Between the Sydney event happening that same week and the pain it has been working with Canadian banks thus far, it's been a long haul.

So it's with great relief I can say that today, finally, everyone can now go and register for Web Directions North. We're going to extend the pre-registration special discount as well, so if you book your ticket between now and November 3rd, you qualify for $200 off our standard pricing. And if you're among the first 50 people to book a room at the hotel (through our site), we'll even throw in free in-room wifi and long distance during the conference. You can get more details on the official site, but I'd also suggest taking a quick peek at John Allsopp's post for a bit more detail about our planning.

Come for the workshops, come for the great speakers, and come for the Whistler ski trip. It'll be a great learning and networking opportunity, and no doubt tons of fun. I can't wait to welcome the world to my backyard; despite the typical dreary February weather, I think you'll like it here.

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Re-mail

October 19
Not that I'm the first person to think this way, but I'm becoming more and more convinced that email is a dead medium. I'm up to 150 new messages or so everytime I check certain accounts. Two or three are legit, and generally only 1 is even remotely useful. My junk folder fills up with thousands and thousands of useless messages between cleanings, and it's not even remotely plausible to browse through it looking for false positives anymore. The latest development is that I'm beginning to lose the ability to communicate with people. Twice in as many weeks, I have had to run through a list of email addresses with the other party on the phone, trying to find one that hasn't been blacklisted by their mail server yet. I've been able to make a backup address work, but for how long? Thanks for trying, SpamCop, but please go away now. You're making my ability to do business very difficult. I'd ask if anyone has any fixes, but well... This is starting to feel like a pretty futile war. When do we all just give up and try something else instead?

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Mooching 2.0

October 10

Today, on the day when I found a site that had no less than 43 social bookmarking icon links to add articles to your service of choice—most of which I've never heard of before, most of which I'll never visit—can we all please, please agree that this trend has officially jumped the shark?

42 social bookmark service icons. 42!!!

(While we're at it, let's kill "Email To A Friend!" too. No? It was worth a try.)

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Las Noticias | October 9

Ben Hammersley, myself, Andy Clark and Bob Regan made one of the local papers while in Oviedo.

It's not, however, clear whether they wanted Andy in the photo but got his name wrong, or wanted Dan in the photo and got Andy by accident.

Confusion reigned.

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