Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

This troubled economy has brought down many businesses, but one business it seems to have bolstered is the "going out of business" advertising shops of the world. Case in point:

Oskar Huber, a Philadelphia-area furniture store is reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, meaning EVERYTHING MUST GO GO GO GO! (Sorry, I got a little caught up in the moment there. -Ed.)

The interesting thing is that since they announced this bankruptcy plan, it seems like the company has poured more attention on itself than ever before. For example, the Cherry Hill store has done all of the following to try and get people in the door:

-rented a billboard truck that simply drives around all day with a sign announcing to all passers-by the discounted furniture that is for sale
-paid a poor shlep or two to stand in front of the store by the roadside holding a sign (in gaudy neon pink and green no less), on wooden pole announcing said sales
-placing a portable stadium light in front of the store and pointing it right at the sign above the store front, presumably so drivers will notice it at night while driving by
-hanging shiny red and blue streamers up on the light poles in the parking lot, making it look like a used car dealership

And that's probably just a tip of the iceberg as far as Oskar Huber's going-out-of-business advertising goes. Which tells me that when things are going bad in the economy, riches can be made in the "going under" advertising business.

In other words, catch people when they're desperate and they'll toss all kinds of money around to undertake desperate measures...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Free Credit Reports... A Good Idea that Can be Made Better?

I like the fact that all US citizens are entitled to a free credit report from each of the "big three" credit report companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), since it allows for individuals to better monitor their credit reports for errors or areas that need improving. Having to pay for a report that you never even asked for is rather bizarre to me in the first place, but getting a free credit report is most certainly a wise way to provide more transparency in this otherwise secretive industry.

One suggestion I have to take the free credit report process to the next level would be to automatically send a free credit report each year to all consumers. This would save time for everybody, but would also provide a reminder to each credit report recipient that their credit report and credit score are vital pieces of information in this day and age. And perhaps it would wake some people up to remind them that they really need to get in gear and fix up their reports and scores, otherwise they will be taken to the cleaners any time they ask for a loan, mortgage, etc. Perhaps if people took initiative to improve their credit scores, the economy wouldn't be in the gutter like it is now since people would be more aware of what's going on and would be more mindful of their expenses. Just a thought.

Yes I realize there are challenges to automatically sending everybody a credit report, but for those people who forget or are too lazy to request one or don't have readily available internet access, I would think there might be some way this can be arranged.

Ultimately, my feeling is that the more people that get on board with reviewing their credit reports, the better.

Now I'm off to go check mine out... wish me luck!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Congrats to The Onion... "THE" Number 1 Site

Anybody who has read The Onion will know about the power of great journalism and how vital it is to our civilization. It is a classic example of building a following and expanding largely by word of mouth because of its excellence in reporting. Satirical as it all may be.

But what I found fascinating regarding The Onion comes straight from Google's search results. I was just curious to see what results came up when I searched the word "the". Out of 10,040,000,000 estimated results, The Onion came up #1. Quite impressive! This is clearly a triumph in search engine optimization (SEO), a marketing tactic that helps websites get to the top of the list for search engine results... whether or not The Onion did this intentionally remains to be seen. But I thought I should point out that for the search on the word "the", The Onion managed to top such venerable institutions as:

-#2: The White House (well, maybe not quite so venerable, but I digress)
-#3: A Wikipedia entry about "the"
-#4: The Economist
-#5: T.H.E.-- Technology Horizons in Education (seems rather amazing that they didn't come up #1 since THE is the title of the publication!)

As you can see, the legend of The Onion continues to grow. So to all of THE writers at THE Onion, keep up THE great work... and keep showing THE White House how to do THE job right!

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Thanks to n:vision for brightening my day...

Give credit where credit is due...

About a year or two ago, I bought compact fluorescent light bulbs made by n:vision for my bathroom vanity. The light bulbs have worked great, helping to cut down on my energy bills and also helping my peace of mind by using up less pollution-causing electricity.

Interestingly, however, two of the bulbs blew out over a month ago, after a short life. I still happened to have the packaging (where I was safely storing the old incandescent bulbs in the event I still needed them) so I checked the info on there. Indeed, n:vision guarantees the bulbs to last for nine years, so I thought it was odd that the bulbs burned out so soon. To check on this fact, I called the company, spoke to a representative right away (not having to wait on hold), and she said that I was entitled to new bulbs. And guess what? I got them. After a few weeks, I received the new bulbs in the mail, and things are back to normal.

This, to me, is excellent customer service and the perfect example of ensuring tremendous customer satisfaction.

So, thank you to n:vision and I highly encourage others to change their bulbs as well. Consider yourself... enlightened!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

AT&T Commercial: Thumbs Down

Sorry, it's another negative blog post by me ripping on a bad television commercial. But what voice does a lowly consumer have when it comes to these terrible commercials that are forced down everybody's throats? The good ole blog is probably the best bet.

So you've undoubtedly seen the AT&T Wireless commercials showing a closeup of two hands holding the typepad on a Samsung phone. The thumbs, used to type in a text message, have faces superimposed on them. Not only do these thumb-faces make me want to gag because they look bizarre, but they talk and try to say funny things like "Shake your funnymaker." It's really quite torturous and annoying.

I get the concept here, but the execution doesn't work for me. I'm all for a little innovation and having fun with TV commercials, but hopefully AT&T can come up with *ahem* thumb-thing else.

Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Monday, December 8, 2008

How the Yellow Pages Could Be More Relevant

Within the past month I've picked up two or three new phone books that were plopped down by my front door... books from RR Donnelly, Verizon, etc. Talk about hundreds and hundreds of pages of wasted paper. I kept one book and immediately discarded the others in the appropriate bin. Why? Well, the Internet has virtually all of the answers I need, making these behemoth books a thing of the past.

Like most people, I find that the yellow pages are just not that useful anymore. I might flip through a book once or twice a year to find something, but otherwise, I'm heading online to dig up the information I need.

But there is one way that the yellow pages could become more useful. My theory is that if the yellow pages were organized in another way, it could probably serve people better. Yes, alphabetical listing is helpful if you know who you're looking for, but otherwise, it's a game of naming rights and also who has the biggest ad to get your attention.

If I wanted to find a good plumber, for example, how do I know if AAAA Plumbing is better than AA Plumbers? Clearly there are companies out there that play the name placement game, hoping to get customers by virtue of being listed first in the phone book. Alternatively, it will come down to companies that buy the biggest, most colorful ads. That's not going to cut it anymore folks.

If the phone book was organized by, say, the best customer ratings for excellence in performance, it would be a lot more useful to Joe and Sally Homeowner. This way I could find the company that is most likely to do the BEST job on my plumbing repairs, rather than just picking the name I see first, or the one that spends the most marketing dollars to get my attention.

Otherwise, the yellow pages will continue to lose market share to Internet searches. By changing to a format that offers genuine information, rather than listings, it would be a more highly regarded source of help and probably wouldn't get tossed by people like me.

On the other hand, it does make for some good kindling...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Target Kicks It Up a Notch

I must say that I'm thrilled to report that Target made me smile today.

Big sale?


Free giveaways?


Product placement innovation?


"Huh?"... you must be saying.

Well let's put it like this. Every store selling shoes that I've ever been to has always had their large sizes stuck in a corner or way at the bottom of the rack. By placing their larger sizes at the top of the racks, Target finally got it right (or perhaps they've had it this way for a while and I never noticed). Let's face facts here, people looking for bigger shoes tend to be taller. And taller people tend to be adept at reaching things in higher places. Putting larger sized shoes on the bottom of the shelf, therefore, makes no sense. Fortunately, Target figured out this little nuance of human nature, unlike most other stores.

Unfortunately, they still didn't have my size.

Guess they're off target with getting shoes bigger than size 13.