Thursday, December 22, 2011

AppliancesConnection.com (and GE Capital) ... Adventures (and failures in) User Experience (Updated 1x)

Background

After two service calls to fix an old dishwasher, I decided I'd had enough of my beautiful bride having to hand-wash 3/4 of what came out of our failing GE Profile dishwasher. I did some research and landed on a Bosch model that was both highly rated by its owners and recommended by Consumer Reports. The problem is that no local retailer carries this specific model. Being sensitive to the fact that I purchased the last dishwasher without enough research, I wanted this model. And heck, I buy everything else online, why not a semi-major appliance?

Solving Cart Abandonment at the Expense of an Angry Blogger

A lot has been written on preventing cart abandonment, and I won't say that they got it all wrong. I clicked "Add to Cart", did a quick retailmenot.com look. They actually have coupon codes named RETMENOT??, I saw this as funny and won't take issue with the whole "why don't they just offer that as a deal" element. Clearly they know a lot of customers are going to use that service to find coupon codes. They also didn't require me to set-up an account, and instead just e-mailed me a password (we'll skip the security implications -- that they're likely storing this password in plain-text in a database -- for another post).

When presented with payment options, I was offered 12-month financing if I filled out a quick credit app. I had intended on doing the equivalent of paying cash (I pay my credit cards off every cycle), but when offered an option to simply pay it off in chunks over a few months with no interest, my weakness to loss aversion kicked in and I told myself that funny little lie that somehow I'll pocket a small discount due to the interest earned with that money remaining in my investment account for a few months.

After completing my order and printing my authorization form as instructed (I felt dirty doing this, but I was on my bride's laptop which didn't have PDF Creator installed but did have a USB Laser printer attached). Then, I headed out for a small trip with the family. Upon returning, I discovered the order was on hold and I was required to submit proof of identification and fax or e-mail my authorization letter from GE Capital to AppliancesConnection.com. This seemed bizarre. I've got three other online accounts that I signed up and used same day and I've never been asked for such a sensitive piece of documentation. Coupled with the fact that they e-mailed me my account password, I was not confident about how this sensitive information was going to be stored. The inconvenience of having to scan this all in (and redact most of my drivers license) on what was in my mind "a done deal" was enough to make me cancel the order. Or, that's what I should have done. This dishwasher is hard to find, and it's the one I wanted. They were the only retailer of three that carried it and the only one with a delivery timeframe that was acceptable (my bride's poor fingers!). I'll likely never do business with them again, but they got this one.

Moan and Complain, that's what the Internet is for. STFU, how would you solve this?

  1. This is a solved problem. Amazon.com, buy.com and newegg.com have figured it out. Amazon even uses GE! Granted, I don't know AppliancesConnection.com's balance sheet and negotiating position with their payment provider, but if this is GE saying "pay us more to eliminate hassling your customers" and they're doing so claiming that the fees are to offset additional fraud, they're lying. It's a revenue booster. I could have easily forged the parts of my license they required me to send. And in the end, they were delivering to my billing/home address, which GE verified during the credit check. At some point, a dude is going to be walking this product into my foyer and I'll be signing for it.
  2. Shop for credit providers and find one that isn't stuck with policies pre-2002.
  3. Negotiate a better or equal solution that isn't quite such an awful user experience. While still messy, AppliancesConnection.com could have requested a secondary credit account with matching shipping/billing information, and only require the added scrutiny if the item is not being shipped to a matching billing addresses. This seems like it would be more effective than asking for my ID with everything but my name/address redacted. Even that seems unnecessary, though.
  4. At a minimum, ... prepare your customer for this. What followed after submitting my order was this strange progression of e-mails, one of which claiming that I had opened up a support ticket with the order (I was puzzled reading this on my phone). The credit authorization did have a section at the bottom informing the merchant to treat the transaction as they would if it were done face-to-face (laughable). I half wonder what would have happened if I had just ignored the e-mail. Would someone have called eventually?

So you jumped through the hoop anyway, STFU

You're right. At this point, I've attached the required information with the bits redacted. With how clumsy this was, I'm having second thoughts even as I write this. Will delivery scheduling be this messy? If one other thing ends up odd about this order, I'm cancelling it and probably going brick-and-mortar with my second choice dishwasher carried by a local retailer. I have a truck.

The difference: A delightful user experience

User Experience is the new customer service. If I complete a transaction and it's easy, or even delightful, it's the equivalent of being rushed to the front of the line and having a sales associate offer to help you load the product into your car. If, then, something goes wrong between the payment processing point and delivery that requires me to call customer service, I'm going to be far more forgiving and assume it's a one-off. Based on how that turns out, I'll probably do business with that merchant again. In fact, if the inconvenience is handled very well with discounts or other perks to offset the inconvenience, I may seek that retailer out first because they've now proven they know how to make things right when things go wrong. They'll be predictable if something like that inevitably happens again.

User Experience will probably be the only Customer Service I encounter when interacting with you. Do it like everyone else and I'll have my only incentive will be seeking out the best price. Do it right, and I'll start at your site and pay more for a product knowing the results will be predictably good.

Send weird, cryptic e-mail messages from do-not-reply addresses and make unusual requests for documentation, and you might get an ugly blog post on a blog nobody reads. Still, I've probably told at least 8-16 people about my only marginally bad customer experience.

UPDATE . . . 6:15 PM same day as post

The mystery solved

I kept thinking about this and it seemed so off that I had to review everything again.
After reviewing my approval documentation more closely, I discovered wording that implied I had actually applied for a more generic credit card (think Visa, Master, American Express or Discover card if nobody had ever heard of them). It's a GE Capital card (Ta Da!). So my card is accepted wherever GE Capital is accepted. Wait, what?! Where exactly? This is why I was asked for additional documentation during checkout. AppliancesConnection.com did what they'd be required to do if they were presented with a Visa/Master card that was in the just approved but not mailed yet non-card card state, so they were instructed to use the rather traditional protocol of requiring additional documentation ... except that method doesn't work online and it works even worse when the customer thinks they've just performed part of the check-out routine. Being a familiar, though infrequent experience, I would have understood what was going on if the GE Capital card was a Visa/Master/American Express/Discover Card. Perhaps there's a really good incentive (zero fees?) for landing in on the negative side of both a generic and a retail store-branded credit card, but I can't find one. Feel free to convince me.

This post was proof-read by my dog. Unfortunately, she died several years ago.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My dad, predictor of the ubiquity and often decline of technology

This is a post dedicated to my father. He does not have a blog, nor does he read my blog, so it will go completely unnoticed. But I caught a trend the other day that troubled me.

My dad, without any direction from his geeky son, purchased an Android phone (of the HTC variety). Ironically, this was also at almost the exact time that I reluctantly* purchased an HTC Thunderbolt.

My father has owned the following devices. The one thing that they have in common is that he purchased them at the beginning of their decline (whether obvious or not at the time).

1) A Palm OS non-smartphone PDA by Handspring. He is an avid Franklin Planner user (to this day, I believe, and being a successful business owner and very organized, I'd say it's worked well for him). Palm's product didn't cut it as a replacement. US Robotics (the originator of the Palm Pilot), and later Palm had a rather successful run but it was clear that the tide was beginning to turn away from their line of electronic life organizers when Handspring Visor devices popped up.

2) An HP iPaq non-smartphone PDA, easily one of the last iPaq model's I'd ever seen that wasn't a smartphone (and I chuckle a little bit that Compaq/HP used to own the "i" moniker at one point). This, again, didn't cut it. I removed it from his office last year - he didn't know exactly what it was.

3) A Nextel Phone with Direct Connect. The sector that my father's business operates in depended greatly on Direct Connect. He complained as much as I did about call drops... I had owned one when Nextel was the only digital cellular carrier available in the area.

4) A DVD player with a VHS cassette player included. I included this one because it was at about the time Blockbuster started dropping it's stock of VHS tapes.

5) A functional, working digital mobile phone with a color screen, but effectively a "dumb phone". This was when RIM was starting to gain a lot of steam, but the iPhone hadn't been released.

6) Home phone service provided by someone other than the local phone company on something other than a POTS line (effectively, consumer land-line VoIP). This one comes with the caveat that they still own and make regular use of a fax machine (through no fault of their own ... an unfortunate amount of business is still done via Fax. Hopefully this gets fixed soon).

7) A Blackberry. Nobody knows what the future holds for RIM, but they're product is no iPhone or Android and my sense is that they're looking a lot like every other gadget company my father had purchased ... acting like nothing is wrong when all of the eyeballs are on something else.

8) And finally, the Android phone. He hasn't discovered, yet, the great things that it can do and was very impressed with it out of the box. It's what he was impressed with that the early adopter/geek in me was surprised about. "I have to slide my finger across the screen to wake it up. No more pocket dialing." This may seem naive, especially if you were an early iPhone/iPod touch owner, but the last version of Windows Mobile 6.5 didn't offer this feature and all but one device that I know of used a screen technology that made pocket dialing incredibly common. On the Blackberry platform, or any prior Dumb/Feature Phone, this is can still be a problem (it's sister is the "my face hung up the phone", and even the iPhone 4 has had issues with the proximity sensor).

Hopefully, dear reader (not plural for a reason), this was taken with the tongue-in-cheek tone that it was meant in. My father is not a reliably predictor of impending doom of gadgets, nor is he a Luddite when it comes to technology (we were the first of my friends that had a Car Phone [though, it always thought we were in Roam, which, being on a different continent, seemed like a bug that needed fixing]). Growing up, our house had two phone-lines for the BBS I hosted which ran a Telegard hack I wrote (and, with great coincidence completed just before 1995, when I had already been dorking around on Usenet for four years and had witnessed the early web as it made the transition from Gopher). He also helped me build my very first computer, a 486/25 with a SCSI hard drive.

* To clarify "reluctantly": I purchased the phone when my Samsung Omnia II (Windows Mobile 6.5) catastrophically failed (catastrophically is a required adjective, since the phone and the platform could easily have been defined as failed well before I purchased it). Being a former Windows Mobile platform developer/user, I see many of the pitfalls in Android that made WM 6+ and WP 6.5 devices positively suck. Specifically with the Thunderbolt: Awful battery life, a skinned interface, many pre-loaded carrier crapware apps that are difficult to remove (or impossible to remove without rooting the device), a semi-open application environment with poor adherence to UI guidelines at best, and malware being distributed directly at worst.

To be clear, I rather like my new phone. It's got some problems (reboots, strange handling of calendar invites, regular app crashes), but it's responsive and it's LTE.

Monday, January 24, 2011

How To: iPad 4.2.1 WiFi with a Bluetooth GPS (Warning, Jailbreak Required!) [Updated 2x]

I landed a great deal on an iPad WiFi after Christmas due to return season, so I thought I'd pick one up. One thing that was particularly attractive was the idea of having a 9.2" GPS. Of course, I forgot the cold hard reality that the GPS is built into the 3G chip which is not included in the WiFi version. Oops!

I'll have none of that.

Jailbreaking Disclaimer


Before you read any further, repeat after me: "I will be voiding my warranty and may very well break my device by doing any of this." This information is provided AS IS. If you permanently break it, I'm not buying you a new one and nobody at Apple is going to be sympathetic.

And finally, "I will not be a despicable human being and use this jailbreak for the purposes of software piracy." It appears that jail breaking for the purpose of changing carriers (unlocking) and maybe even for the purpose of allowing unapproved software; i.e. breaking out of the walled garden that is The App Store, is probably legal. Though parts of that are being debated right now, so lets keep that in mind as we proceed. Check your local/national laws and make sure you're not breaking them

The Things you'll need


A Bluetooth GPS


Apple doesn't support GPS via Bluetooth. I'm not sure if this is because it adds a level of complexity that they expect the average user won't tolerate, or if it's because they'd prefer you not buy the WiFi version. In my case, I already own a MiFi so the idea of purchasing a data plan just for an iPad would have been wasteful.

Good Bluetooth GPS devices have a decent battery in them and can run unplugged for several hours. I purchased this one for a little over $35.00USD

Bluetooth GPS Software


We'll cover this after the jailbreak, because you can't install this until you've successfully booted jail-broken.

An iPad WiFi with 4.2.1 iOS


That's the version I'm covering because that's the version that was installed on my iPad (it was a returned unit after Christmas). If you have a later version, you're out of luck for now (I'll update when something is available).
If you're not sure what version you have, turn the device on, tap "Settings", tap "General", look for "Version". If it says 4.2.1, you're in good shape. If it's got something earlier, you may even be in better shape, but you'll need to find a different How To. I'm only covering 4.2.1.

The "ipsw" for 4.2.1


Fear not, you can get that directly from Apple, here.

greenpois0n


This is the only software as of this writing that fully jailbreaks the iPad. Download it and save it somewhere you'll remember. We'll be running it soon. Try here.
UPDATE: The iPhone Dev Team has their version now. Use it if you wish, but this how-to covers greenpois0n.

Jailbreaking iOS 4.2.1 for the iPad


So far, a fix to greenpois0n is pending (and if a fix isn't offered, a fix will be available via Cydia for this specific issue). You may want to stop here if you have purchased DRM encrusted iBooks.
UPDATE: If you use iBooks you'll want to take a look at this. Remember that disclaimer. You're now doing things that Apple would prefer you didn't.

A note about upgrading a Jailbroken Device


In short, don't ever apply "official" upgrades to your device from here on out. When iTunes tells you that there's a software update, ignore it (choose "Download Only"). The software update will most likely render your iPad either unjailbroken, or worse ... bricked and unusable. This is a pretty big problem. I'll be keeping mine up-to-date as I see new versions available and jailbroken, so check back here or at any of the hundreds of blogs that cover jailbreaking--especially The iPhone Dev Team, they're a much better resource than this. Always check the iPhone Dev Team or other sites to verify that the new firmware is able to be jailbroken, and that any software that requires jailbreaking to run is also compatible.

Don't Panic


Most of the time, most of the problems you'll encounter can be overcome. One of the big questions I had when I first embarked on Jailbreaking is "Will I have to reconfigure everything on this device again?". I have a bunch of Audiobooks, WiFi network keys and e-mail settings configured and the idea of redoing all of that was not a pleasant one. Other companies should take a page out of the Apple iTunes playbook. Your devices data is restored down to the last place you paused your Audiobook. Other than the addition of Cydia and the fact that you're jailbroken, you'd have no idea you just did what you did (though, do read the section about securing your device!)

So lets get started


Step 1 - Get a good backup


Plug your iPad into your windows or Mac box and make sure iTunes fires up, syncs and backs up your iPad. This is the key to getting everything back to the way you left it when we're done.

Step 2 - Fire up greenpois0n and follow the dead simple instructions


Yes, it is normal for your iPad to boot up with a bunch of text, just hang on. It takes a little bit of time to boot. Fear not, you're probably fine

Step 3 - Fix what's broken.


Maybe you won't have to do this. I did. Upon booting, if you do not have a Loader or Cydia icon, follow the nice video tutorial here

Securing your iPad (DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP)


So great, you're jailbroken. Unfortunately, you also have a device now that has an ID and password that a large chunk of the world already knows (and at least a few of those people are probably people you don't want accessing your device).
Tap Cydia and let it fully load. As of this writing, you'll get prompted that there are updates you need to install. Allow them to install and reboot your iPad.

Once rebooted, make sure your iPad is in portrait display mode (Cydia will look really banged up in landscape). Tap the section about changing the "Root" password. As of this writing "Mobile Terminal" does not work, but try following the instructions. If you can't launch Mobile Terminal, follow the "OpenSSH Access How-To" instructions to get OpenSSH running. Then connect according to those instructions. The Login ID is "root" password is "alpine", and this is the problem we're going to solve.

After connecting from PuTTY or terminal (putty for Windows, terminal for Mac) as instructed by Cydia, type "passwd". You'll be prompted for the old password ("alpine"), then the new password. Don't skimp here. SSH is something that is regularly targeted by hackers and script-kiddies. Go for 20 characters or more, with symbols and numbers weaved in. Don't bother memorizing it. Write it down on a piece of paper and store it somewhere useful to you. The guy robbing your house doesn't care about logging into your iPad remotely using SSH. And the guy who cares about logging into your iPad remotely isn't going to be rifling through your drawers, he's going to be using rainbow tables or brute forcing using the top passwords of the moment. Keep this password at home, not at work. Or write it on something that you can put in your wallet. If this makes you uncomfortable, try using a Password Safe (I'd recommend that anyway, consider protecting your online bank account as carefully as you protect the greenbacks in your wallet).

Installing Bluetooth GPS Support


So now you're jailbroken, secured and ready to go. First, you need software that will communicate with the GPS. As of this writing, there are a couple to choose from, but BTstack GPS 1.5 is the least expensive.
Hop into Cydia, tap "Search" and type in BTstack. If you're not sure your GPS will work with BTstack, install the free version, test it out, then buy the full version (the full version integrates the Bluetooth GPS location information into Apple's location APIs so that GPS based apps can see the data).

Hooking it all up


First, if you've never used a stand-alone GPS device, there's some things you need to understand.
1) Stand-alone GPS devices require a line of sight to the sky. They do not work indoors.
2) "Cold start" can take a full minute or more to get a GPS fix. Your cellphone doesn't take this long because it uses other tricks to figure out where you are, which gives your GPS device a boost in getting a fix.

That's just how it is. My Globalsat sits on my dash plugged into the cigarette lighter at all times, so it's always got a fix. This probably isn't a good idea to do if it's 1 degree outside and you have a weak car battery or don't drive your car every day (or if you live in an area where a bluetooth GPS device might be attractive to a thief).

First, if you haven't already, get your Bluetooth GPS on the charge (make sure to give it a good long charge the first time so as to improve the life of the internal battery).

Hold down the pairing button on the side for 5 seconds and tap the GPS icon on your iPad. If you're using the Globalsat from this post, you should see SB-369 show up in the list of devices (you may see some other devices, as well). Tap it. You'll be taken to a screen that shows the status of the GPS. When the screen changes and you see a "pin" over where you're standing, you're done.

Ok, so what about nav software?


I'm using Navigon's US+Canada edition. It's about $50, plus $20 for traffic. Personally, I think it's terrific. There may be better products out there, but when I was looking through many of them, I found that the Navigon product had the feature set I wanted.

Is there anything else I should know?


Glad you asked. I'm assuming you're not going to walk around with the Bluetooth GPS device in your pocket. Every time you get out of range of the bluetooth device, your iPad will disconnect from it. When you return to your car, or wherever your device is, you have to tap the GPS icon on your iPad and tap the SB-369 under recent devices. It should connect very quickly and if it was on your dash, it should already have a good fix.

See anything wrong with the post, or have experience with better/other bluetooth GPS devices/software? Post it in the comments.