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Arizona business Arizona issues

When You Can’t See The Fine Print

How often do you read the fine print when you sign up for a new membership, open an account, or subscribe to a newsletter?

Unless there’s a credit card involved, I don’t even skim the fine print. And if there’s a lot of fine print, I cancel out.

But what do you do if you can’t even find the fine print?

With No Fine Print, I “Signed Up” For Amazon Prime

Just this morning, I discovered I signed up for Amazone Prime.

This isn’t the first time I’ve unintentionally signed up. It happened a few years ago and I didn’t know about it until I saw a $100 charge on my bank account. I couldn’t figure out how to cancel online so I called Amazon and got a refund.

The second time it happened, I had received a lot of Amazon emails but I thought they were simply marketing to me. I didn’t realize they were telling me about all my great benefits until the emails started asking why I wasn’t watching Amazon Prime TV. Didn’t I know what I was missing? After watching a few episodes of Sneaky Pete, I was hooked and kept the membership for a year until I received a renewal request and canceled.

Sad box person a la Amazon
You don’t want me? (Pixamaby/aixklusiv)

I suppose Prime would make sense if I was a constant Amazon customer but I’m not. I prefer to buy from local stores, even if they’re chains because most are independently owned. Plus, as a freelancer, it’s healthy for me to get outside the office once in a while and interact with real live people.

This morning I checked my emails and saw updates from an order I placed last night. My boyfriend gets a fair amount of Amazon gift cards where he works, and generously gives them to me when he needs to order something. My fee: I order stuff I need or want. So last night, we used up almost all of the remaining balance from the current card to get:

  • Dog food for his two dogs and
  • A beauty product and pickleball racquet for me

And there was a second email congratulating me on my Prime membership!

Amazon Tricked Me into Prime!

I know I didn’t sign up for Prime during this last purchase.

I think the problem is we ordered using my tablet, which is old and a bit slow. Maybe I missed the box to uncheck for Amazon Prime and signed up by default for a free 30-day trial. I noticed that whenever I added items to my cart the shipping changed to two-day shipping with a fee from my earlier request for free shipping. I always use free shipping because there’s a major Amazon warehouse in Phoenix and my stuff almost arrives within a couple of days anyway.

In this case, there wasn’t fine print but a default action to sign me up for a service I don’t want or need. Technical fine print, if you will.

Lesson learned: If you see an email from a source you know wants your money, open it. This time, I figured out how to cancel my Prime membership online and yes, I now have a confirmation email.

The Phoenix Suns and the Fine Print About Brooks

My boyfriend gave me the idea to write about fine print after we placed our Amazon orders. He had been talking about how the Phoenix Suns nearly traded for the wrong player last week.

“Wait…which Brooks Brother are we trading?” (Pixabay/sonomabcd)

For those who don’t follow sports, the Phoenix Suns are our disillusioned local NBA franchise. (That’s basketball.) I say this because they never recovered from losing Steve Nash to the LA Lakers, where an injury promptly ended his impressive career.

The Suns have never won a championship. They reached the NBA Finals twice and lost, first to the Boston Celtics and later to the Chicago Bulls.

Their record is surprisingly similar to the Phoenix Cardinals, who lost their single Super Bowl appearance to the New England Team That Shall Not Be Named.

Anyway, it seems that the Suns were prepared to do a three-way trade with the Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies. Don’t ask me to explain three-way trades. What I do understand is that the Suns wanted Memphis’ Dillon Brooks but Memphis thought they wanted MarShon Brooks, and somehow, Washington’s Austin Rivers was left hanging between the two other cities.

At the time of the deal, Dillon Brooks was injured and not even playing so that would disqualify him from a trade. You’d think that these highly valuable professional franchises have attorneys and spokespeople would know this and be able to distinguish between two players with the same last name.

Friday Night Tweets

Over several hours on a Friday night as the NBA trade deadlines approached, reporters from all three cities–Phoenix, Washington, and Memphis–and the national media repeated different stories about which Brooks was going to Arizona and who was claiming Washington’s Austin Rivers. Arizona’s sports radio station provided a helpful Twitter timeline for all this from no less than seven sportswriters reporting divergent stories from the three teams. It’s a pretty entertaining read:

  • “A [Memphis] Grizzlies source confirms it’s MarShon Brooks in the deal.”
  • “It’s Dillon Brooks coming to the [Phoenix] Suns. Reports of it being MarShon are wrong.”
  • “Two sources told me it was MarShon, not Dillon, after initial Dillon Brooks report, but then I was told deal was not complete.”
  • “Memphis ‘never’ discussed Dillon Brooks.”
  • “Washington believes it was told Dillon Brooks in conversations with Memphis. The Grizzlies insist they told Washington it was MarShon. One rival GM texted me and said: ‘Maybe Washington can put Scott Brooks in if there has to be a Brooks in the deal.’ “

My personal favorite: “Austin Rivers consistently repeated: ‘I don’t know where the hell I’m going right now.’ ”

According to the Twitter feed, Washington was supposed to be brokering the deal but hey, it’s Washington. Perhaps Javanka were involved with this. They get a lot of things confused.

As of this writing, Washington sent Austin Rivers and Kelly Oubre Jr. to Phoenix for Trevor Ariza who I’m not sure was part of the original deal. The “Brooks Brothers” remain in Memphis. Most importantly, my boyfriend seems pleased with the deal.

Side note: There is a Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis. It looks fantastic.

Lesson learned: get an independent broker for any business transaction involving more than two parties. And speak slowly so people can understand what you’re saying.

Should You Read the Fine Print?

There are a couple of takeaways I see from these two episodes.

  1. If you’re personally invested in a financial sense and you don’t see fine print to skim, look for it in places like email and Twitter.
  2. If your reputation is invested, get a skilled team to double-check everything, everywhere!

 

 

 

Categories
Arizona business Arizona Tech Communiy Mobile technology

Powering the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (I0T) is here and it’s hungry. Right now, a lot of brainpower is being used to figure out battery and energy solutions so that Alexa never fails to respond and the FitBit doesn’t overlook the stairwell you climbed coming back from lunch.

Consider, too, that IoT needs computer processing power as well to function. Assuming our chips survive Spectre, will IoT users get the power they need?

IoT and a New Approach to Supercomputing

IoT devices are the ultimate in wireless, on-the-go technology and its numbers are growing. Last year, Gartner forecasted there would be 20.4 billion IoT devices by 2020. More than 60% of current IoT applications are in the consumer market, but businesses will no doubt identify new uses for it and make more demands for IoT power, including processing power.

Supercomputers are the first solution most businesses and industry enthusiasts will think of. But supercomputers are expensive and consume a lot of energy. They would place IoT out of reach for many consumers and small businesses. But guess what? There is a better way: leashing the power of idle and underused processors.

The Phoenix area where I live and work is a hub of creative technological thinking, particularly in mobile and IoT.  Two years ago, I caught a presentation by Chris Mattheiu, then with Citrix, at the annual Phoenix Mobile Tech conference. He spoke about sharing unused processors to power anything that requires computing— not just IoT—although that’s what initially sparked his interest.

A new supercomputing platform uses idle or unused processing power.
Giving and taking computing power, as needed and as available.

Even to me, a non-techie who writes about mobile and IoT tech, this made sense: Create a supercomputer that doesn’t generate more processing power but uses excess power that’s just sitting around unused. IoT itself, Mattheiu pointed out, is idle 80% of the time. It doesn’t need a steady supply of processing power, but it does need a reliable one.

Mattheiu had already created the website computes.io to deliver processing power to those who need more than they have on hand. In January 2018, he announced its formal launching as a new business. Computes serves businesses and nonprofits that need additional computing power that would otherwise require buying additional resources. It can run on the cloud and deliver to any device, on any browser and through any operating system.

It’s already got one impressive customer: the University of Wisconsin, which is using Computes to find patients with early onset Parkinson’s Disease for clinical studies.

This approach to get supercomputer power without spending a lot of money is great news for smaller companies and startups, which are powering a lot of Phoenix-area tech businesses these days.

Who Needs Additional Computing Power?

In addition to the impressive size of IoT users, there are plenty of others who can use additional computing power. For me, the most obvious one is in graphic design.

As a dedicated WordPress fangirl, I am painfully aware of the amount of sheer memory graphics take up on a website. There are solutions for this terrible problem (!) but what about the folks who are creating those graphics? Artists are not generally overflowing with excess cash to buy into more Amazon cloud space, particularly for short-term projects.

Computes works for them, too, and I suspect local Phoenix-area artists and videographers will love this solution. The same goes for those working with machine learning (formerly known as artificial intelligence, or AI), another small but strong industry in these parts. Not everyone has access to the supercomputing services at ASU!

Computes is also looking to attract a “cryptocurrency” market to leverage from idle gaming systems, cryptocurrency mining—a popular activity on campus these days—and to support applications like fault tolerance, which ensures websites remain active even when there’s an issue that would normally bring a site down.

IoT devices and machine learning/AI aren’t trends anymore: they’re as permanent as data collection and mining. Even cryptocurrency keeps marching on. Their presence, and that of the next thing on the horizon, will make more demands on power, even if they don’t need it all the time.

Most of us hate wasting resources. This “mesh computer” as Computes calls it, works in a way similar to how solar power customers sell excess power back to utilities. Plus, it’s good to see a technological advance that will actually help small businesses and nonprofits better manage their resources. The fact that this great idea was hatched right here in the Valley of the Sun makes it more than a little sweeter.

Categories
Arizona business Marketing

Marketing Lessons From WordCamp Phoenix

I recently volunteered at WordCamp Phoenix, an event I’ve attended in the past. For those who aren’t familiar with WordCamp, it’s a WordPress conference. Most WordCamps are strictly local.

I use WordPress for this website and with a few of my clients. I’ve even developed a couple of sites with it.

WordPress was created to be free (open source) blogging software like Blogger but quickly became the world’s most popular website software. I’ve had my ups and downs with it. However, I still prefer it especially when I compare it to the handful of other website software I’ve used. If you can use word processing software, you can write on a WordPress platform.

WordCamp is a Place Where Everyone is Interested in What You Do

One thing I immediately liked about the first WordCamp I attended a few years ago is that its enthusiasts (they call themselves “evangelists”) aren’t snobby about their WordPress knowledge. They’re eager to share what they know. I was introduced to it in 2009 by a friend who offered to show me how to set up a website for my new writing business. Prior to this exposure, I assumed website software was the tangle known as Dreamweaver that seemed far above my fledgling skills.

WordCamp is a welcoming place where everybody is interested in what everyone else does for a living. If you’re just setting up a website for the first time, there are sponsors and vendors who can explain how they can help you create your site and host it. There are specialists in website security whose tools integrate with WordPress, and website developers who specialize in creating e-commerce sites. And then there are freelance professionals who provide a variety of WordPress technical services and writers (ahem) who can create content for your website.

This WordCamp was a little more friendly to non-technical professionals than past ones. There was a session to show WordPress beginners the main functions. Othere sessions discussed marketing topics that could fit into most business conferences and included topics like best practices for social media, how to create your own website design, and how to develop content that’s likely to answer a Google search.

Even if You Think You’re Pretty Seasoned, a WordCamp Will Tell You Something You Didn’t Know or Forgot About

Frankly, there are so many changes going on in marketing that any good marketing presentation is going to either tell you something new or remind you of a basic concept you’d forgotten about while chasing SEO butterflies.

Here are a few of the marketing items I learned, or re-learned, at WordCamp Phoenix:

Figure out your goals and work backward to plan a way to reach them. It’s OK to do this in steps.

Treat your goals like a target.
State your target, at least to yourself

Mindie Kniss somehow made the concept of planning less threatening, at least to this writer. In fact, I realized that I’ve been doing some of this all along which was very reassuring. Kniss also stressed the importance of building a client list and following up with clients; for example, just checking in, asking how things are going, and so on. I’ve actually landed new assignments this way, by “reminding” clients that they needed a white paper, a new email approach, or someone to ghost-write for one of their own clients.

Poetry serves as a mind hack.

I’m actually tired of the word “hack” but Shawn Pfunder’s use of it makes sense here. Pfunder is a senior communications director for GoDaddy and loves to write, particularly stories for businesses to share with readers. This is an approach I heartily endorse. Pfunder read a few lines from poems and demonstrated how anticipation of the conclusion actually activates neurons. It didn’t hurt that he recited lines from my favorite poet, Bruce Springsteen.

Think about data as you prepare to write.

Data are your friends! (Really, and I’m one of those who sees this as a plural word.) Nikki VanRy, a content marketer who manages Nivan Content, says to do a little

A Google search can highlight keywords and synonyms.
Talk to Google before you write.

research before you sit down to write on a topic to see how people search for it. For example, I conducted these searches in incognito mode to prepare for this article:

  1. is wordcamp useful for marketing
  2. what happens at wordcamp
  3. i hate wordcamp

I’m wondering about the incognito function since a discussion at WordCamp Phoenix was the first item to come up for the first search and it auto-populated my search even though I switched that function off. I guess incognito search still looks at search history even if it’s not recording current searches.

The second search was more of what I’d expect to see–articles that answer the question and used my exact search term. I got a listing for WordCamp Las Vegas (“What happens at WordCamp stays at WordCamp.”)

That last one brought up posts that sought to deny anyone hates WordPress or explain that haters have been given incorrect information. This is helpful because I’m careful to explain terms that probably sound like jargon to non-WordPress users, or at least those who use it as a tool and aren’t particularly interested in understanding its functionalities. I understand where they’re coming from.

Two interesting facts I got from Nikki’s talk:

  1. Only 15% of Google searches are actually unique and have never been done before.
  2. 1 in 20 Google searches are about healthcare.

Technical Topics Impact Marketing, Too

I didn’t go to the higher-end technical sessions, which were easy to identify because I had to look up the acronyms in their titles. But there are topics that lean toward the technical side of things that I think are important for marketers to think about.

The first is security. This happens to be an interest of mine; I volunteer with the Cloud Security Alliance and have a layman’s understanding of why cloud security is actually much safer than you might think.

What does marketing have to do with security? Well for starters, if your site is hacked at the very least it can stop running your brilliant content and replace it with something completely inappropriate, such as advertisements you aren’t being paid for, the President’s taxes, or the absolute worst: your site shuts down altogether.

So it was enlightening to go through Aaron Campbell’s list of website security myths and facts, including:

  • The vast majority of attacks are scripted and not targeted, so even if you feel you’re too insignificant to be a target, you are anyway.
  • If you think changing a WordPress file prefix will protect the file, you’re also losing the opportunity for WordPress to update a vulnerable file since it won’t recognize it.
  • A username like Admin isn’t a security risk. It’s the password that’s the security. The longer and more random a password is, the more security it will provide.
  • Every sight should now have an SSL.

    Don't fear weird-looking Google Analytics.
    Analytics are also your friends.

Aaron, who is the Team Lead for WordPress security, is funded by GoDaddy.

The other sort-of technical topic had to do with analytics. WordCamp usually includes a how-to presentation on analytics. Instead of going through Analytics 101, Google Analytics Explainer Brandy Lawson of FieryFX introduced us to Google Data Studio, which helps build custom reports on analytics that update as they change. I wouldn’t have had a clue this existed at all. If your clients don’t understand Google Analytics’ default reporting, this could be a great solution.

There’s a WordCamp going on somewhere in the world nearly every day. Phoenix will host another one in February; follow it’s Twitter feed at #phxwordcamp. Or visit the WordCamp page on WordPress.com to find one near you.

Categories
Arizona business Lifestyle Marketing

When a Coupon Isn’t a Reward

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on LinkedIn about making customer rewards like coupons worthwhile to customers.

I relayed a story from a friend about a spelling-challenged bakery that had mangled the spelling of her son’s name on his birthday cake. In exchange for their trouble, she got a complimentary mini-quiche and access to an email service that provided free items at local shops. Trouble was, the shops weren’t local to her, and most required her to purchase something before getting the freebie.

Around the same time, my local grocery store began handing out slips labeled “not a coupon” that gave fairly detailed instructions about how to get future coupons. My post questioned the wisdom of making it difficult for customers to use the rewards shops and brands bestow upon them.

Are Coupons Always the Answer to Encourage Brand Loyalty?

Branding is a very important part of marketing. It sets products apart from competitors.

Coupons have long been important marketing strategies for brands. As a consumer, though, I have to question if they are always the answer to promote brand loyalty.

I recently got another “not a coupon” that apparently wants me to carefully track certain purchases in order to qualify for a future register discount. In this case, the point is to encourage General Mills products.

Problem is, I don’t really care which conglomerate manufactures the cereal or granola bars I buy. Like a growing number of consumers, my #1 focus are the ingredients, one in particular: high-fructose corn syrup. I do not buy any products that contain it.

And if a “coupon” like this one restricts me to certain “participating” brands-within-a-brand, I really am not interested in it at all.

I first saw these "not coupons" like this one in 2013.
Coupon confusion isn’t new.

To make it even more confusing, the fine print lists several participating General Mills brands “and many more.” How would I know what ones are participating? I suppose I can rely on the store to tag the participating brands. But is all this planning worth my time and the store’s?

I mean, I do plan my shopping and make a list. I think most people do. And I note on my list certain brands to buy when (1) I have a coupon and (2) I have already vetted the ingredients.

One of this store’s competitors has made it super-easy to use coupons through an app that downloads coupons to my store card. Now that’s convenient.

I call up the app while I’m shopping to make sure I’m buying the right quantity, size, etc. I’m actually more loyal to the store than to any brand other than those I habitually buy because they meet my “standards.”

Not All Brands Issue Coupons

There are a couple of brands that have won my loyalty outside the supermarket. Neither of them issues coupons, at least not as far as I know.

One is Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and slacks. I’m not very comfortable wearing most other brands. But Gloria’s have never let me down.

I’ve worn her clothing for approximately 16 years, which coincides with my son’s birth. Before that, I wore other brands as well. I was despondent until I tried GV. God bless you, Gloria.

I have never received a GV coupon but I do get general discount coupons from the store itself.  Ironically, the same store also supplies the only jeans brand my son wears. However, I have never been alerted to sales for either of these brands. This is interesting. Obviously, I don’t have to buy jeans as often as, say, eggs or orange juice, but you’d think stores would track branded buys, wouldn’t you?

Make Coupons and Customer Rewards Easier to Use

I’ll reiterate an earlier plea for stores and brands to make coupons and other rewards easier to use.

The store where I buy GV sends out general discount coupons pretty often. It also rewards purchases with small dollar-amount coupons that expire within a couple of weeks.

Maybe I’m not a typical shopper. I think I used these two-week coupons just once. I wish the store would extend their coupons’ shelf lives like the grocery stores and grocery brands do.

Here are a few other ideas I’ve heard, some of them from readers:

  • If you’re participating in a “shop local” rewards program, provide a map that shows where each participating store is located. It’s easier for customers and boosts your program by showing how many stores are part of the program.
  • Don’t penalize long-term customers by always refusing to share special offers for new customers with them. Some crafty customers will cancel a magazine subscription, for example, if the renewal is expensive and wait out the time for new customer deals.
  • Give customers more time to use coupons or rewards.
  • If you’re an e-commerce company, offer free shipping as often as possible and not just for first-time customers.

Remember, customer loyalty can’t be taken as a given. Unless your product is truly unique (as GV is for me), your competitors will figure out how to attract your customers.

I’m curious to know what you would like to tell your favorite shop or brand to do to make you even more loyal? Will you share it below?

 

Categories
Arizona business Marketing

Make Your Website ADA Compliant

I was surprised to read that an important part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) still hasn’t been finalized. Final rules were supposed to be issued last year about making websites ADA compliant, but have been delayed to next year.

However, this hardly means that businesses required to meet ADA requirements for physical access—schools, public buildings, and “places of public accommodation”—should remain ignorant where their websites are concerned. There are proposed rules to follow for now and it’s a safe bet that they are very close to what the final rule will look like.

Honestly, there really is no reason for their websites to not have basic accessibility tools in place by now.

A Google search will identify articles, tools, and experts to help you understand steps you can take to make your site more accessible. And guess what: people with disabilities and their families are potential customers. They buy stuff, go out to eat, and enjoy the same entertainment as the rest of us. Why lose an opportunity for more sales?

Modern Websites Can Offer ADA Compliant Tools

I recently worked a short contract for A Very Large Company that falls under ADA accessibility rules. It’s got wide, powered doors for wheelchair users, Braille elevator controls, and accessible restrooms. I spotted one blind employee. But the “AVLC” website isn’t ADA-compliant, at least as far as current guidelines suggest it should be for an organization its size.

People inside AVLC are aware and understand that the old web technology they use is a problem. Although one tool is a Microsoft product, the latest IE update impacted its functionality. Some of its functions actually work better on Chrome.

Let everyone see your website.
Don’t you want your site to be visible to all?

If Microsoft can’t be bothered to update an old tool, why continue using it?

The AVLC people I worked with expect to have new and presumably compliant web software in place in 2019. I’d bet the barn that ADA still won’t be finalized by then and they’re probably counting on it. Still, this keeps them from communicating with all their customers.

I’m a small business and do not run a place of public accommodation, so I don’t have to concern myself about ADA rules. But that doesn’t mean I can’t take a few steps to make my website a friendlier place for a person with limited vision to visit and think, hmm, I wonder if she’s available for blogging? (Yes! I am!)

I’ve added a few tools that help low-vision visitors get around my site a little easier. The most obvious one is a little toggle menu off to the left that provides larger fonts and greater contrast. It came from a free WordPress plugin I’m testing and I’ll happily make a donation to its designer if all goes well.

WordPress has a number of plugins that provide everything from testing your site to identify ADA gaps to providing general and very specific fixes. You can search the WordPress theme repository for ADA-compliant themes. (Be sure to refresh if you use this link.) WordPress’s own accessibility team posts updates, news, and recommended tools.

The ADA Changed America for the Better

The ADA, of course, literally opened American doors to persons with disabilities. And that’s a good thing.

  • Curb cuts and wider doors let people who use wheelchairs (and later, scooters) get around more easily.
  • Braille readouts on ATMs, elevators, and directories allow people with low or no vision to more fully participate in commerce.
  • Use of close-captioning tools brings more deaf people into worksites, cinemas, and theaters.

Curb cuts are helpful to parents pushing strollers and kids learning how to ride a bike. And many of us have used the larger accessible restroom stall not only for its purpose but to also to keep a little one close by and change clothes and/or diapers.

ADA also made us work more intelligently.

Think about innovations like IM, texting, and other person-to-person communications that helped office communications and cut down on chatter that makes it hard to write. They also reduced the instances of the embarrassing or annoying “reply to all” on email.

I remember reading about a deaf colleague in New Orleans who was stranded during Hurricane Katrina. She worried about using up her cell phone battery trying to contact a sister out of state via the TTY tool. Mobile communications were jammed and calls couldn’t get through—but her text used minimal power and eventually got through as she walked (yes, walked) to the airport to catch a flight out. Guess who came for dinner?

I’m not sure why websites are seen as a greater challenge when it comes to defining ADA compliance and making it happen. But’s it’s theoretically possible to make your site compliant, as attorney Angela Gibson writes in the Cincinnati Business Courier. Lawsuits against businesses with inaccessible websites have “spiked” since early 2015, Gibson says, and companies need to take precautionary measures. The tools are there, and let’s start using them.