Are We Too Accepting of Information?

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012 at 11:38 AM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping 5 comments

Even with all the gadgets I have and time I spend on the computer, I still look forward to reading the print edition of my local newspaper every morning. Recently, I saw an ad in the paper from a hypermarket (combination of grocery and department stores) that I’ll call CubeMart.

Normally, I don’t pay attention to ads, but this full-paged ad caught my eye because it’s misleading. The ad shows a customer’s shopping list and compares her receipt from two stores. What store first comes to mind that would be CubeMart’s competitor? Bull’s eye. It’d be another hypermarket.

Not in this ad. CubeMart decided to compare itself with a drug retailer that I’ll call CubeGreens. If there was ever a time to use the apple and oranges cliché, this is it. Both serve different purposes. I shop at those two stores in very different ways. When I go to the drug retailer, it’s usually to pick up a couple of items or grab things on sale. It’s walking distance from my house, so it comes in handy during an illness.

I certainly wouldn’t buy pull ups at the drugstore — not because I don’t have kids that need them — but because they’re almost always overpriced. Pull ups, laundry detergent, snacks, toiletries, medicine, plastic bags and nine other items appear in the two store receipts CubeMart used to show the customer would’ve saved 15 percent had she chosen CubeMart.

Even if CubeMart had used a direct competitor in the ad, I notice the fine print says prices may include special prices good through a certain date and they may not be representative of prices in other stores of the two chains. And, of course, it covers itself by saying that prices at CubeGreens may have changed.

This is a simple example of how companies can skew data to tell a story that reflects positively on their brand. Here’s another example. Every year, a popular news magazine publishes a list of the best schools in the U.S. Dig deeper and you’ll find plenty of stories reporting problems with the data used to create the list.

Many accept information without questioning them. This also happens with expert commentary, encyclopedias (both famous encyclopedias have published errors) and wordgraphics. (I call them that because they’re too wordy to be true infographics).

We’re overloaded with information, but we don’t have time to question it all. It requires we change how we absorb information and what we do with it.

Most of the time believing reported information is harmless. If a customer believed CubeMart’s ad and switched (still apples and oranges), the worst that can happen is the customer doesn’t save as much as money as she could have at the real competitor’s store.

When should we believe or verify the information we receive? How do we know what sources to trust?

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Craig’s List Scam

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011 at 8:49 AM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping 2 comments
Handcuffed Laptop

Photo from user trohaa

Between my digital camera having video recording capabilities and cutting clutter, I decided to sell my barely used HD video camcorder on Craig’s List. Or rather, the camcorder posted it begging for a home that will take good care of it and use it often. Within hours of posting, an email comes in from Walt Julius asking if the item is still for sale. After confirming, he replies [edited for readability]:

Thanks for you reply, i am located in Kansas, i really need to buy this and send to my friend schooling outside the state as a Gift to him, i have been trying to buy this on eBay but is very stressful buying on eBay and i will not want to miss out on this opportunity so am making you an offer of [deleted] to rap the sale off.

I will be paying through PAYPAL because i have a verified account with PayPal. So kindly get back with your PayPal email address so i can make payment into your PayPal account. Once payment clears, shipment will be handled by me through my personal FedEx account, so you don’t have to pay for shipment. Get back to me if my approval is granted. I would like to see the pictures please.

Sounds OK so far. I take pictures and record a couple of videos. Though I spend more time than I’d like doing this, it turns out to be a good thing. I find out the battery doesn’t last long and needs replacing. The camcorder works fine while plugged in. I send him the pictures, let him know about the battery and lower the price to make up the difference to replace the battery.

Then comes the kicker … [email edited for readability]

I have just made out the payment online now. Go and check the mail you used in opening your PayPal account I believe the confirmation mail must have been sent there check the in box trash or the spam message you should be able to see it there. I wanna let you know that i am having some little problems with my FedEx account as i checked it online now and i was asked to reactivate it so i cant do that now as i have to sort one or two thing out with them. So i am sorry as i wont be handling shipment through my FedEx account again.

So, pls get the postage cost to the following address via post office (USPS EXPRESS MAIL) and ship out the item via post office (USPS) asap cos i have told Ryan to be expecting it. I have also included $100 extra for the shipping. i think that should be enough for you to ship.

Ryan Coker
[address deleted]
Country: Nigeria

Let me know how much it costs you to ship.After you ship get back to me with the amount you used in shipping. I am really sorry for the inconveniences. Please get back to me asap.

Suspicious. Without looking at the email, I sign in PayPal and see a balance of zero. I never click PayPal emails — not even legitimate ones — because it’s often used in phishing. Whenever I receive a PayPal email, I go to PayPal and check there. No clicking on links.

Your cover is blown, Mr. Julius or whoever you are. Curious, I look for the emails and sure enough, phishy. The “From” says, “Service@PayPal” with the email address coming from “”. Here are the subjects of the three emails I received:

  • **PAYMENT CODE CONFIRMED(Routing Code: [deleted])**CONFIRMED

Just when I thought it was over and I’d never hear from him again, another email came in after I told him the email wasn’t from PayPal and no money came in:

i will confirm from paypal now because my money as been deducted, dont worry go and send the it item to the address i receive from my friend now, he has called me he told i told him u have send it through fedEx please do so.

I didn’t reply.

What threw me off about the whole thing was the response to something I posted (and a Gmail address, too) and then his responding to multiple messages. I share these names because they’re fake and to help others who may encounter them. When I figured it all out, I searched the web to see if others had reported a similar incident. It’s often an eBay scam.

I forwarded the three messages to who confirmed they’re phishing attempts. Anytime you get something like this, please forward it to PayPal. I won’t explain the other mistakes he made as I don’t want to help the phishers improve their scams.

Stay safe out there.

What tips do you have for protecting yourself online?

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Business Client Gift Ideas

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008 at 7:40 AM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping 9 comments

I wanted to send my clients a little something as a thank you now instead of waiting until holiday time. Every day, I’m grateful for them and I want to show it. But what? I don’t want to send food especially since I’m in Texas. Besides, you never know who has what food allergy.

Searching for business gift ideas yields sites full of keywords and little else. Should I get something in bulk and imprint my company’s name on it? Or is that vain? I use things with company names on it — it’s a matter of finding something people will use.

Still have to consider shipping costs as all clients are not local — except one. Go with the bulk thing and just not print anything on it? Because I need to send a few, it would be tough to personalize it for each person. I don’t know all of their interests.

  • Baskets: I send these occasionally — not in bulk. I’ve sent them to clients who had surgery or as a special treat. Not all contain food.
  • Charitable donation: I appreciate it when people do this. But usually, it’s friends and family — not business contacts. I can see the good and bad side to this.
  • General business book: Too bad my Outlook book doesn’t sell in the U.S. as I think most of my clients use Outlook. Another idea: Book of inspirational quotes.
  • Gift cards: How to get one place that everyone uses is the tricky part. Coffee? Not everyone drinks coffee or tea or eats the giant treats. Amazon? Not everyone likes shopping online.
  • Pen: Too boring? We have too many of them? As a writer, it would be appropriate to give.
  • USB flash drive: These are wonderful tools and a person can use more than one.
  • Rumors has a category for business gifts and they range from $3 to $$$. I like the selection, but nothing rings with me.
  • Cowboy Chuck has business cartoons that make you smile.

I like the card sending services that let you enter your handwriting. However, I don’t like their sales and pricing process. I’ve yet to find one that lets you do it on your own and not pay a service fee. I’d rather pay per card and not participate in a pyramid scheme.

What do you think? What did you like receiving? Or what did others receive that they liked? Will keep adding gift ideas as I find them.


Gas Station Usability Problems

Monday, February 11th, 2008 at 8:11 AM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping, Tech No comments

I go to various gas stations to fill up a thirsy car. The one in my neighborhood takes longer to use because of its strange set up. Most gas stations have the screen and buttons next to each other.

Not this one. The buttons appear near the nozzle and the credit card slot. The screen sits in the middle like most gas station screens. It’s tough to notice the buttons because the panel is slightly covered (indented area) like porches with a roof cover.

To make it more difficult to use, four arrow buttons appear on both sides of the screen. You use these mainly for yes/no questions. But you enter your zip code, other information, and press “Enter” on the other panel.

It feels like a “left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” situation. I’m sure the designer moved the buttons and credit card slot to its location as protection from weather. But really. The screen and panel should be together, which is what most gas stations do.

Moral: Ensure your content and interactive parts — especially a shopping cart — of your site work together and intuitively. Quick and cheap (free really) way to do this is to have friends and family test the site.

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Logitech VX Nano Cordless Laser Mouse Review

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007 at 1:23 PM | Category: Business, Meryl's Notes Blog, Reviews, Shopping, Tech No comments

logitech_xv_nano.gifI bought my first portable mouse when it was on sale for very cheap. At first, I thought it was a bad investment because I didn’t use it for a long time. However, I started using my laptop for all work for a specific client and needed to use a regular mouse instead of the touchpad. The mouse has a lot of mileage.

I had the opportunity to try out the Logitech VX Nano Cordless Laser Mouse pricey (69.99 list price / $49.99 Amazon price) ultra-portable mouse with a tiny receiver. Instantly, I liked the package when I saw the small size of the receiver — it looked like a USB plug. But then I realized, it would be easy to lose in a house full of kids.

Two AAA batteries powered the mouse and the package came with batteries (hope it didn’t drive up the price). When I opened the battery compartment, I saw the “Nano Receiver” label. When not using the receiver, you put it in the battery compartment next to the label to store it and close the battery compartment keeping it safe while on the move or not using the mouse. Innovative.

Although, it was no problem to keep the receiver plugged in even on the go since it barely protruded. It was a nice change not having to duck doorways to avoid hitting the two-inch long receiver from the old portable mouse. It had a few run-ins in its lifetime.

Plugged in the USB receiver, put batteries in mouse and the mouse went to work right away. It worked without the installing the included CD. However, the CD contained more features for taking advantage of side-to-side scrolling, Internet search, and button customization.

Have you noticed some mice have scroll wheels that click as you scroll and others don’t click (frictionless for long scrolling)? This one did both. Push the scroll wheel to toggle between the two modes. Click scrolling (friction) worked well for precise scrolling and frictionless scrolling performed best with long documents.

The box also included a carrying case and a USB extension stand for using the mouse with a desktop. These can stay tucked in one of the laptop’s smaller pockets out of the way.

My old portable mouse shut itself off unreasonably fast when idle. Moving the mouse wouldn’t wake it up — it called for either moving the scroll wheel or pushing the buttons on both the receiver and mouse to wake it up. This one required neither. It woke up every time I moved it. The receiver didn’t even have a button, so I only had to push the one on the mouse to make the first connection.

This high quality portable mouse wasn’t without a flaw — the size. My medium-sized hand missed the older and slightly larger sized portable mouse. But with time, it will adapt. The mouse felt snug and comfortable to the top part of my hand and fingers (the bottom of my palm dragged on the table more than usual). Oh, and it felt wonderfully light. I weighed it with the batteries and the scale showed 3.5 ounces.

Some might find the scroll wheel “too loose” — in other words, you can easily spin it. This feature is a matter of personal preference rather than a good or bad thing. Overall, Logitech VX Nano Cordless Laser Mouse is a great portable and cordless mouse if you’re willing to spend the money. The receiver alone can make it a worthy buy.

Pros: Tiny receiver, precise movements, lightweight, complete package (USB for desktop, receiver, mouse, carry case and batteries)

Cons: Price, mouse size is a little small for some

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GiftTRAP Board Game Review

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006 at 7:12 PM | Category: Games, Meryl's Notes Blog, Reviews, Shopping 1 comment

GiftTRAP GameThink you know your friends and family well? GiftTRAP sets out to challenge that assumption with its game of giving and receiving. When you have a choice of giving a roadside emergency kit, learn to be a graffiti artist (obviously a course), space age purse or a space hopper (???) — gift-giving turns into an adventure.

At first glance, it looks like a game promoting materialism and the gimmes, but instead the game is about great conversations, laughs and getting to know each other better. After all, it’s not as if you would actually get a flagpole, whale watching trip, or a public speaking course for family and friends.

The creative packaging looks like a gift box. Open the lid to reveal the folded game board. Move that and find the eight brightly colored gift bags sitting in a tray filled with game pieces. Remove the tray to find the game cards with the gift ideas from absurd and weird to practical and cool.

Place the gift cards on the board so players decide on who gets what while ranking the available gives from “Great” to “No way!” Players receive points for giving others gifts they like and lose points for giving a gift that gets a “No way!” The same concept applies for receiving gifts: Score points for the right ones and lose ’em for getting the “I’ll be returning that one to the store” gifts. To win the game, a player needs to get both Give and Get markers in the GIFTED zone.GiftTRAP Board Game

Imagine how hilarious it was to hear another player admit to wanting laser hair removal treatment. Not exactly something to give as a gift, but it loosened up everyone in the room within seconds.

The games business sees a disappointing trend. Manufacturers reissue older and classic games with cheap quality game pieces. But GiftTRAP doesn’t fall into this trap with its lovely gift bags and good quality game pieces and markers. The box contains colorful photos, as do the gift cards.

Side note: Something interesting lurks in the game instructions: a Creative Commons license! This is the first I’ve seen in a game, heck anything outside of the Internet.

Also the folks behind the game have a few fun contests happening. They’re accepting photos for use in the next edition of the game. Got my camera ready and hunting for odd gifts.

P.S. Anyone know what a space hopper is?

Included in GiftTRAP:

* 1 full size game board

* 640 Gift Ideas

* 1 Rules booklet [Read the rules online and see exactly how to play GiftTRAP]

* 8 Organza Gift Bags with each having:

* 2 scoring markers

* 9 gift tokens

* 4 choice tokens

* 3 advanced strategy cards

Players: 3 to 8
Age: 8+
Price: $39.99
Game play: One hour


eBay Troubles: Dealing with a Bad Buyer

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006 at 7:30 AM | Category: Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping 2 comments

First: eBay isn’t at fault here. This situation occurred with a buyer on eBay. I’ve been a registered eBay user since 1999 and this is the first time this happened to me. I share this so you don’t make the same mistake I did.

I posted a Neuros for sale. I try to be careful with my gadget purchases, but not in this case. I bought it and never used it, so I thought it best to sell it before it became an ancient and unused gadget. Plus, I need all the help with a big family event we’re planning.

Bad buyer (names omitted to protect the guilty) won the item and paid by PayPal about three days after the auction ended, but I did not know until three days later as my PayPal notification did not come through. What happened was my PayPal email was set to go to instead of, so I never saw it.

My catch-all goes into a return to sender pile because spammers used to send spam and it was overwhelming the server. It was a risk, but a necessary one. Besides, most made up email addresses are spam. Occasionally, there’s a typo in the email address… therein lies the risk.

Once I saw bad buyer had paid, I immediately responded and apologized for my oversight. I told bad buyer that I would upgrade his shipping at no cost to bad buyer. After I sent that note, I proceeded to Click and Ship by way of PayPal and dropped off the package. I left positive feedback right then as bad buyer had paid and had no more actions that would affect our transaction. I’ve always posted feedback after the buyer paid and I shipped and never ran into a problem before.

On the same day, after I shipped and left positive feedback, bad buyer reversed payment on PayPal leaving me with a negative balance (shipping). Now I cannot post negative feedback and warn others. However, I left follow up feedback, but bad buyer has 100% positives (only 8) and people may not notice my follow up.

I emailed bad buyer twice to give bad buyer the opportunity to pay or return the item. When that did not prompt a reply, I emailed eBay for advice. eBay told me to get bad buyer’s personal information and call. Paul called several times and left a message on the answering machine every time (bad buyer never answered).

I exchanged emails with eBay a few more times. Here are the actions the company recommended that I took:

* Request bad buyer’s contact information through eBay and contact bad buyer.
* Contact shipping company and explain situation.
* File with a Dispute Resolution Service like SquareTrade (I did, but I wasn’t going to shell out $30 for them to take action on my file).
* Open an unpaid item dispute claim on eBay.
* Review the Rules for Buyers specifically on Unpaid Items.
* Contact eBay through a formal process after several attempts to contact bad buyer.
* Leave feedback for bad buyer — however, this was already done and I told eBay this when I got this advice.
* Leave a follow-up comment.
* Contact credit card company that issued credit card (I have no idea what the buyer used).
* Try to stop shipment (I got this advice almost a month after the auction ended. A little late).
* Apply for a final value fees credit (time sensitive: between 10 and 45 days after close of auction — I got this advice 30 days after close. True, I could’ve found this myself, but I didn’t see it when I researched how to handle this problem.).
* Contact the police in the buyer’s area and let them know eBay will cooperate with the investigation.
* File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
* File mail fraud charges, if you shipped by U.S. mail.

Moral of the story: Don’t leave feedback until you’ve cleared payment with PayPal (when a buyer pays with a check, I don’t ship until payment clears).

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Gift Ideas for All Occasions

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006 at 7:44 AM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping No comments

In 2005, I created a list of original gift ideas and popular 2005 gift items. I thought it would be helpful to create an entry of this sort without a year tacked on. So I’ve combined web sites mentioned in the past and will continuously add to the list. Of course, no gift beats one from the heart — writing a note by hand. This list will grow as I add more categories. Of course, gadgets and geeky stuff is included!

Gifts and Surprise offer ideas for the difficult to shop for person (I have a few of those in my family). The Obsession Gift Box Company focuses more on corporate gifts.

DailyCandy provides the scoop on what’s hot, new, and undiscovered from fashion to gadgets. It has nine daily email newsletter editions covering eight cities and one “everywhere” so you can get ideas for the next time you’re reminded it’s someone’s birthday, anniversary, or job promotion.

Old-fashioned gifts (Read: no batteries required!)

Books are almost always a winner. You can check my reviews on Amazon to see what I liked and didn’t like. Or just go through the reviews here. A little self-promotion here, but my story is only one of 100 stories in Stories of Strength — I don’t get a penny as all of the proceeds go to charity.

My son’s school is having its twice yearly book fair this week and I always know I’m in trouble when that time comes. He wanted a building cards that builds castles from Klutz. I asked if he would really use it. He started building a tower before bed time in my room. Taking a look at it, I ended up building a full castle. This set comes with 150 pieces and you can buy more (of course) so you can build the giant castles shown in the booklet. One problem — Klutz doesn’t include a container to keep the puzzles in. The pieces come in plastic that you have to cut open and can’t be reused. Of course, a year later — the cards are buried somewhere in the junkyard… known as the game room.

Games are responsible for many fond memories when I was a kid and they continue to make memories in adulthood. I never get tired of Scrabble, Pictionary, and plain old cards.

I like to play these occasionally or my family does: Tri-Ominos, Cribbage, and Life. We play many others. It’s unbelievable how many games are getting a make over with cartoon characters. Operation with Homer Simpson (though this needs batteries, I’d say it’s a classic), Dora the Explorer Candy Land (my son’s favorite cartoon), and Clue with Disney’s Haunted Mansion. You get the idea.

Newer games worth checking out: 20 Questions Handheld Game (Okay, so it needs batteries, but it’s an old-fashioned game that allows you to play by yourself), Carcassonne (we have this, but have yet to play it), Settlers of Catan Board Game (ditto), and Fib or Not? (we’ve played this one and it’s a blast).

Got Cranium Hullabaloo, a cross between Twister and musical chairs. My six-year-old liked it. The 2 1/2-year-old can’t follow the directions, but he played with the set. Join the kids and get some energy.

My middle child and I played Guess Who? At first, I thought this game was a blow off and too easy for an adult to win. But then we played it a few more times and I finally saw how it could go either way for either adult or child. If you ask, “Does your person have blonde hair?”, you either get to put down a lot of characters or only a couple of them depending on the answer. A good one to play with kids around 1st grade.

Front Porch Classics believes games should be showcased instead of hidden behind closet or cabinet doors.

Gamesake lets you create a game about the recipient. It’s ideal for parties, showers, and group gatherings.

Players aim to lose all 10 of their inalienable rights in the Feel Safe Game of Homeland Security.

GiftTRAP takes a creative approach where players receive cards with different gifts. They have to decide what they think their friends would want to receive. Like other social games, this starts conversations so whip it out at the start of the party and avoid that awkward period.

Jewelry: Silver Jewelry Club has free jewelry where you only pay $5.99 per item for shipping. I’ve gotten stuff from the site and my daughter likes them. She thought they were fancy (for an 11-year-old). For me, I could get some specific colored jewelry and stones like Garnet and London Blue Topaz (no Sapphire here). I am stocking up on nice ones to give as gifts to girls. One item is on display for 15 minutes or until it’s sold out.

Just Ask Leslie is a blog that spots jewelry, provides tips and suggests jewelry gift ideas.

Watches still make great gifts. I miss wearing a watch, but it got annoying to have my medical ID bracelet clashing with it. The Watch Report watches watches.

Original and Unique Gifts: For the person who has everything or you’re out of ideas, sometimes going the original or unique route does the trick.

Second Term Edition Bush Cards are a cross between a book and a game. They’re targeted toward non-fans of Bush, but they are funny enough that even Bush fans with a sense of humor could enjoy them. Even cabinet members that are subjects on the cards buy them.

While on political satire, a great gift for political fans are CDs from Capital Steps. I’ve heard they’re a riot (no pun intended).

Know a Howard Hughes or Adrian Monk? Perfect gift: VIOlight VS100 Toothbrush Sanitizer and Storage System.

Chick-fil-A had an adorably clever calendar in 2005 displaying 12 months of cows in shining armor. Who can resist the fun the company is having with this? “From out of the mists of history come 12 heroes and heroines of cowdom from ages long past. They fought the forces of burgers with courage, cunning and cud.” Okay, maybe PETA wouldn’t like this. The company is having fun with its marketing and it’s working as a bunch of us parents (our school partners with a nearby restaurant for spirit night) bought the $5 calendar. Every year the theme changes and 2007 it’s “The Good, the Bad, and the Hairy.” You can watch the commercial for the 2005 calendar.

Whoopass Enterprises creates custom bobbleheads that can look like the recipient or an animal.

Self-contained fish bowl requires no feeding, no filters and best of all, no water changes!

Then these funky shirts from Sharp as Toast have funny political cartoons, sayings and other non-political stuff.

Running out of time? Know someone who gets bored at work and can play games at lunch? Old-fashioned PC games from Big Fish Games where you won’t find violent or mega-games. Instead, it has family games like FizzBall, Cake Mania, and Haiku Journey.

Geeky Stuff

They’re getting cheaper and bigger in capacity every minute. flash drives a.k.a. thumb drives and USB drives make great gifts as they’re portable making it easy to move or carry files with you.

Get a second monitor or even a third and the recipient will love you for it. When I first started working with dual monitors, I found it weird and annoying. Now I can’t stand being without them! I’ll have to write up something about it in the future. All you need is a video card that can handle dual monitors like VisionTek VTKRAD7K64P Dual Monitor 7K 64MB Ddr Pci and a second monitor. I think I’m in love

Just about anything from ThinkGeek and lots of good stuff at

DocuPen scans a whole page and works with Windows and Mac systems. Oooh.

Fossil Atari Watches. The games aren’t playable, but they’re animated. Perfect for the ’80s game fan. Comes with choices of Asteroids, Centipede, and Breakout.

Migo has a USB thumb drive for taking your data with you including Outlook, emails, contacts, and other stuff. Four versions available.

Gadgets for women at Popgadget. Must.Stay.Away.

Give Your iPod Character

Does your iPod scream for stylin’ clothes? Is she a princess or perhaps,
a cowboy? Maybe she wants variety? iAttire has clothes for the iPod,
Mini and Shuffle.

Prefer fur? Try Fluffpod. Not into
dressing up objects? Maybe babies?
Rather just have something simple like stars or
? Sporty folks can make the iPod look sporty with a hoody.

Make it a guy, put it in tights, or removable wrappers. OK, OK, I’ll stop already.

Unique Stores

These stores sell the kind of things you don’t find everywhere. They may also have a unique theme.

eLuxury sells designer stuff that isn’t sold anywhere else online. Just like its name, the things it sells are expensive.

Poketo! finds art that you can use everyday in your home, on you (apparel), and stationery.

Alphabetsync has an assortment of classic toys from the ’50s and ’60s along with new items on the market including t-shirts, fine gifts, jewelry, wacky cards, and everything in between.

Chiasso, Clio Home, CB2 (Crate and Barrel 2) and Swoozie’s have a variety of fun items.

I loved playing sports while growing up. It was my “thing,” where I spent all my free time outside of school. Girls’ sports has grown and places like Just for Girls Sports let us show off how proud we are to be athletes.

Woozie Wear: Clothes for dogs.

Punkster: Funky tees for babies.

Shop Composition and The Guild are all about design and style. It sounds like this site prescribes to Donald A. Norman’s Design of Everyday Things and Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things. To see the different items, click the box NEXT to Select a Vendor. Took me a minute to figure out.

Art lovers will love artnet, a resource for serious art buyers to buy, sell, and research fine art online.

Car collectors, check out Hemmings, which claims to be the largest collector car marketplace.

Not exactly a store, but design*sponge and Shelterrific share neat products for the home.

Sporting Reviews blog provides ideas for the sports fan like my dad.

Someone on her second, third or fourth child? She might have all she needs by way of hand-me-downs, so get ideas from Babygadget. With three kids of my own, people surprised me with something different — just make sure it’s usable.


Ah, food is a popular choice. Though you can find plenty of good eatin’s in your area, there are some delightful items you can get online.

Dale and Thomas Popcorn gave away free popcorn and became overwhelmed with free order requests. But the move paid off. The popcorn was SOOOO good that I didn’t share (I think I’m good about sharing). I keep the company info handy as I do want to shop there when the right opportunity comes.

Know a foodie? Someone who loves to watch Food Network? The Original Food Lover’s Trivia sounds like a winner.

I’ve been sending gift baskets and towers from Wine Country Gift Baskets as thank yous and they’re always a hit. They have great prices.

Can’t beat a food blog from Paris. Chocolate & Zucchini shares thoughts, recipes and cooking tools.

Thanks to WSJ article on shopping by blog for some of these resources.

Updated: December 13, 2006

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Trade, Swap, Exchange Sites

Monday, November 13th, 2006 at 9:03 AM | Category: Links, Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping, Tech 7 comments

Trading / Swapping

Don’t want to spend a dime? How about trading or swapping? Sick of a book, movie, or album? Trade it for something fresh.

Bookcrossing: Leave a book for someone else to discover from over three million registered books.

BookHopper: UK-based swap site where users pay the cost of shipping.

Bookins: Trade books for the cost of shipping. The site provides postage and tracks packages.

BookRelay: “If you see something you like in the relay index, click on the relay name to see the full list for that particular relay. Then pick a book on your BookCrossing bookshelf that you’d like to offer in trade. You can then accept the offered book, and your offer goes to the top of the list.”

BookMooch: Community for trading used books.

Distributed Library Project: For San Francisco Bay Area only. A virtual library experiment for books, videos, and music.

Flickflop: Trade used DVD movies against its inventory of DVD movies without waiting to see if a DVD available. No membership fees or commitments. Costs $1.99 per movie for packaging and handling.

FrugalReader: Trade books and pay only cost of shipping. Trade and buy CDs.

PaperBackSwap: Get credit for every book you mail.

SwapSwop: Exchange books, CDs, DVDs, games, and gift cards using a point system.

Swapthing: Exchange or barter anything for a transaction fee of $1.

SwapTree: Swap books, CDs, DVDs, and video games paying only for postage. Trade used DVDs, CDs and video games.

Titletrader: Trade books, CDs, and DVDs through a point system. Over 180,000 items listed.

WhatsOnMyBookshelf?: Exchange books using a point system.

ZunaFish: Trade books, CDs, and DVDs for a buck.

Please add others by leaving a comment. Since there are so many choices, share your favorites and why.

Updated: May 31, 2007

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Checkout Pages

Thursday, February 16th, 2006 at 1:17 PM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping, Tech No comments

Have you ever abandoned a shopping cart during the checkout stage — other than to find out the price (like Amazon says to add to basket to find out price)? I’m sure I have, but the reasons why are not coming to me at the moment (call it human virus-infected memory syndrome — no worries, this entry was scrubbed and declared germ-free). I’m sure a couple of times it was simply that I changed my mind and just didn’t need it. But was it ever because of the interface and the way the checkout pages were designed? Possibly.

Ah ha! Just recalled another reason. Shipping charges. Some places don’t let you find out the shipping charges until you’re halfway through the checkout process. There’s nothing in the FAQ, customer service or help pages giving an indication on the cost of shipping. Shipping costs can make or break a deal, at least for me. An item could cost more elsewhere, but be cheaper in the long run because shipping costs are lower. If the shipping isn’t obvious, I may not even bother with the checkout process. Depends on how much I need the item. So why put up another barrier?

E-Commerice Site Design looks at what every well-designed checkout page should contain. I strongly agree with including a “return to shopping” link. Some carts cut you off from the rest of the site and you have to resort to the back button to get back to it and you might lose information in the process. When using “return to shopping,” data tends to be saved. Heck, if someone wants to buy more things… who am I to stop them?

Registration is another big problem I watch for. While it’s nice to register and not have to enter your info every time you shop at a specific site, some people just don’t want to do it or think it’s very unlikely they’ll shop there again. So give them the option of registering or proceeding with the order without registration. Again, don’t lose an order just because you can’t store a new account.

The fewer barriers, the more likely you’ll make the sale.

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