Business Owners Use Technology to Grow

As in almost every aspect of daily living, technology has become an integral part of retail for both the consumer and the business owner. Technology comes with a lot of advantages on both sides as well. Consumers can find precisely the products for which they are searching, compare prices, and make purchases from stores that are not within a comfortable driving distance. Businesses can reach more potential customers and get feedback to discover what works and what does not. Marketing has changed from the standard commercial to crafting a website that will be found through the most popular search engines. Technology is also helping businesses that see the majority of sales offline grow as well. The integration of e-commerce and point-of-sale (POS) transactions in a single store system has contributed to the success and growth of many small businesses, as well as plenty of larger ones.

Benefits of a Cloud-based POS System

Many online businesses are opening brick-and-mortar store locations to meet consumer demand. Shoppers are looking for more than the standard national chain brands. They want to see unique items in-person, and to touch them and make a connection, before making a purchase. POS software puts everything the savvy business owner needs in a single program. Systems like Shopify give business owners the chance to create an eye-catching online store that doubles as a POS system for physical store transactions. Users can set up a website and add real-time product inventory. Whether an item sells online or in the store, information is synchronized automatically to provide the most up-to-date data.

Hardware is straightforward and easy to use. An iPad serves as the cash register screen, and credit cards are swiped through a plug-and-play card reader in the audio jack. For cash transactions, a cash drawer can be opened through the tablet as well. Receipts are sent wirelessly to the printer. This comprehensive system includes everything a traditional cash register does, without the added hassle. It also gives shoppers peace of mind that their private information is secure.

Other features provide even better customer service solutions. Receipts can be sent via email when shoppers would prefer to avoid a printed version. Analytics keep detailed records of pertinent information such as e-commerce page views, product inventory, and sales history.

It is this flexibility that helps successful businesses adapt and move forward.

Real Businesses Find Success

Many businesses have seen measurable growth in a short period of time when using technology to offer the best of both worlds to customers. Dylan Clifton, owner of Perception Apparel, has been running his business for only a few short years. Like most startups, he tried to limit expenses by handling store design and marketing himself. He entered the Huffington Post’s Build a Business Competition and found instantly that the entire process became easier. Perception Apparel immediately took off to the degree that Clifton intends to open a physical location eventually.

“My sales have more than doubled in the first month, and my social media efforts are growing at an exponential rate. I am now looking into expanding my shirts into brick-and-mortar locations. I have never been more confident about the success of my business,” says Clifton.

Other businesses have found similar success and credit goes to the functionality of being able to use the same software for both online and in-store transactions. Daymon John, founder of FUBU and star of ABC’s Shark Tank reality television program, hits the nail on the head about why this is such a successful model. “With this easy to use ecommerce solution, entrepreneurs save time and money, so they can focus on other aspects of their business.”

This is what most business owners want, to focus on what motivated them to start a business in the first place. Most entrepreneurs are creators. Although designing a website can be a creative expression, when all is said and done, most want a product that is easy to maintain on a day-to-day basis.

This is the modern face of retail. It is versatile and adaptable, no matter how technology continues to change.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

When Technology Backs You Into A Corner

We have a whole house DVR, where wecan record or play up to six shows at one time.  It is all centered upon one device, a media gateway, which then communicates with media players positioned at each TV.

Problem 1: Single Point Of Failure

When we upgraded our service, I knew right away that we were introducting the mb-201402tabletproblem of a signle point of failure.  Prior to that each TV had it’s own signal box.  We had one DVR and several regular cable boxes.  If one failed, that TV was out of commission.  But, with a whole house DVR, if there’s a problem with the media gateway, the entire house has disruption in TV.

Problem 2: A Second Single Point of Failure

In our case, the media gateway actually provides another point of failure: internet.  Since the media gateway also serves as the cable modem, not only does your TV go out if there’s a media gateway problem, but the internet is also unavailable.  Before we upgraded, in addition to the various cable boxes I outlined above, we had a separate cable modem device strictly for the Internet.

Problem 3: Minor Problems Don’t Get Dealt With

If the media gateway were to completely fail, obviously we would call and get it serviced.  Actually, the most likely scenario would be that they would replace it.  This would mean that we’d lose all of our recordings which we haven’t watched (in addition to some we keep as they are favorites of the kids), but we would also have to re-load all of our settings, as they don’t have any way to transfer data or settings between devices.

I know, first world problems, right?

But what about minor problems?  We’ve been having a few small issues with our service.  There are times when the HD channels will no longer display, and we get a message that the CableCard is not authorized for service.  Simply put, this is basically the tuner in the box that communicates with the central office to authorize us using service, preventing someone from simply getting a box and plugging in to the wire.  Usually, restarting the media gateway resolves the problem, although there have been a couple of times where we’ve had to call in and have it reset on the computer.

We’ve also had issues where the box provides lousy service.  It will pause every few seconds, making watching or recording anything impossible.  For some reason this seems to present itself as a problem overnight.  This has actually kept it tolerable for us, because we can reset the device and fix it.  It would likely be a bigger problem if it happened during the day or evening, as it would then make any recorded TV unwatchable.

We also noticed that a feature that we used rarely, but was a nice one to have, has recently stopped working. With the media gateway, you can log in remotely and make changes to your device.  There are smartphone apps or you can do it through a website.  This way, if you’re away from home and realize you want to record something, you can make the settings from anywhere where you have an internet connection.  It’s pretty nifty, but the last few times I’ve tried to use this, it wouldn’t connect.

The problem is that because these are ‘minor’ issues, we just deal with them, simply because we don’t want to lose the recordings and the settings we have.

Backed Into A Corner

This made me think that technology often backs you into a corner.  In addition to cable, think about:

  • How often do people live with a cracked screen or malfunctioning phone because they’re not yet out of their contract or because data transfer would be too much of a hassle?  Technology in the last couple of years has largely taken this element out as ‘the cloud’ makes it easy to power down one smartphone and power up another, but a few years ago, it was pretty much impossible to have any type of pain free transition.
  • Laptops and computers provide the same challenges. People spend years accumulating their settings, their music and video files, their bookmarks, and building their folders full of spreadsheets and documents, and the idea of losing it or having to move it is enough to make many people keep using a computer that may be malfunctioning or cannot support current technology.

It’s kind of a paradox that the more complicated and awesome a technology is, that it can have the unintended consequence of tying us down to that technology as time goes on.  Luckily, part of the technological advances seem to be centered around this various obstacle, as there seems to be a bigger push toward seamless data sharing and device transition.  I would expect a lot of this is out of necessity, as the manufacturers want you to buy their stuff more often, so removing this is not only beneficial to you as a consumer, but to them.   Make sure you consider to whose benefit it is in favor of before making any upgrade decisions!

A Hopeful Update

In the case of our cable box, I made some changes that I’m hoping might alleviate our problems.  As I started jotting down notes, I did some checking not just on our box but also looking at anything that interacts with it. We have three things that ‘hook off’ of our box:

  1. A wireless signal booster – Our house is big enough that we had some dead spots along the edges, and one of the edge spots most frequently affected was our bedroom.  We added a signal booster which basically acts as a relay and provides coverage, specifically to the Apple and Windows devices.
  2. A second wireless router – We have a second wireless network running in the house.  Unfortunately, my Android devices would sometimes have issues with the wireless signal booster, so I keep the second wireless network alive.
  3. A Sprint Airrave – We have Sprint service and our house is on the fringe of having reliable service.  They provide a signal enhancer that uses your cable internet.  It’s basically a mini-tower in our house.

After doing some digging, I found that the third option, the Sprint Airrave, was a potential problem when hooking it directly to the media gateway.  People recommended plugging it in downstream if possible.  This was no problem for me as I wa able to plug it into our second wireless router.

So far, the Airrave works and the ability to remotely access our media gateway works, both immediately after making this change.  As it’s only been a couple of days, I don’t have enough information to see if it was also the potential source of the freezing up issues, but it’d be nice.

Readers, have you ever had a situation where cool technology is so involved that getting it upgraded or fixed provides more of a headache than it’s worth?  

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Farewell, Newspaper Subscription!

I’ve had a subscription to the Sunday paper for a number of years, and I finally admitted that I had held on for too long, and cancelled the subscription the other day.

I have had a subscription at various points, but it’s been about nine years consecutive but it’s time.

Reasons I Cancelled The Newspaper Subscription

  • Price – The price has continued to go up.  It goes up every six months, at which mb-2014-10paperspoint I can call and get it lowered, but the way it works is that your deal slowly erodes.  A customer service rep actually explained this to me.  Say they have ten tiers of pricing.  When you first sign up, you’ll get the best tier.  It’ll expire and you’ll pay full price.  When you call in, they’ll give you a discount, but only to the second tier.  The next call will get you to the third tier, etc.  After nine years or so as a subscriber, I was effectively out of tiers, and they will not drop you down on a current subscription, no matter who you talk to.
  • Quantity – The Internet has ravaged subscriptions.  This has led to layoffs, paper closings, and in our case, they only put out full editions of the paper three times per week.  This is in Detroit, a pretty major metropolitan area.  Although I always preferred to read the paper mostly on Sunday’s, the three day per week cut never sat well with me.
  • Quality – Along with the reduction in the days per week, the quality has gone down.  The Sunday paper always meant a lot to me.  I loved to just sit out on the deck (when it’s warm) or on the couch, and spend a couple of hours with a few cups of coffee reading the paper.  I realized that now I can go cover to cover in twenty minutes, barely half a cup of coffee for me.  The number and quality of articles and sections has just been cut too significantly.
  • Comics – I’m 40 but I still appreciate good funnies, and I realized that they’ve slowly stripped out my favorite comic strips one by one over the years.  Basically, all that’s left is Dilbert.
  • Incompetent delivery people – I’ve not been happy at all with the delivery people that I’ve had.  One guy got mad when I complained that there were some ads we weren’t getting, and put a stack of them on my driveway after the second time I complained.  The newest person doesn’t realize that without extra protection, one flimsy plastic bag will not keep rain or melting snow, so anytime I wake up and it’s wet, I can count on having to spread out the paper and wait for it to dry…
  • My personal tipping point – I read an article in a recent edition and it was maybe the dumbest thing I’ve ever read in a paper.  It was in the lifestyle session, so I get that there’s some leeway, but it was about how she went to the mall and was in a store with another customer that was loudly chewing gum, so she left, except she took about 800 words to go through all that.  It was honestly terrible.  I was reading some of the online comments to see if I was the only one bothered by the fact that about half of newspaper writers have lost their jobs over the past 15 years, yet she’s still gainfully employed, and someone said that unless you’re paying for it, you don’t have a right to complain.  So, I figured I’ll speak with my cancellation.  (For the record, pretty much every person commenting felt the same as me, that it was a terrible article).

Without the article just mentioned, I probably would have cancelled sooner rather than later.

I Still Plan On Getting The Sunday Paper

But here’s the thing, I’m probably going to still get the paper.  Here’s why and here’s how:

  • Why – The paper still has lots of coupons that we clip, and we generally save more than what we pay for the paper.
  • How – I’ll just get it at a gas station or drugstore or somewhere that sells the paper.  With our pricing, we were paying $3.50 per week.  The newsstand price is $2.  I realize you pay a convenience fee for having it delivered, but it was just too steep.  And, the fact is, there’s probably not a single Sunday save for one with a major snowstorm, that we aren’t out anyways.  How hard is it to stop in and grab a paper? For $1.50 per week, that just means less of a break-even point for our coupon clipping.

At some point, I figure they may try to entice me back in.  I would have to get back in at the bottom tier, and I figure you probably have to stay away for a few months before they’ll get you back into that tier.  Until then, it’s been a good ride, but getting off the subscription train has been long overdue.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Mobile Friendly Sites Are Often Anything But

Web sites tend to get redesigned regularly.  Just like a store that needs updating every now and then, the electronic face of any store, news site, or otherwise needs to be kept up to date.

The latest trend has been to redesign sites around the fact that more mobile users are using them, so they are designed to be ‘mobile friendly’.

Personally, I’m starting to hate this.

And where I hate it the most?  Reading these sites on my mobile device.

Two examples come to mind where the latest site redesigns have practically killed the reading experience for me.

Yahoo Sports

I used to be a die hard Yahoo user.  Back in the day, I used My Yahoo as my default page.  I used Yahoo Mail for all personal email.  I used Yahoo Search, Yahoo News, Yahoo Sports, their photo sharing and storage service, heck I even used Yahoo Personals in the early 2000’s.  For most of the items above, I migrated to other services (except Personals, which I thankfully no longer need), but Yahoo Sports was one of the few things I kept strictly Yahoo.  They had the best sports site out there.  I liked the content.  I liked the layout.  I liked the writers.

Then toward the end of last year, they made it ‘mobile friendly’ and suddenly it started to suck.  It’s got a ton more ads, it seems like they started producing less original content and syndicating other content, and since the layout of the desktop was changed to sync with the new ‘mobile’ site, the problems were on both versions.

Since the change, the front page has far less relevant content than it used to.  The day after the Super Bowl, exactly one of the first fifteen ‘top stories’ even mentioned the Super Bowl.  At least four stories, however, were actually ads.  Another five or six were syndicated.

NBC News

I’ve always liked the NBC News website layout.  It was broken into categories and you could even customize your page with the categories you wanted.  During lunch, I’d read this site and would typically find at least 10-15 articles to read in categories ranging from Top Stories, Sports, Entertainment, Health, Travel, and Business.

Last month they rolled out a new ‘mobile friendly’ site, and I would say that I now read maybe two articles a day.

Has the content been cut?  I’m not sure.  I’m guessing that it hasn’t been cut by 80% but they made everything ‘visual’ which leads to confusion and clutter.  An organized list may not have been the most ‘mobile friendly’ thing, but it was easy to skim and click into things that I wanted to see.  Now, it’s laid out with pictures hapharzadly all over the place, which are the links.

And, the mobile site, it’s honestly awful.  It loads in such a way that the links to NBC News content load, so you start getting ready to click, but by the time your finger gets to your screen, the page layout changes, because now the ads are loading.

So, when I click, half the time I end up in another link because the content keeps shifting.  I guess I could wait another 10-15 seconds for the page to fully load, but how in anybody’s imagination is that supposed to be ‘mobile friendly’?

Why Are They Doing It?

This is just my hunch and personal observation, but think both of the redesigns were done with two changes in mind:

  • Less content – I believe that both Yahoo and NBC are producing less content than mb-201403phonebefore.  This would be an effort to reduce costs
  • More ads – It’s apparent that both have increased their ad presence as a result of their redesigns.  Unfortunately, when you design your site around ad placement, it makes for a terrible site.  It should be the other way around.

I’m guessing that more and more sites will make the transition to ‘mobile friendly’ sites, but I think this is not going to be good.  I think ‘mobile friendly’ will end up being another way of saying ‘We’re giving you less content and more ads’.  Before you think that backlash or reduced page views will doom this strategy, I have to point out that food companies do this all the time and have been getting away with it.  More ofen than not, a ‘Great New Look’ for your favorite potato chip or carton of orange juice means that you’re getting less product in a fancy new package.  Yet it continues to happen, and I fear that the ‘mobile friendly’ equivalent is here to stay.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.