Tag Archives | Shopping

Uh Oh, It’s Almost Black Friday

I like shopping for gadgets as much as the next technonerd–more so, probably–but I don’t plan to rush out to the mall on Black Friday. I like to do my splurging on my own schedule, thank you very much. Besides, I’m too young to be crushed to death by a stampede of wild-eyed, shopping cart-wielding consumers. (I’m also planning to skip Black Friday’s Web-based counterpart, Cyber Monday–even if it’s safer.)

But I did have fun thinking about both landmark shopping days as I wrote the first piece I’ve done for WePC.com in awhile. This one’s called “A Smart Skeptic’s Guide to PC Deals on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Beyond,” and is my attempt to summarize much of the advice I give friends and relatives who are shopping for computers during the holiday season. Take a look, share any tips of your own, then poke around WePC a bit–there’s lots of cool stuff there, including the opportunity to win free computers.

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5Words: Bing’s New Deal: Negative Cashback!

Use Bing, spend extra money.

Remember Joost? It’s been sold.

More on “the Google phone.”

Vudu movie service gets Wikipedia.

It’s war: Amazon vs. Wal-Mart.

More publishers talk Google withdrawal.

Google explains offensive image result.

Google and Tivo strike deal.

HP’s new iPAQ world phone.


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TheFind’s New Take on Shopping Search

The Find LogoShopping search engine TheFind has relaunched with a bunch of new features. It claims to cover 350 million products, and I believe it–I got tons of results when I searched for everything from cameras to camera accessories to specific books to baby products to condiments.

TheFind isn’t like a comparative pricing engine such as PriceGrabber, which returns results in a grid with lots of comparative info; nor is it like the review-centric Retrevo or Wize. Instead, it feels a little like a Google-style general-purpose search engine, except with extra features tailored to shopping–and all the results point to pages at e-commerce sites where you can buy stuff.

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Wize’s New Shopping Search: Wiser, Still Room For Improvement

WizeWize, a shopping research site that attempts to be a one-stop resource for finding out what folks think about products of all sorts, officially unveiled a major redesign on Tuesday. It’s a useful upgrade to a powerful reference tool, although I encountered a number of quirks as I explored the wealth of information it contains.

Wize reminds me of Retrevo, but that site goes deep on a specific range of consumer electronics products, and Wize covers stuff of all sorts, including a broader range of tech items, video games, home appliances, food and wine, toys, baby products, perfume, toys, and more. It aggregates millions of user reviews (and some professional ones) from all over the Web, coming up with overall ratings, letting you browse individual reviews and find merchants, and letting you see how products compare–including Wize Choices (well-reviewed items) and Unwize Choices (poorly-reviewed ones).

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Orbitz and Buy.com’s Sales Tactics: Cluttered and Confusing

Orbitz LogoCnet’s Greg Sandoval has a good story on use of “loyalty” programs by Orbitz and Buy.com-which are basically attempts to get you to sign up for services that charge you monthly fees as you check out during the buying process. A meaningful number of shoppers apparently sign up for these services by accident, and the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee is investigating some of the companies that provide them. Good.

I wrote a few months ago about my own personal gripe with Orbitz, which kept tacking charges onto my ticket for things I hadn’t asked forthat I think should be illegal, period. Of course, both Orbitz and Buy.com say they provide the “loyalty” services because they think customers want them, and they say very few people complain. But maybe one of the lessons here is that online check-out transactions should be streamlined and distraction-free, period. (Amazon.com’s shopping experience can be cluttered, but once you pay up, it does a good job of making it simple.)


The Deal of a Lifetime on a Dell Netbook!

Monty HallI like to save money on a new PC as much as the next guy, but I’m not crazy at the strategy taken by many direct sellers these days–the one that involves there always being multiple sales and “instant rebates” and special offers and upgrade deals designed to get you to Buy Now! I’d much rather than pricing was less of a game and more of a straightforward transaction in which computer companies simply set reasonable everyday prices for their wares.

But even by normal standards, this offer from Dell that just arrived in my inbox is kinda silly. See if you can spot the absurdity:

Dell Deal

Yup–Dell is trying to lure me to plunk down my money with a Special Offer of $4 off. Which, if you ask me, shouldn’t be dignified with an exclamation point. Even though it reflects just how cheap netbooks and other laptops have gotten: Back in the days when garden-variety notebooks went for $1500 and up, there wasn’t a soul on the planet who would have been tempted by a discount of four bucks. For a $400 machine, though, maybe such a price cut willl seal the deal in some cases–Dell obviously thinks so.

I wanted to do the math on what sort of discount $4 is percentage-wise, but it’s impossible: I don’t know whether to use the $503 price or the $399 one. Come to think of it, I  also can’t quite tell if the $4 discount is part of the $104 “Instant Savings,” or is in addition to it.

Which brings me back to my initial gripe here. Please, Dell…and everyone else who plays this game…just tell us how much the freakin’ computer costs?


Microsoft’s Black Friday Black Eye

cashbackIf Microsoft wants to become a serious Web competitor to Google it should stop tripping over its own feet. On Black Friday, it was offering more apologies than bargains after embarrassing technical glitches incapacitated the company’s Live Search Cashback, scuttling its initiative to gain a larger share of the search market by giving searchers discounts on products they find through Live Search.

Apparently, someone in Redmond neglected to remember that Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year. The Cashback site was unable to cope with the heavy volume, and some customers–ones that were able to access the site at all, that is–were left with the wrong amount of cash back credited to their accounts.

One of the biggest snafus occurred when customers that were trying to take advantage of a generous 40 percent discount on HP products received as little as 3 percent cash back posted to their account, according to News.com, which also reported that Microsoft apoligized to shoppers who encountered Cashback glitches . A spokesperson told Technologizer that customers interested in following up on their Cashback rebate should contract Microsoft Live Search support to have their accounts credited.

The company’s initiative to compensate people for using its search engine began in May. Since that time, Microsoft’s share of the search business has fallen, according to multiple surveys. That’s not to say that the Live Search Cashback program is a bad idea–Microsoft is an underdog, and it needs to be creative and scrappy.

However, it had an opportunity to benefit from word of mouth had its Black Friday promotion gone well, and its failure to execute has left it at best no better off than it would have been on any given Friday.

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Black Friday Turns Ugly. Genuinely Ugly.

Okay, I had some fun with my distaste for Black Friday earlier today, but this is serious stuff. A Wal-Mart employee was knocked to the floor by maniacal shoppers and killed today at a store on Long Island, in a riot that sent four other people (including a pregnant woman) to the hospital. (The crowd supposedly got even uglier when told that the store was going to shut down after the staffer’s death.) And two people were reportedly shot dead at a Toys “R” Us in Palm Desert, California, in an incident thay may or may not have been gang-related.

Can we all agree that there’s no discount on a 52-inch TV or a GPS device that is worth a single human life, or even the real risk of the loss of a single human life? And that American’s retailers should be damn careful about intentionally whipping teeming crowds of people into a frenzy?

Comparatively uninmportant side note: Sears.com crashed today, presumably under the weight of Black Friday traffic. It was down for about two hours.

Report on my day: I spent much of it bumming around bookstores in Northern California’s Sonoma county, getting a head start on my Christmas shopping. Got some good deals, too. I saw no angry crowds, didn’t have to engage in any fistfights, and don’t even remember standing in line for more than a couple of minutes…


30 Reasons I Choose to Ignore Black Friday


Today, in case you hadn’t noticed, is Black Friday–America’s legendary shopping-day-of-all-shopping-days. The sales are unprecedented, the shopping hours are extended, and hey, it might even help nurse our battered economy back to health. But me, I may get through the day without buying anything more costly than a Diet Coke. I love saving money on gizmos and gadgets as much as the next technophile, but I’ve never found Black Friday alluring–in fact, I take a great deal of pleasure in ignoring it.

How come? Lots of reasons, actually–all of which you’ll find after the jump.

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The Best News I’ve Heard in Months

Ever felt like you should keep a blowtorch on hand to blast your way into the tamper-resistant packaging that a lot of tech products come in these days? Help is at hand–and it doesn’t involve blowtorches. Instead, it takes the far more sensible step of making packaging easy to open.

Amazon has launched an initiative called Frustration-Free Packaging, which involves selling products in packaging that eliminates those indestructible blisterpacks and scissors-destroying plastic ties. The initial lineup of offerings includes a bunch of toys, but also some electronics products, including a Microsoft mouse and Transcend memory cards.

The company says that an added benefit of the frustration-free packaging is that it’s more environment-friendly. That makes sense: I can’t imagine the world really needs all that plastic packaging, when cardboard and paper (which is what the Frustration-Free Packaging involves) will do.

The plasticky stuff–from now on I’ll think of it as Frustration-Filled Packaging–is meant to discourage shoplifters, so it was always pretty silly that customers of a Web-based merchant like Amazon had to deal with it in the first place.

I’d love to see brick-and-mortar retailers jump on this bandwagon. While we’re at it, could they do something about the pointless and insulting anti-shoplifting procedures involving a guy at the door who glances at your receipt and pretends to examine the products in your shopping bag?