Category Archives: Commerce

Dell and the Art of Spinning Business Decisions (part 2)

Bob Pearson replied to my previous post on this topic.

I thank Bob Pearson for the reply. Nobody can accuse Dell of not paying attention to what people are saying. However, I remain skeptical that I, as a customer, am going to see anything dazzling come out of Da Vinci. Again, the evidence on which I base my skepticism is provided by none other than Dell.

Last month, Laura P. Thomas, reported that Dell’s beta for a new home page was found to be more difficult to use than the current page. I did not say anything at the time but now I have the impetus to comment. How on earth can Dell design a site more difficult to use than the current one?!? (I’m assuming that although the term “home page” is used, we’re talking about a complete site overhaul.)

Case in point: I went to Dell’s site this morning to order a monitor. The only reason I even went to Dell’s site was because I had researched reviews and found that one of Dell’s monitor fit my performance/price ratio. So I went into the “Home and Home Office” store and put the monitor in my cart. Then I decided I should check what price I’d get if I went through the educational channel. Being affiliated to UVA, I can benefit from better prices, right? Nope. After I put the monitor in my educational cart, I found that a free 2-day shipping deal I was able to get in the “Home and Home Office” store was not available to me if I ordered through the educational store. Now, let me be clear. If I had obtained exactly the same result through both stores, I would have said “fair enough”. It is the fact that I get different results depending on how I navigate the site that irritates me to no end. And then Dell will send coupons by email which, once applied, invalidate rebates already offered on the site. So shopping in Dell’s store is an exercise in frustration.

That kind of nonsense is precisely why I hate the Dell store and why Dell’s store is never my first destination when I shop online. It is utterly unpleasant to think that if I had ordered the item from the same dealer but through a different set of clicks, I might have gotten a better deal. I keep having to check and recheck that I have not missed any click, any coupon, any change in barometric pressure which may result in a better deal. That also played a part in why the last laptop I bought was not a Dell. I paid a little more that I would have for a Dell but I felt the dealer respected me and my time.

And then I read that Dell is unable to create a better site? What on earth is going on? There’s nothing in the Da Vinci announcement that makes me believe that the new partnership will solve this problem so why precisely should I get excited? It seems to me Dell has bigger fish to fry than spinning their business decisions into some sort of second coming.

Dell and the Art of Spinning Business Decisions

Dell has recently announced a new partnership with the WPP marketing company. The post on the Direct2Dell blog leads me to believe that Dell is spinning a run-of-the-mill business decision into some sort of ground-breaking partnership. Casey Jones is quoted to say:

Instead of dating 800 agencies, we are creating a partnership with one firm. We want our partner to spend 100% of their time thinking about our customers, rather than how they will get the next assignment.

It may appear that with this partnership Dell will be able to replace the complexity of 800 agencies with the simplicity of only having to deal with one agency but that would be incorrect. With this partnership, Dell is merely pushing away the complexity of marketing on a global scale behind an organizational entity called “WPP”. It may be that WPP is better equipped than Dell with managing that complexity and it may be that by letting WPP handling all of Dell’s marketing, the overall complexity will be reduced but it is not going to be reduced by a factor of 800. I have for evidence the following passage in the post:

We will empower our new agency to handle all subcontracting relationships with talented professionals and firms who want to work with Dell. They will be encouraged to join our Da Vinci team.

The hundreds of marketing agencies Dell is currently dealing with are going to be handled by this new Da Vinci partnership between Dell and WPP but the complexity of hundreds of agencies is not going to disappear.

And then there are the content-free statements:

The agency will be charged with building shareholder value via programs that are centered on “creativity with a business purpose”.

Ok, by opposition to what? Are there any divisions of Dell or partners of Dell that are not supposed to be “building shareholder value”? True, Dell’s partners have for mission to build value for their own shareholders but Dell entered in a partnership with them because the executives at Dell believed that it would help build value for Dell’s own shareholders. Which publicly traded business would say that they don’t center on creativity or that they engage in activities that have no business purpose? Basically, the statement I quote above could be uttered by the PR firm of just any publicly traded business. It is a given. Stating it does not convey any new information.

We want Dell’s agency to be the agency of choice for the most talented people in the world.

Again, by opposition to what? Are there publicly traded companies out there that will say “we want our company to be the company of choice for mediocre people?” Really? All companies want the best. Whether they can get what they want depends on the compensation packages they come up with and what kind of working environment they are able to nurture, everything else is just hot air. (About a dozen Dilbert strips are flashing through my mind as I write these lines.)

Here’s a gem:

One great team at WPP to match up with our team, so we can create magic together.

There’s a business plan: “create magic”. We’ll synergetically utilize leprechauns to produce unicorns while leveraging the power of imps and elves.

Don’t get me wrong. The executives at Dell probably had a good reason to do what they did but the spin they put on it sounds hollow. I owned a total of four laptops: 3 of them Dells and the last one a Sager NP2090. I’m not seeing anything substantial in the Da Vinci deal that would lead me to think that Dell is going to win me back as a customer. Quite the contrary, the hollowness of their announcement reminds me of how another company, Palm, has gradually devolved into a company emphasizing hype over substance. Is Dell following in Palm’s steps?

Reactions to the AAP’s FUD: the danger of alienation

A few days ago, I finally posted my belated reaction to the AAP’s position on a possible government mandate to make all articles published from publicly funded research freely available to the general public. I was not aware at the time but some reactions to the AAP’s position had already been published when I wrote my post. I was informed of that fact by a post on Slashdot. Of note is the open letter by Rockefeller University Press. They are a member organization of the AAP but they clearly distance themselves from the FUD being spread by the AAP. (This is a good example of the general caution we should apply in interpreting the pronouncements of umbrella associations that purport to speak for their members. Such associations can go rogue and misrepresent what their members really want. Or, and this is probably the case here, they represent the views only of their most powerful members.)

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Proof that the AAP is in league with the RIAA and the MPAA

Just after posting yesterday about how the AAP uses dubious rhetoric to try to preserve its current power and revenue in the domain of scholarly publishing, I learned of a new alliance dedicated to corrupting public policy in favor of copyright holders called the Copyright Alliance. I examined their list of members. What do I find in the list?

Motion Picture Association of America

Association of American Publishers

Recording Industry Association of America

There’s the proof that the AAP is in league with the RIAA and the MPAA.

And now, for some FUD from the AAP

[This is a post I wrote a long time ago but left in draft form for way too long.]

Look up the term FUD on Wikipedia if you are unfamiliar with it and then come back to this article. According to an article in the online version of Nature, the American Association of Publishers (AAP) has hired a “pit bull of public relations” to counter the rise of free information. From the article:

Now, Nature has learned, a group of big scientific publishers has hired the pit bull to take on the free-information movement, which campaigns for scientific results to be made freely available.

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No faith in Palm anymore…

Engaget posted an editorial about what is wrong with Palm and what they need to do to fix the situation: Dear Palm: It’s time for an intervention. It is very revealing that a lot of the comments on that editorial are from Palm users who have lost faith in Palm. I have not sent a comment there but you can count me among the group of those who have lost faith. I’ve owned two Palm devices, only one of which was a cell phone. The way things are going, it is likely that for my next smart phone, I’ll be looking at another platform than Palm.

eBags did right and honored its price matching policy…

eBags’ price matching policy really works! I posted a few days ago an item in which I was venting my frustration with eBags. For details you should read that post but basically I felt eBags was not honoring its price matching policy as posted on its web site. After publishing my post, I sent an email to Jon Nordmark, CEO of eBags. His email address is published right there on eBags’ web site and I figured that if he publishes it, he must want people to contact him if they have problems. So I sent him an email detailing my troubles. I did mention that I had published a post on my blog about it and that I was going to contact The Consumerist about my experience. He replied by email almost immediately and was quite apologetic. He said he would take care of the situation.

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eBags not honoring its price matching policy

Update 2007/08/20: eBags responded positively. See this post.

Don’t you hate it when you buy something at a store and then you find a few days later that the very store where you bought the item lowered the price of that item? If the retailer has a price guarantee, then you’re in luck. You can contact them so that they’ll honor the terms of their guarantee. At the very least, you’ll get the item at the new price and sometimes you can get even more than that. Well…. that’s the theory. In practice, it is usually pretty hard to get them to honor their guarantees. I’ve had a particularly bad experience with eBags recently and have yet to get them to honor their price matching policy.

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The necessity of nutritional info: Subway gets it!

Consumerist recently reported that Subway is now including the calories per serving on their menus. This is great. A good deal of people must watch what they eat. I myself am included in that group. I need to be careful about my calorie intake because too many calories easily translate to gained weight and increased cholesterol levels. I do not make a habit of getting my food from fast food joints but sometimes circumstances make it so that fast food is the only option and sometimes, albeit rarely, I just feel like going out for fast food. In those cases, I like to be able to chose what I eat. I recognize that fast food is likely to be full of unhealthy stuff but not all fast food options are created equal. At any rate, I applaud Subway for giving their customer nutritional information.

The Consumerist report also notes that Dunkin’ Donut is arguing that they can’t put up the information because they don’t have enough space on their menus. What I’m understanding out of Dunkin’ Donut’s excuses is that they do not want me as a customer. It’s been ages since I’ve been to Dunkin’ Donut, mind you, but I’m not likely to go back there any time soon if they hide their nutritional information.

Comair 5191: the FAA was sleeping at the switch

From this article:

Separately, the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged violating its own policies when it assigned only one controller to the Lexington tower.

The reason the FAA established a policy requiring two controllers is that the FAA itself foresaw that having only one controller on duty is not enough to ensure the safety of travellers. Whoever approved operating the Lexington tower with only one controller ought to be fired or sued since that decision resulted in the death of 49 people. The way I see it that person either:

a. did not know the FAA rule regarding staffing; in which case, that person is incompetent.

b. knew the rule but disregarded it; in which case, that person was criminally negligent by knowingly putting the lives of travellers at risk.