Fee or Discount

In this day and age, I find it surprising enormous corporations have not figured the difference in the perception of a fee vs a discount. Adding a fee causes consumer uproar. They feel the faceless no good bully is trying to make money unfairly. Even people who probably will avoid ever paying the fee on grounds feel it takes away an option. In the aftermath of the consumers taking to social media and winning against the big banks, this is not the right time for a corporation.

The way to change consumer behavior is to provide a discount for the option you want them to pick. A $1/month discount ($12/year) for customers who routinely pay through non-automatic payments options for them switching probably is enough to get most to change.  They feel like they gained something by doing so. Fair probably would be to give the same discount to those already using automatic payments, but I could see only offering the discount as encouraging the problem customers.

In the Verizon fee case, they wanted customers to setup automatic payments so they will not miss payments as often. It is good for both sides. Consumers are more likely to avoid late fees or service interruptions. Corporations will get a steadier flow of money from the consumers. A $2 fee to continue making one time payments was exactly the wrong way to encourage the correct behavior.

Stalking Students

On the BLKBRD-L email list is a discussion about proving students are cheating. Any time the topic comes up, someone says a human in a room is the only way to be sure. Naturally, someone else responds with the latest and greatest technology to detect cheating.

In this case, Acxiom offers identity verification:

By matching a student’s directory information (name, address, phone) to our database, we match the student to our database. The student then must answer questions to verify their identity, which may include name, address and date of birth.


The institution never releases directory information so there are no Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) violations.

However, to complete the course work the student is forced to hand over the information to Acxiom, an unknown and potentially untrusted party. Why should students trust Acxiom when institutions cannot be trusted?

Due to the decentralized nature of IT departments, higher education leads all industries in numbers data breach events. Acxiom’s verification capabilities were designed so that student and instructor privacy is a critical feature of our solution. Institutions never receive the data Acxiom uses in this process. They are simply made aware of the pass/fail rates.

In other words, high education institutions cannot be trusted to handle this information. No reason was provided as to why Acxiom can be better trusted. Guess the people reading this would never check to see whether Acxiom has also had data breaches.

This Electronic Freedom Foundation response to Acxiom’s claims their method is more secure was interesting:

True facts about your life are, by definition, pre-compromised. If the bio question is about something already in the consumer file, arguably the best kind of question is about something that is highly unlikely to be in one’s consumer file and even useless commercially–like my pet’s name.

Answering these kinds of questions feels like more of violation of than a preservation of privacy.

Bottle v Tap

Its funny what people think about something we take for granted. Brown tap municipal tap water was stated as the reason for drinking bottled water. Is it a corporate v goverment thing? Is it because bottled water is so much more expensive than tap water so it must be better?

From Coca-Cola’s letter to the state of California about what is in DASANI water:

Most facilities that purify and bottle DASANI procure water from municipal water systems. At a few plants, however, water is obtained from protected groundwater sources managed by the bottling plant, with approvals from local authorities. DASANI® Bottled Water Report as required by California SB 220 (PDF)

It goes on to describe what they do to purify the water they procure: activated carbon filtration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light disinfection, re-mineralized, ozonation. So the municipalities get the water to within EPA standards but not FDA standards. Companies selling bottled water have to adhere to the FDA standard not the EPA. Maybe its a good thing: “Generally, over the years, the FDA has adopted EPA standards for tap water as standards for bottled water.” FDA Consumer magazine: Bottled Water: Better Than the Tap? (Should we be worried the same overworked agency which lets us get hit with all kinds of bacteria is protecting us from bad water?)

Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities Department has a similar report where they list how the water exceeds the EPA standards.

Personally, I would love everyone producing water to publish reports about their water quality with the amounts of detected contaminants listed as is shown in this DASANI analysis example. Too bad its just an example of a typical analysis. Anyone know where the real DASANI quality reports might be found?

The Digital Switch

The Long Tail claims consumers, given more options, will reflect their widely varied interests. Physical stores cannot fill all of the demand, so bytes stored on disk are the fastest, cheapest method for getting stuff to consumers. We see a mostly example of this shift in the shift to digital music.

Vinyl records were the first physical music media form I used. Later, cassette tapes (1980s) and compact disc (1990s) achieved dominance. In 2001, I started the transition to digital music. There were some stumbles along the way because of technology changes and trusting vendors saying Digital Rights Management is good for consumers. At present, I only listen to digital music when using my own collection.

Digital video seems more complicated. Web sites streaming and on-demand television have the potential to fit the Long Tail model where consumers have access to insanely varied content when they want it. DVRs neither fix the when (just shift the airing to another time) or the insanely varied content. Movie rental distributors like Blockbuster and Netflix are moving toward distributing digital movies and TV shows in setups similar to on-demand. Nothing has even come close to winning.

Digital books may yet get some traction. Computers screens cause eye strain. Laptops don’t feel like a book. PDAs, Blackberrys, and other handhelds with small screens require a ton of scrolling. A recent solution to this is “epaper” which doesn’t constantly refresh. The Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony Reader are the biggest players. (The Long Tail is not available for the Kindle but is for the Reader. WTH?)

Remaining issues for me:

  1. Ownership is dying.
    • I really like the idea of playing music on my iPod or from CDs. I play DVDs on my computer because I can’t play my DVR stuff in a hotel. So streaming and on-demand only solutions bother me as long-term solutions. If it is easy for distributors to store it because it is just bytes, then it is easy for me to do so as well.
    • I have books from 20 years ago I can still read. Technology changes too much to depend on something I buy today working tomorrow. So maybe “renting” is a way better approach for digital media?
  2. The black markets for music and movies prove consumers want everything any time. Companies must embrace consumer demand and make it easier for consumers or suffer. I think companies changing to accommodate consumer demand is the only reason the music companies have survived. Litigation cannot solve it.
  3. Hardware investment gets expensive every few years.

My solution? Wait and see.

The Outsourced Brain

 

I have relinquished control over my decisions to the universal mind. I have fused with the knowledge of the cybersphere, and entered the bliss of a higher metaphysic. The Outsourced Brain – New York Times

Facetiousness aside, it does point out how others are consumed by these tools rather than consume them.

Tom-Tom is pretty cool, but I find the adventure of figuring out where I am going by using a map more fun but not nearly as fun as mentally envisioning where I am located based on memory and probability from what I little know of the area. I’ve ridden in a car where the people had a Tom-Tom or other GPS system. I’d tell them to ignore it and go another way, but they wanted to go where the GPS said to go… So we did and got there by a route I would not have chosen.

Some people suggest one should keep a journal and dump out all the concerns for a good night’s sleep. A low tech external brain if you will… I find writing all that down keeps me up well into the night. 🙁 Outsourcing all thinking? No thanks… I need to keep my brain active to stave off dementia. (Note to self: Pick up Sudoku or Brain Age pronto.)

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We all lose

Survey: Consumers lose to online schemes – Yahoo! News:

[C]onsumers lost $630 million over the past two years to e-mail scams.

That is nothing compared to the $7.8 billion people spent on computer repair. I’m interested in how many consumers are victims of email scams. Also, the median amount lost.

Guess I’ll have to do some research at Consumer Reports and other places. 🙁

Sushi Means Rice?

This came up a while ago. Now I need a food category….

SushiFAQ.com – The Sushi FAQ – Sushi Information

Technically, the word `sushi’ refers to the rice, but colloquially, the term is used to describe a finger-size piece of raw fish or shellfish on a bed of vinegared rice. This can be eaten as is, or is often dipped into shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) and then eaten. Often, much care is put into the creation of the dish and the many methods of preparing the food indicate the importance of appearance to the educated consumer.

BellSouth vs. Google – Round 1

What about the customers? Companies all too often play chicken. It is the consumers who get screwed. A few years ago, a Sun vs. Microsoft disagreement meant no adequate Java Runtime Environment for the brand new Windows XP personal computers for months. Developers for online classes often tap Java for mini-applications (HTML editors, chat, file managers, etc.). No Java? May as well find an old computer that does or drop or fail. Sorry….

The Jeff Pulver Blog: Jeff Pulver to Eric Schmidt: Turn the Tide – Turn off BellSouth!

Given the market power that Google has today, they are more relevant to the Internet community than BellSouth. Given that, if I were running Google today, I would choose to implement a BellSouth Boycott and stop offering access to Google to BellSouth customers and would start advertising Cox Cable service on any requests that came from BellSouth customers in their regions. I’m willing to wager that by Q3 2006, BellSouth’s DSL group will feel the effects of their grave error in judgment.

As the battle between the Internet Access Providers and Internet Application Providers rages on, it is the customers who will be hurt more than any of the underlying companies selling access or offering applications. Welcome to the game of Internet Chicken and the race to mutually assured destruction. Who will flinch first before it is too late?

Customers are not all as dumb as you think. Placing ads to BellSouth’s competitors on through the BS network would not convert many. They listen to people like me, who would view Google acting like a bully as very, very counter to what we like about Google. At that point, I would remove Google as our search engine of choice and drive my clients to Yahoo!