Thursday, November 19, 2009

Purchasing Toilet Paper Online

There's something faintly ridiculous with ordering deodorant and trash bags online and having them shipped to my home. It feels a bit lazy and excessive. But, it's not.

I came across a website last week called Alice, a quirky online retailer that sells every day household items. Their thinking is that certain items (detergent, paper towels, toothpaste) do not require much thinking during the consideration process, since consumers are pretty brand loyal with many of the products that they use.

Alice offers free shipping on all items, which is a major benefit. While shipments require at least six items, they will send them to your front door at no cost.

I signed up with Alice and placed an order about 5 days before the items actually arrived at my house. Sure, this requires a bit of planning, but it's not much of an issue. Alice also lets customers set reminders for when they will need to repurchase, say, shaving cream (I set all of mine to "no reminder," as I'm pretty confident that I'll be aware of when I am running low).

I compared prices on the items I purchased at Alice with those on Peapod (the local delivery service for Stop & Shop). I located 5 of the 7 items on both sites, and Alice actually cost 9 cents less for the common basket of goods. Factoring in the Peapod delivery charge ($6-$7, plus a minimum purchase, I believe), Alice is definitely a good deal in this comparison.

Of course, I could always still buy these items at the grocery store during my weekly trips. But then again, perhaps I could reserve my in-person shopping trips for fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, and dairy, which would in turn expand my shopping options and not limit them to the larger grocery stores. I love buying produce at local farmer's markets. Perhaps Alice might lead to fewer grocery store runs altogether.

I suppose that if I find household items on sale while I'm already at my local Shaw's, then I'll pick them up there. But my brand of napkins are not always on sale when I need them. Sometimes, it's full price or nothing.

Now, Alice isn't exactly going to be sending me a turkey and fresh butternut squash for Thanksgiving (while Peapod can), but that's not a problem. That's not their role.

My brand of toilet paper is my brand of toilet paper - it's a utilitarian product.

I would imagine that in some major urban downtown areas - Manhattan for example - where the cost of goods are probably far greater than in the suburbs, that Alice is a welcome alternative. I can see some major cost savings for New Yorkers.

I'm not totally sold on Alice, but I have no reason to dislike them yet. Their website is easy to use, their social media presence is helpful, and their communications with me haven't been excessive. Perhaps after a few more shipments, they will become a necessary part of my existence.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Goodbye 18-34

Today is my final day as a coveted member of the 18-34 demographic.

In a few hours, I will no longer be significant to Spike TV, WWE, and Amp Energy Drink. Single-player shooting games should no longer be on my radar screen. I will no longer count toward the targeted ratings of many TV shows.

I entered this demographic many years ago, while still in college. Sophomore year, to be specific. I was likely suffering through Immunology and Organic Chemistry lectures during my highly misguided third semester as a pre-med student.

Overnight, I'm in the same 35-64 demo as my parents. While 25-54 is more highly cited, 35-64 ratings are published. Theoretically, I'm supposed to enjoy smooth jazz and oldies radio far more tomorrow than I did today. I suppose a cutoff is necessary, and I have reached it.

I just don't feel my age. Not physically, not mentally. Minus some grey hair, I don't look it either. That's not boastful - that's a vast majority of people who guess my age guess incorrectly. Most of my social circles these days include younger folk. Perhaps that keeps me from aging.

I'm at the tail end of Generation X - a bunch of apparent slackers who fueled the Internet boom (and bust). It's the group that I identify with more than any 18-34, 25-54, or 35-64 label. Early MTV, 80's music, and grunge rock - that's me.

Last night, Mike reminded me that on Wednesday, I will officially be closer to 40 than I will be to 30. Thanks for the reminder.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Shameful Subscriber Trickery from Men's Health

I think the magazine subscription industry can be unscrupulous and sneaky. I realize that prices for consumer goods vary from store to store, and that it's important to shop around.

Dealing with subscriptions isn't always that simple.

Sure there are many manners in which one can subscribe. I have used all of the following: Resellers,, Direct from the publisher, and Using airlines points for free subscriptions.

When it comes time for renewal, that's when the irritation sets in.

Consistently, magazine publishers extend better offers to acquire new customers than they do to their existing customer base. Don't they realize that these offers are easily accessible by the users of their products (i.e. subscribers like myself), and create a fair amount of resentment among the customer base of people who they should be embracing and rewarding?

I have called a number of magazines when it comes time for renewal and I find a far better deal right on the magazine's website. The latest culprit here is Men's Health.

Their CRM cadence is quite off here - first I received an email a few days ago, mentioning that my subscription had been automatically renewed but they had not received payment yet. Funny, I thought. I never received an invoice.

So I clicked on the link to pay, and saw the terms - 10 issues, $29.97. I thought that was a little steep. 3 bucks for each issue?

So I checked the offer that they had on their website, and saw that 20 issues were being offered for $29.97. I also saw that they had an online customer service chat feature. So, I engaged them in a chat and explained the problem.

After a brief chat and without any pushback, I received this message (the chat transcript was emailed to me) "From time to time lower subscription prices are offered under certain circumstances. We will be happy to honor your request for this price."

Certain circumstances? A lower offer online during the same day when an email is sent out with a link to a higher offer to an existing long-term customer like myself? Please.

I then received a letter in the mail, which probably should have arrived before their email, as it didn't seem to indicate that my payment was late like the email did. The letter was for the same 10 issues / $29.97 offer, and included the following:

"As a member of our Preferred Subscriber Service, your subscription to MEN'S HEALTH has been automatically extended for another year (10 issues) to Jan 11...."

Preferred Subscriber? I am preferred? Doesn't that imply some level of benefits? It appears to reward me with a convenient auto-renewal at a higher rate. That's wrong.

Although the rep claimed to have changed the term, when I clicked on the renewal link the following day, the 10 issue offer remained.

So instead of play this game with them yet again, I simply canceled my subscription. Perhaps when Men's Health figures out that a loss of a subscriber is far worse that forcing an existing subscriber to renew with the best offer, then I'll return.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

My Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones

This week, I rediscovered a lost love.

My Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones

Back in 2004, I bought a pair of these, and they arrived just in time for a massive journey to Auckland, New Zealand. I consented to helping with a last-minute trip Down Under after our first attempt at completing a research study fell a bit short, and nobody else was available to complete the project. My boss asked if I would mind flying coach since this particular ticket had to come out of my company's profit (Business Class was customary and billable for International trips back then, but we had to eat expenses associated with supplemental projects).

I found that a round-trip ticket with two week's notice was cheaper with a Saturday stay, and I managed to negotiate a few extra days off, all expenses paid, to tool around Sydney for four nights, since that plan was actually cheaper for the company than just three nights in Auckland. Not a bad deal. Go figure.

But holy Jesus those were long flights - something like 12 hours from LA to Auckland alone. My Bose headphones were miraculous.

With my limited travel these days, I don't have many opportunities to use the headphones. At my new office, though, people work in large, open work spaces, and tend to use headphones to listen to music while plugging away.

I have my regular iPhone headphones, and a pair of in-ear Bose earbuds, but NOTHING sounds as good as these Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones. I'm sure they aren't even close to the best headphones on the market, but I almost forgot how good these sound.

Earlier today, I ended up driving to work since I had a dentist appointment early this morning and was fortunate to find a Southie resident parking spot on D street, a mere 15 min walk from the office. I decided to keep the headphones on to listen to music during my walk back to the car, which resulted in the most peaceful walk through the city that I have endured.

I was in my own little world, watching the buses, trucks, and taxis whiz past me in silence. If I do that again, I'll have to make sure that I'm aware of my surroundings and don't get plowed into by a crazy driver blowing through a red light!