Why I shop online

It all started with fax paper. I needed it for my now antique fax machine which I use in lieu of a copy machine. So I go to one of those warehouse-like office supply stores that could double as an aircraft hanger.

It's always a mistake for me to go to these places, because inevitably things find their way home that I never intended to buy. Paper in mesmerizing colors. Industrial size packages of pens sporting rubbery grips that will last well into the next millennium.

Being summer, the store is like the inside of the oven. Literally. The ceiling is even covered in some kind of foil, and for a second I have one of those flashes where you temporarily forget where you are and imagine yourself doing the backstroke in au jus, then snuggling up to a potato as if it was a life preserver. I have a sudden craving for a sprig of parsley. Surely that happens to you all the time, too.

I find the fax paper (quite a feat without a Sherpa), then manage to find my way back to civilization—or at least the cash register.

While waiting in a line that appears longer than "Hands Across America," I'm forced to stand irresistibly close to all manner of items I don't need but will inevitably want. I find an item fitting this description—a USB extension cable. This is something I didn't even know existed before entering this oversized easy-bake oven.

Suddenly I cannot live without it. I realize that this piece of plastic and metal will allow me to plug things into my USB port without having to fight my way through a jungle of cables that, in low light, can seem like all those snakes in that Indiana Jones movie. And it's on sale!

By the time I reach the register I feel like I've crossed the Sahara and am so parched I would actually considering drinking a Mountain Dew. The only explanation for this is that I am clearly half-crazed with dehydration.

So when I hand over my credit card and see that $8 fax paper and $15 cable have magically totaled $35, I almost don't notice. And even though my mouth is too dry to speak, I point the cashier to the posted price. Gee, she's sorry, but she can't give me a refund, I'll have to trek over to customer service.

By the time the woman behind the counter gets off the phone I am now at a point where I'd actually pay for a paper cup filled with tap water. I explain the problem, walk a half mile under the broiler to where I got the cable, show her the two signs with the sale price, wait while she tries to explain that the signs are for a different item, even though the item number is the same and the only items in sight are the one I was overcharged for. Then, suddenly she says, "OK, but I don't know how to fix that."

I start wondering if it's worth $10 to go through this. The manager arrives, tells her what to do, she takes my credit card and disappears. I wait, tempted to buy some more pens, all the while hoping she's not online buying herself airline tickets.

Then I hear her say, "Oh no!" which is not encouraging, then "Oh, that's bad," which is even less encouraging. Finally, she comes back and explains it: She charged it. Then credited the original charge. Then credited it a second time, then charged it again. By this time I don't know if I've gotten my $10 back, or if it's cost me $10 more.

But since a bottle of fountain pen ink is starting to look thirst-quenching, and I fear that my wife, sitting in the car in the sun, will end up unconscious or at the very least unpleasant from heat frustration I just sign the credit card receipts...

And people wonder why e-commerce keeps growing... e-commerce isn't perfect, but I have to say it's never taken me 30 minutes to check out, all the while being made to feel like a brisket.

So while e-commerce stocks tumble, and "industry pundits" and so-called "analysts" try to proclaim that e-commerce is dead (ABC news even has a splashy little graphic they call the "dot com deathwatch,") what's dead are the brains of those pundits. No, not all e-commerce sites will survive—not all stores or companies of any kind do.

But your site can if you sell something unique, and provide good service. You can reach more people than you ever could even with a large, foil covered barn.

Daniel (Rocky J.) Will-Harris,


Color Smart: Pick A Peck Of Palettes

If you're confused about what colors you should use on your web site, you're not alone. Mary J. Carter presents a series of pre-designed color palettes that help your web site achieve the feeling you want. It's an easy and fun way to help you communicate more colorfully!

Making Your Prose Poetic

I know, you think that your home page has to be no-nonsense business. "Just the facts ma'am." While facts are fine (and necessary), making your text more interesting can help you achieve your goals. Poetry packs so much into so little that when you start to understand it, you can use poetic devices to make your prose more persuasive. Chris J. Meeks tells you how.

Setting Yourself Apart From The Competition

Now that you've hung out your shingle for the world to see, step back for a moment and look at what makes you so special. David J. Lewis helps you pinpoint and communicate your strengths so that potential customers can immediately learn why they should choose you.

A Makeover For Central Community Church

The Central Community Church asked for a helping hand to simplify their web site, which was illustrated with a variety of unrelated clip art and animations, and make the site faster. Makeover man Gary J. Priester shows there's nothing wrong with clip art—as long as you use it consistently and meaningfully.


Accept Credit Card Payments On Your Web Site

Speaking of e-commerce, one of the questions I'm asked most often (after "doesn't the top of your head get sunburned") is "How do I accept credit cards on my web site?"

There are two easy answers.

http://www.paypal.com is the leader in this field. Originally known as the company that let you e-mail money to anyone else with e-mail and the most popular payment method on eBay, their new "WebAccept" system is easy, efficient, secure and international. Just add a link, and they give you a secure system.

Paypal's system works well and is very inexpensive (no signup or monthly fee, just 2.5% of the sales price). You can leave the price blank so visitors can enter the amount they want to give—perfect for donations. Customers who already use PayPal only need to enter their e-mail address—the system already has their other account info, almost like Amazon's one-click ordering.

http://www.ccnow.com is another alternative that works well. I used to use it myself, but I've switched to PayPal, because more people use it, which means that customers who are already signed up can buy things more quickly.

CCnow is as easy as adding a link to your web site, it's secure, they provide toll-free customer service (for you and your customers) in the US, accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express (PayPal doesn't accept Amex). What's more, because they're located in Delaware, orders within the US don't require sales tax.

There's no signup or monthly fee. They take 9% of the sales price. That may sound high, if you do less than $6,000 in sales a year it's about the same price as a merchant account. Yes, it's more expensive than PayPal, but you might want to add it to your site to accept American Express.

Futuristic E-Commerce For Your Feet

If you want to see a truly cutting edge e-commerce site—where flashy technology isn't just window dressing, but in fact an integral part of the store—a new way to design your own shoes. You must take a look at http://www.customatix.com

Customatix lets you customize nine basic styles of shoes (four different athletic shoes, three different running shoes and two different styles of boots). You can choose colors, materials, and according to their site, select from "up to three billion trillion (that's over 3,420,833,472,000,000,300,000) combinations of colors, graphics, logos and materials." I figured it was pointless to count, so I just thought I'd quote them.

There are two great things about this site—one, it's actually fun. It becomes like a game, "What would that part look like in this color..." Well, just click the part and click the color and you can see. (The first time I tried the site it used a more traditional method where the page refreshed with each selection, but once I signed up for free, it downloaded a small program that made the process more interactive—select a section, then a color or fabric, and voila, faster than you can say "no one else is going to have this exact combination" you can see it on-screen.)

The second great thing is that they're really doing something different. They're not just selling shoes—they're selling a new way for you to get just the shoes you want. Want black with purple trim and red laces? Want yellow soles and red patent leather uppers? You can customize nine different "zones" on boots, up to 14 on the other shoes (you can even choose a photographic pattern for the soles—my personal favorite is a picture of the bottom of a foot).

Once you order, the shoes are custom made for you in Asia—and the site goes into detail about the people who make the shoes, and promises that their working conditions are good.

While it's clear that a lot of time, money and technology went into making this site, there are lessons you can learn from it. If you make custom-made crafts, perhaps you can let your customers choose the details (and do it in a simple, low-tech way just by letting them see many different variations).

And it will be interesting to see if, in the future, "off the web rack" starts to be more like "custom made."

Need e-biz help? Talk to David Lewis

With clients like NetObjects Inc., Front Porch Digital Inc. and Industry Canada, taybridge.communications has established itself by providing excellent service and quality on-line services from project management to web design to technical and copy writing. Experience what doing business should be like. Find Taybridge on the web at http://www.taybridge.com

Making Your Copy Shine

No matter how polished your Web site design and graphics are, if your text contains spelling and grammatical errors, it makes you look less professional. Everyone makes mistakes, but the trick is to try to make as few as possible.

Judith Selby has been copy editing the articles on eFuse since the start (if you find mistakes in the FuseLetter they're not her fault!)--and has done an incredible job. She's all the things a good editor should be: careful, yet sensitive. While some editors trample over text and change its tone and even occasionally its meaning, Judith's editing is transparent—she makes things better, without making them too different. That's a difficult skill, and Judith is one of the rare copy editors who can do that.

The Web's been great for her because as the mother of two small children, she can continue to use her expertise and work—yet stay at home with the kids.

So if your site (or presentations, proposals, articles or any other text) needs an eagle-eye once over, Judith, from her http://www.editshop.com can help—and I personally recommend her.

Float like a butterfly, brand like a bee

If you've been to sites like msJNBC, Geocities, and others, you've seen how they have logos or ads that float down the page as you scroll. It's a neat and useful feature, but in the past it used to require a lot of complex JavaScript coding.

Now, if you use NetObjects Fusion, it's easy. Just use coolmap's 48th Fusion component, "SitckUp." Drop it on your page, and voila, the component generates all the necessary code and your logo, ad, or whatever, stays in front of your site visitor. To read more about it, and purchase it, click here.


One Final Word

Two years ago, to the day, eFuse was born. It's been a good two years, thanks to you!




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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.