Tag Archives: ebay

We’ve Been Stumbled Upon By Stumbleupon.com

Like many bloggers, we like to look at the visitor statistics for our blog. In our case, that’s a combination of the stats which WordPress.com provides, and the wonderful free statistics we get from Statcounter.com.

Since we started RoutingByRumor late last year, we’ve become accustomed to the ebb and flow of traffic to our blog. Weekly traffic patterns are very predictable. Generally speaking, Saturday is the slowest day of the week, followed by Sunday, which is generally only marginally busier. Midweek tends to see the most traffic, and we’ve seen a pronounced drop in traffic during the summer months, particularly in August. It’s so predictable, that we can usually forecast to within a percent or two, what the traffic on any particular day will be. It sort of reminds us of how precisely electric utilities can predict electricity demand, based on day of the week, time of year, outside temperature, wind speed, cloud cover, etc.

We’ve read much into these patterns. We believe that most web surfing, or at least most blog reading, is probably done while at work. Sometimes you can prove this based on the DNS information associated with visitors IP addresses, such as RealBigCorporation.com (a hypothetical example). We see very predictable traffic patterns to each posting on our blog. Certain articles are perennial favorites, while other posts hardly ever muster any readers (a terrible shame, since we can attest to the fact that every single one of our posts are of excellent quality and worthy of your consideration). We never know ahead of time which of our articles will attract lots of traffic, and which ones will live their life in solitary confinement. Perhaps THIS article about Stumbleupon will be a big hit. Then again, maybe not. It’s difficult to predict. Sometimes, events in the news cause a particular article on our blog to explode in popularity for a few days.

If we’ve learned one thing, it’s that the popularity can be very fleeting. Another is that anything you post related to a scandal, public figures in the news, or some dirt being dished about someone, seems to attract many more visitors than any article you can post with any redeeming value. Sadly, the latest piece of trash about Brittany Spears will attract much more traffic than an announcement that you’ve found a cure for cancer, a solution to global warming and the key to world peace. It doesn’t say much about how discerning the average web surfer is, and it’s also probably why supermarket tabloids sell so well. Up until this past weekend, when Stumbleupon opened the floodgates of hell, the most traffic we ever saw at RoutingByRumor was in the days following our posting of this article. What a sad commentary on the human race.

While visitor statistics usually don’t tell us which search engine a visitor used to find us, it’s probably a good bet that it’s usually Google, the 10,000 pound gorilla of search engines. Thanks, Sergey! WordPress alerts Google and other search engines when new content os posted to a blog. It’s kind of scary how fast Google usually indexes our latest posting. Things usually appear to a limited extent in Google results immediately, with a fuller indexing within 24 to 48 hours.

Unless something pops up in the news that is in some way related to one of our articles, there aren’t many surprises. We see some unexplained transient spikes in traffic to certain articles, but that’s generally all. So, we had to do a double take this past weekend, when traffic to a single article on our blog shot up around 10,000 % or about 100 times more than what we normally see. Our first impression was that it was some sort of problem with the stats. It wasn’t. Good thing that WordPress doesn’t charge us for bandwidth usage !!!

What happened ? We had been “stumbled upon” by stumbleupon.com, which we had never heard of. More specifically, a stumbleupon.com member named Bizspotter stumbled this post of ours.

Apparently, Stumbleupon is part search engine, part social networking site, and part viral marketing tool. Wikipedia describes Stumbleupon this way… “StumbleUpon chooses which Web page to display based on the user’s ratings of previous pages, ratings by his/her friends, and by the ratings of users with similar interests“. Sounds like an interesting concept. Similar to how a site like Amazon suggests to you that people who bought this item also bought these other items, or iTunes telling you that people who bought this album also liked these other albums.

The fact of the matter is that it looks to us like Stumbleupon is the crack cocaine of traffic generators. Why do we say this ? Because despite the incredible amount of traffic it sent to our blog in a matter of hours (it was pretty much all over by the next day), it appears that none of those visitors were the least bit interested in reading the article they landed on, or anything else we’ve blogged about. We saw absolutely no increase in click-thrus. That is, once they landed at our site, unlike many visitors who find us via a search engine, these Stumbleupon visitors didn’t stick around, and they didn’t click on any links in the article. Unlike many of the “normal” visitors to RoutingByRumor, they also didn’t read any of our other articles.

So, it appears to us that Stumbleupon serves up relevant traffic much the way that McDonald’s or Burger King serve up health food. A search engine like Google is very good at finding content on the Web that is of interest to someone doing a search. It appears that Stumbleupon does a very poor job of finding content that will interest a particular web surfer. Of course, the Stumbleupon paradigm is new to us. Perhaps there are others with more experience with products like Stumbleupon, who have a different opinion as to it’s value. Based on what we’ve seen, if we were paying for traffic to be referred to our blog, we wouldn’t pay a cent for the “junk” traffic Stumbleupon is sending our way. The sheer number of hits that stumbling a URL can generate are very impressive, but a closer look at the quality of that traffic is utterly disappointing indeed.

It makes you wonder why eBay thought that Stumbleupon was worth the $75 million they paid for it. Probably because anything on the Web these days with a social networking slant (facebook, myspace, youtube, linkedin, etc., etc., ad nauseum) is hot.  But then, eBay thought Skype was worth shelling out at least $2.6 billion for (mere pocket change). Hey, people once ridiculed William Henry Seward for spending two cents per acre for a piece of land called Alaska ! We guess that when you have as much money as eBay, dropping a billion here and a billion there isn’t a big deal.  Besides, have you noticed that most big business deals aren’t measured in terms of millions of dollars anymore, but rather in the billions of dollars.  I don’t think it’s inflation so much as it is proof that wealth is being concentrated more and more in a smaller and smaller percentage of society, certainly in the United States, and no doubt elsewhere.  It’s also a result of the shift in our economy, away from dominance by companies like IBM, AT&T and General Motors, to the new billionaires… The Microsofts, Googles, eBays and WordPresses of the world.  (Oops… how did WordPress slip in there ?)  If it doesn’t end in “.com”, it doesn’t really matter anymore.  But I digress.

Of course, we’re probably just a wee bit out of touch with the masses when it comes to appreciating some of the finer websites the Web has to offer. For instance, we can’t quite understand why anyone with even the slightest semblance of a life would find myspace.com the least bit interesting, but at least a few myspace users would probably disagree with us. Myspace claims to have blown by the 100 million user mark more than two years ago, and we’ve seen reports that more than 250,000 new myspace accounts are created daily. Gee whiz… it’s almost as popular as RoutingByRumor !

On the one hand, we were underwhelmed by Stumbleupon. On the other hand, we know when we’re outnumbered (IYCBEJE**). So, if you liked this article, Stumble It!

– Routing By Rumor

(** IYCBEJE – If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em)

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Another One Bites The Dust – Bennigan’s Restaurants

We’ve been playing a lot of Queen lately, here at Routing By Rumor world headquarters. Especially this tribute to all of the victims of the U.S. economy. It’s too bad that Washington still can’t bring itself to accepting what most Americans already know.

The latest victims are the restaurants owned by S&A Restaurant Corp., which is part of Texas-based Metromedia Restaurant Group, which is part of the privately held Metromedia Company, owned by the 93-year-old billionaire philanthropist John Werner Kluge.

About John Kluge…

Columbia University in New York City announced last year that Mr. Kluge had pledged $400 million to the University, the largest gift in it’s history. With a little less than $10 billion to his name, poor Mr. Kluge is all the way down at #31 on Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest Americans, just below Nike’s Philip Knight, but ahead of eBay’s Pierre Omidyar.

Apparently, all of their company owned locations in the United States have closed, and they have filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This past June, Metromedia disputed the accuracy of this report in the Wall Street Journal, that claimed they had already prepared a bankruptcy filing. There were about 150 company owned Bennigan’s restaurants, and 58 Steak and Ale restaurants. Apparently, a smaller number of franchised Bennigan’s locations in the United States and elsewhere are remaining open for now. Restaurants operating under the Ponderosa Steakhouse and Bonanza Steakhouse brands, also owned by Metromedia Restaurant Group, appear to be staying open for now.

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John Werner Kluge (photo credit: columbia.edu)

As has been the case at many other companies that have crashed and burned, many Bennigan’s employees were unaware of the closings until they showed up for work last Tuesday, and were greeted by a sign on the locked front door giving them the good news (If you look closely at the photos in this article from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about the closings, we believe you’ll see a locksmith changing the lock on the front door at a Fort Worth, Texas Bennigan’s …yup, good call, since this article identifies the locksmith!). What ever happened to the good old two weeks notice when your job is about to self-destruct ? OK, maybe two weeks is asking too much… how about 24 hours notice. Maybe it’s just us, but we don’t think that any employer worth working for would treat their employees that way. We think it shows a complete lack of class. We understand that S&A Restaurant Corp. was probably in dire financial straits, but couldn’t they have done better by their employees ?

These days, it is standard procedure for employers to state right there on the job application that it is “employment at will”, and they can terminate you at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. For certain, this is driven by the fear of lawsuits, but how the hell can they expect to hire employees who will be committed to the company, if the company won’t make any commitment to their employees ? To us, this is a prime example of the sorry state of American business in the 21st century. And employers wonder why they can’t find loyal, dedicated employees. They wonder why people quit without giving them fair notice. How much notice did Metromedia give their employees about the fact that they would be closing their doors? None. Yet there were published reports a month or two earlier that Metromedia had already prepared a bankruptcy filing.  Shame on you, Mr. Kluge. Those were some of your hardest working and lowest paid employees, who helped you get to #31 on the Forbes list. Welcome to the era of the disposable employee.

In our mind, employees of other Metromedia businesses have every right to simply pick up the phone one day, and tell their boss they won’t be coming to work any more.  If management at any company has a problem with loyalty like that, just remind them that it was their decision to classify you as an “at will” employee, and that you are simply exercising the freedom that being “at will” gives you.

The asymptotically decreasing tenures of the last few CEO’s at Metromedia Restaurant Group (MRG) may shed some light on the troubles at the company. Clay Dover resigned as CEO in late May after holding that position for about six months. Mr. Dover had previously held other positions at MRG, and had replaced Vince Runco, who had been MRG’s CEO for less than a year. Mr. Runco replaced Jeff Moody, who was CEO for about 18 months. Mr. Moody had replaced John Todd, who held the CEO title at MRG for just shy of two years.

Published reports have questioned whether the affected employees will be receiving their paychecks for hours worked up until the restaurant closures, and whether consumers who hold gift cards from the two chains will receive refunds. Our advice… don’t hold your breath. Of course, if Metromedia Restaurant Group wanted to show it’s loyal customers some goodwill, they could announce that gift cards from their Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale restaurants will be honored at their Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouse locations. But again, don’t hold your breath.

The minimally carnivorous, quasi-vegetarian staff at Routing by Rumor has never set foot in either a Bennigan’s or a Steak and Ale, so we don’t know if we missed much, but for thousands of their employees now out of work, it’s a disaster. Restaurant workers are among the lowest paid workers, and in the very tough economic times we are experiencing now, they will have a difficult time finding employment.

This brings up another hardship that restaurant workers in the United States are subject to. Many employees allege that they are forced to share their tips with managers and other employees. By law, employers can’t require employees to share their tips with management. To make matters worse, restaurant workers are not subject to the same minimum wage standards that other workers are protected by. As long as their salary plus their tips equal the mandated minimum wage, their employers are within the law. This means that in many cases, they are paid virtually nothing by their employers. Here’s an article from Nation’s Restaurant News, that describes many of the abuses that restaurant employees allege, and some of the litigation that has resulted, involving some of the largest and best known restaurant chains in the country, including names like Applebee’s, which is owned by IHOP.

As of this morning, it appeared that the websites for Bennigan’s (www.bennigans.com), Steak and Ale (www.steakandale.com), and Metromedia Restaurant Group (www.metromediarestaurants.com) had all been taken down. And the vultures are already starting to swoop down and pick through Bennigan’s remains. Check out this article about a locksmith that was hired to change the locks at a Florida Bennigan’s location, and decided to load up his van with liquor and food that remained in the restaurant. He got caught.

– Routing By Rumor

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What Are They Smoking Over At Blockbuster ?

What are they smoking over at Blockbuster ?

…because whatever it is, I want some.

Previously, we wrote about how Circuit City Stores, Inc. was basically, a dead company walking. We believe that the management of Circuit City irreparably damaged their company and their brand, by their really, really dumb decisions. Not only were they terrible choices from a business perspective, but they also proved that the company lacked a conscience and a soul. Circuit City sealed their own fate just over a year ago. We wrote that we would never again set foot in a Circuit City store, and that vow applies regardless of who buys the company, or what they might rename it. We think the American public feels the same way about Circuit City. They’re done.

It’s over for Circuit City. We’re as surprised as anyone that they are still in business today. If someone pays a nickel for the company, they’re paying about five cents too much. Besides, we think that buying Circuit City at this juncture, with the hope of turning it around, is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Aside from being an incredibly stupid business decision, any company that tries to breathe new life into Circuit City is also being terribly inhumane. We think the best and most compassionate thing at this point would be euthanasia. We’ve already said our goodbyes and gotten over Circuit City.

As incredible as it seems, Blockbuster is actually talking $1 billion for Circuit City (see “Is Circuit City Up For Sale?”, Businessweek, April 8, 2008, and “Blockbuster Weighing Options To Fund Circuit City Bid”, Reuters, April 21, 2008). Reminds us of eBay’s $2.6 billion purchase of Skype. If I was a Blockbuster shareholder, I’d be running for the nearest exit right about now. About the only idea in the past 100 years more ill-conceived than Blockbuster’s interest in Circuit City, was Circuit City’s interest in DIVX. Consumers quickly drove a stake thru the heart of DIVX.

This whole thing reminds us of a comment that Sun Microsystems’ Scott McNealy once made about the then-proposed merger between Hewlett-Packard and Compaq… “It’s like two garbage trucks backing into each other in slow motion. (Beep, beep, beep…thunk)”. (see story at news.com)

If we may employ a railroad analogy, what we have here is the Circuit City Express. It’s heading down a steep grade, picking up steam, and the the bridge over Recession Gorge is dead ahead. Nobody involved seems to have noticed that the bridge has been washed out. The railroad did have experienced people who were familiar with the dangers on this route, but they were all replaced with employees who now earn just above minimum wage. Smart move. Inexperience notwithstanding, the bumpy ride over the last few miles should have tipped off the crew that something is very, very wrong.

On the one hand, you have Blockbuster, who thinks that this train is a good investment at $1.3 billion. On the other hand, you have the geniuses at Circuit City, who are scoffing at the paltry offer. Nobody seems to realize that what they are bickering over is an impending train wreck. Blockbuster is offering the passengers a way to get off the train, and the passengers are turning their noses up at the offer. It’s hard to tell whose judgment is worse. The employees that the railroad booted off the train a few miles back don’t realize how lucky they are.

Meanwhile, back in Dallas, Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes is sitting in his office, reading a book about an optimistic locomotive, and keeps repeating to himself “I think I can… I think I can”. Perhaps Mr. Keyes should put down the book, and check to see if they have this DVD at Blockbuster.

It’s too late for this to be an April Fools joke, so we’re guessing that Blockbuster is actually serious.

With our sincerest apologies to the late Richard P. Feynman

Surely you’re joking, Mr. Keyes !

– RoutingByRumor

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eBay – A Buyer’s Market or a Seller’s Market?

ebay.jpg

I love eBay. I hate eBay. I’ve used eBay since 1999.

If you are looking for a hard to find, vintage, used, discontinued or rare item, eBay is the first place to look. If you want to find the latest tech gadget at less than retail, check eBay first. A lot of people won’t even consider buying something online or at a “brick-and-mortar” local retailer without checking the price on eBay first.

With all those “Get Rich Selling On eBay” books and seminars out there, you would think everybody could quit their day job and watch the money pour in when they become an eBay seller. Don’t bet on it. Most eBay sellers hardly make enough to make it worthwhile. When you factor in the amount of time you have to invest to set up an auction, respond to buyer’s questions, deal with deadbeat bidders, and pack & ship the item, and the cost of eBay’s and PayPal’s fees, it’s hard to make a profit. Meg Whitman, eBay’s CEO, and eBay’s stockholders have made fortunes on eBay. If you want to make money on eBay, buy some eBay stock rather than trying to sell on eBay.

eBay has incrementally introduced new features over time that makes it a more secure and useful platform, but eBay has also devolved into an uneven playing field that benefits few but eBay itself. In category after category, you have sellers selling items for pennies, but charging outrageous amounts for “shipping”. Even the majority of sellers who aren’t selling through “Buy-It-Now” auctions for $0.01 are still inflating their shipping charges to try and make some money. This is especially true with sellers from countries like Chins, which have become a larger and larger presence on eBay.

I’ve seen it over and over again… For example, very small items selling for a few pennies, but with a $29.00 shipping fee. Shipping that will cost the seller anywhere from a first-class postage stamp to perhaps a dollar or two. Few buyers or sellers seem to care much about the practice, and eBay is certainly not complaining. There is so much competition between sellers that they all have to resort to this tactic. eBay actually helps sellers inflate their shipping fees by allowing them to build their margin into eBay’s auction shipping charge calculator.

Why is this happening? eBay does not charge a commission (final-value fee) for shipping charges assessed by a seller, so sellers shift all or most of an item’s cost to the shipping fee. eBay appears to have made no serious attempt to curb this practice. Why? I think it’s because eBay also owns PayPal, the bank thru which the vast majority of eBay transactions are paid for. If eBay doesn’t get their cut thru auction fees, it will still earn it’s money through PayPal fees.

If you’re looking for a bargain on the latest high-tech gadget, I doubt you’ll find a bargain on eBay. Items that are in demand usually sell for prices close to retail, especially when you add in the “shipping” charge. Most eBay sellers will not accept returns or issue refunds. Many manufacturers will not honor rebates or warranties on items purchased thru online auctions. While most sellers do a good job of describing an item and it’s condition, some do not. Some are deceptive.

For items like used or out-of-print books or DVDs, eBay is great, and there are many bargains available. I think eBay has done more for the environment by keeping stuff out of landfills than any recycling program has ever done. If you want to get rid of it, don’t throw it out. Put it on eBay.

One of eBay’s strengths is it’s feedback system. I like the very democratic rating system, where buyers get to rate and comment on sellers and vice versa. It encourages people to treat other eBayers they deal with fairly. It also holds you hostage to some extent. You have to avoid giving negative feedback to someone you’ve dealt with, even if it is justified, for fear of receiving retaliatory negative feedback. The feedback system is a double-edged sword.

…When I continue, I’ll discuss some of the issues I’ve touched on in greater detail.

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Filed under China, Consumerism, ebay, Employment, Environment, Home, Life, Money, Movies, Rebates, Retail, Retailers, Scams, Shopping, Technology, The Planet

The Walmartization of America

Wal-mart

<walmart-bashing-mode>

What better way to start my blog than by bashing Wal-mart? After all, they are the retail behemoth that people love to hate. I guess it must be jealousy.

I was never in a Sams Club or Wal-mart store until last year, when a Walmart sprung up about 15 minutes from my home. With their reputation for low wages, poor or non-existent employee benefits and brutal business practices, I wasn’t too eager to become a Wal-mart customer. In fact, the rumor around here is that “Sam’s Club” actually refers to the big stick that Sam Walton would use to beat up his suppliers and the competition. They don’t call us Routing by Rumor for nothing. I did want to check them out, however, to see if their prices were really that good. I consider myself a very savvy shopper. OK, I’ll admit it… I’ve now shopped there several times since they opened.

My first impression was that Wal-mart is K-Mart on steroids. (I hate K-Mart, and won’t shop there.) Wal-mart is very similar to Target stores also. Lots of low-end merchandise. Cheap shoes. Cheap clothes. Not cheap as in inexpensive; cheap as in, well, cheap. I think Target tries to position itself as selling somewhat more upscale clothing. I’ll call it “cheap chic”. And don’t forget that K-Mart has (or had) Martha Stewart. I guess we’re talking higher quality made-in-China merchandise.

Wal-mart does sell many staple items at rock-bottom prices, but many other popular items are priced no lower than other retailers. You can do better on many, perhaps most items at most other chains or supermarkets, especially when an item is on sale, and particularly on grocery items. I felt that some of Wal-mart’s private-label food items I tried were of inferior quality, and not a very good value. Kind of ironic, since one of their private-label grocery brands is called “Great Value”.

Prices seem to jump around a lot at Walmart. Their price “roll backs” come and go, and I’ve seen some items, especially on the last few visits, jump 20%, 25%, or more. I think the bottom line is that you save on one item, but give back what you just saved when you pick up the next item and place it in your basket.

Being the geek that I am, I gravitate to the electronics department of any store I find myself in. I found a few bargains there, but in general, you can do much, much better buying stuff online, a la Amazon or ebay. On some really hot items, like Apple iPods, Wal-mart prices are pretty close to MSRP. I’ve found some small local or regional electronics chains that beat Wal-mart’s prices on electronics by 10% or more.

One thing I’ll concede about Wal-mart, though, is that returns are never a hassle. They seem to be much more consumer-friendly with returns than many large retailers are these days. One other thing that you’ll only find at Wal-mart is that they sell the local newspaper for half-price. I’ve never seen anyone discounting a newspaper at the newsstand, much less selling it for half-price. Obviously, it’s a gimmic, but it is a nice little surprise.

They have gotten a lot of good press lately because of their very low prices for generic prescription drugs. They also have excellent prices on their house-branded OTC drugs. I guess these cheap drugs make up in some small way for the otherwise poor health benefits they offer their employees. Then again, if you can’t afford to see a doctor, you can’t get a prescription for the cheap medicine. Another Wal-mart paradox, I suppose.

What surprises me most about Walmart is how many items are out of stock on each shopping trip. I don’t think it’s so much a case of them having a run on many items, as it is a logistical or management problem. I suppose the really talented, experienced retail people don’t apply for jobs at Walmart. That’s not to say that they don’t have good people working there. They do, and I empathize with anybody that works hard and does not get a decent salary and benefits. Is America better off with the Walmarts, Home Depots and other giants that have decimated virtually all of their retail competition? I think not.

</walmart-bashing-mode>

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