Why I Bought at Walmart and What Does It Say About the Future of Retail

walmart-logo-wallpapers-a-e-ibackgroundz.comI wanted a bike rack for my Honda Fit. I was going on vacation and wanted to bring our bikes. I also, having worked many years in a family owned business, wanted to buy it locally. Sometimes it just isn’t possible. Here’s my story of how I ended up shopping at WalMart despite my very best intentions.

On the Friday, three weeks before heading out to Chautuaqua Institute ( a gem of a place by the way) I called Just Ride Along (aka Pete’s Bike Shop). Seemed like plenty of time. It is the nearest serious bike store and it is located in the next town over about 15 miles away. It is a locally owned shop that carries high quality biking equipment and provides full service. I wanted to buy just once, not have to install it myself and wanted something that was well made so Pete’s seemed like the right place. He is the only “real” bike shop for many miles.

I called, he had some Thules in stock. We discussed the issues and I learned that I needed to identify whether my hitch (which I also needed installed) was a 1.25 or 2″ ball. He had both size racks in stock so I just needed (or so I thought) to get the hitch installed. He said that he wouldn’t need to set one aside as he had plenty of them.

The following Monday I called Dixie Auto, a local garage that specialized in hitches and trailer. I had to leave a message for Fred. He managed to call me back on the following Wednesday and told me the hitch would be in 5 days and he could install it then. I thought, a little annoying that it took 2 days to call me back but no worries. It would make it in by Tuesday which would leave me plenty of time to get over to Bradford and pick up the rack  and have it installed before my Sunday departure.

Well it didn’t come in until Wednesday and I couldn’t get down there until Thursday to get the hitch on. Still no worries as I figured I could head over to Pete’s on Saturday. Which I did.

Only to find a hand written sign taped to Pete’s door noting that he was on vacation and he would be back in a week. Now I recognize that Pete chose a lifestyle not slavery but his closing his doors from January to March always seemed to fill that bill in my mind. What was a bike store doing closing during August?

Stranded, not sure what to do I discovered the nearest Thules were at least 50 miles away. Hmm.. frustrated I ran over to Walmart in Bradford and they had a Bell hitch mounted rack, with the right diameter in stock. $100 less. But I had to do the assembly myself. For me living better isn’t about saving money its about saving the frustration of self assembly and getting a durable product that will last forever.

OK. What choice did I have as I was leaving the next day? I can do it, I told myself. I took the sucker home despite Walmart being my absolute last choice of purchase location and started the assembly. No written instructions, pictures only and after I had made 5 mistakes on a 4 instruction process I managed to get it installed.

While I was sitting there assembling the rack, the lawn mower repair company (A1 Rental – who names their company A1 any more) that had taken 2 months to pick up my lawn mower and another one to fix it, delivered the repaired mower. Seemed ironic as I was cursing Pete. That is a story for another day but pick up and delivery is part of the reason that I use them. They just can’t seem to remember that I called (and called and called and called) and asked for a pick up….

Lawn mower in the garage and the bike rack on the car I decided to reward myself for a job well done and head down to the locally owned cupcake shop for some coffee. Upon arrival the sign on the door said: Closed. On vacation.

So why did I buy from WalMart when that was the last thing I wanted to do? Because they do what they do very well. So well that any local business has trouble competing.

They are open 24 hours (and they don’t go on vacation). They have great logistics and inventory control. Even though this Walmart is out in the weeds, they had the one thing I needed. They agreed to take it back if I couldn’t assemble it. In fact they agreed to take it back at the Walmart closer to my house. They were there when I needed the product and they were able to deliver it with reasonable return options.

If I had known the difficulties I would have run into I would have ordered the product from the other company that has their logistic and process act together (and better quality stuff), Amazon.

I used to run a local, family business. I know how hard it is. I don’t fault these local business folks for their vacations or their lack of rigor in their processes. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to stay ahead of the inventory, scheduling and logistic advantages that the WalMart & Amazons of the world enjoy. Despite my best effort to buy from a local shop, it will happen less and less.

Olean, with its 15,000 people, once was a retail mecca. Starting around the turn of the new century and perhaps before most of the old, post WW II retailers had retired, many businesses were shutting down from the pressures of WalMart and the big box stores and it got harder and harder to find a good local retail store.

The day of the small rural local retailer has passed. But I think that the issues that I confronted in my purchase are now affecting every retailer, everywhere. What was a rural phenomenon, the closing of retail shops is now going on in urban areas as well.

The urban bookstore was the first to go. But others are leaving as well. The day of the large retailer, the likes of Staples, Sears, KMart and Best Buy seem to be coming to an end. What has already happened in Olean will continue to work its way out in every city as retailers fail.

The advantages of scale, logistics, preferential vendor t & c’s, sale per employee etc that WalMart and Amazon have accrued due to their size will continue the consolidation. Retail businesses small and large will become fewer as the movement and sale of products is consolidated into the hands of a few that are truly expert at the processes needed to get products into the hands of consumers and take them back if they don’t work.

I suppose there could always be high end bike shops and local repair shops down the road but as the likes of Amazon & WalMart move into new market places even those will be threatened. And move into new markets they must. Every product in every category is a target for them and once they are done with that they will target the services. Consolidation has taken longer in the physical world than it took in the online world.

But it seems to be on its way.

Hyperlapse – A New Tool in Your Local Content Toolbox

We live in amazing times. And there is nothing more amazing to me than a technical breakthrough like Hyperlapse, the time lapse iPhone app from the Instagram folks. The app does two things – it provides sophisticated image stabilization even when hand held and it allows you to choose the speed to the time lapse – and it does them incredibly well.

I saw this article  8 Do’s and Don’ts for Brands Exploring Instagram’s Hyperlapse (h/t to @Simpartners) and I wondered exactly how hard it would be create some local content using the app and iMovie.

The answer? Not hard. I am blessed by living in beautiful country and today was more beautiful than most. I decided to hyperlapse the bike ride that I take to work ever day.

This 3 minute video took about 20 minutes to film and another 20 to assemble into a final product. I hand held it while riding my bike (and I am sure that Matt McGee will chastise me for that).

My conclusion? Hyperlapse, when combined with some music and iMovie, is a great way to create some very sharable local content.

The end of the local marathon, the local fair, perhaps a day at the car races or the highlights of the highschool game. There are a lot of local topics that would lend themselves to this treatment. If you use it for that, please let me know.

Some production suggestions:

1-The app does a great job of auto exposure in both low and highlight situations but it doesn’t auto adjust if you change lighting. So either keep your lighting consistent or remember to touch the area of the screen that you want properly exposed. Obviously while riding a bike I was unable to do that.

2-Since you are speeding things up, you need to hold scene endings and transition shots longer than you normally would.

3-The app doesn’t do audio so you need  plan to create something interesting to go along with

PS the soundtrack is by Enchanted Mountain Green, a blue grass band that my brother played in in the 70’s and 80s.

 

LocalU Bootcamp at SMX – Sept 29th in New York

On September 29th, we’re rolling out a new classroom-style training event in conjunction with SMX East – Local U Boot Camp in New York City.

REGISTER WITH CODE WS-LUA10 FOR A 10% DISCOUNT

LocalU Bootcamp is the only workshop of its kind and provides the knowledge, processes and tools needed to help your business and the businesses of your clients prosper in Local Search. If you’re looking to develop a career in Local SEO or want to refine your current processes, this is the workshop for you. It’s also a great way to train new staff or cross-train existing staff in local search in one day. 

See full LocalU Bootcamp Agenda here.

You’ll enjoy a small group setting, concise presentations, plenty of Q & A time, complete access to the presenters, topic roundtables and the opportunity to speak directly with some of Google’s local team.

Join David Mihm, Mary Bowling, Will Scott, Mike Ramsey, Joel Headley and Ben Pavious and Abhishek Poddar of Google for this full day of learning.

If you’ve attended a Local University event in the past, you already know how valuable the knowledge you gain and contacts you’ll make at an event like this can be! 

We’re capping attendance, so register soon to avoid disappointment. 

 

Google Dropping Review Shadow Box in Serp and Going Directly to Plus?

Yesterday while doing training I noticed that Google was dropping the review shadow box from the main search results and taking users directly to the business Plus page.  Today others are noticing this as well. Nicolai Helling pointed the new behavior out on G+.

As Nicolai mentioned and I agree this change “seems to be preparatory to release a new way to insert the Google+ Local results into the main Google-SERPs” that I wrote about early in the week with the total absence of review links in the new mini pack results. 

Currently the review shadow box STILL shows for brand searches on both the link under the One Pack and in the Knowledge panel.  But on Pack results users are directed to the Plus About page. On the current Carousel a click takes the searcher to a brand search.

While it is possible that the 7-pack will survive the carousel transition to newly seen Mini Pack, all of this behavior would be consistent with changing all local results to the new mini pack as well.

Brand Search still directs to the Review Shadow Box
Brand Search & resultant knowledge panel still directs to the Review Shadow Box
click to view larger
click to view larger

 

Google My Business Now Allows Deleted Plus Pages to Be Recovered

Kaleh Kohler, a top contributor in the Google And Your Business Forum and a very astute student of all things Google Plus, has pointed out a new feature of Google My Business (aka Google Pages Dashoard) that allows the user to recover (undelete) and manage pages that have been deleted.

It would appear that it only works on Pages that are deleted subsequent to the rollout of this feature and it doesn’t seem that page deleted earlier are seen (I could be wrong about this). Once a request is made to undelete a page, the page reappears in the dashboard almost immediately.

This is welcome one to anyone that has inadvertently deleted the wrong page.

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Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 8.02.09 AM

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 8.03.58 AM

Google Test Search Results – 11 Ads, 1 Directory and 3 Stinkers

Google is apparently testing a mobile style 3 pack as a replacement for the carousel.

Whether a test or not, this test search result is quite amazing. I have a fairly large Thunderbolt display with a resolution of 2560 x 1440. That is more vertical resolution than 66% of all computers on the market as of January, 2014 according to w3schools.com. Even so this result is quite incredible in just how absolutely awful it is.

With my browser window stretched to the full height of the display, above the fold there are 11 ads, 1 organic directory listing, a map and 3 2.5 hold your nose stinky local results. The move away from a carousel which had a certain balance to the ranking and possibly away from the 7 pack towards just 3 results is jarring enough. But the amazing preponderance of paid and the near complete absence and terrible quality of the organic and local results leaves one’s jaw on the floor.

I guess that Google has finally given up on any form of local listing or organic page relevance and has decided that relevance is a function of payment.

Click to view larger (although be sure to keep airsickness bag handu)
Click to view larger (although be sure to keep airsickness bag handu)

Google Testing Carousel Replacement

Last week, Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz, posted on Twitter that he had seen a new deskop pack result that seemed to be replacing the Carousel. He has emailed me to note that he is now seeing it on a number of broad queries “including “chicago restaurants”, “restaurant reviews”, “chinese menu”, and “vegas hotels””.

James Gibbons also reported a search result where the carousel had been replaced with a 7-pack,

restaurants

 

As Pete noted in his email most of the new results that he was seeing were in place of the carousel AND the result mirrors exactly what is currently shown in mobile.The mobile change over occurred last April.

Will Google change away from the carousel? I am not a betting man and Google does do a lot of testing but my gut says that they just might move towards this new display. They have been on a toot to “clean up” the visuals on the main search result page (fewer packs, no author photos, fewer video and review snippets) and this change fits that mold.

Have you seen this result? What browser were you using? What phrases?

Update: I am now seeing this result using Firefox on my Mac searching for “vegas hotel“:

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 1.06.49 PM

 

See other searches:

Continue reading

Google Updates Review Policy Help Files and Review Flagging Form

This could very well be old news. I have no idea when these two things changed but Google has made a substantial update to both their local review policies and the “flag and fix inappropriate reviews” form and help pages.

The new “flag as inappropriate” form has more fields and is also more generic and it appears that it applies to more than just reviews:

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 2.05.23 PM

Of more interest is the increased detail in the Local Review Policy (previously referred to as the “Review content policy“). Here is the new Local Review Policy:

Content policies

We’ll remove content that violates any of the content policies below:

  • Advertising: Don’t use reviews for advertising, such as adding links to other websites or phone numbers. Reviews should be a genuine reflection of your experience with a place – don’t post reviews just to manipulate a place’s ratings.
  • Spam: Please don’t spam. Write a genuine report of your experience with the place. Don’t include promotional / commercial content, and don’t post the same content multiple times.
  • Phone numbers or URLs: To help prevent advertising and spammy reviews, we don’t allow phone numbers or links to other websites in reviews. If you want to add an updated number or URL for the business you’re reviewing, use the Report a problem link to report that information instead.
  • Off-topic reviews: Don’t post reviews based on someone else’s experience, or that are not about the specific place you’re reviewing. Reviews aren’t meant to be a forum for general political or social commentary or personal rants. Wrong location or the place is closed? Use the Report a problem link to report that information instead of writing a review.
  • Keep it clean: Don’t use obscene, profane, or offensive language. We’ll also remove reviews that represent personal attacks on others.
  • Conflict of interest: Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.
  • Illegal content: Don’t post reviews that contain or link to unlawful content, like links that facilitate the sale of prescription drugs without a prescription.
  • Copyrighted content: Don’t post reviews that infringe other’s rights – including copyright. For more information or to file a DMCA request, review our copyright procedures.
  • Sexually Explicit Material: We don’t allow reviews that contain sexually explicit material. Also, we absolutely don’t allow reviews that sexually exploit children or present them in a sexual manner. For this type of content, we’ll remove the review, shut down the account, and send a report to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and law enforcement.
  • Impersonation: Don’t post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or connection with the place you’re reviewing.
  • Personal and confidential information: Don’t post reviews that contain another person’s personal and confidential information, including credit card information, government identification number, driver’s license information, etc.
  • Hate Speech: We don’t allow reviews that advocate against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Obviously, most of the above policies have been integrated into the review spam algo and lead to auto flagging of reviews.

Google notes on the Flag and Fix Inappropriate Reviews page that a user can get their review to show by bringing it in compliance with the above:

If a review you wrote has been flagged and removed, you can fix it yourself. Edit your review to follow our policies (for example, remove a phone number or URL link). Your review will be automatically republished.

As Priya Chandra (a rising star in the Google Business forums) points out below, Google has also made a clear and unambiguous statement about not using reviews as a forum for political or social commentary on their Tips for writing great reviews page:

Reviews not General Commentary: At times certain locations may become the subject of larger public debate or conversation due to recent news coverage or current events. While we respect and value your opinion, Local Reviews are not meant for social or political commentary. We think there are other forums that are more suited to those kinds of conversations, like blogs or social networks. Please write about your firsthand experience with the place and not general commentary on the place in relation to recent news.

Here are the review guidelines as captured in May, 2013 by the WaybackWhacky Machine: Continue reading

Yelp Being Sued in San Francisco Courts for Misleading Investors

Gigaom reports that there is a new class action suit against Yelp for security law violations:

The complaint alleges Yelp violated securities law by committing “fraud on the market,” and claims that executive sold stock when the price was near a high of almost $90 in February; the price fell sharply shortly after this in light of the negative publicity surrounding the FTC complaints.

This suit, rather than attacking Yelp’s practices directly are alleging that Yelp made “false and misleading statements about their true business and financial condition” in regards to the “robustness of their algorithms designed to screen reviews” and the Company’s growth prospects and the “extent to which they were reliant upon undisclosed business practices”.

From the filing:

(a) Reviews, including anonymous reviews, appearing on the Company’s website were not all authentic “firsthand” reviews, but instead included fraudulent reviews by reviewers who did not have first-hand experience with the business being reviewed;

(b) Algorithms purportedly designed to screen unreliable reviews did not comprehensively do so, and instead, the Company allowed such unreliable reviews to remain prominent while the Company tried to sell services designed to suppress negative reviews or make them go away; and

(c) In light of the above facts, the representations concerning the Company’s current and future financial condition and prospects, and the extent to which they were reliant upon undisclosed business practices, did not have a reasonable basis.

It will be interesting to see if these new angles of “attack” on Yelp are any more successful than previous suits.

Here is the complete filing for Curry vs Yelp.

 

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