Welcome to Curious Business

Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, June 13, 2008

Yahoo and the Royal Scam

I was too busy with personal chores again last week to do anything beyond caretaker work for Curio City. I finished painting the new porch, repainting the deck of the front porch, and painting the rocking chairs. A can of half-dried-up porch paint made the job more challenging; being cheap and stubborn, I couldn’t just throw away a $35 can of paint, so I had to painstakingly apply and smooth out the granular pasty stuff before finally caving in and buying a new gallon.

It took me four times longer to paint the porch than it took the contractor to build it. Sometimes when I contemplate the wreckage of my professional job history, I wish that I had learned a useful trade instead of wasting four years studying nothing worthwhile in college. Then I realize that I’d have failed as a tradesman, too. I am too slow and not very skilled.

Today I need to clean up after the paint project, and then hit the garden. There is a dead tomato plant to replace, a second hill of Gadzukes! zucchini to establish, bean towers to erect, and bean seeds to plant. This afternoon I have to hit my parcel drop at the UPS Store and receive some of the stuff I ordered last week, so Curio City will at least get one afternoon out of me. This weekend, I have assorted small chores to catch up on.

I did “attend” Yahoo Search Marketing’s second “webinar” yesterday. It felt good to sit and do nothing for an hour. I should get back to near-fulltime work next week.

The “Reasons to Hate” series of posts could be their own blog. There’s always so much material, and it’s always popular. Given all the painting, how did I find time to hate anybody last week? With companies like Google and Yahoo around, it’s never hard.

More Reason to Hate Yahoo: A customer used my Contact form to ask about a Steely Dan Record Purse. After some delay, the vendor sent me a short list of available Dan albums, which I sent to the customer. She liked The Royal Scam. So far, so good. I sent her instructions for ordering the purse. Silence ensued. A day or two later, I got another email pleading for unspecified assistance ordering her purse. Then I noticed: She has a Yahoo.com email address. Oh, no.

As I learned in February, Yahoo sends my email to its customers’ spam folders, and they won't white-list me. My Contact page warns customers to check their bulk items folders if they aren’t seeing my replies, but not everybody reads that or knows what a junk mail folder is. I sent the purse customer several more emails from different accounts and addresses (Kraken Enterprises at GoDaddy, rather than my Curio City addresses at MochaHost). The trail cooled as more days passed; how frustrating! This customer wants an expensive item that I can supply, and I want very much to sell it to her. She didn’t create an account or send me her phone number, so all I have is her email address. I must have gotten through at least once or she would not have known that we could supply The Royal Scam. So what was it about the message that got through?

Links. It didn’t have any hyperlinks! As a test, I sent one of the customer emails to my own Yahoo address – once with the links intact, and once with them removed. Sure enough, the “clean” email went into my Inbox and the one with hyperlinks went into my Bulk folder. Mystery solved! I immediately stripped all hyperlinks out of the email and sent it, yet again, to my customer. But by now a week had passed. I don’t know whether that email ever got through or not. I never heard from the customer again.

Well, at least I learned something: Don’t include helpful links for Yahoo customers, not even those in my signature. Thanks, Yahoo! That lesson cost me $58 and a customer.

More Reason to Hate Google (now with Sunshop bonus hatred!): Another Google Checkout shipping fiasco! A GC order for a $10 item came in with a $19 charge to send the 0.35-pound package via priority mail. When I recovered from the shock that somebody had actually paid nineteen bucks to ship less than half a pound, I refunded the overcharge and contacted Google yet again.

They determined that the USPS considers a package weighing less than 0.375 pound to be “nonmachinable”. When their rate lookup routine fails to find a valid rate, it uses a default supplied by the client software (Sunshop).

Now, the correct behavior would be for GC to consult the nonmachinable parcel post rate table and find that rate, rather than use some arbitrary default that’s buried somewhere in the bowels of Sunshop where I can’t easily change it. Google's representative agreed with that much, although whether he'll do anything about it is an open question. Priority mail is more ambiguous. I think it should have defaulted to the minimum 1-pound charge. That’s logical, and it’s how Sunshop behaves. But Google feels that using the default rate is the correct way to avoid making a rate decision better left to their customers. Since I had never heard of a minimum weight for priority mail before (that’s what first-class mail parcels are for – oh wait, Google refuses to offer first class), I don’t know whether a nonmachinable rate table for priority mail even exists, and therefore I can’t objectively tell Google what the proper behavior should be.

I tried to make clear how much business GC will lose by their serious shipping overcharges (if you’ve been reading the “Reasons to Hate” series, you know that they have a chronic problem with this). The person I’ve been working with is an engineer; I don’t know if this design flaw will be addressed, or if my complaint died when it turned out not to be a technical problem. For now, Google Checkout customers are just plain screwed if they order something weighing less than 0.375 pound.

Why hate Sunshop? Well, given that Google will not fix their design flaw, the best band-aid would be to set a minimum package weight of 0.4 pound. Sunshop does not support that. The second-best band-aid would be to set the default rate to something more reasonable, since it is never used for anything else; Sunshop does not have an interface for that. To be fair, I have not yet taken the time to write this up on the Turnkey support forum. I assume that they will deliver their standard “Not our problem” response (never put engineers in charge of design). So I'm advancing a little hatred toward Sunshop. If it turns out that there is an easy backdoor fix, I’ll eat these words.

Coming Attractions:

  • The Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow
  • Running with the Big Dogs
  • The Zombie Store
  • Legal Extortion

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