phones on top of $120 for normal phone/cable TV/internet. I know only the rudiments of using the DVR. I don’t own a MP3 player and I rarely take my cell phone out of my office. I haven’t been able to run a new game on my 7.5-year-old gaming PC for at least three years now. I have never seen a Blu-ray disk. I am, in short, permanently stuck circa 2005.
And yet, the years that I worked in software development equipped me with the basic skills to muddle through this whole internet thing. When I can’t solve a problem myself, I know where to seek help. Persistence and money usually bend technology to my will. Usually. Some problems can’t be solved.
The PayPal Checkout Loop goes back to at least 2007, but that’s a Sunshop bug – there’s nothing I can do about it. Turnkey can’t fix it because I can’t reproduce it, and since nobody but me has ever reported it it is likely to endure forever.
The Admin timeout bug has plagued me ever since I moved to MochaHost. It’s caused by an operating system setting on my shared server that they refuse to change – unless I upgrade to a dedicated server or change hosting companies, I must continue logging in every 24 minutes for the rest of eternity, like Desmond pushing his button. At least the island doesn’t move when I blow it off, Brother.
Now we can add USPS shipping times to that short list. Here’s the background that I wrote back in February:
In January the USPS raised rates on Priority Mail and Express Mail; First Class and Parcel Post rates stayed the same. Customers usually choose the least-expensive Parcel Post option, and I've always upgraded those orders to either UPS Ground or Priority Mail. The upgraded price is still at or below my actual cost, the customer gets better service than they paid for, and everybody’s happy.
Or was until now. Priority Mail rates went up and Parcel Post did not. That means that my shipping costs rose while the fees I collect – which come from rate table lookups -- didn’t. The advent of zoned pricing sometimes makes West Coast upgrades a losing proposition. Shrinking the small spread between fees collected and costs paid out is harming my bottom line.
To rectify that, I could:
1. Raise my handling fee. But that penalizes my First Class, UPS, and east coast customers.
2. Increase product weights. But that punishes my most desirable customers – those who buy multiple products at once.
3. Eliminate Parcel Post. But taking away the lowest-priced option would make my shipping charges visibly higher and harm a competitive advantage.
4. Leave everything unchanged and accept the smaller spread. But that makes it more difficult to reach my sales plan (which I calculate based on net sales after shipping costs) and ultimately comes out of my pocket.
5. Actually ship via Parcel Post more often. But shipments that now take 2-3 days would take 7-10 days. Customers won’t like that.
An attentive reader suggested a sixth solution: Show customers the transit times. If they see “Priority Mail: 2-3 Days” and “Parcel Post: 4-10 Days”, most will pay the incremental cost for Priority, my rate spread will be covered, and profitability will improve. Brilliant! I just need to edit the shipping method dropdown list that appears in the shipping estimator and at checkout. That’s, like, five minutes’ work at the most, right?
Yeah, about that. USPS domestic, USPS international, and UPS each have a shipping module consisting of a single small file. When I edit them in Textpad my UPS text shows up immediately. USPS text never does. So is it stored somewhere else? The independent developers in Turnkey’s Modifications forum keep referring me back to the same USPS.php file that’s not working. Turnkey itself remains silent; they’re not obliged to support user mods. In one last shot at ending the stalemate, I prevailed upon my developer to investigate. His verdict:
Usps.php has an install method that clearly writes this stuff to the database when the module is "installed" and it looks like checkout is calling a function in global.php called "get_shipping" which really looks like it's reading from the database to generate dropdown options... but I don't know how any of this stuff ties together... so I could be way off base.
I do see something that looks like it might be setting up a http call and parsing a response in usps.php as well... so maybe it's a web call. *shrug*
I'm fairly confident it's not reading values from USPS.php (that would be... extremely idiotic)
Turnkey hasn't made this very straightforward... so it’s not trivial to figure out how that's being generated.
If you want me to figure this out I will, but you're going to have to give me a few weeks to find time to do some hardcore reverse engineering and put up with me hacking up (and very likely breaking) your shipping functionality for a bit while I troubleshoot.
Higher shipping charge receipts would eventually recoup the cost of hiring Brad to reverse-engineer this function – assuming that he can “fix” it at all; if the text is being passed from the USPS server along with the rates, I’m just screwed. And “eventually” is a long time; I can’t afford any more unplanned expenses in a year that’s already been hammered by them.
So I am back to Square One. Right now I’m still absorbing the increased costs. If sales were running anywhere near plan I might remove the cheap Parcel Post option; very few other shops offer it. But sales have still not crawled out of the crapper that I plumbed last week; I can’t risk doing anything that might flush them deeper.
Speaking of last week…Forget everything I said about Facebook advertising. Turns out that I can advertise products directly, so I started with an ad for my old warhorse, Panther Vision caps. After a week my exhorbitant 75-cent bid bought 5,555 impressions without one single click. Crap. On Monday I added Switchables and Buckyballs to my campaign. On Tuesday I reordered golf balls and started advertising them. As of this morning Switchables has racked up 54 clicks, golf balls have 45, Buckyballs have only six, and Panther caps remain stuck at 0. FB’s tracking code is in beta, so I can’t be sure, but I don’t think that the $27.75 I spent this week brought in a single sale. Click-through rates are abysmal on FB, and the cost to buy impressions is very high. As nice as it is to see overall traffic spike past 300 daily visits (!), I can’t afford this for very long.
FB’s infamous intrusion on its members’ privacy is its main appeal to advertisers: I can target my ads very narrowly based on the interests that users willingly reveal. I’ve decided to cough up $50 of my own to prolong this experiment for another week; if I can figure out how to use this precise targeting to reduce my cost, it's worth flogging through Christmas.
Speaking of the crapper…Christmas is finally starting to crawl out of it. For the rest of this year I’m throwing plan out the window; I just need to match LY. At the moment sales are running 22% behind last year with a day and a half (21% of the week) left to go. It’s going to be tight, but I might just barely make my nut for this important first week of November. It’s a fairly big nut.
Now that the voting is over I can get back to being my usual level-headed, moderate self. After one parting shot at politics, that is.
After spending $250 million on midterm campaigns, corporate America has got the Congress it paid for. I’ve cut next year’s planned sales increase by 50% to reflect the two additional years of economic stagnation that voters just ratified. There will be no second stimulus package. There will be no more unemployment benefit extensions. The economy has been cut loose.
Americans did not vote the Republicans in so much as they voted the Democrats out. Republicans owe their gains to two factions (apart from the Tea Party’s billionaire backers), and the fate of their party depends on which one they reward. Their main support in 2010 came from the same independent, moderate voters who flocked to Obama in 2008. These swing voters expect them to work with the Democrats on solving this country’s real problems, and they will desert in 2012 if they don’t see tangible progress. Republicans would be wise to deliver it. The other faction -- Tea Party extremists – promised conflict and confrontation. Their uncompromising ideological purity, if indulged, will ensure that nothing gets done. Republicans certainly owe them some grand symbolic gestures, like introducing a doomed health care repeal bill, but they would be unwise to give them anything substantial. Tea Partiers have no alternative to voting Republican so the party need not kowtow to them.
This struggle for control over the Republican Party is fascinating fallout from their recent victory. I’d actually feel sorry for Republicans if the poor and middle class weren’t going to be the main casualties of this power struggle.
My home state of Massachusetts successfully fought off the Republican wave entirely. They did not win a single position of consequence here. Our Commonwealth remains solidly blue and unashamedly liberal after roundly rejecting budget cutters and tax cutters. So I’m somewhat insulated from whatever shenanigans they pull in Congress – except inasmuch as the harm that they do to the national economy drags Massachusetts down with everyone else. Nobody’s going to take away our universal health care or gut social programs or repeal our rights here, so I can be sanguine about developments that are alarming progressives elsewhere.
From Curio City’s point of view, two more years of tepid economic growth are the most chilling result of last Tuesday’s election. This business was predicated on rapid growth to bootstrap from zero to a living wage. The Great Recession already trimmed my sails; Republican-induced stagnation could ultimately sink the ship. It just depends on how much longer I’m willing to keep bailing.