Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why are So Many Mom & Pop Retail Stores Run by Idiots?

I just want to offer a bit of general feedback to all those Mom and Pop stores that find themselves trying to compete with large, volume-buyer, retailers. It's acceptable in many circumstance to charge a little extra for the things you sell. Everyone probably understands that you can't discount your prices as much as a Wal-Mart type store that buys the same item in multiples of a billion. However, if the only way you think you can stock a common (i.e. non-specialty) item is to charge way over list price for it, you'd be better off just not stocking it at all. When your customer finds out they've been dramatically overcharged, it will likely be the very last thing you sell to that customer.

I recently visited "The Country Pedaler" in Castle Rock, CO on the way to a mountain bike ride to pick up an innertube, just in case I had a flat on the ride that couldn't be patched. It's a small shop, so I went in expecting to pay up to the full retail list price for the tube. The store location was convenient because it was along the way to the trailhead, so I didn't even mind paying a bit more than I would have paid for that item at a larger bike store like BikeSource or Performance Bicycle. I had never bought a tube of the particular size I needed so I wasn't sure what its normal price should be. I was charged $10.00, which I thought was a little high, but I trusted that even if the price was on the high end of the retail price range for that item, it wouldn't be too different than what I might find elsewhere. So, I considered the convenience factor to be worth maybe 10% or 20% and bought it anyway.

Any time I find that I have been charged more than 40% OVER the full retail list price for a basic, commodity, accessory item (like a bicycle innertube), I can't help but feel I've been ripped off. I found out later that the same exact item has a full retail list price of $7.00. To make things even worse, I found that the price for a similar (maybe even better) quality tube, at other local specialty bike stores, was as low as $5.29. "The Country Pedaler" price was marked up in excess of their competitors by a margin of almost 90%. You read it right, almost double the price other local stores charged for the same simple accessory item. It wasn't hard to find or in short supply. It didn't require special expertise or consultation from a sales person. It was just WAY overpriced.

The tube was the very first thing I purchased from The Country Pedaler bike store, and, because it was so drastically overpriced, it will likely be the VERY LAST thing I purchase from that store. They don't really have any option to correct their mistake now because they've already proven that I can't trust their prices to be even approximately fair, never mind competitive. Offering a refund or price adjustment now wouldn't even change my impression that the store generally charges an exorbitant amount over even full retail list prices. I wonder if it is any consolation to the store's owner that he gets to keep that extra $3.00 profit on that one sale (assuming I don't just return it for a refund) or if he even realizes how much it cost his business to jack up the price on a simple accessory item.

It is possible that I might decide to give The Country Pedaler a second chance several years from now, just to see if they got a clue and changed how they're setting their prices, but for now, they've lost me as a customer. Somehow I doubt the store will survive if they continue to alienate potential customers they way they have with me. I suspect anyone who finds this blog post will be reluctant to do business with them either. I certainly won't be recommending that anyone else visit that shop. In fact, I'll definitely warn them and send them elsewhere whenever possible.

Other mom and pop retailers that wish to keep customers and remain competitive should take this as a warning. You might be able to justify prices closer to full retail because you may be in a more convenient location than the "discounter" shop. Your customers might not even mind spending a little extra with you if you're able to give them more personal attention when they visit your store. But beware if you go beyond "a little extra" on your prices and gouge someone by pricing a relatively insignificant item well over its fair retail price. You're compromising the trust they have in your store, swapping positive word-of-mouth advertising for bad, and forfeiting any profit you might have earned on future purchases. All you gain for that is a few extra bucks, one time... most likely one LAST time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Garmin PC Map Updater Software SUCKS

I'd venture a guess that Garmin spends 99+% of its software development resources on the software that is actually on the device. I have experience with Nuvi, eTrex, and Forerunner models and most of the time, the menus, functions, and display options a Garmin GPS device seem to be reasonable and stable. But then Garmin's Windows based tools to support those GPS devices SUCK. I mean they REALLY, REALLY SUCK!! My last 3+ hour episode of utter frustration using one of Garmin's crap-ware tools was while attempting to simply update the Maps on a Nuvi automotive GPS device. I know it costs money to keep map data up to date, but the $90 I had to pay was still a bit steep for the marginal improvement in usability. Roads just don't change that significantly, that often. The map updater software required the following steps before it completed the simple simple task of checking a purchase license, matching it to the device serial number, and transferring map data onto a USB device.

1. Install a "communicator" plugin into the web browser (Firefox). Web browsers already have as their single most definitive purpose, "communicating with web servers" so it is aggravating that Garmin feels it is necessary to introduce additional software to accomplish this for "their" data.

2. Realize that for some unreported, unexplained reason, the Garmin Firefox plugin just doesn't work. No error message appeared suggesting that something was wrong. It just didn't ever "communicate" anything.

3. Install a "communicator" plugin into Microsoft Internet Explorer. IE is not the browser I normally use, so I have to remember this for any other interaction with Garmin's special IE only web site. C'mon Garmin, those days are long gone. Only the worst type of idiot-clown web sites authors still lock their content into IE only.

4. Play a guessing game with the Garmin web site to figure out where exactly they have the page where I can actually purchase the map update product I'm after. Enter credit card information to pay the excessive $90 fee. In my opinion, a GPS device that includes map data, should just include the map data updates for at least 5 years or so as part of the initial purchase price. After all, the pre-loaded map data already a bit out of date when it was first purchased, presumably because it had been sitting on a shelf in a store for a few weeks or months already.

5. Go check email for a link to another web page that contained the download link for the purchased map update data. Listen Garmin, the only reason I should need to give you an email address at all is if I want to receive a receipt or some other notification from you. Once I enter valid credit card information and purchase the maps, JUST FORWARD MY BROWSER DIRECTLY TO THE !@#$% DOWNLOAD PAGE!!!! All you accomplish by making me jump through the email link hoop is to make me even more angry when I get to the next boneheaded step.

6. Realize that after all the hassle and effort to get the communicator plugin working, it was only so I could download a map updater program that must run outside the web browser in order to transfer the map data to the Nuvi USB device. What a colossal waste of time. Please, just cut all the web browser calisthenics and let me jump straight to the download. Any web browser works just fine for that task, without any modification, extensions, plugins or anything.

7. Download and run the map updater program.

8. Watch the map updater program attempt to install Microsoft's .net framework 3.5 in spite of the fact that it was ALREADY INSTALLED on the machine.

9. Watch the .net install step fail and roll back, also without any explanation, which stops the map update process with no obvious next step. Frankly I don't know whether to thank Garmin or Microsoft for this aggravation, but since Garmin chose to require the .net framework, and their map updater program doesn't properly detect whether it is already installed, I'll still give Garmin the blame.

10. Switch to another computer (which is an option Garmin should know isn't available to a large percentage of their customers) and start basically from the beginning again.

11. Install the stupid "communicator" plugin for IE.

12. Poke around Garmin's web site to eventually find the link to download the map updater again.

13. Start the map updater. BTW, the version of the Garmin map updater initially downloaded from the site immediately downloads and installs different version. This happens transparently, but WHY? Once again, Garmin has absolutely no respect for their customer's time. Whenever I have observed other software doing this, it is usually doing something sneaky. My level of trust in Garmin's software was already very low, but this just helped push it well in to negative territory.

14. Wait approximately 1/2 hour while it installs the Microsoft .net framework (and yes it was already installed on this machine too).

15. Scream loud enough for Garmin's software staff to hear every expletive I know, no matter where in the world they happen to be because at this late stage, the map updater finally checks to see if there is even enough free disk space (which is a whopping 5GB on the System (c:) drive BTW) to complete the update process. WHY DIDN'T IT CHECK THAT SIMPLE MATTER UP FRONT. Yikes, how stupid are these people?

16. Since the only machine that would get though all the .net nonsense and run the map updater was a netbook that came pre-partitioned with a small system drive having less than 5GB free, the map updater wouldn't run without playing some space-available tricks. I suspect this is also an option that is not within the know-how limits of the majority of Garmin's customers. Garmin's map updater software offers no options to choose another drive or partition to use for temporary space so if your machine doesn't have at least 5GB free on the C: drive, just give up.

17. After several hours of frustration and false starts trying to get the map updater to run, then you have to leave it all of it running for several hours. Yes, I said SEVERAL HOURS while it downloads, unpacks, and transfers updated data to the device. Just to be sure it is able to make it through this process without making the GPS device into a brick, it would be best to have a redundant internet connection, an uninterrupted power supply, and fix Windows power management settings temporarily so that it never shuts off the hard drives or initiates system stand-by. This process takes a VERY LONG TIME. By the way, the map-updater's downloader client program consumes 100% of your internet connection's available bandwidth making everything else that needs to share the connection slow to a crawl. Garmin, this isn't just amateur network client software design, it is OBNOXIOUS and RUDE!!!

Garmin should be ashamed. How they could so totally screw up such a simple piece of software is utterly perplexing. It has been a very long time since I encountered a software utility, especially something that does nothing more complicated that transferring data from a server to a portable USB device, that was SO COMPLETELY frustrating and so poorly designed. I'm hoping that this blog post eventually costs Garmin as much in lost sales as their crap-ware map updater has cost me in aggravation. Even if it doesn't, maybe it will save someone else some of the annoying troubles getting map updates for their Garmin GPS device.


On a second Nuvi device that I now DEEPLY regret ever having purchased, the Garmin Map Updater software forced a firmware update to the GPS device and WIPED OUT ALL MY ROUTES, ALL MY FAVORITES, and EVERY BIT OF TRACK DATA that I might have been able to capture first or restore later if there had been any indication at all that the crapware was about to wipe it all out. Someone in charge of Garmin's map updater software really needs to be put in prison. There is absolutely no excuse for this blatant disregard for Garmin's customers. I expect there must be a special place in hell for the a**hole who released this stinking pile of garbage into the lives of unsuspecting Garmin Nuvi owners throughout the world. May the responsible person rot in a pit of their own waste.