Back on the cyber-promenades, Matthew JC. Powell wonders who in the world Darryl is . . .
I've eased back rather a lot lately on my e-shopping excursions. I know I've told you before that I buy videos, books and CDs over the Web more than I do from "real" stores, but lately I just haven't done much shopping at all, virtual or otherwise.
I'd like to blame the unreliability of Web access from the office here (see last week's column), but I can't really. The Net blackout lasted a few horrible days and then we had our usual high-speed connection back. I could have kissed the cables, except it seemed a tad unhygienic. I shan't go into the details of what went wrong with our Net connection, since the core of the difficulty was actually a mistake on the part of a reseller. This column is not (for the most part) a forum for rants against resellers.
The real reason for my thrift of late is that my pockets are a tad shallow since I offloaded much of my ready funds to Goofy the reseller (see the column in ARN, July 29) for my shiny new cryptosporidium-free computer.
Anyway, my short-term lack of funds and the sorry state of Australia's currency have conspired to lock me out of my usual online spending frenzy. The fact that Amazon.com has managed to stay in business without me is a testament to solid management on their part. I did a quick survey (I'd call it "window shopping", but I don't use Windows) of sites I usually visit almost weekly, and several have in fact vanished. I feel personally responsible.
So last week I went back to one of my favourite sites, Black Star video in the UK (http://www.blackstar.co.uk). It offers a much better selection of movies than I have found anywhere in Australia, it delivers for free even to here, and the prices actually come out comparable to Australian prices, even with the pitiable exchange rate. Speaking of which, the site lists prices in both pounds and Australian dollars to save me having to do the conversion. I presume it somehow knows magically that I'm from Australia and if I were searching the site from Albania it would just as happily display the prices in leks. I doubt that Australian dollars have inexplicably become the universal medium of exchange for foreign transactions, although it is possible.
Black Star also keeps track of movies I order and maintains a "hit list" of new releases I'll be interested in when I come back again. I arrive at the site, it says "Hello Matthew", and points me towards my list -very friendly! Touches like that are what make the site a favourite. There may be thousands of customers who use this site, but I feel like it's my private video store.
At least, I did until last week's excursion. On that occasion, I bought everything on my hit list, including two gaps in my Spielberg collection, 1941 and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Yes, I'm ashamed, but I'm also a collector. It had been a while since my last visit, so there were quite a few films on the list.
A day or so later, I got an e-mail telling me that The Lost World had been deleted so I couldn't have it. The letter was signed by someone called Brian and didn't feel the least bit like a form letter, so I wrote back suggesting that maybe the film could be sourced from Ireland (this has worked before).
Then I got another e-mail discussing options for obtaining the movie. Again, it didn't seem the least bit like a form letter. Except for one thing. "Dear Darryl," it began, going on to explain that a limited "collector's edition" of the movie would be available in November. "So, Darryl," it continued, instructing me to send another e-mail in late October if I am still interested by then. "Looking forward to hearing from you then, Darryl," it concluded.
A quick check of my byline should let you know something has gone seriously squiffy here. Not only has my illusion that this is my private video store been shattered by the revelation that someone called Darryl also shops there, but it seems the store cannot even tell us apart!
There's something to be said for actual face-to-face contact, I suppose. Most "real" shops I go into regularly manage to remember me from one visit to the next - a distinctive appearance is perhaps an asset, as is regular exchange of funds. Even when I was shopping in some fairly shonky places for my computer, nobody called me Darryl.
The rush is now on to do business via the Net. In your rush to become "virtual", it's important that you don't lose sight of the qualities that have made your customers return to your "real" shops.