Some Advice for Office Depot

In full disclosure, I am a Project Manager.  I do Web Projects.  I do Desktop Publishing.  I do Graphics.  I do all those things that people need in small businesses when their computer goes “oops”.  I’ve done education in a corporate environment.  In fact, I’m a rather good trainer – I can give references. 

The resume is very long, very detailed.  It’s typical for an expert in certain pieces of technologies to have a long detailed resume like that.   I’m the guy who after a beer at 9:00 at night can tell you why you need to run a Virtual Computer using VMWare or MS Virtual PC at home to surf so that you won’t get hit by a virus and then tell you to order me another so I will explain why it is safer.  

Some really esoteric stuff huh?

Well all of that takes technology.  I have some rather old technology here, but it’s all like an old VW Beetle – noisy, slow but gets you there.

Just like that old VW Beetle, some of my technology is beginning to wear out.  I suffered a hardware crash this week on my Desktop Publishing Laptop in front of a client.  My “daily driver” all purpose laptop has a questionable memory chip reader and is starting to have weird freezes due to heat.  It clearly is time for me to upgrade.

I watch the “deal” sites VERY closely.  As any of my friends on Facebook know, I tend to share the links when I think the deal is good.  I’m Platform Agnostic – I’ll recommend Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux compatible hardware from any hardware vendor if I think it will do what the person needs.  I’ve got a very good record at that, and even tell the person on the other end of the line if there are compromises to be aware of and why it is important to consider them.

The whole ball of wax.

So when I personally shop, it is a big deal.

I have been looking for a very tight specification for a laptop.  Must run Windows 7 64Bit.  Must have at least 500GB disc space or a 128GB SSD.  Must be fairly light, and no larger than 15.6 inches.  Must have an i7 Processor.  Price must be below $800. 

The last bit just knocked about 95% out of the running… so I will sit back and wait and limp through until I find THE Buy since the market hasn’t quite hit my price point.

But here’s the problem… I surf a LOT of eCommerce Websites.  I have some knowledge on how to implement an eCommerce Website, administer them and how to get the Web Developers to do things in a timely fashion.  I did all of that on my own in a Virtual Machine – yeah that weird software stuff again.

When a site is done right, I can drill down and see Just The Right Item and buy it.  If it is done wrong – I get angry and yell at the laptop and scare it.  Not the nicest thing to do to an old friend, is it?

Done right is www.newegg.com – I surf that site FIRST for any deal after I have found the “best buy” on another site.   Its not TOO big like Amazon, although I prefer Amazon for “regular person reviews”.   It’s not too small like some others and it has some very good technology on it.  The nicest thing about www.NewEgg.Com is how I can go to laptops for example, select it by processor with a couple clicks and see all the i7 Intel based laptops and then re-sort by price.

Nobody believes that “featured” makes any damn sense in this day and age of price wars and bad economy.

Here is where www.officedepot.com  has a problem.  Say you want a laptop.  You want an i7 based machine, although you can easily select any other processor.  You have decided that you want to see a specific selection of one particular grade of i7 you can do that easily.   They are basically trying “too hard”.

What if you want to see more than one grade of i7 based laptop?

You can’t do that easily.  I have to ask, did their Project Manager in charge of Web Quality Assurance actually test the changes to the site themselves?  I sincerely doubt it.

Here is the direct link and go through the steps and you shall see why I was annoyed…. Oh wait, I can’t give you a direct link because they store your Session ID.  Yes, they’re tracking you by step through the web site.  Partly that means you will get better service.  In this case I have to tell you how to get there:

1) Surf http://www.officedepot.com
2) Hover the mouse pointer over “Technology” and find Laptops, then click on Laptops

In the case of the link above, there was no Session ID tracking… so they’re not overtly following through with that basic task, but anyway…

3) Page down and under the words “Shop Technology” there is a Processor Model link – click it.
4) Now this isn’t all the Processor Models that you can surf and compare so you will have to click “See All Processor Model”. 

Ok, The Grammarian In Me comes out – it is “… Processor Models” not “… Processor Model” but that is minor.

5) A big long list opens up.  You really can’t help that, although to do a category for each type of processors would be best like “i3” “i5” and “AMD” for example… So select one processor.   I selected “i7-820QM”.  I may as well live large since it was the fastest.

Here is the first problem.  The page reloads.  Who wrote that?  RELOAD?  Come on… ok, so now we go onwards…. because I don’t want JUST that one processor, I have to go back and start over.

6) Select “See all Processor Model” and grumble at the lack of the “s’ at the end.
7) You are presented with the list again.  Select “i7-740QM”

And the page reloads. 

You see the problem.  You, the person sitting at your desk should be able to see the list, click a whole bunch of items and then click a button to “go” and have it go fetch all at once.  It works that way on most other “Ajax” enabled sites.  The situation is so painful with all the reload that my next step was to:

8) Click close and surf another company’s website.

The problem is that while Intel has been great at supplying us with so many grades of processor, there really isn’t THAT much difference to the consumer between grades of processor.  The biggest difference is speed, not whether it is an i7-740 vs an i7-760.   The ideal would be to show each grade of processor and allow them to select that, then allow them to refine the search if they know enough between the grades to continue.

It can be easily fixed, I trust.  They are just giving the user too fine a list.  The person who will need to know the specifics of the processor will be at the tail end of the decision process, not the casual surfer – and there’s a search box to further refine what to include.  It was much easier for me to do a search on “i7”, select computers, select laptops, and then sort “low to high” and find what I was looking for than go through the menu on the left. 

It is my opinion, and only an opinion, that when you are surfing a website you will not use a search box first. Most folks will click away happily but they won’t go to the search box unless they’re frustrated.  Why?  Because they’re lazy and won’t want to move their hand off the mouse or trackpad. 

Of course I had to click on view all because that’s just the way I roll…

That is what got me started on this blog piece here…

I am a lazy surfer as well and will either click or type and don’t want to do both.  I suspect that the little old lady living in a farm house outside a small town like Stanton Nebraska, surfing on a website to buy a computer with the grandkids for the first time will be just as lazy if not more so.  Every step is important because it is a step for that dear sweet grandmom to step away from your site to someone else because it’s confused her and the Cherry Pie has to come out of the oven anyway.

All that reminds me I have to put the Barbecue in the crock pot for dinner…

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Why I Didn’t Buy Anything at Office Depot

Retail stinks. 

You go into a typically oversized building with typically loud “Mood” music that puts you into a sullen mood, rubbing shoulders with people who are always looking at what you’re looking at, and you deal with people who are scraping by at the bottom of the Sales career ladder.

After all, why would someone choose to work in one of those places making a little over minimum wage and have to deal with the general public.  If they were truly GOOD at sales, they would be selling expensive items on commission and be driving a better car than you or I do.  Even in this lousy Republican Induced Great Depression, people NEED things. 

Monday Morning, Yesterday by my watch, I got into Kevin’s car and we drove over to Office Depot on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale.  New store, or at least newly redone, its one of those Big Box stores that we all love… or love to hate.  We were in there for about a half hour from start to finish and in a word I can easily describe the experience.

Indifferent.

I admit, it is a truly hard job to do Retail.  I did it for a while way back when I was in college.  It was fun for a while but it grew tired and I moved on.  I had the good luck to be able to do a job I wanted to do while I didn’t actually have to.   Working behind the counter of a Radio Shack in Delran NJ, I got to meet some wonderful people, the customers.  I enjoyed their quirks when they were pleasant, learned how to watch them when they weren’t and up to some no-good, and then I got to meet the people from The Home Office.  It gave me an appreciation for just how nasty some people can be and completely blew away any preconceptions I ever had about people from Texas being Nice.  Don’t believe it, in those days the Tandy Corporation had some of the meanest people you ever had the misfortune to know and I avoided those stores for years after I left as a result.

But this is today, and that was back in the day…

Office Depot wasn’t rude at all.  The Assistant Manager who was working the register was an amazingly nice person and helped us out with courtesy, respect and was genuinely helpful.

I went about my business as Kevin walked around looking for the goodies he needed.  I may not have intended to buy anything that day but I am one of those people who Recommend Purchases.  People look here, ask me directly and on email my opinion of products and if I like something I certainly will tell them. 

I am also very hard to hide in a store.   I am 6’4″ and 225 pounds – a wall of a man.  I walk into a building and almost always someone notices.  I guess it is the Big Guy Syndrome, but if you see someone fill a doorway you’ll pay attention.  I’m used to looking over things like displays and noticing whether they cleaned back “there” and where the back stock is.  If it’s there, I’ll find it.

I’m also a technology junkie.  If you are reading this and want me to do an impartial review send me the item and I’ll do so but be aware if it is junk I’ll say so.   There’s this one pair of Noise Canceling Headphones that I want and would really like a pair to review…

Ok, I didn’t think so – so enough “hinting”.  The Bose ones are mindbendingly effective but at $300, I’ll get the Sony MDR-NC7 instead and they’re only $29 new at that link.

But that was what I was looking at – AFTER I spent a solid 15 minutes poking and prodding laptop computers.  The majority of the day I sit with one and have people comment that I spend my day on Facebook.  The truth is that I don’t, Facebook is logged on, but it sits behind everything in the dust behind the endcap of what ever I am working on in the big box store of my computer.

Fifteen minutes standing in one aisle looking at laptops is a long time.

Fifteen minutes of being walked past by Office Depot uniform shirted employees trying to do their job is an even longer time. 

That’s the beef.  I usually strongly dislike being asked my opinion while IN a store or whether I need help but after about 5 minutes of someone standing in one place with a glazed over look of awe at the next newest shiny toy, you would think someone would say something…

They didn’t.  In fact one of those Office Depot Uniform Shirted Employees passed so close to me that their elbow brushed my shirt a-little-too roughly and all I got was a grunt – not excuse me just “unh” and the sound of shuffling feet moving quickly away.

I wasn’t dressed well, I looked more like a tourist with a t-shirt and cargo shorts on.   I wasn’t dressed like the third person in there was, in corporate drag of chinos and a polo shirt.  Maybe the employee, and I am being decidedly vague, thought “He’s not buying anything so I don’t have to care”. 

I don’t know but now I’m sitting here writing out a review as to why I will go to another store next time instead of looking at laptops at Office Depot.  Besides, there’s a CompUSA just up the block…

Kevin came back, went off to get more goodies so I wandered a little more… now at 15 minutes or more, I’m actively wandering through the store and had to do a dance to get out of the way of Yet-Another-Office-Depot-Uniform-Shirted-Employee with a grunt on their lips.  I DO tend to take up most of the aisle, after all, because I have a 48 inch chest so I try hard NOT to get into people’s ways, but don’t GRUNT!  That was twice. 

I was wondering whether I’d run into Charlotte and her Web after all that grunting!

I did find the headphones I was looking for.  Sony MDR-NC7.  They’re not terribly expensive at $49 at Office Depot – don’t get them there you can find them at Best Buy cheaper at $39, and they’re online new as of today at $29 and Refurbished for as low as $16. 

I stood there looking at the box on the shelf for a couple minutes not being grunted at and decided that if I was going to pry open my wallet, I’d wait for the next sale on the Refurbished one and do the shopping from my bouncy Poang chair.

Sorry Office Depot, I won’t recommend people shop at your stores.  Best Buy for Consumer goods since you can tire kick and actually talk to someone without having to be grunted at and hunt for them.  CompUSA for Computer goods for the same reason.  Both stores have some VERY helpful people and seem to know when to back off.  In Fort Lauderdale, Both stores seem fairly well balanced between Jack Russell Terrier Bouncy Helpful Sales People and Professional Detatchment – if you don’t need help thank them and they’ll leave you be. 

But Office Depot?  You need some help.