Blogging since 1998. By David Wertheimer

Category: consumer experience (Page 1 of 2)

In praise of the new baseball

I’ve been two two Yankees games in this young season, and I can declare unequivocally that the pitch clock is a good thing.

It takes out the dead air from the game, and thank goodness. No more watching some diva hitter effectively call time out after every single pitch to go through some useless superstitious ritual with his batting gloves. No more pregnant pauses as gamesmanship. (Seen this comparison of one inning vs. one pitch?) The pace feels more old-timey, in a good way.

In the past decade, I suffered through so many four-hour slogs between the Yankees and their American League opponents that I got used to leaving the ballpark early out of weariness. On Sunday, the Yanks and Twins played an exciting, nine-inning pitcher’s duel in 2:10. Two hours and ten minutes! Even high-scoring blowouts are wrapping in under three hours. The action on the field just keeps coming. It’s also better on TV, but as an in-person spectator, it’s so, so good.

I’m anti-shift and pro-small ball, so the other rules are working for me so far. I think some of them are overkill (for example, if you’re going to make steals easier, you shouldn’t be restricting pickoff throws) but Major League Baseball feels fresh without feeling different. I love it.

I hope to get to numerous games this season; they’re so watchable now. Want to join me?

The new car

I last bought a new car back in March 2002, when this website was hand-coded with a sidebar. That car was a share, with my brother; for good measure, we even titled and registered it in my mother’s name.

As one might imagine, this became increasingly anachronistic as we married, had children, went gray, etc. The ridiculousness of being in my 40s and driving what amounted to Mom’s extra car has not been lost on me. That said, it’s been wonderful: our car lasted a long time, and my brother and I had a remarkably easy time swapping it back and forth all these years. I move on with no complaints.

But move on I must, away from the car that requires a steering fluid refill every few weeks, that shakes like a Magic Fingers motel bed at red lights, that occasionally requires I slam my fist into the passenger door armrest to reconnect the stereo speaker. Owning a car means never knowing exactly when to say goodbye. But then, as a friend remarked to me, there’s a direct correlation between hanging onto our car and the odds of waiting on the side of the highway for the AAA guy.

Buying a car is a full-on ordeal. I performed far too much research, considered dozens of cars, visited no fewer than eight dealerships, drove seven different vehicles. I emailed or called even more dealerships than that, in a quest to find the exact car I was after, some more than 300 miles away.

The salespeople at the dealers were mostly miserable. I received price quotes in a $7,000 range, low to high, for more or less the same vehicle in each location. I had dealers say they had cars they didn’t. I had sales guys refuse to price match. I had a salesman bring me into the showroom to negotiate, only to be told there would be no negotiating. One full-on yelled at me for telling him I’d like to remove a bunch of add-ons to the car to lower the price, saying it was impossible to pull out rubber floor mats.

Another salesman wrote down all my information, consciously avoided giving me his business card, then failed to ever send me a price quote. At one dealership, a salesman gave me a once-over, decided based on my shoes (which he stared at) that I wasn’t a serious buyer, and treated me dismissively; when I returned the next day, he pawned me off on the most junior member of the staff, and managed to literally sell the car I wanted while I was on a test drive at the dealership. I repeat: miserable.

Not everyone was like that, though. One dealership was fair, levelheaded, and fully transparent in their pricing, although they were ultimately unable to source the car. Another had a sales manager who spoke with me patiently on the phone, multiple times, and aggressively dropped the price on the vehicle in order to win my business. I liked the price I got, but I also liked their style. I’m headed there this weekend to finish the transaction.

And after all that, I actually did buy a new car.

Drafted 2016/08/18 at 11:50 pm. Published with light edits for readability.

Until the End of the Internet

It’s a catchy prase, “until the end of the internet,” isn’t it? The folks at what was then 37 Signals coined it back in 2015, as “a promise to our customers: we’re dedicated to supporting our products forever.”

This matters to me because, for the past four and a half years, I’ve been a beneficiary of this policy. I use Highrise, the onetime CRM counterpart to the Basecamp project management system. I’ve been on it since my agency business development days, and I’m still on it today.

When I first got a Highrise account, I was looking for a dirt-simple relationship management program. Highrise checked all the boxes (easy to understand, inexpensive, shared a billing account and login with an app we already used in the office) and was straightforward to integrate into my processes. I didn’t need it for much, and for what I did—centralized contacts, emailed reminders, bcc-enabled conversation tracking—it did the trick.

I kept using Highrise when I switched agencies, and when I left the business development cycle, I hung onto my account, as it contained many of my contacts. I spooled up an individual plan and discovered it was great for personal CRM, too. I began keeping reminders for staying in touch with colleagues and classmates.

My trusty Highrise account proved invaluable when I had to look for work: I had a repository of everyone I knew, when we last spoke or emailed, and my plans for future outreach. It kept me organized and kept me honest. It may be the only software for which I pay a recurring fee, and I’ve never questioned its value.

So when Highrise went end of life in 2018, I was grateful for the Basecamp team’s approach to longevity. Sure enough, the app still works great, despite going into maintenance mode back when Shohei Ohtani was a rookie. I’m in the app regularly, and its reminders are in my email all the time. I have a few changes I’d like to see, but they’re not major, and after 11 years I’ve gotten very comfortable with the UI. In an industry known for its ephemeral nature, a service you can trust to stick around is a revelation.

“Until the end of the internet” sounds coy, but it means something to the people it impacts. I’m grateful for it, and for as long as Basecamp keeps its promise, they’ll have me as a customer.

Tennis balls and the failures of the Amazon ecommerce model

I played tennis Monday afternoon and noticed our tennis balls were just about through their useful life. After dinner, I started wondering how to replace them, living in my Upper West Side apartment, closer to the tennis courts than anyplace that would sell balls (the courts don’t, although they should).

Offhand, I couldn’t think of anyplace local to run in. Modell’s closed down, taking both local sporting goods stores out of our neighborhood. There’s a Target up here, but it’s way over on Columbus Avenue, and I don’t go over there much. We have some bodegas and 99-cent stores, but I’m not familiar with most of them, and didn’t want to wander around asking who has a sleeve of Pro Penns.

In an attempt to solve my problem immediately, I went, as we have been conditioned, to Amazon. Surely I could get some tennis balls shipped to the apartment before our next court time, on Thursday. (Disclosure: we are Amazon shareholders and Prime members.)

Turns out, yes, I could. But not in any useful way. Because Amazon’s model is cost-effective shipping, there’s no reasonable size worth buying; the site pushes you toward bulk: sacks of 18 balls, packs of 12 sleeves. Not what I’m after.

In addition, because Amazon is a marketplace focused on generating shipments with margin, the prices were awful. A can of tennis balls is $2.99 at retail, give or take. Not on they’re as much as $12, as I write this, for one sleeve of three balls. Even in bulk sizes, the prices don’t budge: I found $27.50 for four sleeves, for example ($6.88 per sleeve), and $59 for twelve ($4.92 per). Sure, you can get tennis balls tomorrow, but only if you’re compelled to leverage the free shipping and ignore the exorbitant prices.

Amazon’s current business model takes 34 cents on the dollar from its vendors. To sell me a four-pack of tennis balls, a reseller on feels the need to charge $27.50 (at the time of this writing). After the reported 34% Amazon take, the vendor’s recognized revenue is around $18—still not three bucks a can, but at least not egregious. But Amazon isn’t concerned that the product is overpriced, it has that Prime lock-in. The site thus converts an ignorant shopper, traps a hurried one, or turns off one who’s paying attention. That last one, tonight, was me.

After a detour to the Dick’s Sporting Goods website, where tennis ball prices were fair ($18 for six cans) but free-shipping hurdles were high, I wound up on They sold me a four-pack of cans for $11.19. And because I have a similar relationship with Target as I do with Amazon, I threw in a few household staples and got free shipping, albeit a day or two slower than

And it turns out that Target on Columbus has individual tennis ball sleeves in stock. Maybe I’ll walk the dog over there and pick some up for Thursday.

A simple step to customer satisfaction: databases with long memories

I’m flying United Airlines later this month for the first time since 2004. A few days ago, United emailed me: “Don’t miss out on award miles on your trip.” The email encouraged me to sign up for MileagePlus, United’s customer loyalty program.

I’m no United regular, but as I actually have three flight legs booked with them through April, I figured they had a point.

But I decided to do them one better. Digging around old text files, I found my old Continental OnePass number.

I pulled up my flight details and dropped in the old OnePass number. United recognized the account instantly and added it to my itinerary.

Pleasantly surprised, I proceeded to log into my account, using the same number and the decade-old PIN I had on file. had no trouble pulling my account together, listing my lifetime miles flown while simultaneously updating my address to the one I entered for my upcoming travel.

This is what all customer loyalty programs should look like. With the right investment in database architecture, companies can have information about their customers readily available, and utilize that to surprise and delight even the most passive of patrons. Like me, the once-every-twelve-years infrequent flier, now pleasantly blogging about a company I once publicly rebuked.

I recently had an unsatisfying discussion with Hyatt via Twitter where I challenged their policy of expiring accounts. Seems they are deleting my Gold Passport account next month because of lack of use—not expiring my points, but wiping out my ID entirely. Why? I asked. I got back a corporate version of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and a suggestion I buy some points to stay in their good graces.

Compare Hyatt’s attitude with United, where any customer stickiness remains part of my lifetime value, regardless of frequency. Or AMC Theatres, where my Moviewatcher account worked for roughly 20 years, despite being forgotten for a good 15 of them between uses, when I lived out of reach of one of their locations.

AMC welcomed me back with open arms (and I’m now a highly satisfied Stubs customer, too). United has now done the same, and suddenly I’m looking forward to my flight.

Day 1 with an Apple Watch

I’m on Day Four wearing my Apple Watch, and I like it very much. I’m finding it useful, attractive, comfortable, interesting and fun.

Of course, my first day wearing it was something else entirely. And while reviewers intentionally give new products some breathing room, I thought I’d take a stab at quantifying the first impressions of a Watch wearer. This is a product with a learning curve—does it create impediments? Frustrated expectations? Or would it all be part of the fun?

So I live-tweeted my day getting used to the watch (to the chagrin of my friends on Facebook, where my tweets cross-post). I’m a few days removed from the experience, so they are presented below as-is. All in all, it was a very good first day.

Communicating value to customers

Southwest Airlines has been running an ad during the NCAA basketball tournament that touts its frugal ways. The ad is transparent, honest and pragmatic.

“You save money dealing directly with us,” the voiceover says of its website, and “we save money dealing directly with you.”

From there, the ad touts its low airfares—see? See?—as a clean extension of the value proposition behind the company.

I love this commercial for its win-win approach. Southwest is calling out on national television that they’re not playing games. If you work with us, they say, it costs us less, and in turn, we’ll help you spend less, too. In today’s savvy shopping environment, it’s great to see a brand talk frankly about minding costs and passing savings onto customers.

Compare this with the sign I see in the building cafeteria when I’m in my New Jersey office. It covers the front of every napkin dispenser they have.


“When our costs rise,” it says, in bold red type, “Your [sic] prices rise.”

This little sign could be a win-win, like Southwest’s ad. But it’s not. It’s antagonistic. It’s a threat. There’s no mutual benefit, no collaboration, just a warning. Waste our money, and we’ll take it right out of your pocket, bucko.

It helps that the cafeteria is the only place to grab lunch without a decent walk. They have a bit of a monopoly, and it shows: the food is somewhat expensive, the cooks refuse to go off-script, and certain stations randomly don’t open some days. All of which mirrors the attitude on the napkin dispensers. Don’t mess with me, eater. I’m all you’ve got.

The cafeteria misses an opportunity to create customer loyalty that could have been communicated simply and effectively. How much better would the napkin dispenser make customers feel if it said, “Keeping costs down keeps your lunch prices down,” instead of going toe-to-toe with diners?

On quality

I discovered Energy Kitchen in 2004 or 2005, when it had but one lonely outpost, randomly, on Second Avenue near 59th Street in Manhattan. I wandered in looking for a fast meal and emerged with freshly grilled chicken and brown rice in a healthy wrap. Low calorie, fresh and delicious—oh, and by the way, low-calorie and low-fat, too. Genius!

A few years later, Energy Kitchen went into expansion mode, and in short order had what felt like a dozen or more outlets around the city. One opened on West 23rd Street by my then-office. I excitedly stopped in shortly after opening, and found an updated menu—now with more nouveau options, like bison—as well as modern decor and a ticketing system for the lunch rush. Oh, and by the way, every entree was under 500 calories. Still genius.

Only now, Energy Kitchen wasn’t a friendly novelty restaurant. It was one of a growing chain, and it showed. The lunch rush at the store on 23rd was poorly managed; staff actually set up a holding pen for people to wait for their food, forcing us to loiter uncomfortably next to the trash cans. The wait times were often rather long. And despite the new fast-food underpinnings, the prices stayed high; if memory serves, that bison burger was a $12 item. (I never got around to trying it.)

And, most importantly, the food went downhill. As a burgeoning quick service chain with a fair number of stores, Energy Kitchen had to harness economies of scale. That meant pre-packaging some food items rather than cooking them fresh, which degraded both the quality and the flavor of a meal. I once watched in disappointment as the cooks carried a tray of chicken up from the basement: many small plastic bags of parboiled chicken, already cut, ready for a quick spin in a microwave and an unceremonious dump into a wrap. So much for fresh and grilled.

So today’s news of Energy Kitchen’s demise, while unexpected, is not that surprising. The chain positioned itself as having a smart product: healthy, flavorful and satisfying. But Energy Kitchen charged upscale prices for a product that ceased to be upscale, despite the claims on the front window. I imagine many health-conscious customers went looking for organic and locavore cuisine rather than save a few calories on pre-bagged poultry. It’s a classic case of failing to deliver on the brand’s promise.

Which is a shame, because at the outset, Energy Kitchen had a great idea and great execution. Above all else, the quality of the product will ultimately define the success or failure of an organization.

Instead of just narrowing airline seats, charge for better ones, too

The Wall Street Journal’s expose on airlines narrowing coach-seat widths seems, to me, yet another market opportunity for the airlines, if only they’d position it correctly.

Now, I’m no advocate of skimpy seating. I want to travel in as much comfort as I can afford. But the key word there is afford. 

Consumers have continually shown that they have strong price sensitivity when they fly. This forces the airlines to keep their base fares low, which in turn forces them to find ancillary revenue sources. Upcharges for baggage, exit rows, and priority boarding are all designed to offset the cost of keeping airfares at competitive rates and aid profitability. (It’s working, too.)

So why not use this seating to their advantage? Selling more-hiproom seats in the same manner as more-legroom rows would undoubtedly prove profitable by servicing that segment of the policy (such as this author) that is willing to pay a small premium for an upgraded experience. If that extra seat in a nine-across row generates another $300 fare, having a handful of eight-across rows generating $40 per passenger in upgrade fees would be similarly profitable.

I do not look forward to my first 17-inch-wide airline seat. Here’s to hoping the more-space movement hits the front of the coach cabins on these planes sooner than later.

On AT&T’s new data tethering

For all the fuss about AT&T’s new data rates (both pragmatically good and knee-jerk bad) the main point to keep in mind is whether those rates are actually good for consumers. For the most part, they are: John Gruber notes in his post that 98% of AT&T’s users fall below the new 2GB monthly plan, and that even with overages these rates beat the competition.
datausage.pngI’m a daily, heavy user of data on my iPhone 3GS, so I logged into my phone bill to see where I land. And lo, a surprise: not only do I not need unlimited data, I can actually drop down to the 250MB plan. Because I regularly use my home and work wifi, and I don’t download much media, my 3G bandwidth usage has been 230MB or less for the past six months.
I like the idea of an open meter, and when I change plans, I’ll probably switch to the 2GB/month plan, even if it costs me a few bucks extra. I will be happier paying $25/month and never hitting my limit than paying $15/month and worrying about, or getting slapped with, overages when I download some videos. Still, that’s found money for me, and for 98% of AT&T’s smartphone users.
One could gripe all day about AT&T’s signal strength or its needlessly expensive text messaging plans. But its data plans are well considered and decently consumer-friendly, no matter how the blogosphere reacts.

« Older posts

Ideapad © 1998–2024 David Wertheimer. All rights reserved.