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UK Property Investment news and comments from Mark Harrison of YourPropertyExpert.com

Archive for the ‘Companies I Like’ Category

pic2shop – an iPhone app that I have fallen in love with

Posted by markharrison on March 23, 2010

Towards the end of last year, my former phone supplier decided that, as my contract had expired, they would respond by upping my monthly bill somewhat. Now, I had thought that the economics of mobile phones worked by having a HIGHER monthly bill during the initial contract, as a way of the network provider subsidising the cost of providing me with a handset.

I was happy with the handset I had, but unhappy with my provider, so thought I should change. One thing to consider, despite holding off smartphones for many years, was the iPhone. Despite the best attempts of the in-store staff to cross-sell me to a Blackberry (which was absolutely not what I wanted, and a surprising response given that I’d gone in looking to buy an iPhone), I was finally able to purchase it and (with one niggle, about the ringer volume being nothing like loud enough), I am delighted.

What I expect from an Apple product – more expensive than the competition, on a “feature count” basis, but a joy to use, with huge amounts of work in the design elements and ease of use.

Having got a smartphone, it then took me a few months to do anything other than use the built-in features. The web browsing in particular is something I’ve come to rely on, and the fact that more and more sites provide mobile skins optimised for mobile-device resolutions makes the mobile Internet experience a lot better than even a couple of years ago.

However, I now have my first app, and it’s great. It’s called pic2shop.

It uses a combination of the camera on the phone, and the always-on Internet connectivity to price-check something while you’re in a shop.

You start the app, point the camera at the bar-code on the product, and it locks on, and scans it… it then wanders off to the Internet, presumably to a server run by the pic2shop people,  and finds price comparisons from various websites.

For books, it works very, very well. In Tesco today, I saw the newest Heston Blumenthal book, with a list price on the back of £35, but a Tesco special sticker on the front telling me it was £25, saving me a tenner. One zap of pic2shop later, and I discovered that Amazon sold it for £22.50 or thereabouts, so it never made it from the hand to the trolley. (I have Amazon Prime, so pay a fixed annual fee for next-day delivery no matter how many books I buy.)

Less success of magazines – Country Life’s barcode read, but the application couldn’t find an on-line seller. To be honest, I’m not so surprised.

Clearly, it isn’t going to help with items that don’t have barcodes – the LCD TVs in Tesco, for example, nor with own-brand goods for which there aren’t alternative suppliers…

… but for a free application, it’s marvellous. In the grand scheme of things, a £2.50 saving isn’t huge, but the feeling of smugness I get out of making said saving is out of all proportion to the raw economic value – turns out I am a creature driven by emotions after all.

[Other applications that do the same as pic2shop exist – I’ve not compared them, since the pic2shop seems to work well, and the others I found were chargeable apps, rather than free. It may well be available for other handsets, but again, I neither know nor care, since I’m not going to change my iPhone for another 18ish months.]

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Posted in Companies I Like | 6 Comments »

Actually, you can get back a customer!

Posted by markharrison on December 29, 2007

Back in February, I wrote this post about what I perceived as a poor experience with Gieves and Hawkes, the Savile Row tailors.

It would appear that things have improved, since over Christmas I got an email from their Marketing Director that started:

I was recently made aware of the blog you wrote in February of this year regarding Gieves & Hawkes response to your email of the same month that pointed out the spelling mistake on our website.

[… ]While some time may have passed and the ‘horse could be said to have bolted’ I certainly believe it is never too late to make amends or in this case clarify a miscommunication.

The email went on to thank me for taking the time to point out the initial error (long-since fixed), and explain the chain of events that led up to my being unhappy. It would appear that there was miscommunication on both sides.

While, obviously, there is a far greater burden of responsibility on a supplier to communicate effectively with a customer than there is on a customer to communicate with a supplier, I must concede several things.

  • I was harsh on Gieves for doing this
  • Their Marketing Director has clearly (once he was aware of the issue) taken steps to try to get me back as a customer

The happy ending is that I am looking forward to getting over to them and seeing what they have in the sales.

Posted in Building Businesses, Companies I Like, Web Marketing | Leave a Comment »

Bridging the Digital Divide in Kingston – e-voice.org.uk

Posted by markharrison on November 2, 2007

Once in a while, I come across an organisation that I just want to help promote/publicise.

Well, this morning, I learnt about e-voice.org.uk

To quote from Guarav Patel, who told me about it (on a Ubuntu list.) (Apologies to those who are reading this blog entry ON the Ubuntu Planet syndication site, and already know all about this – but 99% of my readers aren’t from that community):

I’m a member of a team of an organisation where I volunteer every
Wednesday to offer free wireless Internet in an estate in Kingston,
London.

A problem we had was that many people in this estate had very little
money and very little computing knowledge.

Long story short, we had to supply the computers. We had another
charity organisation offer a around 80 old Dell Optiplex (I think the
model number is GX1). We pre-install these computers with Ubuntu 6.06
and give everything away for a low low price of £0.

If you want to know more about what we’re doing, there’s some information on the website at http://www.e-voice.org.uk/comcon/

Here’s the kind of thing you’ll find on their website:

We are distributing free PCs on a “first come, first served” basis, although we will be happy to give priority to those currently without any PC already at home, or people who can demonstrate a particular need (e.g. limited mobility, school-aged children, etc).

Way to go people, keep up the fantastic work!

Posted in Companies I Like, Open Source, Wikinomics | Leave a Comment »

Trick or Healthy Treat?

Posted by markharrison on October 31, 2007

I have many goals in life, but this evening two of them coincided nicely.

Firstly, I like the idea of improving people’s knowledge (heh, you probably guessed that from the fact I run a training company.)

But I also enjoy increasing the amount of humour in the world. (You may not have guessed that, and Mary says I’m not entirely successful.)

This evening was, of course, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween for short. I find it slightly odd that virtually no-one remember what tomorrow is, of course, but that’s another blog post for another day.

In the last few years, Trick or Treat has certainly caught on big-time in the UK – however, here in West Sussex, we appear to have a relatively benign version – small groups of well-dressed, and well-spoken young men and women, inevitably accompanied by a responsible adult, have been ringing the doorbell, and saying “trick or treat” in a way that makes it clear that the response “trick” would not, in fact, lead to any serious harm.

However, they have been carrying, what can only be described as buckets, typically half-full of sweets by the time they arrive.

So, we offer them a healthy option. Mary or I stand on the doorstep, explaining that we don’t have sweets, but have a choice of organic plums or carrots (which we’ve quartered), for healthy, immediate consumption.

Carrots, the Healthy Trick or Treat option

Based on our, admittedly unscientific, survey:

  • Most teenagers are DELIGHTED to be given such a choice.
  • Most teenagers did NOT, until this evening, realise that carrots can be consumed raw.
  • Teenagers will, overwhelmingly, choose the raw carrot option over the plum

Crikey.

I’m a bit saddened by point number 2, but points numbers 1 and 3 have increased my

faith in “the youth of today” (you’ll have to imagine the voice of a 37 year old pretending to be a grumpy old man here.)

And, to plug a company I love, the Healthy Treats came from Abel and Cole, who deliver an “organic box of seasonal fruit and veg” to us, including, well, carrots.

Posted in Companies I Like, Just for fun | 1 Comment »

Kyte TV – impressive customer service!

Posted by markharrison on August 8, 2007

A couple of days ago, I had a conversation with Phil Campbell about the power of Video Blogging.

I remembered that I had a little USB webcam in a crate, so I plugged it in, and tried a couple of the sites he recommended.

I’m going to be reviewing Operator11.com in the future, but I thought I’d talk briefly about Kyte.tv first.

Nik Butler recommended that I try them, and for fun set up a game of Mornington Crescent, with the rules being that anyone could play, provided they post their move as a videoblog entry. The results are hardly going to go down in history as a masterpiece of the videographers work, but did show how easy it was to provide video content with a cheap camera, an ordinary laptop,  a fleece  blanket, and a couple of Ikea Takt clip spotlights. (OK, it’s clear that the lighting needs improving.)

Mary tried as well, and blogged about the results last night. That was when the impressive bit happened. Within 15 minutes of her blog entry, one of the developers from Kyte had noticed that someone had been blogging about them, and posted this comment, that explained how she could actually have the video embedded within her blog.

I could blog on about how easy the service is to use, but the thing that’s really come away with me is how much the team at Kyte must really care about their (non-paying!) customers to do that kind of thing.
Well done, well done.

And yes, I do know, thanks to that, how to embed the video – the fact I’m not doing so is a decision made of choice, not ignorance 🙂

Posted in Companies I Like, SNO, Social Networking, Social Networking Optimisation, Video blogging, Web Marketing | 1 Comment »

The future of shopping – a third way?

Posted by markharrison on May 2, 2007

I had a meeting in Oxford this morning, but owing to very light traffic, got there about an hour too early. This gave me time to kill, so I went to three of the Blackwells shops. Firstly their “flagship”, specifically the second-hand department on the third floor. Then the “Art and Poster”, where I didn’t really find anything. Finally, the Music Shop, where I did… but I won’t tell you what just yet…

Shop-keepers have a fairly difficult problem in the years to come – the problem is, of course, that one can buy pretty much anything on the Internet, and (obviously) Internet stores can be run at a much lower overhead than one requires to rent a place on the High Street and pay staff.

In the late 1990s, I worked for Lend Lease – not exactly a household name (unless you live in Australia), but one of the world’s larger operators of shopping malls. In the UK, they are the people behind Bluewater. I visited Bluewater a little while before it opened (hard hat tour!) and was impressed at the size of the construction. But more impressive (to me) was the vision that was clear in the show suite – the part of the site that was used to present to potential retailers. The vision was that shopping is retail is indeed becoming harder, and that in order to make a profit there is an alternative to cutting costs and being the cheapest – you can, instead, provide an “experience.” Make the act of shopping a destination in its own right. This, to my mind, Bluewater has done excellently. It’s just so much nicer to shop there than, say, at my local centre (County Mall in Crawley). Not for any single reason, but because of a huge number of minor points (like the parking spaces being 20 cm wider than the UK norm, so I never have to abandon a space because the doors on the car are wider than normal.)

However, Blackwells Music Shop in Oxford this morning, I was reminded that there is a “Third Way” – that you can be a success on the high street, provided that you offer phenomenal service.

So, what did I buy?

About a year ago, driving home one evening from a training course, I heard a track on Radio 3. (I tend to listen to BBC Southern Counties when I’m moving, but switch to Radio 3 when I’m stuck in heavy traffic because it calms me down.)

I wanted to buy the CD, so I said “I heard a track on radio 3 a while ago. It was early music, sort of Palestrina-like, but could have been Vittoria or someone else. Then it had a bizarre saxaphone counterpoint”.

“Ah yes”, said the store assistant. I know what you want – there are two of them, but we’re out of stock of the one that you’re probably after. Then he took me over to the shelf, and picked out the one they did have in stock – Officium by Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble, playing music by people like Morales and Dufay.

He then offered to order in the other one, but I explained I’m not in Oxford very often, so instead he wrote down the name for me so I could order it online.

Anyway, I’m writing this while lying on the Chesterfield in Mary’s study, listening to Officium on the laptop, and it is absolutely stunning – whether it’s the one I’d heard on Radio 3 is neither here nor there – this CD is great!

So, well done Blackwells Music Shop – superb service, and a great example of how the High Street might indeed survive.

However, before I sign off – a quick rant. I’m in Oxford about 6 times a year now, and normally at Domia’s office during working hours, so I don’t get into the town centre until typically about 7pm.

Blackwells is shut in the evenings. Borders is crowded. I’ve hundreds of pounds in there in 2006 – you could have had that business!

Posted in Companies I Like, Economics | 1 Comment »

Do you wear glasses? If so, how about this?

Posted by markharrison on March 27, 2007

If you live in South London, Surrey, or Sussex, you may have noticed the big “back of tractor” banner ad for glassesdirect.co.uk on the side of the M25.

This is one of these things that has caused loads of people (at least 2, anyway) to phone into the radio complaining about the “countyside being ruined”. I don’t know how to explain this any more clearly than:

THERE IS ALREADY AN 8-LANE MOTORWAY RUNNING THROUGH THAT BIT OF THE COUNTRYSIDE.

While the radio feature was on, I counted over 70 lorries, all showing adverts, driving along the motorway, so what the problem with the tractor in the field is, I have no idea 🙂 Frankly, if I were a struggling British farmer, I’d love to receive a bit of revenue for the ability to park a trailer with a banner on the back on my field.

However, it did remind me that I needed to blog about this…

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I needed to get new glasses. I’ve had mine for (mea cupla), probably 4 years now, so time to get at least a check.

Like the rest of the UK population, I went along to SpecSavers. Booked an appointment on-line. Charming young man who went through the test in great detail, asking questions, explaining a bit about how the musculature within the eyes actually works, and why this had changed my prescription compared to the glasses I’d worn on my way in. Good service, good manners, and so on…

… then I figured, “OK, I know that I could shop around to buy the glasses, but I feel good about SpecSavers, so let’s buy here”. Slightly annoying saleswoman who kept trying to upsell me to some more expensive frames, despite the fact that my wife was standing there say “I prefer THOSE” (at the cheaper ones.)

Specsavers – £120 (including eye-test)

Then I went home, and remembered that I’d had a glassesdirect catalogue, and thought I’d look on their website.

I ended up buying a “spare pair” of glasses, similar frame (slightly different), identical lenses.

GlassesDirect – £17.50 (including delivery, but not including eye-test)

OK, Mary prefers the Specsavers ones (just), but in hindsite, not ten times as much.

GlassesDirect are, therefore, offering a similar product at 1/10th of the price. However, the downside is that I have to go elsewhere for an eye-test. I’ve honestly no idea what (if anything) SpecSavers would have charged for said test, if I’d walked out at the end of it, and not purchased the glasses, however, GlassesDirect have a big thumbs up.

Good points:

  • The price – 90% discount!
  • The delivery (claimed it would be 14 days on average, mine were there in eight)

A couple of minor “could do betters” (in case the GlassesDirect people read this)

  • When ordering, the frames have names like “Marion” and “Chloe”. When delivered the invoice said “Model RC-32″ (or something.) When I then went back to order another pair (tinted), I couldn’t work out what frame I’d bought last time other than looking at the file name of the images, and noticing that one said RC-32.jpg or whatever.” I would have been nicer for the invoice to say “Chloe” (or whatever the name was.)
  • When I tried to call them, on Saturday morning, to ask what frame I had for another order, I got a recorded message saying that they were shut, but would be open again at 9am… I don’t believe that they WERE open at 9am, given that the next 9am was a Sunday. Likewise, I find it odd that a business whose customers are individuals (as opposed to other businesses) chooses not to operate a Saturday service. [Yes, I know domia isn’t open on a Saturday either, but in our defence, over 2/3 of our sales are to trade customers, not the general public, so yes, I know it’s a hard business decision.]

The key questions, then:

  • Would I buy from glassesdirect again? Yes, I already have. I just ordered some sunglasses from them.
  • Would I recommend them to others. Very much so.

And, to help you find them, click here.

Posted in Companies I Like | 3 Comments »