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Welcome to Webgrrls Wisdom, a blog to find commentaries about women's careers, business, technology, and the industry.

Posts published in 'E-commerce' category

Crowd-Sourced Fashion: New Social-Shopping Apps

written by Erica Orange
Erica Orange
Topics: E-commerce, Tech Tools
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It has been – and will always be about – shopping.  And while shopping may be the preferred religion of many women, who has time to run around town searching for the perfect garment? Let alone spend hours trying on different styles and sizes.  But thanks to a series of new fashion-based “social shopping” apps and services, it’s becoming easier to make better – and more thoughtful – purchasing decisions.

Let’s take a look at a few:

 

Pose is a free iPhone app that urges users to strut their stuff by posting geo-tagged photos of their favorite fashion finds on Facebook, Twitter, and within Pose itself.  Users can then solicit style feedback from a panel of fashion-savvy experts, ranging from celebrated bloggers to other active members of the Pose community. Brands themselves can also leverage the app for promotions and in-store deals.  This is a great way for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers to reignite the thrill that was once associated with in-store shopping.

 

VIZL is a new real-time app that enables retailers, stylists and shoppers to save time and money: two of the most precious – and coveted – things in our lives! Not only do brands provide abundant catalogs of their newest items, but stylists can snag photos of the must-have goods and get quick e-approval from their clients. And shoppers can upload whole wardrobes to the app for later use, e.g., when searching for matching pieces in stores. Outfits can then be shared on Facebook – for even more approval.

 

Ever wonder where you can snag that must-have accessory or item? You search everywhere and come up empty-handed? Well, Where To Get It solves that problem for you.  The program employs crowd-sourcing to help site members determine the source of garments and accessories. Users take a picture of their object of desire—e.g., on the street, in a magazine, or in the closet of a stingy friend—then can post it to a community of knowledgeable shoppers who are able to identify both the brand and store.

 

WHAT WILL THIS MEAN?

  • More companies will operate in two realms – the traditional brick-and-mortar and the virtual. Effectively marrying the two in increasingly innovative and expansive ways will be critical.
  • The creation of a more holistic consumer retailing and brand experience  will prove revolutionary to existing and new businesses in the future.
  • Not only are traditional marketing messages being moved to alternative media, but new technologies and sales channels are spurring wholly new businesses.

 

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Want to save the earth? Drop the online shopping and drive to the store, apparently.

written by Elena Strange
Elena Strange
Topics: Business, Career, E-commerce
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A study released this week suggests that working from home and shopping online do nothing to decrease pollution and in fact may increase it.

As an Amazon-holic and frequent couch-based worker, I’m a little disappointed to hear this news. I’m not sure how many physical trips I replace by shopping online, but I doubt it averages anywhere near 3.5. I’ve never ordered 25 items at once. And I wouldn’t drive or bike more than 50 kilometers to buy anything.

I don’t shop online or work from home to decrease pollution. I do those things because I’m lazy, and they’re easy. And, sure, I develop maybe a little incidental environmentalist smugness about it, but mostly convenience draws me in.

Still, even if helping the earth hasn’t been my driving motivation, I assumed I at least wasn’t hurting anything. Didn’t you?

Despite believing myself to be a lefty environmentalist-type (I ride my bicycle everywhere, compost my banana peels, and try, with varying degrees of success to take short showers), this news is probably not going to change my behavior—or, most likely, anyone’s. Those of us who shop online regularly are probably not going to hop in our cars and drive across town to a bookstore instead of hopping onto Amazon.com. We’re not going to go into the office when we could be working on the couch, in our jammies. Well, maybe to feel a book in our hands, or to impress our bosses, but not to save the earth.

Will this study change your behavior with regards to shopping online and working from home?

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Privacy vs. Convenience: Fingerprinting at the gym

written by Elena Strange
Elena Strange
Topics: Business, E-commerce, Technology
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The gym I go to is doing away with membership cards. In many of its gyms nationwide, including all 10 locations in my city, they use biometrics to let you in the door. Instead of swiping a card, you type in a 10-digit identification number and scan the tip of your index finger.

Although privacy advocates have expressed concern at this approach, there has been no major backlash so far against 24 Hour Fitness for using biometrics to identify its customers. The system has been implemented in what seems to be a reasonable and gradual way, and members may continue to use membership cards if they prefer.

Using fingerprints in place of membership cards is convenient, reduces waste, and impedes sneak-ins.

  • Convenience. I dress in my exercise clothes to get to the gym, so it’s nice for me to not have to stash a membership card when I often don’t have any pockets. Plus, it’s one fewer item to lose and get charged $25 for, which I’ve done with my workplace badge twice in three years. And after all, convenience is a selling point in a gym—location, hours, parking or bike racks, and classes help us choose the right fitness center.
  • Reducing waste. Biometrics are kinder to the environment, as there is no need to print membership cards or use up envelopes mailing them out. With 3 million members nationwide, 24 Hour Fitness alone can eliminate a great deal of wasted paper and plastic—and imagine how much more if other gyms and companies adopt a similar approach.
  • Impeding sneak-ins. Without a membership card to beg, borrow, or steal off a friend, it’s hard for a non-member to gain access to a club. It’s awfully difficult to fake a fingerprint.

The downsides of biometrics include identity theft and privacy concerns.

  • Identity theft. It is awfully hard to fake a fingerprint. It’s not impossible, however, and once someone has forged your print, it’s probably pretty tough to rectify. You can always get a new membership card. How would you get a new fingerprint?
  • Privacy concerns. Officials say that the biometrics system used by 24 Hour Fitness doesn’t store fingerprints in a way that law enforcement personnel could compare to the prints left at a crime scene, but I’m not thoroughly reassured. Since I don’t have a criminal record, my fingerprints aren’t in the possession of the authorities (as far as I know). But now they might be able to track me down through my gym if I decide to pull a big jewelry heist or something.

All in all, I think there’s no reason to be too concerned about scanning in at 24 Hour Fitness. I’m glad I don’t have to tote around a membership card (or worry about losing it), and, for now, I’m not too worried about privacy. As long as we still have the option of saying no, and as long as they’re not selling our fingerprints, this approach raises no big red flags for me. Does your gym or workplace use biometrics? What do you think of it?

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Google and Verizon vs. Net Neutrality

written by Elena Strange
Elena Strange
Topics: Business, E-commerce
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The principle of net neutrality, once it’s codified and enforced, will give us a free and open Internet. Following net neturality’s ideals, a deep-pocketed company can’t pay an ISP to give its site higher priority for access and downloads. Furthermore, an ISP can’t block sites or media that are offensive or owned by a competitor. Everything you can get online, you get can in equal measure.

When Google and Verizon issued a joint statement last week about their shared vision of an open Internet, we all had a collective mini-freakout. It wasn’t the full-throated, unequivocal support for net neutrality that Google has embraced in the past. Instead, it felt more like two companies scheming to get what they want.

Although it received some tepid support, the Google/Verizon proposal has been thoroughly panned by various parties, including the FCC, TechCrunch, and even the New York Times. The critics absolutely have a point, but I think we’ve all gone a bit overboard, possibly because of the sheer scope and reach of Google and Verizon. They’re huge, and they’re everywhere. If they really wanted to, they could probably take over the world. So when they go into cahoots to stray from the no-compromise ideals of net neutrality, we feel insecure. Nevertheless, I think there’s some good and some bad to this proposal.

The good:

  1. Consumer protection. ISPs would not be allowed to block or purposefully impede traffic regardless of application or service. If this idea had been adopted and enforced years ago, Comcast would never have been able to prevent its users from accessing BitTorrent, an act that resulted in the major net neutrality lawsuit of our time.
  2. Non-discrimination. ISPs could not discriminate against any traffic or content in a way that harms competition or users. High-roller companies could not pay for their sites to have higher priority.
  3. Limiting FCC scope. The FCC would enforce—but not create—the laws regulating the Internet. It would take an act of Congress to modify net neutrality rules. Although the FCC has so far been the good guy in all of this, protecting consumers from discriminatory download and access policies, too much power might go to their heads. What if they decide to restrict bad words, like they do with television? I’d never get to do anything online again.

The bad:

  1. Wireless is exempt. The provisions above apply only to the wired Internet. Wireless is a huge part of the online world, and exempting it undermines the whole idea of an open Internet. Like 56% of Americans, I use wireless Internet regularly, in some form or another. I’m writing this blog post on the free WiFi at my local coffee shop. Later on today, I’ll surely be checking my email on my phone, which is a capability I became addicted to almost instantly after getting my first smartphone. A mobile Internet study released in late 2009 concluded that wireless access is growing faster and will be bigger than the desktop Internet.
  2. Wireless is exempt!! I just can’t get over this provision. Consider the ability of the wireless to reach folks who don’t otherwise have Internet access. African-Americans, for example, lag behind whites in home-based Internet access, but they’re the most active users of the mobile Internet, with a growth rate nearly twice the national average. If we neglect net neutrality on the wireless Internet, we reinforce the gap between the haves and the have-nots. If you can get a home computer and broadband access, you’ve got a free and open Internet. Otherwise, sorry.

The wireless exemption is huge, but it’s understandable coming from these two companies. Google’s Android marketshare is growing but nowhere near Google’s search engine penetration of 72% in the US. Verizon, meanwhile, still lags behind AT&T among wireless providers. Different rules for wireless might give them an edge. No matter how “non-evil” a company is, we cannot expect that it will operate out of anything other than self-interest. Luckily, their proposal is just a proposal. It will be up to the FCC and Congress to actually set net neutrality rules.

What do you think of the Google/Verizon net neutrality proposal?

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Broadband Access: The new Rural Electrification

written by Elena Strange
Elena Strange
Topics: E-commerce, Education, Technology
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When I was a teenager in small-town Vermont, my family couldn’t get cable television at home. The technology was around, of course, it just wasn’t profitable for Adelphia to lay so much cable through all that nature for so few customers. Devastating for me at the time, but not, all in all, a big deal. Nowadays, however, there are similar rural communities all over the country that cannot get high-speed Internet connections for the same reasons—and that is a very big deal.

Because we use it as much for entertainment as for vital communication (I do, anyway), it is easy to see Internet access—especially broadband—as a luxury and not a necessity. Perhaps that used to be the case, but times have changed. Broadband is needed in all kinds of ways, just as electricity was needed when the Rural Electrification Act was passed in 1936:

  • Kids need it. Much as I love Facebook and Hulu, the Internet is about far more than that, even for teenagers. Young people need broadband to study, communicate, and keep up with their connected peers. The later in life you begin to cross the digital divide, the longer the journey is.
  • Farmers need it. On a farm, broadband is today what electricity was in 1936. Back then, farmers needed electricity to run new equipment such as threshers and milking machines. Now, they need the Internet to communicate with suppliers and customers, get weather updates and commodities information.
  • Everyone else needs it. The way I see it, I wouldn’t have a job without my high-speed connection—I wouldn’t be able to find one! I need broadband to look for work, to keep in touch with networking contacts, and to research companies. My counterpart in a rural community, with dial-up or nothing, is at a definite disadvantage.

For all these reasons, I was glad to see this week that President Obama’s administration announced nearly $795 million in grants and loans for increasing broadband access all over the country, particularly for rural communities.

Obama has made a great start, but this funding comes from the stimulus bill—a one-time infusion of cash. Truly increasing broadband access will require a sustained effort, much like the Rural Electrification Act did. After all, it took us nearly 50 years to provide electricity and telephone service to most farms.

The focus on rural communities also narrows the scope. Broadband needs to be affordable as well as accessible. With an average monthly charge of $39, it’s not always enough to simply have the option there. A sustained effort could expand the scope to help out those families for whom broadband is too costly.

What do you think of expanding broadband access? Do you have a high-speed connection at home? Could you live without it (I couldn’t!)?

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