Friday, August 31, 2012

Twitter, trolls and the hardly normal - 1

Today's post scans things of interest across the media and internet that link to the things I have been writing about.


Australian television host Charlotte Dawson was admitted to hospital after a sustained attack by twitter trolls. It appears that she fed them by responding in kind. (story here, here, here). Neil Whitfield drew my attention to this piece, Anonymity powers the cudgels in hatesphere, about another form of on-line attack. Actually, I want to come back to this piece later, for it raised some interesting issues re the current state of public discourse in Australia.

I have written a fair bit on manners etc in the on-line world. Those of us who write in whatever form make ourselves to a degree public figures. Those of us who write in an interactive environment expose ourselves to immediate response. It's not always easy.

In a post this morning on my Facebook page, I wrote:

Up very early this morning to complete my business solutions magazine column, this one linked to the new communications technologies. We all live in very different worlds. I don't mean different between us, just the varying worlds that each of us occupy - present or past, work and family, our interests. Facebook is an interesting case study because it is a link point between half a dozen different Jim worlds stretching over my whole somewhat variegated life. I needed time off-line to work out how I managed this, how to better integrate present and past, just what FB's role should be.

In a moment I will use this comment to segue onto a different topic, but for the moment I want to make a different point linked to my present discussion. Most active writers use different vehicles for often different purposes. We blog, we tweet, we facebook, we comment, we write for media. But what do we do when those vehicles start to merge elements of our visible life that we might like to keep separate in both our own minds and those we interact with?

I have decided to try my hand over the next few months at write a short training course or dummy's guide to survival in the on-line world. After all, I have made most mistakes myself! What do you think?

Hardly Normal and it's struggles with the on-line world

I said that my Facebook comment allowed me to segue onto a different topic. My business solutions magazine column dealt the impact of the new communications technologies. Now here Australian retailer Hardly Normal has a real problem.

For those outside Australia, Hardly Normal is the generally affectionate name give to Harvey Norman, an Australian retail chain. Hardly Normal has been struggling with the impact of the internet. Founder Gerry Harvey, should that be co-founder?, has not been impressed. This story, Gerry Harvey sick of internet 'spin', provides a remarkably candid perspective from a Chairman sick of the bullshit. His view - they have to do it, have an on-line sales presence, because everyone else does - completely misses the point. Can you see why?

Fairfax country paper web sites another Fairfax fail

In earlier posts I referred to the new web sites being introduced for papers like the Armidale Express. I will now mark them a fail. Check out the Express web site. It's a clean, modern web site yet I count it a failure. Can you see why? Hardly Normal provides a hint.

I am out of time tonight. I will continue this discussion tomorrow. 


Rod said...

Regarding the Trolling that goes on on:

Get off your high horse Jim and get a real job. Your regular drivel complaining about trolls makes me sick. And you smell funny.

That was a bit too easy!

Yours Anonymously,

Rod Holland.

If you didn't already realise, I am trying to demonstrate just how easy it is to be nasty on the internet.

I've got a few nasty things from time to time. It is never a nice thing to happen.

Jim Belshaw said...

You do indeed demonstrate it, Rod, and so anonymously!

Winton Bates said...

Hi Jim
I wonder how Gerry can complain about low internet sales at the same time as he complains that internet sales by foreign competitors are hurting his business. Perhaps he needs an internet spin doctor!

Re the Express, if you can get the content free on line, there isn't much incentive to buy the paper. Perhaps the strategy is to charge for content after customers get hooked on the online version. Meanwhile, the price of Fairfax shares continues to decline.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning Winton. You capture one inconsistency in his remarks. Another issue, and this holds partially true for Fairfax as well, is that his comment doesn't focus on why people come, why they buy, what they want. Both have a siege mentality.

On Fairfax, you don't necessarily put all content on line. The new web Rural Press web sites all look the same. They have all dropped the regional links. They are all platforms for the broader group. There is no differentiation.

Evan said...

A dummy's guide to surviving online sounds great.

The troll phenomenon is interesting. It persists without anonymity. Alan Jones and co. aren't anonymous.

Web2.0 (interactive - blogs rather than websites so to speak) is tricky for people selling stuff. The interactivity can be a goldmine of information about customers and computers mean this information can be gathered (so online is outdoing mainstream media for advertising spend). This has lead to much loose talk (in my view) about relationship marketing and so on. The problem is that you can't maintain much of a relationship with 10,000 people. You can gather information from lots of people but how you address them individually in some sense is very tricky to figure out.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank's Evan. I have a little already written! I agree with your point on relationship marketing. You have to define both the relationship and its point. A lot of the hype on social media & marketing is just dumb.

Evan said...

I don't know if you watch Gruen Planet. On that this week Russel (the bald apologist for capitalism) talked about Facebook Pixie Dust that would magically transform facebook likes into cash.

Jim Belshaw said...

You made me laugh, Evan. I wish I could get some of that Pixie Dust for my own writing!

Anonymous said...

Jim you say Gerry Harvey "completely misses the point". I am very interested in what you see as "the point".


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd. The point is that you have to focus on your customers. Gerry looked inwards.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jim.

I read that article when it was published and was left with the impression that he was talking about the financial aspects - if I remember correctly he stated that his e-sales were about 1.5% of turnover? His main complaint seemed to be that addressing that 'leakage' wasn't worth it, and that the hype was an expensive distraction. And then he also made the quite relevant point that a lot of his stores, by simple geography, were incapable of taking advantage of the internet anyway.

Anyway, he's a smart guy, and I'm sure he'll work out how to at least recoup his costs if not make any profit from his web presence. (And I'd refer you back to my recent comments about my own experience with Yellow Pages - and how one is effectively 'forced' to maintain a presence in a marketplace)


Jim Belshaw said...

Now correct me if I am wrong, kvd. As you said, he focused on the financial aspects. But to say that you were forced to do it - the on-line thing - almost by fashion even if it didn't make commercial sense,isn't that dumb?

Anonymous said...

Well now Jim, 'dumb' is an emotive word, which does not take into account one's lack of knowledge at the time of making a decision. As of now I'll happily accept making a decision in ignorance, which I intend to reverse next year; at such point it would indeed be dumb not to so do.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing I've always thought, and if your 'guide for dummies' can set out how to turn 20/20 hindsight into foresight then that would be a very worthwhile contribution.


Anonymous said...

Jim, not to disturb your gardening (and I'll have a lotsa please) but I'd be interested in your thoughts at some stage upon which attributes of a business you feel are assisted by having a web presence? Or, wider again, which sorts of businesses can (or can't?) particularly benefit from same?

It is a very interesting topic, one which I've done a lot of thinking about for many years in one way or another - and perhaps I should add that two of Gerry Harvey's earlier comments that I do agree with were his reference to GST avoidance and the use of his bricks and mortar stores as comparison points benefitting later internet-based purchases.


Evan said...

re internet businesses. A blog or website can act as a brochure so that people know more before they contact you - eliminating standard conversations and saving a lot of time.

I don't think there would be much point in a local shop having a website.

If the market is global and micro it can be a good way to advertise. Ie. aggregating the long tail.

Some services can be delivered virtually. There is even email counselling - which has opened up a new market. And is actually useful in my experience.

For services it is a way of building the know, like and trust factor. Giving a sense that the person has a relationship with the service provider.

The internet can be a way of making the sale more personal than an anonymous sales person in a store.

Jim Belshaw said...

I accept that dumb is an emotive word, but the comment was phrased in a present tense.

The comparison point one is interesting, and bears upon your next comment. People have always comparison shopped. So if someone goes to Harvey Norman and thinks that they have a better deal when they go to a second store, they don't go back. You have to ask the question what new element has been introduced into the equation by the internet.

With physical goods, the internet allows on-line price comparisons. So why and when would you bother tramping to a store just to get a price? There has to be more to it than that.

I think one key missing ingredient is that a store visit allows you to see and test the product, to talk to a human being, to sit on a bed. Once you know broadly what you want, you can then buy an identical item on line.

This introduces a second missing ingredient. Once you know what you want and if everything else is equal, why tramp back to the store to order when you can do it on-line?

So how does Harvey Norman manage this? They have to focus on the customer experience and also on the emotional attributes attached to loyalty. Price isn't everything, even with apparently mass consumer products.

In focusing on customer experience, Harvey Norman has to segment among customers and along the steps in the supply chain. In thinking of on-line sales, Gerry Harvey is fixated on the old store mode. I suspect that in his mind, the on-line presence is just an alternative to the physical store, as in the Fairfax mind the on-line edition is a competitor to the physical paper. Both, to my mind, are equally wrong. They are not focusing on the customer.

This has become a long comment; it's not easy to keep the thread when you can't easily look back. I also see that Evan has commented while I write. I will therefore leave the comment here and come back to the topic in another comment.

Jim Belshaw said...

Evan, I will respond to you in my next response to kvd. But first, I need to do some other things. In the meantime, do feel free to continue the dialogue! That would also help me refine my own thinking.

Evan said...

Edward de Bono (in Surpetition?) commented that shoppers could be segmented - some wanted to buy the stuff and others enjoyed the experience (this latter weird group excludes me).

So lots of places now are helping broaden the shopping experience - providing cafes in bookshops and play areas for kids in furniture stores, tastings of food and drink and so on.

Whereas the internet buying is for those like me who just want to buy the stuff. It lends itself to commodities and price in this way.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting comments, but I'd like to point to my longer comment which seems to have been 'lost in transit' as it were...

(I'll repost it after this one, with faint hopes)

Jim, your long reply speaks to the customers' viewpoint; I'm trying to stay focused on Mr Harvey's (quite realistic) problems: that of the seller.

Evan, I find the following comment incomprehensible:

"The internet can be a way of making the sale more personal than an anonymous sales person in a store."

- I feel very much in tune with Pauline Hanson ;)


ps posting a copy of much longer comment directly after this one...

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim – hope gardening goes well.

Thinking more on this ‘internet thingy’ subject, specifically how to make it pay, I’d tentatively offer the following characteristics as some sort of base. (And I’m trying here to look at it from the seller’s not the user/buyers’ pov):

- the product needs to be either reliable or cheap
- the product requires no after-sales service
- the product needs to be easily/rapidly consigned
- buyer ‘trust/confidence’ is established either by reputation, sheer volume, or insignificance of value

On those counts I’d think of books, pornography, movies and music, tickets, share trading, electronics, banking; no doubt there’s others but these seem to be candidates for what is essentially anonymous selling.

Then there’s a second tier of activity; where the main benefit of an internet presence is not the sale, but more the generation of leads; thinking real estate, cars and boats, holidays, auctions and even reliable ‘inside’ information (Stratfor is a good example of this last)

Anyway, I could say more but am always conscious of taking up far too much of your time on this blog, so I’ll leave it at that – with the hope that this might provoke further comment from you.


Evan said...

Hi kvd if I run a blog or website that gives details about my likes and inclinations and preferences someone may well know me better than if I was a salesman they met on the shop floor. This was what I meant.

This applies more readily to higher end retail and services but can apply to lower priced commodities too I think - eg Dick Smith.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Evan - am not able to parse your "someone may well know me better than if I was a salesman they met on the shop floor"

And I wouldn't myself offer any such information about my likes and dislikes in such form. Call me old fashioned if you will.

Jim, I posted again, but it didn't stick. Only because I'm interested in your own comments I will now email you with same. Feel free to ignore; it is after all your blog, not mine.


Anonymous said...

Cancel promise of email. My comment (such as it is) has now appeared!


Jim Belshaw said...

kvd, your comment got caught in the spam trap.

In broad terms, the internet is good for transactions, for information for certain forms of service delivery. There are certain products or services especially suited to the internet. You listed some attributes here.

What is less well recognised, I think, is what we might think of as the blended role of the internet. Here the internet forms part of the process of meeting customer needs.

If you flow chart the Harvey Normal sales and delivery process, you will find points where the internet is in competition with traditional approaches, others where the internet supplements. Even where there is a sale by the internet, you need a fulfillment function.

Just to try to illustrate. The customer comes to the store to check prices etc. You would like to get the customer to buy there, but if they go away to check elsewhere you still want them to buy. Here you may use your on-line presence to capture the sale, linking the store sale process to the on-line process.

Evan, whether or not it is worthwhile for a local shop to have an on-line presence depends on the business and the competition. As a general statement, I would say that the great majority would benefit.

Evan said...

Hi Jim, I meant a local mixed grocery corner store.

Jim Belshaw said...

Take that example, Evan. Probably not, but it might depending on where it is and what it wants to do. For example, offering delivery in a metro area when people really want something but can't go out. Or giving people straight information on specials etc or on community activities. Local IGA stores could certainly use the internet to distinguish themselves from woolies etc.

Evan said...

I think you are right about IGA (esp. because they want to be 'local' - so having a kind of 'community billboard' for each store could really work I think.

Anonymous said...

Good morning Jim

For simplicity's sake I'm musing about the differences between a completely internet based business as compared to a traditional storefront. You are correct that 'blended' operations are assisted in some part at various stages of the sales process, but I'll ignore those just for the moment.

Just going back to one of my favourite subjects - gst - I was reading back in April about Amazon setting up an Australian 'fulfillment centre' to service our market, and possibly closer offshore markets. I nearly raised it at the time. Then I was reading about a crowd called Booktopia, an Aussie operation, who were hoping to take on Amazon in their particular segment - they made the comment that Amazon sales in their market into Australia were somewhere between $120-180M - paying no local taxes including gst, employing (at that point) no local staff.

Now referring again to Gerry Harvey's concerns, I'm thinking here that Amazon v Booktopia is a clear case of a 10% advantage being given to one retailer over another. And the reason we allow this is because "it's too difficult" to collect from Amazon the appropriate gst on their sales.

This is what Harvey was complaining about, and I must say I tend to accept his point. I'm all for level playing fields and aggressive open competitive markets, but this is basically a state-sponsored subsidy against a local player - and that ain't right.


Evan said...

Booktopia could compete by having good fulfilment times. The (UK) Book Depository has done this. Fishpond, also Aussie, promises but doesn't deliver this (even their site contradicts their first promise).

Anonymous said...

Evan, I am sure they do, but that's not the point I want to make; more simply that they (Booktopia) are starting with a 10% handicap - like the Stawell Gift.

Just to extend the "too hard" excuse given for providing this government-sponsored leg up for the wonderful Amazon, they happily provide for "Amazon Partners" to receive a cut of all sales made via a simple link on the partner's website.

Now if it is possible for them to slice and dice their sale$ to provide a 3-7% partner commission, how difficult would it be for them to acknowledge the gst component? My answer is "ridiculously easy".


Jim Belshaw said...

Bookworld, Borders relaunched, aims to compete on fast delivery times and price.

My problem kvd on the GST one is that I just don't know enough, beyond the collection cost issue.

GST is just one element in the price equation. Further, it is not clear to me quite when it applies, nor how it meshes with import duties or with tax structures in the home and/or host country.

Take shirts. It appears to be the case that the shirts I have bought in London do not attract either GST or import duty. In this case, the second is probably more important in dollar terms than the first. While I buy the shirts via London, they are made in China. So the shirts are shipped to me from the UK after having been shipped to the UK from China. But they could also be shipped to me direct from China if the supplier chose. The tax and cost mix presumably varies with the supply chain.

With bulky goods sold on-line that are in fact supplied from Australia, then I would guess that GST might apply on the final product.

So just working from first principles in all this, the GST problem arises with classes of goods below a certain unit value and a certain size that can be easily shipped. I also wonder about the interaction with the postal service and the way charging works on international deliveries. I say this because I have a feeling that the ability to send via the normal post is very important for a significant proportion of the smaller, higher value items.

Jim Belshaw said...

In my comment, I forgot the e-book, of course.

kvd, I'm sure that Amazon could do that.

There is another tax issue here, and that's the nature of the international response. If there is a big enough tax leakage in enough countries, then I would expect some form of action among Governments.

Anonymous said...

What "collection cost" is associated with the tax office arbitrarily assessing Amazon one eleventh of its Aus sales? They do that quite happily for income tax all the time, and it's then up to the 'miscreant' to dispute the figure.


Jim Belshaw said...

Mmm, kvd. Maybe Legal Eagle could advise on the implications of this in legal terms.

Anonymous said...

Jim, a couple of snippets I was reading just now. About groceries, and internet penetration etc....

Waitrose could double the proportion of goods it sells via the internet to at least 6pc within eight years, and ultimately take 20pc of sales online, managing director Mark Price has said.

and then there's the concluding paras:

Price is predicting that Waitrose will reach total sales of more than £8bn by 2016, suggesting its online sales would reach at least £480m.

That is still less than a fifth of the amount Tesco is thought to sell online today. The UK's biggest supermarket already achieves about 6pc of its sales online while rival Sainsbury's achieves 4pc

Note the timescale, and note the remarkably small percentage of overall business. The more I read the more I feel in tune with GH's initial comments which started this thread.

The above snips were taken from here:


Jim Belshaw said...

kvd, interesting points, but to advance the debate I think that I am at the point that I need to go back to GH's initial words and summarise the discussion to this point. Then we can start a new round! However, it is unlikely to be before Friday.

Anonymous said...

You are ahead of the curve again, Jim!

Note again the 2% of sales presently; and the upper end prediction of 15% growth thereon. That makes it about 4 years before we reach the current 4% penetration achieved by Sainsburys...

Dunno why the government doesn't simply mandate that all credit card payments and cash transfers to a designated list of overseas retailers is to carry a 10% surcharge - of course refundable to the cardholder if proveably exempt, or claimable against other gst liabilities.

And yes, that is a form of transaction tax. Cost of collection: minimal; revenue raised: priceless ;)


Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting, kvd. Might add something to the post.

Anonymous said...

Actually Jim I should have been more circumspect. The Sainsbury figure was (I think) its own proportion of its own total sales, whereas I think the later article was referring to the proportion of sales (all sellers) attributable to overseas internet sellers.

Different coloured horses - possibly, maybe?


Jim Belshaw said...

Not sure that it affects the argument, kvd