IKEA’s order fulfilment difficulty

Living on a remote Island on the East coast of Canada has regularly meant that the multitude of things that can only be, or more likely, economically be, bought online, take far longer to arrive than in other areas of the country. Amazon’s 2-day delivery expands to 5+, and more pedestrian Canadian online retailers start at about a week, after they have prepared your order. A notable recent exception has been Nomad in the US which had an iPhone case delivered in much less a week after payment. An extreme example in the other direction was a book ordered through an Amazon reseller which took almost 5 months to arrive, with false shipping notices throughout that period, forever poisoning me from buying physical books through Amazon ever again.

The never ending pandemic has meant that all kinds of delays can be expected depending on the efficiency of the business ordered from. Amazon seems fine, with delay depending on the reseller. Coffee shipments from Taiwan speedy, and coffee from Vancouver just in time.

IKEA seems to be in a league of their own.

We are in the midst of changing our working environment from home office, to office home. This has necessitated the purchase of yet another desk; like the last two I’ve ordered recently, the economical choice locally is the used market. Which is fine, if space provided, I would enjoy the idea of refinishing or repurposing old tables, but when I looked at the usual places the choices were uninspiring. “Genuine’ office desks I’ve seen are expensive and ugly.

I’ve had a great deal of luck with turning IKEA kitchen tables into desks, I’ve owned 5 INGO tables which are just about the perfect depth to allow for optimal monitor placement, great for kids, and are a blank canvas on which to finish.

This time we opted for LERHAMN, primarily because all the desks were sold out, no doubt due to many now working from home, and because we no longer have the space for refinishing.

Unfortunately, at $199 the cost for shipping to your home has ballooned from the reasonable, to the ridiculous.

I selected the pickup location option for the more reasonable $39. The pickup location in Charlottetown is at Same day Worldwide on Day Avenue, near the airport, and a slight deviation from our route home from CrossFit. We selected a pick up time convenient to us and arrived there last Monday night after receiving an email notification that our package had indeed arrived.

Arriving at Sameday Monday night we were met by a sign stating that we weren’t allowed to enter due to COVID-19 (it’s not clear how we will eventually retrieve the shipment if we can’t enter). I called them. The call was answered with the usual Island friendliness and it was explained to me that it is unknown whether my items have indeed arrived or not, that the email from IKEA is causing all kinds of problems, and that all I can do is wait for an email or call from Sameday when they have had time to sort though the shipments. How long this could take is thus far unknown.

Meanwhile, checking back on the IKEA website it now states that the packages are on their way, with a delivery date of Monday past.

In the grand scheme of things this is nothing. The sense of urgency is a desire to move from the kitchen table to a proper workspace, particularly when the new computer we ordered arrives within the week.

What I do find interesting is how many of these automated systems break down in face of an unknown. We are now, in the case of IKEA, back to physically distanced human contact, phone calls and unknown arrival dates as their just in time delivery falls apart. I’m not sure I’m ready for “Sears catalogue it arrives when it arrives” kind of delivery, especially since the first step companies can take is to better manage customer expectations, which IKEA attempts only via an easily missed thin banner on their website.

Hopefully this won’t turn out to be a repeat of the book ordering experience with Amazon. Life wouldn’t be the same without cheap designed furniture.

How fast is fast enough?

I have documented at least a couple times the effects of poor or non-existent response times from businesses and organizations here on this Island and elsewhere. To restate the obvious, if your primary means of interacting with those outside your organization is email, social media, or other channels, then you should strive to answer queries in a timely manner. If you don’t have people in a dedicated customer support role, it might be a good idea to set some kind of expectations in terms of when you can reply (Facebook does this for you via algorithm). This I think is polite and makes good business sense.

I’ve been looking for dev help since I came back to the Island, which as of this week was 2 years ago, and have largely failed to find people who fit my niche. This is due to my social awkwardness, bootstrapping, and the simple fact that the pool of talent is not that deep. It’s not difficult to find help off-Island, a simple Instagram message this week immediately lead to someone interested, but I like or have been more comfortable kicking off the work in person.

The positive side effect of this is self-sufficiency, and a return to learning to code, at least until I can afford to hire regularly remote.

But I can only do so much and when Sheryl had a new project arrive that might tie in nicely with our podcast work, I reached out to hire a popular dev team. I also got on a Zoom call with an American company who has a subscription product which is, I would realize, about 1/3 the price of the dev.

I started reaching out about a month ago about the possibility of doing some work. It was very casual and I was at first just looking for some advice, while at the same time seeing if they would be someone easy to work with. Many relationships start this way, a simple hello, questions, praise of their prior work, or even a request to have a short talk.

It took a week to get a reply. I chose the wrong method to reach out, and at the time I wasn’t in a rush.

Finding out that our timeline to get a quote was moved up a month, I emailed the dev and asked if they could meet the rough scope of work outlined in an email or recommend someone who could. They replied immediately and said yes they could do the work, in fact they had already finished a rough prototype of that exact product. How fortunate.

Over the course of a week, and after I wrote a very rough software spec., constant promises to reply to email were broken and I had to chase them to see if they were truly able to join the project. They kept promising to get back to me. They never did.

If you are busy, or uninterested, it’s best to set expectations or simply say no. Saying NO can be liberating. Or set up processes to deal with customer requests.

Yesterday, I reached out anonymously to the American company via their online chat window and asked if they could give me a written quote for their product. They cheerfully replied, yes, let me see if I can work that up for you, and less than 10 minutes later I had a quote and rough statement of work.

My needs were extremely simple and didn’t require a complex plan upfront. The work didn’t even need to start for months.

Which company will get the most repeat business and future recommendations?

Endless stream of marketing

Via the many workshops and presentations I’ve been attending these past couple months, I’ve been immersed in a totally different vocabulary: branding, marketing, influencers, digital marketing, ROI on social media campaigns, and on and on. Sometimes, it feels a bit like eating too many carbs, as I am ultimately left feeling empty.

This is the world of business I have not been exposed to. When we were pioneering blogs at work and creating “personal projects” online, it was in some small way about self-expression, or in some cases creating value. Now it’s all about sales. It feels fake.

When you are using your second language it’s difficult to talk deeply about subjects around art, design and engineering. But I am starting to miss those conversations, as basic as they often were, when I communicated in Chinese.

I’ve often lamented my lack of marketing knowledge, my lack of business acumen too, and naive as I am, I thought that somehow if I listened and studied, it would be somewhat akin to taking a pill that would magically transform me with the ability to successfully promote products and services.

I’m oversimplifying. I’ve picked up some ideas and met some brilliant people. Charlottetown must have more marketing/ communication professionals per capita than any other place I’ve lived, so there are plenty of people’s brains to pick. I’m only at the very beginning of my study, with much more to learn, and at the very least I’ve realized that I much prefer making products for people, and the language surrounding that, than selling.

When a noun is actually a verb

I swear that on AirBnb’s mobile app. I read that you can get a full refund within 48hrs of your, or the, booking. Meaning 48hrs before.

Unfortunately it appears booking in this case is a verb, meaning 48hrs after my booking.

With a whole team of lawyers at their disposal I doubt AirBnb has made this slip up, and it surely shows that either my level of English comprehension has decreased while in Taiwan for 2 decades, I really do need good glasses, or I was just reading what I wanted to read.

Either way I’m out a booking fee and AirBnb gets to keep my money for 2 weeks, to do with as they see fit.

Many small start-ups long for mass and greater recognition, but bigger is not always better. Consider elite schools like Harvard and Cambridge. Do you think they aim to expand their campuses all over the world, educating hundreds of thousands of people annually? Unlikely. Instead, they are comfortable being the size they are, as should you.

Being small also allows you to keep your entire team on the frontline of the business, interacting with customers firsthand and hearing their requirements and feedback. A complex hierarchy can muffle that feedback and slow you down. When everyone is responsible for customer satisfaction, you can respond to any problems quickly, which is essential for effective customer service.
Rework via blinkist

Start small, start now
This is much better than, “start big, start later.”

One advantage is that you don’t have to start perfect.

You can merely start.
Seth Godin

You have to do your research, you have to do some due diligence, read some books but analysis can lead to paralysis, too much planning may mean you never launch. Best to launch small and iterate, that way you can mitigate risk and learn from doing. We have stumbled, already made mistakes, but that’s one of the philosophy’s behind the development of our small company.

The longest lived businesses in the world aren’t the ones that were biggest in their day. Many of them are family firms, or small to mid-sized enterprises content with steady evolvement of their niche. Content with enough.
Enough by DHH

Ti Chang on Manufacturing in China as an American Designer

For a lone female entrepreneur, the journey is as frustrating as it is rewarding. Running a sex toy startup as a woman automatically makes me an anomaly. Nevermind the sex toy part—just having started my own company, as a woman, is rare. Luckily, it’s not so rare that women can’t find success. According to Wealth-X, the U.S. has the highest number of self-made female billionaires, followed by China and Italy in a distant third. China’s work ethic promotes equality through earned merit, and unsurprisingly, there are many Chinese female entrepreneurs who are leading the charge.

Despite that, yes, I have met sexism and prejudice along the way—but in China, I learned that ultimately I am judged by my character, work ethic, and the business I create, so that initial judgement is only temporary. When I visit a factory for the first time, the people greeting me often ask, “When is the customer coming?” assuming that I am a translator. I smile and inform them that I am actually the customer and it is MY company. They are taken aback, but they generally get over it quickly. Ultimately, they care about making money: as long as you pay on time, they are happy to do business with you. In my years of visiting factories I never once encountered one whose owners turned me away because they were uncomfortable dealing with a woman. They have turned me away for legitimate reasons—as volume, a mismatch between my products and the factory capability, or an inability to meet my quality assurance standards—but not because of my sex.
Ti Chang

A sex toy start-up is not an idea that I have seriously considered.

On Engagement, Retention, and Distribution

This is a whole new category of study for me. Here are few sources that are getting me started.

Keith Schacht writes an amazing detailed how-to for analyzing your product’s customers entitled Web and Mobile Products: Understanding your customers, while defines the term viral loop and how to build your own viral loop in his article What’s your viral loop? Understanding the engine of adoption.

“Regardless of a company’s earlier success, thriving in the new mobile app economy depends on engagement and retention. After acquiring users, the real battle to keep and ultimately monetize consumers begins”, from App Engagement: The Matrix Reloaded.

“the power of the network effect is fading, at least in its current incarnation. Traditionally defined as a system where each new user on the network increases the value of the service for all others, a network effect often creates a winner-takes-all dynamic, ordaining one dominant company above the rest ..” from The Network Effect Isn’t Good Enough.

“A viral product derives much of its growth from its current users recruiting new users. A user could recruit another through a simple invitation (“Check out this product, it’s cool/useful/entertaining!”), or directly through using the product (“I want to send you money on PayPal!”)”, from How to Model Viral Growth: The Hybrid Model.

The coup

I’m not a financial guru nor has this weblog ever had more than a passing interest in finance. The current ‘deprecession’ gives me a giant headache whenever I try to come to terms with what it all means (our lack of knowledge in this very complex subject gives more power to those who have control over the system). I may not agree with their thesis, I think everything is about money, but I do like the following paragraph from Rolling Stone’s ‘The Big Takeover’:

The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history — some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That’s $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second. And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG’s 2008 losses).

Read: The Big Takeover

Outsourcing and Made in China

An article in the CS Monitor detailing just how hard it is to not buy a product made in China – it just might be impossible. I post this as I ponder some thoughts from another site about outsourcing jobs overseas. People often don’t embrace the opportunities that global markets represent – instead of complaining about your web jobs going to India or China take the opportunity to forge a partnership with developers there to allow you to bring your hometown clients to a whole new market. The Chinese can export products to your hometown, then why can’t you export your services to them as well? I remember overhearing or reading a small web development firm in small town Canada chiding the Canadian governments approach of over complicating the process of encouraging small businesses to reach beyond local markets. You don’t need long workshops – you need a telephone and the get up and go to call someone for work.

“We hit the first rut in the road when I discovered our son’s toes pressing against the ends of his tennis shoes. I wore myself out hunting for new ones. After two weeks I broke down and spent $60 on sneakers from Italy. I felt sick over the money; it seemed decadent for a pair of children’s shoes. I got used to the feeling. Weeks later I shelled out $60 for Texas-made shoes for our toddler daughter.
We got hung up on lots of little things. I drove to half a dozen grocery stores in search of candles for my husband’s birthday cake, eventually settling on a box of dusty leftovers I found in the kitchen. The junk drawer has been stuck shut since January. My husband found the part to fix it at Home Depot but left it on the shelf when he spotted the telltale “Made in China.”
Mini crises erupted when our blender and television broke down. The television sputtered back to life without intervention, but it was a long, hot summer without smoothies. We killed four mice with old-fashioned snapping traps because the catch-and-release ones we prefer are made in China. Last summer at the beach my husband wore a pair of mismatched flip-flops my mother found in her garage. He’d run out of options at the drug store.
Navigating the toy aisle has been a wilting affair. In the spring, our 4-year-old son launched a countercampaign in support of “China things.” He’s been a good sport, but he’s weary of Danish-made Legos, the only sure bet for birthday gifts for his friends. One morning in October he fell apart during a trip to Target when he developed a sudden lust for an electric purple pumpkin.
“It’s too long without China,” he wailed. He kept at me all day.
…After a year without China I can tell you this: You can still live without it, but it’s getting trickier and costlier by the day. And a decade from now I may not be brave enough to try it again.”

Read the article, A year without ‘Made in China’. Found at DanWei.

Common Sense View on Ways to Make Money

“You can make money in three ways: (1) you make it (you are an employee; you work), (2) someone else makes it for you (you are an employer), and (3) what you own generates money (assets). Being self-employed can be thrown into the employer category, if necessary. I suppose you could add things like gifts and inheritance too. However, I’m not going to count those things because they are too random.
If this assessment is true, and your goal is to work less but still have more money, the trick is to pile your effort (and money) make into the right categories. You should try to be an employer or acquire assets. I can’t make it much more simple than this.”
Ways to Make Money :: WebWord Usability Weblog :: Usability and Human Factors for the Internet

Trendy – Customer Made

“TRENDWATCHING.COM has dubbed the latter ‘CUSTOMER-MADE’: the phenomenon of corporations creating goods, services and experiences in close cooperation with consumers, tapping into their intellectual capital, and in exchange giving them a direct say in what actually gets produced, manufactured, developed, designed, serviced, or processed. The CUSTOMER-MADE trend has been slowly building over the last five years, but with the current onslaught of consumer activism and the rapid rise of GENERATION C, it finally seems ready for its big moment in the limelight, where TRENDWATCHING.COM expects it to stay for many years to come. It doesn’t hurt that Management Guru C.K. Prahalad recently published ‘The Future of Competition’ an insightful and highly recommended book on co-creation, which prompted us to move CUSTOMER-MADE to the top of our emerging trends list!”

CUSTOMER-MADE| An emerging consumer trend and related new business ideas

How do you persuade?

Do you take the “our product/idea/meme/service/etc is the best and the rest are crap” point of view? Or do you take “I’m an authority on this topic and I’m looking out for your best interests” point of view? Which is more likely to persuade you to change your mind?

Are you also looking to help customers become so passionate about your company and your product that they’ll do a better job of selling your ideas/products/company than you ever could?

How do you persuade someone to change their mind?

Blogging for Business: A presentation by 37signals

“Many companies paid (and still pay) thousands and thousands of dollars for full-blown CMS (content management systems) when many times all they really wanted to do was add a little dynamic content to their web sites. A blog can be seen as a tiny but mighty CMS. About.com thinks so.
Ultimately using blogs in the corporate environment is about giving people who need to communicate the tools to do so easily, quickly, and in an organized manner and in one central location. ”
Read:Blogging for Business: A presentation by 37signals

Weblogs for corporate knowledge sharing and management

I’m still giving considerable thought to weblogs as so much has changed since
I first was so excited about this concept. For me weblogs comprise a large part of my interaction with the Internet and it has become an indespensible tool for research, learning, sharing and convenient means for self expression.
Weblogs use the web for what it is good for – connecting and interacting.
For the longest time weblogs have been a closely held secret of mine on how to find information on the web. Google is great and very effective but imagine for a moment that you have this network of people who you share common interests with all looking for information on these same topics, all sharing what they found, all adding there own perspective and you see that the possibilities for research and learning are far more promising than simply relying on Googles search algorythms. All these human editors and researchers networked together actively, whether they know it or not, working towards the same goal – acquiring knowledge. Witnessing these sites connect together
into a singled threaded conversation, across cultures, across experiences, and across continents is absolutely amazing.
I could have really used this ability when I was a student of music. Instead I had to travel to conferences, competitions, and hang out in smokey bars all to acquire a minuteamount of information as compared to what is available to me now.

Read more


I love to hear stories like this. Though it’s not a heart warming story, it’s nice to know that someone somewhere is still making a lot of money by making websites.
Making money from a small business on the web is something that I have dreamed about for some time. I don’t have huge ambitions. I don’t particularly want to be rich (though if you want to make me so, be my guest). I just want freedom – the freedom to escape the corporate world and live and work where I want . Is this an idea that will forever just be something to think about while lying around on a lazy Saturday or will this time next year I be working from my office in a small house in Thailand? Maybe some dreams can come true. I hope this one does.