Archive for February, 2009

Windows Vista Volume Issues

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Once in a while, I get such helpful tech support for something when I couldn't find an answer anywhere on the web. I blog about it in the hopes that the next person searching will find my answers, as they tend to!

My most recent issue was that my SnapStream Beyond TV software aka BTV was being weird. It was working fine in the setup wizard, but when I went to watch TV, there was no audio. I turned the sound up, nothing. I checked for muting, nothing was muted. But still no sound. SnapStream first thought that maybe the volume was going out my microphone, but I heard nothing there. Evidently that's a Vista audio problem too, but wasn't my problem this time.

The SnapStream guys finally found what it was. Windows Vista has a volume mixer. This allows you set volumes for each program you have running. I didn't know that!

They said to right click on the volume icon in the systray (by your clock), and choose to open the mixer. Scroll to the right if you have to, and find Beyond TV. It'll only be there when it's running, so make sure it's open. Make sure it's not muted, and turn its volume up.

That worked! I hope that fixes an issue like that for you.


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I’m Not Your Problem

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

There are times when I come out and share an opinion (or sometimes facts) about something in my industry. Some people agree, some people don't. That's fine!

But one thing I noticed is that people who have no response to the content of what I'm saying just shoot straight for personal attacks. Over the last 2 days, I've been described by strangers as, "a scorned woman" (not sure over what), "jealous" (not sure over what), "on a short leash" (supposedly eBay controls what I say and do), and most interestingly, "queen bitch."

The first piece of "evidence" used for queen bitch? A quote taken out of context about what I said to a completely drunk girl who poured her alcoholic drink all over me at a concert. But the blogger wants you to read this and SEE the horrible person I am for my reaction to being covered with alcohol at a concert! This blogger is either a HUGE fan and reads everything I post, or REALLY had to dig long and hard to find something she could quote out of context to make me look bad. She had to go back to May 2008 for that post, and this is February 2009.

Somehow, I'm the bad guy for pointing out my opinions or facts, but you, blogger, you're the good guy when you insult and defame me. What I'm doing is so, so wrong, and what you're doing is so, so right. Can you please explain that one to me?

And these are the people from the "friendliest" marketplace? Really? Are you sure? Is this marketplace happy with this style of publicity? Is the marketplace happy that these are their loudest supporters, and the people most closely tied with this marketplace?

Evidently, if you can just discredit or defame me, whether what you say is true or not, then the problem goes away. Well, that makes the problem go away, right?

No it doesn't. Because I'm not your problem.

Let's say I post in my blog about something on a website that I think sounds potentially unethical. If I died an hour ago, does what's on that website or people's perceptions of it die with me? If the problem doesn't die with me, then I'm not the problem. I could fall off the planet, and unless the owners of that website change what it says, it could still be a marketing problem for them.

I could fall off the planet, and if the general public still thinks a marketplace is populated by wildly vocal people who evangelise on how happy they are… yet they haven't sold much on that marketplace, I wasn't your problem.

I could fall off the planet, and if the public continues to think that people who post positive things about your marketplace are "sponsored" or not genuine, then I wasn't your problem.

I could fall off the planet, but if you're not being totally truthful with your clients about the compliance of your eBay Stores, I wasn't your problem.

These are marketing issues. I'm pointing at them. I haven't called out any particular person. I've attacked nobody. I didn't call anybody out by name, and write a whole blog post about what an awful and mentally unstable bitch she is.

I know these people are only doing it to try to win an argument and make themselves look better. If they had a good answer for what I'm saying or pointing at, we'd hear that answer. But when it's all personal shots to try to make me look bad, then I guess they weren't able to come up with a valid, intelligent reply to my comments.

You can pretend I'm your problem, but I'm not your problem. I'd like you to fix your problem. You'd probably have more success if you fixed your problem. Defaming me doesn't fix your problem. The time you spent on that could have been spent fixing your problem. :)


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New eBay Stores and “Inside” Pages

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Last week, I saw some interesting blog comments and some private emails that made me realise that the average eBay seller probably doesn't understand some things about why the "new" eBay Stores limit what can be designed by professional design companies.

The person who wrote to me said his eBay Store home page can still get lots of design, but he wanted to know why eBay would take away the ability to design the "inside" pages. I assume he means the pages shoppers see once they click past and away from your custom eBay Store home page. This would include the pages they see when they do a search or click on a category inside your eBay Store.

Well, thing 1, we've seen some data that says that not everybody gets past custom Store home pages. Some just get confused by an overdesigned home page, get frustrated, and leave your Store. This is called a "bounce." That's part of why we don't like to sell people on custom eBay Store home pages! But back to his question.

eBay didn't take away the right or ability to design the pages shoppers see once they're past your custom Store home page. We never had those rights. We only had the ability by writing code that broke eBay's rules, code that took elements eBay put on the page, and overwrote them, moved them, reshaped them, hid them, etc… And by putting that code where you can put your design for an eBay Store header, that design then automatically showed up on every eBay Store page including search results, category browses, and even your About Me page.

So that approach to the "advanced" design of an eBay Store was always against the rules in that it broke the "Site Interference" rule. Once eBay announced (in Jan 2009) that it was going to crack down on that rule more strongly and consistently than it had been, the style of using code to re-lay out eBay Store pages became forbidden. Without being able to drop in that code that globally re-lays things out and moves them around, the "inside" pages lose that "advanced" formatting.

There is no place inside eBay's "Manage My Store" design area that lets us say ah, this is what the home page looks like, this is what this inside page looks like, this is what this inside page looks like, etc… You can only control the header, the promo boxes, and things down the left side. We were never supposed to overdesign things, and re-lay out the whole page. People did, and evidently that didn't work because now it's banned.

And let's follow the logic trail on why it's banned! It flew under the radar a LONG time, long enough for eBay to collect data on how those Stores did, even compared to competitors' non-overdesigned Stores. My theory is still that these Stores confused shoppers, who were expecting to see typical eBay Stores. They got used to the looks and layouts, and they became familiar with what was where, making the Store easier to use, even when you landed on one you'd never been to before. But if you land on a new one, and it looks like nothing else, you have to figure it out. Where is what I'm used to? Some people will adjust and figure it out. Some will just leave.

And my theory is that if eBay found that these Stores were more likely to convert shoppers to buyers, and to help them find what they wanted, eBay would have embraced that style of design. My theory is that that style of design is not as effective as something that stays closer to the eBay Stores paradigm. And my theory is also that if eBay saw more sales and therefore more eBay revenue from these kinds of Stores, they would have wanted everybody to design like that.

But first, they refused to give any Stores designed like that any Best in Stores awards. Then, they decided to ban the design style. eBay has no good reason to do that if this design style were making sellers (and eBay) more money. eBay wants more sales and more money, and will adjust policy to support them making money! I believe this adjustment is that… I believe sellers do better and eBay makes more money when eBay Stores are not overdesigned.

I just wanted to make sure that sellers understood what the design options are, what eBay took away, and what was never really there for us designers.


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Analysing “eBay Alternatives”, Part 2

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Earlier this week, I posted Analysing "eBay Alternatives" (part 1). The comments that post got made me want to go a bit deeper into this whole "eBay Alternatives" thing. I judge each marketplace on it's own, not by how it compares to Amazon or eBay or anything else. A good marketplace has to stand on its own.

If we're talking eBay alternatives, then the question would theoretically be, "Where would you shop if eBay stopped existing tomorrow?" I think the answers you'd see the most would be Zappos, Amazon, and Craigslist, but that doesn't mean they're alternatives. You can sell on eBay and sell on Amazon and Craigslist. So to me, they might be competitors, and are only alternatives if you can't or refuse to sell on eBay.

When judging a marketplace, there are many things I'm looking for:

  • Strong branding… a name people can remember, spell, and say to friends.
  • Innovation, meaning doing something truly new. Integrating things that already exist may NOT be doing something that's truly new. For example, zooming in on pictures… nice! But not an innovation when sellers can use something like magnify.it. I like to see true innovations, really new ground being broken.
  • Complete independence. Your reputation on Amazon is comprised solely of your selling history on Amazon. Any marketplace that wants to import your eBay feedback is leaning on eBay for the seller's reputation. I think it would be more appropriate for that seller to establish his or her reputation freshly on that marketplace.
  • Openness or some sort of API. I think in order to have better tools and adoption, a marketplace needs to open itself up to developers so that using the marketplace is faster and easier. Listing needs to be less complicated, especially for sellers with thousands or tens of thousands of skus.
  • Logical processes. How is the seller notified that he or she sold something? After a sale, is the seller given what he or she needs to process the transaction? If a seller is saying he'll take an offer on his price, will the checkout make it easy for me to make an offer? How do I make that offer?
  • Logical nomenclature. Some marketplaces create so many branded or cutesy names for things that you have the potential to make people feel alienated… like hey, I don't know what it means for an item to be "In a Bonanza." Dictionary.com didn't help me understand what that might be. So that might alienate me when I feel like I don't speak the site's language.
  • Seller trustworthiness and its measurement. eBay's "PowerSeller" designation is partially based on ratings so that in theory, a bad seller doesn't get to be a PowerSeller. I know that hasn't been executed perfectly, but that's the theory. How does your marketplace measure trust? PowerSeller meant really nothing for so long. Trust designations can be meaningless or misleading if not thought out and executed really well. An icon next to a seller's name when they paid for that icon, won that icon for helping promote the marketplace, being an early adopter of the marketplace, or anything else that doesn't really represent trust or seller performance is a faulty system, in my opinion.
  • Marketing and differentiation. This is where marketing comes in.
    Why should I shop here? Will I ever hear of this place? Do you show up
    in my search results? And how about shoppers who are happy there, and
    keep coming back? This is where I think Etsy is doing a good job. I know to NOT go there to get a Wii system, but I can go there to get earrings someone made to look like Wii controllers. Or maybe someone has knit a Wii cozy. Etsy's marketing has made me understand when and why I'd shop there.
  • Shoppers with open wallets. This is really it. Traffic. Eyeballs. Shoppers ready to spend money. Not tire-kickers. You could have all of the above points, and still potentially fail if you do not attract the buyers. 

This week, I did the rare thing of buying something online that I didn't buy from eBay. Nobody had cases of my favourite pasta, which costs me $2.69 per box in local stores. So I went to an online search to see who came up. I was ready to buy from ANY reputable looking website with the items I wanted and a proper checkout.

So who came up in my search? uBid? eBid? e-Crater? Bonanzle? Etsy? CQout? WeBidz? Any of the other people using that open source software that lets anybody claim to have a marketplace that competes with eBay? Jim's House of Pasta? OK, I made them up, but I expected to find regular sellers' websites, or even distributors for the pasta I like. I was looking to buy cases, not boxes. That's how much pasta I eat. :)

The first 2 search results were shopping.com. I didn't bother clicking on them since I tend to not hang out on shopping comparison sites. Too many clicks to get to the end page, that always just names websites I knew anyway.

The next 2 search results were Amazon. I was SHOCKED. They had cases of my favourite pasta! A case in every shape, every variation. Free slow shipping. The per-box price worked out to $1.95. That is a HUGE savings over my local store. And it turns out that shopping.com would have dumped me on Amazon for this pasta.

The 5th search result was a site with the name "Morgue" in it. Pass. The rest of the first page of search results were blog posts and commentary on the pasta. Sale to Amazon! In two weeks, I should get 36 boxes of pasta. :)

I will always try eBay first. But I am not poking around all these other sites, these now hundreds of "eBay Alternatives," to find my box of pasta. I searched eBay, and then I searched Yahoo (yeah, I'm old school). Hundreds of marketplaces and private sites had the chance to get my attention, and it was all Amazon. These were all natural results. Nobody bought my keywords.

So good luck to "eBay Alternatives." I don't like to see anybody fail (well, unless your dodgy practices make you deserve it :) ). I hope these marketplaces find success, but in my opinion, they need so much more than an award, a logo, and cute names for stuff. They need shoppers with open wallets who keep coming back.


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Should Libel Be A Crime?

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

I found an article earlier this week about how the state of North Carolina is working on a bill to make libel a crime. Evidently, they are finding that the amount of libel and lies in blogs and other internet postings is huge, and is going mostly unchecked.

Well that makes sense. Right now, what incentive is there to NOT lie in a blog? What incentive is there to NOT purposefully damage or defame another person or company in a blog or online post of some sort? I am all about truth, and I think that if it takes making lying a crime to get people to not do it, then make it a crime. They're looking at making this a Class 2 misdemeanor, which includes carrying a
concealed weapon, resisting an officer, and simple assault.

So it looks like NC is thinking about classifying this where they put assault, and the max would be 60 days in jail. I think the interesting question would be this: blogs and internet discussions are global. If a person in NY defames a company that's a corporation of NV, but it's read by people of NC, can you ask NC to arrest the person libelling that company? Who has to be in which state for this to take effect?

What About Free Speech?!?!?

I recently blogged about free speech and what people think are their First Amendment rights, so this is timely!

To recap, your right to Free Speech is more about being able to say something in public without the Secret Police renditioning you. :) It doesn't mean you can say anything, any time, on any topic. It doesn't mean you can say untrue things, especially lies designed to hurt how a company does business.

Remember that your right to Free Speech stops at my right to not be lied about around the internet! I'm FOR the idea that lying, especially lies designed to hurt business, could be a crime. Maybe that'll stop people from that kind of crap. Shame that people NATURALLY don't choose to NOT lie as that would give me more faith in humanity. :) But maybe fear of the law will make people think twice.


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Phelps Smokes Pot

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

The whole Michael Phelps thing makes me think about how we hold people up to a standard of perfection that NONE of us fit.

It also reminds me of a comedian's bit about how doing the Olympics stoned is MUCH harder than doing it straight, so the Olympics should be OK if you smoke pot. It was funnier when a comedian said it.

But here is my point. The people who are judging him and cancelling his endorsements are probably people who aren't perfect. They probably do drugs since most people do or have tried them. They might cheat on their wives. They may commit things their religion tells them are sins. And they're judging this guy?

Is he a bad influence on kids? I guess that depends on how you raised your kids. I was always taught to stand up for myself, believe in what I wanted to believe, be honest, and don't follow the crowd. Those of you who know me would say those lessons sure took hold. :)

But they also tool hold as a kid. When I was a teenager, everybody was smoking, drinking, and at least trying some drugs and sex. I was doing none of it. My "idols" were the British and Australasian bands and musicians you'd classify as New Wave or New Romantic. They were famous coke-heads, smokers, tokers, and in some cases, heroin fiends. They had sex with anything that had a pulse, and discarded it an hour later. I didn't think I had to do any of those things.

Who do I think is a bad influence on kids?

  • Dick Cheney for doing insane things from war crimes to shooting people in the face, and never getting caught. Bad lesson for kids when we're normally teaching them the bad guy will be caught and punished!
  • Octomom, the woman who just had octuplets even though she already had 6 kids. I saw the interview with her. She had a fake nose, fake lips, and 14 babies. She'll sell her story to try to afford to raise these kids, and her own parents are speaking out against her. TV psychologists everywhere are saying that her kids obsession is to play out her bad relationship with her mother. I think she's a bad influence! Feeling empty? Change your face and have lots of kids who have to love you.
  • Any celeb we give huge attention for being a total mess or something they don't want to be. We look at Jessica Simpson's weight more than her singing. Even if you don't like her singing, the attention shouldn't be on her weight. We look at Amy Winehouse's insane personal life more than her music. We look at Britney's wild ride more than her music. We glorify her teen sister's pregnancy. We teach kids that if you do these bizarre things, you could be in magazines! Everybody might talk about you and rally around you. I think Octomom was counting on that.

I think if we're worried about who is influencing our kids, we should give the kids stronger messages about being their own people… finding their own beauty and talents. At least Phelps said, "Yeah I did that," rather than all the athletes who try to claim they didn't take steroids.


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Analysing “eBay Alternatives”

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Once upon a time, I told people to not bother with Yahoo Auctions, Amazon Z Shops, or Overstock Auctions. And most sellers I know either never bothered, or those who did saw very few sales from all that effort.

So what about now? Who should we be trying or avoiding?

When I analyse marketplaces, I am looking for innovation. I am looking for the site that will really draw shoppers with open wallets.
With open source software, it's easy to just create a site that lets people sell. You can now have that set up in less than a day. But that doesn't mean anybody should shop or sell there.

It's like what Seth Godin said about the Microsoft Zune MP3 player. It's known to be hugely inferior to an iPod with fewer features and a design fewer people like. Seth's point was if you're not making an iPod killer, why go into the marketplace at all? If you don't have the MP3 player that'll make people throw away their iPods, then what are you doing?

I see it similarly. If you don't have the marketplace that makes me forget to shop eBay or Amazon at least some of the time, then why bother? What do you have?

I remember feeling that Overstock Auctions were just not innovating. They seemed to just be copycatting eBay in so many areas, and charging fewer fees, as if fees are the ONLY thing that could be better than what eBay is doing.

What about now? I have my eye on two main sites as possible eBay Alternatives or even competitors. Etsy and Zappos. I think Zappos will become a real contender to the eBay and Amazon space. I think they are doing SO MUCH right, with some innovation. And I think Etsy is doing a good job differentiating themselves and coming up with a niche. I would always like to see sellers given more chance to design and brand, but maybe that'll come with time. I think it's gaining popularity for sellers, but more importantly for buyers, who know what to expect there.

Marketplaces are all about traffic. What about some of the other ones, including up-and-coming ones like Bonanzle you may hear about in blogs and around Twitter? I don't believe yet. Sellers I know who are trying it have so far reported few or no sales. One seller I know said that so far, her buyers were other sellers, who then emailed her asking her to check out their "booths" (Bonanzle Stores/Showcases). I am not sure buyers know to shop there. I am a huge online shopper, and I'm not sure why I should shop there… especially when so far, Bonanzle sellers seem to mostly be eBay sellers. I could buy from them on eBay, where I know the law and I'm comfy. And if they're not on eBay, someone else with that stuff is. :)

Time always tells. It will be interesting to do a follow-up to this say in July or August when people are planning holiday selling, and see where sellers are focusing their time, energy, and inventory.

EDIT: Added after the first two comments appeared below.

If you are commenting about Bonanzle, please let us know if you are part of the Bonanzle Action Club. Thanks.


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How To Not Be My Facebook Friend

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Here's a slice of a bizarre conversation I had in Facebook last week after I messaged a guy I don't know who tried to add me as a friend. This guy's friends looked like a who's who of my high school yearbook, all people I either didn't know or weren't friends with. For a moment, it was a high school vomitous moment!

Here's how to NOT be my friend on Facebook.

Me: Hi. I have a friend request, but I don't think I know you. How do we know each other? Thanks. 😉

Him: Debbie, we went to school together class of '89. Massapequa H.S.

Me: I was introduced to Fishbone's Truth and Soul by you I believe. Would that be you? :)

Him: No, wrong Mike. I used to hang out with David **** and Doug **** and Carlos ****.

Me: I'm sorry, but I don't know any of those people. I typically have an
excellent memory, but I just don't think you and I knew each other. Were we in any classes together?

Him: ok, I never met you. I just found you on here and decided to add you as
a friend. And we both just happened to graduate the same high school in
89. Hmmmmm Think Debbie

Me: People find me on Facebook who I have never met, and add me as a
friend. I ask them how we know each other, and the answers vary, or I
get no answer at all. I only add friends who are actually friends or
are in my business circles.

Me: Your name and your face are not familiar to
me. The people you say you hung with are not familiar to me. You didn't
mention any of my friends as people you were friends with. I clearly
didn't date you, and I don't remember you from any of my classes.

Me: I
asked you if we were in any classes together, and rather than answering
that, you send me sarcasm and ask me to think. Our graduating class was 630 people, and I think I never met about
500 of them. :) I think "we went to the same school at the same time" may be the best we're going to do here.

Him: Have a nice life.


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Tax Cuts Don’t Work

Friday, February 6th, 2009

I'm no economist. I'm a musician and marketing head. And I can't make sense of the whole idea that what the country needs is more tax cuts.

What did you do with that money that Bush sent you last year? What would you do now if the government gave you a larger tax refund or sent you a check? Pay the mortgage? Make the car payment? Pay the credit card company that was calling you every week? These are important things, but guess what. That money goes to banks.

Sending your "stimulus" money to banks (loans, mortgages, school loans, etc…) doesn't feed the economy.

  • It probably didn't create a job, especially with so many banks outsourcing call centres to Asia.
  • It didn't give the local cabinet maker an order, which made him have to go buy wood, supplies, and tools, feeding multiple businesses.
  • It didn't give the steel factory an order. 
  • It didn't book you a week at a hotel, keeping hotel staff in business, making that hotel buy food, and bringing tourism money to that area… maybe even giving an airline some money for flights. The airlines can then pay staff.

Hey, I wouldn't say no to a tax cut or the government sending me a check. Money I can pretend is free money is a better deal than any internet scam. :) But if people take that money and send it to a bank, then we haven't really stimulated the economy. The economy lives on spending, and it thrives on spending that "trickles up" to business-to-business spending.

It's about demand. When people stop buying, businesses don't need to produce as much. When they produce less, they don't need as much staff or supplies. They lay people off, and they buy fewer materials from their suppliers. The suppliers struggle, and have to lay off. They need fewer of their raw materials, so someone above them sees their revenue decline.

It's something to think about. One thing I kept hearing during 2008 was that the decline in housing was having huge effects on so many other industries.

  • People not buying or selling their homes meant fewer people doing home improvements.
  • Every company and industry associated with home improvement was then hurting.
  • Everybody who supplied those companies and industries was then hurting.
  • Fewer people wanting new landscaping, rippling out to their staff and suppliers.
  • Fewer home pool redos or new installs, rippling out to their staff and suppliers.
  • Fewer cabinet orders, rippling out to their staff and suppliers.
  • Fewer tile, carpet, and flooring orders, rippling out to their staff and suppliers.
  • Fewer window replacements, rippling out to their staff and suppliers.
  • And the list goes on, and this is all from fewer houses being bought and sold.

It's amazing to think how a dive in what we think of as 'one industry' really rippled out to so many small and large businesses. That's why making sure that people have ongoing incomes to keep spending is how I think this needs to be fixed. Creating jobs, giving people salaries they can then spend, spiralling UP instead of spiralling down.

That's why I like the idea of infrastructure spending. Give people jobs improving our utilities. Let's have really awesome utilities that don't fail when 6 inches of snow fall. Let's get everybody on the internet. Let's make it easier to get around where we live without driving all these cars. Let's re-pave these awful Boston roads. :) These things improve lives, and put money into the economy by giving people reliable salaries. They can then care for their families, pay their bills, and have money for that Disney trip.

That's how I see it.


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This Is My Lowest Price

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

The prices we put out there are the best we can do. We think that's fair to you. All of our clients pay the same prices (unless you worked with us years ago under different pricing). We don't negotiate or haggle. We run some promotions from time to time.

We think that's good marketing. We think that people whose pricing is negotiable aren't doing their best to give you their best pricing.

I recently called to get another cable box. I was told it's $5.95/month just to have it. I told them oh, I didn't really want to pay for that. No problem! They have a promotion that'll give it to me free for 18 months, no strings, no contracts. Just free, and evidently because I asked.

I recently had a billing issue with Vonage, who was trying to bill me for an account I had cancelled TWICE. At first, they couldn't do anything, and I needed to pay up, so I started pushing against them because I didn't want to pay for ANY of this. Then, they wanted an extra $40 to cancel the account (again). Then, they realised the mistake, and offered to remove the charges they were chasing me to pay (the months of service on the cancelled account), but they still wanted the $40. Then, they wanted me to pay the $40 and offered me $120 of credits on another account of mine to cover that $40 and apologise for my trouble. The more I pushed, the closer I got, but I had to push for an HOUR to get this done. I asked the guy why he couldn't have just made this resolution happen the FIRST time I asked! He didn't seem to have an answer.

Ever book a hotel room while talking to that hotel on the phone? The hotel rate? $199. OK do you have anything lower? Well, we have $169. OK, and do you have any AAA rates? Yes, $154. You have to ask MULTIPLE times to get a hotel's best rate.

So I understand people asking if my prices are flexible, and I understand people being used to having to ask a few times in case the number of times you ask makes the difference. But we are giving the best prices we can give. Despite many clients and even some eBay staff saying we could charge a lot more for what we do and give, we chose to not raise any prices for 2009. We're doing the best we can for you!


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