Ten Ways to Cut Expenses
October 7th, 2022
We are all feeling a
financial pinch during these days of rampant global inflation. We feel it at
the fuel pumps, the supermarkets, and just about everywhere. The price of a
dozen ears of sweet corn at my local farm stands that cost $6.00 in recent
years has jumped to $9.00 this year. In all probability, you have raised the
prices of your campsites. As prices increase, incomes just cannot seem to keep
up. While you are waiting for corporate buyers to
come knocking at your door with the right offer, here are ten concrete tips for
cutting your expenses and making inflation more bearable, in some instances for
your household and in some instances for your business. Several of these
involve rethinking old habits and finding new ways of doing things.
1) Cut the land lines. Are you still
paying your local phone company for landline telephone service? If so, you are likely
paying a substantial fee each month, when half of your incoming calls are
probably from telemarketers and robocallers. If you have high-speed Internet
service, there are several companies that sell telephone equipment that runs
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), with monthly fees for premium services
that might be as little as $20.00 per month, including unlimited calling
throughout North America. The service is reliable, your existing phone
number(s) will port over to the new service, the sound is crystal clear, and it
generally includes some highly effective call blocking features. Service
providers include Ooma, RingCentral, Nextiva and Vonage, among others.
2) You have a fax machine? The technology
behind the fax machine is as old as the hills, introduced by Western Union in
the late 1940s, then adapted to use telephone lines by Xerox in 1964. During
the 1980s, a fax machine was considered essential office equipment. Since then,
it has become little more than an annoyance that presents unsolicited (and
illegal) advertising from disreputable timeshare companies, cruise agents, and
roofing contractors. If you still have one of these machines cluttering up a
desk in your office, it is way past time to kiss it goodbye, saving the expense
of paper, ink or toner, and perhaps a dedicated phone line. The same companies
that provide VoIP telephone service include easy-to-use virtual fax features.
If you receive a fax, it comes in as a PDF file that you can preview, then
decide whether to print or delete.
3) Are you overpaying for mobile service? Like everybody these days, you probably have mobile phone service
from one of the major carriers such as AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile. Check
your next billing statement to see if you are paying for services that are
either unused or that exceed your needs. For example, you might be paying for a
plan that includes 20GB of monthly data transfer when you never use more than
2GB. Call your carrier and speak with a sales associate, explaining that you
need to reduce your monthly billing, perhaps citing prices from a competitive
company. They will reduce your monthly billing, but not without you taking the
initiative to ask. For example, AT&T offers a 10% monthly discount if you
are a military veteran.
4) Are you paying for satellite radio? When you buy a new vehicle, it generally comes with at least a
month of trial service with Sirius XM. The company hopes that you will grow
accustomed to its service and continue as a paid subscriber. I personally have
thumb drives in my vehicles that I have pre-loaded with about 12,000 songs that
play randomly and only include music and artists that I want to hear. If you
are really hooked on satellite radio, let your service expire for two or three
days without renewing. Then contact the service provider for a renewal discount.
You will pay half price, but may have to repeat this routine every six months.
5) Do you ask for discounts? If you
are over 50, you are no doubt an AARP member. When you make a purchase, ask if
there is a discount associated with your membership. Five years ago, when
buying a new vehicle (and already negotiating a serious discount), I asked the
sales associate if there was an AARP discount. Much to my surprise (and his
surprise!), there was an additional $3,000.00 taken off the price of that
vehicle. There are also discounts associated with memberships in auto clubs,
fraternal organizations, and your national and state campground associations
such as ARVC.
6) Go solar! Although the incentives will vary from state to state, and the savings and cost-effectiveness will vary with your local utility rates, installing rooftop or ground-mounted solar panels is a no-brainer, even in northern latitudes. Lacking a really good southern exposure, surrounded by tall trees and in a region where the panels get covered with snow during the winter months, the 47 panels on the roofs of my own home save us approximately $1,200.00 per year by feeding power back into the grid through net metering. You can purchase your system outright, or there are companies that will install a system at no charge to you. In the latter instance, you are essentially leasing your roof space, with an agreement to purchase the power that is generated at a fraction of the fees that would be charged by your local utility, over the course of the 20-25 year lifespan of the system. The installer reaps the tax incentives and is also responsible for service and maintenance. In some instances, your system can tie into battery storage with a Tesla Powerwall® or similar system that will also serve as a short-term substitute for an expensive backup power generator.
7) Cut the cable. If you are paying your local cable services provider for TV, phone and high-speed Internet, even a bundled service might be highly overpriced. In most areas, cable service providers have a localized monopoly, with no incentive to be competitively priced. There are options. For example, T-Mobile has recently introduced 5G broadband Internet service for only $50.00 per month, which could represent quite a savings.
8) Go paperless. If you have
monthly recurring payments, almost all companies will offer you a discount if
you agree to paperless billing, saving them the expense of mailing paper
statements. There will usually be an additional discount if you set up
9) Lower your interest rates. If you
use a credit card, and particularly if you carry a balance from month to month,
call the company and ask them to reduce the interest rate, lower any annual
fee, or convert you to a more affordable card. Once again, they are not going
to reduce their profit margins on your account unless you ask.
10) Lower your credit card processing fees. Your small business is probably running an ever-increasing volume of transactions through a credit card merchant services provider. Be sure that the fees are competitive or be willing to switch to another provider. There are companies such as Pennsylvania-based MCPS for Campgrounds that specialize in working with the campground industry and offer highly competitive rates.
Yes, times are a bit tough, but that is when it is time to think smart, break a few old habits, and consider new ways of doing things.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: cost-cutting, cut expenses, save money
Posted in Consumer Trends |
Starlink … Is it Right for You?
June 8th, 2022
You have no doubt heard about Starlink, the satellite-based high-speed Internet service from SpaceX. To say that Starlink is innovative and groundbreaking in every way imaginable would be quite an understatement. Primarily intended to provide broadband Internet to people in remote locations, Starlink differs from other satellite-based Internet service providers such as HughesNet. Unlike conventional satellite networks that use small numbers of enormous satellites in geosynchronous orbits over 22,000 miles into space, Starlink employs a “constellation” of 573 pound refrigerator-sized satellites in low Earth orbit at an operational altitude of only 340 miles. Based upon those orbital heights alone, the improvements in signal latency are tremendous.
At the time of this writing
(late May of 2022), there are currently about 2,400 Starlink satellites in
orbit, mostly operational and some on standby. SpaceX is launching another 50
or so into orbit about once a week, essentially as fast as they can be built. The
U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has licensed SpaceX for 12,000
Starlink satellites, and international regulators are expected to license
another 30,000, totaling the 42,000 satellites that SpaceX hopes to eventually
deploy in its “megaconstellation”. Each of the satellites presents the
connecting point between end users and fiber optic gateway ground stations that
provide the Internet data that is being requested. The distance between an end
user and the associated ground station also influences the overall connection
speed and latency, and SpaceX is continually adding new ground stations while
also introducing a new generation of Starlink satellites that will communicate
directly with one another at the speed of light via laser, minimizing the
number of ground stations needed.
In case you haven’t already guessed, I am a Starlink subscriber who is quite enthused with the service. Until recently, people waited up to a year for their Starlink equipment, but the service is readily available now. I am based in a heavily wooded, rural location in Western Massachusetts, and at any given time, I am connecting to one of anywhere from 6 to 12 satellites that are within view of my very carefully mounted antenna. Depending upon which satellite is connecting with my equipment (a fluid process that is constantly changing), my data might be coming from a ground station in Litchfield, CT; Lunenburg, VT; Beekmantown, NY; Lockport, NY; or even Sullivan, ME. It you really want to geek out and monitor your connections in real time, I highly recommend the third-party Starlink Coverage Tracker at starlink.sx.
to My Original Question
Is Starlink right for you?
Maybe. Starlink is primarily designed to provide high-speed Internet service
for people in rural and underserved areas. Until now, my only option was DSL
(which I think is an acronym for “Darned SLow”) or paying Comcast $20,000.00 to
extend the cable to my residence so I would then have the privilege of
subscribing to their service. With Starlink, you are seamlessly connecting to a
satellite within the constellation that is within reach of your antenna, so latency,
download speeds and upload speeds will continually fluctuate but are roughly 20
times the speed of DSL. With our DSL phone lines now ported to Voice over
Internet Protocol (VoIP) through Ooma (for both my business and residential
services), I was able to cancel our services with Verizon, effectively
offsetting the Starlink subscription fee. Every service and device in our
household that requires an Internet connection is running through Starlink,
with bandwidth to spare.
The rule of thumb is that,
if you have fiber optic or cable available, one of those would be your first
choice. If not, Starlink will be your first choice. There are three options
I am subscribing to the
residential service. The equipment consists of a rectangular antenna, a WiFi
router and power supply, a 75 foot cable, and what I would consider a temporary
mount. This equipment will currently cost you $599.00, plus $50.00 shipping. It
is said that this is about a third of what the equipment costs to manufacture,
and one of the things that I really like is that everything is marked “Made in
the USA”. The antenna is really remarkable. It sets itself up, motorized to
track satellites in real time, and it is heated and programmed to automatically
melt snow and ice in the winter. Choosing the antenna location is accomplished
through the Starlink phone app, which will also show
you obstructions in real time, including any resulting loss of signal. I
mentioned that the mount was temporary. There are a variety of heavy-duty
permanent mounts available as accessories that can only be ordered after you
already have your equipment. In my case, a roof pivot mount and flashing mount
were another $101.00. You will probably also want the optional Ethernet
adapter, which is another $25.00. I found that my desktop computer does not
have a very good WiFi adapter, and using the Ethernet adapter (that I have
attached to a gigabyte switch) made a BIG difference in connection speed. The
recurring fee for residential service is $110.00 per month, with no data
There is a
Starlink option for businesses, with faster Internet speeds and greater
throughput that partially result from an antenna that is twice the size of the
residential unit. It is intended for businesses and storefronts with up to 20
users at any given time, and multiple kits can be run through a single
centralized account to increase that bandwidth. This option comes at a price.
The equipment currently costs $2,500.00, and the monthly subscription fee is
$500.00. Talk to your WiFi network provider to see if this is a viable option
for your campground. As with all Starlink services, a clear view of the sky is
Starlink for RVs
Starlink for RVs
became available on May 23, 2022. Up until now, subscriptions were for only one
fixed location. This option allows use anywhere you travel where there is
active coverage and an unobstructed view of the sky. Currently, that coverage
is spotty in the Eastern United States, except for Northern New England and
upstate New York. Active coverage is generally available in the Plains States
and most of the interior West, with spotty coverage in parts of Colorado,
California, Oregon and Washington. Keep in mind that Starlink is being rolled
out to first serve remote areas where Internet access options are otherwise
limited. Active coverage is generally available throughout Southern Canada and
all of Mexico. Active coverage is expected throughout the rest of the United
States, including Alaska, by some point in 2023. Starlink for RVs has the same
equipment and cost as Starlink Residential, and the monthly subscription fee is
currently $135.00 per month. The service can be paused and un-paused on a
monthly basis to coincide with individual travel plans. For this to work
effectively, you will want to choose to stay at open grassy campsites whenever
possible rather than heavily wooded sites, since tree coverage will definitely
degrade service. This plan also makes sense for people with a summer home in a
remote location, but without excessive tree coverage. Bear in mind that this
service cannot be used while you are driving down the road in your RV, although
that type of mobile service is in the planning and regulatory approval stages.
There are factors other than price and tree coverage to take into account when considering Starlink. Do you want to help make the world’s richest person (Elon Musk) even richer, or reward him for his genius? Other concerns include potentially negative impacts upon astronomy and concerns about orbital collisions and eventual re-entry into the atmosphere, but SpaceX is addressing those concerns. For example, these satellites have an onboard autonomous collision avoidance system and an onboard propulsion system that is designed to safely de-orbit each unit at end of life. Taking all of these factors into consideration, I am pleased with my experience so far.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: high-speed Internet, SpaceX, Starlink
Posted in Consumer Trends |
It’s Okay to Be Antisocial
March 11th, 2021
Let me be the first to admit
that I am guilty. It was not that long ago that I was presenting seminars and
writing how social media advertising –
Facebook, in particular – was the greatest new development since the
Internet itself. As recently as four years ago, I was offering suggestions on
how to beat Facebook at its own game, using guerilla marketing techniques on
the platform. Sure, we all recognized that the intrusions into our personal
privacy were a bit creepy, but the ability to reach targeted marketing
prospects seemed to be worth the compromise. After all, when I was a child
watching television in the 1950’s, Captain Kangaroo would seamlessly segue from
visiting with Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose to selling Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and
Schwinn Bicycles, and what was wrong with that? Actually, there was plenty
wrong with it, prior to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruling in 1969 that
prohibited children’s show hosts from directly promoting commercial products.
In the beginning, Facebook (originally called Facemash) seemed to
represent little more than an awkward attempt by nerdy Harvard undergrads with
a lack of actual social skills to meet young women at neighboring colleges.
When you think about it, even that original concept (an extension of the sexist
freshman photo books that had been sold on college campuses for decades) violated
the personal privacy of the young women whose photos were being used. From that
start, it did not take long for Facebook to reinvent itself into a money making
machine that would be built upon ever-increasing exploitations of personal
On a personal level, I
stopped using Facebook in its entirety in early September of 2020. I actually
experienced what I would describe as a 7 to 10 day period of withdrawal,
missing the ability to stay in daily touch with countless friends both old and
new, but my sense of newly discovered freedom afterward was absolutely refreshing.
Over the course of the 10 years or so when I remained active on the platform, I
would often joke about how Facebook would “coincidentally” show me advertising
that was related to one of my recent posts or comments. When I, along with
millions of other people, started using ad blockers, Facebook started showing
paid posts in lieu of paid advertising. These paid posts represent advertising
content that is being disguised as editorial comment, even when that
advertising is originating with foreign governments or other unscrupulous
characters. The only way this can happen is by Facebook’s algorithms monitoring
every word that you type, just as craftily as the National Security Agency
(NSA) monitors the telephone conversations of known terrorists.
What made me see the light
was when I realized that Facebook’s business model was designed to amass huge
profits by intentionally sowing discord among its subscribers. Regardless of
where a person falls within an increasingly polarized political spectrum,
Facebook will show that person paid content that pours fuel on the fire while
demonizing those with opposing viewpoints. By being fed a one-sided diet that
is often based upon disinformation, subscribers’ opinions and beliefs are reinforced
in a manner that continually enhances the polarization. It should not require
an insurrectionist attack upon the U.S. Capitol for reasonable people to
understand that this represents a rapidly accelerating downward spiral.
Let us be clear that
Facebook advertising is not a bargain. In the early days, businesses would pay
to advertise on the platform in order to get users to “like” their page and
then see their posts. Soon afterward, advertisers needed to pay Facebook so
that even people who had already “liked” their page could actually see their
posts. Think about it. This means that you are paying Facebook so you can reach
your existing customers. Why would anybody pay to do that when there are
countless alternate means of reaching your existing customer base at a far
lesser cost? In the campground industry, some of the same people who willingly
pour money into Facebook advertising question the rationale for offering Good
Sam and similar discounts that they feel cut into thin profit margins. I would
rather offer a customer incentive than to take that same money and pour it into
Yes, Facebook and the other
social media may be capable of sending you customers, but at what price and in
what environment? If a drug dealer approached you and said, “Yes, my main
business is selling heroin, but I can also send you customers”, would you do
business with that person? I doubt that many of us would enter into that sort
of deal with the devil.
The Federal Trade Commission
(yes, the same people who ruled that Captain Kangaroo should not be hawking
breakfast cereal) is currently proposing the breakup of Facebook, a process
that is long overdue. Facebook has steadily grown – with the acquisition of Instagram, WhatsApp and related platforms –
and a breakup of its monopoly would be the first such action since the breakup
of AT&T four decades ago.
Many of my peers in
the advertising industry will disagree with me, and I welcome that debate. I
remember the days when tobacco products were extensively advertised on
television, a practice that contributed to countless deaths. Today, I believe
that many other types of advertising should be banned because they either
mislead consumers or actually prey upon vulnerable segments of our population,
typically the elderly. These include the advertising of prescription
pharmaceuticals, advertising by class-action attorneys (think “mesothelioma”),
advertising directed at children (think about Saturday mornings), and
advertising directed at senior citizens (think about Medicare supplements and
the aforementioned pharmaceuticals). In the meantime, it is your decision as a
small business owner to decide whether or not to continue financing a business
model that you may agree is inherently wrong.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: Facebook, Facebook Advertising, Federal Trade Commission, social media
Posted in Business Ethics, Consumer Trends, Cyber Security, Facebook Tips, Marketing Strategies, Social Media |
Revisiting Lessons from the Wine Trail
January 20th, 2020
Five years ago I encouraged
campground owners to take a close look at the tasting events at wineries. I
wrote how wineries – and small wine producers in particular – rely upon tastings
as they seek new and expanded markets, and how many campgrounds share the same
I wrote how tastings meet one
of several objectives:
- To introduce wine enthusiasts who are familiar
with a brand, have previously purchased its wines, or who are likely to
purchase (often in case quantities) new vintages that they might enjoy.
- To introduce a winery to connoisseurs who might
be unfamiliar with its offerings.
- To welcome casual wine consumers who are still
refining their tastes and who will appreciate the time that is spent to help
them to broaden their palates.
As opposed to the free
tastings that were commonplace a generation ago, most tastings today are fee-based.
Nonetheless, wineries know that their costs of running tastings are roughly
twice the actual cost of the wines that they pour. As is usually the case,
smaller wine producers have far greater costs and competitive challenges;
however, what they also understand is the old adage about having to spend money
to make money.
My wife and I recently spent a
week touring wineries and attending a variety of mostly private reserved
tasting experiences in the Sonoma Valley of California. Fortunately, we were
there about two weeks prior to the Kincaid Fire that essentially shut down the
county for several harrowing days, when the fires and destruction from the 2017
Tubbs Fire were still in the forefront of most people’s memories and far too
evident in Santa Rosa and other parts of the county.
The key to wine events these
days – whether in Northern California or at small local wineries that might be
closer to your place of business – is to provide visitors with a variety of options.
Yes, you can still belly up to the bar with ten or twenty other people for a
$20.00 flight of tastings consisting of two ounce pours, usually on a walk-in
basis. There are also wineries that schedule weekend entertainers, with outdoor
seating to accommodate several hundred people who will buy their wines by the
glass or the bottle. Many wineries will also offer pairing options with charcuterie,
cheese, or fruit plates, an ancillary source of income.
Regardless of the level of
tasting, an important component is the conversation between a knowledgeable
person pouring the wine and his guests. People are asked for their thoughts and
opinions regarding the taste, flavors that come to mind, and initial
impressions. The discussions are always friendly, never condescending, and
encourage a sense of discovery.
Our favorite events from our
recent vacation week were private 2-3 hour tours and tastings that were
reserved weeks in advance. These included a black glass tasting at Matanzas
Creek Winery; a Meritage Blending Experience at Dry Creek Vineyard, where we
carefully tasted, blended, and bottled our own bottles to take home; a truly
behind the scenes tour at Francis Ford Coppola Winery; a private tour and lunch
at Benziger Family Winery, led by Jill Benziger; a private tasting of reserve
wines at Ledson Winery & Vineyards; and a Pinzgauer Excursion (on a
six-wheel European military vehicle) at Gundlach Bundschu Winery and Vineyards,
guided by Rob Bundschu. Some of these remind me of my visit to Robert Mondavi
Winery back in the mid-1970’s, when Michael Mondavi was pouring the wines at
Not everyone who attends a
wine tasting makes a purchase of even a bottle of wine, let alone a case or
more. That said, most of these pricey private events are tailored toward
selling either wine club memberships or cases of reserve wines that are only
available at the winery itself but that can currently be shipped directly to
consumers in 43 states. Although there is no pressure to purchase (because your
tasting fee will already cover all costs), the hosts are earning commissions on
Campgrounds can also explore
new ways of reaching out to their customers, generally translating into three
groups of people who are very similar to the people who attend wine tastings:
- Your existing campers, who have stayed with you
through the years (and sometimes
generations!) but who still need to be reminded that you care, that you
continue to offer new activities or amenities, and that there is no reason for
them to consider camping elsewhere.
- Campers who have never stayed at your park and
who need to meet you and learn about what you have to offer.
- Non-campers who are just exploring and getting
introduced to the concept and need some assurance that they will enjoy the
Either in your early or late
shoulder seasons, how about holding a Camper Appreciation weekend, open house,
or another special event? How about a private event for your seasonal campers,
possibly even being held off-site, where they will be given the opportunity to
renew their seasonal contracts for the following year? Make any such events
significant and special, with genuine costs incurred on your part. If possible,
make it a free event; otherwise, keep the cost to a bare minimum. I am not
talking about a potluck dinner, where the people attending are asked to provide
the food and you simply provide soft drinks and snacks! This should be a truly
memorable marketing opportunity for
your park. You may want to consider requiring reservations or capping the total
number of people who attend at the number that you can comfortably accommodate.
Keep in mind that not
everybody staying at your park is looking for the lowest cost experience. Many
are willing to pay for a special and somewhat exclusive experience that has
value added. What can you offer that is equivalent to the access to reserve
wines that are exclusively available at a winery?
Whether or not you offer a
loyalty card, you know the people who are your frequent and most profitable
guests. Try to reward them and take them to the next level! Can they be
encouraged to become seasonal campers or to stay even more frequently with a
simple incentive or two?There are
many ways to expand your reach as you seek to introduce new people to your park
and to encourage existing campers to become even more profitable. Take some
examples from the wine industry and use them to your advantage!
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: customer incentives, customer rewards, wine tastings
Posted in Consumer Trends, Marketing Strategies |
Is Your Customer Service Succeeding or Failing?
May 2nd, 2019
I attended a trade show in
Florida late last year, flying into and out of Daytona Beach International
Airport, a smaller airport that is serviced by only three airlines (Delta,
American, and JetBlue) with a limited number of arrivals and departures. During
the event, we stayed at the Hilton Hotel that was the designated host hotel for
the conference. At the close of the conference, we were anxious to return home
to Bradley International Airport. We had a connecting flight in Charlotte, where
the airlines were already cancelling flights in advance of a large storm that
had a bullseye on the Carolinas. Timing was critical.
Our flight out of Daytona
Beach was on a plane that arrived with a mechanical issue that needed to be
addressed, delaying departure on this, the last flight out of the airport for
the evening. The delays were extended, due to the fact that there are no
technicians available in Daytona Beach to sign off on a safety report. The
plane was not moving until after a technician could drive in from Orlando. The
gate counter had a line of people who were trying to explore their
alternatives, essentially the choice between spending another night in Daytona
Beach or waiting for the plane to be approved for its late departure. Unless
your final destination was Charlotte, you were going to be stranded there for
at least another day.
Some of the passengers were
more irate than others, taking out their frustrations on the gate agents, seemingly
without understanding that the situation was beyond the control of those
airline employees. In our instance, treating
them with due respect, one of the gate agents and her supervisor went well out
of their way to find alternate arrangements to get us home with the least delay
possible. Flying to another airport, such as Boston or Providence, was not an
option because our car was parked at our home airport outside of Hartford.
American Airlines departures from Daytona Beach only fly to Charlotte, so our
workaround involved getting us to another airport with alternate destinations.
The airline pulled our
checked bags (refunding our baggage fees), paid for a taxi to take us to the
airport in Jacksonville, arranged for a ticket agent to work overtime to meet
us at the ticket counter in Jacksonville (that was otherwise closed by the time
of our arrival), and paid for us to spend the night at a Hilton Hotel near the
airport so we could catch an early morning flight that would connect in
Philadelphia rather than Charlotte – ahead of the coming storm. This was
customer service above and beyond anything that could be reasonably expected.
Let me add that we were not flying first class but in economy seats.
If you have been following the news recently, you probably recall that several airlines have suffered some widely reported public relations disasters. There was the United Airlines incident where a passenger’s puppy died after they were forced to stow it in the overhead bin and another incident where a passenger was dragged from an overbooked United Airlines flight when he refused to voluntarily surrender his seat to another passenger. Recovering from bad press can be a slow and difficult process. Fortunately for most small businesses, customer relations incidents generally occur on a one-on-one basis. As long as you do the right thing, reasonable people will appreciate your efforts. These are example of successful customer service. The customer service failures in this story begin with Hilton Hotels.
The ticket agent working
overtime at the American Airlines counter in Jacksonville was tasked with
making our hotel arrangements at the nearby DoubleTree by Hilton airport hotel.
When he called both Hilton reservations and the local hotel’s front desk, he
was told that no rooms were available. I fired up my laptop, went to my Hilton
Honors account, and saw that there were plenty or rooms available at the hotel.
What Hilton would not do – after 10:00 PM
on a night where they had dozens of vacant rooms that would otherwise generate
zero income – was honor the so called “distressed passenger” discounted
rate that is the usual arrangement between hotels and the airlines. We had to
pay for the room ourselves, and then provide a receipt to the airline for
reimbursement (which was processed and paid quite promptly.) Think of this from
a campground’s perspective. If you have unsold inventory at the last minute on
the day before the start of a summer weekend, you are likely to offer space at
a discount rather than leave a site vacant. For a hotel, 10:00 PM on the night
of arrival is definitely the last minute to sell an otherwise vacant room.
Also if you have been following the news, you know that both Hilton Hotels and its DoubleTree brand have suffered some public relations disasters over the past year, not the least of which was the incident in December of 2018 where a registered guest (who happened to be African American) was evicted from the DoubleTree Hotel in Portland, Oregon for using his cell phone in the lobby. With bad press like that, you would think that DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels would be going out of its way to try to cater to its customers. Public relations disasters are almost always preventable, and public relations success stories almost always result from employees who have been empowered to do the right thing, every time and under all circumstances. Of course, this does not mean that every Hilton or DoubleTree Hotel is problematic, but bad press for any member of a franchise casts a shadow of doubt over the entire chain.
Some might argue that providing exceptional customer service is too costly and time-consuming or that the good deeds are rarely recognized beyond the direct recipient. I would argue that consistently positive customer relations can serve as the foundation of a company’s success. In the long run, it is a winning strategy.
Wait, There’s More …
Did I mention how pleased I was with American Airlines? Well, it did not take long for this enthusiasm that American Airlines had generated to get flushed totally down the drain. Allow me to explain …
Three months later, I happily returned to American Airlines to book a flight from Hartford to Colorado Springs, paying $463.00 for my round-trip fare. My return flight was one of 40 flights that were cancelled on March 7, 2019 when 14 of American Airlines’ Boeing 737-800s were taken out of service due to mechanical issues with overhead bins.
notification of the flight cancellation, I called and spoke with an American
Airlines ticketing agent who, over the course of a lengthy telephone
conversation, assured me that my ticket had been transferred to United
Airlines for a return to Hartford via United. On the basis of this
assurance, I checked out of my hotel, returned my rental car, and proceeded to
the United Airlines ticket counter in Colorado Springs, where I was told that I
did not have a ticket.
Going back and forth between the United and American ticket agents in Colorado Springs, I was told that American Airlines would not transfer my ticket because I had purchased a basic economy fare. I understood that this fare meant that I would board in the last group, not have pre-assigned seating, would not be eligible for upgrades, and that I would not qualify for flight changes or refunds due to changes in my plans. I was there to fulfill my end of the agreement and was not of the understanding that this fare would disqualify me for the transfer of my ticket to another airline in an instance of a mechanical failure on the part of American Airlines.
any viable options, I paid United Airlines $1,312.00
(plus a $30.00 baggage fee) for economy seating on my return flight. The
American Airlines ticketing agent in Colorado Springs told me that I could
contact American Airlines for reimbursement for the unused portion of my fare.
I requested not only that reimbursement but reimbursement for the full amount
that I paid to United Airlines after I had been told that American had
transferred my ticket.
While I understood that American Airlines was under no obligation to offer me this compensation, I would hope that under consideration of my past loyalty and future travels, it would choose to do the right thing. It did not. It has been over 6 weeks since I wrote to American Airlines, and they have not even responded to my letter, let alone issue a refund. I know that, like several other airlines, American has been taking a hit with the grounding of its Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet. On the other hand, they have not been too preoccupied to prevent them from spamming me on a daily basis, promoting dubious travel deals and a variety of ways to earn AAdvantage miles. I will pass.
lesson I have learned, in addition to NEVER
again buying a basic economy airfare ticket, is that big companies like
American Airlines can never be trusted to do the right thing in the long run.
My enthusiasm has been crushed, and my loyalty has been obliterated. Thanks for
nothing, American Airlines!
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: AAdvantage, American Airlines, basic economy airfare, DoubleTree Hotels, Hilton Hotels
Posted in Business Ethics, Consumer Trends, Marketing Strategies |
Seize the Upscale Market
August 3rd, 2018
Too many business owners stress over what their competitors are doing, when they would be better off concentrating on what their customers want. Campground owners are no exception. Probably the most common fear is having a rate structure that is higher than that of nearby competitors. One of the questions that I most frequently field – typically right after the first of the year – is “What do you see other parks implementing for rate increases?” The insinuation is that unilaterally raising rates will somehow lead to a mass exodus of campers toward the lower-priced parks. This notion presumes that camping is a commodity where decisions are solely based upon price, without regard for customer loyalty or the many features and amenities that differentiate one park – or one campsite – from another.
A Glampsite at Cape Cod Campresort
That logic might apply to campers who are looking for nothing beyond the basics … the same customers who are not going to spend any money in your store or for added services, and who are the most likely to complain about everything from guest fees to your “no refund” policy. On the other hand, there is a growing and lucrative market of campers who are seeking out – and willing to pay for – little extras in their accommodations. Whatever the sites might be called, there is a growing demand for premium, premier, and super deluxe campsites. I reached out to the owners or managers of three parks that are noteworthy for fearlessly raising their rates on their upper tier of sites, and I asked them to share their thoughts on their experiences. We are all familiar with the aphorism that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” summarizing how everybody benefits from those who are willing to lead rather than follow. The entire campground industry can thank parks like these that have taken the initiative to lead rather than follow.
Wells Beach Resort
Wells Beach Resort is a family-owned and operated campground that is in its 48th season of business along the southern coast of Maine. Kevin Griffin commented how his father, Ken Griffin, began converting standard RV sites into premium sites about 30 years ago, as a means to better satisfy changing customer demands and raise site rates. According to Griffin, “It was a decision that we’ve never regretted, but at the time it was something of a risk, not knowing if the added premium site features (e.g., carpeted patios, 50 amp electrical service, larger parking spaces) would be worth the investment. We started converting sites slowly but were pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a very strong customer demand for upgraded sites. Weighing costs against benefits, we decided to accelerate the site conversion process over a span of decades. Today about one-third of our sites have been converted from standard to at least premium status. We also have a newer class of upgraded premium sites that we call ‘Premier.’ Our Premium and Premier sites have nightly rates that are approximately 10 to 20 percent higher than our standard RV sites, but the demand for upgraded sites is still greater than the demand for less expensive standard sites.” He concludes that, if park owners are looking for a way to make customers happy while simultaneously increasing their pricing power, upgrading standard RV campsites is definitely an avenue worth exploring.
Black Bear Campground
In his travels along the West Coast, Frank Merrick, manager of Black Bear Campground in the Hudson Valley of New York, had noticed the trend toward offering true 100-amp service at RV sites. Making 50-amp service available on two separate power pedestals or through two power boxes at one source at individual RV sites allows campgrounds to accommodate the largest of all-electric rigs, which are gaining in popularity. Merrick decided to offer a limited number of true 100-amp sites at his park, in an attempt to draw these larger, all-electric models to the area. These sites were created and offered at a premium price, approximately 10% higher than the existing full-hookup sites at the park.
According to Merrick, “Results were positive as 2018 bookings began to increase, with a sizable percentage of new reservations requesting the premium sites.” As it turned out, only a few of these RV’ers had large, fully-electric rigs that truly required the 100-amp service, while most simply desired – and were willing to pay for – the larger sites that include this service option. Recognizing that opportunity, Black Bear decided to make these sites even more appealing by adding a few more features: a sod grass ‘back yard’ with rows of small privacy trees at either side, offering a bit more shielding from neighboring sites; two picnic tables per site, with a rock-lined pathway to the table in the ‘back yard’; and both a standard fire ring and a cemented iron grill at each site. According to Merrick, “the front and service area of each site was rocked with I9 for a comfortable spot to park an RV and any accompanying vehicles.” He added that “the rock also eliminated the need for grounds maintenance to mow or power trim directly next to a customer’s RV, lessening the possibility or occurrence of damage by the maintenance equipment.” Most of the items needed to upgrade these sites were already on hand at the campground, minimizing the cost of the aesthetic improvements, especially when compared to the number of bookings at the increased rates for these ‘Premium Sites’.
Cape Cod Campresort
Anthony Newman Sr., the owner of Cape Cod Campresort in Massachusetts, has been offering his campers ‘Glampsites’ for five years as of 2018, upgrading many of the existing sites and cabins to the park’s ‘Glampsite’ class of service. According to Newman, “We have seen little to no resistance to price increases which represent a minimum of $10.00 extra per site per night at this time. Typical upgrades to sites include pavement on the actual site pad, barbecue grills, paver patios, upgraded fireplaces, a grassy picnic area, upgraded picnic tables with umbrellas, and pea-stone parking spaces. The sites are very eye-appealing and we are finding almost 100% repeat requests for these sites despite the added cost.” Newman says that his average cost to upgrade one of these sites is $2,500.00; however, he says that his seasonal guests are willing to pay $1,000.00 extra for a ‘Glampsite’ and that the park actually has requests from existing seasonal campers willing to pay extra if their site can be ‘Glamped’. Newman concludes, “We figure in general about a two to two and half year payback on the upgrade investment. We plan to continue upgrading at least 10 more ‘Glampsites’ each year.”
Based upon the proven experience at these three parks, where management was not afraid to get ahead of the curve in offering guests premium amenities at a premium price, following suit in your park would appear to be a far less than risky venture. In fact, it is likely far riskier to maintain the status quo by continuing to market your park to a base of campers who make their decisions primarily upon price.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: glamping, glampsites, premium campsites
Posted in Consumer Trends |
Start a Disruption (Updated)
May 27th, 2018
Successful business concepts today generally involve entirely new ways of thinking. In the world of computer software and mobile apps, the terminology is known as disruptive technology, and it refers to the fact that nothing really new or transformative comes from simply applying a new coat of paint or polish to something old and familiar. In a broad sense, the personal computer and the cell phone were among the greatest disruptors of recent time.
If you go back in time, other ground-breakers included the friction match, the printing press, the incandescent light bulb, the internal combustion engine, film, radio, television, and so on. Certainly, some of these inventions evolved over time rather than instantly bursting onto the scene. Television, for example, gradually evolved from radio to the flat-screen displays of today.
From the dozen local VHF channels of the early years, came UHF adapters, cable, and satellite systems that now bring hundreds of programming options into the home of any subscriber. Even the remote control has evolved by leaps and bounds from the original Zenith Flash-Matic, introduced in 1955, to the programmable, multi-function devices of today. I remember a very primitive one-button remote control on my family’s Sylvania console TV back in the 1960s. We could not watch TV during a thunderstorm because lightning made the remote control go crazy, endlessly changing the channels on the motorized tuner!
Disruptive ideas are far from limited to the technology industries. In the customer service industries, we need to think less like our grandparents and more like our next generation of customers. For campground owners, this means thinking outside the box, seeking out the next new idea that will appeal to your guests. When was the last time you invested in a major piece of new recreational equipment? Not simply a new playground, but things like a fitness course, canine agility park, jumping pillow, gem mining station, laser tag, or spray park. And when is the last time that you really shook up your activities schedule, adding an event or two that will run the risk of being ahead of its time but that could also prove to be overwhelmingly popular?
There are a couple businesses in New Jersey that fall under the “who wudda thunk it?” head-scratcher concept category. Stumpy’s Hatchet House was founded in 2015. Its first location, in Eatontown, was the first indoor hatchet-throwing facility in the United States, probably a lot more fun than either bowling or darts. Customers pay $40.00 per person for a two-hour session that includes safety training, a lesson, hatchet rental, and use of a hatchet pit. A separate party room can be rented by groups, or the entire venue can be rented for $1,500.00 per hour (up from $1,000.00 a year ago.) Spectators (referred to as “non-throwers”) pay a cover charge of $15.00 each. Stumpy’s is opening 3 more locations in June 2018, with a total of 12 locations soon to be in operation in 7 states.
Located in West Berlin, New Jersey, Diggerland USA is the first and only construction themed adventure park in North America, where children and families can drive, ride and operate actual heavy construction machinery. The park covers about 21 acres and is comprised of over 25 attractions, the majority of which are real, diesel powered, full size, pieces of construction equipment. Guests who visit Diggerland USA can drive full size backhoes, dig giant holes with real excavators, and operate just about every sort of construction machine you might imagine. Guests pay $129.00 for a one-hour package operating one machine, $258.00 for a two-hour package operating two machines, $387.00 for a three-hour package operating three machines, and an extra $395.00 to smash a car. There are also group packages and special adult sessions called Diggerland XL, designed for adults over the age of 18 and including more unrestricted equipment operation.
Both of these businesses fall under the umbrella category of the adult fun industry. Time will tell whether these ventures will take off and succeed in the long run, but most service businesses today are not planning where they will be 50 years from now. Serial entrepreneurs work within a far shorter time-frame (typically 10 years) within which to take risks, hopefully profit, move on to the next venture, and sell to a new investor. When you come right down to it, how many campgrounds are not currently for sale, given the right price and circumstances, along with a ready and willing buyer?
A park that embraces concepts on the cutting edge (no hatchet-throwing or excavator puns intended) will profit in the short run and tremendously increase its value in the long run.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: Diggerland USA, Stumpy's Hatchet House
Posted in Consumer Trends, Marketing Strategies |
Give Your Guests More of What They Want
February 24th, 2018
I opened a box of breakfast cereal recently, and the inner bag of contents reached about half the height of the packaging. It was a classic example of the disclaimer that warns us that “contents are sold by weight, not volume”. If the packaging properly matched the size of its contents, it would have been half the size, have far less visibility on the supermarket shelf, and I probably would have passed on a purchase that did not appear to represent a very good value. You might say that I was deceived into making the purchase. Even though I liked the cereal, I am unlikely to purchase it again.
There are so many instances where corporate marketing decision-makers seem to underestimate the ability of their customers to make informed buying decisions and to alternately choose substitute products. Then there are instances that border on collusion, where companies follow the lead of a competitor who trail-blazes a reduction in product size without a corresponding reduction in price. For example, it only took one orange juice company to shrink its half-gallon container down to 59 ounces before every other company quickly followed suit. The same thing happened with ice cream, where the half-gallon container somehow evolved into a quart and a half. Perhaps the greatest offenses to consumer intelligence are meaningless comparison claims. I recently purchased a 50 ounce container of liquid laundry detergent where the label prominently stated “25% more ounces” (in a 36 pt. bold font) “vs. 40 fluid ounces” (in a 6 pt. light font). Needless to say, that claim did not influence my purchase.
Respect Your Guests’ Intelligence
People who feel that they have been somehow deceived into making a buying decision are almost never going to be return customers. When it comes to the outdoor hospitality industry, one of the biggest complaints is when guests feel like they are being “nickeled and dimed” during their stay. Although it is far preferable to avoid the imposition of add-on fees for incidentals like showers, Wi-Fi, or your planned activities, it is very important that any such fees be fully disclosed at the time of reservation. (One of my pet peeves is the imposition of so-called “convenience fees” for the making of reservations themselves!)
My best advice is to bundle as much as possible into your basic fees, promote the value within your rate structure, and stop presuming that people are comparison shopping for price without reading the fine print. One trend that I hope does not make inroads with the outdoor hospitality industry is the growing practice of hotels to impose so-called “resort fees”. This practice is so deceptive that it has generated lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers by 47 state attorneys general, who had recently negotiated an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, until the Trump administration ordered the FTC to back off, siding with the hotel industry rather than the interests of consumers. Nonetheless, guests have little or no tolerance for deceptive rate embellishments.
Consider the All-Inclusive Approach
A far better – and opposite – approach is the all-inclusive concept, where guests are willing to pay a premium for the privilege of avoiding add-on fees. The all-inclusive concept originated with Club Med way back in 1950. It is the rule rather than the exception in some vacation destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean. The concept has since been embraced by resort operators, cruise lines, travel agencies and online booking companies, several major airlines (including United, JetBlue, and Southwest), hotel chains (including Marriott and Hilton), and even wholesale buying clubs like Costco.
With all-inclusive pricing, as the name implies, guests willingly pay a premium fee for the privilege of vacationing without having to pull out their wallets throughout the course of their stay. All-inclusive pricing is most popular with destination resorts and highly competitive, saturated tourism markets. Probably the best known and most broadly marketed of these practitioners is Sandals Resorts International, which now promotes the tagline of “more quality inclusions than any other resorts on the planet”. Their all-inclusive stays include accommodations, dining, wine and spirits, golf, water sports, scuba diving, land sports, and entertainment. Even here, there are fee-based options such as spa treatments, premium wines, and scuba certification, as well as some restrictions on golf that vary from one resort or level of accommodations to another. The bottom line is that guests feel that they are being offered far more than they would otherwise expect.
Unfortunately, when I perform a Google search for the terms “all-inclusive campgrounds” or “all-inclusive camping resorts”, the results are pretty limited. I am more likely to find dude ranches, cabin resorts, and family resorts that do not fit the definition of a campground. Nonetheless, it seems that there is a small but growing list of campgrounds, ownership groups, and franchises that are discovering and beginning to capitalize upon the “all-inclusive” buzz words.
When I clicked through to the website of a campground in Michigan that calls itself “all-inclusive”, I found that it did not charge extra fees for most of its planned activities (something that is not all that uncommon); however, it charges extra fees for bike rentals, boat rentals, boat launching, and a few other “add-ons”. Another park in Wisconsin is promoting its all-inclusive pricing but is also charging for a short list of optional services that include boat and golf cart rentals, its laundry, and honey wagon service. Finally, a Jellystone Park in Texas is really promoting an all-inclusive pricing concept that includes full use of a wide range of recreational amenities – from miniature golf to a jumping pillow to a splash park. In each instance, the point of emphasis is not the list of fee-based options but the list of what is included at no additional charge.
The key to growth in the family camping industry has always been to draw in a new wave of guests who do not currently consider themselves campers. To reach them, offer them the unexpected and create the perception of overwhelming value that they have come to appreciate elsewhere. An all-inclusive approach to pricing may prove to be an idea whose time has come.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: all-inclusive, campground industry, campground marketing, Club Med, resort fees, vacation packages
Posted in Consumer Trends, Marketing Strategies |
Browser Wars: Why You Should Care
May 29th, 2017
It is human nature that we all tend to resist change. From brand loyalty to daily routines, we tend to be pretty predictable as individuals. When it comes to the browsers that we use to surf the Internet, we tend to be quite settled in our ways, with very few of us whimsically switching from Safari to Edge to Opera. Part of the reason has to do with the way we each like to stay within our own comfort zone, and another part of the reason involves convenience. Switching to a new browser can be a somewhat daunting task, with bookmarks, history, remembered passwords and other settings to be either imported or rebuilt.
In my own instance, I had been loyal to the Firefox browser for several years now, ever since Internet Explorer’s difficulties pushed me over the edge. More recently, I had been reluctantly tolerating the fact that Firefox was either locking up or crashing on my relatively new Windows 10 computer for several weeks. It got to the point where its misbehavior became predictable, with a day when Firefox did not crash being about as rare as a three dollar bill. I continued to wait for the next Firefox update to resolve my problem – after all, I had auto-submitted probably 100 error reports to Mozilla over this time – but to no avail. When it locked up, I would often check Windows 10 Task Manager, and I would find that Firefox was using 15% of my CPU capacity and taking up way too much memory.
Enough was enough. I decided that I had run out of patience, and it was time to leave Firefox behind as my default browser. Although most of us are familiar with only a handful of options, there is actually quite a collection of available options. I was gravitating toward Vivaldi, but neither the LastPass password manager nor the Disconnect ad blocker that I rely upon support the Vivaldi browser. Based upon plug-in support, I decided to move to Chrome, and I am seeing a remarkable improvement in the speed of my browsing experience, with Chrome using about 0.1% of CPU capacity and barely more than 0.001% of my system’s RAM.
For a variety of reasons, it is difficult to compile really accurate statistics regarding browser usage, even in only the United States, let alone globally. If you check your own website’s statistics in Google Analytics, you will notice that a very high percentage will be identified as “unknown”. Probably the most reliable data is presented by Net Market Share, where it is clear that on desktop computers and tablets, Chrome is the leader of the pack and gaining ground, Internet Explorer is rapidly losing market share (with few users embracing Microsoft Edge as its replacement), and Firefox, Safari, and everything else is pretty much just holding its own with far lower percentages of users. These trends are also tracked in the ongoing browser statistics compiled by W3Schools.com.
Of course, smartphones are accounting for an ever-greater share of Web browsing, and they present an entirely different set of statistics, where most users tend not to switch away from the default Android or iOS browser that comes installed on their devices.
You may be wondering why this might be important to you. First of all, go ahead and embrace change in your own browsing habits. Almost incomprehensibly, the (fortunately dwindling) numbers of Internet Explorer users include people who are still using IE10, IE9, IE8, and even older versions, seemingly oblivious to the fact that IE 11 was replaced by Microsoft Edge, where the current version at the time of this writing is Edge15. Running older versions of browser software represents a severe security risk, particularly when that browser is no longer supported by its developer (Microsoft, in the instance of Internet Explorer.) There is a big difference between being loyally running the latest version of Safari on your Mac and blindly running Internet Explorer 8 because it came installed on your old Windows 7 computer.
From a business perspective, it is important that you (or your webmaster) check how your website renders and performs on all browsers, operating systems, and devices that are commonly in use today. Some sites look fine on some browsers but less than perfect on others, whereas many older sites are essentially useless on mobile devices.
Not that long ago, I checked the new website of a campground using the Firefox browser that was still my default at the time. The site, which looked very nice with its embedded YouTube video, embedded widgets and more WordPress plug-ins than you could shake a stick at, would barely load in Firefox and who knows how it works in all those versions of Internet Explorer that people are still using. (Yes, it works much better in Chrome!) Well, according to Net Market Share, Firefox holds 11.79% of the current market share, Internet Explorer’s various versions still occupy 18.95% of market share, and I do not know of a single campground that can afford to risk driving away over 30% of its potential customers.
Going back to that content-heavy website, another very interesting and eye-opening test measures the actual cost of viewing a site on a mobile device using the most popular mobile service providers in various countries (those providers being Verizon and AT&T in the United States.) Calculating the best case scenario using the least expensive data plans, the actual cost of visiting that website is $0.86 in the United States and a whopping $1.65 in Canada (based upon U.S. dollars.) If your potential guest is on a limited data usage plan, a site like this with 9MB of total loaded content is not making a favorable first impression. Chances are those people are not going to wait for the site to load and run up their bills. To run a test of your site, visit What Does My Site Cost?
Are you in the mood for another test? Although any website (unless it uses Flash) will render on a mobile device, it may or may not present optimized content on either Android devices or iPhones. To test your site’s appearance on mobile devices, use the Google Mobile-Friendly Test, where the results might present a rude awakening of how your site appears to perhaps 50% or more of its visitors (many of whom will then abandon your site even faster than they found it!)
As you can see, choices in Web browsers can have far greater implications than first meet the eye. Although Firefox is no longer my default browser, it is still running on my computer for testing purposes, along with Safari, Edge, Opera and, of course, Chrome. If your site’s testing is not up to par, particularly in terms of its overall mobile-friendliness, it may be time to consider its overall cost to your park in potentially lost business.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: browser comparisons, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Opera, Safari, Vivaldi
Posted in Consumer Trends, Website Development |
It’s Never Too Late to Start Guarding Your Privacy
May 10th, 2017
I logged onto Facebook this morning, and I was immediately presented with a sponsored display ad hawking a t-shirt design that read, “Never underestimate an Old Man who listens to Neil Young and was born in September.” If I was naïve, I would see that ad and think, “Wow! This is my perfect t-shirt”, then order one. In the short time in which this ad has been displayed, it has been “liked” by 480 people, shared by 182 people (multiplying its reach at no charge to the advertiser), and has received 61 comments. Every one of those comments is from a man who confirms that he was born in September (usually adding a year from the 1950’s or 1960’s) and wants one of the shirts.
Is the fact that I was shown this advertising a coincidence? No way! It is custom-tailored to my identity. If I went to the order page and modified the URL, I could display any of a number of t-shirt designs based upon:
- The name of the performer.
- The birth month.
- Whether I was a man or a woman.
Here is an example:
To make the ad even more effective, the ordering page includes a countdown clock to create a false sense of urgency:
Depending upon how you view it, being presented these ads is either a brilliant use of Facebook’s marketing potential or an egregious violation of the personal privacy of Facebook users. In this case, I was being shown advertising that was based upon the disclosure of my gender, age, month of birth, and taste in music … all information that I had either voluntarily or unwittingly published on Facebook for either my friends or the world to see.
Yesterday, I was presented with another variation of the ad, based upon the fact that I drive a Jaguar … another fact that I had disclosed on Facebook. Now, I can also order a coffee mug! I am sure that I could modify the URL on the ordering page to change the design to show the name and logo of just about any car company. (On a side note, I have to wonder if these performers and companies are being paid royalties by the t-shirt company for use of their trademarks.)
You may think that this is all innocent, fun, and the price we pay for the otherwise free use of social media apps like Facebook, but there is more involved. I don’t know how many times I have seen friends on Facebook post a complete set of answers to 50 personal questions such as the name of their elementary school, their first phone number, name of their eldest sibling, and so forth. Whenever I see this being treated as a harmless and fun exercise, I cannot help but ask myself, “Are you insane?” If any of these questions and answers seems familiar, it is because they are among the same ones that are used as security tests on your online banking or an e-commerce site when you reset a password. Yes, the name of your first pet can lead to the theft of your identity!
You may have seen the recent news about the “Google Docs” phishing scam that proliferated in e-mails on May 4, 2017, said to be the most effective e-mail worm since the “I Love You” virus that caused havoc back in 2000. The scam was effective because it looked legitimate (it is so easy to copy the appearance of a legitimate website!), came from somebody you knew (rather than some random name chosen by a hacker in Belarus), and was spread through the type of shared online document that we have come to accept as routine. Even cautious recipients who would never open an e-mail attachment from a stranger thought that it was safe to download the same sort of document that appeared to have been shared via a cloud service by a known sender. All of these scams, whether relatively harmless or downright nefarious, play upon the human willingness to trust those with access to our personal information.
At the moment, leading into Mother’s Day 2017, there are several gift card scams that are proliferating on Facebook almost faster than they can be identified and taken down. One purports to offer a $50.00 coupon for use at Lowe’s home improvement stores in exchange for taking a short survey, in which you will be disclosing a wealth of personal information. Another purports to offer a $75.00 coupon to Bed Bath & Beyond, the same sort of scam that attempts to gather your personal information for exploitation later.
As I have said in the title of this article, it is never too late to start guarding your privacy. In fact, today is the best day to begin!
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: Facebook Advertising, Facebook scams, identify theft, online scams, phishing scams
Posted in Consumer Trends, Cyber Security, Facebook Tips, Scams |