Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not represented as fact|
I bet the originators of NZ's Flying Pig site will be running around shouting
"I told you so" today after Amazon.com announced its first ever profit.
the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook
are revealed for all to see!
Flying Pig was modeled very closely on Amazon.com but failed to last long
enough to realise anything other than significant losses.
After many long years however, Amazon has finally joined the ranks of the very
few online ecommerce ventures to actually change the colour of the ink on its
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Apart from eBay and a few other minor players, most online etailers are still
running at a loss so Amazon's transition into profit is no mean feat -- especially
in the wake of the "dot-com crash."
So what's the secret of Amazon's success in such a tough marketplace?
Well it seems that they're just doing what so many other profitable real-world
retailers do -- selling a wide range of products at competitive prices.
Sounds just like The Warehouse doesn't it?
Of course the etailing giant's profits are a fairly mediocre US$35 million on
a massive turnover of US$1.12 billion -- not much of a margin there. You must
also remember that it still has to make up the $3 billion of losses it's suffered
since going public five years ago.
The effect of the last-minute Christmas shopping boom late last year was also
probably a huge factor in the company's slip from red to black ink.
The profit is a milestone -- but we've still got a long way to go before
we can declare the Amazon model to be an unqualified success. It's quite
possible that it will slip back into loss during the first two quarters
of this year -- now that the Christmas sales boom has passed.
Hello, Help Desk?
In the past few days I've found it impossible to get through to two of
the news websites I use quite frequently (news.cnet.com and zdnet.com/zdnn)
I've received emails from other readers who have advised that they're having
no such problems -- so I rebooted all my boxes here -- and it's still broken.
After some investigating I discovered that the problem is almost certainly
with my XTRA dial-up connection.
Whenever I try to access the sites in question, I get the standard XTRA
proxy-server error screen which simply advises me that "There was a
communication problem" and invites me to "Try connecting to this server later."
After several days I figured that I might not live long enough to find out exactly
when "later" might be -- so I did some investigation.
For reasons known only to CNet/ZDNet, they use a series of redirects through
servers (redir.com.com aka abv-sfo1-x-redirect.cnet.com) that are supposed to
eventually deliver you to whatever server actually holds the content.
As far as I can tell, one of XTRA's proxy servers appears to be having a hard
time talking to that redir.com.com server -- at least when I'm on the other
end of the line.
I figured it was time to give XTRA's helpdesk a call -- so I went to the
of the XTRA website to try and find a phone number. After several minutes
of hunting for a phone number that doesn't appear to be advertised there, I
emailed them with all the details.
Fortunately the confirmation email provided me with the helpdesk phone number --
but why wasn't it on the page???
Calling the help desk, I was emphatically told that the problem was because
I live in the country and probably have noise on my line.
No amount of pleading that I was getting ping times of just a couple of hundred
milliseconds with no packet losses would convince the helpdesk guy that this
wasn't a "rural problem." Nor would my observation that the error message
was coming from the proxy server, or that no other sites were producing this
Are XTRA using this "rural problem" as a universal scapegoat for problems
that are simply too hard to resolve?
At the moment, the problem remains unresolved -- and it's a head-scratcher.
I've tried every browser I've got (IE, Netscape, Opera) and with/without my
firewall and local proxy server.
It is a worry that XTRA seem so keen to take the "easy-out" when it comes
to hard problems though isn't it? No wonder they're less than keen to
upgrade the rural network -- it would mean one less excuse with which to fob
off customers having problems.
I've received email from another XTRA user who has encountered the same problem..
but they're located in downtown Wellington (will XTRA now redefine Cuba St as
"rural" I wonder?).
As I type this, I'm sitting on the tail of a 10 minute queue to the XTRA help
desk again ;-(
Still no luck.
I don't know if it is related (it is a caching proxy-server issue) but I notice
now that Aardvark's pages are being more aggressively cached by XTRA. You have
to hit reload to see if there's any changes -- even tough the no-cache
meta-tag is being used in the header of this page. Bloody penny-pinchers!
The problem is fixed -- and guess what -- it wasn't a noisy line, a faulty
modem or a "rural problem", unless they sneaked in when I wasn't looking
and upgraded everything.
It appears that it might just have been related to CNet/ZDNet blocking
access from a block of IP addresses being used by XTRA.
Just why were those addresses blocked?
Find out more in tomorrow's edition!
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