Shopping for a New Water Heater

If your water heater is getting older, it’s a good idea to shop for a replacement before you run out of hot water, or worse… wake up ankle-deep in it!

Take note of the energy sources available to you, and the amount of hot water you expect to use. Not every form of energy will work with every kind of heating appliance and some work slower than others. Tanks work with solar, electricity, oil and gas (natural or propane) but tankless units work with only electricity and gas sources. Heat pumps use only electricity.

Estimate how much hot water your household uses during peak hours and look for a heater with a first hour rating (FHR) that meets your demand. A licensed plumber is the best person to make this calculation and help you choose the right size.

Hot water can add up to 25% of your energy bill, so be sure to choose an energy efficient heating appliance.

Storage tank

This is the most common in residential applications, heating and storing hot water until needed. When you open a faucet, the released hot water is replaced by incoming cold water, which is heated and stored again at a temperature controlled by one or more thermostats in the tank.

Storage tanks are simple, maintenance-free and relatively inexpensive to install – but due to constant reheating they use energy 24/7 even if you’re not running any hot water. Electrically heated tanks can be covered with an insulating blanket to help save energy, but not gas or oil-fired tanks.

Tankless

Tankless water heaters, also known as “on demand” heaters, heat water without a storage tank, using energy only when needed – rather than maintaining a tank of hot water. Sometimes individual units are used in a number of locations throughout a house, but most newer homes have one high-output tankless heater to supply hot water throughout the home.

Due to the storage volume of hot water tanks, and the high-output nature of tankless heaters, both are commonly used for heating a home with in-floor radiant systems or through a radiator coil in a forced-air heating system.

Heat pump (hybrid)

Heat pump water heaters are not directly heated. They use electricity to pump heat from the air or the ground to your water tank, using less energy than traditional water heaters.

You can install a standalone heat pump water heater or combine your water heater with your heating and cooling system, employing an air or ground source heat pump. Although installation costs are higher, heat pump water heaters cost less to run over the longer term.

Solar

Solar collectors can be used to harness the sun’s energy and heat your water almost for free! Solar water heaters use a primary tank for storing pre-heated water before it is transferred to a conventional hot water tank, operating on electricity, gas or oil.

Solar collectors can be installed on roofs or on stands at ground level. Shop for a better quality, energy efficient model which will last longer and save money.

Features to Consider

  • Warranty: Typically three to twelve years. Purchase prices are closely tied to warranties, and longer warrantied water heaters tend to be better built and better insulated. In addition to choosing a water heater with a good warranty, check consumer reporting websites and reviews from individual owners.

  • Anti-scale devices: Although scale can shorten the life of a water heater, you don’t need to invest in extra features to get a dependable water heater. Just buy a good quality tank with a good warranty.

  • Brass vs. plastic drain valves: Near the base of the water heater, these valves are used to periodically drain sediment from the bottom of a tank. Brass drain valves are more durable than plastic.

  • Glass-lined tanks: Are designed to minimize corrosion.

  • Digital displays: Easily monitor and control the operation of your tank; set the temperature of the water, set a vacation mode and other functions.

Find more good reads @ All Around The HOUSE

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Online Shopping Lingo: Abbreviations and Acronyms

Visiting coupon, refunding or bargain sites may, at first, seem

like visiting a foreign country. You see phrases such as:

GDA! BBW B&M BOGO on soaps, HTH

And you think WHAT? Huh? What are they talking about? What

language is THAT?

(Translation: Good Deal Alert! Bath & Body Works

brick-and-mortar store has buy-one-get-one on soaps, hope this

helps!)

I mean, it’s enough to make you want to TYHO!

(Tear Your Hair Out – I made that one up.)

Before you click away in frustration, let me reassure you that

it IS possible to speak like a native – you just need a guide to

the terminology, acronyms, abbreviations, definitions and common

word usage found on rebate and premium product lists, coupon and

online code lists, and refunding and trading forums.

Each site you visit may have its own particular phrases, but

generally speaking the most common terms are found in the list

below.

TTFN…

B&M = Brick & Mortar

B1G1F = Buy One Get One Free

BOGO = (the same as B1G1), Buy One, Get One (usually free)

C/O = Cash Off or Cents Off

CPN = Coupon

CRT = Cash Register Tape

CSR = Customer Service Reps

CVS = A pharmacy/drug store like Rite-Aid

DB = Dear/Darling/Darn Brother

DCRT = Dated Cash Register Receipt

DD* = Dear/Darling/Darn Daughter

DG = Dear/Darling/Darn Girlfriend

DH = Dear/Darling/Darn Husband

DND = Do Not Double

DS* = Dear/Darling/Darn Son

DUPES = Duplicates

DW = Dear/Darling/Darn Wife

EB = Extra Bucks (CVS)

ECB = Extra Care Bucks (CVS)

ESR = Easy Saver Rebate (Walgreens monthly rebate)

FAB = From another Board

GC = Gift Certificate

GDA = Good deal alert

GWP = Gift With Purchase

H/F = Handling Fee

HT/HGT = Hang tag

ISO = In Search Of

LMK = Let Me Know

LOL = Laughing Out Loud and/or Lots of Luck

LPG = Lower Price Guarantee

LSASE = Long self addressed stamped envelope

MIB = Mint in Box

MIL = Mother-in-Law

MMV = Mileage May Vary

MS = Mystery Shopper

NAZ = Name Address Zip code

NED = No expiration date

NIB = New in box

NOCC = No Credit Card

NWOT = New WithOut Tags

NWT = New With Tags

OBO = Or Best Offer

PLMK = Please let me know

POB = Post Office Box

POP = Proof of Purchase

PP = Purchase Price

PPHF = PayPal Handling fee

PREM (Premium) = An item received from a refund offer.

PSTG = Postage

Qualifier (Q)= Proof of Purchase.

RAOK = Random Act of Kindness

RP = Rewards Programs

SAHM = Stay At Home Mom

SASE = Self Addressed Stamped Envelope

SMP = Specially Marked Packages

TMF = Try Me Free

TOS = Terms of Service

TTFN = Ta ta for now

TY/ty = Thank you

UNL = Unlimited

UPC = Universal Product Code

W/L or WL= Wish list

WAHM = Work at home mom

Winetags = coupons found around the neck of a wine bottle

YMMV = Your Merchandise (or Mileage) May Vary

* (Add an S for step _ so DSD is Dear/Darling/Darn Step-Daughter)

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Why We Enjoy Shopping

“If money can’t buy happiness, why does it sometimes feel so good to buy stuff?” asks Kristin Bianco in his personal finance column at Fox News Network. Well, there is an answer for Kristin’s question if you search for it at the right place. That place is consumer psychology. Professor Kit Yarrow, professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, writing in Psychology Today names the good feeling that Kristin experience when buying stuff “retail therapy”. She says a recent study has found that more than half of Americans admit to engaging in “retail therapy.”

So, when your customers feel down, they go shopping to feel better…

Finding the joy of shopping

According to the emotional view of consumer decision-making, each of us is likely to associate deep feelings or emotions, such as joy, fear, love, hope, sexuality, fantasy and even a little ‘magic’, with certain purchases. Also, scientists have found that shopping does make some people feel good. It’s been reported that when a person shops, the brain releases the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is linked to feelings of satisfaction and pleasure and is released when you face new, exciting experiences. So, what do your customers pay for when they want to have “retail therapy”?

Recent survey results indicate that engagement in retail therapy is often driven by factors such as boredom and seasonal changes. As many as 66% of adults and 75% of teens indicate that shopping is a great cure for boredom, while 45% of adults revealed that the seasonal changes are the biggest motivator to go shopping.

If your customers really want to feel happy, they will go on a ‘shopping spree’. WiseGeek describes a shopping spree as “a playful” and “devil may care” attitude in a single shopping trip where lots of money is spent. A shopping spree is the action you take to start your ‘retail therapy’. But what do your customers say about the joy of shopping?

Customer insights about the joy of shopping

Here are some commentary and comments from customer’s experiences about the joy of shopping.

“I think the clothes I buy will make me happier. The storage bins, the throw pillows, perhaps a bottle of nail polish. And while it’s true for a day, it doesn’t bring me real, lasting happiness. It gives me a bit of a happy high: “I love this new dressssss! How cute and stylish am I!?” but then the excitement wears off and I want to buy something else… ” writes Ashley in her blog “Our Little Apartment”. The comment of Ashley supports the findings of the survey done by Ebates.

Customers, sometimes, are feeling guilty after a shopping spree. Here are some of the comments on Ashley’s blog:

Ashile says: “It is so true that in the moment we think buying some new it will make us happier. But truly, it is only momentary happiness”.

Marta says “We all have wasted money and resources and time on unneeded shopping. You know how I do now? I ask myself “do I REALLY need it?” “Would I come back tomorrow again to buy it?” “Is it likely that I’ll never find such a wonderful cloth again in the world? Ever?” then, I usually realize that I’m not going to buy anything, and I feel sort of liberated.”

Customers are feeling both positive and negative emotions at the same time before, during and after shopping. But what will the customer feels when she visits your shop?

Creating the right environment for joyful shopping

Previous studies have shown that consumers are influenced by their shopping environments which in turn influence consumers’ emotional states and purchases. The negative emotions consumers experience before the shopping process are soon forgotten when consumers immerse themselves in the shopping process and start visiting stores and examining the merchandise.

It is unlikely that a random purchase at any venue will have therapeutically value for people feeling down. Their shopping experience needs to reward them. Emotional customers seeking ‘retail therapy’ should visit your shop to reward themselves. There are some obvious things a retailer needs to do to create lasting shopping experiences for their customers.

  • Keep a wide range and a variety of products;
  • Keep products that are in ‘season’;
  • Make sure that there are always some items on promotion;
  • Try to create an atmosphere in your shop that will make the customers feel happy;
  • Provide the customers with excellent, friendly service and make the transactions hassle free;
  • Allow your customers to see, touch, rub, wear, taste and smell the products;
  • Keep your shop clean and tidy at all times;
  • Make sure that your shop is well well-lit and that there are enough cashiers at the pay points;
  • Play music that put customers in a good mood and give them stylish shopping bags when they check out

Lastly, “What are customers doing when they are feeling bored? They surf the internet and do some online shopping…

Concluding

It seems difficult to draw a line between ‘the joy of shopping’ and ‘compulsive buying’. Compulsive buying is described as a ‘addictive disorder’ whilst the joy of shopping is keeping our shops open. The question that we as retailers need to ask is what to do if we recognize some of our customers as compulsive buyers? Do we have a moral duty to warn them about it? Or to suggest help?

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9 E-Commerce Tips for the Holiday Shopping Season

It hardly seems possible that we’re entering yet another holiday shopping season. Year after year, advertisers start campaigning to win over early-bird shoppers earlier and earlier. Christmas decorations emerge in retail stores before some families are even planning for Halloween. So in light of preparing well in advance, here are some tips to prepare your e-commerce site for the 2013 holiday shopping season.

Use Holiday Terms in Your Campaigns

You can capitalize on early-bird shoppers by using those keywords in some of your campaigns. Do your due diligence first to analyze the potential in your particular niche, but incorporating key phrases related to the holiday shopping season could tap into the early-shopper market. Terms such as “early holiday discounts,” “pre-holiday sale,” “Christmas shopping,” and similar terms combined with your niche keywords can be effective in the pre-season with early shoppers.

Promote Pre-Season Prices on Hot-Ticket Items

Some shoppers specifically seek out early deals on hot items. The Skylanders video game is popular among children and teens right now, for example, and parents may be looking to buy game systems and characters before the prices start creeping up in time for the busy shopping season. If you’re offering a hot seller at discounted prices, let shoppers know.

Analyze Last Year’s Performance

Now’s the time when you should be carefully analyzing last year’s performance. What marketing tactics did you use, and how well did they perform? Should you allocate more of your budget to PPC or organic SEO this year? If you’re using content marketing, start planning your efforts and getting the ball rolling.

Get your plans in place now. If you need to hire a copywriter to spice up your product descriptions or run a branding campaign, you have the time to do so. But if you wait until holiday shopping season is in full swing, you’ll be chasing your tail.

Ramp Up Your Product Descriptions

Your product descriptions are what will sell your inventory at the end of the day. You can get visitors to your site by optimizing and using PPC – but your product descriptions are what will drive conversions. Take a close look at your product copy and revitalize it. Run some A/B tests to drill down to the most effective headlines and descriptions. You can also start planning how you’ll incorporate holiday-relevant copy in your descriptions, such as “must-have 2013 Christmas item for teens,” or “on the 2013 holiday hot list.”

Take Advantage of Google+

Google is really pushing Google+, so you should be using it to your advantage. Make sure your physical location information is up to date, and make sure you’re sharing your compelling content there. There’s a definite SEO benefit to Google+, not to mention you can drive additional traffic through your connections.

Fine-Tune Your Local Business Presence

If you also have a brick-and-mortar location, make sure your local business presence is solid. Local customers will find you online this holiday season. Update your hours, contact information, physical address, and description. Make sure your description is relevant and keyword-rich, including the main products you sell. Give directions if your location is tough to find.

Use Retargeting

Now is the perfect time to start using retargeting. Because shoppers are browsing the web for ideas, they may spend some time on your site and then leave without making a purchase. After all, they have plenty of time to place orders before the holidays.

But you can make sure you stay top-of-mind in consumers’ minds – and give them an incentive to buy – by using retargeting. Hit up visitors with special offers and deep discounts on items that are sure to be best-sellers, and offer some motivation by letting them know the items they looked at are in low supply at the current prices.

Be a Resource

Everyone has at least one difficult-to-buy-for person on their holiday gift-giving list, and shoppers are always looking for great gift ideas. Be a resource to your visitors by offering tips on finding the best deals, what’s hot on this year’s wish lists for different recipients, ages, and so on, and other fun and informative information. The more valuable content you provide, the better your organic rankings and the more likely visitors are to share your content.

Pay Attention to Mobile

More people are shopping via mobile devices than ever, so it’s critically important to ensure your site is mobile-optimized. This is particularly difficult with e-commerce, as the many product listings and the check-out process are often difficult to make mobile-friendly. But if you neglect the mobile audience, you’re going to lose valuable conversions. Your PPC ads are going to show up for mobile users, too, but they’ll bounce quickly when they realize how difficult it’s going to be to complete the checkout process from a smartphone.

It’s not too early to start thinking about the holiday shopping season. Retail stores already have holiday inventory on the shelves, and shoppers are going to be scouring the web for ideas and deals soon. Tap into the opportunity by heading into this year’s holiday season armed with your best marketing efforts.

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Why People Go to Shopping Centers

People love to visit shopping centers. There are many popular shopping centers around the world that are worth going to. Sometimes, the less luxurious a shopping center is the more fun and exciting it is to check out, because it is surely busier than one that only caters to affluent people. Some of the things that people look for in a good shopping mall or center are accessibility, affordability and a wider range of products and brands to choose from. Moreover, as time goes by, a safe and a wholesome place for many, also becomes one of the main reasons why many people love to go there.

Another reason why it is so enjoyable to go to a shopping center is because it is a melting pot of people who are all looking to relax and space out from their busy schedules at work. Many people prefer going to shopping malls instead of going for a walk in a park or going to the gym. Moreover, a shopping center is typically located in a busy spot in a city or in a town. In some locations, there are all sorts of places and things to see that are built around shopping centers.

A special day of sale is one of the things that attract people to flock to a shopping center. Typically, there is one on the 15th or 30th day of the month, when there is a change of seasons, as well as during holidays and anniversaries.

This is when people can take advantage of great shopping deals and freebies from different brands. Some even intentionally only shop during these times to take advantage of the discounted prices.

Another thing that makes a shopping malls and centers appealing is its ability to house special concerts and events where different kinds of artists can perform live and for free. Also, a great ambience helps to keep people converge in a clean, well-lit and well-ventilated area. Sometimes, people even go to a shopping mall just to escape the heat or cold and make the most of the free air conditioning or heating.

There are also other things to do in a shopping mall or center aside from bargain hunting. One may eat in one of the restaurants that dot the place and enjoy a quick but sumptuous meal.

For many people, a shopping center is one that is housed in a grand building and is equipped with facilities that help entertain people. Still, for some, it may just be a group of tents or small rented areas assembled together where the best deals can be found. Also, keep in mind that the more Spartan a shopping mall or shopping center looks, the more bargains you will find. So take your pick and head to the nearest one to relax and feast your eyes on different people and things all coming together in one busy place.

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Let’s Beat the Heat This Summer Through Online Shopping

The blazing heat of the summer is already killing us. We just want to stay cool inside our home and relax in our comfy pajamas and shorts. Going out shopping in such scorching heat is a big task for everyone. Visiting one store to another in the shopping mall or crowded market is so exhausting. Shopping means you are going to spend hours and hour’s right from walking through the crowd to dealing with shopkeepers and then standing in a long queue in a billing counter to pay the bills.

And when the burning summer is already waiting for us to soak up all the energy from us, who would like to go out for shopping to drain the whole energy? Let’s forget old-style shopping in the market, just relax at your home and shop whatever you want online without stepping out. Yes, when there is an option of online shopping then what’s the need of going out for shopping and roast oneself from the burning heat.

Online shopping has numerous advantages because of which many people prefer to shop online as it is convenient and saves a lot of time. If you haven’t shopped online yet, then here are the reasons which will definitely be going to give you a solid reason to shop online today!

Convenience: Online shopping will give you the freedom of time and comfort. You can shop anything whenever you want without any wait, shop 24×7 at your comfort without any trouble. Place your order online and receive the order at your doorstep within 2-7 business days. Just forget the crowd and traffic; enjoy your shopping at home.

Better Prices: Yes, it is true! You will get amazing discount deals and offers on online shopping. Shopping from the outlet means you have to pay the full MRP price unless some season sale is going on and you can hope for some discount. But, if you will do online shopping you will get special discounts on your favourite brand products and can save a lot of money.

Wide Variety: Online shopping website has an extensive selection of top brands and products to choose from. Right from international brands to local brands, you will find everything under one roof that too at amazing prices. You can choose your size and colour, and place the order instantly. But then in case, there is no availability of your size then you can add the item in your wish list and once the item will be restocked, you will be notified.

Great Savings: Many of us still think twice before shopping online as they are used for conventional shopping more. People are not sure about the quality and originality of the products available online. These are all misconceptions, all products that are available online are 100% original and you will get the same brand item at a discounted price. No need to pay full price anymore, start shopping online and enjoy instant discount on every online order.

Compare the Price: Online shops give you the liberty to compare the price of the products with other products which are available on other shopping websites. If you think you are getting a much better price on other websites, then you can shop from there directly. Online shopping provides you with the complete freedom to buy your desired item at the best price.

So, be a smart online shopper! Don’t let this summer to ruin your shopping mood.

Hope this summer, you all will shop more and save more! Don’t waste your time and money by going out for conventional shopping in the market. Just open your favourite shopping website and order your desired items at unbelievably low prices.

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What Is the Hardest Part of Grocery Shopping?

I know that some people actually enjoy the experience of grocery shopping, but I have a problem. Let me explain.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly fond of grocery shopping – for several reasons, some of which include:

I lose a few hours of my time that I could be using for other, more fun, activities like doing laundry or washing dishes.

I have to spend a large amount of my taxed income to buy food that I get to pay more tax on.

I have to lug the groceries from the store to the car, from the cart to the trunk, from the trunk to the house, to the refrigerator, the freezer, and cabinets.

I feel compelled to spend the next half hour cleaning the fridge out before I put the new food in there.

Then I feel guilty about all the food I just threw away from the last shopping trip!

The very worst part of grocery shopping, though? The part that makes me break out in a cold sweat before I even leave the house? The fruit and vegetable aisle.

I start getting anxious a few aisles away. I tell myself “this time it will be better”. I try to stay positive. The very first time I pick up an apple and go to put it into one of those flimsy, tissue paper- thin plastic bags, I realize I’m wrong. It’s not better this time. Why, oh why, can’t I open these bags? What is wrong with me? I try to peel it apart… nothing. I rub it between my fingers and thumb… nothing. I try both hands… nothing. I look around, just knowing that people are staring at me, judging me, because I can’t open the bag. The ONLY way that I have found to make it work is to use water. I can’t lick my fingers and do it, though, because my fingers have now touched every single germ in the entire store. What to do? Here’s my solution to this problem.

Grab a bunch of bags, separate them into individual bags, and saunter over to the refrigerated section of the produce department. T­­ry to be casual about it; pick up a pepper, examine it, pick up something else. Try not to look creepy. Wait for the automatic sprinklers to come on and stick your hands under it to get them completely wet. Grab your individual bags, open them all at once and calmly finish your business of produce shopping.

You’re Welcome!

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A Comparison Of Online Loose Diamond Shopping Compared To Physical Retail Stores

When shopping for diamonds, many today are still undecided about if it’s best to buy their diamond online or physically in a retail store. I have decided to make this comparison to help determine if shopping online is best for you or not. There are several factors that influence if it’s the best choice or not, with some advantages and disadvantages for each. In this post, I will explain as best as I can the benefits and downsides of the two.

Certification

Most online retailers only sell certified diamonds, either by the GIA, HRD or IGI. In many physical retail stores, a majority of the diamonds will not be certified. This is normal, as jewelers themselves are almost always certified graders, but it does not inspire confidence for some consumers. In all cases of a trusted jeweler, there should be no doubt about the quality of the diamond. However, certification costs money, and an advantage of buying certified diamonds vs non-certified diamonds is that you will often find them at a cheaper price. However, in general it is highly recommended to buy certified diamonds, because although all jewelers may be able to tell the clarity and color of a diamond, some may not as easily distinguish bad cuts of grades of fluorescence.

Selection

You will have to visit many shops before you encounter the large selection you will find inside the average experienced online diamond vendor’s store. The average jeweler usually only carries a fraction of the diamonds in a physical location in comparison. I would estimate the average jewelry shop would have around a handful of dozen (usually less) loose diamonds of noteworthy size (noteworthy, I use a relatively strict definition of about 0.50 carats). The selection of less than a hundred compared to the thousands you would find online is where the online selection shows the largest advantage. The larger selection allows for the potential buyers to have a much easier time finding exactly the diamond that they might want, whereas if the client is inclined to buy in a retail store, the situation will often end with the buyer settling for a diamond slightly different than he might have wanted.

In the case of all online vendors, they are connected with a direct line to the cutters, which buy directly from the miners. There are no unneeded middle men this way. Most jewelers depend on people buying from the cutters and selling them onwards, which is why they don’t have direct access to such large lists, which only increases prices, but more on that later.

However, a downside of this large selection is that the average online retailer needs about two weeks to deliver, while when visiting the store you can pay on the spot and leave with the item instantly. For the person who does not wish to wait, this might be a big factor. A lot of people don’t have the patience to wait so long for what they purchased, which I find very understandable.

The Ability To See In 3D

A new niche has recently emerged in online diamond buying. This is the ability to look inside your diamond in 3D. For me personally, this is a game changer. I believe with this new technology people are able to look inside the diamond even better than they can holding them with a loop. Most diamonds have significant imperfections, and they can be part of its beauty. When you buy a diamond online in 3D, you know perfectly well what you buy. The perfectly angled macro shots under the perfect lightning lets even the most experienced diamond grader rate inclusions better than with the methods used in previous years.

Whereas a client might be happy early on after buying it thinking he might get an exceptional price, he might regret it later, as he learns to fully know the diamond with the years. When you are able to see what you are considering to buy in such detail, you know for sure what your purchase will be like, and are bound never to have any regrets. Also people who are new to shopping for precious gemstones will have a much easier time learning what the physically viewable differences are in the comfort of home rather than going from shop to shop.

Online return rates for diamonds bought in 3D are extremely low.

Pricing

Although competition between gemstone and fine jewelry retailers is fierce, competition between online vendors is even fiercer. You will be able to find much better prices online than in jewelry shops. Not only do the profits required for one or two more middle men not get added to the total expense (saving the eventual final buyer extra costs) but since they order directly from the main suppliers, they also don’t aim to make as much profit for their sale. When a shop has invested in a diamond years ago, and only now finds a buyer, they will attempt to make it worth the long wait, while an online vendor usually has his fixed rates. On top of that, online diamond sellers don’t require as much human resources to keep the operation running, since it manages huge stock very efficiently. This again allows them to save the costs onto you, giving you a very honest price for your diamond.

However, if you are flexible with your choice, you might find some amazing prices in shops. You might encounter a diamond that a jeweler has bought for a very low price. Most people don’t mention a budget, but if you mention a budget, the people working within the shop you have visited will surely do their best to give you the best possible deal they can. In achieving this, you might have to visit many shops, but the odds are big it will pay off.

Conflict Free Diamonds

When buying diamonds online, you are buying from select companies the largest retailers in the world have decided to deal with. The diamonds owned by these companies consist entirely of diamonds they mined themselves, and cut themselves. As they oversee all their operations themselves as well, there is no room for conflict diamonds to find their way into these companies. Although you should not worry in my opinion, as odds of conflict diamonds are extremely low when buying them in shops, the only way to be sure what you’re buying is absolutely conflict-free is to buy from one of the retailers connected directly to these companies and nothing but these companies.

-Isaac

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The Evolution of Healthcare Mystery Shopping

Patients answer patient satisfaction survey questions based on their perception, and yet there is limited context for the healthcare provider. It leaves one asking the questions – who were they interacting with, what was said, when did it happen, and how capable and reliable was the patient to make those interpretations? So instead of convening a committee to explore the reasons for poor scores, healthcare mystery shopping provides healthcare clients with the research intelligence needed to make real-time improvements.

In an era of value based purchasing with a focus on inpatient stays, I have estimated that over 80% of the lives touched by health systems in this country are not patients at all, but rather family members, visitors, outpatients, and consumers of everything from equipment to Starbucks. By all means make the patient room environment as clean and silent as possible, communicate effectively with the patient, and ensure that they are fully prepared to be discharged, but the emphasis must still be on the patient’s perception. Observations, opinions, and ultimately consumer decisions derive from that source.

The elevated importance of patient satisfaction data means that as the data is digested, more and more questions will arise. For instance, a survey will tell you there is a concern with the friendliness of the radiology staff. Instead of creating a broad-brush customer service program for the Radiology Department, the logical next step is to determine how the department is being perceived by end-users, what the department’s behavioral weaknesses are, and who on the staff is exhibiting those behaviors.

Together patient satisfaction data and healthcare mystery shopping can begin to focus on meaningful solutions that cause providers to say, “We know from patient satisfaction there is a problem and from mystery shopping we know what that problem is and who is primarily responsible.”

While it is recommended that managers look for coaching opportunities by observing their employees in action, expecting them to alter the service culture is less likely since – for the most part – they created the culture. Because this type of research is strictly consumer perception, it provides an unbiased view of a department or organization’s culture. This gives managers a third party perspective that increases coaching opportunities.

Types of Healthcare Mystery Shopping

From those early days of healthcare mystery shopping, healthcare provider requests have gotten more creative, more targeted, and more sophisticated. For example, a client may request something as all encompassing as a 24-hour inpatient stay in which the shopper is admitted for a 24-hour period to evaluate the patient experience from registration to discharge. Or shoppers may be asked to call physician offices to make appointments with the intent of determining how long it will be before they can be seen tying the research to more efficient use of resources.

In 2008, healthcare mystery shopping received significant national press when the American Medical Association attempted to take up a position on the practice. What was not as readily reported was the fact that the issue was tabled indefinitely. In fact, it was already the custom of one of the leading providers (prior to the accusation that healthcare mystery shopping was unnecessarily taking up physician time) to utilize what they call process observations. This form of mystery shopping, which is most effective in Emergency Departments, avoids taking up valuable patient time by having a shopper join a patient as a friend as they go through the patient experience.

Two of the most beneficial types of perception research are: 1) shopping the competition, and 2) evaluating individual employees. Call it spying, many do, but it is important to know your competition’s culture. For example, what do they believe in and how is it transferred to the patient, and can the anecdotal stories you’ve heard be verified?

A great deal of value can be derived from conducting evaluations of individual employees. For a number of reasons – cost certainly being a factor – this works best in a departmental environment and gives managers an apples-to-apples comparison of each employee as it pertains to specific standards, i.e., is Cindy more likely than Jeff to greet patients immediately (setting up a coaching opportunity for Jeff)? Or, does Jeff do a great job of cross-selling services and should be commended?

Healthcare mystery shopping also gives managers concrete examples of the specific behavior that “turns patients on.” This sets up the perfect opportunity to present to staff the behaviors the organization would like emulated while giving kudos to the employee who displays them.

Quantitative and Qualitative Appeal

Healthcare mystery shopping appeals to managers and administrators whether they are left brained (numbers focused) or right brained (narrative focused). On the one hand, mystery shopping is about story telling. Fred Lee wrote in If Disney Ran Your Hospital, “What seems to be a major component of both loyalty and dissatisfaction are stories. A satisfied person has no story to tell.” Stories are important in articulating the who, what, when, where, and how of the patient or consumer experience. The right brain approach to mystery shopping allows clients to clearly discern the difference between a completely satisfactory experience and all the various facets that went into it, and those elements of an experience that triggered displeasure or frustration. At the same time, healthcare mystery shopping is an effective compliance tool. Standards that are specific to the healthcare industry, and therefore can be benchmarked, are mixed with organizationally specific standards to create a quantitative amalgam that can be data spliced in any way necessary. Healthcare mystery shopping primarily answers the following question – How well does your organization perform on the behaviors and processes you told your people are important? In addition, it lets organizations measure those standards against perception-based goals.

The Flexibility of Healthcare Mystery Shopping

Patient satisfaction surveys are, for the most part, static. They are unchanging for a reason. Conversely, healthcare mystery shopping is much more flexible. It can be designed as a program that measures the same standards or processes over time, or studies can be developed to determine exactly what behaviors or processes are being performed.

Healthcare mystery shopping can also be redirected ‘on the fly’ if the desired objectives are not being met. For example, to their surprise, a physician practice that was asking shoppers to make appointments found out they weren’t accepting new patients. Another practice that was evaluating the customer service of their registrars discovered that none of the calls were being answered by a ‘live’ person. In both instances, the practice put on the brakes until they could fix the issue. One hospital was having shoppers go to their website to look for specific information and then having them request a response. What this uncovered was that the requests were accumulating on a PC that was not being used. This finding allowed the hospital to avoid upsetting hundreds of consumers who felt they were being rudely ignored.

How does one know if a service initiative is really working? Healthcare mystery shopping is an excellent complement to any service initiative. It can be directed in such a way that it provides real time verification that the initiative is being effective. Anything from a discharge process to valet service can be shopped at various times to ensure that the initiative’s message was received and implemented.

Flexibility does not, however, extend to internal programs. Sometimes in the name of saving money, healthcare providers will launch a do-it-yourself program. They attempt to get employees or volunteers to perform the same function that professional healthcare mystery shopping firms do. This rarely if ever works for any duration for obvious reasons. Insiders have internal biases and, despite their best intentions, are no longer able to be objective. The other reason this is not effective is that employees (and even volunteers) can think of a million things they should be doing or would rather be doing. And the lack of staying power for a do-it-yourself program puts a tremendous burden on the manager assigned to administer the task.

What Clients are Looking For

Hospitals, health systems and physician practices seek out healthcare mystery shopping vendors for a number of reasons. In some cases, they want to validate “good news.” For example, one health system client entered into a long-term relationship with the primary goal of proving that their services were superior to the competition that was also shopped. A recent wayfinding study of over 300 ‘shops’ conducted for a large hospital on the east coast concluded that less than 76% of their employees received a top box score of five for greeting consumers with a smile. This finding was indicative of a culture that was not treating consumers in ‘a personal and memorable way.’ However, healthcare mystery shopping afforded them the advantage of validating their original concern, isolating where this concern is most prevalent, and using the shopper’s language to convey to staff why greeting people was critically important to overall perception. Much like satisfaction surveys, healthcare mystery shopping is able to monitor improvement over time, but with the added benefit of story telling to pinpoint issues. It can also be instrumental in determining the specific nature of the concern and identifying where weaknesses exist.

A healthcare mystery shopping executive, who is undergoing therapy for breast cancer, wrote in a blog recently, “What matters to healthcare organizations are things like how many steps it takes to check a patient in, scripted greetings for frontline employees, record keeping for correct billing, and clinical training for new safety measures. However, as a patient, I notice if the person checking me in for chemo is smiling and greets me because she cares, not if she delivers a scripted sentence. Next, I notice if the nurses in the chemo area are working as a team and greet me personally (they should know me after two months). But what is most important to me is whether or not the clinical staff is aligned with my recovery goals.”

While this executive may be more attuned to her surroundings than most patients and able to articulate what it means to her, the goal for any healthcare mystery-shopping program is to use the shopper’s heightened sense of awareness and their ability to effectively communicate their experiences in a way that is clear and concise.

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Leaving Home To Be With Someone You Love

We have all been in love once or twice in our lives. And we all felt like moving in and living with the other person forever. Some relationships worked out, some have not. Despite that, we all had that rush feeling of leaving home for love. But is it the right thing to do? Are we rational when we take a decision that is tied with love or are we acting on an irrational base? When should anyone move out from their house and with their current boyfriend or girlfriend? What should you consider before moving out?

Here is what you should take into consideration before leaving home for love:

  • Age – before you even consider leaving home, you should ask yourself if you are not too young to do so. 16, 17 and even 18 can be considered too young to move out and be with the person they love. You will actually have to find a way of supporting yourself, financially speaking. No more let me ask for money from my parents or my parents will buy me that. Also, you should consider the age your boyfriend or girlfriend has.
  • Education – many girls are willing to sacrifice their education in order to move in with the boys they like, when in fact, no one guarantees you that the relationship will work out. Before you move out, ask yourself if you are eager to throw away all the years you spent studying, all your dreams and your whole future. No one says that you will never find a college or a university where you are moving or that you won’t be able to do school and job together, but questions can save you some trouble.
  • Responsibilities – are you ready to move in with your boyfriend, to cook for him, do laundry, clean the house, while going to school and have a job? Do you feel ready for the whole experience or do you simply think it will be amazing and that things will work out?
  • Distance – where are you moving? Is it far from your friends and family? If you are unprepared for the whole experience, not only you will hate the whole idea, but when things get tough, you won’t be able to meet your friends and complain.

Leaving home for love sounds lovely, but it is definitely as easy as it sounds. Things get tough, especially when the money is low. Don’t throw a good life away, only because you love the other person. Take into account every single detail of your individual life before you simply run into a scary and unknown situation. You are the only one responsible for your life and plans. And you will be the only one to blame if things do not go as expected.

Love is the closest thing to magic, but do not let it blind you and drive you away from your dreams or path.

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