If Enterprise looked at its data…

I was just clearing out marketing emails from my inbox when I stopped on a message from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I realized now that I’m 25, I don’t need to only use Enterprise for my rental car needs. You see, Enterprise has a special page — aimed for university students and alumni — to rent a car without being at least 25 years old. Sure, you can do that other rental car firms too. But Enterprise, through this special link, doesn’t charge an extra underage driver fee in most cases. So countless times, it was my most affordable and reliable option.

I have a loyalty account with Enterprise, but I’m guessing that’s unlikely to keep me coming back now that I’m 25. There’s likely to be other options that are cheaper.

But there’s a chance Enterprise could have gripped me with a promotion or two in recent weeks. When I turned 25, some big data robot analyzing my purchases might have realized a pattern to my behavior and warned an agent that I was risk of not returning. An offer could have come my way for a free weekend getaway maybe? Not sure, but anything to get me on their good side. Or at least, a smarter reminder about why the loyalty program could pay off for me.

Shipping to store

A bad experience picking up an online order at Best Buy over the holiday weekend reminded me of a similar situation at Fry’s last summer. I took notes on the Fry’s case, but forgot to do anything with them. So now here’s a look at both encounters.

Fry’s Electronics — August 2014

As far as I can remember, Fry’s lacked a mobile-friendly website at the time. Thought it has one now, try searching for a product through the mobile website’s search box and the page reverts to a crummy desktop version.

Once you do enough zooming to place an order, Fry’s tells you to wait 20 minutes for an email that will say whether they actually have the item and that it’s ready for pick up. Definitely took longer.

At the Burbank location, there weren’t any signs to clue me into where to go to pick up the order. Of course, had I thoroughly read the confirmation email, I would have known to seek out the supervisor in charge for the audio-video department. Such an official mission. Once I figured that out, I began my trek, passing by the the product I was buying. Hmm…maybe that would have been a faster route.

The department routed me back to the front checkout counter, saying that the product had somehow ended up there. I waited in the normal line to do the pick up. And despite having done all that pinching to zoom to enter credit card details, Fry’s didn’t actually charge me through its online system. I do a normal swipe at the register. Done, or so I thought.

Maddie, who was checking receipts at the store, spotted an error. The code of the product I bought doesn’t match the package in my hand. Someone retrieved a slightly different model for me. Alas, it was quiet at the time, so she decided to get to the bottom of the issue. She thanked me for my patience and darted off.

Turns out the model I ordered online was never in stock. I know, huh? I figured I’d take this anyway, but Maddie wouldn’t let me leave with the mismatched receipt. I had to go the return line, do that reverse checkout thing, and then return to the regular checkout line to buy the item for a second time — about 32 minutes after I entered the store.

While we’re at it, the Burbank store is weird. There is?/was an odd spaceship theme mixed with giant bugs hanging from the ceiling. Is that the image you really want to send, Fry’s?

Best Buy — July 2015

I had a low quality printout of a coupon that just wouldn’t scan at one location. But the coupon had a separate and much more legible code for getting the discount online, so I ran off with my paper and vowed to order online the next day and pick up closer to home.

The mobile order experience was much better than Fry’s. For some reason though, my credit card issuer suspected fraud and declined the large transaction twice before I logged into my card account and manually approved it. The initial rejections seems to have triggered a messy reaction within Best Buy’s network, which then suspected fraud as well. But Best Buy didn’t tell me, so my order was stuck in some purgatory without my knowledge.

I was passing by the mall on my way home, so I had made the order after parking. I expected to walk around the mall for an hour before going to Best Buy. But the “Your order is ready” email never came. Could low staffing over holiday weekend be to blame? Was the product just out of stock? The man behind the online pick-up order had no idea. The computer system told him nothing. He had to call a “bridge” center, which told him about the fraud alert. Given notice by the employee to my frustration with having to wait around confused, the “bridge” finally took action, investigated the issue and removed the hold on the order nearly three hours after it was submitted. How many hours might I have been stuck in limbo otherwise?

I-110 ExpressLanes Recommendations

Should the ExpressLanes on the Interstate 110 and Interstate 10 in Los Angeles become a permanent fixture, here’s some recommendations L.A. County Metro could adopt for version 2.0.

  • An API that spits out the current price of the ExpressLanes, so that developers can integrate this into Metro’s official app, Google Maps and other applications. It would be super awesome if the API also interfaced with a predictive engine that, based off past data, showed what the price would be at various upcoming times.
  • Better signage near exits off the ExpressLanes. The left-hand exit for 39th Street/Coliseum in the northbound direction on the 110 is confusing because it comes up fast and there’s no sign saying where this exit will take you.
  • Looping in live video detection or Caltrans/CHP traffic engineers. When workers who monitor freeways via CCTV see an accident on the 110, they should immediately be able to lower the pricing for the ExpressLanes or be able to make them free. This would allow traffic to disperse over more lanes and steer further clear of the accident.
  • I think Metro should experiment with lower pricing. When I was coming on the 105 Eastbound toward the 110, I saw a price of $7 or $8 to get to the USC area and was quickly scared off. I’ve had several pleasant journeys where I saved time by paying about a $1 to use the ExpressLanes. This was the first time I was coming from the 105, and the extra money seemed pretty steep considering a long stretch of the ExpressLanes was moving at 65 mph+.
  • Decision engine. Metro may not want to get into the business of telling people what to do, but signs would be a lot smarter if they said, “$5.00 to Adams Blvd. GOOD DEAL” or “$5.00 Adams Blvd. SAVE 10 MINUTES.”
  • All Zipcars and similar “car-sharing” or “ride-sharing” vehicles should come with transponders pre-installed. Carshares should also get free ExpressLanes access even if it’s a solo driver. Zipcar could lobby for this.

Waze’s Free Marketing Strategy

Waze, the mapping application that Facebook is said to be close to buying, has put together a map of the world by harnessing the power of cell phones sitting in the pockets or center consoles of drivers worldwide.

The Israeli’s company’s first employee, Fej (Yuval) Shmuelevitz, visited USC recently to chat with a group of Jewish students interested in business. Fej, the vice president of community and operations, explained some of the unique ways Waze has been able to market itself for free.

–A homebuilder in the Midwest emailed Waze saying he loved the app. He wants to work with Waze to build maps of the new communities he’s building. Right now, clients and customers have trouble navigating to the sites. But he hopes to be able to tell people to download Waze. It would have maps of the newly built communities far before Google, Bing, Nokia or TomTom.

–Someone in Israel started a trend of putting what amounts to a QR code on wedding invitations. When scanned, it launches Waze and provides directions to the wedding locale. Fej estimated more than 50 percent of wedding invites have a Waze barcode.

-Waze has worked with local television stations to provide the traffic maps for newscasts. Neither Waze nor the news stations bears any costs. Waze benefits from the daily exposure.

–The company has also worked with other reporters to provide free reports about traffic crises or other interesting data related to stories.

–During Hurricane Sandy, Waze worked with government agencies to point people to the few gas stations that still had supplies.

Fej said Waze receives or internally produces 100 new ideas a week. Under Facebook’s umbrella, the number would only grow. One of the ideas that’s been talked about is a Google Latitude-like private group feature that would allow users to share their locations with groups of friends.

He also noted Google doesn’t want a monopoly in mapping because it would get more scrutiny more regulators. “They’re very happy that there’s competition,” he said.

Wisdom From Planet Money’s Adam Davidson

At an appearance at USC in March, the Planet Money host offered these three nuggets of wisdom:

On journalism: “Some of those stories are going to be sensible. Some of are going to be callously ridiculous. But they all share something in common — they’re wrong. There’s no set data of that explains one topic perfectly. It turns out to be a very optimistic fact for your lives.”

“The story I was going to live in was already written. You’re going to have to use critical thinking skills to see how the industries you’re interested in are changing and how your story has to change.”

“You will be judged more and more on what actual skills you have. The single most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills, which is rooted in curiosity and analytical training.”