Toshcomputers: (mis)Adventures in Buying a new iMac

June 15, 2010

I know this isn’t strictly Magento development related, so I’ll apologize in advance to those of you uninterested in this post, I’ll keep it brief, promise. I just wanted to tell a little story about an ill-fated ecommerce transaction with Tosh Computers, so hopefully I can save others a great deal of hassle if they stumble upon this post when looking for a review of Tosh Computers. Perhaps we’ll all learn a little something about selling on the internet too, that is why we’re here, after all.

Tosh Computers (toshnewzealand.com) is a merchant of Apple Mac laptops and desktops in NZ and Australia. I ordered a top-spec iMac 27′ from them on behalf of someone who needed one for business. Being such a Mac-convert I jumped at the opportunity to help someone into one, the less Windows PC’s in the world, the better it is, as far as I’m concerned!

So I inquire directly with Tosh Computers about the availability of the iMac I was after, and was told it was in stock and could ship overnight, as soon as their staff were back in the office (which would be about a week away). Sounds good right? Apple were quoting me a lead time of two-weeks for the same hardware, and it would be slightly more expensive.

So naturally I order, and sit patiently waiting for the hardware to arrive, sadly it never does. Tosh neglected to mention that ‘In Stock’ means, they need to send it to a service center for an upgrade, and more importantly that they had trouble in the past with this exact upgrade. Finally when it comes my iMac’s turn for the upgrade treatment, it a) takes longer than expected and b) fails.

I get the call to say there were complications, they can’t do the upgrade – it’s been problematic in the past, and this time it failed completely. Gee, I wish they told me that a little sooner.

It really has led me to the conclusion that selling things on the internet as ‘in stock’ that really are not, is a cardinal internet sin. It makes me glad that our stores all have real-time inventory feeds to their warehouses, if it’s ‘in-stock’ online, we have a physical unit sitting in a warehouse ready to ship.

The moral of the story, under-promise and over-deliver, because over-promising and under-delivering makes you look inept.

… and that’s why I cannot with a clear conscience ever recommend Tosh Computers to anyone. Spend the extra, buy from Apple directly.

Update: Magnum Mac were able to build this same iMac in 2 days, for the same price. They really saved the day and get my recommendation. Thanks!

Ashley

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Hi! I'm Ashley Schroder, a Software Engineer from New Zealand - this is a collection of notes on my experiences with Ecommerce Web Development, particularly Magento Development.

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4 responses to Toshcomputers: (mis)Adventures in Buying a new iMac

  1. It can be tricky though, for us merchants, regarding this. Sure, transparency is great but if you work on JIT principles and have generally reliable suppliers, it can be perfectly acceptable to show as in stock when it isn’t. I wonder if anyone has ever done statistical analysis on this topic, comparing sales in cases where they showed real stock and merchant-set stock indicators.

    Another level up is do you subtract stock when someone has paid for it, or when it left your warehouse? A paid-for item can come back in general stock for many reasons. Fraud, they don’t want it delivered yet, cancellations. It’s not always black and white. And inevitably, the one punter where it goes wrong will go an moan on a blog 🙂 whereas with the other 99 orders, everything turned out fine and everybody was happy.

    So IMO, it all depends on your exact business model, what you sell, the expectations in terms of delivery speed, the type of customers etc. It’s a trade-off between not disappointing customers in those cases where your slight overpromise goes wrong vs not wanting to loose out on orders by showing real stock, when 24 hours later it could have been back in stock.

    Having said all that, I do agree with your views. But I have yet to see a Magento module which is flexible enough for our use-case to show more-accurate-than-just-“in stock” yet not fully “out-of-stock” either. I’m looking for something in between, have seen a few attempts but have yet to find the holy grail.

  2. Thanks for the insightful comments and I deserve the jibe about moaning!

    I think you’re right about the timing being important. If you deduct stock when you get an order, but before taking payment, it can become a denial of service vulnerability, because someone could place unpaid orders on products to ‘out of stock’ them. If you deduct stock when you get payment, then with nearly instant payment providers like Google Checkout, you open up a race condition where sometime between the order being placed and the payment clearing (normally 15 minutes) someone else using an instant payment service like Paypal could snap up the last item.

    This becomes more complex again if you have multiple sales channels drawing on the same stock as the timing problems above plus the stock level update frequency come in to play.

    Our solution isn’t perfect, and I’m not sure there is a perfect way to do it (some OPRE expert lurking might care to weigh in on that?). The best I think you can do is find a frequency of updates and a policy on ‘out-of-stock’ness that keeps sales flowing while at the same time avoids frustrating the customers who do pay you for something, then do not get it.

    That said, made-to-order products, where there is a history of complication in the production, are never ‘in stock’ as far as I’m concerned!

  3. Yeah, you’re right on made-to-order stuff. It should say “All parts in stock – but needs assembling which takes N days” or something.

    For smaller companies, I also don’t agree with showing real stock values. An Amazon can ‘afford’ to be honest as their stock is often in the dozens, if not hundreds on popular items. Sure, low stock numbers create a sense of scarcity which may aid conversions but having true, low stock numbers on all your products gives away a lot to competition IMO. So with all these things, as always, it depends. There’s no definite right or wrong and everybody should, like with everything websites, test to see what works best. A/B or multivariate, it just gives you real answers rather than speculation you’ve read on a blog or forum written by someone you don’t know and who’s business case you don’t understand. I’ve yet to see two serious e-commerce businesses which work in the exact same way.

    Anyway, if you’re planning on visiting London anytime soon, give me a shout and as a fellow coder/Mage-merchant I’ll be happy to take you wakeboarding. (Just checked out the pics.) Here in SW London we’re quite spoilt for choice in terms of lakes and cables, including the new System 2.0 straight cables which I checked out last weekend (arms still ache).

  4. Awesome – totally keen. I’m planning to be up in London later this year (mid October) so I will definitely look you up! Thanks for the comments, don’t be a stranger.