The Cybercritic loves discounts as much as (make that more than) the next guy. So it’s no surprise that I’ve succumb to the siren song of eBay. Recently I scored two prints from the 1880s for $12 each. The silver lining behind this cloud is that it pains the Cybercritic to pay appreciably more for a frame than for the artwork itself. So clearly I’ve got my work cut out for me: to find two reasonably priced black frames that will suit black-and-white 10″ × 10″ images.
But the promise of a bargain can’t compensate for the irritation the Cybercritic experiences upon trying to use the top navigation bar. Eighteen product categories are listed in three rows. They appear to be in alphabetical order, so I expect “frames” to be between “equipment” and “gold & faux finishes.” Nope. Nor are “picture frames” between “pastels” and “portfolios & storage.” Odd, given that the tagline (“Discount art supplies online — from airbrushes to picture frames!”) specifically mentions frames.
Just as I’m about to type “frames” into the onsite search engine, I see “picture frames” as the last category…after “adhesive tapes & sprays,” which itself is after “studio furniture.” Does Jerry’s assume that artists can’t alphabetize?
Clicking on the frames link takes me to a page with the bold-faced declaration that custom wooden and metal frames cannot be ordered online, only by phone. I’m looking for standard frames, so that doesn’t bother me, but in this day of increasing Web personalization, Jerry’s should probably work on offering custom frames online.
Below is a reminder of Jerry’s lowest-price guarantee — “if you can find lower prices anywhere else, we’ll beat them by 5%!” I’m glad of the reminder, since the guarantee is buried on the home page, below the fold, deep within the Welcome Note window. Since discounting is apparently a big point of differentiation for Jerry’s, you’d think that this guarantee would be featured much more prominently.
Back on the frames category page are seven sub-category links. The first two are for the custom-made frames that aren’t available online. Presumably that’s to provide prospective buyers with information before they call in an order. But if I’d been hoping to buy custom frames, I’d have left the site as soon as I saw the note telling me that they’re not sold online. Perhaps Jerry’s should mention in the note that though the frames aren’t sold online, customers can research what’s available, and make the links part of the text. That way links to the subcategories that are sold online, such as the ready-made metal, plastic, and wood frames, would be more easily seen.
I select the “ready made metal picture frames” link and am brought to a subcategory page headlined “Fine Art Quality at Five & Dime Prices!” That’s a great reinforcement of the lowest-price proposition. A paragraph describes the frames in brief (anodized aluminum, “instant picture installation”). All is well until I come to the last sentence: “Quantities Not Assortable.” I have no idea what that means, but the use of initial caps makes it seem ominous.
Below are three choices: black, gold, and silver. I opt for black and am presented with eight choices of size. What’s not clear is whether the dimensions (8″ × 10″, 12″ × 16″) refer to the size of the frame as a whole or of the image within the mat board that comes with the frame. And if those are the dimensions of the frame, then what size picture will fit within the mat opening?
Even clicking on each product name doesn’t provide me with additional information — the product pages they link to do not provide any data other than the price and stock availability, both of which are already listed on the previous page. All of the frames are on sale, but I don’t want to put any in my shopping cart if I’m not sure what the dimensions are.
Goodbye, Jerry’s. I’m off to UTRECHT ART SUPPLIES (www.utrecht.com). This is a more somber home page, with generous white space and a lack of cartoons and screaming promotional headlines. Utrecht is having a sale too — a “Back 2 Class Sale” — but the graphic accompanying the headline and link to the featured products is a simple closeup photo of paint squibs on a palette.
Below the scroll, beneath descriptions of five featured products that provide a cross-selection of the site’s breadth of merchandise, is a link to Utrecht’s price guarantee: “Find a lower price and Utrecht will gladly match it!” It’s not as good as Jerry’s promise to beat a lower price by 5%, but if I can find what I need on Utrecht’s site, the point is moot.
Utrecht’s product category navigation bar runs down the left side of the home page. It offers more than a dozen categories, and below each are as many as another dozen subcategories with links. Given that Utrecht manufactures its own line of paints, mediums, and palettes, it’s no surprise that “Utrecht Paint” is the first category on the list. “Framing Materials” are down one screen, after “Drawing Materials,” “Paper,” and “Graphic Arts Materials.”
I select the “Frames” subcategory under the “Framing Materials” heading. The page that comes up is bare save for two links, one for ready-made frames and one for sectional frame kits. Seems to me an unnecessary click could have been eliminated if instead of listing “Frames” as a subcategory, “Ready-made Frames” and “Sectional Frame Kits” had been listed. If there’s one thing the Cybercritic loathes almost as much as faulty alphabetization, it’s unnecessary links and drill-downs.
Clicking “Ready-made Frames” brings me to another barebones page. This has three links: “Nielsen” and “Structural Indust,” which are apparently the two brands Utrecht carries, and one that will allow me to view all the frames.
I select “Nielsen.” What follows are three pages of frames, organized by model name. I want a simple black metal frame, but there’s nothing that sorts the three pages of product by color or material. So I enter “black metal frame” into the onsite search engine. No matches. “Black frame” also yields no matches — even though I’d just seen black frames on the Nielsen product pages!
The DICK BLICK ART MATERIALS (www.dickblick.com) home page has a somewhat industrial look, in part because the featured products pictured near the top are paints with rather forbidding-looking labels. More than two dozen product categories are listed on the left side (in alphabetical order, thank you very much). In addition, a drop-down menu of the categories (or as Dick Blick terms them, “departments”) appears on the top navigation bar. Also on the top is an alphabetical index.
I select “F.” Two columns of alphabetized product categories — from “Fabric Crayons” to “Furniture” — appear on the left; a short column of alphabetized brand names (“Faber-Castell” to “Fredrix”) is on the right. Separating the two, and adding life to the text-heavy page, are photos of a flat file and a frame, with links to each.
The “Frames, Ready-Made” link brings me to a category page that includes more links under the headings “Framing,” “Framing Styles,” “Matting and Mounting,” and “see also…” Um, where are those ready-made frames I was expecting?
I’m about to explore the options under “Framing Styles” — but first I spy a note beside the links. “Frames are sized by the opening, not by the outside of the molding. To determine the size of frame to order, measure the outside of your artwork, including mat, and order that size frame. The frame will overlap your artwork ¼” all the way around, so your artwork will fit nicely behind the frame’s molding.” So now I know exactly how large an image an 11″ × 14″ frame will hold. Brilliant! Alphabetical order and an answer to my question — I’m in cyberheaven.
Under “Framing Styles” I select “Aluminum and Metal Frames.” The page provides links to seven sub-subcategories and to three complementary product categories — “Framing Sections,” “Matboard,” and “Pre-Cut Mats, Mounts, and Mat Frames.”
The names of the sub-subcategories mean nothing to me: Am I supposed to intuitively know the difference between “Blick Gallery Metal Frames,” “Blick Prestige Metal Frames,” and “Blick Studio Metal Frames”?
After much clicking back and forth, the Cybercritic determines that the most notable differences among the three house-brand frames are the depth of artwork the frames can accommodate and the price. Here’s where the trusty Sear’s “good-better-best” treatment would have come in handy: On the sub-subcategory page, Dick Blick could have compared the dimensions and prices of each.
The Cybercritic opts for the cheapest frame. Apparently Dick Blick, like the other art-supplies sites visited, prides itself on low prices. Next to each product is a “regular” price followed by “Save XX%” in bold red type and the current price. With the 26% discount, my frames will end up costing me several dollars less than the prints!
Except that the frames don’t come with mats… Happily, I can link to the alphabetical index from any page on the site, so I select “M,” click on “Matting,” then “Matboard,” then “Pre-Cut Mats, Mounts, and Mat Frames,” then “Blick Pre-Cut Gallery Mats” and “Blick Ready Mat Singles” and “Low Cost Redi-Mats” and “Nielsen Pre-Cut Museum Gallery Mats.” The Cybercritic now realizes why some people prefer to order by phone or in person than online. All this drilling down, up, and sideways is akin to being trapped in a voice-mail maze.
But having already deposited the frames into my virtual shopping cart, I continue clicking and comparing and finally am able to drop two white mat boards into my cart as well. Checking out is a good deal easier than shopping, though even so it takes five clicks until I’m told how much I’m being charged for shipping and sales tax.
All told, my Dick Blick order is only about six bucks more than what I’d paid for the two prints. But though I’ve already received the frames and hung up my prints, it may be some time before the Cybercritic buys art from eBay again. I have no problem with eBay itself, but I don’t think I can repeat the process of shopping for frames anytime soon.