As you might imagine, the Cybercritic is a highly sought-after speaker on the Internet marketing circuit. And with Web selling — and online marketing conferences, seminars, and sessions — here to stay, my presentation tools and I have been working overtime. So gearing up for this season’s round of panels, speeches, and the like, I decide it’s time to get equipped with new equipment so that I can continue to deliver to presentations that pack a powerful and professional punch.
The slate-gray and brick-red palette of the OfficeQuarters.com home page has all the excitement of an office supplies warehouse. But since that’s what we’re here for I can’t quibble about esthetics. Besides, the company’s logo, with the scissors cutting a piece of paper and its tagline, “Cut out the middleman,” leads me to believe I’ll be getting a good deal.
The home page consists of a well-organized index. I click on “Presentation & Audiovisual” and am transported to the land of cameras and easels and boards, oh my. From there I click on “Presentation supplies & accessories.” Just for kicks I take a look at gavels. There’s only one, and I don’t need it, but it is a nice-looking walnut model with a sounding block, whatever that is. The Cybercritic momentarily drifts into an “order in the court” daydream before snapping to. I select a Sony conference microphone for $146.70. Once I put it in my shopping cart, the site doesn’t make it easy to go back to the products — where’s the “continue shopping” button? I’m not done here yet, guys!
I have to hit the “back” button a few times to return to the product selection, and then I move on to the public address systems. Let the Cybercritic be heard! Of the two items featured, the Apollo portable clip-on address system costs $436.05, while the Apollo Portable Wireless public address system costs $353.73. (What is it with these odd pricing amounts?!) The technical specs and the copy blocks for the two items are exactly the same — there’s nothing to persuade me to spring for the extra $82 for the clip-on model.
Finally I decide that I need to invest in a projector. OfficeQuarters.com has 21 models to choose from. I click on a multimedia projector from 3M. Looks like a nice model — and it should be for $6,533.37. Maybe a basic slide projector is all I need. Here’s a model from Lumens for $647.28. That’s more like it. But wait, does anyone use overhead slide projectors anymore? Certainly the Cybercritic needs to be a bit more high-tech when presenting on Internet topics, so I settle on a multimedia projector, but a slightly lower-scale model priced at $2,273.93.
Before I can complete my order, OfficeQuarters.com makes me create an account, which is annoying but probably pretty standard in this market. Also annoying is the lack of information about the company. I had to dig pretty deep into the customer service section just to find that the marketer was based in Albany, NY.
On the plus side, OfficeQuarters.com does keep the items in my shopping cart when I leave the site (which I do several times during this expedition). And orders of more than $75 are shipped “freight free” (free unless the items can’t be shipped via UPS), also probably standard, but a nice touch nonetheless.
I expect to be overwhelmed entering the cyberdoors of some of the office supplies superstores in my search for business presentations. But I am pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of OfficeDepot.com. Under both the “Office Supplies” and the “Technology” categories from the home page there’s a link for “AV Supplies and Equipment.” From there I find a subhead for “Business Presentation Tools and Supplies.”
I decide on a tabletop lectern in mahogany for $120.51. (By now I am used to the weird pricing in this category.) I try to put it in my shopping cart, but Office Depot makes me give up my zip code first: A “Just Looking?” prompt comes up that says, “You don’t have to log in to browse, but we do need your ZIP Code so that we can verify inventory availability in your area.”
Now it’s time to find a laser pointer. The best — or at least, the most expensive — model is the Apollo wireless presentation remote with laser pointer for $89.95. It’s designed to be used with most multimedia projectors, which works with the Cybercritic’s previous purchase. But it looks a bit like a small TV remote control, whereas the Cybercritic had a more old-fashioned stick pointer in mind. I opt for the Apollo Executive Metal Laser Pointer in Gold/Silver for $32.49. This model’s red laser dot “can be projected over 1,500 feet,” and batteries are included.
Feeling a little “old school” with my pointer, I check out easels. I select the Boone 3-Leg Heavy-Duty Easel with Dry-Erase Board for $222.61. Might be a little too low-tech to take on the road, but the Cybercritic will have fun with it in the office.
Deciding that’s enough for today, I proceed to checkout. Delray Beach, FL-based Office Depot, which operates a chain of stores and a catalog, as well as the Viking Office Products title, appears to have the niceties of e-commerce down pat. I proceed without incident — and with free shipping and handling.
Remembering a print catalog of business presentation materials called Visual Horizons from several years ago, the Cybercritic is hopeful about ordering from the company online. I find the site — I think; the home page is for a media storage concern called StoreSmart Express as well as for something called Visual Horizons. But the tagline for Visual Horizons, “For those who Create, Deliver or Publish presentations in Powerpoint Slides or Print,” assures me that it is the same firm.
I am momentarily distracted by a link on the home page that reads, “News! New Hollywood movie connection for Visual Horizons.” Clicking it takes me to an article — dated December 2002 — about how Frank Abagnale, the real-life con man who was the subject of the movie Catch Me If You Can, has been a loyal client for 25 years. (Apparently the reformed Abagnale is a star on the secure-document speaking circuit. Who knew?) That this so-called news is a year and a half old makes me wonder if Visual Horizons is frozen in time — or more to the point, out of business, with only this out-of-date Web presence to mark its existence.
So I return to the home page and hit the “Browse Products” link on the left. From there I click on a link that says “Flip-chart easel binders.” Nothing really I’m interested in here, until I come to the briefcase presentation system, which enables you to turn your laptop into a little theater. The photo seems to show a businessman putting on a high-tech puppet show. Intrigued, I hit the “click here for more information” link, which, slowly, takes me to a catalog page PDF. No link to a shopping cart…hmmm. I have to go back to the home page to find an “Order Here” link. Aha! You can e-mail your order, but the transaction is not encrypted. So you really have to print and fax an order form (or, heaven forbid, mail it) or call the company to order.
Considering Visual Horizons’ rather high-tech niche and target audience, is there any reason for the company not to be e-commerce enabled? Nope. I wasn’t far off the mark in thinking that the company had an out-of-date presence.