Bounce rate too high? Set the stage

What are you doing to keep your website’s bounce rate down? Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors that visit your site and leave without looking at another page, or taking any action (opt-ins, etc). A high bounce rate would be a bad thing in most cases. There are sites where higher than normal bounce rates aren’t unusual, but for most business-oriented sites that have sales, service and related functionality – it isn’t usually a good thing. A business site may have some pages that have a higher bounce rate than the rest of the site, but those tend to have specific purposes and are self-contained (ie: everything the customer/prospect needs is on that page – like a phone number or the answer to a specific question).

High bounce rates can be caused by pages that are: boring, objectionable, uninformative, unclear, misleading, or didn’t match the expectation (reason) that the view believes that the page exists. For a home page, a high bounce rate might tell you that the page doesn’t do a good job of communicating what the company does and why you should be there. Think about the reasons why you leave a site after visiting only one page. You didn’t find what you wanted. The site isn’t what you thought it was. The site is too technical or is filled with jargon. The site isn’t technical enough and targets people far less experienced in the subject than you.

Some of those reasons are legitimate, depending on the person coming to the site and their expectation. It’s the reason audience-specific landing pages exist – the home page can’t be everything to everyone. Even so, your site (like a retail store) needs to set the stage.

Set the stage

When you walk into most retail stores, someone either says Hello (or welcome). In many cases, the store’s next action is for a staff member to ask if they can help you. Sometimes the ask is inquisitive, sometimes it’s asked in a tone that clearly hopes you say no, sometimes it’s perky. No matter how the question is asked, the most common answer is “Just looking”, of course. The possible translations of “just looking” include: “I got this”, “Leave me alone”, “I don’t need help, thanks”, and others. Sometimes, “just looking” is OK. Sometimes, they’re showrooming – but they’re in your store, so reducing their bounce is what you do next.

In far too many cases, “Can I help you?” is a conversation that tends to feel like this: “How was school today?” “Fine.”

Many stores handle in-store visitors in a more effective way. Some explain how the store works, particularly if it has an unusual process or there’s something non-obvious about it. A good example: “If you see an item you like, and you want it in a different color – please let us know. We have every color of every item in stock and ready to take home.” Is there a similar comment your website could make to set the stage for the visitor to accomplish what they came for? Take that same “we have every color…” angle and look at your website.

Compare it to face time

I looked at a computer bag / luggage site recently. Their site made it clear which laptops fit which bags. It showed how to measure the dimensions of your laptop (vs. trusting “15 inch laptop”) so that you’d be sure your gear fit. My guess is that poor fit is a common reason why people return computer bags. Their site makes sure I buy the right thing and don’t bounce due to uncertain fit. What makes your visitors bounce?

What would you say if a web site prospect was sitting with you at a local coffee shop or cafe? If they walk in and sit down with you, how would speak for your website in a way that encouraged them to look further, or help them find the answer they’re looking for? What would they say as they were seated?

What’s the first thing you would say to them to help them feel comfortable, welcome and knowledgeable about what your site is all about? What would you say to enable them to take the next logical step, assuming they are the type of person (or business) that you want to visit your site? Is that what your site says now?

Photo by jacopast

Doing ahead, not just thinking ahead

Quite often, I talk with business owners about thinking ahead.

Something that happened yesterday tells me that I need to change my terminology to “Doing ahead.”

Why the change?

Primarily, I’m concerned that small businesses are thinking ahead, but stopping there.

Thinking ahead discussions often include strategic thoughts of putting yourself out of business by inventing new products and services for your customers that replace your current top seller.

So let’s talk retail for a moment, since they’re an easy example.

Every time you enter a WalMart store (something I try to avoid – I’m just not into the crowds), you’re likely to see something different. Just a little thing here or there that’s different. Sometimes it’s a test to see how something works, other times it’s the result of such tests.

What you never see is exactly the same store, time after time, town after town. Sure, the overall store is quite similar overall but there’s almost always something different. Something being tested. Something being implemented.

This effort isn’t limited to their brick and mortar stores. WalMart and the rest of big retail spend a lot of time looking at how they can improve the performance of their online retail properties. They have lots on their todo list simply by comparing themselves to Amazon.com – which blows away most (if not all) online retailers in end to end performance and customer engagement.

This is the price they pay for ignoring Amazon during their climb to cruising altitude.

What we don’t see is massive shifts designed to make the store or parts of the store irrelevant. It doesn’t mean they aren’t there, but they’re much harder to see in a brick and mortar store. Honestly, I can’t think of the last time I saw a brick and mortar store do something like this but I suspect I just don’t recall it.

Amazon tweaks too

Naturally, Amazon.com is working hard to improve what they already do – testing and tweaking their retail site and their back end (such as the systems that email you about things you might be interested in). You can see evidence of this on a regular basis.

Meanwhile – they’re doing things like what you see in the video above (More video here from 60 Minutes).

This isn’t just about speed, though that is certainly part of it. Keep in mind that this also means that Amazon can deliver without using any of the established shipping systems – all of which have legislative limitations as complex as those currently preventing the use of shipping drones. The only difference is that no one wrote a pile of legislation in the 1920’s to protect the USPS, Fedex or UPS – all of whom are just as likely to have drones in their future.

Parts of this are not just changing the rules but eliminating them wholesale. I would expect this to be implemented in other countries long before it happens in the U.S., due to the legislative challenges here. We’re already well on the way to delivering relief supplies via drone. Why not retail?

Learning while looking ahead

Learn from seeing Amazon look years ahead without a guaranteed payoff, hitting on pain points, looking to shorten the sales cycle (money loves speed), looking to eliminate competitive disadvantages with WMT, looking to improve/control shipping, etc – while ignoring the fact that they can’t put the drones into service and prepare for the day when they can.

They’ll be learning new things about their business and their customers as well.

The challenge for you and for businesses all over the world is not to see another way that Amazon will eat your lunch, or to think you’re safe because you aren’t in retail, aren’t near an Amazon fulfillment center or are in a rural location unlikely to be served by drones.

Your challenge is to think beyond the advances you’ve been working on or considering. Those advances are important, but you also need to be figuring out things that are years off, all while considering what will replace them.

The dangerous thought is to ignore these things because they don’t threaten you now and wont for years.

Why is that so dangerous? Because that’s exactly what many in Amazon’s market did a decade or so ago – and they still haven’t caught up from making that mistake.

Showrooming and the sales prevention department

Last time, we discussed the often forgotten reason for showrooming that happens after price shopping: convenience and time/fuel savings.

Remember Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief? If you’ve forgotten, they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

When applied to showrooming, it isn’t much different. Acceptance and the clarity that accompanies it are where the sales live. Even big retail is figuring it out.

Big retail embraces showrooming

Big retailers are starting to embrace showrooming because they’ve realized that reacting to and/or punishing it has proven ineffective. Learn from their mistakes, research and investments. Customers who showroom are likely to be better informed shoppers that you don’t want to lose. Their phone might help them decide that your store is the right place to buy.

Retailers that welcome the smartphone shopper in their stores with mobile applications and wi-fi access — rather than fearing showrooming — can be better positioned to accelerate their in-store sales – particularly with the holiday shopping season approaching.

Shoppers armed with smartphones are 14 percent more likely to make a purchase in the store than those who do not use a smartphone as part of their in-store journey. – Deloitte study for Saks Fifth Avenue

Most small businesses don’t have the resources to embrace showrooming with a smartphone app, or don’t think they do. If that’s the case, what do you do?

The simplest answer is to side with the customer. Do this by making the in-store experience so much better than anything anyone can provide online. That’s where it pays to visit an Apple store – where nothing is like retail as you typically see it.

The last Apple store I visited was in Portland. In an average-sized mall store, there were 28 employees on the sales floor – and all of them were with customers. I thought this was odd, so I tried another Apple store.

Same thing.  There were over 100 shoppers in the store. Almost all of them were in groups engaged in a conversation while they used an Apple device. Many of those conversations included an Apple staffer.

The sales prevention department

Compare that to the shopping experience in a typical consumer electronics store.

Try to test drive a Kindle. It’s locked in demo mode. You can’t pick it up and hold it because of the security device and short “don’t steal me” cable attached to it.

The display of the device is focused on theft prevention. Why is this a bad thing? Because theft prevention becomes sales prevention.

In an Apple store, nothing’s locked down. Sure, there are lots of people around to make sure you don’t walk out the door with that fancy MacBook – but the products are presented in a way that is clearly designed to encourage you to pick them up and try them out.

Unlike most stores that sell laptops and tablets, the devices aren’t cabled down, nor is there a password protected screensaver that prevents you from doing any real examination of the machine.

They make this happen because no matter what you do to the device, at the end of the day, they have systems in place to “wipe” them and reset them to out-of-the-box new condition, software-wise. This assures that the next day’s sales aren’t impacted by what someone might have done to a device. They can also reset them during the day if someone went really crazy.

It’s almost unfair to sell against a setup like that. Perhaps that’s why Apple’s retail sales per square foot are higher than anyone else’s – over $6000 per foot.

What’s different?

If you’ve ever visited an Apple store, you’ve never seen a dead machine, much less one with a message that tells you it needs attention from a technical person. You won’t see a locked screensaver.

Now think about other electronics retailers. Their sales floor machines are locked down that you can’t do anything and there’s almost always one that’s off in never-never land, waiting for some tech help.

Step back a few paces. This isn’t just about Apple, laptops or tablets. It’s about encouraging someone to engage with your product, thus *enabling* a purchase.

No matter what you sell, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Are your displays focused making it easy to fall in love with a product and buy it?
    OR
  • Are your displays focused on controlling the sales process and preventing theft?

Making it easier to buy is something every one of us can do. It’s price-based showrooming’s Kryptonite.

Forgotten: What happens after they showroom?

Plastic supermarket carts.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Polycart

The last time we talked about showrooming, I referred to a Harris Poll that exposed a conflicting behavior among shoppers.

The behavior? “Most” people (70%) say they showroom because of price, yet they often buy locally even if it means having to pay a slightly higher price.

That’s right, 70% didn’t choose solely on price. Once again, buyers say one thing, but when convenience and access to local expertise enter the picture, they often behave differently at purchase time.

The survey’s findings echo my buying tendencies – which surprised me a little. Shopping is not an endorphin releasing event for me. I’ll *always* buy from a store that is easier to get in, find what I need and get out of, even if it’s a little more expensive than a competitor whose shopping experience is cumbersome, time-consuming or just plain difficult.

Do you feel the same way about the brick and mortar stores you visit? If so, why would you expect your customers to feel any different when they compare shopping locally to shopping online?

In the last piece, I didn’t mention that the WalMart moving boxes were cheaper. What I did tell you was that they couldn’t tell me if they had them in stock unless I placed an order and waited “a few hours” for an email or a text message. Not convenient.

Claiming that price is the sole or dominant cause of showrooming appears to align with how people shop early on, but it seems research “forgets” to follow behavior all the way to the actual purchase. Recent research is showing that showrooming starts because of price but continues for convenience – so be careful about discouraging it.

That good shopping experience

Can shoppers have a “good shopping experience” at your online store? Can they buy and have it delivered? Can they have it reserved and ready to pick up?

You might be thinking “What a hassle. I never had to do this before. Why should I start now?“ While you’re probably right, that’s exactly what big box online stores hope you’re thinking.

Have you asked your customers if they have a smartphone? Have you asked them if they use it to visit your store? Have they ever walked into your store to buy something and found you didn’t have it in stock?

What seed does that plant in their mind? What will they think about coming to your place the next time?

These things matter everywhere, not just in urban locales. Fuel and time are costs people like to avoid. When your store or website causes them to waste either one, it doesn’t help you to become (or remain) the main place they shop.

The moving boxes again

Remember that cumbersome moving box shopping experience I mentioned earlier? What happened *before* I drove to Home Depot?

  • I ran out of boxes…but it was more complex than that.
  • I ran out of boxes in the evening when my local stores were closed.
  • I ran out of boxes on a holiday weekend when the local UHaul stores were closed.
  • I shopped at another big retailer’s site that couldn’t tell me if they had boxes in stock.
  • I shopped at Home Depot’s site, which told me exactly what they had (and didn’t).

My experience online reflects some of the complexities and frustrations of your customers’ lives when they shop in your store.

That frustration is also what drives people online – where they are often frustrated by your web store.

Take everything away that a local store can provide that online shopping rarely provides – and you’re left with the local equivalent of Amazon.com, without reviews and (probably) with a slightly higher price.

Is that what shoppers want? What aren’t they getting *prior* to making a buying decision?

Just looking

Think about why we say “Just looking” when we enter a store. Sometimes it might be because we’re just looking, but we often say it by reflex. If you really are there to buy something, I’ll bet “Just looking” pops out for one of these reasons:

  • Because most of the floor employees know less about what we came there to buy than we do.
  • Because you’ve already done your research and made up your mind.
  • Because you don’t want someone following you all over the store.

Is that why your customers say it?

WalMart: “We don’t care”

Listening to WalMart’s VP of Information Technology and their lead e-commerce exec talk on Fortune Brainstorm Tech this morning, they said “We don’t care whether or not you buy in the store, online, via mobile, etc.”

Where they went one step further: They gave local store managers credit for ALL sales that happen in their store’s ZIP code, not just the sales that occur within the store’s four walls.

Suddenly, WalMart.com isn’t the local store’s enemy. Now the store doesn’t care if they are being showroomed by WalMart.com customers. They only have to care about WalMart’s customer, vs. caring that someone is an in-store customer vs an online customer.

The story here isn’t just a WalMart thing or a strategy to fight showrooming. It’s much bigger than that.

The real lesson is that they eliminated something that absolutely would pit a store manager against the company’s online presence – which ultimately pits the store manager and their staff against their company’s CUSTOMERS. When would that ever be a good thing?

Now it’s your turn.

 

Rather than sweep, eliminate the source of dirt

During the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Re:Invent conference‘s “fireside chat” with Jeff Bezos, he told a story about during a professional development session where he (like all senior Amazon management) spent two days on the Amazon customer service call center staff.

Stop for just a minute.

If your business is small – you likely spend time on customer service, even if not by choice.

Depending on the size of your business, you’re might be insulated from your customer service people and likely from your customers. While it isn’t something you want to do every day, I assure you the value of doing what Amazon senior management does here is sizable.

Listen to the quality

I’ve sat within earshot of my customer service staff. You learn a lot about your quality. Sometimes you learn things about your quality that runs a chill up your spine – but that’s better than not knowing.

That’s what Bezos learned.

During the session, he handled calls and operated the customer support system while being coached through the process by an experienced Amazon customer service person as each customer called in.

While this had to be hugely educational for him about unmet needs and/or streamlining processes for his customer service team, he learned a unexpected lesson – how things really work when it comes to product quality at Amazon, which gave him an idea to improve quality and do so before the cost of low quality grew.

Listen to Bezos describe the result – how Amazon now handles poor products, poor packaging and enables their staff to communicate quality information (and make decisions) about them – much like Toyota’s assembly line allows anyone to “pull the cord” to stop the line to deal with a defect (2 minutes, 47 seconds from 18:01 to 20:48):

 

Can your sales/service people pull a poorly-made or poorly-packaged product off the sales floor? How long will you sell a lame product or perhaps worse – a good product delivered poorly – to your “valued customers”?

How would this impact your buying process and related contracts? How would this impact your product quality and delivery feedback processes? Note Bezos’ use of the un-word “systematize” – not just making more work, but making a new system to make the work and customer experience better.

If you don’t do these things (in your own way, of course), are you willing to deal with the disadvantage this creates between your business and businesses that handle this as Amazon does? What else could you do rather than this to assure the same level of highly-consistent quality of products and packaging?

Remember, this isn’t about replicating what Amazon does. The important thing is to replicate or improve upon the results.

Doing the right work

While discussing a week-long Kaizen (quality) professional development training session, Bezos talks about a Japanese consultant who chastised him for sweeping up some dust on the warehouse floor (1 minute, 54 seconds from 20:49 to 22:43):

 

Eliminating the source of dirt is more important than finding a better janitor or a better broom. Obvious, once you think about it.

Smart businesses regularly do something new and different in their market, producing really good results.

I don’t mean not-so-thoughtful act of cloning a service or a product. I’m talking about the processes and systems that a strong business depends on and eventually turns to as a strategic advantage. Might be a sales or marketing process, might be front or back office.

Once the value is shown, even of a non-obvious system/process, why wouldn’t these things be duplicated by business B when they see business A gaining value from them?

  • Sometimes the new system/process was intentionally designed to be complex so that it would be hard for competitors to duplicate.
  • Sometimes those complexities don’t impact a small local business but a parallel business need for a similar system still exists in that business that should be considered.
  • Sometimes we have this odd tendency to watch someone do something great and stop right there because it’s so easy to assume that we can’t do what others have done.
  • Sometimes the lead isn’t followed because of ingrained beliefs like “Yes, but that’ll never work here.”

What’s your reason? What system would transform your business front office? What would transform the back office? These things don’t have to be massive or expensive. As one of my mentors says, “Little hinges swing big doors.”

Meeker 2012 – What should small software businesses do?

KPCB operating system trends
Credit: KPCB

Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends presentation is always an attention getter.

For some, a wake-up-call, for others… a reminder.

No matter what it is for you, there’s some valuable trend info there worth looking at in the context of your software business.

“Rapid mobile adoption still in early stages.”

Think about that for a moment. Apple has more than 100 million mobile devices sold (65 million iPads in 8 quarters) and dominates US smartphone sales. Android does the same for the rest of the world…and we’re still in the “early stages”.

This isn’t a surprise, but it’s a common mistake for entrepreneurs to feel like if they aren’t first, they’re worst – and for some, that they shouldn’t even try. Someone has to be first – and sometimes their most important achievement is to show everyone else that the market is viable.

It’s still very early for mobile, despite what you might gather from industry doomers, but there’s plenty of time to be the second mouse who gets the cheese.

Look around your clients’ offices. Are their salespeople 100% mobile? If they have any kind of fleet, are their drivers/pilots? What about their warehouse / lot / logistics people? Are their in-house pickers on mobile devices yet? What about their salespeople? Can they enter a lead, produce and email a quote and close a sale – including accepting a check, depositing a check, getting a contract signature, emailing the signed contract and/or taking a credit card – from their mobile phone?

All of those things can be done today with a phone. You can even deposit a check with your stodgy old bank’s mobile phone app.

What about your product line?

Can they use their mobile phone to perform core functionality like this in your software? My guess is… Probably not.

Some of your software might never be on a mobile device in its current form. Yet parts of it might make sense, particularly for outside sales and other mobile workers. One thing is almost certain: This kind of mobile flexibility will be difficult to avoid in the future because customers will demand it or move to someone else who delivers it.

One of the more challenging aspects of the move to mobile is the cross-architecture requirements. A few years back, you could dictate mobile hardware because phones couldn’t do the work. You’d have customers buy expensive ruggedized Symbol devices and that allowed you to control the scope of development.

Not anymore. Today, you need to be ready to consider adding iOS, Android, WinRT, Java, HTML5 and who knows what else to your development efforts. Now maybe you don’t start development on all of those at once but you’d better be considering how each of them apply in your market.

If you aren’t, are you ready to give up the testimonial-writing, market-leading customers in your client base? They’ll often be the ones who move first to new solutions that leverage advanced technology – even if it’s just to do a pilot and set their next long-term strategy.

Globally, only 18% of people have mobile access, but the growth rate was 37% over the last year. In the U.S., 29% have a tablet compared to 2% three years ago.

Rethink your apps.

“8% growth in internet users, driven by emerging markets”

79% of the U.S. population has internet access today, while only 10% of the population of India has it.

Of that 10%, 44 million use a smartphone. The rest use a mix of desktop/laptop and cell phone. For those who get to the net via mobile device, it doesn’t always happen on a smartphone. Meeker noted that 200 million farmers in India receive ag subsidies via their cell phone.

Intuit recognized this situation early on by having business development people in place in India. One of their success stories there is a service that delivers daily pricing information to farmers via text message. They’re adding 20,000 users a week to this text message based service, which helps farmers get more for their produce at market.

“Suddenly” the translation to Farsi and adaptation to “non-smart” cell phones seems more interesting…

For U.S. software companies, these are areas of concern. At 79%, our climb only has so much headroom left. International is a natural next step given the growth numbers.The U.S. is number eight in growth rate of new internet users, behind China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Nigeria, Mexico and Russia.

Why worry? Because small U.S. software companies tend to avoid internationalization. Grab 10 small software company product downloads off the net. How many of them support other languages? Other currencies? Other taxation systems?

If internationalization is a problem, how functional is business development outside the U.S. for American companies? How else will you get accurate business development knowledge in those countries? Add to that, many countries have barriers to outside companies building a presence inside their borders – just like the U.S. does.

This is an area of great potential, but it doesn’t come without serious work. It isn’t as simple as running your product’s text strings through Google Translate.

Don’t forget Android. In 13 quarters, Android has lined up 250MM mobile phone users, with the majority outside the U.S.  Combine that with a different platform with many different screen formats and this is where you mull over your answer to “How bad do you want it?” when looking at the potential return.

Smartphone upside

As the smartphone enters the developing world en mass, there’s still a big upside. In the U.S., we think we’ve seen it all. Globally, there are 953 million smartphone subscribers. Seems like a lot, after all that’s about 3 times the size of the U.S. population.

Yet for all mobile phones, the smartphone subscribers number jumps to 6.1 billion (see image below). Compare those two numbers carefully when considering your near term app strategy.

Many would suggest you build a smartphone app for these developing markets ASAP. I suggest you consider where you are now before taking that step. In particular, think about “the reason to get a sale“.

Show me

Many will read these numbers and think “Yeah, but…”  The “but” is about where the buyers are and where the traffic is.

Currently 10% of global internet traffic is mobile. It was 4% two years ago.

What about buyers? Meeker said 8% of e-commerce is mobile-based and that the click through rate on mobile is still 1/5th of what desktop click through is.

8% globally is a big number and has little choice but to go up. Can your site handle it? Can your clients’ sites?

In India, there is now more mobile-based internet traffic than there is traffic from desktops/laptops. Breathe that in before your next long-term product strategy meeting.

Reimagination

These three graphics tell a lot of stories. There is one thing they don’t say.

One thing these graphics don’t say is “Who’s next?”

Spring Training

That’s how early things are. Meeker called it “Spring Training” because there are so many opportunities related to the net and mobile that the season really hasn’t started. Maybe in the U.S., we’re jaded to the opportunity that remains because we have this habit of assuming that everyone is like we are. 15 minutes on your tech support line will clear that up.

For those willing to think and work differently…different results are possible. Look back over these slides and my comments. How will they, how could they impact your business?

Thanks to KPCB, I’ve included the slide deck here…

The other shoe

Meeker’s talk wasn’t all good news. She referred to KPCB’s now-famous (and sobering) USA Inc. video/report that looks at the financial performance of the U.S. as if it was a business. Regardless of your politics, it’s worth a look. An October 2012 USA Inc slide deck is here and the 2011 video is here.

How a great system can help your business and your customers

What drives your pricing?

For many businesses, it’s strictly keystone. Cost times 2 or 3 (or some other number) = retail price.

A friend shopping for his college-aged daughter mentioned two tool kit prices to me. One item has red accents and is priced at $24.99. The other has pink accents and is priced at $14.99. The kits are almost identical, differing only in the box cutter tool housing – and tool handle coloring.

There is one other difference. The red item is not sold in stores. The pink one is not sold online. Not sure about the logic there.

What message does this situation send to the consumer? Is it just a mistake? Does it reflect solely on the vendor cost? Is the higher price intended to drive the customer to buy in the brick and mortar store, where the consumer is likely to find something else to buy?

No matter what the reason…it’s interesting.

Why do I mention this?

Because it reflects on the quality of your internal systems. Systems that are designed to help your customer. Systems that are designed to prevent embarrassment of your business and your staff. Systems designed to help you improve profitability. Systems designed to inform and advise.

A good retail system will identify substitute items when the item you want is out of stock. It might also tell you which store has that item, in the case of a multi-store retailer. It might also suggest similar items at a range of prices and colors – but only those in stock. It might even tell you that the Antarctic Blue Super Sports Wagon won’t be in for another 6 weeks. (props to Jupiter Chevrolet)

What does your system do? Who does it help? Who should it help? How can it be improved?

The items? Right here.

See for yourself at http://www.target.com/p/apollo-39-pc-household-tool-kit/-/A-10230581

 

See this one at http://www.target.com/p/39-pc-genera-l-tool-kit-pink/-/A-14044873

How the Yahoo password breach could affect you, even if you don’t use Yahoo

Power Of One
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ian Sane

On July 12th 2012, Yahoo confirmed that a large number of passwords originating at its Associated Content site were leaked.

If you ever used Yahoo Voices (formerly known as Associated Content), you should check to see if you were affected, particularly if you have a habit of using the same username/email and password combination on multiple sites.

Even if you never used Yahoo or Associated Content, your customers might have. If you have online systems that your customer access, this might affect your customers and your internal systems, so please read on.

Were you or your customers affected?

To see if your username or email is on the leaked list, visit http://dazzlepod.com/yahoo/ and enter the login you used at Yahoo or Associated Content.

If your login name is on the list of leaked logins, it will be shown at the bottom of the page – without showing your password, of course. If it’s there, you need to change your password and more importantly, you need to change your password on every site that uses that combination of username and password.

Need new passwords?

When I need high-complexity passwords, I use the GRC Password Generator, which randomly generates complex passwords with each visit.

To test the strength of each password you chose to replace the leaked one, you can use GRC’s Password Haystack, which analyzes the complexity of your password vs. the brute force computing time estimated to try enough combinations to find a match.

An interesting sidebar to the Haystacks password complexity analysis is this XKCD passwords cartoon. The XKDC password fares quite well on the haystack test, while remaining easy to memorize.

What about my customers?

If your customers have online accounts that match a login on the leaked Yahoo login list, you should disable them and contact your customers with instructions explaining how to update their passwords.

Feel free to point them at this piece to explain the situation. Doing this before a problem develops is good, proactive customer service to help them protect their accounts (and possibly your business) from fraud.

Lessons your small business can learn from this breach

These lessons apply both to the login/password pairs you use and those your systems might store for your clients.

Strategies that will help keep your small business safer:

  • Don’t use the same password on multiple sites, otherwise one successful effort to get your password means the criminal could gain access to more than one of your online services/accounts.
  • Don’t store passwords in plain text. Hash them. Hashing is, in simple terms, a one-way form of encryption. A password string can be converted to a hash string for storage, but hashing techniques create a hash that cannot be converted back to the password. A staffer with access to the hash can’t use it to access a client’s account. Question is…how’d they get the hash and what else can they get to?
  • Have your IT staff salt your passwords (ie: add a random character to them) before hashing them for storage.
  • Change your passwords frequently. Many of the login/password pairs in this breach were quite old and from inactive Associated Content accounts, yet they still worked on numerous sites, judging from the number of accounts disabled by Google and other vendors.
  • Don’t write the passwords on Post-It Notes and stick them to your monitor in a public place (like your workplace).

Read this Information Week piece for additional discussion on lessons to learn from the Yahoo password breach.

How do I manage all these passwords?

By now, with advice like “change your passwords frequently” and “don’t use the same password for multiple sites” swimming in your head along with the thought of how many different accounts you have, you’re probably wondering how you could possibly manage to remember all those different login/password pairs.

Of course, I keep them all in my head.

Yes, I’m kidding.

I use a password management tool called RoboForm Everywhere (secure download here).

RoboForm integrates with my browser (and Windows/Mac) to remember passwords for me (in encrypted form) and will only fill them in for me after entering a master password – so I have one password to remember no matter what, rather than dozens. I’ve used it for some time and it’s a great time saver that helps me use good password management practices.

When you visit a site, RoboForm shows you a button (or drop down, if you have multiple accounts at that site) that will fill in the password for the site – after you enter your master RoboForm password.

You can disable the master password question for some or all logins if you wish so that you’re only asked for the master password on various intervals. Disabling the master password might be OK for your home computer, but I wouldn’t do it in your workplace.

Other password management solutions include 1Password, KeePass (free, open source) and LastPass. I’ve tried LastPass and didn’t mesh with it, but you might.

The important thing is not what password management tool you use – but that you protect your login/password pairs and use them wisely – and make sure your staff does the same.

 

How to cut down on refunds

Froggy
Creative Commons License photo credit: TeryKats

Do you have problems with too many sales turning into refunds? Or almost-sales turning into no-sales?

Do your demonstration projects frequently fail to reach the buying stage?

Does return-friendly Costco look like a tough return desk negotiator compared to you?

Do people frequently add things to their shopping cart while on your website but decide not to buy them and click away? The industry term is “cart abandonment”.

Do you sell software by offering a free trial and think “if only 10% more people bought”, you’d be doing a lot better?

Do you lose sales or have refunds from people you think should have been perfect for your product?

If you answered “Yes” to at least one of these questions, you need to take steps to cut down on lost sales and reduce refunds. In marketing parlance, you want your sales to be “stickier”.

Where to look

The simplest way to start working on this is to look at the sales you lost. If you don’t keep track of when refunds occurred (by date, for example) and what caused them – start doing so.

Assuming you have a firm date-driven return policy, are you getting most of your refunds just before the end of your refund policy period? You might assume that you can’t combat this, but you can. Better qualifying of leads/prospects will help, at least in situations where you have that sort of buying process. Costco doesn’t ask if you can afford a 46″ LED television or if it’ll fit in your apartment/office, but not everything is sold off the shelf like that.

Doing well-timed things to help folks continue to see a high ROI out of their purchase will help. Training videos, calls or webinars delivered at strategic points in their timeline as a new customer, for example.

Imagine that you offer new car buyers a free oil change for the first year of ownership. While that starts off year one as a sales promo expense, it should end up creating a habit: “Change your oil here”, which produces long term service revenue and as a by-product gets your customer back into the store every 90 days or so.

If you fail to remind them about each free oil change, they might get it done somewhere else – breaking the habit before it starts. If you do the math, the revenue loss after year one is substantial. Worse, you may lose a future vehicle sale because that person isn’t eyeballing shiny new wheels once a quarter while waiting for the oil change. Make yourself an easy habit.

Trials and Tribulations

When it comes to products that are sold via 30 day trials and the like, cancellation timeframes should be examined closely. Just because everyone cancels on day 29 doesn’t mean they didn’t like your product. It might be that they underestimated how busy they were (imagine that) and never got to the point where they could give it a fair shake.

Or maybe they got confused, didn’t ask for help and gave up. That trial ends despite the fact that they were doing well with you until they became confused. Cancellation points can change as your offerings do, so pay attention. Sometimes the problem is as simple as helping people see the depth of the value you deliver.

Tiny little things, ill-timed, can devastate people’s confidence in your product or service.

Think about the last time you put something in a website shopping cart and then clicked away. The tiniest thing is enough to break your confidence (or attention) enough to say “Maybe next time” and cause you to click away. Do you watch to see what page is most frequently used just before a shopping cart is abandoned? That might be a clue that helps you fix a problem costing you thousands of dollars in sales.

Reducing refunds is really about catching the folks who might leave because you’re missing something. It’s not really about turning around a refund as it is doing a much better job of paying attention to the prospect’s needs as well as learning where the failure points are in the process people have to evaluate and use your product/service – and then addressing them.

Those failure points can be moved or even eliminated, if you pay attention.