Etsy’s Social Commerce: Smart at Christmas

Etsy’s new Facebook app, the Gift Recommender, is a smart move and a great example of ways to use your data to attract more business.

I’ve no doubt that some will see Etsy’s “social commerce” via Facebook as “creepy” or invasive, but I suggest you give it a try to get an idea how this new app might impact your business or generate some ideas.

If Facebook isn’t your thing, but any form of retail is, create a test Facebook account with a throwaway email address so you too can see what the fuss is about.

Etsy is widely known for their belief in automated software testing. You can read about their latest project in their developers’ blog at  http://codeascraft.etsy.com/2011/11/09/engineering-social-commerce/

Hat tip to Scobleizer for pointing it out.

Why they leave

Why do they leave your site?

Why don’t they buy?

Why do they abandon a shopping cart after going to the trouble to shop on your site, select items and add them to a cart in the desired size and color?

This might give you an idea or two…

Is it right under your nose?

That product line. I mean.

It’s hiding in your community, right inside your business.

I’m talking about the product or service that you sell locally.

The same one that you can probably sell online (or elsewhere) and become known as a regional, national or global specialist with, rather than limiting yourself to local business and possibly constraining yourself to the local economy – good or bad.

What about the box?

You might think you do things that can’t be sold outside of your neighborhood.

In some cases, you might be right.

But have you really honestly looked?

Think of reasons why people/businesses elsewhere might need what you do rather than focusing on the reasons why it won’t work, why it’ll be a hassle (sales are a hassle? Hmmm) and why others will think you’re nuts (remembering that they probably thought you were nuts for starting your own business).

You might have to repackage something or deliver it in a vastly different form, but who cares?

I can guarantee you one thing….your deposit slip doesn’t.

Retailers: Are you making your own recession?

Ever hear the term BSOD?

It’s an acronym for “Blue Screen of Death”, which is what you get when Windows barfs all over itself.

In my experience, you get that rare (for me) “I’m a PC” explosion when hardware is failing (and sometimes when you seriously, royally messed up).

Last week after a litany of BSODs on a 30 month old laptop (6 months longer than the typical lifespan in my use – thanks HP), I decided I needed to deal with this issue sooner rather than later.

Because I like The 3/50 Project, I called a local authorized retailer of the brand of laptop I had my eye on. I asked if they had any one of the standard models (a very common one) in stock.

“No, but we can order it for you.”

I replied “Sorry, I was looking to buy from a local company.”

Remembering why you have a storefront

You have a retail storefront. You’ve paid the manufacturer to become an authorized retailer (and continue to pay for co-op advertising, ongoing training, and so on). Yet…you don’t stock the product and you suggest that the service you can provide after all that investment in time and money will be to order one for me?

I can find Amazon.com (or whatever) on my own, thanks.

Retailers have complained incessantly about unfair competition from e-commerce stores, but not enough have done something about it. Many retail store failures have been blamed on online buying, while few get blamed on the owner / management / employees.

E-commerce succeeds because goods and services can be shopped for 24 hours a day, from any location,  in “any” store from anywhere.

Why do some retailers still try to make shopping right here in town *harder* than shopping online? I just don’t get it.

Instant gratification goes both ways

People say e-commerce is all about instant gratification. That people can buy online and immediately feel the rush of a successful purchase.

Horse hockey. Instant gratification (or close enough) happens when I can drive 18 minutes, walk into the store, plop down my Bert and Ernie-branded Mastercard and walk out with a product under my arm after being helped by a salesperson or clerk who acts like it matters that I walked into their store.

Ecommerce makes me wait at least until tomorrow. Where’s the instant gratification in that?

Retail stores often fail because they don’t exist to serve the customer, or they don’t recognize that the reason for getting a sale is to get a new customer.

This local store lost a $2000 sale in a two minute phone call – and may also have lost a long-term customer, which is even worse from my perspective.

I called a Montana-based chain store who deals in the same product and they had them in stock. But they’re “just” a retailer. They don’t do consulting or offer anything of that nature like the other business does – so it doesn’t matter all that much to them whether I’m a long-time customer or not, at least from the perspective of that purchase.

What should have happened?

What should the first guy should have done when I told him I wanted to make a local purchase? He should referred me to the other local dealer and offered to help if I needed it (since it’s obvious to *anyone* that the other store doesn’t do that sort of thing).

You want more customers. Do what’s in *their* best interest and it’ll come back to you. Remember, I came to you to ask for help. Instead of solving my problem, you offered to do what I can do from my La-Z-Boy.

Call it karma if you wish. Call it good business. Regardless, think of what the customer is trying to accomplish and help them do so. Next time, they might think of you again – and you might actually have the item they need in stock.

Tomorrow, we’ll address that stock issue.

*Which* fries do you want with that?

So I’m on Amazon to pick up a copy of “Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions: A Tactical Playbook for Managers and Executives“.

Like any good salesperson would, the Amazon cart reminds me…

“Wait! You need to add $5.23 to your order to qualify for FREE Super Saver Shipping”.

Fair enough. But what would fit that bill?

Amazon shows me a few things in my “Saved items — to buy later” list and it also shows me some things that other people bought when they bought this book.

But it doesn’t show my Amazon Wishlist.

And it doesn’t show me the most recent items on my Wishlist (or Saved Items) that cost $5.23 or more.

You know the thought process: If I need to spend $5.23 to get free shipping (worth about $5), I’m going to be more willing to spend $5.23 than I am $15.23.

So why don’t they show me those items that are most likely to get me over the edge?

Now, put on that Amazon hat and look around your store or your online shop.

What can you do to push them over the edge and make it easier to buy?

Are you missing the point of automation?

Last week I received a phone call from SendOutCards, whose service sends personalized postcards and greeting cards â?? with pictures if you like â?? simply by pounding on their website for a moment.

First of all, kudos to them. They were just calling to see if I was getting what I needed out of the service and wondered what – if anything – they could do to help me.

Why kudos? Because SO FEW actually make the effort to do this.

Yep, that’s a not-so-subtle hint.

The downside of the conversation was that I blindsided them with my request.

It’s important to clarify that I really like the service â?? they even let me create a font of individual letters using my handwriting, so that the text I type into the website is printed in my writing on the card or postcard. This includes several variations of my hand-written signature so I can sign the cards any way I want depending on who the recipient is.

The disappointment is that the service lacks the ability to let you automate the delivery of what they produce.

You can import a list from your Outlook or whatever, but that isnâ??t automation. Itâ??s manual and a pain. Plus it’s a duplication of data – bad idea.

Once youâ??ve imported contacts, you can setup a series of cards or postcards or notes to go out over a period of days as you like. Setting it up is a little bit of a pain, but it works.

Then the trouble starts. There is no automated way to update the contacts when their contact info changes on my systems, much less to add or remove them. It’s 2008 folks, this stuff is commonplace and simple to implement.

Also – when you have 9400 customers, you don’t have them in Outlook and you don’t want to manually import and categorize them using a web interface.

Their goal SHOULD be to make it as easy to send cards and postcards as they possibly can, since their profit depends on two things: the revenue from sending cards and postcards, and the exposure they get to new people who receive those cards and start using the service on their own.

As it is now, it isnâ??t real automation. Automation occurs when things happen automatically because something else happened, manual or otherwise.

I tried explaining this to the vendor and gave them a few examples.

If I have an online store that sells stuff, I’d want my online store to automatically send a thank you card with shipping info in it. A month or a week or whatever (depends on the product) later, I’d want to send a follow up thank you that asks for a review, comments, makes sure they are happy with their purchase, etc.

That just scrapes the surface of needs of that type.

Random customer behavior: bad idea

Another example: Let’s assume that Iâ??m performing a service or selling an item to customers who come back intermittently. Your internal point of sale and invoicing system should have the information needed to produce a list of â??Who hasnâ??t been here in 30 days?â? (or 60, or whatever).

If youâ??re on top of this situation, someone is currently printing out that list and having someone mail them a postcard, or a note, or calling them to see if theyâ??re doing OK, need an appointment, etc. Or SendOutCards could be *automatically instructed* by your systems to send a reminder card or what not to try and retain this customer and get them back into the store, office, etc.

If you arenâ??t on top of this sort of thing, youâ??re simply waiting on the random behavior of your customers to return to your business – exactly the kind of thing SendOutCards is designed to assist you with.

Smart businesses DO NOT depend on the random behavior of their customers. Instead, they show up (and/or deliver) “Just before just-in-time”, as Don Ferris says.. They also make a point of reminding their customers to come back / purchase / do maintenance (or whatever) when it’s best for the customer… without being an annoying nag about it.

By now, you should have asked yourself what you can be doing in this area. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about your business:

  • What do your customers use every month?
  • What do they own that requires maintenance every quarter?
  • What happens TO THEM if they don’t come back on a regular basis?
  • What happens if I lose track of changes in their personal situation (if B-to-C) or business situation (B-to-B)?

If they arenâ??t buying or maintaining those things on that basis, every day they wait is costing you money *and* it could cost them money too.

Oh yeah, back to that every 30 days list.

What if your systems were automated and knew to send out a postcard (not one of those lame ones from the corporate office that no one reads) when someone should have an appointment coming up? And the system knows not to mail one if you already have an appointment scheduled in the next few weeks.

And it knows to email the right person in your business 10 days after the postcard is mailed to remind them to call that person if and only if they donâ??t have an appointment (or haven’t made a purchase).

This isnâ??t rocket science, but the vendor didnâ??t seem to get how valuable this was not only to me, but to their bottom line (ie: more cards get mailed, more people are exposed to the vendor’s service).

Quitting for the wrong reasons

Sometimes, it’s necessary to make the decision to close a business. It isn’t easy and it isn’t something that is done without pain and suffering in some form.

Yesterday in Small Business CEO, I read a story about a small business that was calling it quits due to “high oil prices and the economy” (my paraphrase).

A couple of comments in that blog post really rubbed me the wrong way, mostly because the owner appeared to be stuck in a mental trap about the state of the economy (more on that in a minute) and the economic conditions that she felt forced her to close up shop.

A poisoned mind

The first quote was the most poisoned thing I could think of that a business owner could get stuck in their head:

Small home based businesses like mine really donâ??t stand a chance in the current market.

Horse hockey.

In the Great Depression of the 1930s, more than 25% of Americans were out of work. On the other hand, 75% were employed and continued to buy. While that doesn’t make life easier for the 25%, it does mean that the market didn’t simply disappear, even in times as bad as that.

For every stock broker who leaped from his Wall Street office window, there was at least one who did well, and the same for investors.

The reality is, a lot of businesses got started back then. In the so-called worst of times. In fact many of today’s most successful businesses had their roots in those “bad” days. Krispy Kreme, Saab, T. Rowe Price and many many more local businesses. Try Googling for “founded in 1930”, “founded in 1931” and so on. Tons of new businesses that exist to this day that were started during that period, more than SEVENTY years later.

They didn’t give up or quit because of their state of the economy. They saw opportunity in it.

BUT, thing is, the state of the economy really isn’t the point. Your market, your products, your clients and your prospects are. Your focus, your marketing, your creativity of thought and action. Those are far more important than the state of the market.

Raise prices or quit?

The second quote wasn’t much better, but I do have to admit that I have heard this from other businesses this year – from restaurants to craft-type businesses like this one:

Forced with the decision of either raising my candle prices sky high or temporarily closing, I chose the latter of the two.

The problem with this isn’t a lack of concern for the client, it’s that she is projecting her own mental limitations about her pricing onto her clientele. In other words, she’s saying “No” for them without giving them a chance to consider their purchase.

First of all, everyone understands that prices have gone up with fuel prices, either due to shipping, due to petroleum-based ingredients, or just because those two things roll downhill to the buyer. By making the decision to stop producing items because one of the component prices went up 40% assumes that the clients don’t feel the items are still worth that much without even asking them.

While these are primarily mental issues, there are also practical ones. Because I am tangentially involved in a business that uses beeswax, this isn’t armchair quarterbacking.

Due to Colony Collapse Disorder, I’ve seen 40-50% increases in the price of (among other things) beeswax over the last several years. In fact, prices have done so more than once. What was $3 something a pound is over $5 a pound. Not to mention that beeswax is dense. It’s heavy. Yes, Virginia – it costs a lot to ship.

Yet the clients who buy those beeswax-based products not only haven’t complained, but they’re buying more than ever. We didn’t make the decision for them, we simply raised prices to reflect the economics of the product line and let them decide. They decided to keep buying.

Sometimes quitting is the right thing to do. Just don’t do it for the wrong reasons. Don’t let the pundits, the media and Presidential candidates poison your mind.

Make decisions for the right reasons. I hope she decides to get back in the game for the right reasons as well.

Small business invades the Ukraine

Despite the fact that you can obtain the same thing anywhere in the world, a client of mine does a fine job of selling their high-end, custom version of this product in many countries.

We were talking yesterday during a telephone coaching session about return policies for online sales.

One thing led to another, and it came up that an order problem occurred with a client in the Ukraine, forcing them to issue their first refund.

The product shipment was refused entry to the Ukraine.

While the refund still needs to be issued, I suggested that this episode, while not a big deal, should be blown up into something as big as they can manage.

  • Call the State Department to lodge a complaint.
  • Write your Senator and Representative.
  • Write your state’s international trade board requesting help.
  • Write your national industry’s representation demanding a resolution.
  • Go on YouTube to talk about the injustice of it all.
  • Issue a press release to the local media about the refusal to let your products enter the Ukraine. If they just happen to stick you on the TV news, or even the morning show, so be it.
  • Send a press release to PRWeb or a similar service and see if the national morning shows or NPR pick it up.
  • Send a package with that item in it to the Ukraine Embassy in Washington and ask them to forward it to the buyer’s address in the Ukraine. Include a few samples for the embassy staff, you know, just in case they want a bribe:)

One of their comments during this discussion was, half-seriously, “What if we cause an international incident?”

My reply was something along the lines of: “Yeah, wouldn’t that be great!” – And I was dead serious.

You just can’t beat the story line: “Small U.S. retailer stopped at the Ukraine border, invasion fails”

But that isn’t all.

  • Why not stick a map of the Ukraine on the wall of your store? Or a global map showing where the products do ship in the world, and make a big deal out of fencing off the Ukraine.
  • Follow the Ukraine in the Olympics and celebrate either their failures or successes, or both.
  • Create an Exiled product line to make a little fun of the situation.
  • A whole line of “Banned in the Ukraine” promotions, PR blitzes and product offers are possible.
  • Have a “Save the Ukraine Day” at the store, serve native foods, have native dress and so on.
  • Invite all local people with roots in the Ukraine to come by the store and let them experience what their countrymen cannot.

Or, just give the money back and forget the whole thing.

You couldn’t possibly use this event to have a little fun, much less for marketing and publicity purposes, could you?

How to serve mail order coffee while wearing your e-commerce marketing hat

I ordered some coffee beans online the other day and received the box on Saturday. Or maybe Friday – dunno since I didn’t check the mail on Friday.

The box arrived in good condition and the beans were packed in their airtight bag with a nice spring-y colored tissue paper. So much nicer than those annoying statically charged packing peanuts that stick to everything.

Buddha dog
photo credit: SuperFantastic

Included in the box was a hand-written card from one of the owners of the coffee shop (no photo of the owner or the shop), and a business card (no photo). Nicely done, I thought, but what would make the purchase really memorable?

What would provoke me to tell a dozen friends about this package, and even to show it to them before tossing or reusing the packaging?

  • What can they do to make doing business with them unbelievable?
  • How can they truly make it an coffee shop experience – even by mail?
  • If Seth Godin ordered coffee beans from your shop – what would you have done differently, or what would you hope you would have done differently?

Here are a few ideas:

Tell me how fresh it is and why I should care: Include the roasted date on the package so I know that they put my coffee in the box on the same day it was roasted (or maybe the day before). When telling me the roasting date, remind me that coffee beans lose 25% of their flavor within 14 days – or whatever the number is – and note that store-bought coffee is often months old (and Starbucks is as well). Make it clear to me that their efforts to get me the freshest roast possible is so I and my friends and family have the best coffee we can buy – without spending 2 or 3 times what the grocery store charges.

Tell me how special it is: I know of one shop that includes a birth certificate with their Christmas-time Hawaiian Kona coffee package. A nice touch over the holidays, but it could easily be continued throughout the year. If it’s French Roast, tell me where the beans came from. Tell me where the farm is. If it’s Fair Trade coffee, make sure I know about it.

Show me what else I might like if I like French Roast: Next time I order coffee, I might be in an experimental mood. Or I might want something stronger, or different. Let me know what I might enjoy if I liked this one. Help me shop more wisely.

Show me what else I might do if I am “into coffee”: Perhaps I’m using bleached coffee filters. Maybe my water isn’t filtered. Maybe I toss the half-full bag in the fridge or in the freezer. Shouldn’t I get an owner’s manual for this bag of beans?

I mean, if I’m going to really enjoy them and get the same experience I would get if I was drinking my Joe in your shop, what would I do at home?

Help me find the things I’ll need if I really am a coffee geek, or want to be. After all, there is a reason why the coffee is so good at your shop – shouldn’t you help me make my coffee just as good at home with your beans?

Help me reorder: Until I establish a purchase history, this coffee place has to make a guess about how long it’ll take me to use this bag of beans. I’m guessing they can tell me to the cup how many cups of espresso I’ll get (give or take a couple) from a bag of beans ( I have no idea ).

If they guess that two people are drinking java in my house (an accurate guess) each day, then they’ll need to follow up in a certain number of days so that I never run out of their coffee. How many days should they wait before following up?

Roughly speaking, that’s (cups per bag) divided by (cups per day) minus a few days for shipping so that they have time to get me another bag before I run out and establish motivation to buy someone else’s coffee at the local grocery or coffee shop.

Rhode Island Cinnamon Latte
photo credit: Chris Owens

Adding to that reorder thing – help me get it automatically: If I like their coffee, give me a code or a special URL or phone number or an order form or email address or *something* to make it drop dead simple to order another bag, and include an option to start having them send me a bag so that fresh beans or ground coffee automatically arrive every X days or weeks.

Help me tell a friend about this great coffee and the package and so on: Include a card, something with a bonus-for-a-friend URL, some other doohickey, or a 1 pot sample bag of ground coffee (just in case they don’t have a grinder) or something to give to a friend. If I’m a coffee geek, chances are that I know other coffee geeks – the same kind of people who appreciate the same kinds of things.

Remind me to reorder: Follow up with me in a week or two and make sure the beans are as good as I expected. Remind me how I can get them again and make it as easy as possible. Don’t make me work to get another bag.

Make me feel like I’m part of your gang and do it in a way that’s viral: Include a cleverly logo’d coffee cup in the package for their first order. Remember, it isn’t about getting the order, it’s about gaining a new client. You want people to ask your client about that cup they’re using, so be sure it’s cool enough that they can’t help but use it. Make sure they know that the first order ships free if they mention they saw the cup.

Of course, this discussion could easily be modified for imported bamboo plants, boudin, motivational CDs, workout DVDs, t-shirts, barbeque sauce, gourmet chocolates or anything you are selling online and over the phone.

For more ideas and motivation for your mail order business, order a CD from CDBaby.com and see how they make every aspect of the purchase interesting and fun, even the order confirmation emails.

Locals grumble about real estate websites too

Several local people mentioned the real estate post from yesterday at last night’s CFHS Speech and Debate State Championship celebration.

People who had never said a word about the blog before. Surprised me a little. Avast mayteys, we’ve got lurkers!! 🙂

Anyhow, I got a lot of “No kidding” and “Why don’t they do this?” sort of comments out of it. I think I hit a nerve with a couple of em. They were downright grumpy about it.

Grumpy attacks
photo credit: Jere Dow

The “Why don’t they” comments were common-sense stuff.

Things like this:

  • Why can’t I search the available listings by school district?
  • Why can’t I search the available listings by subdivision?
  • Why can’t I get new business listings sent by text message to my phone?

I could go on, but you get the idea.

So…what about your web site?