Welcome to Curious Business

Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, October 10, 2014

A Motivational Poster! That Would Help.

I finally figured out what was wrong with conversion tracking: I was telling Google's code to use dynamic pricing -- that is, to report the actual value of each conversion -- without implementing the custom Sunshop code that it requires, which is beyond my ability. I had also neglected to update the script each time I changed its options. After 47 days, I'm finally getting conversion data again. Without it, I couldn't tell which keywords are performing and tune up my ad campaigns. 

So that's something, anyway.

I brainstormed a couple of ideas for fishing sales out of the toilet while on my morning walk (braindrizzled is more like it...can one man brainstorm?) that might goose things a little, if I ever actually make the time to do them. With a dearth of the dreary days that chain me to my work desk and no positive reinforcement for toiling there I have very little motivation to work on Curio City. The chronic cash flow crisis is getting old, too. And, as trivial as this might sound, my senile, elderly cat starts yowling at 5 a.m. and pesters me for hours every day. I can't concentrate on anything.

Goosing things a little won't make much difference anyway. This week is going to come in $1,000 behind LY. In the few weeks since my site upgrade I've lost almost all of the gain over LY that I've built up throughout the year, and I don't see things magically returning to health anytime soon. I just don't care anymore. Why bother?

Friday, October 03, 2014

Running On Fumes

An unusual number of customers are asking to return merchandise while sales remain in the crapper. Tightening up my return policy discouraged at least one person from shipping back an unsalable used bird kite. I'm conflict-averse and I don't like saying "no." I'd like to have an open no-questions-asked policy like huge retailers do, but I can't swallow a loss every time somebody changes their mind or decides the product wasn't quite what they wanted -- especially when sales are running at historically poor levels.

Business is wicked bad. With Christmas closing in I should be averaging $1,000 a week; this week is struggling to break $300. Is my new template to blame? The timing is suspicious. I doubt that a contemporary makeover would repel shoppers, but Google might be punishing some technical change that I don't understand (such as displaying images with Cloud Zoom instead of Flash, whatever that is). I'm not even sure that my conversion tracking fix worked. The order confirmation page's source code shows the Google script and what looks like output from that script. But AdWords still has not claimed credit for a single conversion in the past week, and since I only had 10 sales that zero might be an accurate count.

With some effort, I could revert to my old look and see if things come back. I hate to go backwards, for obvious reasons, but I haven't ruled it out. 

I blame this year's huge omission: Products. Kite sales fell off right on schedule. Last year, lighted caps and Switchables stepped into the gap. Nowadays the only Panther Vision products that ever sell are the odd runner's cap or visor -- things that most stores don't carry. After all these years it's hardly surprising that somebody else finally poached my lighted cap sales by either undercutting the retail price or offering personalization. Switchables seems to be having its own issues; there were no new fall designs for the first time ever and they're chronically sold out of most of their popular styles. Golf ball sales have been limping all year. Historically, I sell 36-48 sets of Halloween golf balls in September and October. This year? None. 

Problem is, I don't have a line on any promising new products. I need to reorder a few things (like Lexco cases and Alice in Wonderland cards) that have sold down to near zero. I want to bring in a smattering of new novelties from the spring and fall catalogs of my usual vendors...but those are what's called "long tail" items -- I'll bring in a dozen of each and consider any that sell more than six pieces winners. They make my store interesting to shop, but I don't make much money on them. There's just nothing that might become the Next Big Thing.

Well, I couldn't buy them anyway with the cash flow spigot closed. All I can do is stomp on costs and hope that the worm turns. As long as I keep plugging away, it always does sooner or later.


Taking a page from Republican economic policy, I cut my handling charge from $0.55 to $0.50 per order. This "tax cut" reduces the 0.25-pound shipping charge from $3.05 to a nice round $3. Sunshop (or the USPS; I'm not sure who's to blame) considers packages weighing less than four ounces to be letters, not parcels. A 0.25 pound item collects a $3 shipping fee while a 0.2 pound item only collects $0.83. The actual cost is $2.01 when purchased online or $2.50 over the counter.

Like any Republican economic policy, this will only reduce my revenue and add to my deficit. But I do like the $3 price point.


My spammer is still setting off Outlook's email chime 20-25 times a day. Every time that "ding" announces spam instead of a sale I dutifully add the new address to my spam filter. Of course, the spammer just changes it with each new spam, so my filter blocks less than 10% of the sewage that flows through it. It's a good thing I don't have an automatic weapon, because I sure understand the rage that makes people go berserk.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Et Tu, Google: September Stumbles

As of Wednesday morning, I needed to make $210 by today to cover my scheduled Mastercard payment and avoid paying another finance charge. It would be a nail-biter, but doable. Then Google dropped this gem into my morning email:

"Dear Google Shopping Merchant,

"It has come to our attention that your Merchant Center account does not comply with our Google Shopping Policies available at (URL).

"Your Merchant Center account has been suspended and your product listings no longer appear on Google Shopping.

Lovely. WTF did I do? I've been uploading the same product feed for years with only minor changes from month to month. My sin wasn't immediately apparent among the pages and pages of general policy bullshit at that URL. I appealed. On Wednesday night, I was still waiting. Wednesday's sales? Zero.

Google Shopping used to be called Google Base and it used to be free. Some time ago Google decided to charge merchants to use it. Google Shopping is where I advertise all of the products that I don't advertise directly through AdWords. Google somehow automatically builds and displays ads...somewhere. I think "Google Shopping" is its own thing, a destination for people who actually like to shop. 

I spend $175 a month to buy 755 clicks there -- 1/3 of my monthly ad buy. Losing it is like having one hand tied behind my back, if I had three hands. How it works and who goes there are all very mysterious to me, but back when I was getting conversion data I was sure it was worthwhile. While researching this post I discovered that Google is showing 0 conversions in all of my campaigns for the past 30 days.

On Thursday morning they said 

I have good news, after further review of your account, you have been approved to participate in Google Shopping! It looks like there was a technical issue discovered and fixed.

Oh, joy. There were actually "issues" both on their end and on mine, thanks to my template change. Sales resumed normally on Thursday, but as of this afternoon I'm still $97 short of covering that charge bill. 

Now, what about those conversion reports?

Turns out that one must insert a code snippet into one's order confirmation page. I did that for my old template so many years ago that I'd completely forgotten about it and it got lost in my last upgrade (that's what I get for hiring Turnkey instead of my own developer). Trying to fix it, I first added the code to the wrong files and broke checkout entirely. I think I got it figured out, but I won't know if it's really tracking conversions until somebody actually clicks an ad and buys something.  

None of this would be noteworthy if I weren't racing the calendar to cover that damned credit card bill. Google's little "technical issue" might have screwed me. 

Oh well, on to the numbers! This was my first red month since April, and it's a doozy.


Total income: -28.1%
Total COGS: -27.9%
Payroll: -17.2%

Marketing: -54.0%
Net Income (Profit): +82% (+$612)

Year to Date

Total income: +9.5%
Total COGS: +38.2%
Payroll: -32%

Marketing: +1.4%
Net Income (Profit): +49.9% (+$5,006)

Holding down COGS and especially marketing offset the big drop in total income enough to actually improve the bottom line a little. I lost $135 this month, compared to $746 last September. Even though the year is $5,000 in the red, I was losing $10,000 at this time LY.

Is my site makeover to blame for this change in fortune, or is the timing a coincidence? I don't know. We'll see if October recovers.

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