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, November 14, 2014

PayPal Is Trying to Kill Me

This week was shaping up to be a little bit better until a $150 return knocked it back into the dirt. Yesterday finished in the red and I'm facing the worst week in any November...ever. A normal November week never dips below $1,000; this year I haven't even broken $1,000. Oh well, at least that return isn't hanging over my head anymore. 

Most of the new products that I've been ordering are here now. What's the big hit so far? Bird kites! Yup, most of my business is coming from dropships that I still have to pay for. The $6,000 I spent on new products has returned $50 so far. I've slammed on the brakes now that it's obvious that there won't be a Christmas this year, but the hole is already dug.

Things could theoretically turn around during the most intense weeks of Christmas, which are still a couple of weeks away. And it's a good thing they are, because PayPal is going to end support for the SSL 3.0 security protocol on Dec. 3 -- the worst possible time to screw with a retailer's systems. What does that mean for Curio City? Hell if I know. I don't even understand the problem well enough to know whose help to seek. I will definitely be out of business if payment processing breaks during the busiest week of the year, so wrapping my head around all their technical jargon and acronyms just moved to the top of my priority list. This is way over my pay grade.

Maybe a quick, clean beheading would hurt less than this slow bloodletting. I'm not sure I want to drag that credit card debt through most of 2015.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Eternal Limited Time Offer

I tried something new this week: Free shipping on all orders over $75, no coupon necessary. Newsletter subscribers got a coupon lowering the threshold to $50. I've long been able to run such a special, but my old template gave me no way to tell visitors about it. Surprising somebody with free shipping is useless...you have to dangle it in front of them. 

The new template's slideshow looked like a near-perfect solution (a popup that follows visitors around would be better, since most visitors land at Curio City without ever seeing the front page). I could swap graphics every few weeks to keep the site fresh and to plug different products and offers. Then I realized that returning visitors will always see the same graphics unless they clear their browser cache -- and who ever does that? Not only will they miss future promotional graphics...they will keep seeing whatever outdated offer was running when they first came. 

So much for that stroke of genius.

In the end, three Switchables customers spent $260. Would they have bought anything without the promotion? Did they pad their orders to reach $75? Who knows? The customer who got free shipping on $200 worth of Panther Vision beanies was pleasantly surprised; he never saw the front page. I ended up giving away $21 worth of postage. The week's sales are running about 40% below LY, which is apparently the new normal after my website upgrade.

I'm going to try this once more before Christmas, with a $100 minimum.

My first newsletter in five months got 114 opens (28%, vs. an 18% industry average) and 27 clicks (24%, vs. 14% average) resulting in no sales. Since I've been paying Constant Contact $16 a month that whole time this newsletter effectively cost me $2.96 per click. More frequent mailings would obviously improve that rate, although that's pointless if the clickers don't convert to buyers. 

Since turning Bing ads back on I've bought 68 clicks for $16.36 with zero conversions (assuming that their conversion tracking code is working). I'm reminded why I bailed on Microsoft in the first place: Dozens of my keywords have quality scores of 2 or 3/10, supposedly due to low landing page relevance. "Falcon kites" goes to my falcon kite page; "eagle kites" goes to my eagle kite page; "LED lighted caps" goes to my Panther Vision caps page. How much more relevant can you get?

Fine, whatever. It's easier to delete keywords that score below 5 than to write awkward phrases into my product pages for Bing's benefit. Less money for Microsoft.

So yeah, it's Christmas. Between now and Thanksgiving I should be doing $200 a day. I'm only averaging $147. And yet I keep buying new products as fast as I can process the orders. This week I dropped a cool $1,600 on new Metal Earth models (chiefly Star Wars and Star Trek), making them my biggest bet of the year even though I could only afford a fraction of what I wanted. The good news is that I'm nearly done ordering, and a month from now I'll know how my bets turned out. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

I Found Red October!

My last post celebrated a nascent recovery. That week topped the previous three weeks combined and notched the best performance since June, rekindling hope despite being too late to save the month. Then this week fell right back into the crapper. Go figure.


Total income: -43.5%
Total COGS: -39.1%
Payroll: -54.0%
Marketing: -22.8%
Net Income (Profit): -79.9% (-$528)

Year to Date

Total income: +1.8%
Total COGS: +25.3%
Payroll: -33.7%
Marketing: -1.0%
Net Income (Profit): +48.9% (+$4,586)

Two months ago I was 14% ahead of LY. That gain is nearly gone now. Meanwhile, I'm spending money like a drunken Democrat. What choice do I have? The robust sales from two weeks ago hint that the old girl has still got it. I'm counting on Christmas because I must. 

Last week I wrote:

"One customer called to ask "How the heck do I check out?" The stylized shopping bag icon that replaced the traditional "shopping cart" isn't at all intuitive, and the "Checkout" text link that used to be above the category list is gone. So I added a "Shopping Cart/Checkout" menu item (pat on the back for figuring out how to do it without breaking anything) to make that obvious and fix the only design flaw that I can see."

This Monday somebody else left voicemail saying that he couldn't check out because "your website sucks." He left to find a "working website" with telephone support when I didn't answer his 6 pm call. 

I wish I'd talked to him because I don't understand how a plain-vanilla shopping cart like Sunshop can confuse people so badly that they need to ask for help. Yes, half of the population suffers from below-average intelligence, and that might be all there is to it. But it's possible that some intermittent technical problem is preventing checkout even though everything tests just fine. Whatever the reason, I hate to see somebody rage-quit during the endgame after all the trouble and expense of luring them into my store.     

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