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Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. 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, April 04, 2008

April Showers

March is in bed and the year is ¼ gone, with the excellent results that I previously reported. April will be more challenging. The incessant media drumbeat about recession and frightened consumers is starting to frighten consumers into recessionary behavior. Fortunately, we soon grow bored with gloomy stories and delayed gratification. I give this recession six more months, tops. I’m such a small company that macro-economic trends don’t mean a whole lot to me, anyway.

The Google Checkout problem that I wrote about last week turned out to be a silly security certificate detail. Mocha solved it without even replying to my support request. Everything’s running along ticky-poo now. The last remaining fallout from the Sunshop upgrade is a cosmetic flaw stemming from outdated templates. I hope Eric will get around to that before too long. The many customizations in my templates make replacing them perilous.

Upgrading PayPal from Standard to Express poached a lot of sales from credit cards. That rocks for two reasons. First: The typical credit card transaction costs me about 4.5% of gross. Rewards cards, non-US accounts, and other special credit card categories can cost upwards of 5%. PayPal takes “only” 4% for the identical transaction. Second: PayPal pays interest on deposits, which partially recovers my processing costs. I don’t earn anything on deposits to my business checking account. Payment processing consumes 4.65% of my gross sales (actual YTD figure, not counting the $15 monthly Authorize.net fee).

Google Checkout beats them both. My AdWords spend earns me enough free processing credit in Google Checkout to cover an entire month’s sales. Even if I exceed that credit, Google’s rates are just over 2%. In fact, the one GC transaction that I’ve successfully processed so far actually paid me 13 cents! Go figure. GC could take a significant whack out of processing costs if it catches on. In retail, recovering a couple percent of gross is a huge deal.

I can’t affect the economy, but I can jump on the recessionary mentality with a clearance sale. I took merciless markdowns on lots of old stock, and sent out a 10% off coupon, in hopes of freeing up a few more bucks before I hit tomorrow’s Boston Gift Show. The 184 delivered newsletter emails drew 69 opens (37.5%) and 29 clicks (42%) that delivered three known sales. That’s pretty good. All of those numbers should still creep up a little bit in coming days.

Sales were weak this week. Thanks to a couple of defective product refunds, I just barely beat LY, and plan is touch-and-go. Oh well, they can’t all be winners, right?

I’m going into the gift show tomorrow (in the cold rain again; why is it always raining when I have to walk from South Station?) with my open-to-buy at negative $1,400. That’s not as bad as it sounds. For one thing, most of those overspent dollars are in lighted caps, which is the best place for them. And remember that I decided a few weeks ago to invest in some new merchandise, even if it means infusing more cash or carrying some temporary debt.

Speaking of the economy…did you know that I get a few cents every time somebody clicks on one of those Google ads? If you can spare a few seconds, help a brother out. AdWords says I haven't had a single click in the past three months. Sure, they're serving up boring ads...but come on.


  1. Was mine the Google Checkout purchase that actually earned you extra money?

    My CC experience to date: slow website (product descriptions load times lag the rest of the page to such an extent that I can get bored with the page prior to even realizing they're going to appear). A difficult to navigate organizational structure on products makes the "related items" link more useful than it should be. Without a reorganization effort, maybe it'd make sense to "pimp" the related items tab in more product descriptions.

    Google Checkout let me know that my transaction went through right away, and a day later I got shipping notification. Props go to Google Checkout from the consumer side as well, as they happily take my merchant-crushing but consumer-friendly Discover card. Maybe I deviate from the norm, but there has to be an exceptional product for me to dig out one of my other (non-Novus) credit cards to make a purchase on plastic.

    Feels good to finally support The Mayor, especially after he's already sent me some trial products (one of which was cannibalized because its battery happened to match what was needed in our garage door opener) gratis. Hope the beers are quality this week on my dime. :)


  2. Yours was actually my second Google Checkout sale. They haven't paid me for it yet, so I don't know how the fee will come out. Your point about Discover cards is interesting. They're too expensive and uncommon to support directly...it hadn't occurred to me that GC supports Discover.

    I don't know what the deal is with load times -- crappy web host or bad site design, or both? It's specifically a Firefox problem. Pages load much, much faster in IE, which still accounts for 80% of my visitors. Sometimes it seems to be the GoDaddy security seal that's holding things up. Other times I think it's the white backgrounds -- notice how pages load black for a second or two before the white kicks in. Firefox may be less than 20% of my traffic, but it tends to be higher-level users, so I'd like to solve it eventually. This is exactly the type of frustration that I lack the expertise to fix.

    I intend to overhaul the category structure this summer, when business hits its nadir. My current product mix has outgrown the existing structure. I've held off on that for two reasons: First, I have designed a more robust category/subcat display with flyout menus, if I can just find somebody who'll implement it. Second, changing categories alters my product URLs and kills their search engine placement (which isn't that hot to begin with).

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Neal. And especially for, you know, actually buying stuff.


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