Welcome to Curious Business

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, November 14, 2008

Anatomy of a Sale

Business is booming as the make-or-break weeks draw closer. Visits peaked at 270 yesterday. This week has already demolished LY and will almost certainly exceed plan – something I thought was impossible.

My Google Adwords spend has topped a dizzying $15 per day. I’m gradually cutting my per-click bids on my highest-volume keywords and suspending ads for some products entirely. For example, over the product’s lifetime I’ve spent $175 to sell just three record purses. The DayClocks manufacturer cut their wholesale price last summer and didn’t tell me about it, so my competitors are now all underpricing me; I have spent $165 to sell only four DayClocks in the past six months. Some products have been priced out of the advertising market entirely. After a small surge in sales motivated me to beef up my pursehooks selection, I discovered that Google now wants a ridiculous 75 cents per click to advertise them (I had been paying 21 cents). Now I can only hope for organic Google search traffic, plus the few comparatively cheap, low-quality visits I get from Yahoo. How in the world can anyone afford to pay 75 cents per click for a $22 item? Maybe bulk sellers are bidding the rate beyond what retailers can pay.


Ever wonder what happens when somebody places a Curio City order? Of course you didn’t. But that’s today’s topic anyway.

  1. MS Outlook’s email chime signals an order notification (two emails if the sale was paid for with a credit/debit card or Paypal, one if by Google Checkout.)

  1. I crack open the email from my shopping cart to see what I sold. These moments are among my favorites. Will it be a $4 PicoPad, or a $90 globe? (It is usually one or more $20 caps).

  1. I log in to the Admin side of my shopping cart, open the transactions page, and print out the packing list. For some reason my Admin session expires after five minutes of inactivity, and I’m powerless to change that, so I have to log into Admin at least a dozen times every day.

  1. I update my Inventory.xls spreadsheet. This is a tool that I created to keep track of my merchandise flow at every stage from product research through sales. I’d be lost without this database.

  1. I update my Accounting.xls spreadsheet, another invaluable planning and reporting tool that I’ve been using since the day Curio City opened. This is my second-favorite part of getting a new sale. Not only is this spreadsheet rich in statistics, but it also updates my budget numbers for half a dozen variable line items – including my favorite, payroll. I can see my next paycheck grow with each sale that I record. I like that.

  1. I record the sale in Quickbooks. I open the email from Authorize.net to see what kind of credit card was used, because Amex is handled differently from Visa/MC. If it was a PayPal sale, I visit my PayPal account to find the transaction fee, and then record the payment in Quickbooks. (This could be automated if I were smarter, or had serious dev support; Sunshop does contain a rudimentary QB export function.)

  1. I fold the packing list in half to indicate that the order was processed and is ready for fulfillment, and add it to what I hope is a steadily growing pile next to my computer.

  1. If I sold out of something, I log into Admin again and change the product page – either to take it off display, or to add an out-of-stock notification option.

  1. At some point before the 2 pm cutoff for the day’s shipments, I take the accumulated orders downstairs, root through my stacks of boxes, and pack and weigh each order. This generally doesn’t take more than 5 minutes per order. I mark the weights and box sizes on the packing slips and take them back upstairs again. (This is a function I’ll eventually need to farm out or delegate to an employee).

  1. The most complicated and time-consuming step is actually creating and printing out postage labels for the boxed orders. I use the PayPal shipping interface to print out labels for my PayPal orders. I use UPS’s website to prepare any UPS shipments. I use the USPS Click-n-Ship website for Priority Mail orders. And I use my Endicia program for First Class and Parcel Post orders. Each order takes a few minutes. International sales take as much as 20-30 minutes (you can see why I hate them). As each label comes off the printer, I log into Admin again and change my transactions from “Pending” to “Awaiting Shipment.” Update my accounting spreadsheet with postage expenses. (This is another function that will eventually be outsourced, automated, or delegated; for now, I do it all manually).

  1. Take the labels and packing lists back down the cellar, match them with the boxes, seal them up and apply the labels. This is my most error-prone step. Three times I’ve had to straighten out mis-shipments. Once, I never got my mis-shipped merchandise back, and had to write off $65 worth of merchandise.

  1. Haul the boxes upstairs. Check my email once more for any last-minute orders. If any orders came in, I decide whether to include them in today’s shipments or start making tomorrow’s pile. I determine this by the lateness of the hour, the complexity of the order, and my own whim.

  1. Drive the boxes to the post office (and the UPS Store when necessary).

  1. Come home, log back in to Admin, and mark the orders Shipped.

  1. Ta-daaa!

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