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, August 21, 2009

Upgrade Today for a Rewarding Tomorrow

Alert the media: I’m finally running Sunshop 4.2.0! The upgrade went smoothly, considering that it was my new developer’s first experience with both the software and my store; I’m encouraged about future projects (like the 4.2.1 upgrade that’s due out within weeks). Now I can finally offer a semblance of the customer rewards program that I envisioned in my original site design four years ago. The trick is setting the values high enough to motivate customers without breaking the bank. Three new customers who placed orders on the Rewards Program’s first day didn’t earn points because they didn’t create accounts, but a long-time customer just earned the program's first points a few minutes ago. Nice to see a newsletter pay off!

I had originally set $10 to earn 1 point, with 1 point being worth 50 cents (a 5% rebate). Anne declared that earning 50 cents is not very enticing. So I decided to make the points more valuable (1 point = $1) but harder to earn ($20 = 1 point). It’s still a 5% rebate, but the perceived value is higher...and I can hold double-point promotions with less confusion than raising and lowering the value of points would cause.

Switchables stained glass night lights, once among my strongest product lines, stopped selling entirely when a new competitor appeared. Apparently this retailer is following the “Tentacles of the Kraken” strategy that I rejected as too labor-intensive for a one-man operation. The new store – one of five that they operate -- is named after the product. It sells the entire line (including dozens of cutesy designs that I rejected). Because they carry nothing else, they can offer cheap fixed-rate shipping – something I can’t match because Sunshop won’t let me define shipping costs by product category. That’s a lot of obstacles for me. They have a bigger (and less thoughtful) selection…they are named after the product…their prices are the same as mine…and they have cheaper shipping. Oh, and a brand new, nicer-looking store, too. To top it off they’re outbidding me on most of my keywords. Bummer. I hate when somebody new comes along to eat my lunch…but that’s capitalism for you.

Well, the lunch was free for a long time. Now I face a dilemma: Should I order the new August styles and try to compete, even though the line has died completely? Or should I just try to liquidate my substantial inventory and cede the business to the new kids?

I have longevity going for me. I worked hard to achieve natural page-one Google search results. Shoppers (like me) who run AdBlock, or who ignore paid search ads, should find my store first. Also, some of the many people who’ve ordered Switchables from me in the past ought to come back for more -- customer loyalty again. I'm still in the game as long as I have those two things going for me.

As long as I’m telling fascinating product stories…DayClocks made a decent comeback when I started discounting them. A quick spot check found only one serious discounter ($24.99 on Amazon.com plus free shipping? WTF?). A couple of other stores are still doing the shady old “free shipping” on an inflated price trick. I reduced my discount by a buck to see what happens. I'd love to get full price for these clocks again.

Incidentally, I want to widen this blog’s focus to include more general thoughts about life, politics, the economy, etc. – the context in which Curio City exists, in other words. I’ve said that before, and I’m sure my legions of fans want to know Curio City’s take on health care reform, for example. Such subjects are more likely to win the attention of social media users as I continue to grapple with Facebook and (moan) Twitter. This week I just happened to have a lot of store-related news.

Speaking of Facebook, see that new signup box in the right column? Yeah, don’t be shy. Click that “Become a Fan” button right now. I’ll send you infrequent announcements and, once I have a few fans who aren’t friends and family, special discount codes, too.

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