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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, December 25, 2009

Look Forward to Looking Back

At last, Christmas is over! Traffic has drifted back below 200 daily visitors and just a few sales. I’m still shell-shocked from the workload. Where are all the emergencies? Lost and mis-shipped packages! Damaged and defective items! Fraudulent claims! Irate customers! It’s too quiet. Well, I guess people are probably going through the formality of presenting gifts right now. AFAIK I did not screw up any of my 600+ Christmas shipments this year.

I should probably try to find my telephone. I’ll bet there are voicemails.

I'm resisting the temptation to spew forth my 2009 statistics until the year actually ends, even though the remaining week isn't going to change much.

Things I’m pondering for 2010:

Exploiting Facebook. I’ve figured out the basics. I’ve got 50 fans (halfway to my goal of 100 by the end of 2010). I’ve got fan boxes on my blog and on the News page of my store, with a link in every newsletter. Short enough posts automatically go out over Twitter. Now I need to figure out what to use it for. Using “wall” posts for short news announcements and impromptu discount codes is obvious. But does the site itself have a role? How does it fit in with my store, my blog, and my email newsletters? How can I encourage participation? What kind of content do I need, and how much effort should I put into it? Most of all, how do I make it attract more fans? I think this has meaningful potential for marketing next year.

(Tentative answer: Use it to show the personal side of the business – pictures of me, my house, my car, etc – sort of like I tried to do years ago with the Kraken Enterprises website. Perhaps I could use it for personal/political subjects like my health insurance struggle. I need to explore some other business pages for ideas. The next version of Sunshop will reportedly include a Facebook product feed, so that could become a reason to advertise my page.)

Drop international shipping. I figure roughly 1-2% of my sales go to foreigners. Processing those is extra work and currency conversion fees make them less profitable. The requirement that I hand them to a postal employee, rather than drop them in a box, forces me to schedule a carrier pickup or wait in line at the post office. The rate of customer dissatisfaction is high, especially among Canadians thanks to their government’s vigilance about collecting stiff duties. The so-called global economy is a myth from a business-to-consumer viewpoint. Still, can I really afford to turn my back on up to 2% of my existing business if I want to reach 15% growth next year? Maybe I’ll just eliminate UPS Standard to Canada, which seems to generate most of my complaints.

Drop Google Checkout: Again, it’s a small percentage of my business, and I’m sure that those customers could find another way to pay. Exorbitant shipping rates probably repel as many sales as the GC badge attracts. Google is apparently never going to address the shipping bugs that I reported to them a couple of years ago. I cringe every time a GC customer pays $8 to UPS something that I could mail for $3, and I resent having to drive to the UPS store to drop it off. But I suppose that as long as some customers are willing to overpay, I should be happy to have their orders.

Discontinue Cards: Write all of those suckers off and close the department. I very rarely sell any, even at cost. This one’s a no-brainer. I’m just waiting for the calendar to flip so that I don’t ding this year’s profit.

Drop Giftwrapping: In all of 2009 I made only $118 selling giftwrapping service -- most of it in December, when my time is most precious. Now, I don’t mean to scoff at $118. But a product’s giftwrap option dialog prevents you from adding it to your cart directly from the category page; you have to go to the product page to choose “No giftwrapping”. That adds an extra click to most of my products. And last year I spent $149 on wrapping paper, so I didn’t even pay back my cost (admittedly, I bought a huge supply of my two most popular papers, and my wife appreciates the “free” wrapping paper at Christmastime). Giftwrapping doesn’t make financial sense and it makes shopping a little less convenient.

Rather than kill it, I revised my spreadsheet to take giftwrapping revenue out of sales and add it to payroll. I’ll be more kindly disposed to wrapping when the money goes directly into my pocket, and it’s mainly a labor expense anyway. Of course, this is just an Excel fiction; to QuickBooks, it’s just “Other” income. I would need to change that if I ever used QB to calculate my payroll, rather than just plugging in the number that Excel kicks out.

Another Raise: I’m going to raise payroll from 19% to 19.5% of net sales, effective with my next paycheck. If sales are on plan, I’ll achieve my 20% target in the fall.

Cosmetic Facelift: The latest Sunshop release added two new templates. You can see them at the demo store here. In the “Choose Your Theme” dialog at the top of the page, choose “Modern Black” to see the template that I use now. It’s functional, but tired. “Custom One” and “Custom Two” are new. The first one is an up-to-date commercial look. The second one’s more interesting, but I think it would wear out its welcome pretty quickly. I’d want to customize Custom One, rearranging some page elements and changing some colors. I’d also want to add some “Web 2.0” features (very simple animations, color changes, etc.). I need to find some examples that I like and ask Brad if he can implement it. What do you think? Is it enough of an improvement to justify spending hundreds of dollars?

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