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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, June 04, 2010

Switching Up Switchables...Again

Switchables Stained Glass Nightlights are one of a few good things that have ever come from the Cavalcade of Crap. Years ago, Curio City became the first store to sell them online. Sales were solid and the markups were good. Craftspeople even propelled the basic fixture onto my Bestsellers list by buying a dozen at a time.

Nothing lasts long on the Internet. Competitors moved in and sales slowed. Some of these newcomers must have used professional Search Engine Optimization – or maybe sleazy tricks like link farms – to knock my pages down from the top of Google’s natural search results. The orders finally stopped coming in altogether. A new web store devoted exclusively to Switchables, with their name in its URL (no link here for obvious reasons, but it’s much too easy to find), killed the category. It’s nicer than my site and obviously has some money behind it. Faced with the prospect of investing in the latest new styles, I considered discontinuing the line.

My natural reaction to bullies is always to turn tail and run. Then I heard my dad’s voice counseling “Pick up a stick and beat them bloody. Do whatever it takes to win.” (Loyd hated seeing his skinny weakling son get pushed around).

It turned out that most of this big galoot’s prices were higher than mine. I also had a slight edge over their shipping charge for small orders. I cut a few prices and jazzed up my ads, and the line recovered a pulse. Encouraged, I moved all of the Switchables pages out of the Nightlights category and into their own subcategory in a bid to regain my natural search positions.

Big mistake. Google’s crawler apparently doesn’t like digging down two levels. So this week I moved them again, to a top-level category. It’s inconsistent with my overall organizational scheme, and it will take time for Google to re-index the pages, and I’ll lose the advantage of longevity…but it’s worth a try. Anything that makes the store easier to shop is good, organizational principles be damned; if it works I’ll extend the approach to other products. Switchables are moribund and new summer designs will soon demand more inventory dollars.

If this effort doesn’t work by Christmastime, I’m getting out of the Switchables biz. I’ve already got nearly $2,000 invested there and can’t afford to tie up more inventory dollars in a line that I have to keep poking with a stick. They might have become too mainstream to be a Curio City product anymore -- another victim of popularity.

Footnote: Eight hours after I finished doing this task, I got a nice $50 Switchables order. Coincidence? Of course it is. But gratifying all the same.


  1. Paula1:06 PM

    I hope you don't mind some suggestions from your sister :).

    It's a dog-eat-dog world out there on the internet... get mean, and do whatever you have to do to destroy the competition and undercut your competitors. This is no time to be nice.

    If these are a consistently good seller for you, then promote them as a flagship product (your custom golf balls too, if you're still doing those).

    I'd even take it a step further... promote your fast, high-quality service and your dedicated PERSONAL attention to your customers in big bold type on your mainpage. Let your customers know up front that they're your top priority, and if their order isn't right then you'll personally do whatever it takes to make it right. This is the kind of thing that potential customers want to see.

    Think about your own shopping habits on the internet... if you're like me, when you decide on a product you're going to shop around and buy it where ever you can get the best price and the best service. You shy away from any internet business that feels cheap or shady.

    Give your customers a place to leave feedback on your products and service, if you haven't already done so. I know it's a bit risky to do that, but that's exactly the kind of thing that potential customers are going to be looking for. People are very keen to being taken advantage of or being cheated out of their money... you have to win their trust within a few seconds of their arrival, because it's all that they're going to give you in cyberland.

    A clearly displayed customer guarantee of fast, quality service - and a promise of personal attention to their order by the owner of the business himself - could be the deciding factor for potential customers who are scanning websites for a good price on their desired item.

    I had the same good advice from Dad, btw, I followed his advice years ago to deal with some vicious bullies in high school and never looked back. I've gleefully beaten quite a few bullies into a scorched, bloody pulp over the years... probably the Irish in me.

    I'm so good at it now that I consider it a second hobby :).

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write up that long response, Paula. You're right overall, but I should explain a couple of points.

    First: 82% of my visitors arrive via search engines, which means that they land on a product page or category page. My front page doesn't do much heavy lifting. A very small minority learns about the company from my Shipping/Returns, News, and Terms of Use pages, but the vast majority never go past the landing page (and checkout, hopefully!) The category strip on the left is my best way to entice exploration. The Shipping/Returns page is my best shot at presenting my company.

    Second: My software is template-driven. I control my content, but I have to hire a programmer who knows PHP and CSS to change my layouts. The cosmetic facelift that I'd planned for this year fell victim to big unexpected expenses for theft, floods, etc.

    Third: Curio City's concept is built upon unusual merchandise. When something goes mainstream, it's time to leave it behind. Switchables might be on the cusp of making that transition (as PurseHooks and other lines have done in the past). Sometimes it's worth going toe-to-toe, but most lines undermine my concept when the mass market discovers them. Last year's bestselling Whisky Stones are suddenly everywhere, and bottom-feeders are eroding the price point. I'll probably drop them when my stock runs out.

    Finally: "Satisfaction guarantees" are dangerous because there are shoppers who deliberately exploit them for free merchandise. My returns policy makes it clear that happy customers are my priority...but stops short of a blanket satisfaction guarantee.


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