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, September 26, 2014

Et Tu, Google: September Stumbles

As of Wednesday morning, I needed to make $210 by today to cover my scheduled Mastercard payment and avoid paying another finance charge. It would be a nail-biter, but doable. Then Google dropped this gem into my morning email:

"Dear Google Shopping Merchant,

"It has come to our attention that your Merchant Center account does not comply with our Google Shopping Policies available at (URL).

"Your Merchant Center account has been suspended and your product listings no longer appear on Google Shopping.

Lovely. WTF did I do? I've been uploading the same product feed for years with only minor changes from month to month. My sin wasn't immediately apparent among the pages and pages of general policy bullshit at that URL. I appealed. On Wednesday night, I was still waiting. Wednesday's sales? Zero.

Google Shopping used to be called Google Base and it used to be free. Some time ago Google decided to charge merchants to use it. Google Shopping is where I advertise all of the products that I don't advertise directly through AdWords. Google somehow automatically builds and displays ads...somewhere. I think "Google Shopping" is its own thing, a destination for people who actually like to shop. 

I spend $175 a month to buy 755 clicks there -- 1/3 of my monthly ad buy. Losing it is like having one hand tied behind my back, if I had three hands. How it works and who goes there are all very mysterious to me, but back when I was getting conversion data I was sure it was worthwhile. While researching this post I discovered that Google is showing 0 conversions in all of my campaigns for the past 30 days.

On Thursday morning they said 

I have good news, after further review of your account, you have been approved to participate in Google Shopping! It looks like there was a technical issue discovered and fixed.

Oh, joy. There were actually "issues" both on their end and on mine, thanks to my template change. Sales resumed normally on Thursday, but as of this afternoon I'm still $97 short of covering that charge bill. 

Now, what about those conversion reports?

Turns out that one must insert a code snippet into one's order confirmation page. I did that for my old template so many years ago that I'd completely forgotten about it and it got lost in my last upgrade (that's what I get for hiring Turnkey instead of my own developer). Trying to fix it, I first added the code to the wrong files and broke checkout entirely. I think I got it figured out, but I won't know if it's really tracking conversions until somebody actually clicks an ad and buys something.  

None of this would be noteworthy if I weren't racing the calendar to cover that damned credit card bill. Google's little "technical issue" might have screwed me. 

Oh well, on to the numbers! This was my first red month since April, and it's a doozy.


Total income: -28.1%
Total COGS: -27.9%
Payroll: -17.2%

Marketing: -54.0%
Net Income (Profit): +82% (+$612)

Year to Date

Total income: +9.5%
Total COGS: +38.2%
Payroll: -32%

Marketing: +1.4%
Net Income (Profit): +49.9% (+$5,006)

Holding down COGS and especially marketing offset the big drop in total income enough to actually improve the bottom line a little. I lost $135 this month, compared to $746 last September. Even though the year is $5,000 in the red, I was losing $10,000 at this time LY.

Is my site makeover to blame for this change in fortune, or is the timing a coincidence? I don't know. We'll see if October recovers.

Friday, September 19, 2014

It's a Wrap! (Eventually)

Now that I'm using a mobile-friendly "responsive" theme, I'm courting smartphone users instead of trying to deflect their clicks. Yes, mobile shoppers are still of much lower quality than desktop, laptop, and even tablet users. People seldom buy anything on the telephone unless they do it the old-fashioned voice way. But the mobile market segment is growing too quickly to ignore and Google is bullish on mobile, so one must fall in line.

Therefore it is time, once again, to reconsider giftwrapping. 

When one clicks (or taps) the Add to Cart button of a product that has options, Sunshop opens the product detail page instead of putting the item in the shopping cart. Almost all of my products have options, and most of those are giftwrap choices. Real computer users figure this out quickly enough, but it's less obvious on a phone. You don't want to confuse somebody who just decided to make a purchase...especially not the easily distracted and impatient mobile shoppers. They're too likely to leave when the Add to Cart button doesn't add to cart. 

I'd be OK with some of them dropping away if more than one person in a thousand ever bought giftwrapping, but that extra screen just inconveniences the 99.9% of my customers who take the default "No giftwrapping" option. 

I like giftwrapping because it's pure profit that goes directly into my pocket and pads my paychecks by $100-120 per year. Earning $3 in a few minutes blows away my usual $3 per hour pittance. I dislike giftwrapping because it only ever sells during the Christmas season, when I can least spare the extra order processing time.

Now that we're right on the verge of that season, I've decided to keep the giftwrap option through one more Christmas before I kill it.     

Business remains breathtakingly bad, as next week's numbers will show. This week is going to be the second-worst of the year.

Friday, September 12, 2014

If You Change It, They Might Leave

I had hoped that Curio City's big makeover would quickly bring a noticeable pickup in business -- in fact, with Christmas breathing down my neck, I was kind of counting on it. Instead this month's sales are running nearly 50% behind LY and beating the stuffing out of my YTD gain. To add more injury to injury, I just had to authorize a $95 return. I'm very likely going to have to carry a credit card balance again this month...which means that I have negative money just when I need to drop my Christmas orders.

Spam, however, is booming. The krakenenterprises.com email address that I get through GoDaddy suddenly started getting buried under 30-40 junk messages a day a couple of weeks ago. Virtually all of them are from the same sender (who puts serial numbers in the subject line). I've had this address for 10 years and don't want GoDaddy to go nuclear on it, so I'm just putting up with it until their heuristics catch up.

It pisses me off, though. Every time I hear Outlook's email chime, I check to see if I have a new order. In two days this week I had 68 spams without a single order.

You know what else pisses me off? Many of my customers never get email from Curio City, even when I'm replying to a contact that they initiated. I anybody has ever sent spam from the IP address of my shared server -- and they have -- then I am forever blackballed by some email services. Gmail moves my messages to a "commercial senders" folder that nobody ever checks. Needless to say, Curio City has never spammed anybody. Even my email newsletter is an opt-in list with just a couple of hundred members, and I don't think I've sent two newsletters all year.

Some Russian scammer can hammer my inbox 40 times a day while I can't send legitimate mail to actual customers. Small businesses face all kinds of hurdles. Some of them are so stupid you just want to throw in the towel.

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