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.
Friday, October 03, 2014
Running On Fumes
An unusual number of customers are asking to return merchandise while sales remain in the crapper. Tightening up my return policy discouraged at least one person from shipping back an unsalable used bird kite. I'm conflict-averse and I don't like saying "no." I'd like to have an open no-questions-asked policy like huge retailers do, but I can't swallow a loss every time somebody changes their mind or decides the product wasn't quite what they wanted -- especially when sales are running at historically poor levels.
Business is wicked bad. With Christmas closing in I should be averaging $1,000 a week; this week is struggling to break $300. Is my new template to blame? The timing is suspicious. I doubt that a contemporary makeover would repel shoppers, but Google might be punishing some technical change that I don't understand (such as displaying images with Cloud Zoom instead of Flash, whatever that is). I'm not even sure that my conversion tracking fix worked. The order confirmation page's source code shows the Google script and what looks like output from that script. But AdWords still has not claimed credit for a single conversion in the past week, and since I only had 10 sales that zero might be an accurate count.
With some effort, I could revert to my old look and see if things come back. I hate to go backwards, for obvious reasons, but I haven't ruled it out.
I blame this year's huge omission: Products. Kite sales fell off right on schedule. Last year, lighted caps and Switchables stepped into the gap. Nowadays the only Panther Vision products that ever sell are the odd runner's cap or visor -- things that most stores don't carry. After all these years it's hardly surprising that somebody else finally poached my lighted cap sales by either undercutting the retail price or offering personalization. Switchables seems to be having its own issues; there were no new fall designs for the first time ever and they're chronically sold out of most of their popular styles. Golf ball sales have been limping all year. Historically, I sell 36-48 sets of Halloween golf balls in September and October. This year? None.
Problem is, I don't have a line on any promising new products. I need to reorder a few things (like Lexco cases and Alice in Wonderland cards) that have sold down to near zero. I want to bring in a smattering of new novelties from the spring and fall catalogs of my usual vendors...but those are what's called "long tail" items -- I'll bring in a dozen of each and consider any that sell more than six pieces winners. They make my store interesting to shop, but I don't make much money on them. There's just nothing that might become the Next Big Thing.
Well, I couldn't buy them anyway with the cash flow spigot closed. All I can do is stomp on costs and hope that the worm turns. As long as I keep plugging away, it always does sooner or later.
Taking a page from Republican economic policy, I cut my handling charge from $0.55 to $0.50 per order. This "tax cut" reduces the 0.25-pound shipping charge from $3.05 to a nice round $3. Sunshop (or the USPS; I'm not sure who's to blame) considers packages weighing less than four ounces to be letters, not parcels. A 0.25 pound item collects a $3 shipping fee while a 0.2 pound item only collects $0.83. The actual cost is $2.01 when purchased online or $2.50 over the counter.
Like any Republican economic policy, this will only reduce my revenue and add to my deficit. But I do like the $3 price point.
My spammer is still setting off Outlook's email chime 20-25 times a day. Every time that "ding" announces spam instead of a sale I dutifully add the new address to my spam filter. Of course, the spammer just changes it with each new spam, so my filter blocks less than 10% of the sewage that flows through it. It's a good thing I don't have an automatic weapon, because I sure understand the rage that makes people go berserk.