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, December 26, 2014

The Old Bait-and-Switch

Curio City needs three service companies. I've been with Turnkey Web Tools, creator of the Sunshop shopping cart, from the beginning. It's familiar, it's reliably supported, and I can recommend it with minor reservations. Then there's my web host, MDD Hosting, upon whose server Curio City actually lives. I drifted through at least four bad homes before settling into MDD, whom I can't recommend highly enough. I hope that they'll keep on doing what they're doing forever and never be acquired or go belly up.

Finally, there's my so-called "merchant services provider" -- that's bank-speak for credit card  processing. This is a sleazy, deceptive industry that skims money from every sale for providing a token (but indispensible) automated service. Byzantine pricing structures make comparing bank plans as difficult as choosing a new mattress or negotiating a car price and just as enjoyable. 

These banks like to change their terms every time contracts come up for renewal. Last April the bank that I'd been using for a couple of years suddenly started screwing up. After a few weeks of drama didn't solve anything they broke off communication and forced me to jump ship. Ultimately I surprised myself and went with PayPal.  

It turned out to be a smart move. Total bank service charges fell by 24% ($634) year-over-year, right in line with the $700 savings that I had estimated. So my heart sank when PayPal sent me an email called "Updates to Your PayPal Pricing." Crap. 

Here at PayPal, we're periodically looking at our customer accounts to make sure services and rates fit your account activity and needs. Because of that, we determined that you might be paying a non-standard rate on some or all of the PayPal transactions associated with your account.

On February 1, 2015 we will transfer your account to the standard rate, you don't need to do anything. For new rate information, you can check out our PayPal User Agreement. With that update, when you process any transactions through Payments Pro or Virtual Terminal products, you will be charged the rates outlined here for those transactions.

My transaction fee will rise from 2.2 to 2.9% and I'll start paying $30 a month to use their PayPal Pro gateway. The monthly fee alone wipes out half of what I was saving and the additional 0.7% will more than swallow the rest. That means I'm back in the market for a new merchant services provider yet again -- which is why I used those keywords in this post. The spam floodgates are open.

"No annual contract" seemed like a selling point last April. Here we see the downside. Oh well, even if I'd locked in my rates the contract would have been up in a couple more months. I wonder if appealing to the salesman who gave me the sweetheart rates would do any good. I'm going to give that a shot after the holidays. Nothing good ever happens during the last two weeks of the year. 


Now the rhythm of a new year begins. I slew the $6,100+ Mastercard bill (including nearly $100 in interest from last month's unpaid balance...ouch!) with $1,500 to spare. I need $600 to cover my last Christmas paycheck next Monday and another $4,100 for the government, my CPA, and Amex, ideally by late January. That means raising $3,400 on top of normal operating expenses between now and then. Historically, I can expect $4,300 in sales. If it looks like I'm going to make it, I can start rebuilding inventory after my next credit card statement closes on Jan. 12.

Right now I'm trying to whittle back advertising without killing sales. During the peak  I was spending well over $50 per day on clicks. This week, daily sales struggled to reach $50. 

Last week I mentioned that I didn't have any serious competition for Metal Earth keywords. This week I've been in a bidding war. The lowest qualifying page-one bid has crept up by a penny or two every day. Their price point and sales velocity are too low to justify spending very much on ads. I decided to suspend my Metal Earth ads until I can afford to beef up my depleted stock. Maybe the lull will make my competitor complacent...assuming that he isn't a script, that is. You can't outbid a script until it hits its cap, and that's usually way too high.


  1. Anonymous4:19 PM

    That email was spam. Don't believe it. Call your PayPal support line to confirm. Don't click links. Forward the email to the PayPal's spam email address. Scrub your computer!

  2. PayPal verified that you're right -- it was a phishing expedition. Thanks for tipping me off. I'm pretty sure I didn't give away anything, but will practice some hygiene just in case. I'm usually good at spotting those; this one was unusually convincing.


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