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, October 28, 2016

Scary October Numbers for Halloween

The nice juicy Christmas orders that should've started showing up a couple of weeks ago were AWOL this year. I only averaged one small sale per day for most of the month, leading up to what might become the worst October ever (another $53 over the next day and a half cinches second-worst, and just $75 would soar to third-worst). This week was more normal, thanks to my first real Christmas order (for Switchables) finally arriving on Wednesday, so perhaps November will be okay.   


Total income: -37.2%
Total COGS: -50.1%
Payroll: -47%
Marketing: -54.1%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: +87.7% (+$601)
Actual Profit/Loss: -$85


Total income: -8.9%
Total COGS: -9.5%
Payroll: -9.3%
Marketing: -12.4%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: +8.8% (+$239)
Actual Profit/Loss: -$2,473

How to explain that? I made multiple improvements to my site over the past month, the biggest being the switchover from "http" to "https" pages. That might have screwed me over in the short run, but should still be a net positive. Or maybe not; I just don't know. Maybe people are holding onto their money because they fear the impending Trump or Clinton (take your pick) regime.

The bottom line actually looks surprisingly good given the dire top line. I've been stepping on costs ruthlessly, and advertising is my biggest controllable cost. As you would expect, cutting advertising is bound to hurt sales, but it's still a win if the expense falls proportionately more than the income does.

Once the calendar flips next week we're fully off to the Christmas races. Last November I cranked the advertising up to unprofitable levels to drive strong income. I'm not going to do that this year, although I'm going to step it up somewhat. Here's hoping that Panther Vision beanies can find their audience without my having to buy the traffic, because those were the whole story last year. 


After a 10-year run, Switchables is shutting down in December (and has already transitioned into liquidation mode). That's such a huge deal that it deserves its own post next week.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Christmas Don't Be Late

Last October brought four Christmas orders of $250 or more. I haven't had any big sales yet this month. October's slow when you strip away the Christmas sales, so that puts me way more than $1,000 behind already.   

And yet, my credit card debt keeps ballooning with Christmas merchandise orders. Holiday sales don't shift into second gear until Halloween, so I'm not alarmed yet -- concerned, yes, but not alarmed. In three weeks I'll have nearly all of my holiday stuff in stock, whereupon I can stop shelling out money and start taking it in...I hope. It kind of has to work that way. It always has.

I just threw away a tempting pitch for a  business loan from an outfit called Funding Circle because they require $125,000 in annual revenues for a minimum loan of $25,000. I'm just too small and insignificant; Curio City probably won't even gross $60,000 this year and I only need $10,000 (although spending $25,000 could be fun). Their interest rate would have been about half of what American Express is going to start charging me in January, but their loan origination fee would have wiped out some of the benefit of refinancing, and I'd have been locked into regular payments.

So waiting for those Christmas orders is still the only plan I've got. If you haven't started your shopping yet, now would be good. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Loose Ends

Remember when I bitched about getting a chargeback from a Switchables customer who claimed unauthorized use of her card? That was on Sept. 7. I challenged the claim the next day and PayPal market it "disputed" on 9/25. All this time, I've been expecting them to snatch away $76.06 plus at least $25 in fees. Well, on Monday I discovered that it's marked Closed. Their explanation reads:

Using the information you provided, we are in the process of disputing this chargeback with the buyer's credit card company. Please note that this dispute process can take 75 days or more and that there is no guarantee that we will be successful in our attempt to recover your funds. If we are successful, we will promptly return to your account any recovered funds that we previously debited for this chargeback. We will notify you of any updates about this case by email and in the Resolution Center.
This matter has been resolved and no funds were debited from your account for this chargeback. We were charged a fee for processing this chargeback and have debited your account a Chargeback Settlement Fee.

They never did notify me of any updates and I'm quite sure they didn't take a fee, so I'm skeptical that it's really over and done. I've been keeping a $125 minimum balance just in case. If I've really heard the last of it, this will be the first chargeback dispute I've ever won. I tagged this as a Reason to Hate Banks, but it's really a reason to un-hate PayPal.


Last week I announced the Skeleton Hand Jewelry Holder on Facebook, as I routinely do with new products. A day earlier I had announced the Skull Tidy and gotten the usual 23 views and one Like. For some reason, the Skeleton Hand got three Shares and was seen by 151 people -- almost surely a new record. (On Facebook, Likes are copper pieces and Shares are gold pieces). After a newsletter autoposted to Facebook I got more than 200 views for the week. Only one of those 200 people clicked through to my store and s/he didn't buy anything. I learned long ago that Facebook advertising is useless, but one click from 200 impressions is impressively awful.  


Believe it or not, the Google tracking code saga grinds on. It's working right about 75% of the time. My developer, who graciously put in far more hours than I paid him for, is stymied by that other 25%. So am I. 

My years as a Quality Assurance tester taught me that reproducing a bug is often the hardest part of fixing it; you can't fix what you can't understand, and you can't understand what you can't see. His code is probably fine -- it should either work or not -- so the fault is most likely either in Sunshop, or in individual customer checkout processes. Are they using smartphones or computers? Apple or Windows or Android? PayPal or credit cards? I started a spreadsheet to look for patterns, but Analytics only gives me aggregate information about users' technology -- I can't see it for each transaction. With a sample size of just four conversions this week, it looks random to me. I might not even be asking the right questions.  

He can't work on the script any further without more information; at some point I might just have to accept that half-working is as good as it gets. But I'm going to compile data for a couple of weeks before that happens. I might have fixed it a few days ago by pasting his script into a page called by the long checkout form that my template supposedly doesn't use -- I haven't seen a failure since I did that.

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