Archive | January, 2013

Why Internet Stores Fail to Stay In Business

29 Jan

As the owner of a small internet website that’s operated for 14 plus years and as an avid customer to hundreds of other online websites, I feel that I have my finger on the pulse of what it takes to run a successful online store.

There have been countless times that I have discovered a policy (or lack thereof) that made me think “whoa, how do they stay in business operating that way?” And inevitably the answer is “they don’t”.

So let’s look at the top 10 reasons that internet stores fail.

What can you do to keep online customers happy?

What can you do to keep online customers happy?

1. They try to be all things to all people. This might be the single hardest thing for a store owner to stick to but it’s one of the most important.  If a customer asks for something that you do not offer, you want to be able to give it to them.  DON’T. If you are going to specialize in making bracelets out of  stones and a customer calls or e-mails you and asks you if you can make earrings out of bottle caps, you should probably politely pass.  Why?  Well, do you have all the supplies without making a special trip? Do you have the time to learn how to make the “best” bottle cap earrings that you can make? Yes, I believe in good customer service, and yes I believe in accommodating the customer in every way possible but I stop short of filling special requests for products that are not something that we currently offer. It’s costly, it’s a time drain and if you’ve done your market research correctly, it’s really not something that’s going to make you money. When a customer calls our store with a request that is not something we do, we concentrate on explaining to them what we can do and this extra attention almost always results in a sale.

2. They fail to communicate in a timely basis with their customers.  If a customer e-mails and asks a question, that question should be answered within the next 2 hours, preferably sooner. This includes evenings up until 9PM.  How many times have you found an item that you’d like to buy in an online store, but you just have “one little question” that you need answered?  So, you click on the e-mail us link, ask your question and then….. nothing.  Just the other morning I needed 1 more of a particular plush animal that I didn’t have enough of in stock.  I scoured the internet and found what I was looking for in a small shop.  Since I was paying for shipping this lighter weight item, it was more economical to order multiples so I decided I to order three.  And because it appeared to be a small shop I e-mailed to find out if they had 3 in their inventory. I waited all day and no reply. Since it was Friday and I really needed them quickly I ordered 3 and in the SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS section I said, “I have ordered 3 but only really need 1. Please don’t hold up my order if you don’t have the full amount in stock. Just adjust my credit card and send what you have.”  I got the automatic order receipt but nothing else. There was a link in the receipt to check my order status.  I clicked on it the following Tuesday morning and what was my status?  Nothing. Grrrr.  No matter what happens from this moment on, how likely would I be to order from this store again?

3. They don’t offer PayPal as a form of payment. Let me just say that I don’t work for or own stock in PayPal. It’s just that if I’m doing business on the internet and am not familiar with a store, I am significantly more inclined to make my purchase if they offer PayPal as a form of payment. Why?  Well, I don’t have to hand out my credit card info to a place that I’m not familiar with. I am comfortable that with PayPal I have more protection from being a victim of fraud.

4. They don’t change their websites with the seasons/holidays. If a retail website has no indication on it that there is an upcoming holiday, I wonder about it.  Conversely, if I shop a website in February that still has Elf and Santa Claus pics, then I would worry about shopping with them too.  It’s like a huge sign that says “no one really monitors this website.”

5. They don’t put themselves in their customer’s shoes. Frequently, we get customers who are in a hurry and don’t read our “Delivery” section and aren’t sure what delivery method to choose.  Many times they will choose Standard Overnight delivery (very expensive) when Regular Ground Delivery would get it there in the same time frame.  We always e-mail the customer, explain the cost savings and offer to change their delivery and reduce their costs.  It’s what we’d want someone to do for us. Same goes for obvious typos on the enclosure cards.  We correct any glaring errors because we believe that part of our responsibility is to make our customers look good.

Free Social Media Tips for Small Business

22 Jan
So much Social Media, so little time.

So much Social Media, so little time.

Did you ever feel like the whole Social Media world was changing so fast you had to get up 2 hours earlier in the morning just so you wouldn’t get lost with what changed overnight?  Me too!

So, I thought it might be helpful to explain my understanding of the various social media outlets in an easy to understand format.

FACEBOOK – This is a perfect outlet for any small business.  Pestering the hell out of friends and relatives to buy your products will certainly increase sales. Your friends will buy something  just so you’ll leave them alone!  Who wants to really “shop” for anything while they are reading a post about a high school crush getting a divorce??!!

TWITTER – A great source for getting new followers to learn about your business.  It is especially effective if you use the word “FREE” in your headline – that’s what I did and guess what? YOU are reading this!

YouTube – This is the perfect medium for a small business to demonstrate how their products work.  If you aren’t much to look at, have a  really attractive person do the video. If they are “hot”enough, it doesn’t even make a difference if your product is any good, a LOT of people will buy it anyway.

GFC – I just learned about this today!  I’m really excited.  Apparently it stands for Google Friend Connect.  What a wonderful way to get the word out!  Wait, I just read it was actually discontinued for non-Blogger sites on March 1, 2012. Damn, I just knew that I should have gotten up earlier….

PINTEREST – Fabulous, fabulous site. This is especially great for any small businesses that offer a highly visual or highly creative product that they have worked on for years, painstakingly perfecting their craft.  There is no greater high then seeing someone has re-pinned their product……under the topic “DIY” – even better “Weekend Projects for Kids.”

KLOUT – I had to check this out when my great aunt told me about it. She said it analyzes all of your social media and gives you a rating between 1 and 100 to show how much you influence people. My great aunt’s score was 77.  My company’s score was 36… Hmmm.

I hope you’ve found this information helpful.

5 Ways to Stop Telemarketers from Bothering You

16 Jan

We’ve all been there. You are right in the middle of doing a project which requires both hands and getting ready to address the most complicated part when BBBRRRNNNNGG, your telephone rings.  As a small business owner, letting the call go to voice mail could result in the loss of a sale, so I drop what I’m doing and run for the phone. And what do I get for the disruption and inconvenience? A telemarketer who wants to sell me a “loan” for my business. A loan that I didn’t apply for, don’t need and suspect comes with a HUGE interest rate if I were dumb enough to accept it.

Now the first time a telemarketer calls, I always give them the benefit of the doubt.  Everyone has a job, and this one is theirs. Out of respect and courtesy I firmly state I am not interested and to please remove my number from their database.

But when the second or third time rolls around, it takes its toll.  So what methods can you use to deter future calls?

And while we’re talking about unwanted interruptions, what about those pesky e-mails?  The ones you get several times a week for things that either you have no interest in whatsoever or for things that you “thought” at one time you might want but have since decided against it.  Guess you aren’t allowed to change your mind. Ever. Day in and day out, you have to manually delete those e-mails that the Spam filter missed.

What do you do? I’ve come up with a few methods that have worked for me and I thought I’d share them with you.

Make it NOT worth his time to keep calling back.

Make it NOT worth his time to keep calling back.

1. Why would they ask that?

Answer the phone and act enthusiastic about everything they have to say. When they stop to breathe, ask a question about a service or product that is completely unrelated to what they are calling you about.  For instance, if it’s for a loan ask “How many times a year would you recommend that the furnace be cleaned?”  The first time, they will more than likely pause for a minute and then they will continue trying to close you. At this point ask a second question that is not only unrelated to the product/service that they are talking about but also on a completely different topic from the previous question that you asked – example- “Do you know how far the drive is from Newark to Tallahassee?  About this time you should hear a dial tone. SCORE!

2. Auto Forward Company Executives

Research the company and find one department’s e-mail address or even better the individual e-mail address for a senior level executive with the company.  Forward the e-mail to the individual, explain that you have asked to be removed from the e-mail list but, as of yet, this has not happened.  Explain that you are now going to forward each and every e-mail you get from his/her company to them.  More than likely you will get either an automated reply or a reply that states they don’t “handle” that department.  That’s ok.  Because now you are going to use your e-mail program and set up a mail message rule that will automatically forward each e-mail you receive from that company to the person that you contacted and then automatically delete it from your system.  About the 4th forwarded e-mail the VP of Finance gets, you can bet it will be taken care of.

3.  Terminal Hold

Again, act very interested in what they have to say. After about 1 minute, ask them if they can hold on a second.  Put them on hold.  Walk away from the phone. Take a walk around the block.  The first time they will more than likely call again. Act as if you have no idea that they called before and again act interested. After another minute ask if you can put them on hold for just a second. Run to the store on an errand. Repeat as often as necessary – shouldn’t have to do this very many times.

4. Ask for explanations

Answer the phone and as soon as they tell you who they are (or ask for the owner) change into an alternate voice.  If you can do an accent, that would be even better.  Ask about their product but use your new accent and if you can change accents in the middle of speaking, that’s even better.  Every time they ask you a question, pretend not to understand a particular word and ask them to explain what that word is.  For instance, if they say they want you to subscribe to a magazine  you would say “Subscreeepshune, what is word subscreepshune? I not fameeeeleure with zhis verd. Explain to me pleeeeeze.” I want to bet that after the 4th word inquiry  (if you get that far) they will give up.

5. Bad connection

Similar to #4, you could act like you have a really bad connection. Talk loudly and ask them to repeat every sentence. Reply with variations of what they’ve told you.  For instance, if they have said “We’d like to update our listing” then reply “My face needs misting?” – again, the more bizarre your “take” on the conversation is, all the better!

I hope you find these methods helpful and if you have any of your own that have been successful, please post it in the comments below as I’d love to add some to my collection.

Valentine Giveaway at Funky-Monkey

14 Jan
Valentine Candy Bar Pizza

Valentine Candy Bar Pizza – perfect gift for anyone you love on around Valentine’s Day.

Just a quick heads up!  We are participating in a Valentine give away with Funky-Monkey.

We are giving away a Valentine Candy Bar Pizza – a big winner for anyone you consider sweet. There is also a 20% discount coupon good until January 31, 2013 that you can use to advance purchase any Valentine gift of your choice.

What is a Valentine Candy Bar Pizza?

Glad you asked!  It arrives in a festive looking pizza box but when it’s opened, it is a pizza made completely out of mini candy bars.  Snickers, Baby Ruth, Butterfingers, Milky Way and more!

The great thing about this gift is that it’s perfect for anyone you think is sweet. It’s perfect for college students, favorite customers or coworkers – just about anyone you’d like to make smile.

So, don’t delay and hurry on over to Funky-Monkey to enter!

Fairy Tale Success Story

11 Jan

Times are tough.  The economy hasn’t been great, our congress can’t seem to put their differences aside and earning a college degree – which used to mean guaranteed employment – doesn’t seem to guarantee anything anymore.

For this reason I’d like to share an honest to goodness all American success story.  A story about a girl who believed if she followed her passion, worked as hard as she could and created her own opportunities would succeed in her chosen career.bailey

Bailey was born and raised in a small town in Ohio.  She attended Ohio University and after changing her major several times decided to choose Sport Management. Her parents weren’t too sure about her choice since she had exhibited almost zero interest in sports since she stopped playing basketball in the 5th grade.  They did recall that she loved to watch football – especially when “her” Pittsburgh Steelers would play her father’s Cleveland Browns – and you know how that usually ended!

As she grew closer to her graduation date, her mother in particular worried herself sick. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe her daughter was talented.  It wasn’t that she didn’t believe her daughter wouldn’t work hard. It was more about the lack of opportunities in the immediate area.  Since Bailey hadn’t yet secured a position prior to graduation, it would mean that she would return home to an area that was severely lacking in job opportunities. Not only would she not be able to land a job within the sport industry, she’d be lucky to land a job asking people if they wanted the larger sized drink for only .25 cents more!

So mom got busy.  She scoured the ads and came across an internship for a fan based Sport Blog. It didn’t pay anything but she felt that while Bailey was looking for a “real job” it would be great experience.  She e-mailed the ad to her daughter and Bailey sent in a writing sample.  Within a short amount of time, an editor replied that he would like for her to come aboard and that he “had a really good feeling” about her capabilities. So the plan was set. She would write part time, send out resumes and help her mother build traffic to the Sports Section on her website.

Now let me just say that at this moment I’m not entirely sure that it wasn’t a form letter. Perhaps this editor said that to almost everyone he hired. But even if it was – what a great thing to say to a young college graduate and talk about the power of living up to expectations. Can you imagine a world where people just “had a really good feeling” about everyone they met?

And so Bailey began to write – and I mean write.  She wrote something like 5 or 6 articles a day.  She would write about football, basketball, baseball, wrestling – you name it, she would write about it.  They assigned her all kinds of different articles about every imaginable sport and whatever it was, she wrote about it.

This particular Blog also kept track of “reads” for each writer.  It was posted prominently on the website and each time an article was posted, the family would gather around the computer and hit “refresh” every couple of minutes gasping with delight as the  read count grew by 10 or so. It was a real rush for the family and aunts and uncles would call and express encouragement as they followed her budding career. And since she was a female in a field that is still predominately male, she garnered a following that was impressed a young girl would know so much about sports.

And then she was approached to “try out” for a job with the department that was responsible for driving the most traffic to the site. It was up to them to know the “hot” topics, the topics that people would want to read and to make sure that they wrote timely articles. There was  a small daily stipend as I recall, but not much – good thing she was still living home!

She ended the first week of try outs and things seemed to be going well. Her new Editor/Manager was in touch with her daily and her articles were all getting decent reads (4K – 10K was the average).  And then he went on vacation for a few days and his boss, took over.  He assigned Bailey articles all day long and she wrote them. It got to be the end of the week, late on a Friday and she was tired.  Really tired.  The last article assigned to her that week was one that she wasn’t particularly interested in and the research was tedious. She struggled through it and eventually finished it early in the evening. When she finished, her mother heard her say for the one and only time in her career “It’s good enough.”  Those words worried her mom. It wasn’t like Bailey and, after all, this was a trial period. She was being evaluated against others.

She didn’t hear anything over the weekend. Monday and Tuesday came and went and nobody contacted her. Her e-mail to her editor inquiring about her future with the company went unanswered.  It was pretty obvious that she was going to be passed over. But this is the part that you need to pay attention to.  Did Bailey throw in the towel?  Did she say “Well, maybe things will work out next time?” Nope.  As she stood in line at the grocery store, she glanced at a women’s magazine that had an article on the front page that sparked her interest. She knew that that company she wrote for was almost all men and that she brought something unique to the table.  She knew what article to write and she went home and wrote it.  And the family gathered around to watch. 5k, 10K, 20K, 40K  reads later, they hugged each other as she had written something that had earned more reads than any of the previous articles that she had been assigned. More reads, in fact, than most articles on the entire website normally earned.

Reads were off the chart

Article got tons of reads

The next day the phone rang – it was the editor calling her back and offering her a job (a real paying job) with the company.  Although the family never got the full story, they got enough to put together a scenario. There had been a meeting the day before and upper management wanted to know who assigned the article that got the phenomenal number of hits.  Her editor has an “aha” moment and informed them that it was a trial writer and that he had decided to offer her a permanent full time position. Everyone in the room agreed.

Bailey has now been relocated (and promoted) twice in the 2 years she’s been with the company. They first moved her to NYC and then six months later to the home office in San Francisco. She’s 24 years old, absolutely loves her job, is passionate about her company – and is living her dream.

True story. My daughter.

Men and Valentine’s Day

9 Jan

What will YOU choose to put inside your Love Cake delivery?

It is no secret that Valentine’s Day is a hugely popular holiday for us at CookiePots.com.  And while having a popular product around Valentine’s Day is nothing new for florists and perfume counters, we are somewhat novel because we don’t specialize in gifts for women – we specialize in gifts for men.

Think about it. We’re pretty easy to buy for on Valentine’s Day. Who doesn’t love a dozen roses or a nice bottle of some new perfume?  But buying something for the man in your life? Whoa! Now, that’s a little trickier.

We all know that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and we definitely capitalize on that at our company. But we add a twist. When gals come to purchase their Valentine’s Day gifts, they have a choice when they reach our “romance” page. They can be “nice” (by choosing to send a cookie or candy gift) or they can be “naughty” and send a cookie or candy gift that has one or more slightly naughty extras.

The first year we did this it was such a hoot. You just never know what lurks behind a women’s polite voice. We would get a big chuckle out of the very quiet, almost timid women customers who would place their orders for one of our Love Candy Cakes and when we would ask if they wanted to add any options to the inside (thinking they would say “brownies or cookies” and instead they would answer, “Yes, please add the handcuffs.” Wait, what?

And then there was a little old lady in a retirement community who had not one but two boyfriends that sent love cakes to EACH of her gentlemen friends – fully loaded with all of the naughty extras!

My favorite story, however, is a good lesson for all boyfriends and husbands. First, you have to understand that we begin receiving Valentine orders in January. Now add to that fact that in order to have all the gifts arrive just before or on Valentine’s Day it means that all of the items have to be made within about 5 days time.

This means that we all arrive early, work long days, go home exhausted, drag ourselves out of bed the next day and repeat the process for the full 5 days.

One year, we decided to have a contest. Each designer would come up with a brand new original design and the winner (judged by the number of orders it got) would win a Valentine bonus. That year, one designer came up with the CookiePot design we call The Boy Toy. This particular design won by a complete landslide. Every single employee would have been able to make a Boy Toy that year blindfolded.

It was just after this week that one of the designer’s husbands decided that he’d send a CookiePot to his wife for Valentine’s Day. Not only did the gal not want a CookiePot of any kind (since she had worked all week making them) but he managed to order the Boy Toy winning design which (drum roll) was NOT the design that she had come up with. Talk about double whammy – ouch! So fellas, never (ever) send your girlfriend or wife something that she makes herself, sells or works with on a daily basis.

Good things come in small packages!

3 Jan

iStock_000021678838XSmallWhen I was a preteen, one of my fondest memories was clipping the coupon from TEEN magazine to send away for a Bonne Belle trial sampler. You simply filled out your mailing address on the coupon and sent it with something like $1.25 to cover postage. In about 6 weeks your package arrived with your handwritten clipped coupon taped on the outside and used as a shipping label.

The anticipation was almost too much for me. After the first 4 weeks of waiting passed, I would race to the mailbox each day to see if my “special delivery” had arrived. Somehow, even if the mailbox was empty, just knowing that I was going to receive my goodies very soon was satisfying in itself.

When that brightly colored red, white & blue striped cylinder finally did arrive – well, it was simply too exciting. Inside there would be fairly generous samples of their astringent, highlighter, blush and lip gloss. I would spend the rest of the day trying on the makeup and experimenting with different looks. The whole experience was glorious and when I think back on those years, it still makes me smile.

I’ve shared this story with my family and never thought anyone really listened or “got” how special this memory was for me. This Christmas, I discovered that I was wrong!

A few days before Christmas I got a package in the mail from Birchbox . I had not heard of them before, so I opened the outside wrapper to discover a bright pink and white striped box and inside (nestled in tissue paper) were sample sized items of a variety of beauty products.

Opening each item and trying it out is a delightful experience.

Opening each item and trying it out is a delightful experience.

The concept with Birchbox is that you can “try out” beauty products that you might not otherwise know about and then purchase those items from their site in full sized versions for which you accumulate “points”. I went online as instructed and filled out my “profile” so that they knew my skin and hair type, beauty concerns, age, etc. so that they could send me products in the future that would be a good match for me.

Of course, it instantly brought back memories of my preteen deliveries and made me smile again. It was a wonderful gift and I can’t wait for my next delivery – perhaps I’ll go check the mailbox now!

Is common courtesy a thing of the past?

1 Jan

All the things I could have said!

All the things I could have said!

Honestly? It ticked me off 3 days ago and when I think about now, I’m still ticked off!

I was waiting in line at a shoe store with my DH to pay for a pair of winter boots. There was another customer in front of us and the transaction was taking an unusually long time. After about 10 minutes, the cashier called for another employee to open up the second cash register.

At the same time she called for the other employee, another customer entered the store, heard the announcement and immediately ran (literally ran) to the other register. This customer was no kid. I would guess that she was in her late 40’s – possibly early 50’s. My husband and I walked around the circle to wait in line behind her and all the while I’m seething.

And I’m pretty sure she realized at that point that she was “line crashing” because she raised her voice and explained to the cashier that she was just making a “quick exchange.”

Quick Exchange??? Let’s see.
-Return one product back into inventory.
-Refund money.
-Ring up the second item.
-Pay for it.

Hmmm, I’m not seeing (or feeling) like this rude line crasher’s “quick exchange” excuse had any validity.

I’m a wonderful “after the fact” person. And by that I mean that I can always come up with a witty retort, hysterical gesture or perfect solution – but it’s always after the situation has concluded. So I did nothing. Well, nothing except mutter a sentence about common courtesy at which time my DH gently elbowed me signaling that it wasn’t that big of a deal and to let it drop.

I stayed silent (hating myself) and watched as she exited the store and got into a car that was (HUGE SURPRISE) parked in the “no parking” area directly in front of the store. My, my, my – this woman just disregarded anyone (and apparently anything) that got in her way.

As I thought about it over the last couple of days, it reminded me of a conversation I had with myiStock_000010513793XSmall daughter when she got her first “outside the family business job” as a waitress for a chain restaurant. After the first couple of nights she said, “You know mom, it just never occurred to me that people would treat waitresses any different than you and dad do. You guys are always kind to everyone.” She didn’t elaborate, but I got the impression that she had her first taste of how rude people can be.

My mother always told me that you could always judge a man by the way he treated his mother and the way he treated a waitress. She was right. I ended up marrying a man who is kind and gentle to both and have never regretted it.

I’m mostly ticked at myself for letting it bother me. With all the problems in the world, if this is the worst thing that happens this week, than I guess I’m pretty fortunate.

And what would I say to this rude woman now that I’ve had a chance to think about it? Not a thing. I would just smile to myself knowing that I never barge in front of someone else, that I try to be kind to everyone I meet and that I raised my children to be the same way. Leading by example.