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Behind the Scenes at CookiePots.com

3 Feb
We attempt to stay ahead of the orders by "pre" building our Candy Bar Love Cakes.

We attempt to stay ahead of the orders by “pre” building our Candy Bar Love Cakes.

The only people that can fully appreciate how busy we get at CookiePots during the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day are current or former employees and my immediate family.  Just to give you an idea, we put up a preview of our Valentine offerings in mid December and begin getting orders as early as the first week in January.  Customers that have ordered in the past know that we only have “so much” of the romantic add-ons and if they want the best selection they need to order early. You don’t want to be the customer with her heart set on Chocolate Cherry Body Heat Lotion that is told we only have Watermelon left in stock!

We often compare the achy, totally exhausted feeling that we start experiencing around the 4th of February to childbirth because as soon as it’s over you tell yourself that, “it really wasn’t that bad” until you hit the next year and remember that  YES, it really was that bad!

The first tough thing is inventory.  Although we sell our “romantic” items all year long, we just don’t have the space for extra love lotions, racy games or dozens of handcuffs if they don’t sell over the Valentine’s week. So figuring out what will sell each year and what won’t requires me to be part magician and part psychic. I usually start by ordering slightly more of any of the products that sold out the year before.  This method isn’t fool proof but it usually is about right.  I then try to pick out at least 2 new items that I think will appeal to my predominately female customer base over Valentine’s season. I then have to make sure we have enough “sticks” for the cookies that we do for the bouquets and also the right amount and color of cellophane. And don’t even get me started on pots, shipping boxes, bubble wrap and packing tape.

bouquet-inventory

No matter how many Romantic Candy Bouquets we make ahead of time, we just can’t seem to keep up with all of the last minute orders!

Each year we also attempt to work ahead on everything that we can possibly do before hand.  We fold and tape up shipping boxes, we assemble “poofs” and wrap pots for the CookiePot Bouquets and we try to completely build those items that aren’t perishable such as our Candy Bar “Love” Cakes and our Stud Kits.  But even those have options that customers can choose so we can’t even finish all of those completely before the orders come in.

Since we hand write all the messages that customers leave on the enclosure (or POP-Up) cards, we can also do those ahead of time. I also remind my children and husband that they will be on call if we fall behind and need their assistance. This is usually met with a collective groan.

flash-me-1

There is no other special feeling like receiving a “naughty” Cookie Pot Bouquet.

And then there is the critical communication with our customers.  A lot of gals ask for delivery right on Valentine’s Day. This always leaves me a little uncomfortable because all of our gifts are delivered by Federal Express.  Now, considering all of the packages that FedEx delivers each day, they do an admirable job. But, and this is a big BUT, things can always get in the way.  Sometimes packages are put on the wrong truck, sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate and sometimes recipient’s aren’t home and the location is such the FedEx driver doesn’t feel comfortable leaving the package without a signature. These are all elements that can delay the delivery by a day.  For this reason, we normally suggest to our customers that we aim for February 13, and put a “Do Not Open Until Valentine’s Day” message on the outside of the box.  This way we’ve compensated for any delays that would make the gift arrive late.  We always feel that one day early is always preferable to any days late – especially when we are talking about Valentine’s Day!

And when it’s all done and a week has passed we tell each other that it really wasn’t that bad. Right!

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.

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.