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Vanessa’s Variety for the Week of February 8th 2008

Posted on February 8, 2008 by Vanessa

Wow, Super Tuesday, tornadoes, and an economic stimulus package passes!  How can one woman pay attention to everything going on in ecommerce.  Well I did and here's what I've brought you!

  • Aaron Wall of SEOBook may think that Commission Junction is garbage, we have reason to disagree.  Pay attention next week to see why Ryan thinks that CJ isn’t as bad as Aaron claims.
  • Amazon Product Ads has been around for at least 6 months, but is finally starting to pick up traction; our friend Brian Smith explains.
  • Marketing Pilgrim, Andy Beal, uses social media to determine Super Tuesday results before they happen.
  • Unsure who to vote for in the 2008 election?  This tool may help.
  • PPC campaigns can be tricky.  SEOmoz has figured out when to pause your PPC campaign.   


Should 2008 Election Opinions be Kept Hush Around the Office?

Posted on February 5, 2008 by Ellen

Excuse Me, Who did you vote for?

Should 2008 Election Opinions be Kept Hush Around the Office?


You may be asked this question in this frenzied Presidential election year, but should you answer?  From a human resources stand point I would recommend keeping this personal information to yourself.  While you and your colleagues may feel comfortable discussing your views and opinions on ecommerce, technology, and video games, be cautious of airing your political opinions.

Perhaps you’ve heard a few of these “one liners” whispered around your workplace lately:
“I don't know if you heard this or not but Fred Thompson has dropped out of the presidential race.  Don't worry about Fred, he can always go back to his prestigious fake law firm. ... packing the bags under his eyes” -David Letterman

As this 2008 Presidential race heats up and consumes the discussions on our televisions, at our dinner tables, and even at work, be aware of what you say at the workplace; political opinions are not protected against discrimination or retaliation.  As an “at will employee” if your “Romney loving” boss hates that you volunteer for Hillary Clinton, he or she can fire you.  If you are feeling pressured to share your opinions you are not alone.  According to a survey done by Vault.com "35 percent of bosses openly share their political views with employees. Nine percent of workers said they've felt pressured to conform to their boss' views."  So no matter who tickles your “political fancy” whether it be Barack Obama, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, Ron Paul or Mike Huckabee be careful what you say around the office, you don't know who you might end up offending.  Perhaps two pieces of tape across the mouth are your best bet.

 

10 Things That Every E-Commerce Customer Service Rep Should Be Equipped With

Posted on February 4, 2008 by josh

1. Product Training
It cannot be overstated how critical it is that your customer service reps, at a minimum, know your product offering.  A basic understanding of the features and benefits of your major categories is essential.  PlumberSurplus.com has had great success with the creation of training content that is available to customer service reps and customers via our online learning center.  We’ve included How-To Guides, Buying Guides, and Videos.  In addition, we record video for all internal product training sessions and post it to our company intranet.

2. Sales Training
Beyond basic telephone skills and scripts, it is important that your customer service reps are given appropriate, ongoing sales training.  This includes cross-selling and upselling techniques, current and upcoming marketing and merchandising efforts, and tips for handling angry or difficult customers.

3. A Fast Internet Connection
Any e-commerce employee will tell you how frustrating it is to be faced with unnecessary internet slowing. This is especially true as more and more applications transition from desktop to web apps and more businesses utilize hosted solutions.

4. Two or More Available Phone Lines
Your reps will inevitably be faced with the need to call UPS or FedEx while the customer is on hold. Your customers will demand information in real time that requires a phone call.  Your reps will too.

5. Decision-making Guidelines
If you don’t give your customer service reps at least a little bit of decision making latitude, they will not feel empowered to do their job.

6. Roboform
Any e-commerce employee with 43 distinct login names and passwords will tell you what a pain it is to keep track of all of them.  Roboform is a password manager, form filler, and password generator.  This little gem is a huge time saver and comes in a few different flavors.  There is a free version that allows for up to 10 passcards, or a Pro version that retails for $39.90 with two licenses.

7. Dual Monitors
This may seem like a superfluous luxury, but having the extra real estate can really make a difference.  A typical e-commerce customer service rep doesn’t work with a single application.  Usually they’ll have multiple web browsers, some backend or CRM application, email, and maybe instant messaging open at any give time. Give your reps another monitor.  It’s cheap, it will save them time and they will love you for it.  Keep in mind, though, that you will need a secondary graphics card; these are also very cheap.

Customer Service Representative with Two Monitors

 

8. Your Time
As a customer service manager or supervisor your time is extremely valuable.  However, it is imperative that you make yourself available to your reps.  Often a customer service role can be unforgiving with spurts of angry or upset customers.  Your department’s morale will benefit greatly from your accessibility.

9. Collaboration Tools
Your customer service reps need to be able to share information with one another easily.  Give them access to tools that make it easy for them to communicate and work together.  Google Docs & Spreadsheets has helped us a great deal, and it doesn’t cost you anything.

10. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Tools
CRM is the process by which a company stores, tracks, and analyzes customer experience data.  You don’t have to go out and buy a unified SAP solution to give your reps CRM tools.  Even a small e-commerce business can take advantage of inexpensive, but highly useful tools like SugarCRM or LivePerson.  SugarCRM is an open source CRM platform that is available for free; although there will be costs associated with development, deployment, and training. SugarCRM also offers paid solutions, depending on needs. LivePerson, widely known as a chat solution, is also a useful tool for communicating with customers via email and phone.  LivePerson, at a minimum, will allow your customer service reps to chat with customers and track email history with your customers via an email ticketing system.  LivePerson’s small business package is licensed per seat, but it is well worth the cost.

*Bonus

11. Instant Messaging (IM)
Many companies have debated internally about the implementation of IM because of privacy and productivity.  In e-commerce, it is almost a necessity.  Try to communicate a URL to a fellow customer service rep over the phone.  Waiting for an email to come across can be frustrating.  IM makes it easier and faster to communicate some things.  Your reps will frequently need quick information from other reps for help, the warehouse for an update, your marketing team for promotional clarification, etc.

 

Vanessa’s Variety for the Week of February 1st 2008

Posted on February 1, 2008 by Vanessa

We may not be able to cover every ecommerce and entrepreneurship topic out there so here are some interesting selections that made it in to this week’s “Variety”.

  • Congratulations to Frank Adante of the Rubicon Project for raising $21 million in funding

  • If you sell on eBay make sure to register for their webinar regarding their new pricing changes that go in to effect on February 20, 2008

  • For those of you who may not know how the changes eBay made will affect you check out Scot Wingo’s forum on eBay Strategies

  • The February 2008 edition of Wired Magazine has an article written by Frank Rose called “The Secret Life of a Blog Post” the article is interesting, if you don’t subscribe to the magazine you can view the image at this blog 

 

Google Spruces Up ConversionUniversity.com

Posted on January 31, 2008 by Zach

Google has just updated their Conversion University help section.  ConversionUniversity.com is now available in all 25 Google Analytics supported languages. From help on optimizing your AdWords ROI to Google Website Optimizer testing strategies, Conversion University's mission is to offer tips and best practices designed to help you improve your online results. One of my biggest frustrations with Google Analytics has been its limited amount of documentation and support, just try to add some of the advanced Google analytics code for Google checkout, Live Person or switch tracking code versions, and you'll soon realize that it is a much harder task then you would have at first realized.  It is certainly good to see new documentation and resources getting some attention. If someone is looking for a fully supported analytics solution Google does still offer Urchin Web Analytics Software for purchase which is available through their partners. I did run through most of the topics present and found the Google Conversion University YouTube playlist especially helpful and interesting.

 

IMAP Policies: How the Supreme Court Affects Internet Retailers

Posted on January 31, 2008 by Archives

In June of this year the Supreme Court heard the case of Leegin Creative Leather Products, INC. vs. PSKS, INC.. In a 5-4 decision, led by Justice Kennedy, the Court held that manufacturers can enforce IMAP policies, which set minimum pricing standards for retailers. The Leegin ruling overturned the 1911 ruling of Dr. Miles Medical Co. vs John D. Park & Sons Co. (220 U.S. 373) that stated it was illegal under the Sherman Act for a manufacturer and retailer to agree on set minimum prices that the retailer can charge. Leegin successfully chipped away another small portion of the anti-trust laws, established almost a century ago.  In two lower court decisions, the court favored PSKS, citing the Anti-Trust laws as their support. Forbes.com quotes Justice Kennedy when explaining the 2007 Leegin decision:

"the rule of reason is the accepted standard" for determining whether a case is in violation of antitrust law. He [Kennedy] argued that a bevy of economic evidence exists to support the claim that price-setting agreements can actually promote competition and is "unlikely to have anticompetitive effects."  

In recent times, the Supreme Court has heard several anti-trust cases; ruling in favor of the defendants being sued for anticompetitive conduct in each instance.

Defense for IMAP’s

Internet Minimum Advertising Policies (IMAP) are programs that manufacturers utilize in order to keep retailers from advertising prices below a specified amount. The general argument, by manufacturers and the Court, in favor of the IMAP:

  • curbs loss leaders
  • encourages healthy competition
  • increases customer service efforts

Loss Leaders

Loss leaders is a marketing terms used to describe a pricing strategy that markets products at a significantly reduced price in order to attract customer’s attention. Retailers count on customers purchasing the discounted product along with products that are not discounted. This can be an effective strategy, however, the downside is when an entire business model is to be the “low price leader” and subsequently undercuts all their competition with low prices.

 It is not uncommon for internet retailers to receive several legal notices a week regarding strict adherence to manufacturer’s IMAP’s. The reality is, few e-tailers acknowledge manufacturer IMAP’s. Some online companies do not always focus on customer service to win customer loyalty, instead they depend on loss leaders. E-tailers that depend on loss leaders will ignore manufacturer IMAP’s under the presumption that the legal battle is too expensive for the manufacturer to go after every e-tailer; therefore they will probably not face consequences. When not all e-tailers follow the IMAP policy, it is difficult for one or two companies to agree to manufacturer price minimums, when they know the outcome is decreased sales. The decision ultimately becomes: loose business to competitors vs. obey the IMAP.

Healthy Competition

Healthy competition, among retailers and e-tailers a like, ensures an improved customer experience. Healthy competition revolves around:
availability of product information

  • Learning Center
    • Definitions
    • Buying Guides
    • How-To Instructions
    • Videos
  • site design and functionality
  • promotions
  • Customer policies


When businesses focus on these aspects to attract customers, their customer’s will notice the difference. They will feel secure and encouraged in purchasing from a reliable company.

Customer Service

Perhaps the largest effect of adhering to manufacturer IMAP’s, thus having an increased price, as well as competing with other businesses, is the increased customer service efforts. Customer service departments strive to meet customer demands to maintain customer loyalty. Customer satisfaction guarantees are common and policies like “Yes! We can!” and “Just say Yes!” are emerging. This focus on customer service is a tremendous benefit that results from healthy competition. Customer service departments use features like Live Person, that allow instant access to customer service representatives without the cost of a phone call; and provide account information online, at the click of a button, for the most current, up to date order status information.

As more manufacturer’s begin to crack down on IMAP’s and similar policies, the more the court is going to have to revisit anti-trust laws. As new rulings are handed down, the affect is not only on the business involved in the lawsuit, but on every other retail business, even online. Customer’s may notice fewer highly discounted products as businesses begin to conform to IMAP’s; however, customer’s should be thankful for IMAP’s in that they encourage healthy competition among businesses and will bring an elevated overall customer service experience.

 

PlumberSurplus.com Google Checkout Sweepstakes Gives Away First DeWALT Radio

Posted on January 31, 2008 by Vanessa

Google Checkout Sweepstakes

Our first Google checkout sweepstakes winner has been chosen!  PlumberSurplus.com customer Laurie from Minden, Nevada was the first person to be chosen as a winner for the DeWalt DC011 Heavy-Duty Worksite Radio/Charger. The DeWalt DC011 is a cordless workplace radio that also charges DeWALT power tools.

The Co-operative Approach

Creating, developing, and advertising for promotions on our site has been a partnership between us and our various suppliers.  In this particular instance we knew we wanted to do a promotion that would drive customers to use Google Checkout.  We also wanted to promote the fact that we carry a large tool offering.  In an effort to tackle both of these requirements we proposed a give away to our supplier.  The proposal was simple; if the supplier will provide the giveaway item then we will provide advertising, banners and promotional statements focused on their particular product offering.  Not only were they able to provide the product but they were able to provide a product that works in conjunction with other DeWALT tools.  This was a great idea, customers and potential winners could then be persuaded to buy DeWALT products now and in the future, in hopes of winning a radio that not only sounds great but charges their tools as well.

Promoting Google Checkout

Running a Google Checkout promotion benefits us as the merchant and our customers.  Using Google Checkout can provide our customers with a quick and easy way to checkout on websites integrating Google Checkout.  Once the customer has created their Google Checkout account they no longer have to enter their billing and shipping information at the time of purchase.  Instead the customer clicks the Google Checkout button, logs in to their secure account and clicks “Place your order now”, and they’re done.  There are multiple reasons for online retailers to use Google Checkout, especially as an AdWords user.  As an AdWords advertiser merchants can earn free transaction processing through Google Checkout.  For every dollar that is spent on AdWords each month, merchants can process $10 in sales the following month through Google Checkout for free.  Not only that but transaction fees have been free since Google Checkout launched and will remain free until January 31st of 2008.  As an early adopter we have been able to take advantage of this since August of 2006.

Everybody Wins!

Consumers love promotions, especially those in which they do not have to do anything in order to win.  This promotion helped to drive sales to our supplier that offered the giveaway product as well as driving sales across the board, while minimizing transaction fees.

In fact everyone seemed to enjoy the promotion, not only did our customers have the benefit of being entered in a sweepstakes but were also able to take advantage of the security and convenience of Google Checkout… even our warehouse seemed to have fun with it checkout Greg as he ships the prize to the lucky winner.

Shipping the DeWALT DC011 Cordless Workplace Radio to the Lucky Winner

 

Google Creates Webmaster Tools Quick Start Guide

Posted on January 31, 2008 by Zach

Google recently created the Google Webmaster Tools Quick Start Guide which covers the main features of Google Webmaster Tools and will help you to get started right away. If you are new or unfamiliar with Google Webmaster Tools this is a great resource. Each of the main areas of Google Webmaster Tools is outlined with information on key functionalities.  Google Webmaster Tools is a great resource for viewing which of your pages are included in Google's index, see any errors encountered while crawling your site, find search queries that list your site as a result, find out which sites link to yours and more.  As an e-commerce site we consistently use Google Webmaster Tools to make sure that our sitemaps are working correctly, Google is indexing our site effectively, we are up to date on terms that we are ranking for, and so forth.  For those that want to collect this information the quick start guide is a good place to get started.

 

Learn how to decipher the designer and gain an insight into terms like eclectic, contemporary, and classic

Posted on December 13, 2007 by Zach

Learn how to decipher the designer and gain an insight into terms like eclectic, contemporary, and classic

Remodeled Eclectic Kitchen Courtesy of KohlerYou are ready to hire a designer but throughout the interview process you find that their terminology may be far different than yours. So what does it mean when your potential designer starts throwing around terms like: eclectic, modern, contemporary and classic? A few simple illustrations may be helpful in deciphering this mystery.

Eclectic is referred to as a mixture between combining old and new. This decorating style combines a variety of materials, colors, styles, furniture and accessories to create one synchronized look. While this may sound like an easy task, making the room unified can be challenging. In order to make the task of creating a balanced room easier consider the room as a whole instead of multiple areas and then gradually layer the fabrics, furniture and accessories to create the eclectic look. Choosing an element that merges all of these pieces together will make the room look balanced, adding a unifying color or theme throughout the room will help accomplish this task.

Remodeled Contemporary Bathroom Courtesy of JacuzziWhen properly executed the eclectic interior displays different time periods, traditions, ethnicities and materials without boundaries. The trend toward eclecticism is gaining popularity in design circles because it gives the client the ability to showcase their personality without sacrificing style.

Contemporary designs and modern designs have been synonymous in the past but these ideas can vary from one designer to the next. Both are considered to have characteristics of what is popular at the time, but in the design world contemporary often focuses on soft clean lines, whereas modern is often referred to as having bold accessories. When choosing a theme for your remodel be sure to clarify your ideas of what these terms mean as opposed to what your designers ideas are.

Remodeled Classic Bathroom Courtesy of American StandardA classic remodel is one that will withstand trends and will adhere to traditional thought, for these reasons a classic design is also referred to as being high in quality. Classic designs are seen as being especially balanced and formal while at the same time simple and conservative. Uniting all of these qualities can be hard to achieve. To do so, ample space is needed for storage, which will help keep the room looking clean and allow the focus to be on the furniture, colors and accessories that both the designer and the client deem necessary. Many designers will choose to do a restoration of the room instead of a remodel to keep a classic design.

Designs are not limited to these design styles. Personal style and functional needs should be the priority when planning your remodeling projects even if that means combining basic designs like eclectic, contemporary and classic.