Archive for April, 2009

Customer Support For $292/hr

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

This blog is the Marketing Hall of Fame, and if we had awards, this would win the award for biggest balls, if you don't mind me saying that.

Customer support. It's a sticky subject! Looking around the eBay industry, some companies have email-only support.. but you should get help, and it's free. Some companies have phone support. Some is free, and some is paid. Some companies pick up their phones while others leave you in an endless voice mail universe.

Today, I saw this blog post about Frooition charging for customer support. Before you get your undies in a bunch and say I'm just saying bad things about my competition, they're not my competition. You can't get what we do from them, I refuse to let my company do work that looks like that, and I certainly don't treat my customers like this. I compete with them about as much as a BMW 7 series car competes with that really tiny Kia that doesn't have power windows. :)

So Froo have decided that just as their clients are having a lot of problems with all their broken eBay Stores, eBay listing templates with amazing elements that can work against your sales, and Froo server downtime, now's a great time to start charging people to solve their problems.

The most amazing move is that evidently NO customer service is now free. If you want to email and not pay, you may never get a response, as the Froo site describes it. So free email support is now gone. If you need help, you're opening your wallet.

£199/hr is what you'll pay if you want your problem turned around in one day. With the British Pound around $1.47 right now, that's $292.53 an hour for customer support.

If you have a non-urgent problem (?), you can pay £99 per hour for a 5-day turnaround time. That's $145.53 to us Americans.

If you've ever been to the Froo site, then you may have seen their "we have open jobs page," where they were hiring a "junior designer" for £12/hour. So some guy works for £12/hr, and you get to pay £199/hr for that. Froo certainly know how to mark stuff up to make some profit!

We bill at $100/hr, but then again, we don't charge people to fix things we broke. Froo happily sold you a non-compliant eBay Store that they knew broke rules, they sold it to you up to the moment eBay announced they were cracking down on those Stores, they are charging to "fix" these Stores (they call it an upgrade), and now you can pay for customer support time.

I think that if Froo are doing this, not only must they be in financial trouble and under pressure to bring in revenue and profit, but they are also just not very good at this whole marketing thing. They should still have free support, especially when their servers are going down, and especially when eBay is cracking down on rules that make Froo eBay Stores break. And they should mark up their rates just slightly. For example, if you're paying staff £12/hr, and a good eBay consultant might charge £30/hr, charge £40/hr. You're still making a huge profit, and you're still taking a rate people might pay to get help.

But to jump straight to £99 and £199/hr says, "Don't get in touch with us. We don't want to give you support, so we're pricing it so high that very few people will ever take advantage of it. Just don't call us… we don't want to hear from you." It also says, "We don't care if you stay with us or leave to hire another company. Between charging you to fix your eBay Store and charging you for support, we'd rather just not deal with you."

That's what it says to me, and that's bad marketing. It tells me that they don't want to hear from people asking about the servers going down or asking about their Store breaking. You can pay to ask those questions, or just not ask them to save money.

To Froo customers, I say speak with your British Pound, and go somewhere else. There are plenty of companies out there who would love to have your business. My company welcomes you as well. :) We give $500 discounts to anybody dropping a Froo template to have us work our magic. We're always compliant, and our contract says that we fix broken things that are our fault for free. Imagine a company standing behind its work. :)


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Expert Consultant, At Your Door

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Last week, a client called me. He seemed nervous about his business. He was ready to grow and to be more efficient, but wasn't too sure about the big picture or all the little pictures that make up the big picture. He said that if there were an eBay Live event, he'd want to meet with me. But without that event, he wasn't sure how we'd get together.

Long story short, he invited me to fly to where he is. He covered my expenses, and I gave him a well-discounted rate for my personal time. Who am I? Well, if you don't know me, here's my website about me as a public speaker and consultant. Your might also know me as Debbie Levitt, CEO of As Was. :)

So on Thursday 16 April, I bought tickets to fly to him on Saturday 18 April. I stayed through the evening of Monday 20 April. We got an incredible amount done, from planning the big picture, working on changing how his listings would look, fixing a few things in the eBay listing template we had made for him, and training his wife on some HTML and Photoshop so she can help him out.

It was fantastically productive, and it was great to connect with such nice people with a good business model. My client is a bit quirky, so when I asked him to summarise the adventure for my blog, here is what he sent:

With the giant-headed intellect of an alien the smiling, caring, helpful
Debbie Levitt, As Was Founder and CEO, came in for a landing at my humble
abode, and my eCommerce business and family were enriched spiritually and
financially. Debbie is an extraordinary talent and wonderful human being
to boot. An on-site visit at my home over a work/fun-filled weekend will
be paying big dividends going forward. I highly recommend this type of
interaction for any of Debbie’s clients or soon to be clients. It was
positively awesome.

I wanted to let people know that I'm available to travel to you, wherever you are, and stay as many days as we need to get you the help you need. You don't have to be an As Was client for me to come and consult on-site for you. And I'm not an alien. :)

If you'd like to get a quote on me travelling to you, please turn the following into an email address, and email me.

deb AAAAAAAAAAT debbie levitt DOOOOOOOOOOOT commmmmmmmm. Trying to avoid spam. :)


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Rumour of eBay Certified Seller

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

I have been hearing some rumours about an eBay Certified Seller programme. First, let me say that I have heard NOTHING about this. I know nothing. I don't even know if it exists. But I've been reading the posts and speculation, and wanted to throw in my 2 cents.

For the first time in my life, I actually agreed with something someone posted in response to this on AuctionBytes. He or she basically said that Certified Seller sounded like another thing to add on a giant pile of ratings, titles, and categorisations eBay already has for sellers.

  • Feedback
  • DSR
  • PowerSeller logo and levels
  • Feedback stars
  • Percentages and tiers
  • Being sorted into Best Match

I think I'd agree. I think we have enough ways to certify or qualify sellers. I have bought from plenty of eBay sellers, and I think we know everything we need to know to organise sellers by quality or reliability.

If eBay would re-tweak Best Match so that DSRs and other "seller standing" parameters were the MOST important factor, then eBay would be serving me (statistically) the best sellers. Period. The best people!

But right now, "Recent Sales" has been tweaked as more important, as far as I can tell. This means you are more likely to get a seller who has a large inventory over a seller with really high ratings. I think this is wrong. I don't care how many the guy has… I just want to have a really good shopping and buying experience.

For those of you who are fans of my mockups of eBay pages (how I think the pages should look), you might remember that I started taking OFF things like feedback stars. In reality, so few of these things mean something to shoppers. Does a shopper care if you have a purple star? Does the shopper care if you recently changed your ID? Does the shopper look at these and even know what they mean? If they don't know what they mean, then they might be confusing or misleading.

Which is why I want to get rid of anything on eBay pages that is meaningless to the shopper. If this doesn't enhance the sale, why is it there? It might be just another thing the shopper has to read or think about, and that can slow down or derail shopping. Adding that a seller is "certified" may not mean anything more to shoppers than PowerSeller or anything else we throw at them.

I compare this to the time I tried to get to know Bonanzle. The site told me that some items were "in a bonanza." I had no idea what that meant, and there was no obvious explanation. So I gave up and left. I felt like there was a lingo that I wasn't hip to, so I was just an outsider. I think eBay should stay away from too many titles and lingo that isn't totally obvious and totally helpful to shoppers.


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Pay-For-Tweet

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

There has been a lot of discussion lately about "truth in advertising," especially relating to blogging. I'll be writing articles about that too. But today, I stumbled on TwittAd.com.

You are basically "selling" TwittAd's advertisers the right to post things to your Twitter account. You get paid for the ads. You're selling out your contacts. Here's how it works, copied and pasted from their website:

1 Post Twitter account for advertisers to purchase
2 Select your duration & price
3 Wait for advertiser to purchase
4 Accept or Deny the proposed ad within 48 hours of purchase
5 If you accept the ad we will use the Twitter API to upload the ad to your Twitter profile
6 1-Tweet Promo Sent
7 At the end of the tenure Final Tweet Sent

The other option they offer is instead of putting your account up for "rent" (as I'll call it), you can search their campaigns, and see if any advertiser matches something you'd like to get paid to tweet.

Oh wait, there's more. I just found this in the FAQ:

You have the option of selling your background for 7-days, 15 days, 1
Month, 3 Months. Once the advertisement has expired, you can resubmit
your profile for purchase on TwittAd.com.

Yeah, you read that right. You're renting your Twitter background as ad space.

Well, good luck to the people who give this a try.


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People in Boston are Strict

Monday, April 13th, 2009

I've lived in Boston a few months now, and the one thing I've noticed is that people are strict. People are often humourless, and lacking flexibility. Deadlines are really hard. I'm used to Arizona, and I'm also used to NOT treating people like that. I'm used to BEING flexible, so I often expect others to be flexible.

I belong to meetup.com groups. Last week, I realised I could make an event the day before the event. It was a new group, and I was only one of 4 people attending, including the organiser. I decided to change my RSVP to NO so I could see my husband's band play. I got a message the next day that due to unforeseen circumstances, the organiser of the group had cancelled the event and completely closed the group. The end. No first meeting. No group. ?!?!?

Another group I'm in charges $10 for each person to go to the event. I had RSVP'ed yes, but forgot to pay. The organiser sent out an email last week saying that if you didn't pay $10 immediately, she would go in and manually change you to a NO RSVP. I emailed her to please not change me, and I would pay some time the next day.

9:40am the next day, I get an email that my RSVP was changed to NO. She had set it so that nobody could change that to YES. You could keep it at NO, or you could change to "waiting list," neither of which prompted you to pay her stinking $10. So now I'm trying to figure out how to pay this and be considered a YES.

Jeez, strict.

Last week, I was driving down a street that was 2-lanes in my direction. I was trying to follow my GPS, and was not familiar with where I was. I was in the left lane. All of a sudden, the left lane I was driving in had a left turn arrow. I was surprised, and didn't feel like I had time to make a decision. There was a cab right next to me, so I'd have to hit my brakes, signal, and move to the right lane. I noticed that both lanes continued after the intersection, which was weird. So thinking I had no time to do anything else, I just continued through the intersection.

Lights started flashing. I was pulled over by the police. They told me it was against the law to be in a turning lane and NOT make a turn or NOT get out of the lane. I broke a law. Talk about strict. I explained to the officer that I was trying to follow my GPS, I was driving along in the left lane, and suddenly, it had a left turn arrow. I couldn't merge onto the cab, and I just continued through the intersection.

She let me off with a warning, but it was a sad experience that made me think this town is just really strict. No room for mistakes. No room for someone following a GPS to have her lane turn into a turning lane and not get out of that lane.

This town is really strict. I hope I find the fun and flexibility at some point.


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eBay Consultants Who Kill Sales

Friday, April 10th, 2009

We've been doing eBay consulting a looooong time. Our first eBay client was in 2001. I like to say I invented eBay consulting. :)

Phone calls and emails I get remind me that not every company out there is good at this. It actually IS possible to hire eBay advisors, trainers, consultants, or designers, and see your business decline directly because of them.

Here are some of the things I've heard about other companies, without naming names:

  • "They said they were eBay experts. They gave me advice, and did some design. My sales went down, and now they won't answer my emails."
  • "I paid a lot for an eBay Store design, and when I checked my traffic report after it was installed, my bounces were way up." Bounces are when someone hits your home page and then leaves without visiting any other pages or clicking anything.
  • "I hired them because they won design awards, but then they made my Store look like all the others ones they do. I wanted to really stand out."

I have a lot to say on this topic, and I'm sure there will be more blog posts about this. But today, I wanted to share with you something someone showed me yesterday. She saw Google Adwords ads for a company claiming to be an eBay consulting firm in the UK. These people had a page on their site about how they will provide extensive training. Their website also says they offer SEO, yet as you move around their website, you notice that their URLs are all http://theirdomainname.co.uk/?page_id=120 or other numbered pages. I think you can do better than that for SEO!

The most interesting part of their site was a screen shot they included of an eBay seller's dashboard to show you how much money they want to help you make. There is no "before" to compare this to, but it's presented like a success story for after they helped someone.

Click to enlarge… this is straight off their website including their redactions.

1600

Look closely…

  • Search standing: standard. They couldn't help them get any better search placement?
  • No PowerSeller discount yet the PowerSeller logo is there, and the status says Silver
  • Policy compliance is FAILING. As in this account probably got in trouble for breaking eBay rules. Hey, that doesn't look so good for your "success story" screen shot!
  • Buyer satisfaction "needs work." Ugh, this means crappy DSRs. Come on!

Ugh ugh ugh. This is the success story? This is the "after" you helped someone? And you didn't think about ONLY doing a screen shot of the sales and leaving out the dashboard summary? Ugh.

His About Us page on his website? Empty. His Our Team page tells you how he recruits consultants for what your business needs. Um, you could do that too, and possibly even without him. :) His Web Design page is blank, and his website design is a nearly-unmodified WordPress theme. A heap of other pages that look like they're going to be about how he helps start-ups and writes your business plan… all blank pages with titles.

Ugh. Another case of a dentist having awful, rotten, missing teeth.

People, please research people carefully. Make sure they have a strong track record. A lot of factors go into success on eBay. Promises are often alluring. Google ads are designed to reel you in. Don't get reeled in. Be smart, and research. Look for results. Don't just shop by price. The cheapest guy may not be the best, and if you take your online buiness seriously, go for quality.


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Auctiva Commerce: Review

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

More than ever, our clients are asking us to design eCommerce websites or customize a skin for their shopping cart system. Yeah, we do that. :) We're doing our best to keep up with all the new ones, and lean them as fast as possible.

Today, I went to look at Auctiva Commerce. One of my clients gave me his Auctiva login. Right away, I found two pages. One had me choose from Auctiva's pre-made design templates/themes. The other was a place to drop my logo and whatever text I wanted at the top of every page of my store.

That was it. I've been poking around a lot of eCommerce systems right now, most recently epages.com and BuyItSellIt.com (while one of my staff perfects our Vendio Stores offering), and I am used to a clearly-marked area where I can put in our templates, style sheets, or at least move some modules around (drag and drop) to lay pages out how you want them. I think epages did that, and so does Amazon Stores (yeah, we can do those too).

I couldn't see anywhere a company like ours would be able to do the more extensive customisation or the innovations we like to get out there. So I went to www.auctivacommerce.com to poke around and see what I can learn.

Not much. I even watched their demo video. The website and video promise that AuctivaCommerce is "the most powerful and innovative eCommerce system available today." I completely disagree. Have you seen etailcomplete.com? That was probably one of the most powerful and innovative I've seen yet, but it's also the most expensive one I've seen since Intershop in the late 1990s. :)

Back to Auctiva. Here are some other things I noticed while poking around…

  • Their website says NOTHING about SEO. So this is clearly not a priority OR selling point!
  • OK, I just found that under "features" and then I had to click on "marketing," which was in the secondary navigation but not in the left-side navigation. That's a bit buried for something I think SHOULD BE a major factor when people are choosing which eCommerce software system to use. They claim that they send out product feeds and will create a sitemap.
  • I went to "features" and then "design." They say that choosing one of their themes will instantly add appeal. I'm sorry, but I saw some of their themes, and I stopped shopping on sites that look like that years ago. I think shoppers are savvy, and have raised their standards. You're going to have to do better if you want to claim to be the most powerful and innovative eCommere platform out there.
  • Their website links to NO active stores so you can see them in action. If there are links there, I can't find them. I really expected them on the home page, or somewhere dominant so I fall in love right away. :)
  • OK, I just found them on the "shop" page. Three stores were featured and linked. Two had identical backgrounds in different colours. All three had their logo on the top, and then the cookie-cutter layouts. 
  • I want to link you to some of these stores to show you how I feel they are below the standards many shoppers will have for where they do online shopping, but I don't have the heart to point these people out and complain about their eCommerce sites. Just know that in 2009, I think that we can do MUCH better when it comes to eCommerce design and usability.
  • The pricing page says they will take a percentage of your sales while saying, and I quote, "We don't subscribe to the "the more you make, the more we take" mentality. And,
    we never will." GUESS WHAT. If you take a percentage of sales, then the more the seller makes, the more you make. It's just simple math. Even if your percentage is tiered and gets lower as the seller sells more, you will still make more off a $10,000 month of sales than a $1,000 month of sales.

Verdict: This is some of the biggest marketing spin I've seen outside of Apple and their iWhatevers. :) The promises and superlatives here are mighty, but based on the HEAPS of eCommerce systems I've been checking out lately, I'm whatever-is-the-complete-opposite-of-unimpressed.

I hope Auctiva will tone down the marketing hype and tone up the features and offerings. After all, marketing hype doesn't help people make sales. The eCommerce system has to really be something that goes into search engines well AND is so easy and obvious to use that it HELPS make sales and helps there be fewer abandoned shopping carts.

If our clients want us to design for these stores, we'll certainly do everything we can to design and customise them! We'll support these Stores, if our clients want them.

My faves so far… in no particular order, Vendio Stores (nice drag-and-drop Add To Cart, among other things), BuyItSellIt.com, epages.com, and if you have the budget, etailcomplete.com.


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Making eBay’s View Item Page More Useful

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Some of you know my current hobby is trying to improve eBay usability. I want to see View Item pages that make shoppers trust buyers, leave shoppers with no doubts or questions, show them the info they need to know without them having to hunt for it, and make the sale!

I previously toyed with putting more details at the top rather than hiding them at the bottom or behind tabs. This time, I decided to do something really innovative to try to make shopping on eBay easier.

My idea this time is to have a bar at the bottom that carries the most important info so that:

  1. People don't miss it.
  2. Bidding/Buying It Now is never too far away. People hate scrolling. :)

Click this for a real page you can scroll around and experience:

Idea-preview

The "bar" at the bottom stays there the whole time, even as people scroll. I can link things in there to different parts of the page. I linked the seller's name to her feedback and DSR record from her feedback page. It'll pop up right on that screen so you don't have to leave the shopping experience to check her out. :)

You might disagree with what info I've put, what colours I used, or how I laid it out… but that's why this is a mockup, a wireframe, an idea. In theory, I'd have a team of people at eBay who'd bounce the idea around, and we'd make it much better. Then we'd test it on focus groups, and test it more, and test it against other things. Then, we might let it run on the site a bit to see if it's more likely to make this item sell, how quickly, and for an auction, for a higher price.

So if eBay does something like this, I'll be taking credit for it since I haven't seen any wireframes or mockups offering this type of concept before mine. I also have piles of ideas for how a technique like this could be used around different eBay pages. Imagine if something like this reminded people to pay for something they won when 2 days have gone by, and they didn't pay yet. Imagine what we can PUSH to people as they move around the site to make using the site easier, faster, more obvious, and better for buyers and sellers.

What do you think of an idea like this? Do you think it would help shoppers and drive sales? How can it be improved? Thanks. :)


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Software for Corrupted Outlook PST Files

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

My laptop has a habit of, once in a while, really crashing. Not just freezing. Really doing it big time. Anything that's open becomes corrupted after I have to force a shutdown or reboot. I have no idea what causes it. But typically, I have Outlook open because I'm always working on emails.

The first time this happened, it corrupted a small PST I had recently started. SCANPST.exe couldn't fix the file, and I mostly gave up. But this past Saturday night, a crash corrupted my main Outlook PST file. SCANPST couldn't fix it.

I ended up on the web looking for software that promised to recover most or all of the file. I paid $129 for Stellar Phoenix Outlook PST Repair Tool. I saw similar tools for similar prices, so I wonder if this is out there under other names.

Short version: Don't buy it. Don't waste your time.

Longer version: This tool is hands-down the most poorly-designed program I've ever experienced in my life. Why? Because the tool starts by recovering your Deleted Items folder… probably the emails you care about the least, and in theory, may not care if they get recovered AT ALL.

The tool spent 24 recovering my Deleted Items folder, and then moved on, and then basically crapped out. It recovered around 800MB of my nearly 1.4GB file. Neither my calendar nor contacts were recovered, despite the website's promises about the software.

I emailed support. This is where it gets worse. They asked me if the DEMO version of their software had shown all of my emails. I said that I didn't run the DEMO for too long. Once it was clear that it was finding SOMETHING in my file, I bought the full version and let that run. They tried to make it sound like maybe I should have let the demo run for 36 hrs to see what it WOULD have recovered, and then run the full version for another 36 hrs to actually recover it. Huh?

They then tried to tell me that all my email is there! Just go into my recovered PST file, and do control-shift-F to find my files. Are you kidding me? Your software recovered HALF of my files, the recovered PST has NONE of the email folders I created, but I should expect to see every email if I just hit control-shift-F?

They are now refunding my money, and if they don't, this is a charge I will surely fight. If you have a corrupted PST, there may not be anything that can help. I'm convinced of that at this point. So I will archive more often, and backup more often, and maybe I'll reformat my computer and reinstall things. It's all I can do.


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Surround Yourself With Strong People

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

I blogged about this some weeks ago, and it's just dropped into my mailbox again as a reminder. So I'm reminding you. :)

I get the "thought of the day" email from Abraham-Hicks.com. You may or may not believe in that stuff or "The Secret," but I think some good ideas come out of it. Power of positive thinking!

Here is a thought of the day I got recently, which reminded me of that blog post:

A
bunch of weak people, even in numbers, aren't strong. Get a whole bunch of
confused people together and see how much clarity comes out of it. In other
words, you just can't add one more confused person to the pot, and expect to
get any more clarity… One—standing outside of the confused group—who is clear,
is more powerful than a million who are confused.

Excerpted from the
workshop in Albuquerque, NM on Wednesday, September 1st, 2004

I think that says plenty, but just to give you my take on it… a group of businesses coming together to try to grow their business are probably thinking about business not being that great. Someone whose business is really on fire probably doesn't have time for that meeting, and may even think it's a room full of not-like-minded people.

There is wanting something and there is doing and being something. Do it and be it! Doing it and being it would be the fastest ways to have what you want. :)


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