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Old 05-05-2011, 10:31 AM
Autumn O'Bryan Autumn O'Bryan is offline
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Default Business Tips

Don't Make These Return Policy Mistakes
Three small-business owners share their biggest policy pitfalls and how they fixed them.

In the weeks after the holiday shopping season comes to a close, there is always the follow-up frenzy of customers returning gifts that didn't quite strike their fancy. While many are a straightforward exchange, other returns can become complicated (and costly) for small business owners who don't have the deeply absorbing pockets of a department store chain. While you may think you have clear rules for returns, consider the mistakes of three small-business owners -- and learn how to avoid these common pitfalls.

Mistake No. 1: Your rules for reshipping fees are vague.

Eric Heinbockel, co-founder of, realized this mistake after a shipment to a rural address was returned to the chocolate company's headquarters in Cherry Hill, N.J. The customer provided an address the United States Postal Service did not ship to, says Heinbockel, who started the company with two partners in 2009. While initially arguing about who should absorb additional shipping costs, Heinbockel ultimately covered the fee. He decided it wasn't worth losing a customer who had made several purchases from the site in the past. Still, the experience led to clarify its policy. It no longer pays for reshipping costs if the customer makes the mistake -- and it explicitly mentions rural addresses.

"This hopefully helps to deter folks from making this specific mistake and for those reasonable customers who do make this mistake, they will leave the issue alone [and pay for it themselves]," says Heibockel, whose company earns nearly $1 million in annual revenue.

But for those customers who staunchly insist it was not their fault, will absorb the additional shipping fee. After receiving negative feedback from a handful of customers on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the comment sections of online articles, Heinbockel has learned that "even a number of your biggest fans can have less of an impact on your company's reputation than one very angry customer."

Mistake No. 2: Your window of time for returns is too broad.

After 27 years in business, Richard Ignatz has continued to shrink the number of days he allows a customer to return purchases from his upscale clothing stores and he makes it clear there is no wiggle room to negotiate. Up until 10 years ago, the window for returns was 30 days for his five Boutique Emmanuel locations across Michigan. Five years ago he cut the time in half, and today it's even shorter -- within 10 days.

"As a small boutique that carries a limited number of garments in each size, when a customer brought back an item back 30 or 60 days later, the season was over and I would have to put it on the 50- to 75-percent-off rack," says Ignatz, whose boutiques ring up annual revenues of $2.8 million. "Plus, we missed a chance to sell it to someone else two or three times in that period."

When he established the shorter 10-day return policy, Ignatz also made sure to avoid any backlash or confusion. Employees show customers the return policy, pointing to it on the receipt, and require them to initial it. The marked receipt then becomes a physical reminder the customer has acknowledged the rules and agrees to abide by them. Since instituting stricter return policies Ignatz says his stores' percentage of returns have shrunk from 3.2 percent to 2 percent of total sales.

Mistake No. 3: Your policy is inconsistent.

When The Papery, a family-owned upscale stationery and gift store founded in 1989, had just one location in Shrewsbury, N.J., the return policy was liberal: Any item could be brought back at any time for a refund, provided the store was still stocking it and could sell it again. But five years later, when the owners started adding new locations, the company ran into problems. There were customers who shopped at multiple locations and noticed the inconsistent practices.

"If you accepted a return at one location but not another, people would complain -- especially since some of the stores are relatively close to each other and have mutual shoppers," says Betsy Majewski, who has been a store manager with the company for nearly two decades.

As it added stores -- a total of five across New Jersey -- the Visconti family decided it was crucial to adopt the same standardized 30-day return policy across the board. Company founder Dick Visconti realized that having a consistent policy is a must when it comes to earning customer respect.

"The customer should know what to expect from us," Visconti says," and know our policy will be the same no matter which store they're shopping in."
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Old 05-10-2011, 07:47 PM
Autumn O'Bryan Autumn O'Bryan is offline
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Default Marketing to Your Hispanic Online Audience

Marketing to Your Hispanic Online Audience
Thursday, May 05, 2011

The U.S. Census data is finally becoming available to the American public, and it has revealed what many of us only previously guessed to be true: Hispanics are now the largest growing demographic in the U.S. In fact, the new count shows that one in every six Americans is of Hispanic decent. So it only stands to reason that marketers should be seriously turning their attention to the increasing number of Spanish-speaking online users now looking for entertainment venues online.

Of course Spanish-speaking users aren't only found in the U.S. - they are all over the world. There are many companies that have been targeting multi-lingual audiences for years, so this really isn't anything new for them. However the difference here is that these Spanish-speaking users are Americans who play by Western rules as far as Internet usage, credit card processing preferences, spending habits and more are concerned. While the Hispanic culture stands out and is different from most other U.S. demographics in many ways, these are still American citizens and they will behave much differently from Hispanics in Mexico, South America and in Europe.

Online Video

While Hispanic users still aren't using the Internet at the same percentage as non-Hispanic users, the numbers are increasing. In fact, Hispanic users have been shown to utilize social networking and online video much more than other non-Hispanic users - a clear pattern is emerging. A recent study conducted by OTX MediaCT and Google revealed that Spanish-dominant and bilingual Hispanic users were much more involved in the use of online video and social media networks than any other demographic currently online.

The numbers show that 64% of Hispanic users had visited an online video website in the past 30 days as compared to just 50% of the general population surveyed. Spanish-dominant Hispanics used online video even more - with 66% of them enjoying online video websites as opposed to only 61% of English-dominant Hispanics. With the exception of just one online video site - Hulu, which is marketed primarily to English-speaking users through network programming - Spanish-dominant Hispanics were much more likely than English-dominant Hispanics to have visited a list of online video websites before taking the survey.

Social Networking

A parallel in usage was also discovered with regard to Spanish-dominant and bilingual Hispanics and their use of social networking websites. Interestingly, it is reported the most popular website for these users was MySpace over other networks such as Facebook or Twitter. However, with regard to Facebook and other social networking sites, their usage was either slightly higher or the same as other English-dominant Hispanics as well as general broad demographic users.

Overall Hispanic Internet Usage

The information uncovered in this study is very remarkable because most Hispanics, particularly those born in other countries and those who are Spanish-dominant have previously been found to be much less likely to regularly use the Internet than other racial or ethnic groups in the U.S. For example, a survey conducted by the Washington Post revealed that 72% of Hispanic adults used the Internet on an occasional basis - 15 whole percentage points behind Caucasian Internet users. This market data is interesting because according to the recent Census information, Hispanics are the "youngest ethnic or racial group" in the US with an average age of 27. The median age for white users is 41 and it is 31 for black users. Just age alone should make the numbers for Hispanic users higher than white or black users.

Digging deeper into the differences within the Hispanic demographic, as a whole the data reveals that there is a larger divide between English-speaking Hispanics and Spanish-dominant Hispanics, as well as a divide between US-born and foreign-born Hispanics. The Pew Hispanic Research Center conducted a supporting study that showed 56% of the US Hispanic population that is aged 16 or older was born in a foreign country. However, the usage data shows that Hispanics that are native-born American citizens who speak English as their primary language have a drastically higher Internet usage rate than any other demographic. The big drop-off that causes the overall figures to be much lower is with the Spanish-dominant foreign-born Hispanics living in the U.S.

The Pew study also included factors such as education and income levels, revealing that language-speaking abilities and nativity to the U.S. were also influences in these areas. Access to broadband connections, via the home and/or mobile device usage, also played a part in Internet usage habits, and were directly tied to language, nativity, education and income.

The Bottom Line

Analysts believe that because of its broad-reaching abilities, social networking and online video sites are unique tools that can be used to reach Hispanics who might otherwise be shy or insecure about using the Internet. There are a couple of reasons why Spanish-dominant Hispanics are turning to online video - such as the large availability of Spanish-language content as well as the ability to learn English and American slang terms by watching online video, helping them to overcome prevalent language barriers.

Social networking is a popular medium for Hispanics across the board, however, as it makes it easy to keep in contact with friends and family. These social networking tools are used within the country to communicate locally, but also to stay in touch with friends and family that are living in other countries outside the U.S.

So how are you marketing to the Hispanic population online? What are your successes and challenges, and how have you achieved your successes? What are some of your specific demographic innovations in the sales and conversion process? Is translation enough, or have you included other factors in your marketing mix?
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Old 05-11-2011, 06:57 PM
JeZeBeLLa JeZeBeLLa is offline
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nice article autumn. thank you for sharing. being so new to the business -- these are nice lessons to learn from others.
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Old 06-16-2011, 06:43 AM
Autumn O'Bryan Autumn O'Bryan is offline
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Default Five Time-Saving Tips for Updating Web Content

Five Time-Saving Tips for Updating Web Content
Think you don't have enough time to regularly refresh your website's content? Think again.

The benefits of continually adding fresh, relevant content to a business's website are usually pretty clear. Doing so can help boost your site's rankings in search engines which, in turn, can help you find new customers. But for many small-business owners, finding the time to frequently update their websites can be a challenge.

Here's how it works. The more keyword-rich, useful content a Website had, the more likely it will rise near the top of searches for those phrases. Search engine "spiders" -- the much-coveted algorithms search engines use to index sites and formulate rankings -- favor sites that have these keywords. For example, a static website for a local hardware store would most likely perform better in search results if it were to maintain a blog that features information about the products it carries, home-improvement tips and other timely searched-for topics.

The trick is to not become overwhelmed by having to keep your website's content fresh and relevant. There are strategies for maximizing your time. A first step might be to hire a professional Web developer to set up your site so that it includes search-friendly page titles and other code. After that, certain tactics -- such as brainstorming multiple content ideas at once and posting a photo or video -- can help you keep your website up-to-date without eating up a ton of time. Here's a look at five time-saving strategies.

Focus on more than just words. I have a client who owns a nursery that sells trees and plants. He's too busy caring for his trees to write a lot, but videos have proved to be easier for him to produce. He also regularly updates his "latest news" section with short descriptions about the newest trees and plants available at his nursery. This way, he keeps his web content fresh while also not neglecting his trees in the process.

Create a databank of article ideas you want to do. Sit down, brainstorm and write all your website article ideas into a file. This will save you time so that you don't have to try to think up an idea every time you want to write an article, or have someone else write an article, for your website. Repeat the brainstorming process every few weeks.

Break larger ideas into smaller pieces. In terms of search, it's more important to have many articles on your website rather than just one. Therefore, if you have a big topic you want to talk about, explain it in a series of articles. It's also easier to get content onto your site and get it noticed if it's in smaller chunks.
Use voice-dictation software. If you do not prefer to type up your ideas, you can get them dictated using voice-software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking. This software can interpret your tone of voice into words and type them faster than you can manually.

Keep practicing. Whenever you're writing down ideas, or writing rough drafts of articles, you get better at it the more you do it. It's like exercising: The more you work out in the gym, the stronger you get. You don't want to let the time you spend writing content take away from your business, but you should try to find enough time so that you are producing content regularly enough that you improve and become faster at it.

Updating your website and producing keyword-rich articles and multi-media content can steer more traffic -- and customers -- your site. Following these tips can help get you producing this content faster than before, saving you time to devote to other aspects of your business.
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Old 06-16-2011, 06:46 AM
Autumn O'Bryan Autumn O'Bryan is offline
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Default How Small Companies Are Marketing Through Facebook

How Small Companies Are Marketing Through Facebook
Facebook is proving itself a small-business marketing force. Here are three examples of how it's working.

No movie theater in America understands the importance and business value of social interaction better than the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. The 11-theater chain headquartered in Austin, Texas, has featured marquee attractions that have transformed moviegoing into a communal experience: a quote-along screening of Pulp Fiction, the Tough Guy Cinema series (which revives action hits like the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Predator, complete with complimentary cap gun giveaway) and the HeckleVision showcase (offering quick-witted patrons their chance to eviscerate misfires like M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening), for example. Events like these have earned Alamo Drafthouse the adoration of film geeks as high profile as director Quentin Tarantino, who holds his semi-annual QT Fest movie and multimedia event at the downtown Austin location.

"We've developed a unique fan base, and our patrons are very respectful and knowledgeable about movies," says Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League. "All of our special events are hosted by members of our programming staff, and we hang out with the audience after the movie ends. That kind of conversation and dialogue is very important to what we do."

So is Facebook--now. Alamo Drafthouse has relied on digital marketing since its inception: League assembled an e-mail list soon after launching the company in 1997, and also built its first website. He later made his first foray in social media via Myspace but had a less-than-spectacular experience.

"I felt obligated to use it because so many other people were using it, and I felt we had to get involved," he says. "But I hated it. It never clicked. When a friend pointed me to Facebook, I stayed up most of the night checking it out. It clicked immediately."

Facebook works well because it expands the scope and reach of Alamo Drafthouse's ongoing dialogue with its patrons, League says.

"Facebook isn't a one-way means of communication. You have to look at it in terms of conversation. You have to monitor comments, respond and engage with your customers. It's a way of telegraphing that you're listening, and that you do care."

Last fall Alamo Drafthouse signed on as one of the inaugural partners supporting Facebook Deals, which offers bargains and coupons to consumers who check in at physical locations like retail stores and restaurants via their smartphones. Facebook Deals partners can offer coupons, loyalty programs, premiums and other promotions: Alamo Drafthouse awarded a limited-edition pint glass to anyone checking in across the chain. League produced 10,000 pint glasses in all, and patrons claimed the entire run in about two weeks.

"We've dabbled with [location-based mobile social networks] Gowalla and Foursquare, but those services are about rewarding über-customers," League says. "The Facebook Deals concept enables us to reward anyone who comes into the theater. It's more inclusive, and it incentivizes people to give us a shot for the first time."

Facebook Deals is a natural extension of existing consumer behaviors, League says. "Our customers are already checking in when they go places. It's an easy way to post an update about something you're doing."

As anyone who follows the movie industry knows, when something is a success, a sequel is inevitable. League says Alamo Drafthouse is already plotting the details of its next Facebook Deals promotion.

"A good deal has to be meaningful, and something people want--you also have to have an established Facebook presence to get the word out," League says. "It may not be right for everybody, but it's a cool tool. And if it's executed properly, then it's a great tool."

AnnaB's Gluten Free Bakery:
Anna Strahs didn't follow the usual recipe for small-business success. About three years ago, Strahs was diagnosed with Celiac disease, an intestinal disorder triggered by the body's reaction to gliadin, a gluten protein found solely in wheat. Effective Celiac treatment demands that sufferers adhere to a gluten-free diet, but Strahs, who was working for a Richmond, Va.-based IT recruiting firm, found few local merchants and restaurants catering to her specific needs.

"Here in Richmond there's a concentration of hip local businesses, but there's a real absence of healthy alternatives," she says. "At first I started baking to feed myself, but soon I realized other people needed this, too. So I left my job and started a baking business in my apartment."

That business, annaB's Gluten Free Bakery, quickly outgrew the confines of Strahs' home and now encompasses production facilities in Richmond and nearby Williamsburg. Its menu crosses over into corn-free, nut-free and dairy-free alternatives as well.

Strahs launched the annaB's Facebook page when she started the company, posting photos and notes to keep customers updated on her progress. Now she tweaks the product line and introduces new recipes in response to Facebook user comments and requests.

"Facebook is a great way to receive direct feedback on what people like," Strahs says. "That helps guide us to what we do next."

In late 2010, Strahs invested $25 to roll out her first Facebook Ads campaign, targeting local users whose profiles indicated their interest in gluten-free lifestyles, veganism, running and other health-conscious subjects.

"Facebook Ads allows you to limit exactly how much you spend," she says. "Each click averaged 43 cents, and we got 50 clicks almost immediately. We also started getting calls and orders."

Facebook, Strahs says, offers its merchant partners sample ads, suggests effective call-to-action tools and supplies metrics and customer support to simplify the promotional process. "They make it easy," she says. "You're only paying for what people click on."

While some consumer advocates have criticized Facebook's approach to privacy and its push to make user information more public, Strahs says that advertisers have no direct access to customer data. Targeted marketing is instead based exclusively on information and interests identified on the user's public profile, with all targeting done anonymously within the ad serving system. Advertisers interact directly with users only in the event that a consumer decides to respond to their pitch.

"Facebook enables me to narrow down the search for potential customers that have given me permission to target them," Strahs says. "My ad is one of many advertisements on the side of your Facebook profile. If you don't like it, click the 'x' and you won't get ads from me anymore."

AnnaB's Gluten Free Bakery now boasts a baker's dozen merchant accounts (including Whole Foods Market) and ships its products across the U.S. Strahs says Facebook has been instrumental to the company's growth.

"I've done all of this while spending less than $300 total on advertising, mostly on Facebook," she says. "Out of all the tools I've used, Facebook is the most effective at getting the word out. I want to help people. The whole point of the bakery is to help people eat normal foods and live normal lives."

CM Photographics:
Photographer Chris Meyer credits Facebook for helping bring his business into focus: The Facebook Ads campaigns for his CM Photographics target women ages 24 to 30 within a 50-mile radius of Minneapolis whose social networking profiles identify them as engaged. Meyer is now one of the busiest photographers in the Twin Cities.

CM Photographics began advertising on Facebook about five years ago. So far, Meyer has spent about $2,220 to market his services across the platform, resulting in revenues topping $125,000.

"In the past I'd advertised on Google AdWords and [local magazine] Minnesota Bride, and didn't get a single response," Meyer says. "The value of advertising on Facebook is that you can narrow down the demographic you want to reach. It's super simple and straightforward."

The demographic that CM Photographics covets is what Meyer calls "Facebook brides." They are upper-middle-class consumers looking to spend between $25,000 and $50,000 for their wedding.

"It took us a while to find out what kind of niche a Facebook bride is," Meyer says. "Once you know your demographic, the challenge is figuring out the message you want to communicate. People are always looking for a good deal."

So are small businesses, for that matter. With Google AdWords, Meyer says, it could cost about $8 per click to be listed on the top of the page. "The problem is that my competition can click on my ads, and it's going to cost me," he says. "But with Facebook, I can limit my ads exclusively to customers I want to target for about 70 to 90 cents per click. Unless somebody comes out with something that's simpler, less expensive or more efficient, I don't see how anybody can compete."

The New Local:
Emily White, Facebook's senior director of local, weighs in on why Facebook Pages--public profiles where brands share information on their products and services with the digital community--are finding a niche with small local businesses

On Facebook Pages: The web is being rebuilt around people. People used to discover local businesses through word-of-mouth, but the context of Facebook allows for social discovery. When you go to your friends' profiles and see what they like, that kind of recommendation is so much more valuable. Facebook Pages creates a community around your brand and lets you communicate directly with fans. It's a relationship-management tool.

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Old 06-22-2011, 10:15 AM is offline
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All very good tips
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Old 10-11-2011, 02:15 PM
Autumn O'Bryan Autumn O'Bryan is offline
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Default 50 Google Analytics Resources – The 2011 Edition

Google Analytics is one of the most valuable resources for webmasters, marketers, business owners, bloggers, and anyone who does practically anything online. The best part is that Google Analytics is free! The following are 50 resources to help you get to know Google Analytics inside and out, from the new version, latest updates, social engagement tracking, advanced hacks, and much more!

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Old 10-12-2011, 07:02 AM
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Default Free Subscription Internet Retailer

Internet Retailer is the largest and most authoritative publisher of free periodicals in the burgeoning e-commerce industry.
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Default STORES, the official magazine of the National Retail Federation

STORES, the official magazine of the National Retail Federation, is published monthly. Subscriptions are offered FREE to retailers and to members of the National Retail Federation. Annual subscriptions for non-retailer non-members are available at prices that begin at $120.
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Default 10 Tactics for Driving Inbound Links

10 Tactics for Driving Inbound Links
By Paul Panteleon
The 2011 holiday season is right around the corner, and crunch time is here for ecommerce merchants who want to rise to the top of the search engines. Rimm-Kaufman Group strategy lead Paul Panteleon offers up 10 tactics you can use to drive inbound links this holiday season.
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mistakes, policy, returns

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