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It's time to call it: Pulling the plug on Buyosphere

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It's time to call it: Pulling the plug on Buyosphere

We've been keeping Buyosphere on life support for almost 2 years now. It breaks my heart, but it's time to pull the plug.

We kept hoping that something would happen...someone would come along to save the day: we'd get an upswing in usage (from non-spammers), we'd get someone coming along that would want to buy it, we'd somehow find the way to keep building it. But none of that happened and the hosting bills kept coming in. It hasn't been an easy experience.

In the video, I give a few 'lessons' I learned, but all-in-all, I've come to realize that it wasn't one thing...it was a million things that led to this not turning out the way we wanted it to.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the adventure! I tried to list you in the video. xo

Here's our baby in her hey-day:

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The Identity Scorecard

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The Identity Scorecard

Identity word
Identity word

"One of the things I love most about web standards is there are so many to choose from!"

The ironically witty statement above was uttered by my friend, David Crow, on IRC in 2006. Seven years later, it's pretty much the same. Every major company pushing their own standards and pretty much every one of them handling the user experience of it all terribly. Here is why I hate the way almost every web company handles my online identity.

Twitter

I know that most of your users have one account and most of them use you on their mobile phone, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who hates the way you handle identity. Here are my beefs with you:

  1. Why can't I handle multiple accounts through your web interface? You've done a pretty great job of this in your iPhone app. Why can't you do this online? And yes, if I keep Hootsuite or Tweetdeck open all of the time, I could handle multiple identities on my laptop, but give me the option to just go to Twitter.com. There is more I can do with my accounts there.
  2. Why can't I register multiple accounts under one email address? I get the phone number thing because you have an SMS interface, but every time I set up a new Twitter account, I need to set up a new email address.

SCORE: C

Google (everything - YouTube, G+, Apps, etc)

You are the master of multiple identities...only...your default is to assume all of your users are as adept at switching identities as a super spy. I now have way too many identities on Google and because most of them are the result of me needing to set up a new email address for a twitter account, most of them are worth less than others. Here are my beefs with you:

  1. I pay for Google Apps for tarahunt.com now, but you restrict my social use on that email address so I need to switch back and forth (as the sole user and administrator, figuring out how to get Google+ to work on tarahunt.com has been a nightmare - it keeps telling me to ask my administrator, which is me, but when I click the admin tools, I can't figure out for the life of me how to turn G+ on! And no, your damned forums don't help.)
  2. You allow for forwarding and aligning those disparate identities, but my Google ID looks like a spider web of forwarding to the point that I can't even remember what is going where and coming from what.
  3. I now have something like 6 YouTube accounts, 5 Google+ accounts and Docs and calendars littered in about a dozen places. These are the things I want to have 'forwarded' and aligned. But it's way too complicated to do so.
  4. The amount of important information that has come through those email addresses over the years (some have been attached to online banking, some Paypal, receipts for business expenses, etc) makes it really hard just to close down these accounts.
  5. Some clients and employers have used Google Apps as an organization, which makes my Google life even more confusing. I've had my browser split into 6 identities at one time! And under each one, there were multiple Google logins. It took my brain weeks to realign.

Let me give you a hint, Google: you don't need to cover every single identity angle every time. Just make it simple.

SCORE: D+

Facebook

Okay, so you are the best of breed when it comes to a logical way of handling my identity. I have to give you kudos for recognizing that people are behind companies, but people use your products first. So I default to being myself until I choose to operate as an agent of one of my pages. And I can carry that logic pretty much everywhere Facebook connect is involved. It's pretty sweet, actually. I'm me until I want to masquerade as something else. There are a few hiccups, but I get that you don't want people to impersonate other people, so that's fine.

The only thing I would say is that Facebook is Facebook and not the whole entire internet. And I like you being Facebook and not the whole entire internet. So let me have some private time with my 'not on Facebook' me. Stop stalking me. K?

SCORE: B+

Instagram, Pinterest and Everyone Else

Oh right. You don't do multiple identity. You DO realize there are brands and people behind those brands who have their own accounts on your platforms, right? I hope you are taking notes.

SCORE: F

Notes from an International Perspective

For anyone who has ever lived in different countries or worked across borders, identity is a mess between countries. I set up most of my original accounts in the US and when I moved back to Canada, things went awry. My Apple ID is still a hot mess. Google had no idea what to do with me. Paypal has gone off the rails. I said goodbye to a paid up Pandora with stations I had carefully curated for years and years. I can't even access some websites. Many retailers are dead to me now.

I understand that different countries have different regulations and restrictions. It's still the oddest thing that a package that weighs less than 0.5 lbs is free to ship to Boston, but $24.95 to ship to Montreal (3 hours away). It's like I live on a different planet now.

Identity IRL

IRL, I'm me and that is the most important identity of all, but I'm also an employee, a consultant, a partner, a mother, a customer, a dog owner, a renter, a traveler, a driver, a Canadian citizen, a tax payer, a patient, a voter...the list goes on. Many of these roles I play require an identity card or paperwork of some sort, but they never make me choose or stop me from being one or the other. They don't try to merge consultant me and dog owner me. Even the government lets me be an individual when not dealing with their laws.

Years ago, people talked about creating a one-card offline: merging passport, birth certificate, credit cards, point cards, hospital cards, etc. Sure, it would be convenient, but nobody wanted it. There is a balance of 'remember who I am to make my life easier' and 'I need some anonymity and the ability to play different roles at different points.' This is something internet companies don't really understand or respect. Not everything I do online says something about who I am - sometimes I'm shopping for a present for a friend or looking up articles for client research. If you are going to get really smart about identity, you'll treat me a little more like a person with varying degrees of identities with one stronger than the others (the personal one).

I guess my point is that when designing identity, you should design for the human first and the role-player second. But the human part matters.

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Why Content?

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Why Content?

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.12.57 AM
Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.12.57 AM

...because all roads lead back to content.

Without content on Facebook, you have this:

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Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.17.06 AM

Exciting, eh?

Without content on Twitter, you have this:

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.26.54 AM
Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.26.54 AM

Hmmmmm...

Blogs, Pinterest, Instagram, Slideshare, Tumblr, etc all are merely content holders. Without content, you have tools. Without content, nobody has a compelling reason to click the follow/like button, let alone get interested in your product. Yes, you can listen and have conversations, but when someone decides to check you out...there is no reason for them to engage.

In my favorite analogy, the sad, empty wineglass at the top of this post represents a container without content and the happy, full wineglass represents content. In the same analogy, you want to fill that wineglass with something great, because bad wine will not bring anyone coming back for a refill.

What about PR? Advertising? Search marketing? Influencer marketing?

All of these roads lead back to an even stronger case for great, engaging content. You get good press? Great! What makes the person reading the article want to engage? You just paid for lots of advertising? What is that compelling thing that drives them to click? Where do they go? What do they see? Are you engaging anyone? And any good SEO expert will tell you that content that appeals to human beings will help you with your search results.

Truthfully, "content" is such a dry, bad word for such an essential, fantastic, nuanced thing. And it's often bundled together with the social media tools as something that just happens. Companies outsource it like it doesn't matter. It's an afterthought. An annoyance.

"But good content takes time! And it's expensive!" they might cry.

Yes, but not more expensive than the ads companies buy to try and capture attention. Think about it this way:

Company A hires amazing content people at a rate of $10,000 month. This content, underscored with a small amount of advertising (sponsored posts, etc) starts to gather attention. A small increase in followers at first, but then it fans out. Soon the company has 10x the followers and can cut back on their advertising altogether and continues to get traction from the great content it's produced over time.

Here is a real-life example: Just For Laughs Gags on YouTube. Disclosure: my boyfriend runs their YouTube channel. They've actually never bought advertising, but they have amazing content. All day, Carlos picks the best of their content and makes sure it responds to the needs of their audience. They have over 3 million followers and get an average of around 1 million views per video. This didn't happen overnight, but it was the focus on great content and making sure that content gets in front of the right audience that makes them THE most popular comedy channel on YouTube. In the world.

A more attainable example is one of their content partners, Roman Atwood Pranks who I've written about before. This small team (Roman and his buddy Dennis) work hard to please their audience and have built it from zero with a very low-budget. No advertising, just plain content that people love. They have over 1 million followers and get an average of 750,000 views per episode. Some of their episodes are seen by nearly 14 million people!

So what happens when you don't focus on content?

Company B doesn't really have the time or patience to build an audience, but wants to get their new fancy video in front of as many people as possible. So they purchase $100,000 worth of ads (which guarantees around 1 Million views). Of those views, a teensy percentage sign up to follow their channel because they haven't created anything really worth following. Their content is sporadic and self-promotional. So six months later, when they need to run another campaign, they have to throw another $100,000 worth of ads to get it seen.

You recognize the companies who do this when you see this (low subscribers with high views):

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.43.49 PM
Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.43.49 PM
Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.42.43 PM
Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.42.43 PM

(IF each person saw a video only once, Garnier Canada gets a 0.07% conversion on their ads, L'Oreal Paris gets 0.03% conversion)

Instead of:

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.45.21 PM
Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.45.21 PM

Just For Laughs

Roman Atwood

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.45.07 PM
Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.45.07 PM

...on a zero dollar ad spend (those subscribers are watching multiple videos as videos are posted daily at JFLgags and weekly for Roman, so the conversion is probably pretty high). Every time the channels with high subscribers upload a video, they get access to millions of people who have subscribed to their updates. Thousands of those people share the videos so they have access to even more.

So what is more expensive then? Great content, which may cost a premium to make (but doesn't always have to, but it does take many hours to get it right), but saves you lots of money in the long run? Or big ad buys that you have to purchase over and over again. Take a look at Garnier Canada's videos that don't have advertising behind them (hint for those who don't want to click. Less than 300 views.) to understand how little engagement they get from ad buys.

Great content can build relationships and real engagement that is lasting and is way more likely to get your potential customer from AWARE to ENGAGED to even EVANGELIZED (see the social engagement ladder here). It's worth the investment. In fact, you can't ignore it. All roads lead you there.

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There's No Shame in That

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There's No Shame in That

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Shame Flag on Flickr I was describing my startup experience to a woman I admire the other day, when out of the blue, she asked:

"Was it worth it?"

I hardly hesitated at all and said:

"The only thing I'd change if I could go back is that I'd integrate the incredible lessons I've learned during this time."

And it's true. I couldn't have learned any of what I've learned in a book or a seminar. I feel like I've taken the ultimate MBA. But it took her asking the question for me to realize that. Before she asked the question, I was feeling lots of shame. Why? Because I was focusing on what I didn't accomplish instead of seeing what I DID accomplish.

The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel. - Steven Furtick

The truth is that we (my Buyosphere team and I) did things that the vast majority of people never even attempt:

  • We raised venture capital (even if it wasn't enough)
  • We built a social web application from scratch - multiple times - and for those who haven't built a social web application, here is something to know: building a website is a challenge, building a social website (that people interact with) is another level of challenge and building a social web application (that people interact with and it changes with that social interaction) is a WHOLE 'NOTHER level of challenge. There are so many moving parts behind the scenes. I have mad respect for anyone that builds web applications now.
  • We stuck to it through thick and thin, through lots of questions and uncertainty and through not knowing how we were going to make payroll in a few days time.
  • We learned to work together - fighting like cats and dogs at times, but having uber respect for one another while disagreeing.
  • We hired and fired people - learning the importance of hiring talented people who could teach us a thing or ten.
  • We budgeted, planned and balanced a very small amount of cash to make it stretch as far as it possibly could.
  • We took that leap that lots of people talk about, but only a sliver of the population takes and did it wholeheartedly.

And, nope, we didn't become the next Facebook and fell short of our dreams for Buyosphere, but we built something to be proud of and we did it with all sorts of odds against us. Hell, we're still getting featured in major publications as their Super Clever Click and it isn't over quite yet. Who knows what could happen going forward? I don't think we built any of it in vain. Maybe it's ahead of it's time (I know from experience that brands aren't quite ready to grasp this concept). As SF Fashion Tech said in their review, " It’s hard to draw an apt comparison because there’s nothing similar to this right now..." We'll see and I haven't given up hope.

YOLO as the saying goes and it's true. Anyone who takes a risk to do something that isn't easy and has little certainty should be high-fived, as I've learned when I worked at Santacruzsolarcompanies.co Santa Cruz solar companies. There is no shame in taking that leap and falling on your face. There IS SHAME in talking about taking that leap, never doing it, then pointing fingers and laughing at those falling on their faces.

Before all of this happened, I didn't really know what people meant when they said, "Failure is good. You should fail several times in your life." I thought that sounded like the most awful advice ever. But now I understand. Experience is the result of failure. I've known people who have it easy (connected to money and people and luck) and sail through to big success without learning anything only to arrogantly go at it again and fall on their faces. Any one of those people I've talked to has said to me, "I enjoyed my flop much more than my success." Why? Because of what they learned. And how slowly, but surely, they grew as individuals who had much better lessons to convey.

And yes, if I could wave a magic wand and change the outcome to Buyosphere being an IPO'd/acquired company that lined my pockets with millions of dollars, of course I would! But what I'm saying is that I don't regret that it turned out differently. Not at all.

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The Seven Deadly Sins of the Fashion Web

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The Seven Deadly Sins of the Fashion Web

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I spend a good part of every day keeping up on fashion trends: whether it's through reading articles and trend pieces in online publications or sifting through online retailers and design showcase sites. I do this mostly because of the nature of my startup, but I am also personally interested, an avid shopper and passionate about fashion. And you'd think because of all of the advances in fashion:tech over the past few years that this experience would have gotten better and better. Right? Well, it hasn't. It's gotten steadily worse.

And perhaps it's mostly infuriating because I am working on the issue of customer-centric experiences, but I've heard the same complaints from others when I belly-ache openly about my frustrations.

Today I came across a post on Chris Dixon's blog where he publishes an internal memo from the founder of fast-growing entertainment news site BuzzFeed, explaining why they are doing so well and how it is a sustainable growth and a lightbulb went off for me: people love Buzzfeed because they put their readers first. Pretty simple. And so I started thinking about all of the ways publishers and retailers do the opposite and how I wish they thought more like Buzzfeed. Then I realized that I need to put this into a post so they could all learn from it.

So, written from a customer's perspective and, perhaps, clouded a bit by working with your sites data structures over the past few years, here are THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS OF THE FASHION WEB.

SIN #1 - CAROUSELS/SLIDESHOWS

From the BuzzFeed memo:

(W)e don’t publish slideshows. Instead we publish scrollable lists so readers don’t have to click a million times and can easily scroll through a post. The primary reason to publish slideshows, as far as I can tell, is to juice page views and banner ad impressions.  Slideshows are super annoying and lists are awesome so we do lists!

Oh god yes. Stop it. They may look prettier, increase your page views and give you the incredibly annoying opportunity to insert random advertising (that I skip anyway), but they are a ROYAL pain in the ass as a reader. And trying to PIN or otherwise bookmark a look? Hell. Some of you even try to make it easier for me by putting a 'pin it' on every page. Doesn't help a bit. And whatever, I just close the article that is hung up in my browser before I get to anything I want to save anyway.

SIN #2 - FLASH STUFF

For a while, I wondered why my entire browser kept seizing up, then I turned off flash and I realized how much of it you use and how much better my experience got. From your ads to your menus to your embedded lookbook stuff to random ways to track my journey through your site, you are choking the hell out of my browsing experience.

Hint: there are TABS on most browsers and most people are using them. When you test your site, test it with at least 10 tabs open and several tabs should be persistent: email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a calendar application. These are all dynamic applications that really shouldn't be running in our browsers persistently either, but they do because they are our lifeline. You are not. Remove anything that slows the loading of your content down and you'll have less bounces. I promise.

SIN #3 - PRODUCT VIDEOS

I know, I know. Someone sold you this idea for a LOT of money and gave you stats on better conversion rates with product videos. And yes, I appreciate a good product video now and then, but it should NOT be default on every product page (see Flash stuff above). Here is how most customers shop: (a) we browse and click around furiously until something catches our attention, (b) when something catches our attention, we want more information and will seek it out at every angle - zoom, seeing it on a model, video, customer reviews, etc.

Don't put (b) before (a). It's just plain frustrating. I think the single biggest innovation in retail was the 'quick look' on products. I love that feature. Then when I'm hooked and I click through the product page, let me poke around quickly and choose a video. K?

SIN #4 - MAKING ME LOG IN TO CHECK OUT

Why on heaven's earth is there an extra log in step before I check out? Can't you get my information in one fell swoop? Send me a temporary password for goodness sake. You don't need all of that information. I'm giving you a credit card, my mailing address, my email address, my size...as a courtesy, would you please just let me check out?

SIN #5 - SPLASH PAGES

What year is this? 1999? I especially love it when a store has a FLASH SPLASH page! What? Add music and you are officially in Web 1.0.

SIN #6 - THE MISSING SEARCH BOX

I'm thinking that you removed the search box from your homepage because you didn't think it looked very pretty there? Or maybe you want me to get frustrated and leave. I know. You want me to get lost in your lovely site. Get over yourself. I'm there for ME. I'm looking for something for ME. Don't get in my way or I'll go elsewhere.

SIN #7 - B.S. SIZING

I wasn't born yesterday. I know that different designers and manufacturers size things differently. So supplying a site-wide sizing guide is NOT helpful. If you are going to provide sizing details, please provide it accurately. And, yes, it's a LOT of work, but it would go a long way to making your customers feel more secure about their order. I bet it would go further than those videos of the pencil thin models walking down a runway in the dress or pants.

And, pray-tell, what the hell does "Fits true to size" mean? To whose size?

SOME BONUS SINS

Unreal Models - Speaking of the models, I just can't relate. I know you want the clothes to look their best and you could never provide enough model body types to satisfy everyone, but it would probably help your customers to know the model is more average sizing. I recently had a situation where I ordered a pretty dress from Shoptiques that must have been modeled by a 5'0" woman because it fit me like a tunic. For a really great example of models, see ModCloth. They are also killing it with their sales.

Artsy Product Shots - That dress looks lovely behind that bush, but it's not getting me any closer to imagining it on my body. Lookbooks are nice, but they aren't super helpful when I'm shopping for something. I know how important branding and having an editorial point of view is...but don't get in the way of my shopping.

A 'Shop' Site That's Different Than Your Corporate/Showroom Site - I don't understand the logic behind this one. And you usually make me open your shop site in a different browser tab, which is a pain. You know, there is software that allows you to do both quite easily. And if you are an indie designer, Etsy allows you to embed your shop in your site, complete with checkout!  Unless you are only distributed through other retailers, I don't understand why you need two sites. I see this so often it makes me scratch my head.

Lack of a Story - One of the best ways to create loyalty and a following is to have a story - your designer/founder's story front and center on the site. Once again, Modcloth is the darling for this. I actually first fell in love with Susan's pug, then Susan. Her story made me want to shout them out from the rooftops.

Summarized RSS Feeds - This one is for publishers. Perhaps if you didn't crash my browser with all of your flash and plugins and community bars loading and stuff, I'd click through those summaries and read the story. But the combination of the two just makes me remove you from my feed reader.

Facebook Comments - I'm on the fence on this one, but I'm increasingly annoyed by them.

Driving Me to Your Facebook Fan Page - Why are you doing this when I'm already on your website?

Pin to Win - Stop it. It not only sounds stupid, but you are polluting my social networks. I've already written about this.

...

I'll stop there for now, but fellow customers, feel free to add anything else that annoys you about the Fashion Web experience. Also, I'm a big fan of simple sites like ASOS and smartly social sites like ModCloth. What are some of your favorite experiences and why?

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