Friday, January 29, 2010

Customer Feedback

We spend a bit of time each week going through our traffic sources in Google Analytics, and also searching for Shoes of Prey on Google and Twitter to see who's been writing about us. Discussions about Shoes of Prey in forums are a great source of customer feedback, and it's great to join the conversation and answer questions. Reading blog posts and news articles gives us ideas on what's most interesting about our business from a press angle. We've also found our offline retailing and website chat to be a great source of ideas as we get to speak directly to customers. And of course this blog is an amazing source of feedback and ideas.

We've been getting some good coverage this week on European blogs and we came across this post yesterday. Those images of the designed shoe next to the photograph of the shoe are better than anything we've done to promote our concept. Some of the shots highlight the photography colour issues we've been having, particularly with reds and pinks, but most of the photos and designs look great next to each other. We'll be borrowing this idea for some of our future marketing efforts - feedback in the form of other people's blog posts is great!

Any interesting ways you get feedback on your business?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

International orders welcome...

This year we want to take Shoes of Prey to the international market. One problem though: up until now we've only supported transactions in Australian dollars. Consequently international orders/press haven't exactly been off the charts.

This week we fixed this. We now support the following currencies:

  • US dollars
  • Japanese Yen
  • Canadian dollars
  • Euros
  • Pounds
  • New Zealand dollars
  • Australian dollars

It will be interesting to see what impact this has on our conversions, however we've already noticed an uptick of European blogs posting about us.

On a technical level, we're using the free IPInfoDB IP database to determine the user's likely country, and then we choose the currency from that. We then store the currency in a cookie. You may also notice that it takes 2 pageviews for the correct currency to turn up. This is because we detect the currency while the first page is loading. However that's okay because that is usually the homepage, which doesn't contain prices.

Please test it out for us and let us know what you think! Did we select the best currency for you?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chinese New Year

We're just in the process of finding out just how much China slows down to celebrate Chinese New Year. Both of the shoe workshops we work with are closed for the month of February and the timing couldn't be worse, some of our custom designed shoes are in the February issue of Marie Claire and the last week has been our biggest for both traffic and online orders - so we're going to also have a delay in making the shoes at the start of March because we'll have a larger backlog than we expected. So we've been telling customers that their shoes won't be ready until late March and so far so good, our customers seem to be understanding.

Still, it's not ideal and it's a good lesson. We thought we were managing our manufacturing risk by having two workshops to make our shoes, but that doesn't work when they are both in China and both close for Chinese New Year! For next year we'll either have to find a workshop in another country to help plug the gap, or speak with the workshops and see if some of the shoe makers would be interested in taking a shorter break in exchange for a higher rate of pay.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Our low conversion rate

I was chatting to my mate Tom Davies who's recently launched a bike website Chappelli Cycles. They do single speed fixed gear bicycles which are very popular at the moment.

The plan for their business is to do custom bicycles but to keep things simple and test the market they launched their site with 3 designs. And one month after launching sales have beat their expectations and they've already sold out of one model. Their conversion rate (the number of people who purchase as a percentage of people who visit the site) is fantastic.

In comparison, our conversion rate is abysmal. About 1 in 600 visits to our website results in a sale, that's 0.167%. A good retail website should have a conversion rate around 1-2%. Fortunately our traffic has been fantastic, so sales are still reasonable, but if our conversion rates were 1-2%... wow.

So that got me thinking about why our conversion rate is so low. After talking to some customers one key reason we think it's low is that people can't make a decision, we give them too much choice. With over 3 trillion possible shoe combinations they design 20 pairs of shoes they like, then they're paralysed when it comes to making a decision, so they don't make one.

In addition to their bike's looking fantastic, that theory would also help explain Chappelli Cycles excellent conversion rate - 3 choices keeps it simple. Custom bikes will no doubt drive lots more traffic via word of mouth and PR attention, then perhaps Tom should keep the ready made bikes available in addition to doing custom bikes. Perhaps we should do that with our shoes.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Do you think too much choice paralyses people when it comes to making a decision? How do we help customers overcome this?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Government Grants

I've been looking into the new Commercialisation Australia government grants and we're going to apply for a 'Proof of Concept' grant to help us fund some of the work we want to do to further develop Shoes of Prey.

The program looks quite good and I like that they've set it up so that you do a smaller version of the application first, then if you're successful through that stage you do the full application. It's great that they don't suck up your time with the full application at the outset. have just written up a good post about the grants if you're looking for more information.

Has anyone had any experience with government grants in the past? Anyone else thinking of applying?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Keeping healthy when doing a startup

Aside from our time in China, Mike and I have been working from home since starting our custom shoe business, Jodie still has her full time job. Working from home we've found it's very easy to spend the day on the couch and do no exercise. I think my record was 5 days in a row without going outside - that's bad.

I recently read an article that talked about a study showing the biggest factor in heart disease risk is stationary hours - that's hours spent not really moving much, whether that's watching TV or in our case, sitting on the couch with a laptop, basically not moving all day.

I then watched this video on longevity from a recent TED conference:

If you don't have 20mins to watch the video basically some people did a study on communities around the world with a high proportion of centenarians and found the following common themes amongst those communities:

  • The people move naturally - they don't exercise as we do, physical activity is part of their daily lives. Whether they're out collecting firewood, doing the gardening or cleaning the house, they have lots of natural movement in their average day.
  • Right outlook - they're positive and aren't overly stressed.
  • Sense of purpose - they don't retire
  • Eat wisely - they don't binge drink, they have a plant based diet and they don't overeat.
  • Connect - they have strong family groups, are often involved in faith based groups and their friends also do the points above, making it easy and natural for them to stick with these healthy habits.

I'm not doing a particularly good job yet, but here's what I've been doing to try to meet some of these things:
  • I do a fair amount of exercise - I aim for 1.5 hours a day of yoga, running or something similar and I've recently started to get into indoor rock climbing. But I'm now trying to add more general movement activities like walking or running places instead of catching the bus, as well as attempting to get excited by things like cleaning the house as that means I can move.
  • Running a startup is definitely stressful but I'm trying to put less pressure on myself and take some of the unnecessary stress out of my day.
  • Retirement isn't exactly on my radar just yet, and I'm pretty sure I'd be bored by that anyway, but not 'retiring' is a good thing to keep in the back of the mind so that I develop interests that I can keep for the rest of my life.
  • I love overeating but have recently been doing less of that. And I've pretty much eliminated binge drinking which I did a lot of in my uni days. I read another article a few years back about a study showing that rats who eat very light meals live 50% longer than average rats. I'm not a rat, but I've been eating a little less anyway. I've also been getting into cooking healthyish meals and have been making quite tasty salad sandwiches for lunch everyday.
  • Losing connections with people was one of my big fears with leaving Google and working from home. I'm quite happy with how this is panning out. I catch up with friends regularly and head into the Google office for a game of poker and to catch up with friends every once in a while. Twitter and Facebook are both fantastic tools for staying connected with people too. And I've been making some new friends who are also doing startups, and a few of them are keen on exercising so we've been combining rock climbing or running with startup related catch ups.

What do you do to stay healthy?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Shoes of Prey for Valentine's Day - we'd love your thoughts.

In the lead up to Christmas we launched Shoes of Prey gift certificates and they sold really well. They've been popular as birthday gifts too.

Valentine's Day is approaching and according to Google Insights for Search, people are already searching for 'valentines day ideas'. What better way to say I love you than to give your lady friend the opportunity to design her own shoes which will then be handmade and delivered to her beautiful feet?!

We'd love your thoughts on ways to get this message out there. This is still a draft but in the next few days we're planning to put together the following ads which we'll run on the Google content network, targeting males visiting sports websites:

Ad for tennis websites. An animated ad:
1. Animation of someone serving. Text says 'Ace this valentine's day'
2. Animation of the shoe designer. Text says 'Let her design her own shoes'
3. Animation of designed shoe fades into a photo of a finished shoe. Text says 'with a gift voucher from Shoes of Prey.
4. Shoes of Prey logo fades in. Text says 'As seen in Marie Claire Feb 2010. Order online now.'

Soccer and Rugby websites: An animated ad:
1. Animation of someone scoring a try / kicking a goal. Text says 'Score this valentine's day'
2, 3 & 4 same as above.

Cricket websites: An animated ad:
1. Animation of a wicket keeper taking the bails off. Text says: 'Stumped this valentine's day?'
2, 3 & 4 same as above.

What do you think of these ads? What else can we do over the next 4 weeks to get this message out there?

Image Credit.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Please be blunt... rude even!

Part of the problem of running your own business is that you tend to view everything through rose colored glasses. Everything looks perfect because a) it's your own work and b) you have specialised domain knowledge. However this way of viewing the world is incredibly debilitating.

Since we started selling custom women's shoes on our website last year, we've received mountains of enthusiastic feedback. People seem to be genuinely delighted with our website and product. If we had a dollar for every time someone said, "what a great idea!" we could stop selling shoes entirely! However, it's actually the negative feedback that we're craving. We want to take our business to the next level this year so we'd love it if you could give us uncensored feedback about how we are going. What do you think is working? What isn't working, and why? How can we do better?

It goes almost without saying that we're particularly interested to hear from women. If you haven't purchased a pair of shoes yet, why not? If you have, what convinced you? And if you're male, what could we do to prompt you to buy a gift certificate for your lady friend?

Please be blunt. Rude even!

(Photo credit)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Custom Made Women's Shoes Online

In an earlier post we discussed the pros and cons of sharing your business idea with other people prior to your launch. Our conclusion was that other people have had your idea anyway, and who succeeds will come down to execution rather than the idea itself, so you're better off sharing your idea and getting feedback and thoughts from anyone and everyone.

To show you why we think that's true, we thought we'd share with you 8 other design your own women's shoe businesses that we've come across since the launch of our custom made women's shoe site, Shoes of Prey.

And no doubt for each of these that actually launched there were 100s of other people who had the same idea but never got around to executing on it.

It's interesting looking at the different takes people have on the idea and how they've addressed the same problems we've encountered. Most of these sites don't let you customise the shoe design a great deal, they focus on letting you change the colours and adding decorations. Dream Heels and Zappos/Steve Madden run shoe design competitions and the winning shoes are produced, you can't actually order your design. And they've all addressed the shoe sizing conundrum and approached their returns policies in slightly different ways.

It's nice to see that other people think the idea has enough merit for them to have launched design your own women's shoes businesses, and the market for women's shoes is massive, so there's no reason that we and all the other businesses above can't all be successful. But having competitors is a good reminder that we need to have a great product and treat our customers well if we want to succeed. :)

Have you seen an idea you've had been executed by someone else?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bespoke Customer Service

I love great customer service. There's nothing better as a customer than receiving great customer service from a company you're dealing with. And in different work roles, from working on the counter at McDonalds during High School, to working in advertising sales at Google, I've always enjoyed giving great customer service too.

A key part of our marketing strategy for Shoes of Prey is to encourage word of mouth. It's one of the reasons we chose custom made women's shoes as a product, and we think offering high quality, bespoke customer service fits nicely with our brand. So how do we plan to offer great customer service?

1. Making all our communications super personalised - I enjoy meeting new people and speaking with Shoes of Prey customers is great for doing that, so I tend to make the emails quite chatty and personal. We use Gmail for our emails which is great as it keeps conversations with a customer in one email thread, so it's easy to see what I've discussed with the customer previously. I also use Google Calendar to remind myself when to contact a customer in the future - if a customer has ordered shoes for their 30th birthday party it's nice to email the customer after the party to see how it went.

2. Quick, tailored responses to emails - We aim to reply to all our customer's emails within 24 hours, and during the day we usually reply within a couple of hours at most.

3. Calling customers - If a customer has a question that is going to require some back and forth between the customer and I, or they have a difficult question, I prefer to call them up and speak over the phone. Customers seem to really appreciate this.

4. Online chat - When Mike or I are on our computers (which is more often than not) we man the Shoes of Prey website chat which allows customers on the website to chat with us. Aside from allowing customers to get immediate responses to their questions it's been great for getting feedback on how to improve our business. On Wednesday I was chatting to a customer who ended up purchasing shoes. She emailed me after her purchase to say our chat is what tipped her over the edge to purchase. She's since emailed to say she's a producer of TV news shows in the US and we're going to have a chat about PR opportunities = customer service success story!

5. Personalised packaging - When we send customers their shoes we include a photo of their shoes with double sided tape on the back so they can attach the photo to their shoe box and see which shoes are inside. Vanessa writes a tailored, hand written letter introducing the customer to their shoes. And we include a few different types of shoe inserts in case the fit isn't exactly right. Customers seem to appreciate this. :)

6. Going above and beyond - a customer recently ordered a pair of shoes that she wanted to wear a week after ordering them. Unfortunately we can't make the shoes that quickly, however her order was exactly the same as a pair of shoes we had made for our Sydney Fashion Weekend display, so we loaned those shoes to her while hers were being made. We asked if she would mind taping the soles of the shoes to protect them and taking care of the shoes which she did. So we have a very happy customer and a pair of display shoes still in perfect condition. :)

I love reading about great customer service stories and I think this one from Zappos takes the cake.

What are your favourite customer service stories? If you offer great customer service in your work how do you do it? Any suggestions for us?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Computer game psychology

As discussed previously, our Facebook page is working well for us so we've been giving some thought to how we can better utilise Facebook to market our business.

Companies like Zynga are having a lot of success with their Facebook games like Farmville, Mafia Wars, Poker and their latest game Cafe World. That got us thinking about how we might be able to leverage Facebook and computer game psychology for Shoes of Prey.

I started playing Cafe World on Facebook the other day and here's why I think it's so addictive and already has over 30million monthly active users after only launching 3 months ago!

  • The game is relatively easy to learn and follow. It's got a look and feel quite similar to The Sims.
  • There are levels which are quick and easy to move up.
  • When you reach a new level you're rewarded with new elements in the game being unlocked, like new items you can cook, or new furniture to buy.
  • Cooking dishes for your cafe can take anywhere from 3 minutes to 2 days, so you can happily sit on the game for 20 minutes cooking small dishes and then you're encouraged to come back each day to serve up your larger dishes which take longer to cook.
  • Often when you reload the game you'll be given some kind of gift or reward, like a dish that's already cooked for you to serve. This encourages you to re-open the game a couple of times each day.

And to add to the addictive elements the game taps into your social graph to get your friends involved, helping spread the growth of the game:

  • When you open your cafe you're prompted to 'Announce the grand opening' which posts a story to your news feed.
  • Each time you reach a new level you're prompted to announce it to your friends.
  • You're rewarded in the game for adding neighbors. Neighbors are Facebook friends who also have cafes. If your friends aren't playing Cafe World you're prompted to invite them.
  • When you hire a waiter you select one of your Facebook friends to hire. When doing this you're prompted to send them a message letting them know you've hired them in Cafe World.
  • You can give in game gifts as bonuses to your Cafe World neighbours which act as reminders to your friends to come back and load the game up to use the gift you've sent them.

Clearly Zynga have taken every opportunity in the game to encourage you to tell your friends about Cafe World, and judging by the number of Farmville posts appearing in my news feed they do the same in their other games. When you think about it, it's impressive that computer game makers can have us so enthralled with something that doesn't have any real world presence. So surely we can create a Facebook application that's even more entertaining given it can link into designing your own shoes in the real world? This thought is still very much in it's infancy so if you have any ideas we'd love to hear them!

Monday, January 4, 2010

ebay store for Shoes of Prey?

I had our earlier post about how we use our sample and returned shoes in the back of my mind when Janet Leach of Artery Store tweeted that she had set up an ebay store and that it was working quite well for her.

So I had a quick chat to Janet and have decided we'll try out an ebay store too. A few thoughts we have so far:
  • We'll list our sample and returned shoes on ebay for our normal price but offer free shipping. We don't want to move into discounting and don't want to create a situation where our customers can return shoes because they are the wrong size, then watch as other people buy their design at a cheaper price than they can buy the shoes for.
  • The goals of the store will obviously be to sell the sample and returned shoes, but also to introduce ebay users to Shoes of Prey and drive traffic back to our website so they can use our online shoe designer to design their own shoes.

Have you set up an ebay store before and if so any tips for us? Any other sites you think we could set up stores on that would allow us to sell our sample and returned shoes and drive traffic to the Shoes of Prey website? Photo Credit.

I've created an ebay account and created our first listing. To open an ebay store you need a feedback score of 5 which I think means we'll need to sell 5 shoes with standard listings first. Our listing has been up for nearly 24 hours and unfortunately has only had 3 views, all of which have been me, so I'm not sure how we're going to go! Any tips are most welcome!