Online Retail | Stephan Spencer

Online Retail Archives - Stephan Spencer

Ferrit, RIP

By | Ecommerce, Online Retail | 5 Comments

New Zealand comparison shopping engine Ferrit is no more. They blew through an incredible amount of money, had their day in the sun, and now they are gone.

I’m sad about that. Not because they were a past client of Netconcepts (back when they had money). But because they were a comparison shopping engine that had a shot at making it – of successfully crossing over into the mainstream. Indeed, much of New Zealand knew of Ferrit, due in large part to the series of funny TV commercials they became known for. Here’s one of my favorites, below.

“A book on India”! Haha, umm, not exactly! Oh, and the donkey came from a “completely different website”. Classic!

Brand recognition of Ferrit was high among consumers. But yet they weren’t moving product.

Is there a lesson to be learned for the global comparison shopping engines? Certainly nothing to be learned by Google for Google Product Search. But for everyone else (Shopzilla, Become, TheFind, etc.), sure. I think the lesson is in how to “cross the chasm” into the mainstream and live to tell the tale.

The Christmas Gifts You Wished You Had Gotten

By | Online Retail | One Comment

I love science, cool gadgets, new technologies, and lifelong learning. When it comes to being a consumer of high-tech wizardry, I’m an enthusiastic early adopter. If you are too, then hopefully you got some cool presents this holiday. If instead Santa left you a lump of coal or a knitted sweater, fear not: you can treat yourself. Here are a few of my recommendations for your “indulge yourself” post-Christmas shopping (in order by price, from least expensive to most):

Discovery DNA Explorer Kit – Extract DNA and run electrophoresis and chromotagraphy experiments in the comfort of your own home! Complete with centrifuge! (Sold out on Amazon, so head to eBay instead) – $50

Discovery Forensics Lab – If you’re a fan of any of the CSI shows on TV, you’ll surely appreciate this kit – $80

(If you or your kid is into science, here are 25 more cool science kits/experiments/toys)

iBreath iPod attachment – For the gadget lover who already has every conceivable gadget… I bet you don’t have this one! Who DOESN’T need a portable breathalyzer that looks cool and hooks into your iPod? Well, I don’t. But that’s beside the point… – $80

23andme genetic analysis – Get your DNA genotyped for dozens of genetic markers. It’s not as good as getting fully sequenced, so nobody’s going to be able to clone you from the data you get back, but hey, it’s a start! 23andme was founded by the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin. – $400

GTD Connect subscription – I’m a huge fan of the productivity methodology known as “GTD” developed by David Allen and described in his best-selling book Getting Things Done. Here’s my quick synopsis of GTD. Any serious GTD practitioner needs a subscription to GTD Connect. – $480 (per year)

Spider II GX laser – Who wouldn’t want a laser pointer with a 100 meter range that can melt plastic? – $1700

The Elite Retreat conference – Learn how to become a self-made Internet millionaire – $5000

Zero G zero gravity flight – Float weightless like the astronauts in parabolic flight – $5200

More cash to burn than that? You could fly a Russian MiG for $15k. Or better yet, become a space tourist and visit the ISS in orbit for $20 million (payable to the Russian government).

Widget Best Practices

By | Ecommerce, Online Retail | One Comment

The following is from a handout I developed for my presentation on the use of widgets in online retail at the Strategy & Innovation Forum earlier this year. It’s a checklist of widget best practices. Enjoy! (There’s also a Word doc version of this available for download: widget_checklist.doc.)

Thinking of developing a widget for folks’ desktops, mobile phones, blogs, or social networks (e.g. Facebook or MySpace)? First off, you need to decide what type of widget you’re going to be developing. There are three types:

  • Desktop (or Dashboard) Widget: Installed on your computer. Platforms include Yahoo Widgets, the OS X Dashboard, and the Windows Vista sidebar. One example is the customer-developed widget for the Mac that monitors availability of the daily product at Woot ( wootcom.html).
  • Web Widget: For your blog or social media app like Facebook, MySpace, etc. One example of this is the LastFM widget ( which allows you to “share your music anywhere.”
  • Mobile Widget: For mobile phones on the DotMobi domain, as well as iPhone-specific widgets. Some examples at

When planning and developing your widget, it might be helpful to keep the following in mind…

• Is your widget useful to your target audience? What’s the hook (incentive) that will compel them to install it or use it? Does the widget solve the user’s business problems? Does it save them time or money, or make them more productive? Users listen to WII-FM (“What’s In It For Me?”).
• Are the functions your widget provides on-message with your brand?
• Is the data delivered by the widget always fresh and up-to-date?
• Are there features that leverage the community of users?
• Does your widget have the capacity to go viral? In other words, is it contagious? And is it “slippery” – in other words, easy to share or distribute to friends?

• Is your widget ROI positive?
• What are your objectives? Brand building? PR? Links? Lead generation? Driving conversions? Increasing the customer’s AOV?
• Set realistic marketing and ecommerce goals for the widget and track success.
• What is your budget for widget development and maintenance? What if your widget is a huge hit…do you have an action plan in place to upgrade all aspects of service?

• Monitor and evaluate the widget’s server reliability (uptime). Fully QA and stress test the widget.
• Determine the widget’s loading time and optimize it for maximum performance.
• If it’s a blog widget, make sure it doesn’t hold up the rest of the blogger’s page from loading quickly if the server that serves up your widget becomes unresponsive.
• What is your adoption rate of your widget? Conduct traffic volume scalability testing to ensure your widget’s servers can cope.

• If a web widget, does its HTML code validate?
• Is the widget code well-documented (for the benefit of your programmers)?
• If a web widget, will updated versions of the widget require that the blogger/webmaster update your code they inserted into their template?
• If it’s a Flash-based widget, does it have an HTML wrapper?

• Evaluate the usability of the widget’s user interface and of the installation process (via surveys, focus groups, and/or usability consultants).
• Does your widget follow the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle? Don’t try to make the widget do too many things; stay focused.
• Design your widget for the market you are targeting. Use language that they identify with.
• Consider allowing the user installing the widget to customize its look to their own tastes.
• Check for browser compatibility on various versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc.
• Check for platform compatibility on various versions of Windows, Mac, Linux.
• Conduct international usability tests. Does the widget offer localized content for international users? Has the widget been translated into foreign languages?
• Is the site mobile device friendly?
• Is the widget usable for people with disabilities?
• If a blog widget, is the widget printer friendly? Or does it mess up the formatting of the page when printed?

• Don’t neglect PageRank as your incentive to build widgets. If nothing else, a good widget can serve as link bait, driving lots of inbound links to your web site.
• Web widgets can pass PageRank from the website where the widget is placed to your site, but only if done correctly. To help increase your chances of the links being counted for PageRank:
• If your widget is coded in JavaScript, place your text links outside the JavaScript, or use a “noscript” tag.
• If coded in Flash, you can utilize progressive enhancement or an HTML “wrapper”.
• For iframe widgets, place your text links outside the iframe, or use a “noframe” tag.
• The best widgets for SEO are WordPress widgets (written in PHP) or HTML-based widgets because the widget’s HTML code, including links and content, is fully accessible to spiders and integrated into the rest of the blog’s HTML. WordPress widgets are similar to WordPress plugins.
• Include relevant keywords in the anchor text of the links back to your site. For example, instead of a link saying, “Your Brand,” spice it up some and say “Your Brand’s Weather Widget,” or other keyword text that describes what your widget is about.
• If it’s a blog widget, have a plugin version of it for major blog platforms such as WordPress. Thus the links and content generated by the widget will become integrated into the rest of the blog’s HTML code, and the links will appear more “real” to the search engines.
• Create your links with a “target=_blank” code so that webmasters are less inclined to remove the link. Some webmasters believe that widgets “steal’ traffic from their website or blog.

Marketing on a Shoestring Budget – Steve Spangler Interviewed

By | Blogging, Ecommerce, Online Retail, Podcasting, Social Networking, Web Marketing | No Comments

You gotta check out this WebProNews video interview at ACCM 08 of Steve Spangler – the science teacher turned catalog company CEO/Emmy award winner/keynote speaker/toy inventor:

In the video, Steve talks about how his Mentos + Diet Coke experiment turned into a YouTube sensation and how he was able to leverage it for his own marketing purposes. Steve is a client of ours and he even mentions Netconcepts (thank you Steve!!) as his experts behind the scenes helping him, which was really cool to hear. :)

Also in the video Steve shows off his cool flaming wallet, and how he is privileged to receive “special treatment” at airport security because of it. Um, yeah, that’s not the kind of attention that you want, Steve 😉

What you don’t see in the video is that Steve also has a flaming business card holder. It’s hilarious when he whips out one of his business cards and he has to put the fire out on the flaming card before he hands it to you. I’d LOVE to have one of those card holders and then troll the trade show floor and then hand over a flaming card to overaggressive, hard-selling vendors – but WITHOUT putting the fire out! hehe :>

Live Blogging ACCM: Increasing Web Sales on a Shoe String Budget

By | Blogging, Ecommerce, Online Retail, Web Marketing | No Comments

I’m here at ACCM in the session “Increasing Web Sales on a Shoe String Budget”. Here’s the session description:
As the cost of doing business online continues to increase, small businesses must be strategic and creative in how they expend limited funds and resources. This session will discuss ways to maximize your conversion and average order size without breaking the bank on expensive bells and whistles. Using solid web design, studying metrics and trends, taking advantage of strategic cost effective marketing and using strategic catalog mailings are all part of the frugal marketer’s playbook.

Mike Feiman of Pooldawg is up first. Pooldawg (a Netconcepts client, btw) was founded in 2003 and sells 2100+ pool cues. Pooldawg uses Google Analytics. Number of visits doesn’t really matter, it’s all about what they do while on your site. They are focused on visit length, visit depth, bounce rates, conversion rate. Have about 3000 pages total, fully indexed by Google, each page is a potential entry page. Very important to present a consistent feel throughout the site. Pooldawg buys PPC. Don’t get caught in bidding wars. Focus on the long tail. Drop keywords that don’t perform and focus on conversion and cost per action (CPA). They buy ads on Google Adwords, Microsoft adCenter, Yahoo Search Marketing. By chasing keywords they cost per conversion skyrockets. “billiards” as a search term converts poorly. Long Tail is where it’s at. Brand names + pool cues convert much better and are cheaper. They constantly evaluate keywords, trying to get them to perform by ad copy tweaks and landing page tweaks etc. and if they still don’t perform, they drop them from their PPC keyword list. Mike says: I’m willing to pay $1 a click if it’s costing me $5 a customer, but not $1 a click if it’s costing $40 a customer. People who use their internal search convert at 4x higher rate than those who do not. Signed up with Celebros and conversion jumped from 4x higher to 6x higher. Look at the results for searches coming through and if the results are poor, do something about it. Added a “Related Searches” tagging feature, thanks to Netconcepts, put them on the product page, and people use them. That creates more pages for Google to index, and they’re seeing search traffic already coming in directly to these pages. They just launched this but it’s already returning ROI. Only 10% of visitors are using the internal search. It’s really about taking advantage of their current customers rather than throwing money at getting all new customers. In terms of guerrilla marketing… Participating on message boards is hugely valuable to Pooldawg. They talk to the board leaders who then communicate to the forum users, sponsor the message boards. With blogging, they haven’t quite found their voice yet. They write articles internally and get them syndicated. One of their most popular articles is “the Anatamy of a pool cue”, get tons of traffic to that page and it converts really well, so the ROI on the hour it took to write the article was great. Before site redesign done by Netconcepts, only 30% indexation in Google. Now 100% and they rank really high. Affiliate marketing is great for low cost customer acquisition. 6-8 % of total sales. 1000 affiliates, and only 100 really drive any real revenue for Pooldawg. 49% of traffic from natural search, 9% from paid search. 85 of their Top 100 terms are in the top 5 rankings in Google, 80 of the Top 100 in Yahoo. Natural search is very cost effective. Give users engaging tools and content. Pooldawg is building a very nice library of proprietary content – over 100 articles – will be adding video too. They partner with trusted names and steer away from the shadier players in their market. Sponsor the WPBA, BCA,, – associate themselves with trusted names.

Steve Spangler, “Chief Mess Maker” (CEO) of Steve Spangler Science. Shows off his flaming wallet and how they took him to a private room at the airport. 😉 Steve is the originator of the Mentos + Diet Coke geyser experiment. Showing off some video of him on the Food Network, on the Ellen Show, on Denver’s 9News. Hilarious! Steve originally moved from public speaking for generating revenue to the website to do so. In 2005 the Mentos geyser things started to take off. How do you leverage this into a business that supports 30 employees? How do you go from an obscure backyard demo to an Internet phenomenon in less than 12 months? (i.e. get to 2 million + views on YouTube). In 2004 he wanted a redesign with some Flash but Stephan said no he wouldn’t do that but Netconcepts would create a blog instead. On June 1 2004 this amazing traffic spike happened. It was a brief mention of Instasnow and Steve Spangler Science on the blog BoingBoing. puts Instasnow on their stupidest products list and it gets on Good Morning America. Turned lemons (“bad press”?) into lemonade by blogging “It’s great to be stupid!” The blog is a perfect place for all sorts of great stories and testimonials like how Instasnow got a teacher out of a speeding ticket. Really important to write attention grabbing headlines on the blog: not “200 teachers engage in inquiry based science” but instead “Parents Beware: Teachers Gone Wild”. Not “Science project about pulling microscopic meteorites out of your gutter” but instead “A meteorite hit my house!” The blog post that really launched the whole Mentos geyser phenomenon, video news anchor wearing a beautiful St Johns outfit got covered with Diet Coke: “News Anchor Gets Soaked! Mentos Experiment Sets a New Record”. Where else would he put the fact that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? called Steve and wanted to put a Mentos + Diet Coke question on air: the blog! Does the blog generate sales? Measured that and the answer is yes. Steve makes the Time 100 most influential people nominees list. Is blogging really worth the effort? It is! Currently blogging 2-3 times per week, have an editor helping find stuff to blog about. #1 in Google for “science experiments”. Big spike on Cybermonday. 3,000 inbound links. 4% of total traffic is from the blog, but 12% of sales are attributable to the blog! Now Steve is looking at expanding into Twitter. Amy Africa in the audience says: “I love Twitter!” but she’s being facetious. 1.8 million views on the Steve and news anchor Mentos + Diet Coke YouTube video. What should you blog if you want to make money: best-selling products, “Did you know?” product information loaded with keywords, company events – past and present, “Behind the Scenes” information, customer testimonials.

My Interview with Chris Alan, SEO Manager at

By | Online Retail, Search Engines | No Comments

Late last year I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Alan, a true SEO veteran and head of SEO over at Chris was one of my fellow speakers at the AMA Hot Topic: Search Engine Marketing conferences I chaired in Seattle and Boston last Fall.

Now this interview is finally available as a half hour long audio podcast for your listening enjoyment, as well as an abridged transcript for you speed readers who prefer the written word over the spoken.

Chris and I had a fascinating discussion about the unique challenges of search engine optimizing huge sites. One of the topics we covered was landing pages for SEO and how they differ from PPC landing pages. Chris explains that, unlike with paid search campaigns, in SEO you can’t just switch out landing pages very easily — at least not without some powerful technology. Furthermore, any changes to improve conversion on the SEO landing page can negatively impact the page’s organic rankings, thus making it harder to pinpoint what’s making the page less effective. What’s needed is a solution that allows you to make changes to the page yet still maintain your rankings.

Chris understands the value of empirical testing. SEO is an experimental science. You can’t just blindly implement SEO tactics prescribed by SEO experts on their blogs and in the forums. You need to test it for yourself. This is harder than it sounds when you’re dealing with millions of pages indexed. That’s why Expedia has a suite of very sophisticated tools at their disposal, that Chris could only briefly allude to.

Hope you enjoy this podcast!

Convert your Customers by Listening to Bryan Eisenberg

By | Content, Conversion, Ecommerce, Online Retail | 2 Comments

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryan Eisenberg, who is the co-founder and CPO of Future Now, Inc. Bryan is also a high profile speaker, author, consultant, blogger, and the publisher of GrokDotCom. In additional to his role at Future Now, Bryan is also one of the founders and Chairman of the Web Analytics Association.

My interview with Bryan was about personas and “Persuasion Architecture,” a process that helps persuade customers to make a decision on your website when traditional marketing methods fail. As an inventor of Persuasion Architecture, Bryan shares a wealth of expertise into the world of crafting personas to get into your customers’ minds in order to give them the content they need in order for them to make their next click decision.

There are several nuggets that we can take from Bryan’s interview, that revolve around the idea of personalized search. I asked Bryan what the typical rate was for a typical online retailer. His answer? “The average online conversion rate for a typical retailer today is 2.4%.” That’s pretty depressing when you think about it. So how to you help your conversion rate through managing your content?

Persuasion Architecture is based on Bryan’s idea that, “everybody does things for their own reasons.” These reasons translate into four, distinct preferences, the how and why people do the things that they do. Once you understand the four basic personality types — emotional, logical, fast-paced, and disciplined — you can build perspectives or snapshots that give you insight into how your customers might want to purchase your products. Once you understand the “how,” then you can build the “who.” Who is buying your products from your site? That’s where profiles come into play, small pictures to what Bryan says will “give us a little better understanding of who that grouping or that mode of behavior is going to be — and then ultimately two personas.”

Listen to my interview with Bryan Eisenberg for more about how to boost your site’s conversion rate. This podcast is 40 minutes long, and is a 10 MB download. Enjoy!

Synopsis of key findings from the CyberSource study on online fraud

By | Ecommerce, Online Retail, Search Engines | One Comment

Some interesting findings in the CyberSource 2006 Online Fraud Report:

  • Chargebacks accounted for less than half of fraud losses
  • The rate of fraud associated with international orders is twice as high as the overall average
  • Merchants reject international orders at a rate three times higher than the overall average
  • An estimated $2.8 billion in online revenues was lost to online fraud in 2005; up from $2.6 billion in 2004
  • 73% of merchants are engaging in manual order review
  • Merchants with less than $5 million in annual online orders have the highest review rate (average 28% of orders)
  • Medium and large merchants (merchants selling more than $5 million online) review 15-25% of orders
  • Medium and large merchants tend to employ two times the number of screening tools as compared to smaller merchants and are two times as likely to utilize automated decision systems
  • 44% of orders reviewed require contacting the customer, 29% require contacting the customer’s bank, and 18% of the orders require contacting third party data sources (such as credit bureaus)
  • The most popular forms of automated fraud screening for merchants surveyed included, in order of popularity (also see chart below):
    1. Address Verification Service (AVS): Compares numeric address data with information on file from the cardholder’s card issuing bank. Generally available for US cardholders and for limited numbers of cardholders in Canada and the UK. Subject to a significant rate of “false positives”.
    2. Card Verification Number (CVN; also known as CVV2 for Visa, CVC2 for MasterCard, CID for American Express and Discover): Attempts to verify that the person placing the order has the card in their possession in order to provide the additional security digits.
    3. Address Point Verification
    4. Card association payer authentication services: Includes “Verified by Visa” and “MasterCard SecureCode”
    5. Fraud Screens – Company Specific
    6. Negative Lists
    7. Automated Order Decisioning / Screening: Helps merchants automate order screening by applying a merchant’s business rules in the real-time evaluation of incoming orders to detect the probability of fraud.
    8. IP Geolocation Info
    9. Fraud Screens – General Industry Models
    10. Order Velocity Monitoring
    11. External Databases
    12. Positive Lists
  • Merchants surveyed indicated that they ultimately accepted over two-thirds of the orders they manually reviewed
  • Merchants rejected 3.9% of orders due to suspicion of fraud
  • 21% of merchants reported experiencing a fraudulent order rate exceeding 1% (accepted orders that later turn out to be fraudulent)
  • 51% of merchants spend more than 0.5% of their online revenues to manage online payment fraud, while 49% spend less than 0.5%. This cost doesn’t include direct fraud loss (chargebacks, lost goods and associated shipping costs) or the opportunity cost associated with valid order rejection.
  • On average, order review staff costs consume 48% of the fraud mitigation budget, followed by 28% for third party tools or services and 24% for internally developed tools and systems.

The full report is available as a free download.

Fraud Detection Tool Usage chart

Manage Your Reputation the Do-It-Yourself Way

By | Branding, Online Retail | No Comments

Reputation monitoring and management have become hot topics and will only continue to grow. These are becoming important areas for all businesses, large and small, to focus on as more and more people turn to the Web to communicate through blogs, their own Web sites, as well as the ever-growing opportunities for online consumer reviews and ratings.

The above quote was written in a CNet: Searchlight post about DIY Reputation Management. In that post, I take an in-depth look at this popular topic for businesses and professionals, and offer a ton of tips like: places to monitor your online reputation, what to do, what not to do, and some friendly reminders. I’d like to share with you one of my tips: set up Google and Yahoo! alerts for keywords, your brand name, or other things that relate to your reputation. By doing so, you can easily keep up with what kinds of content the search engines are serving up.

Take your Business to the Local Search Level

By | Online Retail, Search Engines | One Comment

One of the areas that I’m starting to see a rapid growth in, is local search. It’s important that business owners start taking advantage of this growth in popularity, so that they claim a stake in this soon-to-be competitive market. Believe it or not, there are a number of free tools where you can list your business locally through the major search engines. I talk about those tools and the importance of taking advantage of them in my article on CNET: Searchlight my SEO blog. One example of the tools I discuss is Google’s By following a few, easy instructions, you are well on your way into the local listings.