From Our Survey: How E-commerce and Customer Service Saved a Business
From Our Survey: How E-commerce and Customer Service Saved a Businessback

Editor’s note: Yes, we have data! Responses to our Online Marketing Survey are in and we’re crunching the numbers now but to give you a taste of the wisdom we found from all of you who took the survey, here’s one of our case studies.

What started as a gift shop in a strip mall in 1982 grew to two stores in two malls — a healthy local family business. But by 2002, high rents and the takeover of the malls by chain stores forced the closure of both stores.

Twenty years of retail experience put on the shelf … or was it. Enter Bob, JoAnn’s techie husband. He set up a website to see if they could get rid of the garage-full of inventory left over after the going-out-of-business sales. Much to their surprise, they made a sale. Then another and another.

Now they have two e-commerce websites, one specializing in throws and wall tapestries Keepsakes, Etc., the other, Simply Bags, in totes and bags, which went online in 2007. Bob quit his IT job and now works full-time analyzing analytics and bringing his wife’s companies to the top of Google search results. They have a warehouse and employ 7 to 12 people, depending on the season.

So how do you get from “going out of business” to “growing by leaps and bounds?” For Bob and JoAnn, it boils down to Google Analytics, customer service, and Google Analytics for customer service.

As Bob says, in the age of social media, a discontented customer can tweet a negative comment to hundreds of people as she walks out the door — or clicks away from your website. He calls it “negative, eye-rolling marketing” that can go very far, very fast.

“If you have a bad name, customers will find out in a heartbeat … You have to treat customers well, have the product they want, and deliver,” he says.

The details about how Bob uses analytics and SEO will be covered in our online marketing survey report. Right now, let’s focus on customer service.

What do people want?
“Listen to your customer is the first paragraph in any direct-selling book,” Bob says. “Basically, that’s what analytics is … [with e-commerce] you don’t actually talk to your customers but you can watch them.”

Bob watches where people spend time on his websites, where they go from each page, and what they search for. Good service means giving people what they want. Analytics tell you what that is … exactly what that is.

When people browse through a brick-and-mortar store, they may not know exactly what they want.. And the clerk can’t pinpoint their path from lunch bags to cosmetic bags to purchase. But analytics can.

And tracking the searches people make on the website, tells him what they wish were on the site, what they really want.

If Bob sees people searching for particular items, he test markets. The product is put on the website and drop-shipped until the data show him the product is a hit. Then it’s brought into the product line in volume and shipped from their warehouse.

Help them find it.
SEO is about helping people find what they want. The purpose of Google’s algorithms, Bob says, is to give the searcher the best results. “If you have the best throw blanket on the internet, that’s the one Google wants to come up number one,” he says.

So Bob uses keyword phrases carefully and deliberately: not just “throw blanket” but “Ohio State throw blanket.” (Of course, now that he is online rather than in a mall in Canton, OH, he has a whole section of college throws from around the nation.)

And don’t lie. As he puts it, don’t say you have red apples if you don’t have red apples. Not only will you get that negative eye-roll on Twitter, you’ll plummet in Google’s rankings.

He checks the analytics daily and tweaks the product descriptions so that each description is keyword-rich, accurate, and pushes the sites up the rankings.

Be there for the customer.
Although Keepsake, Etc. and Simply Bags are small, a human being answers the phone when you call. During the holidays, JoAnn and Bob hire extra people to staff the phones. They also do not drop-ship, that is, have orders shipped by the manufacturer, unless they are doing a product test. They have a warehouse from which they ship and they personalize the products on-site.

“A manufacturer may disappoint a customer and they are MY customer. It’s important to give good service,” he says.

Never say die.
“I see a lot people in business and the economy going down and they give up. You can’t ever give up,” Bob says. “It makes me sad.”

Find a niche, he says, find a way to become awesome in that niche, and you will succeed, he says.

It worked for Bob and JoAnn.

What’s your story of business survival?

This case study was done in conjunction with an online marketing survey, which gathered extensive data and benchmarks about how small businesses and nonprofits use online marketing and whether they are seeing results. For the executive summary, visit Ditch Digital Dabbling: How Small Businesses + Nonprofits Can Master Online Marketing