Water restrictions. Is anyone listening?

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Last year I wrote about some creative ideas for water use as it related to a water restrictions in my area. A few weeks ago they eased the water usage policy in the Metro Atlanta area after a healthy bit of rain fall in the winter and spring. I think its rained once since then and we’ve had temperatures consistently in the upper 90s for the past couple of weeks. Meanwhile water usage has climbed again as residents are now running the water on their lawns and washing their cars again. It’s just a matter of time before we go back on the usage restrictions.

So my question is, what has the government and water agency done to make better use of our water supply? Have our residents learned that we can’t go back to our old ways of water when you want and the mentality that water is in never ending supply? What is the plan to better distribute this natural resource over a growing metro/region population here in Georgia? For that matter many cities are in or will soon be in the same situation. On a recent trip to San Antonio Texas, my boss told me they were now under a water usage guideline as well.

What I’ve seen thus far is that they have raised the base rate and the increased the rate for heavy usage. The base rate price increase would offset the recent decline in use based on restrictions while the top tier and summer time rate increase is intended to get high use residents to cut back on usage.

Here are some ideas for thought:

  • Promote some of the new synthetic lawn materials used on sports fields. Many youth organizations are putting these in to reduce the maintenance costs. As with other energy savings devices, residents could be incented with rebates or tax breaks.
  • Promote the use of water catching devices such as rain barrels.
  • Promote the benefits of having less lawn space more natural or wooded areas.
  • Incent developers to leave more natural or wooded areas in new construction instead of plowing every tree in site.
  • Make and market waterless toilets
  • Promote the heck out of water conservation in our schools. Get through to the next generation how important it is to use water wisely.
  • Here’s 100 ways to conserve water

I guess my point is that we are coming to an age of water conservation and regulation all the time. Instead of blindly throwing our drinking water on the lawns or cars we need to make sure as a society that we are using this resource wisely. Otherwise it won’t be such a nice place to live for and grandchildren and future generations.

So what are you doing to save water and promote conservation? I applaud all of the creative thought going into this global issue. I hope our government agencies get on board to join and support these efforts.

Redbox makes a splash

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I wrote a set of articles about cable/satellite alternatives that explored online and mail order alternatives. Recently though another competitor has entered the space in Redbox. Redbox has a different business model. Put a video dispensing machine at a retail location where people (potential customers) will be anyways. This might be a grocery store or a drug store. Stock the machine with collection of DVD movies and offer them at a price that would attract a sale or create an impulse buy (rental).

The LinkedIn profile for Redbox states they have over 500 DVDs available in each machine. Each selection is offered at $1 per day plus tax.  Selection are updated each Tuesday.

Here are some other stats from a NY Times article:

  • Today there are over 15,400 machines in network
  • A new machine is being installed at the rate of one per hour
  • Sales exceeded $150 million last quarter

My family has used Redbox three times in the past month. The transactions were all very smooth and the price was certainly right. There is no doubt that we’ll continue to use this service.

Redbox appears to be hitting the market at the right time with a low priced product when many people are cutting expenses.  Their price point isn’t even in the same ballpark with competitors like Netflix and Blockbuster.  So keep an eye to see how Netflix and Blockbuster respond as Rebox carves out share of the overall rental market. Will the two giants respond by lowering their price points on certain rentals to appeal to the price sensitive customer? Or will they look to differentiate based on service and selection to justify their higher price point?

What’s your take? Have you used Redbox? How much market share do you think they can gain?

Defining an eCommerce Operation – Content Management

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UPDATE 10/27/10 – I posted a mind map of my eCommerce Operation on mindmeister that replaces the original map contained in this post. This includes the latest updates to my organizational thoughts on an eCommerce team.

This is the second post in a series about defining components of an eCommerce organization.  The first post explored elements of solution ownership. Today I’ll look at the area of content management. An important aspect of any eCommerce site is that the content of the site must be up-to-date and it must be correct. Prospects and customers rely on the content management owners to keep the store front ready for shopping.

There are four distinct areas of content management, but a given site may not require all four areas.

Product Setups

The product or service setups area defines attributes about the product or service that customers will review while shopping. This includes a description, key characteristics, images, delivery options, etc. On the Internet, product attributes are vital because customers are shopping based on your description, not on the ability to touch and feel the product. Since they have the ability to shop multiple stores at the same time, then they will use your product descriptions to make sure that they are comparing the same product. Product owners use descriptions to merchandise a product in the online store.

Marketing Setups

Setups from the marketing organization center around ads, promotions, or surveys. The marketing group will use the eCommerce store to show advertisements either for their own products within the site or for other products outside the site. eCommerce stores have space or screen real-estate available for advertisements and the content managers will swap ads in-an-out of this space based on the instructions from marketing. This same space could also be used for promotional items on the site such as 2-for-1, free shipping, or percentage-off discounts. I link surveys with marketing setups because marketers will use customer surveys or other types of customer input areas to gauge the effectiveness of products, services, and the customer experience. The Internet has given marketers other options in addition to a question/answer type survey. Options include product ratings, product comments, idea submission, forums, discussion groups, etc. The survey thus has become a much more interactive and dynamic tool. The eCommerce team has the ability to use the comments from one customer to influence the decision making of another customer.

Online Content Setups

The online content area includes electronic content for customers to consume online, not to physically buy. This could include things such as news articles, blog posts, product specification sheets, videos, or images. This type of content is the main course at a news agency or blog where the provider is offering information, ideas, and opinions to customers/readers. In today’s age this type of content can be self managed by the author or sent by the author to a centralized groups that posts the information to the site. The most important thing is to keep the content fresh and relavent to the readers. Allow the readers to comment and be involved with the online content. Make it more of a conversation rather than a speach.

Client Setups

In some cases business-to-business (B2B) sites or sites that offer products on behalf of an organization will need to have a client based setup. In this model the client is an organization and a customer is the buying agent of the product or service. If the web site servers multiple clients then it will need to have client profiles from the content management and setup team. A client setup would include elements such as a name, address, billing type, tax rate, allowable delivery values, etc. Custom setups might include rules which effect processing of orders or information related to the client. Items in custom setups might include order processing holds for verifications, removal of some web site features, special customer messaging, etc. Some client setups might also include branding of the eCommerce site. In a private label arrangement you would setup your site to look and feel like the client branding so that the customer doesn’t know they are shopping on a third party site. Co-branded setups would contain pieces of your branding as well as the client.

Content management is a distinct area of the eCommerce operation because content of the site should be constantly changing and updating. Whether an organization chooses to make the content creators the same as the content implementors is a tactical decision. Just make sure to equip the implementor with the proper tools to keep the content up-to-date in an efficient manner.

New Blog Template Launched

Yesterday I launched a new template and layout for The Merchant Stand blog. The design is from Studio WordPress (credits in footer)

I added a few tweaks to the template and have a few more I’d like to do.

This template is nice because it abbreviates posts to shorten the length of a page. It also consolidates several of the navigation elements in a right side navigation tab.

Let me know what you think!

Site location roadmaps: Your GPS on the uncharted eCommerce site

We took a trip to Pigeon Forge Tennessee this past weekend. With our Garmin Nuvi GPS leading the way, I wondered how we ever managed without one. In some ways, having that GPS makes a road trip shorter because the GPS chunks the trip into shorter segments. Mentally, as you watch the GPS you are thinking about getting to the next turn.

Just as the GPS showed us a map of the road to get to our destination, you can use site visuals on an eCommerce site to talk to your customers about their location and final destination. A site visual of the current location is particularly important during checkout. Use of visual queues provides three pieces of information to your customers:

  1. How many steps are in the checkout process – It’s good for the customer to see the steps required in the checkout. Typically, they will expect to enter information about delivery and payment.
  2. Their current location in the checkout process – This gives the customer a clue as where the final order submit button resides. It’s important for your customer know exactly when their order will be placed and payment charged.
  3. The ability to go backwards to a specific step if they feel they have made a mistake – Customers can use the visual cues to also navigate within the checkout process. This allows for quick navigation if they know they have made a mistake or would like to change an option bore submitting the order.

Traditionally sites have used breadcrumbs to show navigation links. The breadcrumbs themselves are click-able navigation elements. Visually, they look like this:

bread-crumb1

Recently, I have seen a new style of navigation in use. Instead of listing the breadcrumbs horizontally across the page, it shows the steps vertically stacked and numbered sequentially. The active step is in the foreground and visible in dark font. The non-active steps are not expanded and are listed as a light color to indicate they are not active. Here is an example:

numbered-active-passive

Which method do you prefer and find easiest to navigate as a customer? If you are a marketer, have you tried both methods to see if the conversion of customers differs?