Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Should your website also come in a mobile version?

As a small business owner, you have probably realized more and more how important online sales are, but should you also have a mobile version of your site too? A mobile site is a version of a website created specifically for smartphones or tablets (like iPads, Kindle Fires, HP Touchpads, etc). Companies create mobile versions of their site because their regular website may take too long to load or may seem squashed on the smaller screens of these mobile devices. When a customer visits a site via their mobile device, the browser automatically detects the mobile device and switches to the mobile version of the website. (To see some examples, visit or on your computer and then visit these sites on your mobile device.)

If you have a great, working website, why spend the time and money on a mobile version too? According to a recent article on, tablet users typically spend 10-20% more on purchases than customers without tablets. Also, mobile commerce spending was about $3 billion in 2010 in the U.S. and is expected to jump to $31 billion by 2016.

You may also be wondering who is using tablets. U.S. tablet owners are:
-college graduates (51%)
-employed full-time (62%)
-earning salaries of $100,000+ (50%).

54 million people are estimated to own tablets by early 2012 and nearly 108 million by 2015 (a third of U.S. population).

Is a mobile version of your website right for you? Make sure you do your homework! Ask yourself some important questions (and some questions of your customers):
-How easy/hard is your website to read and navigate on a mobile device?
-What technical expertise is needed to create a mobile site? Does your web developer have these skills?
-How much will it cost to create and maintain?
-Poll your customers: Do they currently own a mobile device? Do they use their mobile device to shop? Do they think a mobile version of your website would be easier to use on their mobile device?

As an agricultural business owner, have you had any customer feedback about online or mobile shopping? How much of your profits is related to online or mobile shopping?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Note About Customer Service

In my last post, I talked about Heinz using Facebook as an exclusive launch pad for its new balsamic ketchup. I personally thought this was a very interesting marketing technique, so I logged on to the Heinz Facebook page on unveiling day to buy a bottle. Unfortunately, the new ketchup was so popular that their page crashed!

I was thoroughly impressed with the way Heinz handled the situation. When I went back to their Facebook page later in the day, Heinz quickly responded to the issue. They reported that they were unsure as to what caused the glitch, but that anyone who had trouble placing an order could order now and Heinz would add an additional bottle for free and free shipping.

Obviously, giving away free products and free shipping is very costly (especially to a small business). If you have a similar situation (whether it's online or not), take a cue from Heinz-- respond quickly and offer your sincerest apologies. If you can, throw in an apology gift to keep those customers coming back (but be sure not to break the bank) like a coupon, discount, reduced or free shipping, or free samples. You always want to keep those customer relationships strong!

As a small food or farm business owner, have you ever had a problem (whether it's web ordering, product shortages, etc) that has kept you from filling orders? How did you handle it? Did you manage to save the relationships with your customers?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Retailers - keep rotating merchandise and rearranging displays

Most every retailer has started decorating for the winter holidays, or at least will choose to do so after Thanksgiving.  Nevertheless, all retailers should understand the importance of changing the “look” of their outlet on a regular basis, whether it is a display, a window, or how customers will walk the floor. 

Why might you want to change or rearrange product placement or how customers must walk to get to key departments or merchandise?  The reason is simple – if you keep products displayed in the same location or do not rotate merchandise in key sales areas it is likely that repeat customers, who are accustomed to purchasing one or two items and then leave the premises, will never notice items other than what is on their list.  By moving “anchor goods” (items that customers purchase often and “draw” consumers to visit the retailer) to other locations, or mixing seasonal goods in with more commonly stocked items (so that customers looking for holiday decorations will notice other products) customers will certainly notice items that they may not have considered or may not even have realized were stocked and sold.

Aside from rotating merchandise, another way to periodically change the look of a display, or draw attention to a particular area, is to set up temporary and portable backdrops that complement product placed in front.  One way to achieve the goal of easily and cost effectively changing a backdrop is to hang fabric.  The numbers of colors and textures available, as well as being relatively easy to store, provide a realistic solution for retailers who may not have a large floor space and are limited in how they can rearrange merchandise.

Now, how often should you rearrange or change the look of your outlet?  It is suggested that retailers change some component of their window or floor display, or other design element, at least once a month; however, if your average customer visits more frequently than consider changing and rearranging more often. Again, it is in not necessary to completely rotate and/or redesign the entire retail space at this frequency, rather find something that you can change easily and that customers will notice.   

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Heinz is leading the way in combining social media and sales

As we've discussed many, many times in this blog, social media is here to stay, so why not use it to your advantage? As a business owner, connect with your customers and get more involved in that bond. Market your products, your business, and yourself via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.

Earlier this year, Heinz set some new Facebook records in the UK. To launch their new balsamic ketchup, Heinz decided to use Facebook (with 45,000 UK fans) as their exclusive launch pad. This was the first time a food product has been exclusively launched via Facebook and the first time branded food products have been sold via Facebook.

Heinz will be doing the same thing here in the USA, but only to a much larger crowd (Heinz's USA Facebook page has over 852,000 fans). Starting November 14th, Heinz will launch it's balsamic ketchup via it's Facebook page. This will be the only place to buy it until it reaches stores in late December.

To read more about balsamic ketchup, please visit the Supermarket Guru.

As an ag business owner, what are your thoughts on launching a product exclusively through Facebook (or any other social media)? Would you try it? As a consumer, do you feel a certain "exclusivity" by only being able to buy this ketchup via Facebook? Do you think Heinz's marketing is innovative?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Five Predictions for Social Media: 2012

I just read a great post about what 38 Social Media experts see for 2012.  (I encourage you to take a look!) While a few of the specifics aren't really relevant for small businesses (mainly because they are related to investment in people or technology), most of the general points are perfectly applicable to small businesses, including food and ag.  The article has prompted me to do 2 things.  This post is one of them. You'll hear more about the second one soon....

Back to the business at hand....

After reading this article as well as the chicken bones that I threw down this morning, I see five themes emerge.
  1. Social Media Usage Will Increase: This prediction is low risk!  The rate of growth in the use of the most popular Social Media tools is astounding.  Some of this is due to the growth in use of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets (such as the iPad).  These devices make it easy to post to Facebook or Yelp, send a tweet, or check in on foursquare from just about anywhere.  Additionally, some people who have been on the sidelines are now being drawn into the Social Media world in order to connect with friends and family members. Several grandparents have told me that they registered for Facebook so that they could stay connected to their grandkids. Expect more users and for those users to connect more frequently and in new ways. APPLICATION POINT: As more customers use Social Media tools, owners need to continually think about how the tools can be used to engage those customers.  Ask customers how they want to connect.
  2. Social Media Will Be More Integrated With Mobile Devices: I'm one of those people who have a bit of a panic attack when separated from my phone.  How will I check in? How will I tweet about my lunch? How will I find out what's going on in the world?  You get the picture!  In the article, Loren McDonald uses the word "mocial" to reflect integration of "social" and "mobile."  Not only do mobile devices allow users to interact in "typical" ways via Twitter/Facebook/etc. but they also allow for check ins, capturing photos and videos, scanning QR codes, comparing prices through mobile web, etc.  The integration of these features with Social Media is expected to become more pervasive.  APPLICATION POINT: Take control of your location on foursquare, Facebook, Yelp, Google Places, etc. This will help you track what's being said and monitor your customers who are using these tools.
  3. Social Media Will Be More Integrated With Other Media and Events: Business owners have been using radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, billboards, and other tools since they first became available.  It was absolutely unheard of, not that long ago, for a business not to have a website.  Today, integrating Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yelp, or other Social Media into a website is commonplace.  I also see signs at retail outlets indicating that the store can be found on Google Places, foursquare, Yelp, or other services.  QR codes on packaging, store shelves, and signs are more frequent.  Some TV ads encourage viewers to use Shazam to learn more about the retailer or products.  TV shows are encouraging live tweeting with the hosts or stars.  APPLICATION POINT: Create a Twitter hashtag for your event, such as a Fall Festival.  Add QR codes where they make sense.  Make sure to feature your Facebook page on your brochures or electronic media.  Cross referencing your own media will help you reach a broader audience!  Also, don't forget about your blog if you have one.  Search engines love blogs!
  4. Customers Will Increasingly Filter Social Media for What They Want Most: If you're like me, you might get a little perturbed with all the changes that Facebook and Twitter are making.  I don't really want to know what music my friends are listening to on Spotify or what they're reading in the Washington Post.  Yet, there it is, right in my News Feed, Ticker, and Timeline.  Luckily for me (but not for Spotify), Facebook and Twitter allow me to take some action to avoid all that.  Third party curation tools are widely used to sort through mounds of content to give users what they really want.  APPLICATION POINT: Be relevant to your target audience.  Connect with them directly with messages that resonate with them.  Be social and focus on relationship building.  Don't give them a reason to filter you out of their feeds.
  5. Businesses Will Be More Strategic With Social Media and Will Seriously Assess Return on Investment: I've been asked many times for data about return on investment (ROI) in Social Media. Frankly, I'm often dismissive in the context of the types of businesses I work with.  To some extent, it's like asking what the ROI is for your cell phone or computer.  Social Media are tools to connect you with customers.  The cost of using Social Media in a small business are often low unless one begins to put a lot of time into it.  Because the cost is low, returns don't need to be huge to justify using it.  However, Social Media should be part of a holistic, strategic marketing plan.  APPLICATION POINT: If you're really interested in developing a marketing strategy to integrate Social Media and other marketing tools, your costs will go up, even if those costs are only represented by time devoted to it.  Therefore, set goals for Social Media and track them.  Be ready to make changes where needed.
This stuff is exciting!  Most small businesses, including food and agricultural ones, are successful over the long run because of relationships that they make with customers, especially a few strong relationships with key customers.  Owners manage these relationships with personal visits, phone calls, emails, texts, etc.  We're still on the front edge of learning how these relationships will be managed in the future in a world of Social Media tools; where the new word-of-mouth occurs through a check in with a picture and short blurb about how great (or how bad) the product is and where that check in is Facebooked, tweeted, Yelped, and so on.  These tools will help you strengthen relationships with some customers.  Your task is to figure out which ones and target them in a way that provides value to them and to your business.