You’re So Ravesy

JCPenney circa 1950's“Social” and “shopping” have gone hand in hand since the dawn of time. From an offline perspective, shopping at stores with a friend was popular back in the day. In the 1960’s, when malls began to spring up, it was common to aggregate groups of friends to go to the mall, walk around, shop and buy things. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Shopping Malls

I started working in eCommerce just as it was getting started. Little did I know in 1999 what a strong evolution the online channel would form in a relatively short period of time.

Fast forward to the 20 teens. Technology is as pervasive as television became not too long after its advancement into the family home. Now, a majority of the people in developed nations are connected to some sort of device which, in turn, is likely connected to some sort of network. The combination of these connections has created the odd paradigm that more people keep up with one another real-time, while at the same time spend less time together in person. That has led to the rise in social networks where people can maintain (and even prosper) relationships while utilizing the technology of devices and networks.

Rise of TelevisionNow, with millions (and by some counts Billions) of people online, engaged in social networking, and sharing a wealth of information it is almost impossible to comprehend and decipher all the information that is out there. Friends share all of that information. That has turned into a large peer-to-peer influence that takes place online and manifests in the modern “social shopping” where a snap of a picture, the click of a button, and a few key strokes with a new language (OMG) convey approval and criticism in the blink of an eye.

I have seen one company that has gotten into this fray of information and is working to disseminate that information for users in a meaningful way. That company is ToggleShift and they have debuted their basic product in the form of a social search/shopping engine called Ravesy.

Ravesy was conceived and built on the premise of cutting through the clutter that exists in the billions of posts, updates and likes across sites like Facebook, twitter and Pinterest.

Ravesy - Trend Search

The “noise” can be overwhelming. At the end of the day, people want to know what is trendy at the current time and to know that the information shared is constantly re-evaluated and updated based on the new prevailing trends. If you think about it, Google provides search results (and often on a lag or biased by how websites build content). Ravesy provides trend results. By definition, trend is “a general direction in which something is developing or changing.” Social shopping is certainly more about trends than it is about content on a page.

Online and offline shopping habits will continue to ebb and flow as new technology and new means to shop are built. For the last fifteen years I have ridden on the top of that wave and enjoyed seeing all the new things that come along. It will be interesting to see what the next fifteen years holds for consumers.

The World’s Best Retail Web Sites

During our recent ice storm in the DFW area, I spent some time cleaning out my office. I had set aside a December 2012 issue of Internet Retailer magazine that was very prescient – a year ago I was still receiving the hard copy, but have since switched to digital. The cover suggested

“The Hot 100 – The World’s Best Retail Websites”.2013Hot100_3DCover_500x500_jpg_200x200_crop_q95

At the time, I was intrigued by the mix of those suggested as the best.

In particular, I gravitated to the listing for TrunkClub.com. In previous posts I had suggested that Trunk Club was a decent business model with some flaws that showed through in the delivery. I still stand by those suggestions. The remainder of this post is not to tear down Trunk Club, but rather to look at how we define and follow websites from a commerce perspective.

As I was looking over this article again, a different thought stood out to me. Is Trunk Club really a “retail website”?

Yes, they have a website.

Yes, they sell retail apparel and accessories to men.

But, to me, it is not a retail website – there is no eCommerce that is taking place. The site itself is used to market its services. It goes further in capturing leads and showing types of items it sells. The final sale is based on an offline experience (and not transacted on the website). Goods arrive to the customer after talking or emailing with a stylist. Selections are made by the consumer and returns are processed back at the distribution point. What is purchased is not done with a traditional website cart; therefore, it is not a retail website.

I know it sounds like I am splitting hairs. However, there is substantial debate about the differences between eCommerce and multi-channel or omnicommerce. I subscribe to the latter omnicommerce view. I believe that multiple channels co-exist to provide an overall user experience that increases conversion and builds businesses. To put Trunk Club in the same “top 100” class as other websites that acquire and retain customers that transact online is giving an accolade to Trunk Club that should be reserved for a real retail website.

SmartPrice.com 14 Years Later

SMartPrice T1, VoIP, Data Solutions for Businesses and Consumers.It was fourteen years ago this week that I joined with two very smart gentlemen as we pushed forward to seek funding and launch SmartPrice.com. At the time my first daughter was about to be born, we had just purchased a new home, yet I decided to throw caution to the wind. I left a great role with a major consulting firm – the same firm that had taught me all about the burgeoning world of eCommerce and digital marketing.

Living in Austin, Texas there was a buzz around start-ups and a sense of confidence that any business model could be successful. Companies were raising money left and right. Concepts were derived on scraps of paper and anything was possible. Austin was the epicenter in Texas of venture capital backed ideas leading to the moniker “Silicon Hills“.

The two gentlemen I mentioned previously were Jeff Hoogendam and Jim McKinley. Both were/are wicked smart and determined. Little did I care that we ended up taking five months to get funded (and just as the door was closing on funding for new businesses and the dotcom bubble was expanding to that point of elasticity where stretching makes a squeaking noise). We were having fun and developing a revolutionary business that would help change the way people shop for goods and services.

SmartPrice was simple – visitors go to a website, put in basic information about telephone usage and location and multiple options of varying prices are returned. On average, SmartPrice customers saved 30% or more on long distance telephone service (in 1999/2000 that was important before cell phones proliferated). In exchange for providing the information and a conduit for switching, SmartPrice was paid a commission by the new carrier. SmartPrice is still a working company today; though not active in acquiring new users.

Now, as I look back, I would not have changed anything. While my risk aversion has increased, I still crave the chance to start another company. Perhaps it is time…what will I look back on fourteen years from now?

Junk in Your Trunk Club, Part II

Yesterday, Trunk Club and their unique business model was the topic of discussion. This innovative model cuts out the process of going to a store and selecting items. Instead, clients can work with a stylist via phone or e-mail and have items delivered to try on and either keep or send back.

Intrigued by this opportunity, I went forward and ordered a “trunk”. The items I received were nice. I liked the styles. The items all went together well. The sizes were mostly right and fit well. Then, I looked at the prices. For eight items (3 l/s shirts, 1 s/s shirt, 1 sweater, 2 jeans, 1 pants), at full retail price, I was looking at a bill >$1,000. Those that know me know that I rarely pay full retail price and would not ever spend $1,000 on eight items of clothing. So, I sent the box back (postage paid by Trunk Club) and opted out of future service.

While I still like the prospect of selected items that can enhance and build my wardrobe, I am not willing to sacrifice my wallet for it. I am not cheap; I just know that there are better offers/deals/promotions out there to make the purchase more value oriented. Having previously run the wildly popular DealTaker.com website, my next step was to look up all of the items on my invoice online and see if I could source them in a way that was better for the pocketbook. After a short review, I was able to determine that I could indeed get all of the items online and at about a 30% discount on the total by using promotion codes or just seeing lower prices direct from the clothier.

Now to the title of these posts – Junk in Your Trunk Club. It may sound harsh and I may be exaggerating for effect. However, three of the items in the trunk I received were over a season old. I found the exact items on discounter websites for >50% off. Granted, I liked the items; however, why would I pay FULL retail price for items that companies had already jobbed out to discounters? It seems to me a “stylist” would factor in current trends to provide “style”.

Certainly this is a model ripe for disruption. I now move forward in that quest.

Junk in Your Trunk Club

It is interesting to see new business models emerge. I am a fan of smart business models that change the way things are done – when done for the better. Recently there has been a focus on mens clothing in the start-up world. In particular being able to order men’s clothing online with the help of a stylist. Because I am a fan of new business models, I decided to give it a try and see if there was substance to the model. While there are several new concepts out there, I opted to try the one that I have seen the most press surrounding – Trunk Club.

Trunk Club is based in Chicago, Il (directly downtown in a 30,000 square foot facility). While anyone is allowed to come to the facility and work with a stylist directly, the majority of the interaction is online. You can go to their website and put in some pertinent size and contact information. A personal stylist then reaches out by e-mail and phone to start a relationship. When talking to the stylist on the phone, you are asked what styles of clothing you like, what you wear to work, what you wear on the weekends, what you aspire to wear and your credit card information. From that, the stylist goes to the warehouse and pulls a selection of clothing he/she recommends based on the brief interaction. The items are boxed in a nice cardboard trunk and shipped. Shipping (via Fedex) is paid by Trunk Club.

Upon arrival, recipients open the trunk to see a selection of shirts, pants, sweaters, etc. A note from the stylist encourages trying on everything; mixing and matching to get accustomed. Along with the paperwork is an invoice with the price of each item (at full – off the shelf – non-discounted – retail price). Whatever you do not like or want can be put back in the trunk and shipped back to Trunk Club. They pay the shipping back, too. Whatever you keep is charged to your credit card at the full retail price. Within a short period of time another trunk will be sent by your stylist to keep building your wardrobe. …and so on until you decide to opt out.

Generally, that is a great concept and one that has already garnered a nice little business for the company. So, why would I title this post “Junk in Your Trunk Club”…tune in to part II.

Google Again? Tilt, Askew and Do a Barrel Roll

Seems odd that Google would get my attention two times in two consecutive posts.  But, I have to highlight the good and the bad of Google.  This time – the good.  I have always enjoyed the fun that Google has with updating logo’s.  I will never forget how I used to do battle with a Creative Director with whom I worked.  She always argued that “companies just do not mess with their logo’s – it is a brand, not a toy!”  Of course, I had to prod her back and say that Google was arguably one of the largest brands (at that time not quite what they are now) and keep pushing the “fun” angle.

Today I was alerted to some fun Google is having with search results.  Much like the autocorrect parody’s seen with Word over the years, Google has taken a search result set to a whole new level.  I implore you to try searching on the following terms and enjoy the ensuing results –

  • Tilt
  • Askew
  • Do a barrel roll

Is Google +1 Messing Up Your Site?

Initial Problem Description

Google released an update to their +1 button script sometime on Tuesday (10/25/2011). This new script had a line of code that interfered with most JavaScript frameworks. This script error only affected some of Internet Explorer browser users. Sometime on Wednesday night (10/26/2011), Google appears to have rolled back their script changes. Google has made no official announcement that references the problem or the original update that caused it. The only information about the outage was gathered here:

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/google-plus-developers/lOt_NJ2j7P8.

In this forum, the problem was confirmed on Google’s developer discussion group and was escalated by a Google support engineer around 10am Wednesday morning.

Effect on a website

Any page that loaded the Google +1 script would encounter script errors after the button had rendered.

Fab.com – I am Inspired by Their Key Tenets

136 days is WAY too long to wait between blog posts. The irony of that is that 130 days ago a company called Fab.com did not even exist. I aspire to start a company, yet here I sit waiting 136 days to even write a blog post. Hard work and focus are the keys to success. I continue to learn…

We all know that Twitter is the best way to learn about things happening. Today, I saw that @aplusk had posted a link to a presentation done by the CEO of Fab.com. It is titled “21 things we’re learning at Fab.com – October 2011“.  The 21 things are easy on the surface, but the commitment to them, and the ability to stay focused on them, inspires me.  Thank you Jason Goldberg

If you are interested in getting an invitation to Fab.com, go here –> http://fab.com/whh0t

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