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Sales in March were going along relatively normally - though down a bit from January and February - until about 3 days ago. I run a small, niche store that averages maybe 4 to 8 orders per day - but we've had absolutely no orders in the last 3 days. Haven't had this kind of dry spell since our very early days.
I do notice that overall visitors are down - we have been averaging 200 or so visitors per day and it's down to 160 or so per day this month. We rely primarily on PPC advertising and the loss of LookSmart on MSN has definitely been a factor - we had a #1 ranking through LookSmart and aren't as high now that they're using Overture.
Wondering what to think of this recent downturn in sales. Do I need to review and revise my pricing structure? Come up with some gimmicky sale to get more visitors in the door? Try to go "back to the well" and do an e-mail campaign to our existing customers? Make higher PPC bids? Quit worrying and go play a round of golf?
Looking for any advice from those of you who've experienced similar dry spells, and hoping our business isn't suddenly a miserable failure!
The time period increases the longer your product line has been active.
If it has been active for a week, I suggest daily tweaking.
If it has been active for 1-2 months, I suggest bi-weekly tweaking.
If it has been active for 3-5 months, I suggest weekly tweaking.
If it has been 6-9 months, then bi monthly tweaking.
After that, probably monthly tweaking would be good.
By tweaking, I mean looking at the stats and decided whether or not things are OK. If they don't seem OK, then trying different advertising techniques, different ad copy, new pricing / product features, etc.
On top of this is an observance of the various aspects which can affect sales:
- Did you just make a change to the website?
- did your advertising sources(PPC, affiliate, etc) get new partners, lose partners, do new advertising campaigns, didn't do new advertising campaigns, etc
- When people get paid (beginning of month, end of month)
- New Competition
- National or local news events (terrorism, oscars, CNN court cases, etc)
- Seasonality for your product
Automated monitoring of your website and its transactional capability is important as well.
Some debate and disagreement with me on this would be appreciated, however please provide thought provoking counter ideas..
Haven't made any changes to the web site in several weeks and verified that the cart and checkout process still work fine.
I'd certainly like to drill down better in my stats and get an idea of what has changed with respect to where visitors are coming from, but I run awstats and just can't get that level of granularity - most stats are at a monthly level. So other than knowing that things are "down" relative to last month, I can't see what's really different in the most recent 7 days versus the previous 7 days, etc. -- maybe I need a new stats program? awstats is nice because it's free and generally gives me what I need, at least as far as aggregated details are concerned. My PPC providers (Overture, Google) should be able to give me some daily stats on the referrals they've been making; guess I'll go dig around there and see what I find.
We're just now finishing our 12th month in business, so don't have any year-to-year stats to compare with. And I'm not entirely sure how the seasonal fluctuation is going to impact our business.
The one thing I did notice is that there are few more competitors bidding on PPC phrases that I used to be the sole bidder for -- none of them compete directly, because they don't carry the breadth of products I have; instead, they carry only a few portions of the same product line. So I remain confident that once shoppers find my site, they'll be more likely to buy just because we have more to offer.
I think I'll whip up a new set of specials over the weekend and work on a mass mailing to our existing customers. I've been needng to add a "coupon" capability to the shopping cart and need to get that done before I can do a targeted e-mail campaign. Just a matter of finding the time I guess.
Do your checks, make sure everything is working and try to focus on improving your site and making those special offers to your visitors. Good luck with the mailing - that may encourage some repeat orders from your loyal customers.
Obviously if your site sells something that should be selling well at this time of year e.g. holiday or travel goodies, then ignore this post and investigate further…
100 orders in one day. Four the next day.
Days where orders are coming every ten or fifteen minutes, then at a time when you expect even more people to be ordering: nothing for hours (sometimes 12 hours with nothing).
We expect business to be regular, like clockwork, but there will always be quiet spells.
This may be a time to bump up the prices on your PPC (if you are sure your prices are correct and the basket works). You will get customers through your quiet time. Then, bump them down again when things get normal. Bump them to the minimums (or pause if possible) when things get too busy. Control the flow.
Our 1-year anniversary is at hand, so it seemed like a good time to have a short-term, deeply discounted sale and a mass-mailing to our customers.
I put the sale into effect yesterday afternoon and sent out just under 900 e-mails to former customers. Of the 900 e-mails, we've had a delivery failure rate of about 7%, mostly due to invalid addresses. But surprisingly, we saw a number of bounces due to "over quota" problems -- users who never check their e-mail, I guess.
And in the last 12 hours, we've had nearly 20 orders (easily a 1-day record) - nearly all in response to the e-mail campaign. Of course, our net profit is going to be considerably smaller because of the huge percent-off sale, but at least we're moving some merchandise and we'll still make a profit.
Thanks to all for the replies here - lots of good information that I'll use the next time things slow down. I definitely got "complacent" with the way things were going and found several opportunities in our PPC campaigns to improve position and will monitor those a lot more closely now. Also working on some additional link exchanges and investigating other advertising opportunities.
Its funny how we seem to derive a sense of self-worth related to our business (or at least, I do to some degree) - when things slow down, you really start to wonder if you've done something to make the whole world mad at you or if there's some hidden bug in the web site that's silently halting every visitor to the site or if the business model is flawed in some basic way. I guess its those times to step back and evaluate the entire business and fix what you can.
Imagine you have a shark that shows up at a seal rookery and eats 10 seals. This random event is managable if there are 10k of these types of seals, but if there are only 100 of these type of seals and that shark happens to eat 8 of the 30 seals that are of breeding age, then that shark has an enormous impact on that seal population.
At 4 or 5 orders a day you should probably see swings in your average orders of 100% or more. Once you get up to 25-50 orders then you should not be surprised to see swings of 50%. Get up to a 100 orders and that should fall to 25%. The bigger the number of orders, the lower your variablity.
Of course all of this assumes you are in a relatively stable environment. Start messing with variables like marketing or pricing and you will really start seeing things shift up and down.
Up until last week things were going great, sales were up on the sites and the telephones. Recently, nothing. Time to worry, no. This happens.
Instead of stressing about it why not write new articles, tweak pages or get more backlinks? I often find that when I have a bunch of orders to pack, my time to develop the site vanishes. You could use this quiet spell to your advantage.
Over and out.
The sale we've been running this last week to boost our "sagging" revenues has been unbelievably successful. We've had more orders in the last 7 days than we normally get in an entire month. And even with the big discounts, we're still making a buck or two.
Hoping things go dead again next week, as we need a breather!
My guess :
1) Yahoo is having an impact. So if you are out of Yahoo, obviously it hurts, even though Google may make up for the lost traffic.
2) Google is experimenting and adding new features and surfers are confused? Seems more people clicking on Google adwords then organic SERPs
3) Spring break effect
4) More competition as more people go online to sell
5) tax time?
On the bright side, the internet is still growing with more and more people more keen to shop online.
Sure hope things will turn around in April...
The most objective is to analyze the sales data by statistical methods. Work out the mean and SD figures of the no. of daily sales for one month and use them as a reference. If you want to take this further, you should plot out Shewhart charts.
In general, if the no. of sales in a single day is less than 3 sd, you should look at your web site and payment gateway to see whether there are any problems. The same goes if the no. of sales in 2 days in a row are less than 2 sd. However, if you get series of 5 or more days when the sales are less than 1 sd, then there is probably something wrong going on.
Of course, this approach does not take into account of general trends like the usual seasonal variation and weekly variation in sales. But this is probably the most objective way of detecting whether there is something wrong and also the effectiveness of you advertising campaigns.