Don’t let Balance bully you
October 25, 2015
Life/work balance. We all grapple with it. Sometimes it seems as if we’re running too fast on both counts, barely making it between the two- always leaving things undone or in the air. When one aspect of your life becomes overly demanding: (A). sick kid, (B). sick pet, (C). something breaks in the house, (D). someone quits at work, (E). new job, (F). it’s Q4 in the retail industry, or (G). all of the above, it can seem as if you just can’t do it all. And some days, you can’t.
You can be thoughtful and well planned- and still hit that wall. For me, the key has always been to make sure I’m prioritizing based on what’s most important. Sometimes, you have your priorities set, and then BAM: a THING happens. This is where you have to drop the stress of doing IT ALL, and re-prioritize. What do I need to do right now? Figure out how to reorganize the rest later.
Re-prioritizing is important, both because priorities change based on the surprises in our week, but also based on so many other factors. Take the time each night and morning to rethink the day- take a look at the rest of the week, and re-prioritize. If you don’t do this, the risk is that you spend all of your time showing up, reacting, and not focusing on the things that need your utmost and full attention, simply because they’re not the most urgent right now. And yet- you may be continuing to push the more critical, harder tasks out.
There are a million articles, posts, and platitudes around what constitutes balance. Everyone has an opinion. They may say your personal time is your personal time, and you should leave work at the office. Or that you must turn all electronics off after a certain time or your brain activity will go haywire. Or that you need at least 7 hours of sleep or you’ll die young and have reduced brain capacity. The list goes on. Read them, use what resonates for you, and let the rest go. You work every night and on the weekend, but that makes you feel better about how you’re starting your week? Cool. You take 2 hrs for yourself every night and never work on the weekend unless it’s an emergency? Great. The real balance is to do what works for you.
There is no magic bullet for balance in your life. Repeat: THERE IS NO MAGIC BULLET FOR BALANCE.
Again, it’s about prioritizing. What’s most important for me, right now, tonight, tomorrow and this week? What are the things I absolutely cannot miss? Where do I have flex if I need it? What are the conflicts between work/life this week? What are the priorities of those conflicts, and what am I going to do to make it work, i.e. daughter’s ballet recital is non negotiable- well, decision made. Move the work stuff around. CEO meeting is non-negotiable- of course. Move the personal stuff around. See? You have to negotiate with yourself (not the universe of work/life balance philosophers, not anyone who’s judging you or doing it differently), and just, as Tim Gunn says, “Make it work”. Make it work for you.
So, in summary:
- Don’t let your environment, conditions or events completely kidnap your day.
- Don’t let the universe of self-help, theory and linked-in/facebook philosophers tell you what life/work balance is.
- Find what works for YOU, and stick with it.
Don’t let Balance be a bully in your life.
Why open a watch factory in Detroit?
September 13, 2015
Made in Detroit.
I just stumbled on this lovely site today- via an ad in the New York Times.
Shinola.com is based in Detroit, with a mission to make an investment in “skill, at scale.” Making American luxury goods great again, while reinvigorating a city that needs it.
“Why not accept that manufacturing is gone from America? Why not let the rust and weeds finish what they started? Why not just embrace the era of disposability? And why didn’t we buy a warmer coat before we moved here?”
Launched in 2013, Shinola’s founders were driven by the mission of building a factory in the economically depressed city of Detroit. In an interview with Forbes magazine (Ariel Adams, 2013), Shinola tells the story (you can see it here). Shinola partnered with the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and the College for Creative Studies, who ultimately became their landlord.
The brand started with watches, and now sells leather goods, bikes, journals, and more. Each product group has a story- centering around where it’s made, how it’s made, and with sustainability, community and authenticity in mind.
Recycling in fashion: it’s not just ebay anymore
September 12, 2015
Love getting designer fashion at bargain prices? If you really want to save, there are a number of great options online where you can shop for gently used, even unworn fashion at thrift shop prices.
The behemoth, of course, is ebay, with infinite options if you know what you want and have a lot of patience, but the experience isn’t pretty. Now, there are a number of delightful online boutiques where you can shop online for gently used, or new fashion at thrift shop prices.
It’s not just about bargains, it’s a great movement towards sustainability and re-use. Not wasting. Getting rid of things you don’t love, so someone else can enjoy them. And making it easy to do so.
Thredup has “like new clothes from designers you love”. You can shop and buy, sell, or donate your unwanted clothing. The beauty of it is how easy they make sending your clothing in. Thred up will send you a bag, which you fill and send in. You can opt to sell your clothing outright, or on consignment. They’ll evaluate your clothing for salability, and you can have the unaccepted clothing sent back to you or donated. 5% of all purchases go to charity- you can even choose a school for the $ to be donated to.
A few excerpts from Thredup’s DO GOOD page:
It takes an average of 700 gallons of water to make a piece of clothing, so we’ve collectively helped save over 3.5 billion gallons of water—about the same amount of water the city of Los Angeles uses over ten days! We’ve helped families put nearly $10 million back in their pockets and saved shoppers more than $40 million compared to what they would spend buying new.
We’re committed to supporting organizations that make our communities stronger. Every year, we donate 10% of our Clean Out proceeds to Teach for America. We’ve also made it possible for customers to donate their Clean Out earnings to nonprofit partners, and to use Clean Out to fundraise for the causes you care about
It’s a great concept- and it’s based on doing good, conservation, and helping others. What’s not to love? You can see more about how thredup works, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DCf7-p8g-4
The RealReal is an upscale designer consignment shop where you can “shop designer brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and more at up to 90% off retail prices.
You’ll find everything from a $70 bag to a $2000 handbag on the site. Neiman Marcus has partnered with RealReal, and is offering a $100 gift card if you consign 10+ items with RealReal. If you want to consign, RealReal offers free shipping & pickup for your items. This isn’t particularly “thrifty” thrift shopping, but if you’re coveting a Gucci or Prada bag, you’ll get a deal.
Eileen Fisher’s Green Eileen
While Green Eileen is not available online- it’s the beginning of a worthy trend in fashion, one in which the brand itself is taking a stand on sustainability and recycling. Green Eileen accepts gently used donations of Eileen Fisher clothing, which it will sell in flagship stores at a great discount, with all proceeds going to “support programs that improve the lives of women and girls in our local, national and global communities.” For more information about Green Eileen and Eileen Fisher’s sustainability program, see Green Eileen.
While recycling and re-use hit a tipping point with ebay years ago, mass retailers haven’t found the right way to make this work yet. Lots of brands have experimented with it- Gap, Banana Republic and J.Crew have all run programs encouraging customers to bring in gently used clothing in exchange for a discount, as one-off events. Thredup makes it easy to donate, and easy to shop great brands inexpensively. It’s a better experience than a thrift shop, with a great way to build a wardrobe on a budget. RealReal takes your gently used designer fashion, handbags and more on consignment- with a quick turnaround, and a 70% cut on the sale.
It’s good to see more brands doing this online. The more we can avoid living in a throw-away world, the better. For all of us.
Will Jet compete with Amazon?
July 31, 2015
Jet.com makes a serious play to compete with Amazon
The approach is based on a lower pricing strategy, combined with fast delivery. It’s a major, gutsy play for Jet.com’s founder and CEO, Marc Lore. No one has seriously tried to beat Amazon on price – until now. But if anyone can do it, the founder of Diapers.com, Wag.com and Soap.com can. After successfully building these powerful brands, defined by amazing branding, customer experience and convenience (personalization- reminding me that it’s time to reorder, and making it easy to do so; free 2 day shipping, even on a 40lb bag of dogfood), Lore sold Quidsi brands to Amazon for over $500 million.
So it’s just a little bit epic that he’s going after Amazon now.
The key differentiator for Jet.com is that Lore creates beautiful and engaging customer experiences that create a devoted customer base with loyalty and an emotional connection to his brands. And from that perspective, Jet doesn’t disappoint. The site has a powerful brand identity and a great customer experience. The search is powerful, the sort features are what’s needed, and the selection seems robust. The homepage promises ‘club price savings’, which alludes to Costco as well as Amazon’s prime pantry. Jet is going directly after Amazon on price, showing comparative pricing against Amazon on every item, to demonstrate the savings.
How is Jet.com doing it? They’re sourcing wide and far- and instantly serving up the prices that are lowest based on your location and things that are cheaper to ship together. Jet will show ‘smart savings’ on items that work well together. every time you add to cart, an animated calculator comes up to show you how many items are now cheaper on the site- it has a little bit of a slot machine effect, of making you feel like there’s a reward with every transaction.
There’s a ways to go- Jet is operating at a huge loss currently, as it gets the infrastructure in place to do this efficiently. From a customer perspective, there’s work yet to be done- product descriptions at the thumbnail level don’t always make it clear what the quantity is for the price, so it can be a little confusing. In the shopping cart, I see how much I’ve saved per item, but no subtotal for line items I’ve ordered in multiples. They need to add a quick-view feature to the search display- something Amazon doesn’t have, so could be yet another differentiator.
In the shopping cart, you can save even more if you select certain payment methods, or to waive the ability to have free return shipping. More incentive to checkout. On my $50 purchase, I saved over $9- not bad.
The biggest obstacle for Jet in driving repeat purchases, is that their creative sourcing means that an order ends up shipping in many multiple packages: My order of 8 items will arrive in 5 separate shipments. I’m not paying the added cost- Jet is absorbing that. But as a customer, I don’t like the inconvenience and waste associated with receiving that many packages and keeping track of whether everything has arrived.
Will Jet give Amazon and Walmart a serious run for their money? Maybe. I hope so, because the competition is good- and I love a site that takes the time and effort to make the customer experience feel like a wonderful place to be. It’s a differentiator that matters- Amazon has never tried to go there, and Walmart failed when they tried- their customer associates a certain over-crowded messiness with savings. It could be the differentiator, combined with price- that makes Jet.com a serious contender.
How Gilt is making ‘easy’ even easier.
July 25, 2015
Gilt has made shopping online even easier.
Online retailers are always looking for ways to make shopping online faster, easier and more streamlined. The best practices are just that, because they work- customers like to shop in an expected way, in an expected order, leading up to the cart and checkout, where the decision is really made. Customers like consistency. Except when there’s something even better.
Quick View is one of those things- it enables shoppers to browse lots of products without bouncing back and forth to the product page. Most retailers have implemented Quick View and have found it successfully increased engagement and even the customer’s propensity to buy.
Now, Gilt is making shopping even easier at the category level by building Quick View directly into the rollover. No need to click to see a ‘Quick View’. No window opening up with item details. Instead, on rollover- they show available size and color info, and an Add to Cart button. Beautiful!
This isn’t for everyone. Some customers may need more info- and they can still easily click through to get it. But for power shoppers- in particular, Gilt Groupe’s shopper, this is ideal. Now they can shop in a flash and be on their way. This is a perfect example of a retailer understanding their customer and finding ways to make the experience better.
The art of the message: do’s and don’ts
July 17, 2015
Great copy can do amazing things. It stops you, even if you weren’t interested in stopping. It elicits an emotional response. Gets your attention. Draws you in. And can close the sale. Here, 3 key principles for creating effective copy online: what to do, and what not to do.
1. Get them in the door.
Copy is critical to communicate your message and to engage people with your brand. When it’s effective, it drives action- clicks, sign-ups, and ultimately, purchases. It will get them in the door.Brevity is key. The goal is to get your customer to the next step, not to tell them everything they’d ever need to know. You have to prioritize your message. Keep it simple and uncluttered, if you want your message to resonate.
- Good copy: FREE SHIPPING on orders over $50
- Bad copy: FREE SHIPPING ON BOOKS IN THIS CATEGORY + SHOES BY THIS DESIGNER + OTHER STUFF SO EXTENSIVE AND LONG-WINDED THAT I DON’T CARE OR BELIEVE YOUR MESSAGE ANYMORE.
It’s tempting to include lots of things to try to hit the right trigger points for everyone. Don’t. You’ll end up saying nothing to anyone. Too many messages become noise.
2. Explain and engage
It’s all about contextual information. Pacing is key. Providing the right information in the right places along the journey, to keep your customer engaged- and on a path towards what you want them to do. On each page, think about what you want your customer to know (and what he or she will want to know), to reinforce your brand, your product, or your offer.
- Do provide social proof. What are your customers or media saying about it?
- Do make it clear how to get there or what to do next.
3. Deliver on it
Tell the truth. Don’t over promise and under deliver. If you say FREE SHIPPING on the homepage, but don’t show it on the cart and checkout, your customers will feel duped. If it’s only FREE with a myriad of exclusions or conditions, and comes via pony and takes a year and a day to get there, your customers will feel duped. You might get the sale today- but they’ll think twice next time (if there is a next time).
Amazon claimed Prime Day would be the biggest sale event since Black Friday- and has declared it a success, but customers disagree. Disappointed Prime shoppers were all over twitter complaining that it was impossible to shop and that it was only the drek on sale. The Kindle was on sale- but only the base version- not the Paperwhite or the Voyage. It wasn’t the ‘good stuff’. See “It’s not living up to the hype” on CNN Money.
- Don’t over promise. If it truly is the biggest sale ever, say so. Then prove it. If it’s not- think of something else to say that reflects your reality. It doesn’t have to say, ‘BIG SALE: all the stuff left over that’s not selling and we need to get rid of’– it just has to be true.
- Do make it fun. Anthropology has a clever way to make further markdowns compelling- they’ve said, “Our sale is on sale”. That’s tempting. It doesn’t yell or scream, or promise rainbows and unicorns, but it does get my attention if I care about getting a great price, without sounding bargain-basement. Moo.com is having a sale- the homepage says only “SALE”, with a little 25% off dot whack and a fun little animated confetti gif. Simple- but effective.
It’s tempting for your writers to overstate to make something sound great- but it’s only great if you can deliver on it. You may get people in the door with a hyperbolic message, but if you’ve over promised, they’ll be less likely to respond to it next time.
The lesson in all of this? Put yourselves in the shoes of your shopper. How will the message make them feel? Are you telling them what they need to know to make a decision? Are you delivering on the promise? How will they feel after they experience it? Emotions drive action- whether they come back to you, or not. It’s up to you.
The car industry just doesn’t get it.
May 26, 2015
The car industry hasn’t progressed much online in the past 10 years. In the web-centric universe we live in, there’s a surprisingly high level of disfunction and disconnect in how car dealerships deal with web shoppers.
In a recent car search, I found that dealers treat online inquiries as an exception- the kind of exception that gets lost in the shuffle- with a generic, templated email response that doesn’t answer or acknowledge a very specific request, with follow ups from the general manager saying, “by now, I hope you’ve received the information you’ve requested, and here’s why you should shop at our world-class dealership” (when no info has been sent), and an almost complete inability to get specific questions answered via online or email.
They haven’t figured out how to accommodate the way shoppers want to interact. They’re sharing info with sites like Edmunds, but they’re not able to follow through on requests for information. They desperately need to. It would be so much easier for them to sell cars. And we’d all feel so much better about the experience.
I know I’ll do just about anything to avoid the painful haggling and eviscerating experience of negotiating to buy a car in the dealership. In fact, I won’t even step foot in a dealership without knowing exactly what their prices are & negotiating my deal in advance. By the time I go in to test drive and buy- I already know what I will pay, and who I’ll buy the car from.
Cars.com and Edmunds.com make it relatively easy to research pricing, availability and dealerships within a user-defined area. You can then select the dealers you want quotes from, and can add specific text to specify what you want. The process breaks down at the national and local dealer level. The generic form letters begin. Here’s an example, missing image and all:
You can see how helpful this was. My inquiry was for a specific make and model with specific lease terms and questions about availability. I got an ad for Mazda.
On a national dealer site, there was a click-to-chat window, branded with a specific person’s name who was ready to help me right now. When I clicked it…I got an error message that ‘ended’ the conversation.
The conversations went equally well on the phone. Here, I was a directed shopper- ready to buy. Most dealerships I contacted lost the sale by losing track of the conversation- they all had an ‘internet specialist’, who typically returned the call a day or two later, when I’d already heard from someone else, or pursued and received the info I needed. It’s disappointing that it had to be so hard. On the flip side, It’s an amazing opportunity for dealerships to transform the business model and make this a stellar experience. They’d stand out.
In the end- one dealer stood out- they had what I wanted, and they didn’t waste my time. I wasn’t able to do it fully online- it did take a few calls. But the online screening did finally get me to the right dealer, the right price, and the right car. Painfully.
The point of all of this is- when it comes to having an online presence- don’t do it if you’re not going to do it right. A website is not a set it and forget it. It’s a living, breathing thing- and it will break if you don’t nurture it. You have to be all in. In this case, it looks like the car industry set it about 10 years ago, and hasn’t dealt with it since.
Does the scroll still matter?
May 22, 2015
Does having content above the scroll matter anymore? We know that consumers will scroll to see what’s on the page when they’re shopping. But where should we draw the line when it comes to content? What standards should we be following?
Taking a look at a few popular content sites, it seems many publications value highlighting something visually compelling vs. the actual story that consumers are linking to. When a customer is linking from a headline to see a story, should we make them scroll to see what the ‘story’ is about? To even see the headline to confirm they’ve landed where they intended?
Above is the Fast Company homepage- and below, a landing page for a story. Would a consumer landing here have any idea what the lead story is going to be about? Have they given us any incentive to scroll? The key factor to consider when designing landing pages is to provide at minimum:
1. A visual confirmation that I’m landing where I’ve intended.
2. Enough content above the scroll to generate the consumer’s interest and curiosity to keep going.
Interestingly, Fast Company’s mobile experience is much better- I can see the headline above the scroll. This is perfect.
Let’s take a look at TechCrunch. In this case, we have an image that relates specifically to the story (vs. Fast Co’s more esoteric images), and 2+ story leads above the scroll. This may be less dramatic visually- but it gets me to the stories.
Below is the landing page for a specific story on TechCrunch. I can’t see the story, but I do, at least get the headline I clicked on, to validate I’m in the right place.
The key consideration is: what are you trying to do? What do you want the consumer to do when they land on the page? What do you want people to remember you for? If it is about the story, Tech Crunch is doing a better job here. I can at least see the headline that enticed me in the first place.
Fast Company, in designing for online, is making the decision (whether intentional or not), that the photography is the most important thing they want consumers to see. As a consumer, it makes me nuts that I can’t see the story- or even the headline, above the scroll. Not on my laptop, nor my 22″ monitor- though the experience on the iPhone is much better. As a consumer, I like having a meaningful image, but find it irritating when I’ve clicked on a link from Facebook or Linkedin to land on a page where that’s all I see. I clicked because I was interested in the story.
Just give me the story.
Great customer service: an oxymoron?
April 24, 2015
Is your customer service an oxymoron? Is it geared towards helping your customers, or avoiding them? Here’s what great customer experience looks like to me:
1. Customer calls company “A” and wants to speak to a customer service agent.
2. Customer is able reach a human agent within 30-60 seconds (and without a gauntlet of CG voice options and having to punch in excessive numbers).
3. Agent actually has the information the customer has punched in (account number, issue type, etc) and greets customer by name.
4. Agent resolves problem fairly and quickly, and life is good.
This seems like a very simple interaction. But recently, when I had one like this, I found myself overflowing with gratitude. I steel myself for these calls- expecting the worst, because I’ve been conditioned to expect the worst, through endless frustrating calls that went more like this:
1. Customer calls company- get electronic message asking customer to select one of 5 choices. Customer doesn’t want any of these choices- customer wants to talk to a human.
2. Electronic voice says that she understands that I’d like to speak to an agent, but to help, she’ll need the following information entered.
3. Customer enters information, gets a new menu of options. None apply. Customer wants a human. Customer presses “0”. Machine says “this is not a valid response”. Customer says, “I WANT A HUMAN”. Machine says, “that is not a valid response. To repeat the menu, press 1.” Menu repeats. There’s no option for a human.
4. Customer implodes.
5. Customer starts over, process begins anew. Eventually reaches human. By this time, customer is hostile, frustrated and exhausted. Agent asks for all of the same account information customer has already entered.
6. Customer implodes.
You get the idea.
It shouldn’t have to be like this.
I really wonder how much actual revenue it costs companies in the long term- do companies actually quantify the time wasted dealing with hostile customers, and look at how that could be prevented? What’s the lost revenue by attrition when the customer decides not to deal with them anymore? If they really did the math, they would see that it’s much less expensive in the long run to provide good, or even great service. Think retention, appreciation, brand loyalty. That’s revenue. Many retailers get it. Especially online retailers. And granted, that process is simpler- and faster. But when it comes to customer support for longer term products like computers, or printers, health insurance or banks- not so much.
Why do CEO’s allow this kind of experience to persist?
Almost certainly because they don’t experience it for themselves. This is the advice I’d give- and it’s same advice I give top leaders and CEO’s for their websites: experience it for yourself. Frequently.
Give yourself a scenario (my product arrived damaged, never arrived, stopped working, or I’m calling to understand why my claim was denied, and so on). Call your own Customer Service number and see you how feel when you’re done. And then ask yourself, “Is our customer service an oxymoron?” Answer the question.
You’ll know what you need to do.
Give me the text
April 18, 2015
There is such a thing as overdoing your video content. When there’s a message I could just as easily (or more easily) scan via text- just give me the text. I can’t even count how many times I’ve clicked on an interesting link from Facebook, Linkedin or news media sites only to find that it’s a video link, and I can’t get to the content of the message unless I’m willing to wait through the ad, then sit through the video.
Video has it’s place- for entertainment, or education. But for news or content, give me text. I don’t want to have to go through it at a video’s pace- I want to see what it’s about and quickly move on.
What’s the best practice?
First, your link or image should clearly show that it’s a video- or you’re misleading me.
Second- provide the text transcript as an option.
Let the user have control over the experience.