Voter registration Centralize and empower customer feedback with UserVoice

Posted by tom klein October 17, 2008 at 8:11 am

When testing a new product or site feature, feedback is key. The quickest – and least painful – way out of beta is to get your users in and to keep them engaged in the improvement process.

A service like UserVoice can be instrumental during this critical time. UserVoice centralizes your customer conversations in a single space. It’s part forum, part ticketing application, with some Digg-like voting features thrown in for good measure. UserVoice lets product users weigh in with honest criticism (or praise), suggest ideas and improvements, then vote on these suggestions. Each idea is an open thread discussion, where administrators can participate and update users on the status of improvements.

With all these thoughts flying, it may seem a bit confusing, but one of UserVoice’s selling points is it’s easy-to-use interface. Upon login, you’ll notice a project widget that identifies the most popular discussions and their status. If an administrator has elevated an idea to a project or improvement, it’s visible to the entire community. Ideas are well organized and searchable, so users can see if there idea has already been suggested, eliminating redundancy and letting the most important discussions rise to the top. Check out this mock UserVoice site (love the Office Space reference).

The best part? UserVoice is in free public beta.

Both users and administrators can sign-up for RSS feed notification for new activity on your UserVoice site, making it easier for everyone to stay in the loop.

Several big name companies are utilizing similar technologies to elicit feedback from their customers. Dell has their own version, IdeaStorm, that has met with great success. And we love nothing more than putting the same great technologies and products in the hands of our feed growth! readers (and for free!).


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  Check it Out! Create an instant, trusted e-commerce experience with Checkout by Amazon

Posted by tom klein August 1, 2008 at 6:50 am

Shoppers are often weary of handing over their sensitive financial information to an online store. Even worse, so many companies are ill-equipped to really understand how to protect valuable customer information once they have it.

You can put your customers at ease by using a name they know and trust – Amazon. Checkout by Amazon gives private sellers the same e-commerce solution as the “big store”. Existing Amazon customers can use their Amazon accounts on your web site or the fast checkout feature, Amazon 1-click, which eliminates the hassle of filling out shipping and billing information. Checkout has tools for managing the purchasing process, including shipping, sales tax calculators and printable mailing labels.

In return for providing this array of services, Amazon collects a small percentage of the sale and a transaction fee. Technically, there are no software start-up costs, monthly charges, or contracts. Amazon only makes money when you do. Why don’t you give it a try?

1-Click ordering is automatically enabled for buyers who have turned on 1-Click in their account. Buyers can simply click the 1-Click button to place orders using the default shipping address and payment method on their account without leaving your website.

So many companies over-estimate their need for a full blown e-commerce solution. If you're wondering if you might be able to get a store up and running, the best idea is to start with something small to see if you'll be able to get enough people to close the deal. Once you've built some kind of following, then you can trade up to a more sophisticated solution.


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  Don't they make cheese? Create an online store with open source Magento

Posted by tom klein June 10, 2008 at 7:00 am

So many people are frustrated with e commerce solutions that feel more like straightjackets. If you’re ready to take the bull by the horns, there are open source options . . .

Magento is a one-stop shop to manage and sell your products online. The open-source platform allows merchants full control over their eCommerce business and the underlying software that runs it. With Magento, you can create feature-rich, professional storefront including:

  • multiple images per product, with zoom-in capability
  • product reviews and ratings
  • stock availability
  • shopping carts and wishlists
  • suggested or optional product lists
  • send to a friend” product referrals
  • customer service and customer account management
  • full online payment options and integration with Google checkout, Paypal, and accounts

But some of the best features of this platform are on the back-end. Magento gives merchants the ability to customize their database and manage their inventory, orders, and customers from a simple and easy-to-use web interface. Pull sales reports and user analytics like cart abandonment rates and most popular products. Set RSS feeds to notify you when new orders pop up or customers leave a review.

While it may not be for the faint of heart, it’s at least worth a bit of sniffing about if you’re interested in making your platform part of your secret sauce.

Although Magento is a free solution, it's not recommended for the technically un-savvy. You will need basic PHP programming skills to set-up your database and arrange your catalog. Magento offers installation services for a flat $149.

For most people, e commerce just boils down to basic blocking and tackling - managing payment, keeping track of inventory, letting customers see what's for sale. However, if you're looking for more of DIY project that gives you flexibility, open source may be the way to go.



  ... Till you drop! Connect with or influence shop-a-holics with ThisNext

Posted by tom klein May 29, 2008 at 9:30 am

Every market has its “lighthouse customers” – those that are going to be out ahead of all of the others (and ideally the ones that will show everyone else the way). The challenge – how do you find them?

One easy way is to submit your product to ThisNext. It’s a community of people who are such enthusiastic shoppers that they want to tell the world about their latest purchase – ranging from what’s a good baby gift to where should you buy tires. The site lets its users engage in shopcasting – a combination of shopping and broadcasting.

In any case, if you are looking to introduce your product to potential buyers, you can submit your product to the site and they will consider sharing it with their mavens (their most enthusiastic shoppers and reviewers).

This is an easy way to engage in some targeted sampling that may help give your new product a little more oomph in the marketplace.

Another interesting aspect of this site - you can view what's hot in different cities. Maybe you'd rather stay on top of trends in Tokyo, not Peoria.

When it comes to building buzz for your new product or new brand, building positive word of mouth with influential shoppers (often by sampling) can have an outsized influence on the success of your launch - don't leave it out of your plan.


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  Enough with the fighting Cut your target’s switch costs, inspired by BankSwitcher

Posted by tom klein April 2, 2008 at 7:00 am

You can run all of the ads that you want and you may not get your target to do what you want. Depending on the category of product or service, sometimes it’s just too hard to overcome the switching costs. Especially in banking, now that everyone uses services like electronic bill payment. We won’t say that consumers are inherently lazy.

Think about how something like BankSwitcher might be able to help you. It’s a tool that simply makes it easy to switch from one bank to another. Users indicate what bank they currently use and which one they would like to switch to. Then, it asks you to go to your online banking site and download a detailed file of transactions and account balances. Then, it asks you to indicate which things you want to change and which ones you don’t. The point here is that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

If you’re facing an entrenched competitor with what appear to be high switching costs, don’t forget that there are ways to make it easier to switch to your camp. Have you made the effort to put tools like this one in place?

This is a relatively simple site, but it accomplishes an important objective. It provides a clear process and step-by-step instructions. If you make the steps simple enough, you can walk consumers through just about anything (online tax prep comes to mind).

So few companies put much effort into helping switchers, with Apple being a notable exception. Check out their Switching 101 site aimed at anyone who’s changing to a Mac from a PC / Windows machine.



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