Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Latest MerchantCircle release notes!

Many a new thing available for our merchants and their customers with the latest release from MerchantCircle!

We've taken a note from the Postal Service over the last few days with our latest release. You know, that whole thing about through sleet and hail. It's been white squall-like conditions out here with the freakish weather, lately, but we still managed to get you the latest great serving of MerchantCircle.

Here are a few of the highlights:

1) Newsletters Part 2: Email Delivery
As promised just one short month ago, we now provide the ability for you to email your newsletter to all of your customers. Using the same wizard that let's you publish the newsletter to the web, you can now enter in the email addresses of your customers to send an email version of the newsletter. If you already have your email addresses in your address book in Microsoft Outlook, Yahoo, Google or Plaxo, we've included the ability to import that information easily into our newsletter wizard.

Most other companies charge upwards of hundreds of dollars for this service. We're giving it to you for next to nothing: just 50 AdDollars, which you can earn by sending just a few invitations. How do you like them apples?

2) Category Chooser
Thanks to everyone who wrote us last month about how much they loved the new business categories for our listings. Many of you asked if we could give you the ability to add more categories, or change categories, associated with your business. We heard you, and this month, we've now given you the ability to associate your business with up to four categories, and make any of the corrections you need to make. This will make it even easier for more customers to find you!

3) Activity Reports
You've heard us talk about all the customers who are visiting your site. Well, don't just take our word for it. Look for yourself! Now, on ALL business listings, we're showing the number of potential customers who have visited your business, requested a deal or rated your business over the last 30 days. Additionally, we show the number of outstanding invitations for your business to connect, and the number of times Google and Yahoo search engine spiders have come crawling on your site.

That last bit is actually very important. If you see low, or no numbers from Google or Yahoo, this may mean they're not seeing your site, and not putting it into the search engine. That's bad news when customers do a search, and don't find you there. The best way to fix that issue? Create some local content! Write a blog entry, upload a picture, create a newsletter, or create an ad. Google and Yahoo like it when you have unique new content, which will make your business stand out in their search results.

4) Customized Local News
You told us you wanted more control over the news on the bottom of your listing, and we've now provided you even more options! You can customize the news on your listing, and choose different types of news. Maybe you're a realtor and want local economic or real estate news. Maybe you're a sports pub and want sports stories, or entertainment fodder. Maybe you think your customers love those oddball stories. Choose whatever mix of news you want, and help make your listing more relevant to your business.

5) Help Connect Your Neighborhood!
Most of you invite a lot of your local businesses by inputting their email addresses. But sometimes you don't have that email address handy, or can't remember it. In that case, we're unable to send the invitation out until we get the address. Many of your neighbors have these addresses, and now we're tapping into your community to help get those invitations out, and you can do the same thing (and earn free AdDollars for being a good citizen!). Just login to MerchantCircle, and on the dashboard, you'll see a local business listed where we're missing their address. If you have that information, fill it in, and we'll help your neighbors get connected.

6) Pretty emails :)
We've cleaned up all of our emails, and are now sending better looking ones that should make it even easier to help you get connected with customers, and for them to reach you. Lots of changes here, so keep an eye out for those invitations.

7) Cleaned-up Coupons
Coupons look better than ever, so why don't you create a new one today, and help your customers get in touch with you?

Handful of other small changes, but obviously a lot of improvements. And even more are coming, so check them out!

By the way, have you created a Google campaign yet? Quite a few of our customers have, and are seeing a lot more local customer leads! Stay tuned for some testimonials, but in the meantime, give it a shot! It costs just a few AdDollars, and is an easy way to get more customers!

Thanks for being part of the MerchantCircle community!


Jason and Wes shepherd the latest release through

Jason and Wes shepherd the latest release through
Originally uploaded by merchantcircle2005.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

MerchantCircle in BusinessWeek magazine

Google and Yahoo have played a major role in the expansion and growth in the online search business. As a result of this, as we've seen in many other online segments before (e.g., commerce, auctions, publishing), many new companies are springing up to address some of the gaps left by the giants who are primarily focusing on broad solutions.

MerchantCircle believes that search and online marketing services for local, small businesses is one of those overlooked areas. I saw glimmers of this opportunity expressed in the questions of many small business adertisers at a recent keyword marketing seminar I attended (read notes on the key takeaways). Many questions asked by attendees related to how they could take advantage of local search to drive leads to their local business. (A great selling opportunity for MerchantCircle, but alas, not the right time or place. :) )

BusinessWeek just did a story on some of the companies filling the gaps left by search engines, and gave MerchantCircle some props. (Thanks, Ben Elgin). Check us out in the latest print edition, on newsstands now, or check out the online version of the story, and our mention in the accompanying news graphic (free registration required).

Friday, February 10, 2006

Tireless Engineer Jason in front of Los Altos Coffee Shop

Tireless Engineer Jason in front of Los Altos Coffee Shop
Originally uploaded by merchantcircle2005.

Jason works so hard for our customers, he had to get a caffeine IV inserted into his vein at the Los Altos Coffee Shop. The Starbucks baristas know its time to change shifts when Jason shows up for his afternoon coffee. Peet's down the street named a new beverage "the Jason" -- four shots of espresso, and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Jason = Coffee = More code = Better MerchantCircle for our customers

Ok, he does go home on occasion. We're not that Draconian. :)

Los Altos Coffee Shop lives on...

So I was spending some time having a coffee with one of my fellow entrepreneurs talking about a few things when the Los Altos Coffee Shop came up. As you might have noted, we blogged about this a few months ago when it looked like they were going to close down. We were pretty disappointed since we sort of like the real neighborhood feel of the place. It turns out the brother in law of my entrepreneur friend owns the shop.

It turns out that it is not going to close. While there were some issues that were driving the cost up (and therefore the coffee shop out), those have been worked out and the Los Altos Coffee shop is here to say. Keeping these traditions, these real local business in a neighborhood makes all our lives more local, and more local is better.


Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Target vs. Marcel Jewelry Design

I've often heard the refrain, "Why can't anyone at Home Depot help with my (fill in home improvement task)?" I never really appreciated this problem until recently. I went to Target to replace a band for a watch. Loads of watch bands, yes. However, replacing the band required a slightly specialized tool. And, of course, Target had neither the personnel or the tool to perform the replacement.

Marcel Jewelry Design, on the other hand, happily replaced the band on the spot. Further, they were able to find a new crystal for another watch -- an obscure Seiko that was nearly 20 years old. I'm pretty certain that the chance of getting that kind of service at Target is nearly nil...


Monday, February 6, 2006

Small Businesses, Why ?

Starting a small business is tough. It is also the tough work that makes the economy work. We have all heard the statistics about the percentage of the US economy that is driven by small business.

We also all know that in spite of brands like Walmart and Home Depot penetrating our daily lives that small businesses drive alot of what gets done. I have often wondered why this happens given the difficulty of starting a small business. (Having started a couple myself, it has to be done of the more difficult things out there to do) But people do it... and we all buy from them.

Think about all the little companies like David Hyres Pest Control and Elite Housekeeping Services that we all use everyday. Why do these people do it ?

From my discussions here are some of the things I found:

One, no one can tell you know to starting a new businesses, especially a service business- you can just decide one day and get out in do it. No resumes, No interviews, Just execution.

Two, a sense of community. Alot of people don't want to get lost in the corporate world, a big part of thier being is connecting to other people and a small business gives them a vehicle to do this and make a living at the same time.

Three, control of thier lives. You only have to look at Enron to see how the security of corporate america can be an illusion. Job Security make in fact be an illusion for everyone now. But small businesses offer you control. I remember when I first left a F500 company to start a company and someone told me that I was taking a big risk. Maybe, but at least it was risk that was in my control.

Fourth, Taxes. I won't spend alot of time on this, but this is often times a big driver.

So people do it, and they will keep doing it. At MerchantCircle, our goal is to make it easier for the small local businesses to take on the WalMart's of the world.


Friday, February 3, 2006

What do customers want?

Have spent a lot of time over the past couple months talking with our customers. Our office is in a downtown community, so we literally interact with our target customers every day.

In all of the focus groups, quantitative surveys, secondary research and even usability, our customers have told me loud and clear that they want marketing/advertising solutions that are three things, in priority order:

  1. Effective
    If a solution is ineffective in driving customer interest, no merchant will care. Merchants want to ultimately measure value in sales, but other merchants understand that if a marketing solution like MerchantCircle can at least drive qualified leads (via email, phone or in-person), then it's up to them to take it the rest of the way. Can't meet this basic requirement? See you later.

  2. Price competitive
    There's probably a better way to articulate this, but customers are definitely willing to pay for an effective advertising solution (witness the thousands being spent on yellow pages ads). If our solution is effective, they're very willing to spend hundreds each month with us. They love the fact that they can measure effective results at a rate cheaper than what they're currently spending. Does this means merchants prefer performance-based marketing? I'm not sure. I heard a variety of different feedback on it. We're trying some of this out, and seeing what we can learn.

  3. Efficient / Easy to Use
    This should be a no-brainer, but so many people get lost in it. AdWords and keyword marketing? Way too frickin' hard. Heck, who has time to sift through hours worth of setup and tutorials. Not a merchant who can give only 15 minutes a day to new marketing options. Any solution has to be respectful of that. Make it easy for me to create content. Make it easy for me to measure results. Make it easy for me to communicate with my customers. Help me manage the requests that come in. Don't make me figure out some crazy interface to get things done.
No surprises here, right? Well, unfortunately, I haven't seen a lot of great options here that provide this small biz trifecta for merchants. In everything we do from a product strategy and marketing standpoint, we'll work to deliver these values to you, our customers. If you think they're the wrong things, I'd love to know, and hear your insights and feedback.

Btw, interesting side thing about how different customer segments react to this and marketing overall. Interesting contrast between younger merchants and older merchants, and different subsegments. I'll tell you more about that next time...