Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lots of new features, including better coupons

Every month we launch new features to improve MerchantCircle for our members. This month we'd like to highlight:

1. User Recommendations - Once you login to your account you are immediately taken to a page with ideas that we've tailored based on your account activity. Each recommendation gives you a simple way to bring more customers to your business.

2. Improved user experience - Controlling your listing is now even easier. Note the new side-bar navigation and new buttons that run across the top of the screen. The buttons make it more obvious how each service and feature of MerchantCircle can help you gain more customers.

3. New Dashboard - Your dashboard now contains every vital statistic you need to evaluate your campaigns on MerchantCircle. View all the important details, including how your latest newsletter is performing, what kind of attention your listing is getting and which businesses are the highest ranking in your community.

4. New Coupons - We've totally revamped our coupon wizard to include brand new templates to help your offers stand out and have also included options for you to distribute them on community and business bulletin boards for even more exposure.

Have a look and give us your feedback. Every month we roll out something new and exciting, and your ideas are our prime inspiration.

Best Regards,

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Establishing a web presence....Not as difficult as you think

With all of the talk about local search vs. Yellow Pages lately, and the rise of local information found online, many small business owners have begun to question the effectiveness of purchasing Yellow Pages ads. And rightly so!

Once seen as the "go to" place for local businesses, the Yellow Pages' popularity has dropped with the emergence of alternatives to the expensive, cumbersomely thick book.
Why sift through wordy, sleepy ads in the Yellow Pages when there are more interactive alternatives out there? Capture your customers' attention by following "the more senses stimulated the better."

Most people are more intrigued when viewing a merchant as a 3-dimensional, breathing entity (like an online business listing) instead of a one-dimensional static box, like an ad in the Yellow Pages. Also, many customers feel that websites lend more credibility and personable qualities to a business. Sounds like a piece-of-cake decision, right? To those who grew up with the Internet, yes, but some may find the print-to-virtual transition a little more intimidating, particularly those not as familiar with the Internet.

MerchantCircle helps alleviate this very real fear by giving you simple, easy to use tools to create your business listing. As you need not learn any coding or technical terms, you may better use your time to concentrate on highlighting your business' attributes - like how your cafe has Fair Trade /Shade Grown coffee or how affordable your salon's prices are.

We've also built a few sample fictional websites to show how our features can better serve you. Remember Central Perk from Friends? Check out their business profile and snazzy image. Taking a moment to upload images and describe your business makes a world of difference when trying to stand out from other merchants (not to mention it's easy and free).

We've also made more traditional promotional tools easier, such as newsletters, profiles, and coupons. In addition, we've brought you blogs, a more current method to keep your customers informed on a regular basis. Businesses can use blogs for anything from updating customers on recent changes in the store to showcasing new and upcoming products. It's an informal, personal way to exchange ideas or provide information while having fun doing it! You can also be as creative as you want, such as uploading images to accentuate your news, like this blog from Gina's Beauty Shop.

More than anything, MerchantCircle wants to show you that you can create your own ad (with a little help from our Wizard) without spending excess amounts of money on annual contracts with the Yellow Pages. In fact, Central Perk and Gina's Beauty Shop (along with other businesses we'll soon introduce) were built using the standard free membership level at the "Circle". So, with all of this in mind, welcome to a great place to call home....and happy business listing-building!


Friday, August 25, 2006

Harboring Small Businesses

We celebrate unique businesses everywhere, so I really enjoyed an article I recently stumbled upon about just such a business in Halibut Cove, Alaska. Nardelli's Espresso Bar, having opened four years ago, serves this small, roadless community via a floating dock and cabin. A welcome sign marked "Espresso" rests in a skiff afloat near Nardelli's coffee shop cabin, inviting boating and kayaking passersby to drop in for a snack and a chat. What's more, patrons need not leave their boats, thanks to Nardelii's inventive "float-side" service.

Success appears to be due to Nardelli's winning combination: their yummy snacks are always paired with Nardelli's patron-first approach. The Bar's motto? "Everyone gets treated like a million dollars." This policy, no longer honored by most businesses, boosts Nardelli's above and beyond major chain coffee shops. It seems that Nardelli's has achieved what most small businesses strive for, being an integral part of the town. In fact, Jim Nardelli says, "Everyone is really supportive and I'd be afraid to close...It's really become a part of the community".MerchantCircle applauds Jim Nardelli's success, and we hope that his story inspires others to put service and originality first. We think they are two critical elements to keeping small American businesses vital in their communities. In the ever-busy, expanding world of corporate America, it's refreshing to visit local businesses like Nardelli's Espresso Bar, to shop, relax, and enjoy. (And I've got to get out there to sample Nardelli's homemade root beer plus a hot dog with the works - chili, cheese, caramelized onions, relish.)

Hmmmm, all this success and no yellow pages ad.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

To Yellow Page or not to Yellow Page...

This seems to be a question keeping many small business owners up late, busily debating pros and cons and crunching the numbers. Of course, the larger the ad, the more budget required... leaving smaller businesses at a further disadvantage versus the giant stores who distract customers with a full-page, (yet still two-dimensional and rather homogenous) Yellow Pages ad.

In an article, Dr. Lynella Grant, author of Yellow Page Smarts, cites research by The Kelsey Group in March 2005, which found that "70% of U.S. households now use the internet as an information source when shopping locally for products and services."

The same Kelsey Group study also found that individuals felt that search engines are a "better source of purchasing information than Yellow Pages, newspapers and magazines."

Dr. Grant also points out that most computer-savvy customers, a large and ever-growing segment of the population, know that the most efficient way to find information on businesses is through search engines.

Unfortunately, if you are a small business owner (even if you have a website of your own) you will more than likely not be listed on search engines and remain unseen. If customers can't find you, no matter how great your products are or how friendly your store is, you stand to lose both first time and repeat business.

This unhappy scenario confronts most smaller businesses today: how do you get the word out when the Yellow Pages are over-priced and ineffective, and it's awfully hard to pursue search engine traffic on your own?

MerchantCircle has attacked this problem for you - we offer increased visibility on Google and Yahoo and, unlike the Yellow Pages, provide you with the tools needed to build your own business listing. This means you, as a merchant, are in control of what your potential customers learn about your business. You upload the pictures and you come up with your business description, coupons, blogs, and newsletters.

In addition, because most people rely on their friends' and family's opinions over a random ad floating on the Internet or hidden in the sea of Yellow Pages, MerchantCircle offers consumer ratings, merchant endorsements and your business network to build the bridge necessary to connect you to loyal, lifelong customers, all for free. Try to accomplish any of that by advertising in the Yellow Pages!


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Coupons Coupons Coupons

I just ran across a little snippet of information I think our community could benefit from. Apparently, this back to school year, 58% of parents said they would use online coupons for in - store purchases. It appears that the convenience of shopping from home or the office makes it their top reason for doing so.

Well, this definitely makes sense to me. I know that I often find that there are never enough hours in a day and I welcome any which way I can buy some time. Convenience is always the key.

So for all our merchants, this back to school season you might want to update your offers and deals to benefit from this prime time shopping season.

On a similar note, it was released today that Google and Valpak have teamed up to offer online coupons through Google Maps. This is a pretty interesting move and not at all unexpected since local search is growing so rapidly.

Here at MerchantCircle, a merchant's coupons, blogs, and ads are all picked up by the major search engines. Check out some of our top merchants showing consistently on Google.

Pretty amazing stuff and when it comes to coupons alone, it's pretty awesome what some of our merchants are doing.

Check out some of our more popular areas already filled with the deals and special offers of our MerchantCircle merchants.

Minneapolis, MN.
Phoenix, AZ.
Las Vegas, NV.
Portland, OR.
Orlando, FL.
Chicago, IL.
Cleveland, OH.
Denver, CO.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Where your Yellow Page advertising dollars are going...

On the way to work one of our engineers saw a pretty funny sight. It's so funny I thought I'd share it with the rest of the community.

This has to be over 500 yellow pages someone wanted to use for a practical joke. Pretty amazing and actually not all that surprising considering they're invaluable and lying around most places. Just think, this is where your yellow page advertising dollars are going...

Anyway, we're always on the look out for great pictures of the yellow pages like the ones above. So if you ever run across a new and interesting way the yellow pages are being used send us a picture. We'll reward the best ones each week with a discount on a purchase of our premium packages.

Look forward to the submissions!


Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Stand out merchant

Our merchants are continuing to do great things on MerchantCircle. One especially has caught my eye this morning. Ackley's Rock & Stamps out of Colorado Springs, CO. is doing some really remarkable stuff.

Helena (store owner) has developed quite a relationship with her customers on the 'Circle'. Check out the warm reviews and her quick responses that show her customers that she cares. Another great thing Helena is doing well is newsletters. She's uploaded her contacts and is keeping her customers up to date on information, promotions, and offers. Excellent stuff! Helena is really doing what it takes to establish her business online which in turn is driving more customers through her door.

I'm sure there are plenty of other merchants out there doing similar things and I want to hear from them. So, if you have a great story about MerchantCircle and would like to share let us know.


Thursday, August 3, 2006

New Features Alert

We're on a constant quest to improve MerchantCircle for our members, and we're proud to announce the newest release of We've strived to simplify and strengthen our services while fulfilling requests made by our fabulous members. Here are a few highlights from today's push:

1. The Dashboard is totally redesigned, incorporating a new and improved menu system to make it easier and more intuitive to control your listing from one central spot. Login now and take it for a test drive!

2. Lights, camera, action! MerchantCircle now allows you to post videos on your business listing. Film a commercial, turn a video camera on a satisfied customer, or add footage on a topic related to your business. Check out the MerchantCircle listing in Los Altos, CA for an example.

3. Grow your Network. The new "Add your Address Book" button, located on the main dashboard and on "Invite Your Neighbors," lets you upload all of your email contacts in a matter of moments. Then it's a piece of cake to invite your friends and colleagues to join you on the 'Circle'!

We'd love to hear your thoughts on the new features, or requests for future improvements. Leave us a comment or send your remarks to