Thursday, November 30, 2006

New Features Alert

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

1. Your merchant homepage has been totally redesigned, our new design is aimed to keep you aware of what's going on in your community and how your business is fairing by providing you with activity reminders and easy to read performance charts. Login now to take it for a test drive!

2. Manage your business's online identity with the brand new Web Identity Manager of your MerchantCircle account. Manage, monitor, and control all the various places where reviews, ratings, and other business information may be found about your company online.

3. Updated Image & Video flipper - Now, on your listing page we include preview pics along with tabs to separate your video and images for your customers to find more easily. We've also included a nifty little slideshow to showcase the many many pictures you have.

4. Image Management - You can organize your images and videos by dragging them into place while in the Image library. Images and Videos appear in the order that they are placed.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on these new features and what we can do to make MerchantCircle even more useful for you. Leave us a comment or send your remarks to

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Value of Creating Online Coupons

As I prepare for my trip to Philadelphia today to attend ILM:06, an industry conference where I will be on a panel speaking about the growth of online coupons, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what our Merchants have achieved using MerchantCircle's free coupon creation and distribution tools.

Released just over a year ago, our coupon creation tools now boast the following statistics:

* Nearly 10,000 coupons were created over the year
* Roughly 6,000 coupons are currently active (implying most were created recently)
* Around 1,000 new coupons are created each month
* The number of coupons doubles about every 90 days

While I'm pleased about our progress to date, there is still admittedly much left to be done. That's why I'm proud to announce that earlier this month we achieved another milestone extending the advertising reach of our Merchants online coupons.

As our customers already know, Merchants have always been able to place coupons for free on the MerchantCircle webpages in their locale. However, beginning this month, our customers' coupons are now also going to be distributed and viewed on other popular local internet sites via an XML feed (for those technical folks out there, the RSS 2.0 feed spec can be found here.)

So what does this mean? It means more potential customers are seeing our Merchants' coupons and are visiting those Merchants' MerchantCircle websites. Consider the following examples:

Clarks Creek Candle Company created a coupon on MerchantCircle a week ago and already has had nearly 225 potential customer visits to their MerchantCircle site to show for it. See her coupon displayed, for free, on one of our new partner sites Oodle (a local classifieds site) here.

Both Jaworski Coatings and All American Gutter have created and displayed their coupons via MerchantCircle. Today, each has over 1,000 visitors (i.e. potential customer) to their MerchantCircle websites each month! That's a lot of customer visits... and many of them are driven by their creation of coupons.

Results like these are encouraging to me as I prepare my thoughts for this week's panel. I hope they are food-for-thought for our Merchants as well. For those Merchants who have created coupons, keep an eye out for an increasing number of potential customer visits, driven by your coupons, in the weeks and months ahead. For those who have not yet created a coupon via our free coupon creation and distribution tools, perhaps now it's about time you did!

Doug Kilponen
Vice President, Business Development

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Merchant Expression...On a grand scale

What if every small town merchant or even every merchant in Manhattan not only was able to express their views, perspectives, opinions, and opportunities to the Local Internet every day---but found it easy enough that they became addicted to it?

A lot of people have told me that this is a pretty dumb question and that it will never happen. I am sure they are wrong. Or at least, I am sure that while not every merchant will participate; most merchants can get to this point. At MerchantCircle we believe we can bring 2, 3, 5M new local merchants online in the next few years. We are so sure, that we are betting everything on it. We have just over 60K online today with a majority having MerchantCircle as their first and only experience on the Internet.

* Do you believe you can get 100M people to build a web page and keep it updated as frequently as 4 times and hour ? Of course not, why would anyone want to waste all that time, where is the ROI. MySpace was sure and they have changed the internet by turning 100M people into publishers of new content.

* Do you believe you can get 70% of college students to spend more time writing on the web than they do in class? Mark and Sean were sure they could and they have not created something that has changed the way college campuses work

* Do you believe that every merchant will express themselves on the web? Wayne, Doug, Walt, and I all believe that we can bring 2, 3, 5M merchants online in the next few years. We are sure it can be done.

As we learn from our experiments and continue to reach towards a model with zero incremental cost to bring another merchant on, here are a few things we have learned:

* Merchants are naturally social people who want to share their story.
* Merchants have something to say
* Merchants want to express themselves and look good on the web
* Merchants are some of the smartest most customer focused people you will ever meet.
* And most importantly, we love merchants...merchants are a blast to get to know and work with-even when they want us to make changes.

As we reach for our next 60K merchants, we are excited about learning even more.

On another note, one of the things we have found as we continue to grow is that a lot of people would like to communicate with our merchants. While we are very focused on protecting our merchants, we are happy to find ways to share interesting information in our newsletter or even ads on some of the places where they spend their time on MerchantCircle. If you are interested in these areas or in picking up some of the thousands of very valuable information feeds we create reach out to Doug. He has some great programs.

Best Regards,
Ben T. Smith IV

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Is Anyone Out There Listening?

Just when you think it's safe to put down that keyboard...... you realize you need to find some stuff to buy for Black Friday. The research is out there - millions of people will be online researching what they buy, before they buy it. Don't underestimate the value of personality. (It hasn't worked for me, but my mother tells me I don't want them as friends anyway).

Speaking of personality, have you blogged lately on your MerchantCircle listing? It's a great way to advertise what you're offering this holiday season, but better yet, it's a great way to distinguish who you are and why. Check out Mike Sansone's blog about whether, you, as a business should blog. It's filled with examples and we even get a shout out! Thanks Mike.

All-American Gutter in Lemoyne, PA made sure that their customers know what they can offer during the holidays with their blog. Nice job out there.

This holiday season, I will offer my stomach as a garbage disposal to my family. But as tradition will go, half of the food will end up as stains on my shirt. I'll remember to wear dark colors this year. Have a great Thanksgiving and remember, people are listening and looking for you - don't be afraid to show them a little something.


Community Relations

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Independent Grocers On Top

Taking customers' opinions into account and meeting their needs has everything to do with how successful a business will be.

I was reading an article in BusinessWeek a few days ago about how independent grocery stores are holding things together even while more "Big Box" stores open around them. The Richmond, Virginia-based grocery store, Ukrop's, is one such independent that began nearly 70 years ago, has expanded to 28 shops, and is considered Virginia's #1 supermarket!

Ukrop's has thrived in the midst of big grocery stores because they've been quick to innovate and have stayed ahead by offering services and a selection of products that the big stores can't compete with. They were one of the first markets in the country to offer gourmet ready-made meals (its main kitchen cooks some 250 different items), they operate a central bakery that supplies all of its stores with ready-to-heat and serve baked goods, and several locations feature the in-store restaurant Ukrop's Grill & Cafe. Can you imagine Costco or Walmart competing with all of that?

Independent stores like Ukrop's are standing their ground by being flexible, introducing new offers quickly, and engaging on a more personal level with their customers. And they're on top of the game when it comes to carving out a niche in the market.

Riesbeck Food Markets out of Ohio, is one of the only independent grocers left standing in the 100-mile radius where it operates, after a Walmart Supercenter popped up 5 years ago. Riesbeck Food Markets is an 80-year-old grocery store started by current owner Richard Riesbeck's grandma! Riesbeck says that instead of trying to match other stores' prices, they concentrate on customer service, cleanliness, fast checkouts, and high-quality products. These are definitely things you can't find at "Big Box" giants.

Other independents concentrating on customer service and community are Gardner's Market of Miami. They support local farmers by sponsoring a farmer's market in front of their Pinecrest location on Sunday mornings from January to April. Draeger's, a 3-store northern California company, caters to the upscale shopper by stocking a wine shop of 3,000 varieties. Two of the three stores offer a housewares department of topnotch cookware and a selection of over 5,000 cookbooks!

With products, services, and community involvement like these stores offer, it's no wonder that people still crave intimate, crafted-for-your-needs grocery stores! Congratulations to these grocers for listening to what people want!

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

New Feature Idea: Suggestions for better MerchantCircle

Hello all,

After some insight from our merchants we've decided to build a brand new feature on MerchantCircle. This feature is a way for merchants to check and resolve any and all issues pertaining to their business's web presence. For instance, did you know that your business is located on a variety of places online, places such as Google Local, Yahoo Local, SuperPages, and CitySearch (just to name a few). And, on these places your business could be receiving reviews and ratings unbeknownst to you.

We have heard from many of you that keeping track of this information, as well as watching for new sites with similar content is important. However, keeping track can be both difficult and time consuming.

Addressing these concerns is exactly what we're looking to build here at MerchantCircle. We want your MerchantCircle account to be your control center to the World Wide Web. You'll be able to monitor the activity of these various sites by making sure your business info is shown correctly and by keeping tabs on reviews written about your company, after all your reputation is important.

The idea is still being built into something we can put on the site and we're looking for additional ideas and thoughts to help us build the right product. If you have any comments or suggestions please follow up here, I look forward to all your suggestions.

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Holiday Sales

With the holidays approaching, I'm reminded of the big sales that go on during this time of year. Stores like Walmart that shred prices on electronics, clothes, and toys, make it difficult for the little guys to compete. The good news is that some industry experts are betting that smaller merchants will win out over stores like Walmart because shoppers are basing their purchases on price, quality, and service, not just price alone.

An article about these "holiday price wars," featured on today, noted that the November-December period is a critical time for retailers, accounting for as much as 50% of profits and sales. Sounds exciting and stressful at the same time! While big brand stores can spend beaucoup money on ads and billboards, smaller businesses with excellent quality goods may feel like they're fighting a losing battle. But the thing that small businesses have that big box stores don't have is loyal customers and community support!

So while places like Walmart may have the financial backing to spread the news of their holiday sales, you have the ultimate advertising campaign - your loyal customers - to help spread the word about you and your excellent services. And we here at MerchantCircle want to help your customers better serve you, especially through the holidays. That's why we have your website set up with a customer review section. So, encourage your customers to leave feedback to let you know what you're doing right and what they'd like to see changed. You'll probably end up hearing things you wouldn't have otherwise!

Our bulletin board section is another great, interactive place to note new sales or happenings. And customers can join in and make notes too! You can check out Central Perk's bulletin board and Monk's Cafe's bulletin board to get an idea of how it works.

With holiday sales well underway and the number of shopping days 'til Christmas counting down, it's good to know that you have great resources for spreading the news about your business! So, use all of the free and easy tools at your disposal, and let us know how your holidays go!

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Friday, November 3, 2006

Welcome to the 'Circle'!

Things are continuing to move at incredible speeds here, namely our merchant growth and so I think it's high time again to highlight a few our merchants.

Check out these new merchants who've really built a great home here at MerchantCircle.

1. Gresham Hypnotherapy Clinic of Gresham, Oregon offers a FREE Hyposis Secrets Revealed Class on the first Thursday of every month.

2. Looking for a quality cleaning service provider in the Brookfield, Wisconsin? Look no further than L & K Cleaning Services.

3. Accounting Management Advisors Inc. of Lake Worth, Florida is offering a FREE one hour consultation if you mention MerchantCircle on a visit.

4. Visit Tre Jolie Salon of Sequim, Washington for hair styling, tanning, waxing, and nails.

5. Me and My Friend Kidstuff! of Uniontown, Pennsylvania specializes in personalized Veggietale, Wiggles, and Barney & Elmo CDs.

6. Learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai Kickboxing, CSW, and Filipino Martial Arts at the Eastern Academy of Martial Arts of Chesapeake, Virginia

Let's all welcome them to the community! And, if your in their area and or decide to make a purchase, make sure you let them know you found them on MerchantCircle.

Best Regards,
Product Marketing

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Take It For a Spin

Have you ever test-driven a car and had the salesman encourage you to try the competitor's brand? It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it takes you by surprise. What seemed like a great negotiating tactic now seems like you got called out on your bluff. But from the consumer standpoint, this is how it should always be - take what they give you and make an informed decision.

Why make a choice without testing the waters?

The same goes for your online marketing needs. There's been some recent buzz about, including this post by The Kelsey Group. It's got the backing of AT&T and BellSouth, along with 4,000 sales representatives on the ground. Heck, they paid $100 million just for the name! If you're a business, they must be good right? Well check it out for yourself. That's right, you heard us correctly.

One of the reasons a car salesman will happily see you off to another dealership, is the confidence that he's selling you the best product, at the best comparative price. We feel that surely about what we offer compared to everyone else out there. No one, and I mean NO ONE, offers as much as we do to business owners online. I went to and I found my dad's business, but I couldn't do anything with it. I couldn't personalize it, post pictures, enter store information, make coupons....and really, I could go on.

Those services I just mentioned all come free of charge at MerchantCircle. As a business owner, some of your most important decisions come as a consumer for your business. So do yourself a favor and check out what everyone else has to offer and we'll see you back here when you're done.

Community Relations