Thursday, March 13, 2008

Business Musings - Declining Sales?

Perusing the SL forums, I've noticed several posts regarding declining sales. These range from advice on how to get your sales back up, to inquiring to other merchants if their sales have been slumping.

Now, if most merchants are anything like myself, while I do keep sales records, I don't keep particularly *accurate* sales records. I don't do spreadsheets to keep track of what sold when, or how many sales I did per month, etc. So its actually hard for me to say, except for in very general terms how I'm doing in a particular time period. I can anecdotally say I do so any sales per day, but that's a very general figure. We all have good days and bad days, and as long as I make tier by the end of the month, I'm good. I don't make oodles of cash, but I do make enough to pay for my own in world expenses, which is enough for me.

However, I know there are many other merchants out there for whom this is a lot more serious issue than just making tier once a month and having some extra money to spoil your friends and yourself with a new outfit or hair. And missing sales can amount to missing bill payments IRL for those who depend on the income. So if you suddenly seem to be doing a lot less business, what can you do to get it back?

The first thing is to eliminate any technical reasons you can that might be deterring customers from your store. Have you recently remodeled? changed vendors? Did LL release a new client? Did you recently move your store? Did someone new move into your sim? Are all the textures in your area optimized? There can be many factors that can prevent a customer from completing a transaction with you, and depending on the cause, there is a different solution for each.
If you've recently redecorated or changed your vendor set up, customers might have some trouble either dealing with the new set up, or they just don't want to deal with the type of setup you have. A lot of customers get impatient having to scroll through hundreds of products, even if there are category buttons and such. Also, the less visuals you have around, the less people see your selection, and showing your products is very important to tempting people to buy them. The less they see, the less they are inclined to buy. If you think this might be the key, try putting out some of your old displays and see if your sales pick back up. If they do, you know that the customers didn't respond well to however you were redesigning your shop's look.

SL has a bit of a history that after a new client release, sales often take a short nosedive as people work out all the new and lovely bugs that come with each update. So if its just been after a new client release, don't panic and just wait a bit. People will come back.

One thing that really deters customers is lag. If someone has to wait twenty minutes to load the huge textures you have in your store, or there are too many scripts running in the area (such as in a mall situation), or some one has moved into the plot next to you and is running scripts and high textures it could cause a lot of lag in your sim. Try to keep your sources of lag to a minimum by keeping your textures to 256x256 at 72 dpi and find a balance to displaying your products and how many textures a person has to wait to load. If you find lag is an issue, check the scripts you are running, and other scripts in the area. You can try using single prim venting if you find that running scripts is just too much for your area to handle, and see if it helps. Otherwise, you might want to look for another location. When you move, you might find your sales drop off as well for a bit because people can't find you right away and might think your store has closed. This is why it is very important to have a group for your store, so you can keep your customers informed about such things.

If you have ruled out technical problems, you can then turn your attention to your actual store and your offerings. If you had a unique offering, perhaps someone has duplicated and is selling it for less. Maybe competition has moved in up the way. Maybe you just need some fresh items to bring people back to your door step. Even if you have competition, there is nothing saying you can't do a better job of making a given product or service available. This is especially true if you tend to have more expensive prices for items ( things over 500L) if people can get a similar item for less. You may have to make it more clear to the casual consumer why they should consider buying your product over others. Having an event or sale can help, but its a temporary solution. It won't help you build long term customer loyalty to your store unless you can keep in contact with the new people you meet, give incentives to join your store group, such as special offers and exclusive freebees. That way, you can keep in contact with them and continue to promote your products to an audience that is already proven buyers.

If you haven't put out something new in a while, interest can wane on your products. Also if you don't have very many products, your store isn't particularly large and your products are either very common or somewhat niche-ish, you may find that what you need to do is do some new things. The larger your selection, the more people will come to do a one shop shop for your particular product. This is also why specialty stores tend to be easier to get a steady flow of traffic to, since people make your store a destination for X. It could be hair, jewelry, shoes, glasses, party dresses, Cosplay, skin, whatever it is you sell. Selling a little of everything is nice, but it makes it hard to make you stand out and get people to come for a specific reason. If you like to do different things, a theme such as goth, Elizabethan, victorian, egyptian, horror, fantasy, etc, can help get you in with an audience looking for your products. You might consider branching off ill fitting products (in your main product line type/theme) into their own store. So if you primarily do hair for example, but also sell prefab skyboxes, consider having them with two different identities. People looking for skyboxes probably aren't going to think immediately of going to a hair store.

We all know that SL is notoriously glitchy. It can be hard with many of the teleporting issues, lag issues, rezing issues, connectivity issues, etc. To actually GET to a store. Recently I was noob-makeovering two friends of mine. Since a couple of updates ago, I have been unable to teleport with the main client. It disconnects me everytime I try. I have to log into the sim I want to be in from the get go. This made shopping, quite literally, hellish. Going to people's stores, particularly on private islands was infuriating. Disconnect, reconnect, disconnect, reconnect. And with all the stuff you have to do to craft a look, it became unbearable. So where did I turn to? SLexchange. A quick search, some surfing and an easy delivery to my friend. It was instant and didn't involve me teleporting. So its important, if you don't have your products on one of web based shopping pages (SLexchange, OnRez, etc), that you probably should. Not only does it make you more visible, which is a good thing, it prevents technical problems from getting in the way of people accessing your shop. Even if your sales are coming from something other than your shop, your products are getting out there. Make sure your product boxes have landmarks to your main shop at the very least in them. That way, even if they bought it from an out of world source, they know where they can go INworld for more.

If you have been struggling for some time with low sales, you might have a larger problem than just a bit of a slow down in people visiting your store. There can be many reasons for low sales, including:
- Poor images/look
- Prices too high for product
- Insufficient marketing
- Wrong target audience/area

If you aren't particularly good with photoshop or Gimp, or graphics in general, you might want to hire someone to create your look and feel who is. Your graphics in your store is what make you look professional and if your pictures do not showcase your product well, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Looking professional is as important as being professional. Remember that first impressions, such as when a person walks into your store, is very important. If you don't look like you put much work into your look and feel, people are going to probably assume you don't put much effort into your products either.

If you are new and starting out, its pretty hard to charge huge prices for what is most likely substandard work, compared to what else is out there. If you are relatively new to product making, your stuff generally won't be as good as the stuff made by people who've been at it for a while. Or even if it is, most people aren't going to risk shelling out big bucks to find out. You have to price your products reasonably within your market for both their quality and what the 'median' price of the market is. Most people don't want to pay more than 50L for a t-shirt, so charging 200L will probably mean not many people are going to buy when they can get a potentially BETTER shirt for 50L somewhere else. Also, most transactions these days are fairly low. People don't get stipends like they used to and so money for a good bulk of the active population is tight. If you want casual sales, you have to have a good selection of casual shopper priced items (75L or lower). Once people get familiar with your good work on the cheap, they might consider shelling out for the more expensive pieces.

You do have to make some effort to put your name out there by way of a bit of marketing. Classified, having your store in your picks, also having your items searchable are very important. If people can't find you, they can't shop for you. consider having a weekly classified at 50L on selected products. Host events at your store to draw people in. Giving seminars and such is a very good way to get people to take you seriously. ( and SL is always hurting for quality event content) You may also want to visit and identify groups that would have an interest in your product and hang out in them wearing your stuff (if its wearable) or see if you can locate an outlet store in an area where they hang out. (goth clubwear in a goth club mall for example..) Getting a few satalite stores is a good way to raise your visibility even if you don't make a lot of sales there. people get familiar with your brand and begin to build a relationship with it. They might like your stuff, but not have the money at the time. But later when they do, they will recognize your store and probably buy something.

Another common mistake is putting your store in the wrong place or trying to cater to the wrong audience with your product. No one is going to be able to attract *everyone* to their products, so to save yourself time, L$, and frustration, make sure that you are putting stores only in the malls, sims or areas that specifically will attract the kind of people who will buy your products. Having a stand alone 'main' store is good, but make sure the decor fits. Make sure your keywords are words that people in that particular clique would be looking for. Sponsor events that are aimed at the same audiences you are targeting, and generally become a part of their community. People are more willing to buy stuff from people they know, like and trust personally than a stranger. Many malls or venues promise 'traffic' to merchants, but a smart merchant knows to check it out first and see if the clientelle matches their product lines. If traffic doesn't translate into sales, it won't be worth the price of the rental, especially since the more traffic the landowner claims to have, the more they tend to charge for the rental.

SL is just like any other business in the sense that there are good days, and there are bad days. You can only do as much as you can, but if you are doing everything here, you should see more good than bad days. Try to look over longer periods for trends, I suggest monthly targets. Days are too short, even weeks are too short to really get a good pulse on whats going on. But don't panic, just because your stuff isn't selling today, doesn't mean it won't sell tomorrow.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home