We changed our name! After 14 years of creating award-winning digital products & services, it’s time for a new identity that better reflects the human insights-driven, digital customer experiences we create.
We changed our name! After 14 years of creating award-winning digital products & services, it’s time for a new identity that better reflects the human insights-driven, digital customer experiences we create.

AIAIO: Our Blog

AIAIO: Our Blog

The pulse and reviews of Alexander Interactive

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Ai Ranks Among Great Entrepreneurial Places to Work

Last week, The NY Enterprise Report released their list of the 10 Great Entrepreneurial Places to Work. Qualifications for the list are based on compensation policies, benefits and time off policies, as well as entrepreneurial spirit, culture, work/life balance and company philanthropy.

With that in mind, we’re pleased to announce that Ai ranks among the top ten Great Entrepreneurial Places to Work in New York. With lots of cool companies, serious start-ups and creative agencies around each corner, this is huge news, and just goes to confirm all the things Ai believes in: creating an environment that encourages teamwork, creativity and a sense of ownership. We strive to offer that to our employees, and we are humbled to be recognized for it.

Last year, we introduced our Ai Tenets (called “the Morgan Freemans”) to perpetuate the Ai culture by defining what makes an awesome Ai-er (who better in his roles embodies all that’s great in this world other than Morgan Freeman?). The “Morgan Freemans” include being merry craftsmen, taking initiative, seeking ownership and working towards continual growth on project and personal levels. And of course, looking out for your fellow Ai-ers: teaching, learning, giving high-fives and questioning ideas to make them better.

From the mouths of Ai-ers:

“It is kind of the chicken or the egg—not sure if the people here create the culture or our culture attracts the right people, but the quality of work and willingness to help is like nothing I have experienced in past jobs.”

“Ai is a fantastic creative hub, and what makes it special is a character trait that everyone here owns … must be the Morgan Freeman stuff – smart, hardworking, unique and quirky in all the awesome ways.”

“I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of smart, open-hearted, creative colleagues  in my life–but I’ve found more awesome people per square foot here at Ai than any other place I can remember. And an almost eerie shortage of ego and neurosis.”

Thanks to our awesome employees and to NY Enterprise Report for showcasing us among such good company. We may not take ourselves seriously, but we take culture seriously, and we are ecstatic others recognize that. Yay entrepreneurial spirit!


Get Customers Off Your Site and Into Your Store

The 2011 holiday season showed us that shoppers are going online for purchases now more than ever.  Small brick-and-mortar retailers would prefer to drive customers offline and into their stores, and here are some thoughts on how a clean, user-friendly website can do just that.  These are quick, cost-effective fixes that small retailers can use that will ensure to drive more customers to their location, with a focus on transactional intelligence.

Think mobile

Customers are on the move.  Depending on your target audience, it’s likely that most shoppers have a smartphone with a mobile web browser.  At a minimum, small businesses should view their website on the most common smartphones, including iPhone and Android, to be certain that all key information is visible and easy to navigate.  If your phone number and address are at the bottom of the screen, move it to the top.  It could take a lot of smudging and swiping and to get down to the most critical information to drive your customer to your store.

Those small businesses with a little more to invest must consider launching a mobile-optimized web experience that caters to the smaller screen size. Prioritize the most important information that a customer needs to know about your business—your phone number and address, this week’s promotions, special “in store only” sales—and make this information very easy to find.

Focus on the user

Some of the best enterprise websites are successful because they build user-centered solutions based on a very deep understanding of the customer.  Small businesses can benefit from the same type of user-centered approach by emulating a number of the techniques used by bigger sites.  Make a list of your most common customer types and the scenarios they are likely to run into—the busy working mom with limited time to browse your products, spouses reviewing together a large purchase, a child letting a parent know the latest and greatest toy they want—and build an experience around these customer personas and scenarios.  Every decision you make about adding a feature or design element to the site should be prioritized to solve the most pressing needs of your customers.

Store locator

The most commonly visited section on a small brick-and-mortar business website is the store locator.  Customers want to know your store locations, your hours, and your phone number.  Don’t bury this information behind multiple screens.  Place your phone number and physical store address prominently on your homepage and at the top of every page of your site.

But don’t stop there.  The best executed store locator pages have calls-to-action or coupons that further encourage customers to come into the store.  Along with your phone number and address include a special web coupon or your hottest products of the week.  Use the opportunity to turn the often dry locator page into a stronger selling tool.  Rewarding customers with a coupon for printing the store locator page or showing a floor salesperson the site on their mobile phone will let give you valuable feedback on the efficacy of your store-driving campaign.

Watch your analytics

Understanding what your customers are doing on your website, the successful areas that drive customers to the store, and those that are barriers, is paramount to running an effective business.  Google Analytics is a free tool that includes  a number of reports on the activity of your site visitors.  Where are most visitors coming from?  What’s the first and last page they visit on your site?  How many clicks does it take for them to find your brick-and-mortar store information?


Cuttin’ Through the Clutta Like A Knife Through Butta

As the economy slowly pulls itself out of the recession, retailers are trying to connect with consumers in different ways.  Reuters reports that Best Buy is scaling back its trademark “big box” stores, focusing instead on “mobile” retail locations and bolstering their online presence.  However, The New York Times reported last week that many brick-and-mortar stores are back to embracing size and clutter.  While piling up the goods may be great for B&Ms, this strategy usually fails to translate in the expanding ecommerce world.

Online there exist far better strategies for engaging consumers than drowning them in a sea of digital clutter. We advise our clients to embrace simplicity, proven behavioral strategies and technology like dynamic personalization. Few if any brick-and-mortar stores can make quick, store-wide changes like what can be done online.  Digital optimization strategies allow our clients to take risks and experiment with their online offering, to adjust quickly based on real-time feedback, and then to experiment some more.

We have empowered many clients with this strategy, and it works.  For example, our de-cluttering redesign of PexSupply resulted in a 33% jump in conversions, and 45% increase in total orders.  Take a look at the difference after the break.


“What’s wrong with my conversion?”

Scott Porad put up a terrific blog post last week about conversion rates and a lack of true averages.

While a global conversion rate of sorts exists–apparently, it’s 2.4% these days–benchmarking site conversion is a futile task due to the variables that impact sales.

Porad mentions Starbucks’ 99% conversion rate in his post. To expound, consider the stores in a shopping mall. Brookstone and Spencer Gifts, for example, probably have a lower conversion rate than, say, Old Navy or Radio Shack, due to the mindset of shoppers who enter (try vs. browse vs. buy vs. fix). But that doesn’t mean Brookstone has a problem. Differences in pricing, margin, and foot traffic expectations all play into the relative success of each store.

Instead of focusing on benchmarks for conversion rates, look at consistency of purchase patterns, and identify points in the browse and checkout processes where barriers can be minimized and revenues maximized. Not every site can convert like ProFlowers–and not every site has to.


What does Walmart’s free shipping mean to the industry?

Last week Walmart announced free shipping on for the holiday season. The scope is staggering: the offer covers more than 60,000 products and comes with no purchase minimum.

The move is a maneuver in Walmart’s price war with Amazon and Target, coming just days after Walmart lowered prices to compete more fiercely with its competitors. In the level-playing-field world of ecommerce, Walmart is making a compelling case for many consumers not to shop anywhere else.

So what does this action mean for the rest of the industry, not just the billion-dollar behemoths at war? Several things.

1. Expect heavy price wars this season. Indeed, they’re already underway, what with campaigns and discounts starting in October this year, in part to offset the sluggish economy. (Then again, this happened in booming 2007, too.) Every store will be watching its competitors’ prices, and consumers will, too.

FREE SHIPPING no minimum order2. Look for the spread of no-limit free shipping. Already, some larger retailers (like LL Bean, whose promo is shown here) have chosen to match Walmart’s offer. Amazon hasn’t budged yet, in part because its $25 hurdle is fairly accessible. If Walmart chooses to extend its offer past the holidays, though, watch for shipping costs to rapidly become an albatross on mass-market sites.

3. The small-business end of the online CPG market may be in trouble. Walmart’s promotion allows consumers buying $9.88 toys to shop for value–good for consumers, bad for small competitors, who may spend $7 on average on shipping. Expect startup retailers to shift focus away from small-ticket items unless they have access to favorable postal arrangements.

4. Don’t expect this to hurt the specialty stores. Bloomingdale’s has free shipping on $300-and-up purchases, Nordstrom $100: this isn’t about them. Nor is it about niche brands whose distribution relies on the digital channel. Those retailers can still charge fair shipping costs, because people are seeking out specific products. Walmart may encourage an expectations shift, but those expectations may or may not extend to every corner of the online retailing industry. (Yet.)

Check in January to see if free shipping sticks around or if it’s just a market-share maneuver for the holiday season. That pending decision by Walmart may permanently alter the industry.


A return to brick and mortar shopping

Ah, internet shopping. Nothing like browsing products and comparing pricing without ever having to leave your chair.

For many years I almost completely abandoned visiting good old fashioned brick and mortar stores. I hopped on the internet shopping bandwagon really early. I used to buy CDs from cdnow (RIP) over their telnet service before the much maligned Internet Explorer even existed. When I discovered eCommerce, I never looked back.

Well, I didn’t look back until this past December, when I had a falling out with one of my favorite vendors, Newegg. Much to my surprise, I now go to Best Buy for many of my computer needs.

I used to think of Best Buy as a place that I would go when I needed something badly enough to pay a 10-20% premium. Much to my surprise, many of their products are now competitive with online stores like Newegg. Frequently, I can get products a little bit cheaper since there is no shipping charge. Add to that the instant gratification of getting the product exactly when I want it, and I’ve actually started to prefer brick and mortar shopping again.

Oh, there will always be plenty of stuff I’ll be able to find online cheaper. But for right now, I’m finding a return to brick and mortar shopping to be not only enjoyable, but also a fiscally sound decision.

Just to be clear, I am not abandoning eCommerce. After all, I do help make eCommerce sites for a living :) I’m just reintegrating brick and mortar shopping into my purchase/shopping habits. In fact, over the past 2 months, I’ve spent close to $2500 at I’ve built 2 new computers for my home, and preordered that snazzy new graphite Kindle.

It’s also worth mentioning that I actually spend a lot of time at Even though it’s very close, I still don’t want to make the trip unless I know that they have the product in stock. There’s no quicker way to do that than to go to their website.

Not only does their site save me time in the store, but they also frequently have sales online that don’t have in the store. So you could end up spending more money than you have to if you don’t know their online price. They will price match their own online store right at the cash register.


The ROI of being annoying

A recruiter in New Jersey got ahold of my contact information last year. He called and managed to learn from me that I do some of Ai’s hiring. I did not choose to use him for any of our staffing.

Since then, he has called me reliably, every two weeks, to see if I need him yet. Last fall I got tired of his calls and told him, flat out, to please stop calling. We have no relationship and his repeated attempts to wear me down were not working.

He ignored this request and keeps calling. Today was his most recent ping. I now recognize his phone number on caller ID; I don’t pick up when he rings me and I delete his voice mail without listening. And still he calls. (It’s been so long that I feel like I blogged about him once before.)

What percentage of a user base gets worn down by this tactic? Is it worth alienating a high percentage of a potential consumer segment in the hope of finding a sale?

I’m sure my recruiter/stalker has found that repeated calls work on some people sooner or later, but in the meantime, I’ve memorized his name and sworn never to work with or recommend him. Is that good business?

This is a good thing for an online marketer to consider before buying email lists and defaulting signups to opt-in.


The ROI of staff training

I called US Airways the night before a recent business trip to ask about a travel detail I couldn’t find online. (I’m not name-checking US Airways just to pick on them; it’s part of the story.) Their customer service is obviously outsourced to an overseas location–I had to call twice, and both representatives had trouble speaking clearly and understanding my question.

But this isn’t about offshoring, or customer service reps whose native tongue isn’t English, which doesn’t offend me. (I certainly couldn’t administer tech help in Hindi.) Rather, it’s about training.

Upon completing my second call, the US Airways CS rep said to me, “Can I help you with anything else today?”

“No, that’s it,” I replied.

“Thank you,” she continued, “for calling Use Airways.”

Use Airways. I headed to the airport the next morning still shaking my head about the woman who doesn’t know her employer’s name. Shortly after taking my seat on the plane, a flight attendant got on the PA system.

“All electronic devices must be turned off at this time,” he said. “If you do not turn them off and put them away, we will return to the gate and deplane you, and you will have to rebook on a later flight.” (Emphasis his.)

My seatmates chuckled at his earnestness, but I just thought about my phone call. In the span of a few hours, I encountered two different but striking examples of poor training and comprehension by consumer-facing employees.

My trips on US Airways have largely been pleasant and comfortable. But what is the brand impact of these employees’ mistakes? How many other people notice what I notice, and book their next flight on another carrier?

Airline flight attendants routinely say, “We know you have a choice.” What they–and their management team–need to say is, “We know you notice. And we’re trying our hardest.”


The 140-character pitch

Tired: “the elevator pitch.” Also: escalator pitch, Reader’s Digest version, treatment, etc.

Wired: the Twitter pitch. Call it the SMS pitch if you prefer. It’s the new “25 words or less”–give me the summary in the length of a tweet.

Modern, timely, fun. Plus the first ten times you use it you’ll get to explain the term to your audience and lighten the mood of the room.


The ROI of transparency

I was struck this weekend by the positioning of a question in the New York Times Magazine’s Ethicist column. A person was referred by her doctor to a lab partially owned by said doctor. The doctor didn’t disclose his stake, and much hand-wringing about the omission ensued.

Based on the phrasing of the question, Randy Cohen’s ethical guidance was firm: “That’s why a physician should not send patients to facilities in which he has a financial interest. It is neither prudent health policy nor good medical ethics to put a doctor or a patient in such a position.”

But the inverse is also true. Patients should want to go to facilities in which the physicians have a financial interest. The doctors have a vested interest in providing their customers with the same professionalism and quality of care that they give in their own offices.

This is true in any industry. Think about hair salon that opens a spa, the deli with a catering business, the ad agency with a media buying arm. Businesses create corollary interests for financial purposes, yes, but the implied message is one of consistent performance. Indeed, that’s often the hook behind the sale.
The error in the Ethicist column is therefore about the omission, not the referral. How might the answer have been different if the question were phrased this way (my edit in bold):

“A specialist recommended that my wife get a CT scan and suggested that she use a lab in which, the physician clarified, he had an interest. She wasn’t required to use that lab, and there was no reason to question its quality or his calling for a scan. I’m O.K. with this lab — I say you either trust the specialist or you don’t — but my wife is not so sure. What do you say?”

Suddenly the question shifts from cagey profiteering back to trust. As the questioner remarks, if the patient (client, party-thrower, CPG marketing manager) trusts the adviser, the recommendation of a related business can be more trustworthy, not less.

All businesses can benefit from this transparency, ecommerce sites among them. A strong parent company or sub-site can give added validity and confidence to customers. Don’t hide facts when they’re not worth hiding; empower people to make well informed decisions. Providing knowledge can build trust and boost the bottom line.

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