I am taking a break from promoting my wares this post to ~hopefully~ pass along some useful tips for those SL merchants who could use a little advice to improve sales, enhance their brand's image and increase customer satisfaction.
Why am I offering these tips? Wouldn't I be giving my "competitors" an advantage and risk losing customers myself? First of all, I firmly believe that the better my fellow merchants present themselves, the better all the rest of us come across. We all win! Also, I am not picking on any particular merchants or suggesting anyone is being lazy or complacent. I am simply offering some advice that may be new to some - particularly newer sellers to Second Life. We can all use some helpful tips now and then - or reminders about what we can do to make our products, stores and catalogs even better. Hey, even I could use a hefty dose of advice, so I am always grateful when someone else offers tips like these that help me along. This is my "thank you" to those generous business owners who have shared with me in the past and my "pay it forward" to those who will be able to benefit from it here and maybe even pass it along to others.
Ooooh, where do I start?
Let's skip over all the stuff having to do with design and product development. That's all you! I am not here to suggest you create in any particular way, use any particular methods or generate any particular line of products. Just refrain from stealing content and make sure you do your absolute best to test your product thoroughly in all situations possible so that when your customer receives it, it works properly.
Here are the topics I will be discussing in this article:
- ~INCLUDE THOROUGH DOCUMENTATION~
- ~PRESENT AN ORGANIZED PACKAGE~
- ~CHECK ATTACHMENT POINTS~
- ~DELIVER FOLDERS: AVOID BOXES~
- ~MAKE YOUR ADS CLEAR~
- ~DO NOT PRESENT AN AMATEUR AD IMAGE~
- ~PRACTICE GOOD PRICING~
- ~EVERYONE HAS OOPSIES~
- ~BE AS ELOQUENT AS POSSIBLE~
- ~BE SEARCH-FRIENDLY~
- ~OPTIMIZE THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE~
- ~DELIVER WHAT IS EXPECTED~
- ~MARKET AND PROMOTE~
- ~DON'T BE A STRANGER~
When you hear the chime, turn the page. ;)
* * * * *~INCLUDE THOROUGH DOCUMENTATION~
~PRESENT AN ORGANIZED PACKAGE~
What else is included in the package that can be optimized to enhance the impression on your customer? How about the items themselves? Think about when your customer receives that package full of your goodies. Is it well-organized? Are there too many items? Can your customers easily determine what each item is and how it should be used - and with which other items it is used? This is a common situation I find myself in - especially with outfits that have lots of options and alternatives. If your outfit or other creation has a lot of different combinations of items packaged in the same box (options are very good, so don't shy away from including those great parts) consider explaining in your documentation which items would go well with others. More importantly, label those items in inventory to descriptively list what they are used for. Be consistent with your labeling so that similar options appear together. Make it as clear as possible what each item is and whether or not it is part of the base product or one of several options included. Look at the list in your own inventory and ask yourself if it is clear and easy to understand. Will your customer be tempted to accidentally use too many layers or attachments at once? Does any item look out of place in the list? Can any items be renamed in a way that would improve its clarity in your package?
~CHECK ATTACHMENT POINTS~
~DELIVER FOLDERS: AVOID BOXES~
~MAKE YOUR ADS CLEAR~
Okay, so we are good with the products, how they are listed, how they are delivered and how they are documented to the customer who has spent her hard-earned Linden$ on them. But this doesn't help win that first-time customer, does it? That's what your ad graphic/texture and any listing descriptions you write are meant to accomplish. In-world, you are not likely going to have the extra text space to write your product's life story, so we'll address the Marketplace in a moment, but if your product would benefit from extra displayed information and you have the prim space, etc. consider posting that information nearby the vendor and at least make it available for your customers to see. However... and this is important... if there is essential information your customer needs to know right out of the gate, you really really REALLY should include it right on the main texture where your product is sold. Your customer is not likely going to buy an item from a vendor that hasn't rezzed properly (what's in this thing, anyway?) but she might purchase from a vendor that is rezzed - thinking she is buying one thing - when she can't see the unrezzed sign nearby that explains it is intended for use with another product that she does not own! Clarify the essential information you need to convey as concisely as possible on the main ad to avoid that awkward situation when you have to explain why your customer is up the creek without a paddle - or you have to shell out for a monetary return (depending on your store policy and merchant philosophy). The Marketplace and some other online services allow you to elaborate on these details in several areas so take advantage of this to fully describe your product and all that it comes with, does and doesn't provide. Plus, if you are creative about your descriptions, you can really enhance your brand and draw your customers into your "world" where you can help encourage them to continue the experience you have created for them. I won't say anything about your ad designs - that's all you - but do keep in mind your customer and design for that person as much as for you and your brand.
~DO NOT PRESENT AN AMATEUR AD IMAGE~
~PRACTICE GOOD PRICING~
~EVERYONE HAS OOPSIES~
~BE AS ELOQUENT AS POSSIBLE~
One of the most "difficult" barriers to work around in SL is the language barrier. Although the predominant language spoken and written is Second Life is English, there are lots of languages making an appearance all over the grid. Of course I am not telling you you should market your products only in English - or even to include English at all! I tip my hat to those who include several languages in their ads and instructions. Kudos to you - you are going above and beyond to allow you products to be enjoyed by as many people as possible. I am also without a doubt that the speakers of those languages also appreciate that you have made available to them a more familiar and inviting experience. Whatever your language choices - just do what you do! However - and this is the important part - do it well! Check your grammar and spelling. Proof read your instructions. Make sure your ad is presented professionally. Creative license aside, you can instantly make a bad impression on your potential customers with poorly-conceived text. It is, generally, understood that language barriers can be difficult to overcome, but if you want to make the best impression possible, then whatever you commit to your ads and listings should be crafted with care. Chances are, even the most forgiving of residents will see "Do trouser for cover legs" as a poor reflection on your business. I suspect that even the tried-and-true Web-based translators are not the best methods of gaining an effective translation of your text. I recommend that if you do have something to say in a language you are not perfectly fluent in that you seek the services of someone who is fluent in that language and who is very well trusted to perform the translation for you. It can greatly enhance the perception of your product and your brand. For some, it may even be a good idea to have someone else who has a thorough grasp of such things to double-check the text you have written in your own native tongue to make sure it appears professional and appealing.
|Branding is still okay when making your listings!|
~OPTIMIZE THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE~
|Interactive maps can be very handy to help customers find things.|
~DELIVER WHAT IS EXPECTED~
~MARKET AND PROMOTE~
The last, but certainly not the least important, item I will discuss is promotion and marketing your product to grow awareness of it, you and your brand. Nobody is going to buy your items if they don't know it exists! Whether you spend your money on marketing and promotion of your products or you find inexpensive or free ways to do it, it is vital to increase awareness to increase sales. Linden Lab allows you to pay for in-world classified ads and featured listings within the Marketplace. You could even go as far as purchasing banner ads on Websites or other online marketing services. You also have the option of creating awareness by starting your own blog and generating interest in your brand (ha!) or creating your own Website that promotes your business. Easier and cheaper still, you can promote in-world by asking friends to showcase your items as they traverse the grid. You could also participate in hunts, contests, giveaways and issue prizes at social events around the SL globe. You may not want to give your items away to everyone who walks by, but handing out some freebies to select residents could get your goods seen while they use your products while shopping at other establishments, partying at their favorite club, or any number of other opportunities where others might ask them, "Hey, where did you get that?" Be social yourself! Go places where you can be seen with your wares. Don't be pushy, but if someone asks you about something you can help provide them, your opportunity could lead to a sale, a loyal customer, or any number of frequent shopper-friends that resident may employ to come shop your store with them. A lot of expense you will find in marketing is not so much monetary, but takes up time. There is no quick and cheap solution, so you have to put in the effort or shell out the cash. Either way, you need to give in order to get. Unless you strike gold by stumbling upon an eager customer base with high demand that storms your storefront and keeps on coming, you will have to work hard at what you do. You still won't be able to guarantee that your work or money will pay off in the end, but the trick to success is not getting discouraged and keeping at it. Over time, your products are likely to improve, your marketing will get better, your brand will grow and your sales will increase.
~DON'T BE A STRANGER~
I leave you with one bonus tip: be available. Of course you will probably not be able to address every problem, request, invitation or conversation immediately, but try to stay close as frequently as you can. Put your (resident) name out there and invite people to contact you for whatever reason they feel they need or want to. Be ready to help your customers and take criticism as well as compliments. An absentee merchant is sure to annoy anyone who might have appreciated even a brief response. Unless you have hired a staff to do this work for you, you need to be reachable by those who you expect to be your customer base. Even if you rise in the ranks and begin to sell your products like crazy, you can greatly enhance customer relations if you - yourself - stay actively involved and engaged with your customers. Being "untouchable" may keep you from having to deal with any unpleasantness that may come your way but it is a sure way to sprout negativity about you and alienate those who are spending their hard-earned money on the digital content you make available. Get in there and mingle! Answer questions as clearly, quickly and responsibly as you can. Get involved. There are so many friends out there you don't even know yet! One of them is Jeanette Doobie and she would love to hear from you. ;) I welcome all your comments, gripes, suggestions, arguments and everything else. See you around SL!