I’m learning about merchandising to improve the www.icount.com store.

This article compares multiple store’s displays for boots.
http://www.clickz.com/experts/design/traffic/article.php/3378361
“One other thing [Cabela’s] does well (and which works effectively on several sites) is offer links for the previous and next items within the same category. This option allows visitors to continue their momentum without pogo-sticking back and forth between product and category pages.”
Cabela’s Catalog

“Our last hiking-boot visit takes us to REI. REI does the best job of merchandizing hiking boots. An image shows both the top and sole of the boot. The page has a blurb with bullet points and a separate specs area. There’s a link to a comparison chart for similar products. REI also offers previous and next links to navigate from one product to the next in the category, as well as links category pages.

What’s more, you can view an enlarged image. This is one area REI excels at. Click to see the larger view, and you’ll get a new product page with an enlarged image. On that page you can add the boots to your order. This keeps the visitor in the persuasive momentum by not opening up some foreign window that must be closed to continue shopping. Here also are links for previous and next items, the category page, and back to the original product info page. REI can add more information about the boots, such as reviews, if it chooses, because the page has been designed so flexibly.”

The other article I read focuses on TigerDirect:
http://www.clickz.com/experts/design/traffic/article.php/3381101
The future of Merchandising is in empowering the consumer to make an educated decision. The more information you can give, the better. TigerDirect has multiple tabs of information. Their goal is to empower the consumer as much as or more than if the consumer were in the same room with the product. Consumers have rated TigerDirect well because the information on the site is so good. They end up buying while they are their though.

I’ve done some research lately on home air purifiers and room air purifiers lately because my in-laws have started a business selling EcoQuest’s products. They’ve had some level of success. As I began to look at the industry, I quickly discovered that it is very valuable. There is a company paying $10 per click for search engine advertising! That’s ridiculous, but shows how lucrative the industry is. There is a lot of competition and I’m trying to determine right now whether EcoQuest offers value commensurate to their price tag. I’ll revisit this subject. This is one opportunity I may pursue to get off the computer. My carpal tunnel is getting worse and so are the headaches. I know there is more I must do than programming. I’m looking for opportunities to break from the cycle. Don’t get me wrong, I love computers and programming fascinates me, but I’m tired of doing it for so many hours.

Commission Junction is a powerful affiliate marketing program. It’s worth signing up for to look for great products and services on the Internet. You can post affiliate links on your website and make commissions for referring your visitors to other websites. Recently, I researched web hosting and figured it would be more expensive on commission junction. But on the contrary, they had the best affiliate programs and the best web hosting packages. The best of the best participate at commission junction. I gave the link to Dan to PowWeb and made a nice commission for LowerThatPrice.com. So, if you’d like save money and research time on the web, sign up for cj, research through their system, apply to the programs where you’d want products and services, and save money through your commissions.

Finally, we gave UtahRealEstateHelp.com a much needed face lift. It will need to improve over time, but it is so much easier to see what the site is about. I’m so excited about the opportunity it affords home buyers. We’re just putting money back into their pockets.

LDSaudio.com has begun offering a free Book of Mormon for audio download. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also has the files for individual download. I’m very pleased they have a complete download now. I had to write a program to get them all individually when I made a copy for my friend Wade Paxton. It took a while. I’m glad these organizations are making it easier to do now.

Net Gain: Expanding Markets Through Virtual Communities

Purpose:
How will virtual communities change the business world?
How can companies faciliate the organization of communities and extract value?

Central Message:
The Internet changes the power from the vendor to the customer because the customer has access to more perfect information.
Owners of the customer will be champions of the customer.
Companies that avoid the virtual community market may find their business is seriously threatened by small upstarts willing to learn and change.
Companies help a community grow by focusing on membership acquisition and the stickiness of the site (which is largely fueled by member-generated content).
Companies extract value through subscription services and member fees, advertising and transactions within the network.

Validations:
Amazon was using book reviews to build member generated content.
Motley Fool was beginning to gather a large membership able to attract the interests of investment and brokerage companies. Attracts any investment oriented individual, group or business.

Applications:

Value:
The author feels very strongly that membership fees and subscriptions should be very carefully weighed against the need to grow membership and gain marketshare. They encourage extracting value from transactions and advertising.

Key Lists and Summary of the chapters:

Part I: the real value of virtual communities

Chapter 1 – The Race Belongs to the Swift
Power to the customer
1. Distinctive Focus
2. Capacity to integrate content and communication
3. Appreciation of member-generated content
4. Access to competing publishers and vendors
5. Commercial orientation
Profit to vendor
1. Reduced search costs (find customers)
2. Increased propensity for customers to buy (less risk in the virtual environment)
3. Enhanced ability to target (profiles)
4. Greater ability to tailor and add value to existing products and services
5. Lower capital investment
The Challenge of Change
1. Members must be given tools necessary to wield their new power.
2. Members must be given ample opportunity to wield their new power (competing vendors info).
3. Members must be given the chance to maximize the value they receive from information about themselves.

Chapter 2 – Reversing Markets
Virtual communities arise from need for interests, relationships, transactions and fantasies. The power of the virtual community is that they can all build into one powerful brew. There is a fundemental shift in power in the community as consumers…
1. aggregate their purchasing power
2. receive the information advantage (no longer are vendors the wielders of information)
3. vendor choice
4. a reward for the intermediary who puts together the first three (speeds the process)
The vendor’s dilemma is why help make the shift in power?
Well, first of all it’s going to happen even if one fights it. The time will come when vendors can’t afford not to participate. Those who participate early will have lower costs in building the community and will have number of members on their side.

The positive outcome is that lowering of prices to the consumers advantage in the shift in power could push the supply and demand up, increasing the size of the entire market. Traditional vendors and business men would see the community more as the value that comes to the competing vendors and their profits. The community organizer sees the opportunity in the transaction and advertising opportunities. The community itself is more valuable than the products and services of the competing vendors.

Chapter 3 – The new economics of virtual communities
The community organizer who understands virtual communities and their potential see them in the economics of increasing returns. Like Microsoft and Federal Express, the community struggles to grow quickly in the revenues early on, but when the ball gets rolling the growth can be more exponential than flat. Static spreadsheets don’t work. Communities will not make the real profits until they reach a critical mass of members, member profiles, advertisers and vendors, transaction profiles and transactions. When these critical masses are met, then the new business opportunities emerge.

Sources of Revenue for Virtual Communities:
1. Subscription Fees – Fixed price for participation
2. Usage Fees – Charge based on number of hours or pages
3. Member Fees – Content delivery fees for downloads and Service fees for automatic reminders, etc.

Four Dynamics of Increasing Returns
1. Content Attractiveness (marketing and churn) -> hours online -> member relationships -> more content -> more attractive
2. Member Loyalty (customized interaction and relationships) -> hours online -> lower churn -> more content -> more members
3. Member Profiles (data gathering capabilities) -> targeted transaction opportunities -> more transactions -> more profiles
4. Transaction Offerings (bring vendors to community) -> member willingness to spend -> more attractive to vendors -> more vendors
Each of these has a dynamic loop that builds value into the community and increases the returns. Organizers should focus on facilitating these loops.

Organizing Stages
1. Attract Members (marketing, free, great content)
2. Promote Participation (engaging member-generated content, editorial or published content, guest speakers)
3. Build Loyalty (member-to-member relationships, member-to-host relationships, customized interaction)
4. Capture Value (transaction opportunities, targeted advertising, fees for premium services)

“In a nutshell, the dilemma for the virtual community organizer is that the most accessible revenue sources in the near term will be the least attractive from the viewpoint of driving growth. On the other hand, the revenue sources that are most attractive are likely to be beyond the reach of the community organizer in the early years of community formation. The result will be limited revenue generation from the virutal community in the near term.”

However, the costs are just going to get higher for those who wait to enter the market and build the community in the beginning.

Chapter 4 – The Shape of Things to Come

Stages of Evolution Description Key Assumptions
Virtual Villages Communities are highly fragmented but profitable businesses, each containing multiple small subcommunities.
  • Low barriers to entry.
  • Many entrants
  • Vendors participate across multiple communities.
  • Network users sample across multiple communities.
Consentrated constellations Concentration of core communities, and development of affiliate relationships with niche communities.
  • Increasing returns lead to concentration within core topics, such as travel.
  • Niche communities benefit from affiliating with core communities.
Cosmic Coalitions Core communities aggregate across complementary core topic areas.
  • Members find value in formation of coalitions, around common user interface and billing, for instance.
  • Coalition organizers realize economic value by integrating marketing programs and member/vendor profiles across topic areas.
Integrated infomediaries Communities and coalitions evolve into agents for members, managing their integrated profiles to maximize value to members.
  • Members themselves represent the most efficient location for the capture of profiles.
  • Members assert ownership over their profiles.
  • Specialized infomediaries can organize and maximize value of member profiles.

Part II: building a virtual community

Chapter 5 – Choosing the way in
First thing to do is examine the type of community that will generate the most value as well as your organization’s ability to execute on building the community.
Indicators of economic potential
1. Size potential: means taking the demographics, the size of related associations and estimating how big a community will become.
2. Relative value of being on-line: How many people how begun exploring online in the previous group? Why?
3. Value of being in a community: The need among the demographic to build relationships, explore their interest, transact and experience fantasies will determine the value of being in a community. New parents are intensely interested in community to learn about how to raise children.
4. Likely intensity of commerce: what is the transaction volume of the existing demographic in your interest area?
5. Fractual depth: How much can you segment the community as it expands?

Community Types
Consumer-focused communities
1. Geographic: Total New York: where new york hits the net.
2. Demographic: parents
3. Topical: interests
B2B communities
1. Vertical Industry: Physicians online, Agriculture online, etc.
2. Functional: Built around a specific business function. For example, marketing or purchasing. (MarketingSherpa.com)
3. Geographic
4. Business Category: small businesses community
Indicators of Long-Term Expansion
The fractal breadth is the most important indicator of long-term expansion as the community needs to be able to subdivide into powerful subcommunities as it grows. Topical communities may provide less fertile ground for long-term growth.
Assessing your ability to execute
Brand, existing customers and content are a good start but assets aren’t enough. Skills are as important.

Chapter 6 – Laying the foundation.
Community must be in place before commerce can begin. Speed and preemption are the key as getting ahead in growth will give the leaders an advantage. The stages to successful entry are:
1. Generating traffic: Enter quickly, get people to pass through, use the power of network to get started, generate awareness and partner for preemption (consider distribution partnerships, commercial partnerships, a content partnership and potential competitors before they become competitors). Start with a great directory or resources. Traffic is more important here than return visits.
2. Concentrating traffic: Engage the members. Ask them what they want. Track their usage. Enhance the offerings to the community. Make it easy and attractive for vendors to approach and participate in the community. Extract value.
3. Locking in traffic: Foster personal relationships between members. Accumulate and organize member-generated content. Improve the community functionality. Tailor resources to individual members’ needs.

Chapter 7 – The Gardener’s Touch
It is important to make the community scalable as it grows. This means
1. that people will not loose the sense of community even though there are millions of members. However, the organizer must maintain the benefits of scale because the economies of scale give the membership added value.
2. that you let go and create franchises and empower the members to shape the future of the community. Take an organic management model.
There are various positions to be filled in a community:
Hosts, archivists, community editors, customer service managers, information systems managers, community developers and community architects. However the two most important are the Information analyst and the community merchandiser. Their work extracts the value.
Even though organic management is better, it’s crucial to set and capture key metrics.

Chapter 8 – Equipping the community
Don’t worry about technology. Just focus on the needs of members of the community in choosing technology. This chapter focuses a lot on the challenge to choose between proprietary and standard technologies. This is not as much of an issue today.

Part III – positioning to win the broader game

Chapter 9 – Rethinking functional management
Management is turned on its head because customers have more power. It’s crucial to think about their increased power in marketing. Marketing becomes individually tailored in a virtual community. Focus on product not brand.
Implications for marketers

1. Reduce emphasis on value of vendor’s branding
2. Facilitate price comparisons
3. Allow comments to be made on product/service in public, not in confidence.
4. Increase volume of information to be analyzed.
5. Change the rules of advertising and promotion to leverage the customer’s ideas in promoting them.
+
1. Expand demand for product or service.
2. Increase word of mouth promotion of product or service.
3. Stimulate customer feedback.
4. Generate richer information on customers, markets.
5. Eliminate separation of advertising and transactions.
6. Allow advertising to be seen as helpful, not intrusive.

Chapter 10 – Reshaping markets and organizations
“Virtual communities redefine markets by expanding demand. They also redefine markets by focusing on customers rather than on traditional producer-driven notions of ‘industry.'” (page 204)

“In spite of all the evidence that points to the free market as the most efficient system, we continue down a road that is bearing out the prophecy of Tocqueville, a Frenchman who came here 130 years ago. He was attracted by the miracle that was America. Think of it: Our country was only 70 years old and already we had achieved such a miraculous living standard, such productivity and prosperity, that the rest of the world was amazed. So he came here and he looked at everything he could see in our country, trying to find the secret of our success, and then went back and wrote a book about it. Even then, 130 years ago, he saw signs prompting him to warn us that if we weren’t constantly on the guard, we would find ourselves covered by a network of regulations controlling every activity. He said if that came to pass we would one day find ourselves a nation of timid animals with government the shepherd.”

“It all comes down to this basic premise: If you lose your economic freedom, you lose your political freedom and, in fact, all freedom. Freedom is something that cannot be passed on genetically. It is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

Ronald Reagan, in a speech delivered November 10, 1977 at Hillsdale College

I’m the next generation, It’s time for me to start learning.

We’ve developed at FamilyLearn, a great way to write a biography. It’s called the Unforgettable Biography and it only requires 5 short minutes to get started. Then it takes on a life of its own and grows. Learn how to write a biography today.

As I’ve studied Charity in my scripture study, I found a talk by Howard W. Hunter with the most inspiring story in it:

As a young man, Brother Vern Crowley said he learned something of the crucial lesson the Prophet Joseph had taught the early Saints in Nauvoo when he told them to “love others, even our enemies as well as friends.” This is a good lesson for each of us.

After his father became ill, Vern Crowley took responsibility for running the family wrecking yard although he was only fifteen years of age. Some customers occasionally took unfair advantage of the young man, and parts were disappearing from the lot overnight. Vern was angry and vowed to catch someone and make an example of him. Vengeance would be his.

Just after his father had started to recover from his illness, Vern was making his rounds of the yard one night at closing time. It was nearly dark. In a distant corner of the property, he caught sight of someone carrying a large piece of machinery toward the back fence. He ran like a champion athlete and caught the young thief. His first thought was to take out his frustrations with his fists and then drag the boy to the front office and call the police. His heart was full of anger and vengeance. He had caught his thief, and he intended to get his just dues.

Out of nowhere, Vern’s father came along, put his weak and infirm hand on his son’s shoulder, and said, “I see you’re a bit upset, Vern. Can I handle this?” He then walked over to the young would-be thief and put his arm around his shoulder, looked him in the eye for a moment, and said, “Son, tell me, why are you doing this? Why were you trying to steal that transmission?” Then Mr. Crowley started walking toward the office with his arm around the boy, asking questions about the young man’s car problems as they walked. By the time they had arrived at the office, the father said, “Well, I think your clutch is gone and that’s causing your problem.”

In the meantime, Vern was fuming. “Who cares about his clutch?” he thought. “Let’s call the police and get this over with.” But his father just kept talking. “Vern, get him a clutch. Get him a throwout bearing, too. And get him a pressure plate. That should take care of it.” The father handed all of the parts to the young man who had attempted robbery and said, “Take these. And here’s the transmission, too. You don’t have to steal, young man. Just ask for it. There’s a way out of every problem. People are willing to help.”

Brother Vern Crowley said he learned an everlasting lesson in love that day. The young man came back to the lot often. Voluntarily, month by month, he paid for all of the parts Vic Crowley had given him, including the transmission. During those visits he asked Vern why his dad was the way he was and why he did what he did. Vern told him something of their Latter-day Saint beliefs and how much his father loved the Lord and loved people. Eventually the would-be thief was baptized. Vern later said, “It’s hard now to describe the feelings I had and what I went through in that experience. I, too, was young. I had caught my crook. I was going to extract the utmost penalty. But my father taught me a different way.”