Product End Of Life Issues

productendoflifeEvery product sold has a life cycle of support. For some products, it can be much shorter than others. For instance, some scripted objects such as proximity sensors, resizers, communication tasks, and others can have a life cycle that is limited as a result of new scripting functions being made available.

Typically, there will be a successor product that one will try to steer customers into that replaces functionality with improved efficiency. However, there is always the problem of maintaining older versions of a product that is still being used by an existing loyal customer base. Ways to support older products, at least for a period of time, might require occasionally releasing bug fixes to adapt to a new environment.

Nobody wants to support an older product because they usually are not generating any new cash flow into a business, so they are a drag on the bottom line unless the product’s existing business model includes reoccurring revenue. Some businesses direct customers to a web site or pass out note-cards that has all of the pertinent information and then provide an upgrade path for users to obtain new versions at a discount or sometimes even for free.  For many businesses, the expense of supporting existing products whose life cycle has ended can be quite costly. The number of customers who are using an outdated product will dwindle over time as more and more of them switch to the latest technology.

Let Customers Give You Feedback

click2leavefeedbackCustomer satisfaction is a factor that can make or break a business. Satisfied customers can potentially recommend products and services to others and become repeat customers. On the other hand, dissatisfied customers may never or rarely provide repeat business, and might even tell others about their dissatisfaction. This is why to alleviate things that irritate your customer, one should solicit product feedback.

The need to identify the areas customers may be having a less than satisfying experience is very important. How satisfied customers are with a particular physical characteristics such as functionality, prims, script load, and aesthetics of the product that they purchased? Identify the functionality that the product provides and have customers rate each aspect of its functionality separately on an even-numbered scale so that there is no neutral option available. Some businesses will create a notecard with a series of check-off boxes in it for this purpose, others might use an in-world survey kiosk or a web site.

Soliciting product feedback when the product you require feedback on is not really a physical product, but instead customer service and support offerings, is not quite as straightforward. One must examine sales and service to identify areas where customers may be experiencing a degree of dissatisfaction. It is difficult to ask open ended questions to identify these areas from customers, since most customers will not take the time to answer open ended questions, even though this type of information is the most useful form of feedback for a business.

Differences between Small Shops and Large Stores

largesmallstoreThe factors that affect whether a visiting avatar spends money in a small shop versus a large store is similar in some aspects within virtual worlds, but also different in other ways when compared to the real world. One example of differences is the price paid for a product. Unlike the real world, large stores do not have the advantage of purchasing products in volume in which the lower price can be passed onto consumers because copyable items (or items sold through an affiliate vendor) has a near non-exist cost associated with them once the initial product is created.

However, the similarities between virtual and real world retail locations does include the square footage advantages as well as increased prim allowances which can result in a wide product offering as well as demonstration products that are rezzed more often than not. Large stores with their expansive space means that products are more likely to be sold via individual product vendors rather than a vendor with navigation arrows used to browse products like a catalog. Having more products visible at a time can also psychologically increase the chances of impulse shopping which can only benefit the bottom line.

Larger parcels also allows demonstration models to be either permanently or semi-permanantly rezzed so that the visitor can interact with and inspect the product instead of just looking at pictures or watching a video. Even though more prims are available, permanantly rezzed items tend to be the less-prim items and more of them while the semi- permanantly items will have a space set aside for them to be made available via a temporary rezzer that does not count against the static prim allotment.

Business Advantages to Holiday Planning

holidaydecorIntegration of the various holidays that occur throughout the year can benefit a business in many ways. Recognizing that many customers are looking for specific holiday themed merchandise can draw prospects toward your products and once they are in the door or visiting your web site additional interactions either directly or indirectly (such as through social media) will commence. Bundling related products together and offering seasonally-colored merchandise makes it easy to target holiday shoppers who are ready to purchase such items at an impulse.

Planning for an upcoming holiday should start a few months in advance so that appropriate merchandise can be created, decorations can chosen, and prospective customers know that you are recognizing their interests. The specific holidays that you participate in will depend on the demographics that you are trying to appease. Some holidays are specific to religion (i.e. Christmas) while others are regional specific (i.e. Fourth of July in the United States). There are even specific shopping events surrounding some holidays (i.e. “Black Friday” for in-person store visits and “Cyber Monday” for online purchases). However, be aware that advertising too far in advance of a holiday can be a turn-off for some customers.

Finally, when it comes to decorations for a holiday one will want to keep it new and fresh rather than rezzing out the same old decorations year after year (some of which might be utilizing inefficient scripts that does not take advantage of the new mono LSL scripting).  Also be sure to establish a budget and stick to it when shopping for new festive decorations to ensure the business maintains a profit that still covers tier and marketing otherwise any additional sales as a result of the holiday will become a burden rather than a benefit.

There’s more to customer loyalty than just repeat sales

teleportOne of the best ways to increase sales is to sell to your existing customer base and in order to accomplish that customer loyalty needs to be established. It is especially difficult in the virtual world to retain customer loyalty due to the fact that all transactions occur via the internet, therefore unlike in the physical world businesses no longer have a local economy advantage of being close to where the customers live. Prospects can simply teleport away to another location without giving it a second thought, therefore first impressions and post-sale follow up service is a must.

The same ease that allows potential customers to consider the competition can also be used to your advantage to check out the competition yourself. One must know as much as possible about their own customers as they do about the offerings of competitors to determine whether the products offered aligns with customer needs. This may require surveying visitors and/or asking follow-up questions after the sale to determine why the customer purchased your product over someone else’s. Once this information is obtained targeted marketing (in contrast to mass marketing) is used to both attract the right type of new customer and to encourage the existing customer base to come back and purchase more.

While direct one-to-one instant messaging with customers is effective, a strong social media presence is also a must. Face-to-face interactions are less likely in a virtual world, however when a purchased product is meant for public view then teleporting to the customer’s location can be beneficial. Not only does this show the customer that one cares about follow-up service it also allows the creator to see how their item fits into different environments which can lead to specialized features in future versions. Other forms of effective social media includes maintaining a blog demonstrating your expertise in an industry as well as replying to comments posted by others in forums.

Finally, the sales process itself needs to occur smoothly in order for that customer to return and purchase more. The store environment should be lag free utilizing low-impact scripts and a minimum amount of high resolution textures. In-world vendors should be online 24/7 and alternate methods of purchase available such as via web-based stores hosted by the virtual world provider. Product delivery should be timely once the in-world currency is transferred from the customer to the creator and all store policies needs to be made available both before and after the sale. In summary, if the sales process itself is not a positive experience for the customer then regardless of how high quality and useful their new purchase is they likely will not return to make additional purchases.

Make the Most of your Business Entryway

entrymatThe entrance to your business is one of the first things visitors will notice and can greatly effect whether you make a sale or not. The visual appearance needs to be inviting to portray your business in a positive light. It should be attractive both around the entrance itself, but also the path leading up to the door.

One of the most common attributes of an store front includes awnings, plants, statues, and signs. The awning canvas covering adds an aesthetic appear as well as some shelter from the elements. The plants surrounding the entrance are usually in a contained area such as potted structure or sticking up out of a segmented area of the building Sometimes multiple plants are used to create a garden. foundation. Statues can either be either side of the door or placed out in the grass lawn area leading up to the entrance. Signage is usually above the door or on one side recessed in the wall flush with the entryway.

it is very important that any decoration around the entrance does not impede navigation around or through it. While virtual worlds generally do not enforce accessibility laws such as ADA (American Disability Act) like real-world stores do, it is still a best practice to not affect avatar movement nor cause one’s camera controls to unnecessarily be impeded as a result of objects in the doorway. The final consideration is to welcome any and all visitors either with non-obstructive signage (such as a welcome mat) and make it clear to the avatar how they can contact someone for additional assistance.

Taking a closer look at Business Strategy and Competitors

forumsWriting a business strategy and marketing plan is not required in order to start a new business, however it will challenge you to answer important questions regarding every aspect of your business. The business strategy should provide, at minimum, both short-term and long term goals and can be used as a blueprint when making decision during the course of business. One of the most challenging, yet very important, areas of the plan to investigate is potential competition. Such investigations of competitors may include lessons learned from failed competitors from the past, current competition, as well potential competition in the future should a non-competitor decide to expand their business into your market.

Many consumers will compare competitive products on price alone, therefore your marketing strategy should also determine it’s pricing position. The three common pricing methods are undercutting, matching, and premium. Undercutting the competition by pricing your products at a lower price has the potential of increasing market share, but could also suggest to potential customers that your products are cheap and low quality. Matching prices set by the competition requires including a similar feature set as other’s products, however it can be very difficult to stand out and gain market share if you are both selling the same similarly-priced quality items. Premium pricing allows you to stand out from the competition by highlighting exclusive features and an impression of high quality, however due to the higher price the competition might gain a higher market share in the short term.

Every business is unique in how they include social marketing in their long term e-business strategy, however the general goal is to increase interactions with both customers and prospects. Potential prospects will want to submit inquiries about available products including how they compare to the competition. Existing customers will have support inquiries on how to best utilize their recent purchase to benefit them and/or will request new features to be added based on advertisements received from your competition. It is important to reply to these inquiries and monitor review boards and discussion forums for communications between customers and prospects. Fortunately, many product review places allow a follow-up reply to be posted for all to see as a demonstration that the business owner cares about their customers.