#HolidaySales Tip #6: Breeze Through Black Friday & Cyber Monday


At first glance, the term ‘Black Friday’ has a slightly menacing ring to it, possibly the title to the latest horror zombie film. On the other hand, ‘Cyber Monday’ sounds like another name for Judgement Day from the Terminator series – a day when the machines finally take over the world. Thankfully, the truth is a lot less ominous but not entirely scare-free, if you’re a seller.

That’s because Black Friday signifies the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Held a day after the Thanksgiving holiday, this tradition dates back all the way to 1925 when Macy’s held its first Thanksgiving Day Parade. As for the name, that actually has a reason to make you smile – Black Friday is so named because business was said to be so brisk on this day that it actually pushed many retailers back into profit or into ‘the black’ as they say in business terms.

The term ‘Cyber Monday’ is a relatively new phrase, making its debut on November 28, 2005, in a Shop.org press release entitled ‘Cyber Monday’. Since then though, it has come to signify a push by retailers and marketing companies alike to persuade people to shop online. And from one look at numbers, they clearly didn’t have to push very hard. In 2014, Cyber Monday online sales grew to a record $2.68 billion, compared with the previous year’s figures of $2.29 billion.

Right, now that we have the history out of the way…let’s move to the present. As we mentioned earlier, both Black Friday and Cyber Monday do bring with them a certain sense of apprehension for sellers because come these two days, people don’t just flock to buy stuff, they practically rampage to get ahead. And businesses need to do everything they can to batten down the hatches and prepare for this wave of customers.

Don’t wait to start planning

Just because the sale isn’t for a few weeks, doesn’t mean you can put planning off until later. If you hope to make the most of these two days, here are a few tips to bear in mind:

Customers start researching earlier than you might expect

The holiday season can be as stressful for a customer as it is for a seller. And when you add FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) to the mix, you’re left with an anxious customer who starts scouring the web and stores to fill up his gifting list as early as he possibly can. In fact, according to research from NFR last year, every year , 40% of customers begin researching and doing their holiday shopping as early as October.


That’s why you need to prepare your holiday sales at least a month or two in advance. And as soon as you do, you should begin letting customers know so that those eager to get a head start on their shopping can begin making a beeline to your business. In fact, don’t be afraid to throw in a few gift ideas of your own. Ideas like these help push the procrastinators into shopping early.

Know exactly what your sale will look like

A holiday sale is not a piñata where you just throw in a bunch of items and let customers grab whatever they can when you open up the sale. You have to carefully consider which products to include based not just on their performance through the year but also based on which items might tend to be more popular around the holidays. One way to do this is by creating a ‘sales map’, which outlines your sale items, lists inventory for each of them and includes approximate shipping costs and delivery estimates.

Learn to create a contingency plan

Now, we don’t want you to imagine the worst, but planning for a few unexpected situations won’t hurt. For instance, what if your website goes down? Do you have social media messages in place to curb frustration and offer an alternate shopping route? What if your shipping company can’t deliver? Do you have an alternate company on standby? Is the email explaining the situation drafted and ready? Without plans like these, valuable hours are lost just reacting to the situation rather than responding to it. Always remember to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Be realistic in your ability to handle demand

There’s an iconic scene in the movie ‘Jingle All The Way’ where Schwarzenegger strolls over to the action figure stack and confidently picks up one, only to be blitzed by scores of other dads all scrambling to get their hands on one. While it was funny to see the brawny actor be tackled to the ground, being railroaded by customer demand during the holiday season isn’t as much of a laughing matter. To avoid it, here are a few simple precautions you need to take:

Test to ensure your website can handle a surge in traffic.

It happens to the best among us – too many simultaneous website request rush in at one time and boom! Your website comes crashing down. While this does take a LOT of traffic to happen, it doesn’t mean it won’t. Just to be sure, you should use tools such as LoadImpact.com or Blitz.io to ensure your site is robust enough to handle any spikes in traffic.

Test your brick and mortar store for demand surges too

If you or your team create your product yourselves, then you need to plan a new production schedule to cope with the demand on these two days. This may mean putting non-sale items on a temporary production freeze as a means to free up some time to put together the other items that are going on sale. Alternatively, you may need to ramp up production hours or start working on added production runs right away to keep stock in check.

If you rely on a supplier, you need to have a frank chat with them to ensure they are able to cope with your increased supply requirements. Also, you need to double check on the delivery schedules to ensure there are no bottlenecks, which leave you with shelf stock but limited, inventory.

Don’t be afraid to get creative
Remember, on these two days there are literally thousands of brands competing for the attention of customers. If your brand hopes to stand out from this noise and make an impact, you have to leverage your creative skills. Here are some basic tips:

Build banners and hero images specifically for holiday sales


It’s a proven fact that people respond better to images. And during the holiday season, showing someone the perfect gifting idea is potentially the best way to lead to a sale. To achieve this, a well-designed and well-placed banner can often help do the trick. Try to use you product as much as possible and keep the copy crisp and to the point.

Another key area to focus on is the header image on your homepage. Given that it is the first thing customers see when they come to your site, it is a great place to grab those first few seconds of attention and guide them to your best-selling products.

And even if you aren’t able to design these banners or site headers yourself, there are plenty of free templates and resources available to help you. Or if you are really pressed for time, consider hiring a freelance designer to put together something creative.

Stay prepared by planning your ads ahead of time

Creativity is not a faucet that you can turn on minutes before you need it. Especially when you need to churn out something really unique and eye-catching for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That’s why it’s better to plan your banner and search ads ahead of time so that closer to the day, you can spend more time focusing on timing and placement.

It’s also important to remember that bids can get more expensive during the competitive holiday season depending on your niche. This means you may need to increase your bid price on certain keywords to increase visibility of your ads during this time. Now is also the best time to plan your holiday sale ad budgets as well.

Add suspense to your sale and try to build buzz

There’s little fun in just announcing your Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale. This simply lets people know that you are running a sale. But you haven’t given them a compelling reason to come.

Instead, what you can focus on is building anticipation. Start by sending out teaser emails, which offer snippet previews of what will be on sale. Use your social channels to post sneak peeks of your warehouse to show how much your overall stock is or how limited your stocks are for certain products (to drive home the ‘limited editions’ feel). By doing this, you retain top-of-mind recall for your brand and give customers something specific to look forward to at your sale.

Get down to the brass tacks of your website

Both Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now heavily driven by online traffic. This means your website is often the first place customers land. Given the high dependence on this medium, you need to optimize every pixel and squeeze the most value from every corner of your site, not just the shopping cart. Here’s how:

Design an easy-to-use website.

This may seem like stating the obvious. But if you’ve ever encountered a website that’s badly designed or difficult to use, there’s another Hollywood blockbuster which sums up your frustration at that point – Fast and Furious.

To get your website past this obvious stumbling block, here’s a list of the things you need to check for in your usability rundown:

How simple is the navigation? At this stage, you need to look at the design of individual navigational features such as menus, search boxes and sidebar widgets.

Is your site easy to read and understand? This includes every bit of text on your site from the product descriptions to the image text. You need to ensure you’ve used web-friendly fonts and that all necessary text is easy to zoom into. In terms of content, you must make sure all language is simple and the descriptions kept concise because a large percentage of your users will be reading the copy off a mobile device.

Are your design elements consistent? You need to check that all headers, subheads and body text are consistently designed in terms of colours and fonts. Each of these elements should also be placed in the right areas in order to maintain a consistent visual language. Also, they need to be the right size across the various pages of your site and adapt accordingly for different screens.

Is your website speed sufficient? This refers to the average time taken for a page to load on your website. If you have demo videos on your site, you need to check the load times for these too.

Is there a clear access to support? In the event that a visitor has a question, you need to ensure that he or she can easily contact your business for help. This is especially important during the holiday sale season when people have technical or aesthetic questions about your product simply because they are giving them as gifts.

Is your website user friendly? The simple act of being user friendly can have a significant impact on visitor retention. It also has a positive impact on conversion rates and even affects the overall size of checkout.

Keep optimizing your efforts

There is no magic bullet guaranteeing better sales during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The road to success lies in your ability to simultaneously run multiple aspects of your promotional machine and optimise at every stage. Here are some of the things you need to consider for this process:

Focus on creating abandoned cart emails

Shopping cart abandonment is very real and a very serious problem. Especially during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That’s because given the number of sites a consumers switch between during these two days, their attention span is severely limited and fickle. In fact, according to a report by Barilliance, the average cart abandonment rate during these two sale days was as high as 65% in 2014.

An easy way to short circuit this process is by setting up compelling abandoned cart emails. These emails are targeted based on the product (as much as possible) and offer clear, distinct reasons for them to come back and complete their purchase.

Keep testing your site and getting fresh feedback

Imagine being able to sit behind a potential customer as they navigate your site. Just think of all the wonderful insights you could glean from that process. But since it’s not possible to track down and physically monitor interaction with your site, the next best thing is to use a tool to do the job. One that we recommend is UserTesting. This tool lets you watch a random user go through your website and listen to their feedback. You can also get a video of the process in action. If you can repeat this process a few times, you may spot a few recurring kinks in your site and address them immediately before the sale days.

Get smarter results by using tracking pixels

If you use paid advertising such as Facebook Ads or Google Adwords, you should place retargeting pixels on your website so you can re-market to your holiday sale traffic. This may seem like digital stalking but on a day when every brand is out to get the most share of mind space and share of wallet, tracking pixels help you outsmart the competition.

Build with a ‘mobile first’ strategy in mind

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Consumers continuously shift between smartphones, desktops and tablets throughout the day. This means they expect their digital storefront and shopping cart to sync across all these devices. Proving this point, a 2014 IBM report claimed that mobile traffic surpassed desktop traffic on Thanksgiving for the first time. Plus, according to Custora, Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend in 2014 saw over 26% of orders come through a mobile device. This means if your website isn’t fully set up for a seamless web experience, yow won’t just miss traffic, but revenue.

To minimize the chances of this happening, you need to begin by examining what your website’s UX looks like on a mobile device. You need to begin by ensuring your site is mobile optimised. Because as per a 2015 update by Google, websites that are not mobile optimised will actually be ranked lower by the search giant. Meaning that long before users decide your site is hard to navigate, they move on to your competition because they haven’t even found your site.

You also need to see if your mobile shopping experience is intuitive and leads customers to not just the right products, but also unobtrusively nudges them toward the products you want to push. Finally, you need to check the shopping cart experience to make sure the process is seamless and doesn’t have any glitches, which may lead to cart abandonment.

Mobile ecommerce revenue stood at $42.13 billion in 2014, and forecasts indicate that number could grow to $132.69 billion by 2018. By optimizing your site for mobile, you make it easier for customer to transition their shopping experience across devices and thus increase your chances of closing a sale.

Make social media matter in every way necessary

We now live in a world where consumers are more connected with the brands and the things they purchase, than ever before. The nerve centre of this interconnectedness is social media. But while connectivity is always a good boost for sales, sellers now have to be doubly careful to set the right level of customer expectation (especially on big days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday) and maintain full transparency during the process. Here’s some the key stepping-stones sellers need to tread to nail their social media efforts.

Build a spreadsheet to see the broader picture

Social media is not a one-trick pony. But just because there are multiple channels to choose from, it shouldn’t become a carousel either. To ensure you have the right marketing mix, make a spreadsheet of all the social channels you are present on and the ones you think you need to establish your presence on. Next, put down the number of hours you spend per channel on your active social accounts. Then put down an estimate of how much time you intend to spend on the new channels. This allows you to have a realistic overview of the time needed to maintain a successful social presence across channels. If the number looks too unrealistic given your other time commitments, then (take a deep breath) and consider dropping a few channels from your mix.

Have a mission for each social channel

Your brand needs are bound to change with every social channel. So, it’s a good idea to evaluate your messaging priority and brand objective for all your social media profiles individually. For example: your Instagram profile may be for sharing in-store customer interaction. Pinterest may be your online sale catalogue. And Facebook may be a mix of the two.

Last but not least, do a brand check

During a sale, a customer is looking at dozens of brands. To make sure your brand is not lost in the crowd or worse, giving out mixed messages across different social platforms, you need to ensure all your accounts speak the same language. This includes profile photos, cover photos, icons, bios and product descriptions.

In our next blog of the series, we’ll look at working in seasonal batches and getting your easy-to-ship products out the door faster. But for now, when it comes to planning for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, remember to plan ahead, stay consistent and adapt quickly. Do you have any tips for these big sale days?  Let us know in the comments below.

#HolidaySales Tip #5: Give Your Product Line Some Holiday Swag


Charm is a great tool for any retailer. In our last blog, we saw how it can be an effective tool to impress bloggers. But, where you really want to turn on the charm is with your customers during the holiday season. Bur rather than you doing all the talking, why not let your products speak for themselves? In today’s blog, we’ll see how you can use photography and product packaging to really entice your customers into making your line up their first choice for gifting during the holiday season.

Lights. Camera. Action.

When you look at the websites of major online retailers during the holiday season, the first thing to grab your eye is the clean look they achieve with every product shoot and the attention to detail on each product, no matter how small or cheap. With the huge access to tech we all have today, getting super-professional results doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Here are some simple tips you can follow to make your product line pop off the webpage on your site:

Gear up, but not too much


You need to choose your gear based on what you plan to shoot. Don’t go overboard with lenses and camera bodies. Remember this is still just a product shoot. Not National Geographic! A good place to start is with a mid zoom as then allow you to set up in one spot and then just zoom in. We also recommend getting a tripod because handheld can get tiring and tiring equals blurry after a while. When it comes to lenses, try go for one around f/35 or less. This will help blur out your background and compensate if your lighting isn’t great.  

Skip the background, stick to white

We’ve all seen these awesome product shots on Instagram where the product is made to fit into a pristine natural surrounding – maybe a tree, on a wooden table, up against a red brick wall. These shots are the exception and not the rule for two reasons:


  1. On Instagram, these pictures are a one-off and hence are easy to look at. But on your site, if every product sits against a different background, it will be a big visual distraction.
  2. It’s easy to find an appropriate background if you only have one or two products. But if you have multiple lines, you’ll quikcly run out of ‘natural’ surroundings to place them in. The result will be multiple products shot in awkward looking locations like this!

Try using a long white sheet of paper to create an ‘infinity backdrop’ look or use white pieces of cardboard to create a mini light box. Alternatively, you can also use black to offset any bright colored items. For the holidays, you can accentuate your product shoot with a few holiday themed items but make sure they don’t distract from the product itself.

Use bright lights, but in moderation

There’s a fine line between “Damn, I can’t even see it” and “well, what is it anyway?” Using too much light leads to a washed out effect on your product while too little light obscures the uniqueness (or even the shape) of your product.  When you light your product, aim for moderation. Choose a mix of ambient and synthetic lights. Try to ensure your product doesn’t develop any shadows (you can use a flash to fix this problem) and doesn’t look bigger or smaller than it actually is.  

First frame, then aim


Just because you’ve got a fancy digital camera, doesn’t mean you should take dozen of shots of each product and just slap every high-res one on your website. Instead take a minute to compose the shot before you click. Try to keep it simple, stay on the same angle and zoom in as much as possible. Also, avoid shooting from any angle which might distort the product or make it hard for the viewer to understand what they’re looking at.

Aim for the product, blur the background

When you shoot against a background (even just a plain white one), you want it to be out of focus just enough for your product to shine through. To achieve this effect, place your product just a bit in front of the background and set your camera to the widest aperture to absorb as much light as possible. This way, especially against a white background, your product gets a halo effect from the background and really shines out.

Start on the camera, end on the computer

Shooting the right images is only half the process when you’re trying to nail a good product shoot. Once you transfer your images to the computer, you get a sense for some of the finer things you may have missed or just not been able to capture – a bit of dust on the product, a small shadow in the corner, a flash spot. Luckily, with the help of technology, you no longer have to reshoot to correct these tiny imperfections. Using the right software, you can fix and even enhance each image and have it looking perfect for your catalogue.

The Sale Lies in the Detail

Photos alone are no guarantee of a sale. Without the right mix of shots, you could end up telling only half the product story. Also remember, when customers buy online, the product shots are filling in for their ability to pick up and examine your product carefully to their satisfaction. But this doesn’t mean overloading your website with images either, at the risk of ruining the mobile browsing experience. With that in mind, here are a few tips on getting the finer details right, after you’ve taken the right shots:   

Sell it from every angle

Photographs don’t just act as stand-ins for the real product. They carry with them vital visual information, which customers need to evaluate before they can make a decision. This includes decisions about color, size, weight, fit and even just general aesthetics. At a minimum, you should offer at least two views of the product (a front and side view). But research shows, the ideal number for e-commerce product images is around four views or five views. Any more and you risk annoying your customers.

Replicate the in-hand experience

There is a great sense of satisfaction that comes from being able to inspect a product from all angles in your hand. But replicating this would involve dozens of photos per product. What you can do instead is offer a 360-degree view of your product using multiple shots merged into one seamless gif image. This allows customers to thoroughly investigate your product and make a purchase decision only when they are fully satisfied.

Every colour and style needs highlighting


If you make a product in 16 colours and 10 textures, don’t imagine people will be able to visualize what your product will look like in every variant. Instead, take the time to photograph each variant and present it visually. Chances are once a customer sees your product in one specific variant; it might be all they need to convince them to buy your product.

Let customers pour over details

Some products always require a closer inspection for varying reasons. For instance, clothing needs finer inspection to examine texture and color. Handcrafted products need to be examined to inspect the finish. Even items that have been produced with a mould or through 3-D printing need to be examined for consistency. By taking high resolution pictures of your products, you allow customers to zoom in and get a clear idea of what they are about to buy and assure themselves your products are of the highest quality and free from defects.

If you tell it, let the pictures sell it

This is a simple rule of thumb. If you mention it in a tag line or in the product description, back up that information in at least on of the product pictures. For instance, if you describe how many pockets a bag has, show the pockets – from as many angles as necessary. This allows the customer to get a good sense of what your product could look like in a variety of situations and helps them imagine it as a part of their daily lifestyle.

Don’t Forget the Brand while Chasing Sales

While it is imperative to push for sales as much as you can during the holiday season, you must remember this quote “People don’t buy products. They buy brands”. If your sales rocket but it leaves your brand coming across as a pushy one, or worse still an ordinary off-the-shelf one, you may win the battle. But you’ll lose the war. To keep this from happening to your brand, here are some simple tips:  

Make consistency a priority

This may sound like an antithesis – how can you stand out and still stay consistent? Well, you can do it by aiming to stand apart from your competition but maintaining an internal standard of excellence and consistency. These include factors such as magnification, lighting, background and number of images per product. You might need to vary the number of images per product in case you have products of vastly varying sizes or types. But by and large try to stick with a set number.

Take the time to create style sheets

While your product images need to pop, they also have to be consistent across your online catalog. This is where a bit of creative direction comes in. To ensure your images have a consistent tone and manner, you need to create a style sheet. This sheet needs to include details such as your preferred background for different types of products and the minimum and maximum lighting requirements. Also, if you have a preference or need a product shot from a particular angle every single time, make a note of this as well. The idea behind style sheets is that it frees you to outsource product imaging, without worrying about wild variations in the results.

Start building a brand image

Your product catalogue is not just a series of photographs. It is a collage that ultimately represents your personal brand. While it won’t happen overnight, you need to aim for a level of color, image and lighting consistency that can be replicated for every product you shoot. That way, when people browse the web looking for products you offer, your brand will be able to stand out from the competition and become a visual mnemonic that is recognized and accepted as one to trust.

Moving from Visual to Tactile


Once you have your product photography worked out, the next thing to imagine is the delivery of the product itself. And one of the key aspects of delivery is the packaging. If you’ve walked down the aisles of your local grocery store recently, you’ll see packaging as an industry keeps growing exponentially. And if someone cares enough about biscuits to invest in over 30 unique designs for packaging, surely you must see the importance of focusing your energy on getting packaging right for your product. Having said that, let’s dive a little deeper into the subject, shall we?

Start with What You Don’t Know

It’s easy to make assumptions about packaging based on one’s personal tastes. But while stark minimalism may appeal to you, perhaps your customers expect a little more energy and colour in their packaging, especially around the holiday season. Here are a few ways to keep assumptions at bay and prevent making a potentially expensive mistake this holiday season:

Research your customers

A good place to start is by observing your customers. Notice how long they spend with each item. Look for which items they are visually drawn to. Notice if they circle back around to certain items. Based on these factors, you’ll be able to make your first educated guesses on what kind of packaging will appeal to the customer. Also be sure to ask yourself if a certain product package is meant to bring new business or promote loyalty to your store.

Accept feedback from potential consumers

You may not have the budget (or the need, really) to set up a physical focus group just to test out your packaging designs. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek multiple opinions outside the limited set of people who have visited your store or purchased from you online. To do this, you can use services such as Survey Money to get quick results to key questions. Of course, what is a good ‘key question’? While there is no universal answer on this, there are a few things you should steer clear of. For starters, be careful not to lead the questioning towards an answer you would like to hear. Also, try to avoid friends and family from your survey. Their answers may be helpful, but they might also be too polite to tell you the truth.  Your mission is to get objective feedback which you can put into action when designing your packaging.

Don’t forget to scope out the competition

This may seem like a no-brainer (few things ever are when selling) but it pays to research your competition and even the overall category you’re selling into. Look for what has worked (and not worked) in the category over the last few years during the holiday season. What was their primary focus – Design? Portability? Durability? Now reexamine your choices and see which areas you need to improve on. Think about how your product will be displayed. Think of whether your packaging will help the product survive a fall or mishandling. And most importantly, during the holiday season how easy is your product to ship with the new packaging.

Build a Story, Not Just a Box


Good packaging is more than just an outer layer to peel through to get to your product. If done well, it can tell its own story, enhance the story around the product and if you are really creative, good packaging can even turn into its own product.

Take the consumer on a journey

If you consider your product your hero, then the marketing behind it is the story of that hero. And the book which carries this story to your customers is the packaging. To make sure this story is compelling, you need to study your competition’s stories told through their packaging so that you don’t repeat a story the customer has heard before or too often (think of the how words like “handmade”, “fine craftsmanship”, “unique” have become packaging cliches). Your packaging needs to tell a strong story that is both creative yet concise.  

Build a 2-second shelf story

This may sound harsh but customers really don’t spend as much time as you imagine looking at your product. In fact, it’s usually just a pithy two seconds before their attention shifts focus on to something else. And with the flurry of items screaming for their attention during the holiday season, this attention deficit only gets worse. Which means you need to pick a few key images and words to convey your product’s unique selling points. Your focus is to get the customer to pick up your product so that you have a few more minutes to convince them with a fuller story.   

Keep the name simple

This can be a particularly touchy subject. Naming a product is often a polarizing choice. You may be set on a name that resonates with you but may be hard to pronounce. Our advice? Ditch it. When naming your product, we suggest sticking to these simple rules a) Make sure it’s easy to pronounce. b) Make sure it fits easily on the packaging without cluttering up the design. c) Make it (as much as you can) memorable. If you choose to rename a few of your products around the holiday season, don’t get too clever with it.

Getting Down to the Brass Tacks

After all the research and planning, there’s still one last step involved – building the actual packaging itself. While this may seem like a straightforward job, it can prove to be the most complex part of it all. So to simplify the process, here’s some key considerations to bear in mind:

Learn to think in colour

Colour can be a powerful tool, which can vastly influence both perception and buying choices. When choosing colours around the holiday season, don’t just stick with the traditional red and green palette. Use colours complimentary to the season such as blue or white. And don’t be afraid to use your brand colours in conjunction with the holiday theme.

Build a focal point in the packaging

Your packaging has to stand out not just on your shop shelf, but on shared shelves (if you have a kiosk at other retail stores) and especially online. When a customer browses for a product during the holiday season, both online and offline, he is met with a rainbow of colour and shapes. You need to create a distinct focal point, which is instantly recognizable and unmistakeable for any other similar product.

Go for a handmade look

The holiday season brings with it a flood of packaged goods that are so similar in look and feel; you might imagine they all came off the same assembly line in some mega-factory. To get past this ubiquity, try to incorporate a handmade look into your packaging. Even if you can’t actually create something handmade, if you offer a handmade look, it can often provide enough visual relief to draw a customer’s attention and get them to pick it up.  

Get creative with materials and shapes

Remember, at the end of the day, packaging is meant to be tactile. Which means you need to focus on the in-hand experience as much as possible. Think of whether your product needs to have packaging that fits to its shape or perhaps it could live inside another shaped pack. Does your packaging have texture? Is it easy to pick up?

Build in functionality if possible

Customers like packaging that’s functional because of its added value, says Marianne Rosner Klimchuk, professor and associate chairwoman of the packaging design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Rather than create more waste, is there a way your packaging can be up-cycled once the product is removed?

Skip assumptions. Hire a designer.

With all this information at the ready, you might be tempted to assume you could just start designing your product packaging itself. And who knows, if you have access to a 3D printer, even make it yourself. But don’t. Good designers bring more to the process than just information. They come with the unique ability to blend their knowledge of colour, fonts and imaging into one cohesive design. They come with the experience of past projects and know what will and won’t work. But most of all, they have a specific sense of creativity which when allowed to flourish can take your product to the next level in both aesthetics and desirability.

In our next blog, we’ll look at how to push your well-designed product through the marketing maze of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. For now, remember that building a product is only part of the process. How your product looks and how its packaging feels helps people decide if your product is worth buying. So remember to give both these tasks the attention they deserve.

Hiring a Maker / Designer to Make Custom Products For Our Designer Customers


We have a part time Production Manager role for a maker / designer to make custom products for our online community of 150,000 makers / designers. And to help us change the world.


* You believe what we believe … That mass production is going local.

* You value what we value.

* You have a deep desire to help other makers / designers make their own custom products. This will make it easy for you to smile, persevere and shine through the ups and downs our customers experience on their personal creative journeys, and the ups and downs we experience on ours.

* You are:

  • A designer / maker. With a proven eye for detail.
  • Experienced working with laser cutters for at least one year in a production facility, nailing quality and speed.
  • Experienced with vector design software, specifically Adobe Illustrator.
  • Familiar with the properties of the materials in our catalog here.
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  • A happy soul. Who communicates well (including online with our global team).
  • Proactive. Detailed. Process driven. *All three.*
  • Someone who likes to lead, and enjoys working independently.
  • Effective at multi ­tasking and prioritizing the daily rush of tasks that come in an evolving company.
  • Someone who understands you get out of life what you put into it. And to change the world this means stepping forward and grabbing at responsibility.


You’ll be our part time Production Manager (32 hours per week, with the ability to go to 40-48 hours per week as needed). You’ll be the trusted maker of our customer’s product designs. You’ll enable us to deliver on time as our customer demand is growing. You’ll be working at our workshop in Emeryville, CA

Your typical day includes:

* Achieving 2 key goals – product making quality and speed of making service. Both measured and reported weekly.

* Managing our online customer order queue, and making customer’s orders using our laser cutters.

* Managing our materials stock so we do not run out. And communicating with our materials suppliers as needed.

* Carefully packaging and shipping customer orders. And communicating with our shipping suppliers as needed.

* Lending your expertise to assist our customers improve their product designs, as needed.

* Liaising with our customer team to ensure on-time delivery of quality custom products.

* Delighting our customers with the unexpected, and putting a smile on their faces, particularly when all seemed lost.

* Attending 2 weekly meetings – one full team discussion about company and individual results, plus one customer/production team discussion about customer experience.

* Identifying problems with and improving our workflows to delight customers.


* Freedom and independence to run your own shift.
* Feeling that your work day makes a difference in other people’s lives.
* Market salary.
* Unlimited paid time off.
* Employee rates on laser cutting your own stuff.


Dreamed up in 2006, Ponoko believes consumers of the future will download and make products locally (kinda like a ‘digital Ikea’, followed by a ‘Star Trek Replicator’).

We foresaw the third industrial revolution (distributed digital mass production) growing out of the first and second industrial revolutions (centralized analog mass production).

Hence in 2007 Ponoko launched at the first TechCrunch conference in San Francisco and became the world’s first to enable designers to make & sell downloadable product designs online (open, free, paid).

Since then a community of more than 150,000 makers, designers, hackers, brands and businesses have made over 450,000 custom products online. And they’ve sold them via our website, their own websites, ETSY, Kickstarter, design events, and to main street retailers.

With no minimum order size to get started and on-demand production available within 1 day to eliminate investment in stock, we’ve make it 10x faster than ever before for designers to prototype, make and sell their custom product ideas online.

Recognised as a pioneering leader of the online digital making industry, we have been featured in places like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, CNN Money, Inc. Magazine (cover), Forbes, Wired, Core77, TechCrunch, Makezine, MIT Technology Review, BBC News and The Economist.

Your appointment will enable us to continue to support our new and existing customers, while we pioneer a new direction for our industry.


Send an email to dan.devorkin@ponoko.com to introduce yourself, send your resume, and your answers to these 3 questions:

1) Why do you want this role?
2) What gaps might exist between what we need and what you have?
3) Why are you the best person for this role?

We’re looking forward to meeting you 🙂

Don’t Be Left Waiting, Get Your Holiday Orders In By November 25th!

The Holidays are our busiest time of year, be sure you get your orders in on time

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Hey there makers. Do you love the holidays but loathe delayed shipping and rush fees? Loathe no more! If you get your orders in by Wednesday November 25th to AVOID rush fees!

Laser Cutting

Early Deadline: Wednesday, November 25th

Final Deadline: Thursday, December 10th

3D Printing

Wednesday, November 18th

Photochemical Machining (PCM)

Wednesday, November 18th

Orders after this date will be shipped but will likely arrive after the Holidays, don’t miss out!

Get organized now!

#HolidaySales Tip #4: Turning On The Charm With Bloggers

hey blogger

In our last blog, we looked at the role of great customer service in building your sales during the holiday season. But if you really want to rake in the store visits, you need to be able to entertain another group of individuals, who may not be customers but are equally important to the reputation of your business – bloggers.

Many businesses are indifferent towards the blogging community seeing them as nothing more than prima donnas who expect freebies and special treatment at the expense of the business owner. Yet, this is usually just a narrow-minded, insular approach to business or even just a case of sour grapes from business owners who didn’t deal with blogger well enough and got called out for it on his blog the next day.

While the threat of having your business reputation tarnished by a blogger is very real, it is merely a misinformed urban legend that all bloggers are gremlins. The fact is bloggers are often well-informed individuals who through good quality reportage have amassed a loyal following. They have a responsibility towards this audience since their word is both respected and trusted. In that sense, they are very much like business owners who have a responsibility towards their customers. Bearing this in mind, let’s look at some of the simple yet effective techniques to get bloggers to develop an honest and favourable view towards your business.

Are you looking at the right bloggers?

This may seem like an easy task- pick the most popular bloggers and shoot off a press kit or an email to them. But you could end up shooting yourself in the foot instead. Picking a blogger is a lot like choosing a celebrity endorsement. The most popular bloggers may not be the best suited for your industry and even those who are relevant to your product may not be suited to your brand image.

Added to this, if you pick only popular bloggers it might be weeks before you hear back from them because they usually have a backlog of pending invitations and requests. And every day you spend chasing them, is another day lost towards promoting your brand.

To get past this, try to identify some top tier bloggers and some who are just starting out but have a good mix of followers. This allows you to get product conversations going while you wait for the more established bloggers to get back to you.

So who is a good blogger, anyway? While that question cannot be answered simply, here are some key criteria for choosing a blogger:

Does the blogger write well?

Is the content thoughtful and engaging?

How regularly does the blogger post? (At least once or twice a week is preferable)

Are there positive mentions or link backs from other, more respected bloggers?

Is it easy to contact the blogger and do they respond appropriately?

Some online tools can help find the right bloggers for your industry. These include:

Klout – This service measures social media influence and covers both companies and individuals.

Tomoson – This website matches bloggers with companies offering free samples for review.

Page Rank Checker – Through this service, you can check any site’s Google PageRank, which identifies the site’s importance and position in search engine results.

Looking isn’t enough. You have to read.


There are many ways entrepreneurs put their foot in their mouth when talking to a blogger. The first, and somehow still not obvious to many, is reaching out to a blogger without reading their blog. Not reading a blogger’s work is the equivalent of going into business without studying the market. If you won’t be caught dead doing the latter, then you sure as hell shouldn’t be seen doing the former. Get into a daily habit of reading the blog of every blogger you plan to contact. Every single one. We suggest using a tool like Netvibes.com or Feedly to stay up to date on new blogs as they come out.

Knowing their audience matters too

While a blogger may be right for publicity, you also need to consider if they are right for your brand image. A good way to gauge this is to study the profile of their audience. A blogger’s audience gives you a pretty clear insight into their area of interest, their tone (both in their own work and towards brands) and acts as a decent wind flag for how your brand is likely to be received if covered by this blogger.

If you approach the wrong blogger with your product, you may end up getting negative press that could be disastrous. Maintain a database of each blogger you identify as a potential option. Next add in their handle, a profile of their audience, areas of interest, blog address and how far along you are in forming a relationship with them.

Poke the bear, but be gentle

Herbert Bear - Self Portrait 3

We’re referring to the subtle art of commenting on a blog. Now, we understand the word ‘art’ doesn’t spring to mind when it comes to commenting. After all, we do it hundreds of times a week across our social media channels. But remember this…an influential blogger gets hundreds of comments all the time.  So if your goal is to get the blogger’s attention (and eventually build a relationship) then you have to rise above all other commenters.

The first step to achieve this goal is to always be one of the first 2 or 3 comments on a post.  Ideally, you get the top comment spot every time. But being first is not a goal in itself. You also need to appear to add value in order for your comment to be approved and potentially getting a response from the blogger.

Don’t just subscribe. Try to imbibe.

Once you’ve got into a routine of reading blogs and you’ve fined-tuned your commenting skills, it’s time to show a little more commitment and hit that scary ‘subscribe’ button. Now, this doesn’t mean opening yourself up to email tsunami. For starters, only subscribe to the following kinds of blogs:

Bloggers who write post that resonate with your brand

Bloggers who engage with you when you comment

Bloggers who have actually promoted products in the past and who provide you the best chance of getting a link to your eCommerce store.

When you do subscribe, use a branded email address that specifically identifies who you are. Ideally, the email address you use makes it easy to cross-reference you with the comments you make as well.

Another reason for using a branded email address is because every time you open and click the links in the email, your branded email address shows up in the email marketing stats of the blogger’s email marketing software and this hopefully makes you a little more visible.

Remember to play it cool

Now that you have a handle on the kind of bloggers you want to approach, let’s discuss the best way to go about it. Bloggers are generally open to communicating with new people but they are also careful about their space. Before you approach a blogger, check their site to see if they’ve laid out any ground rules about how they prefer to be contacted and if they have any specific dos and don’ts.

The safest way to establish contact is through a brief email, where you introduce yourself, establish why you contacted them, and make your intentions clear through a brief but effective pitch. Whenever possible, try not to overburden your email with too much supplementary information. Instead, offer it as an attachment or better still hold off on providing it until requested.

Start with casual (brand) name dropping

Outfitting posts are the easiest way to get a foot in the door with a blogger’s audience. Most bloggers regularly mention the brands they endorse in each video, whether it’s clothing, accessories, tech or gear.

By examining the brands they choose to mention, you can get a fair idea for on the how well your products will fit into their personal brand and if it will look like a natural fit. Also, you need to send out these requests ahead of time, because most bloggers queue up items they will feature much before writing the blog. If the blogger does accept to feature your product, be sure to share the post with your networks as well to amplify the impact.

Get on the tour bus


Bloggers are known to take various types of tours – closets, apartments, streets, neighborhoods. These videos are a great way to get featured because each usually covers five to six products at one time. A good way to slip your product in with their next tour is to simply ask if they can mention the brand/site in their photographs or video. Also make sure to send over the flashiest, most attention-grabbing product you have in stock to get extra attention on your brand.

Build a look around the blogger

Look books are a flattering way to approach a blogger and convince them to work with you. However, you need to be sure your brand aligns with the blogger’s style and lifestyle naturally, so as to not look like an awkward force fit.

A good way to indicate this is whether or not they’ve ever used your products before, or if someone has mentioned it to them in their comments. If you’re launching a new product, include a top local blogger as a model for your photo shoot. A creative storyline coupled with the blogger’s already recognized face will definitely get more views than just a regular online product launch.

Throw an (in-store) party


This is your chance to make a great first (or second) impression on the blogger and build a relationship in person. With the atmosphere of a party, the blogger will also feel more relaxed and will naturally be inclined to take pictures of themselves at your store or stall.

Also, parties tap into the blogger’s natural sense of vanity. They love to be handpicked and invited to exclusive events. So if you can keep the event light-hearted, build a fun atmosphere and hand out fancy gift bags to take home, you can be sure of positive blog mentions and posts on Instagram. To make this even more effective, make sure to include a hashtag for your shop or event before inviting them.

Roll out the exclusive offers

Sometimes a simple gesture can go a long way in building a relationship with a blogger. And few gestures are as simple as offering your blogger of choice an exclusive look and the option of reviewing a product before anyone else.

If you can make it happen, you should let the blogger know that he will be getting access to your product before it is launched in the market. Bloggers always want to be perceived as the influencer and thought leaders in their community. But you have to let them make up their own mind about the product.


Don’t be shy to return the favor

The last thing you can do to curry favour with relevant bloggers is buy something from them. It may be an book, an information product such as a online course or even just a T-shirt. To make your purchase seem genuine, don’t forget to write a 5 star review of the purchase and send the link of the review to the blogger.

However, there’s a reason we’re mentioning this last. Unless you’ve gone through the hard miles with them as mentioned above, doing just this could backfire. But if you’ve shown your commitment to building a relationship with the blogger, a small display of solidarity like this could go a long way. You could end up being seen as a blogger’s superfan. And superfans are the ones to get promoted first. Once you’ve done this, it’s a natural progression to get the blogger to link to your products.

Send them a free sample, and then ask for a review. They really won’t refuse.


Once you’ve set up a relationship, worked on it and convinced a blogger to review your product or service, you have to be quick to share it back on your blog, website and social media channels. This helps your business gain credibility and is the reason for approaching bloggers in the first place. It also gives the blogger airtime which is a positive for them, driving more traffic to their site and increasing their followers. Be sure to let the blogger know their post has been shared and guide them to where they can access it.

In our next post, we’ll look at making your product range pop through the right packaging and photography. In the meantime, remember that blogger outreach programs take time to nurture but the rewards for being fastidious are seriously worth it. So start slow, work hard and always, always be genuine.


#HolidaySales Tip #3: A Smiling Customer Is A Spending Customer


The last post delved into setting up the perfect festive look this holiday season to attract more customers to your brand both online and offline. But your mission as a seller doesn’t end when customers walk in. In fact, that’s where the real job begins. Which brings us to today’s topic – customer service.

If we asked you to recall a bad customer service experience, you probably have a doozy of a story. While having such a story is quite common, what’s also surprisingly common is how vivid the memory is – you probably remember exactly what was, the face of the person and maybe the day and date it happened. Why does bad customer service stick so vividly in our memory? Because no matter what type of store or what the purchase may be we all expect good service.

This is the crucial factor to remember as a seller, especially during the holiday season. If you fail to deliver on customer service (which everyone expects), you run the risk of being perceived as a seller who can’t even get the basics right. But on the other hand, if you can exceed expectations (even by a little) you not only gain the customer’s very public admiration but also improve your chances of turning them into repeat customers.

Aim to be amazing

While this may sound like an overpromise, the fact is, there are brands we look up to every year who seem to nail customer service. But if you study their practices, you’ll see each of them follow a few simple steps, repeat them without exception and have strategies in place to adapt quickly in case something goes wrong. The result is a flawless level of customer service, which often sets the industry benchmark. Some of these steps include:  

Planning ahead: Peak seasons are exactly that – seasons. Which means, you can plan for them ahead of time. You need to set your goals based on how many customers you plan to get this holiday season. To arrive at a safe estimate, look at business workflows to see which product lines or service branches have been gaining traction. You can also look at customer satisfaction ratings to know which areas of your business have been performing well and will most likely see a spike in the holidays

Using the rules of triage: In battle, the process of triage is used to assign degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses and decide the order of treatment for a large number of patients due to the limited availability of resources. This simple principle has great insight for managing holiday sales too.

During this period, your phone lines and your company inbox will face larger volumes of activity, which could overwhelm you and (if you have any) team members. And the moment you or your team get frazzled, you have a block in your system. To prevent this, set up a system of priority for customer service and assign individual stakeholders for each type of problem. This ensures the right people are dealing with relevant queries, customer wait times for a resolution is kept to a minimum and you can redirect yourself to managing the rest of your sales pipeline.


Work on boosting self-service support: When it comes to solving a problem, customers don’t care how it gets done, as long as it gets done. And in the interest of saving time talking to a customer service executive, they are also willing to read your site’s FAQ section. But here’s where you have to be extra careful. You need to ensure your FAQ section covers as many topics as possible to minimize the load on your own time. Also make sure to have a clear and well-indexed search to keep online resolution times to a bare minimum. Remember, if the customer is taking the time to find his own solution, you need to respect his time and effort.

Set and stick to fast resolution times: While having a robust FAQ section will help, it will only deflect a small percentage of the overall volume of customer service queries. Which means, you have to prepare yourself and your partners or your team (if you have one). One of the best ways to do this is by setting efficiency metrics for first response and time taken on each resolution. Also keep a tab on unresolved cases (which is inevitable) as an added benchmark of success for next year.

Try to feel personalized


Think of each time you’ve called a customer service helpdesk and had to deal with an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. While it’s designed to be very efficient and helpful, there’s just something about talking to a machine that just doesn’t feel helpful. That’s because while good customer service is always automated, it shouldn’t feel automatic.

To ensure your customers get a sense of understanding and empathy, remember to look and act involved in resolving their problem. When they begin talking to you on the phone, stop anything else you may be doing. If they show up in person, learn to make appropriate eye contact and nod at intervals to show them you’re paying attention.

If the complaint is over multiple items or technical in nature, don’t be afraid to take notes while listening to ensure you don’t miss any details of the request. Also, feel free to ask a few questions to confirm and clarify your understanding of the problem. And most importantly, hold back the urge to pre-judge your customer as they speak.

Be flexible as far as possible: When customers have a problem, all they want is a solution. They don’t care about your internal processes or how you get a solution across. With this in mind, you need to work out more than one scenario for as many potential problems. That way in case a customer isn’t satisfied with one outcome, you have the ability to suggest an alternative instead of antagonizing them even further by saying “This is the only way we can help”

Put yourself In their shoes: Most customers want similar things from a helpline – courteous service, useful information, a friendly smile (even on the phone) and prompt response. If you think about it, even you want the same things as a customer in someone else’s store. With this in mind, remember to assess every customer complaint from two angles – the service angle, which lets you pick the best solution and the customer angle, which helps you deliver that solution in the friendliest way.



Be extra patient: While customers tend to get a little more impatient with you during the holiday season, you shouldn’t use that as an excuse to lose your patience with them. If you maintain your calm, you prevent a disgruntled customer from getting even more irate and the sooner you get an irate customer out of your system, the sooner you can move to the next customer who needs attention.

Make your current customers feel important: While the focus will tend to be stronger on getting new customers, you need to keep an eye on your existing customers as well since they are most likely to be repeat customers, even after the holiday season.

Start by offering them price cuts or coupons and as an added touch, when you answer their calls, be sure to thank them for their business.

Seek and reward referrals from current customers: This may seem like a no-brainer but in the dozens of things pulling your attention during the holiday season, it’s easy to overlook. When planning your referral program, remember that the perceived value of your gift is far more important that the actual cost. The idea is to make your existing customers feel valued for choosing to be loyal to your brand, not bribe them into helping you.

Remember customer service is an ‘experience’


Customer service is not just a function that can simply be designated to someone. Nor can you merely ‘go through the motions’ on every call. Why? Because it shows. Customers can sense their needs being ‘delegated’ rather than addressed. But if you keep a few simple things in mind, you can ensure your customers never feel abandoned to the mercy of customer service:

Treat your partners and team well: This is single most important aspect of getting customer service right. If your partners and your team feel pressured or undervalued during the holiday season, that feeling will translate in the way they interact with your customers. Remember, just one disgruntled person in your business can easily alienate dozens of customers!

Make customer service a priority: The temptation to outsource or trim you’re your hours of customer service is strongest during the holidays. After all, you’d rather be selling to happy customers than dealing with unhappy ones. But we recommend you don’t. You need to treat customer service with the same enthusiasm and priority as selling and shipping. Because if you don’t, simple matters could escalate and be drawn out longer than necessary merely because customers aren’t feeling important enough when they exercise their right to complain.

Empower your partners and team to get the job done: When you bring in all your partners and your team to help out in customer service, you need to make sure they don’t raise customers’ hopes without having the authority to resolve it. Trust your team with certain decision-making powers and have the confidence in their ability to use it wisely.

Brainstorm with your partners and team: Even after the holiday season begins, you still have time to learn and adapt. Have a daily debriefing with your partners and team to go over the previous day and see if there were any requests the team could learn from.

Take individual feedback from every member of your team and be willing to embrace new ideas. Also, in order to encourage innovation and fresh thinking, be willing to reward ideas that can be implemented quickly and that show results.

In our next post, we’ll look at reaching out to bloggers to get coverage for your store (especially now that you’ve taken the trouble to decorate it and get your customer service in order for the holidays). For now, just remember customer service during the holidays is not impossible to manage or overly complex to get right. All it takes is patience, foresight and the ability to adapt.

Building The Ideas That Build Young Minds

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When most people imagine laser cutting, they envision quirky personal projects or grand scale commercial ones. One of the last places you would expect to see laser cut designs is in a Physics classroom. But thanks to the inventiveness and commitment of one teacher, a classroom of students are now able to grasp the more complex fundamentals of Physics bother literally and figuratively, thanks to Ponoko’s laser cut designs.  

In this blog, written by Physics professor Matthew Jacques at Pentucket Regional High School we’ll see how Ponoko was able to build the tools, which enabled him to demonstrate his curriculum and ensure pinpoint precision each time. With Ponoko’s help, ideas that were relegated to just a textbook came to life with tactility and are helping young minds experiment and learn Physics like never before.

(The following blog has been written by Matthew Jacques, Pentucket Regional High School, edited by Samantha Herald and republished here on Ponoko’s blog with his permission)

When I am teaching physics, I always find myself thinking, “I wish there was a lab accessory or device to do this or that.” Most of the time the thought lingers for a moment and I simply push on with the materials we have or ultimately discover with dismay the desired equipment simply does not exist. Such occurred when I began the year examining the core concepts of motion. The unit studies how an object change its velocity and distance from one second to the next when accelerating due to free-fall. It is challenging enough to guide the students to the conclusions through inquiry based labs, but it is even more challenging when the equipment introduces extra variables. I purchased a set of gravity drop kits that operate through an original mechanical release mechanism that drop marbles from rest through two CPO photogates. The mechanical release mechanism did not drop the marble from rest and was terribly inconsistent. If a student was not careful, the mechanism would give the marble an undue initial velocity. I instead needed an electromagnet to drop the marble consistently every time. No such mechanisms existed that could easily connect with the CPO base stands; however these could be specifically tailored by laser cutting sheets of woods.

A few years ago, I created a personal project from ponoko.com, a “maker” service that can laser cut materials such as wood, plastic, metal, and more out of varying thicknesses with, of course, laser precision. The premise was simple: a blueprint design could be created using either Adobe Illustrator, InkScape, or Corel Draw, and if a line was “blue”, it cut the material and if the line was “red”, it would engrave a line. The design process consisted of determining what type of lab equipment was needed, taking measurements to integrate it with existing equipment, and going through design iterations on the computer. Choosing a material and thickness is a critical first step since it drives the overall design and dictates how the sides fit together. I chose a wood laminate, as it was inexpensive, durable, and easily assembled with wood glue.

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The cost of any Ponoko order is extremely variable based on the complexity of the laser cutting and the types of materials being used. Luckily, I was able to have an idea of the cost by uploading designs and receiving an instant quote through the Ponoko website. The quote allowed me to optimize the project and cut down on costs. For example, if you have two objects laser cut, by sharing a “cut line” between objects, you reduce the laser time and thus the cost. Certain types of laser cutting such as engraving an area costs far more than just creating an engraved line. Because I ordered the product through my school, I was given a generous 55% discount and a free subscription to their prime service. All in all, the entire order came just shy of $160 and took about two weeks from the time of order to the date of arrival.

The Ponoko order arrived in large sheets of wood which looked like jigsaw puzzles. After removing the paper backing, the pieces lifted out easily. It was a satisfying experience seeing the design on the screen become real and tangible objects. It is most likely the closest thing we have to the replicator on Star Trek. The parts were exactly as I designed them down to the most minute detail. Aside from some light sanding on a few pieces, the majority of the project fit together seamlessly.


The electromagnetic marble releaser (or EMR) was the most challenging of all the builds due to its technical nature. The EMR uses a momentary switch to trigger an electromagnet and a slide switch to enable an LED indicator. Maximizing its usefulness, the device can fit on either a slanted straight track or vertically on a base stand. As expected, the EMR takes out the human element of releasing the marble and produces a much more consistent release.

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Moving forward, I can only hope to think of and create more laser cut projects for class. No longer do custom solutions need to be haphazardly put together with cardboard and tape; they can instead made with laser precision. If any fellow teachers are interested in learning more or acquiring these designs for your class, please email me at mjacques@prsd.org 


#HolidaySales Tip #1: The best sale is a planned one

the best sale is a planned one

“The holiday season is almost here”. If hearing that makes you squirm in your seat, even a little bit, maybe you need to stop working on your next sale poster and take some time to plan out your strategy first. We know the holidays can be a maddening time for retail. But to make sure your business doesn’t get swept up in the oncoming cacophony, we’ve created a 10-part blog series covering each aspect of holiday season retail. Think of it like decorating a Christmas tree – you wouldn’t just throw decorations at it and see which sticks, would you? With that in mind let’s hang our first bauble – planning.

Do you have a calendar handy?

In retail, there’s more than one date you need to keep in mind during the holiday season. Not only because you need to prepare for the added sales volume on those days but also because you need to integrate your sales plan backwards from those dates to be fully prepared. While you might know most of these dates, here is a quick refresher on the ones, which should definitely on your retail calendar for the holiday season:

October 31, Halloween: Each year, about 40% of consumers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween.

November 28, Black Friday: 2013 saw online spending on Black Friday increase 15% to a record $1.20 billion.

December 1, Cyber Monday: Online shoppers spent over 1.73 billion dollars on Cyber Monday in 2013, marking the heaviest online spending day in history.

December 8, Green Monday: Last year, consumers spent $1.4 Billion on Green Monday – a major e-retail day falling on the Monday in December, at least 10 days prior to Christmas.

December 18, Free Shipping Day: Shoppers took advantage of Free Shipping Day in 2013, making 1.03 billion in online purchases.

December 25, Christmas Day: With most shoppers spending time offline, this is one day to (sort of) relax and prepare for Boxing Day.

December 26, Boxing Day: Boxing Day is consistently among the biggest retail days of the year. 2013 saw an overall jump in online sales of 40% when compared to the same day in 2012.


Start wide but finish deep

Before the season starts, spend time putting together a complete assortment of merchandise across all your categories. But as the season gets closer, start to narrow your assortment and focus only on the ones which have proven to work, the best sellers in your lineup. Since customers have already expressed interest in those items, they more likely to generate sales and have the lowest markdown risk.

Look past the immediate horizon

Even though we’re still in September, you need to start reviewing your sales plans for November and December right away. By now, you should be far enough into the season to project the last two months, as compared to the start of the season. Ask yourself key questions like “how have sales trended compared to last year?” “Which categories have proven to strong?” “Are any weak categories lagging behind in my lineup?” Answering questions like these will help you make more accurate sales predictions for the holiday season.

Do you have enough supply to meet demand?

Most retailers have mixed feelings about inventory around the holiday season. Order too much inventory and you risk significant markdowns later in the season but order too little and customers might go elsewhere in a heartbeat if they don’t find what they’re looking for.

That’s why you need to review your inventory plans for the end of October, November and December. Think long and hard about what percentage of your ending inventories each month you want to dedicate to stocks of your best items. Because irrespective of quantity, the quality of these items ultimately drives your sales in the last two months.

Don’t lose focus on your vendors

While it’s great to plan inventory and sales projections (and feel quite proud of yourself) don’t forget your retail business is not a one-man band. Once you’ve calculated which items you need and what quantities you need them in, the next question to ask is – which vendors? Choosing the right vendor will give you a better handle on delivery dates.

Make sure your vendors are clear with your requirements and if you primary vendor doesn’t have a key item, don’t panic. Someone else is bound to have it and consider yourself lucky you discovered the weak link in the supply chain sooner rather than later.

Keep the phone lines open

Once you’ve got your vendors to agree with your requirements for the holiday season, don’t give in to the urge to kick your feet up and let automation do its job. Think of this as a mission to space. So far, you’ve only gotten past launch. There’s still plenty that could go wrong. Late deliveries in November and December can very easily turn all your hard work upside down and before you can say, “Houston, we have a problem”, you could be looking at lost sales and heavier than anticipated markdowns.

Stay clear of ‘inventory blindness’

When you’re making your list of items to stock for the holiday season, it’s easy to start assuming certain items are going to be a hit. But knowing what you shouldn’t buy is as important, if not more, than knowing what you should.

Take another looks at your inventory and identify those items, which you don’t absolutely have to maintain until the end of the season. These items may have been necessary to complete a full assortment but any money spent on them during the holiday season might not generate the same sales volume as your better performing counterparts and leave you exposed to a greater risk of markdown.

Planning for the holiday season can be a daunting task, but it’s not impossible. All you need is a little foresight and time set aside to get it done properly. In our next post, we’ll go over designing your storefront (both online and offline) for the holiday season. For now, just remember, if you go through planning your #HolidaySales step by step, you’ll end up with a better looking inventory and a cash register that keeps on ringing. In the world of retail, what could be better holiday music?


How to Decide When the ‘Price is Right’ in your Retail Strategy


Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 3.44.45 PMPricing your products can be an exciting time as you begin to imagine the cash registers ringing. But when you actually get down to it, the initial excitement often gives way to doubt and nervousness.

Suddenly your mind is racing with questions and explanations – What if you price too low? You might make a ton of sales but still end up alarmingly short of money to cover your expenses.

On the other hand, what if you price your product too high? You might convince the market you are a high-end, luxury manufacturer. It might even begin to draw a financially upmarket range of customers. The high cost may offset your smaller sales figures, but what if the market shifts? What if a change in manufacturing or a new competitior can match your level of quality and reduce the price? Can your businss compete and survive in a price-sensitive market?

Such questions and more will always be floating around and no one strategy can magically address all your pricing doubts. However, by being aware of the options available for retial pricing, you will be in a position to choose the one which suits your business when the time comes.

Before we go into specifics, there are some basic overarching categories which classify individual pricing strategies. These include:

  1. Demand oriented strategies: In a retail environment, you don’t always have to depend on your skills as a marketer to attract customers. Some porducts, or even categories of products, have such a magnetic pull that setting the retail price for them can be done simply by observing demand.
  2. Cost oriented strategies: This is a more common format for calculating retail pricing and revolves around the relationship and ratio of merchandise costs, operating costs and expected profits.
  3. Competition oriented strategies: These strategies involve observing, analysing and responding to market changes to maintain the perception of competitive pricing at all times in a given market.

Let’s begin by looking at some common demand oriented strategies:

Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
As the name suggests, this is a price manufacturers recommend retailers use to sell their products. This strategy is used by manufacturers to standardize prices of products across multiple locations and retailers.

However, MSRP can also be used in a market where there is high product demand. In such a market, by sticking to the manufacturer’s price, the retailer can drive higher profit sales and determine what the price levels of certain products will be in his store, irrespective of the consumer’s bargaining power.

Demand Ceiling Pricing
In this form of pricing, the retailer takes into account the maximum a consumer will pay for a certain item and as far as possible, try to keep the price up to that level so as to maintain a demand momentum for that product.

Demand Floor Pricing
Here, the retailer takes into account the lowest he is willing to go on price to meet demand for a particular product. This is usually done on lower cost items where a retailer might go lower on the cost to keep the volume of demand constant for longer.

Odd Pricing
Studies have shown that when customers spend money, they actually feel a sense of loss. But if you help minimize this feeling of loss, it is possible to nudge customers into making a purchase. In retail, you can do this by ending the price with an odd number like 5, 7, or 9. For example, using $8.99 instead of $9.00.

Also if you want to know the ideal odd number to pick, it’s 9. A study conducted at MIT and the University of Chicago ran an experiment on a standard women’s clothing item with the following prices $34, $39, and $44. The item priced at $39 outsold even its cheaper counterpart price of $34.

Zone Pricing
It’s no secret that certain suburbs or geogrpahical areas house more affluent people. In such areas, the demand for certain types of products or categories will always be high, simply due to their increased ability and propensity to spend. Using this tactic, retailers can map out certain areas where they can get away with charging more for the same stocked item as compared to stores in other locations.

Now, let’s examine some cost oriented pricing strategies:

Multiple Pricing
This is a common pricing strategy wherein you can sell more volumes of smaller itesms simply by grouping them together. It’s a strategy you normally see in grocery stores and even across clothing brands espcially for smaller things such as socks, underwear and T-shirts.

Discount Pricing

All customers love agood bargain. That’s why sales, discount coupons and even holiday deals are so popular. The only thing to consider is why you’re choosing to discount your products. If it’s for more footfalls, consider going wide with your discounts so as to attract a variety of people. If it is to get rid of unsold inventory, try setting a time limit on your discount (1 day only, flash 12-hour sale) so as to not draw too much attention to the items on sale. And if you’re trying to attract price-conscious customers, club your discounted items together to seem more appealing.

Loss-leading Pricing
If you’ve ever walked into the store because you saw a ‘too-good-to-be-true’ discount sign but walked out with three things, you’ve just experienced loss-leading pricing at work. The idea is once you get a customer in store to buy one item, just looking at other items on the shelves is often enough to drive more sales.

Finally, let’s examine competiton oriented pricing strategies:

Below Competition Pricing
As the name suggests, retailers employing this strategy use a competitor’s pricing data as a benchmark and consciously price their products below them to lure consumers into their store, instead of the competition’s.

Above Competition Pricing
While below competition seems like a no-brainer, retailers need to be cautious before using this strategy. That’s because if your competition is willing to go head to head, he might keep dropping his prices to the point where it’s no longer financially viable for you to go any lower. A good example of this is Amazon who brought the cost of paperback books so low, they put Barnes & Noble out of business.

Instead, retailers can do the exact opposite – benchmark their product at intentionally higher prices than their competition. This forces customers to stop and consider why your prices might be higher. And, not surprisingly the conclusion most arrive at is – your produt must be of higher (and therefore better) quality. A classic case of this strategy working is Starbucks, where people consistently pick them over Dunkin’ Donuts.

One of the most exciting and nerve-wracking aspects of retail is determining what price to sell your products at. However you must remember that pricing is both an art and a science. It requires an experimental attitude and an intuitive feel for how you want your brand and, by extension, your products to be perceived.

Please feel free to share in the comments below other ways you might calculate your retail pricing.


Guaranteed Order Deadlines For Halloween!


Mod-Podge-Halloween-BannerHey there makers. If you’ve got something big planned for Halloween this year, these are the dates you’ll need to get your orders in by to ensure your goodies arrive in time:

Laser Cutting Order Deadlines:

Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Thursday, 15th October 2015.

Upgraded Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Tuesday, 27th October 2015.

Metal Machining (PCM) Order Deadline:

Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Wednesday, 7th October 2015.

3D Printing Order Deadline:

Standard Making & Shipping Speeds: Last Orders by Friday, 2nd October 2015.

Get Making Here!