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Archive for September, 2010

Breaking: Shopster to Kick Butt with KikScore – Helping Small Businesses Demonstrate Trust Online

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

A few of the founders of KikScore spent much of their formative years within a few miles of Canada! We grew up cheering for Canada’s favorite son Michael J. Fox in Family Ties and jamming to the hard rock sounds of Rush. We even enjoyed a few too many Canadian beers growing up.   So it’s only fitting that KikScore is excited to announce a great new partnership with a Canadian based company and global ecommerce leader.

Our friends at Shopster, the powerful ecommerce platform that has over 100,000 small business merchants, are teaming up with us to help small online businesses. KikScore is proud to launch a fully integrated trust seal offering to all of Shopster’s growing small business customer base.

Here are some facts behind the partnership:

1) Studies have shown small online businesses lose billions each year around the world because shoppers’ trust concerns with buying online;

2) Studies have shown that 63 percent of online shoppers fail to complete a transaction because of concerns about site security or trust;

3) Shoppers are increasingly seeking more information and data from online stores before those shoppers will complete purchases with these small online businesses;

4) Many small businesses have a strong track record of trustworthiness and would significantly benefit if they could show shoppers their history of reliability and stability.

Our partnership gives Shopster’s customers an opportunity to obtain KikScore’s independently verified trust score and seal. The KikScore seal along with the embedded merchant report card empowers small businesses to take their good track record and display it to shoppers and the general public. This will help these small businesses demonstrate trustworthiness and reliability to shoppers who visit their site. Shopster’s customers can then create an environment for website visitors to shop with far greater confidence. This enhanced shopper confidence means more sales for Shopster’s small business customers.

Here are more details on this exciting new partnership between Shopster and KikScore.

Also we want to say a special thanks to everyone both at Shopster, KikScore and our family and friends everywhere that helped support the launch of this fantastic partnership!

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Archive for September, 2010

Antivirus Software: A Comparison & Tips to Keep Your Computer Safe!

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

I’ve been commuting to college for a while now and I’ve noticed that in our library every newspaper except the USA Today is taken by 1:00 pm. What’s up with that? *shrugs* Anyway, guess what I’m going to talk about today!People living under rocks? No Patrick the starfish? No I’ll give you a hint. It was in the USA Today. Airline fees? Nope, I’m going to talk about Antivirus software! *fireworks* How many of you use antivirus software? *Looks around* Most of you, good. For those of you that don’t, get some! To help those of you that don’t have antivirus software or have had a trial version that’s now expired, USA Today has compared several antivirus software packages. Here’s the rundown.

  1. Microsoft Security Essentials: Remember OneCare? No? That’s ok, this is better. It’s free! You get the basics, such as anti-virus and anti-spyware. Plus it’ll scan all of your hard drives and I mean all. (I have this on my laptop and it scanned my external hard drive when I had it connected.)
  2. Immunet: $19.95, the only difference between it and Microsoft Security Essentials is you don’t get automatic updates and it also scans your email for infectious files. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Gmail already do that?
  3. Cyber Defender: $29.95 The only difference between it and Microsoft Security Essentials is no automatic updates and you get anti-phishing .

Most anti-virus software offers the same benefits. Some go further and offer website health checks, parental controls, and one, Webroot, offers to monitor your credit card usage. There are a ton of anti-virus software companies out there and that can make it confusing for those of us who want decent security. So, everyone should do their homework and find out which anti-virus software best fits their needs. Some good sites to look at are:

  1. Microsoft’s list of anti-virus software vendors, here.
  2. Google’s list, here, which includes anti-virus software for all you mac users out there.
  3. The USA Today list(see above) which compares several software vendors

One warning about free software (OK more like two), you might not get very good support and the software might not be updated very often. Make sure you check the frequency of updates before downloading. Also check the websites that you visit. Do they have a seal of authenticity, such as Kikscore’s seal? If not, be careful. For all you website owners out there, consider getting a seal.

What about the rest of you? What kind of anti-virus protection do you have?

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Archive for September, 2010

When Will Mobile Phones Replace Our Credit Cards?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

I was reading this article in the Denver Post the other day about how in 3-5 years a majority of consumers will no longer carry credit cards or cash but will instead use their phone to pay for goods.  While I am not so sure that this will be the case in such a short time period I think that consumers in the United States are definitely moving in that direction.

As this article points out, there are already convenience stores in Boulder, Colorado, and Starbucks coffee shops in Seattle that allow their customers to pay by using applications on their smart phone.  Most of the stores that currently allow shoppers to pay by phone do so through the use of a web-based account that the shopper has to pre-register for and “load” money into their account.  These consumers then bring their phone into the store and login to their account on the merchant’s website or through their “app” on their phone that displays an account number or bar code that the merchant can use to deduct the value of the goods purchased from the consumers account.  While this process is definitely a little less time consuming for both the merchant and shopper and no longer requires the shopper to carry a credit card, it really isn’t all that revolutionary to the bricks and mortar world.

Here is a new product from a company called “Square” that does have the potential to change how and where merchants and shoppers interact at a retail location: the Square Card Reader (pictured in this post).

Square is a new smartphone application for the iPhone and most Android-powered phones that allows merchants to sign-up for a free account and receive a free Square Card Reader that easily plugs into the headphone jack on their phone.  Merchants can then use the card reader to swipe a consumer’s credit card for payment or they can also just type in the credit card number into the smart phone application in order to accept payment.  The merchant is charged 2.9%-3.0% of the value of the transaction plus $0.15 for each transaction which is comparable to what other online payment companies, like Paypal, charge.  I think that Square has the ability to change how we define a “merchant” since their product makes it easier for the smallest of companies to compete with the larger players in their industry.

How popular is the Square Card Reader?  Right now Square has a special message on their website when merchant’s sign-up for a new account indicating that it could take weeks to get their reader in the mail because they currently have such a large backlog!

How do you see mobile payment systems changing the way business is done in your store?

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Archive for September, 2010

Inc. 5000 Entrepreneur & Store Owner Brian Esposito’s Tips on Growing an Online Business

Monday, September 20th, 2010

We came across Brian Esposito, the CEO of Avenue You Beauty Store,  last week and immediately knew we had to feature his great store on the KikScore blog.  Brian’s energy and passionate entrepreneurial spirit even comes across in his emails that he sends out.  We figured that the small business and startup community just needs to hear from Brian as he has so much to teach all of us.  Do not take our word for it by the way, his company was awarded by our favorite magazine Inc. the very prestigious honor of being listed as an Inc. 5000 company.  We are excited and honored here to not only have Brian share his thoughts with us here but also be one of our KikScore customers!

1. Tell us about AveYou and who you focus on serving?

AVEYOU is Your Unique Beauty Boutique.  We specialize in carrying some of the most exclusive beauty and personal care products in the industry.  Our entire concept is being all about you!  Our loyal online and in-store customers.  We focus on servicing beauty buffs around the globe.  With our extremely friendly domestic and international flat rate shipping rates we are able to put orders into our customers hands very quickly.  99.9% of all orders are processed and shipped the same day and are packed in our eco-friendly reusable AVEYOU personal shopping bag.  We are very big on personal experiences and sometimes that is very hard to accomplish with online shoppers.  Because of that we try as hard as possible to achieve that result when a shopper opens their AVEYOU box.  The box is carefully wrapped and all items are placed in the appropriate size AVEYOU Eco Friendly Reusable Shopping Bag.  Also included in that bag are samples, promotional items, coupons or special discounts on future orders, and of course the correct item(s) ordered by our shopper.    AVEYOU currently has one of the highest positively ranked feedback (check out the comments on Amazon!) in the beauty and personal care industry.  Our product selection is very important to our brand and image.  Because we specialize in very exclusive products, we try not to carry items that can be found at drug stores, discount stores, or supermarkets.  Because we do not discount or jeopardize the integrity of our brands, manufactures and vendors are at a point in our growth cycle where they want to be part of our company and be placed on our shelves, or web site.
2. How did you get your started selling online?

In 2002 we re-vamped our store and philosophy.  We created a new brand known as Avenue You.  The store was placed in Deal, NJ.  A very prominent and affluent area.  As the store opened in April sales were incredibly strong and stayed that way all summer long.  Come September we ran into a dilemma, as most of the town was filled with summer or vacation homes for those residents.  We needed a way to reach these customers all year round in order to survive.  It was then when I created and developed AVEYOU.com.  The site was mainly created to keep in touch with our local shoppers who were back to their winter homes for the season.  However because of the brands we carried any my passion for marketing and branding, customers from all over the world quickly began ordering at AVEYOU.com.  I knew we had something special and needed to be focused on and enhanced.  Because of how quickly we process and ship orders, people began talking and to this day word of mouth has been our best marketing tool.

3. What inspires you to grow the AveYou business?

Pride.  Whatever I put my name on I do all I can to ensure it doesn’t fail.  As a family owned and operated business you create a sense of home for the company and our employees.  As we began to grow and hire great employees, they also became part of our family.  We are at a point where we have created an incredible team of beauty consultants who each have so many different talents and strengths.  I have, and will continue, to do all I can to ensure each and every one of them will always have a job/home at AVEYOU.

4. If you had 2 lessons learned from your business that you could pass on to others about selling online, what are those?

The first would be to be honest.  This was my number one asset and at some times biggest downfall when creating AVEYOU.com.  The beauty industry is still filled and mostly run by its originators.  These people are threatened and do not understand the internet.  When I would go after a line I would have to spend hours and sometimes even days convincing them that the internet is a great place to be and we are not a company that would never jeopardize the integrity of your brand by discounting, diverting, or by not giving it the respect and dignity it deserves.  I am not sure about other industries, but I can still say to this day that we run into problems with manufactures not wanting their brands to be sold online.  Every vendor or manufacturer we work with, fully understands our business model and are kept 100% in the light as to what we do and where we sell.  The 2nd lesson I have learned is be fully compliant with every aspect of an online presence.  Of them I strongly suggest having a privacy policy that is backed up by a firm or organization, run your emails in an ethical and CAN-SPAM compliant manner, and make sure your site is fully PCI compliant with SSL security to not only protect yourself, but to also protect your customers who are choosing you over the thousands of other potential sellers.

5. Where has AveYou focused most of its energy this year?

While we continue to gain market share with our online presence, we are looking to once again rebrand and re-energize our store location.  We are working on a brand new prototype store that will offer more of a studio feel where our shoppers can come in, try products, have makeup, mini-facials, and nails done.  The personal experience is crucial for our brand and image.  We want our customers to feel special and of course feel beautiful.  Having more types of fun energy filled services that can be done in our boutiques will definitely create a stronger bond between our customers and AVEYOU.  Once the new prototype boutique is finalized we are looking to launch more locations in areas similar to Deal, NJ

6. What do you see as 2 new trends in for small business and in your business?

A trend we are seeing is to be careful where dollars are being spent.  Using money wiser and in areas that have a successful ROI is overshadowing the riskier areas.  Another trend is tapping into more social media platforms and applications.  Combining sites such as Facebook with applications developed by Wildfire you are very quickly able to promote coupons, contests, and/or sweepstakes.

7. If your business/store could be any movie or movie character, what movie/movie character would it be and why?

I am sure this has been used a lot in many situations but it would have to be the movie Rudy and we would be Rudy.  Every day we are met with opportunities, but also challenges.  The challenges come in many shapes and sizes.  The fortunate thing to date is that we have been able to overcome those challenges and survive.  Even through the worst of economical times our company was able to grow and become part of Inc. 500|5000 2010 list of fastest growing private companies in America.

8. If AveYou could have a dream spokesperson for your company who would it be and why?

Aishwarya Rai as she is often cited by the media as the most beautiful woman in the world.  She would make a tremendous spokesperson for AVEYOU Beauty Boutique.  Having fans and admirers all over the world and with no negative news she would be exactly the type of woman we would want relaying our brands messages and image.

9. What is the biggest challenge that AveYou faces as a small business and how do you work to overcome that challenge?

As a small business I believe our biggest challenge is gaining trust in a potential new customer.  If a shopper sees a Macys logo or a Best Buy logo they are not going to question is this a secure company/site.  As a brand that is growing, we are not mainstream and are years away from becoming a staple in the beauty industry.  We overcome that challenge by gaining one new customer at a time.  Proving to that customer we are legitimate business, that is not going to sell their name to any third parties, is going to ship their order, their most private and intimate information is in a very secure area, and if there is any problems whatsoever with their order we will do everything we can to correct it and make it right.

10. Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers and the small business community?

I know it has been a tough few years, but if you have the capabilities and mental strength do not give up.  If you strongly believe in what you are creating or have developed stand behind it 100%.  Don’t let outside influences discourage your dreams or interfere with your visions.  All you really have in this world is your beliefs.  Take that vision, access all the tools you need, build the necessary team, and then make It happen.

Thanks Brian for sharing your thoughts.

Please let us know your thoughts on this interview with Brian Esposito.

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Archive for September, 2010

Fans, Followers and Actual Customers For Your Small Business

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

I’m looking forward to the new Facebook expose movie, The Social Network.  Why?  Because if I can’t be a billionaire like Mark Zuckerberg, I may as well get to revel in a less than flattering depiction in a  “historically inspired” film.  Now let’s be clear, if KikScore becomes half as successful as facebook, I’ll act way worse than Mr. Zuckerberg.  I’ll not even mind a movie painting me to be a rich recluse.

In thinking about Facebook, its impact on our social lives is obvious.  But its impact on small business is also growing.  As with Twitter, one of the first thing a business now does is to request individuals to become a fan, follower or friend to the business.  Now its still not clear as to what that actually does for the business in terms of credibility, but it is a growing trend. But trust aside, having your customers as your social network friends/followers keeps a business closer to its customers and what they are thinking.

The real business question is which should you focus on:  Facebook or Twitter?  In a perfect world you could do both.  But in a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to update your status, it would always just say “rich and retired”.  Twitter seems to have taken the initial lead, with companies using it for customer service response.  But Facebook is coming on strong, with more companies using the multi-media demension of FB to tell more of a story than microblogging can.

So I pose the question to you:  for your small business, is it Facebook or Twitter.

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Archive for September, 2010

The Startup Team and Life Changing events

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

When your team is lean and everyone is wearing multiple hats, it causes quite the glitch in everyday functions when one (or multiple) team member experiences a life changing event. How do you prepare for it? There are some situations that are emergency impact that cannot be prepared for, but others can.

Since the inception of KikScore there have been a mixture of life changing events across the team…
— 3 new births across different team members (all first time parents),
— spousal job changes
— infants becoming toddlers
— loss of pets (and additions)
— demanding day job impacts
— and an upcoming one for me – moving cross-country to ‘the big city’ for an amazing new day job opportunity.

So how does a small night/weekend entrepreneurial company stay focused?

It is very easy for the impacted member to get caught up in the life event and KikScore takes a back seat.  While not the intention, human nature makes us selfish.

We can’t let this happen as the business would in turn suffer.  As a small team, we need to regroup and delegate items out to others  during the transition time, arming the business with communication channels to stick together and react to customer needs.

Some other tips that can prove useful are to continue to conduct weekly meetings to re-establish expectations. The team member going through the transition (me soon) should be able to commit to a once/week discussions to ensure they stay informed and can lend a hand as their life calms down and they rediscover their head.

How has your small business coped with  life changing events?  Please share your story with KikScore.

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Archive for September, 2010

Crime, crime and more crime! The Symantec Report and the huge increase in fake websites

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

“We’re baaaaak!”(cue creepy music) I thought I’d do something different by giving you the theme to the twilight zone instead of Psycho’s music.Who’s back…. cybercriminals! Yes, I know most of them didn’t go away, but according to Symantec’s latest cybercrime report, 65% percent of internet users worldwide have already been victim’s of cybercrimes(see Tech Crunch’s article). You should however, take this with a pinch of salt. Cybercrime is a threat, but Symantec’s report coincides with the release of it’s latest versions of it’s Norton software.However, the figure does seem close to the actual thing. According to the report, the US ranked third among nations whose internet users fall victim to cybercrimes. Speaking of Cybercriminals, did you know that cybercriminals are creating 57,000 fake sites per week(Security Week). (scream) Guess which ones are the top 10?(cue the quiz music!) Done? Great! The top 10 are

  1. Ebay(I’ve never been on here)
  2. Western Union
  3. Visa
  4. United Services Automobile Association(better known as USAA)
  5. HSBC(it doesn’t seem to stand for anything)
  6. Amazon
  7. Bank of America
  8. PayPal
  9. Internal Revenue Service(I knew government sites were confusing, so maybe that makes them easier to duplicate?)
  10. Bendigo bank(Anyone heard of this?)

Search engines are changing their algorithms to try and mitigate the situation. However, they can only do so much.  Here are some tips for spotting fake websites.

  1. Go look at the URL. Not sure how to spell the name? If they gave you a business card, chances are they have the site URL on it, copy it exactly. Make sure the letters and numbers in the URL look right. A difference in a single letter or number can mean it’s a different site.
  2. Make sure the links work. If you’re using chrome, you can right click and open the inspect element window and if you can read HTML scrutinize the page to your heart’s content.
  3. If a site requires personal information and you’ve never heard of the business before, visit the Better Business Bureau and see if the company is accredited.
  4. If you get an email from your bank, call them.

Anyone got any other tips?

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Archive for September, 2010

How Insomnia and the Internet Worked Together to Ruin My Credit Before My 21st Birthday

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Hello, all! (Or “Hello, none” – whatever the case may be.) My name is Isabela and I’m the newest member of the KikScore team. I am a sophomore at the University of Maryland, majoring in Waitress – uh, English – and an avid football fan. I mention the football because my Redskins kicked off their season last night against the Dallas Cowgirls. It was ugly, but it was a win, and if this first game was any indicator of the season to come…. See you all after the Superbowl. Consider this a disclaimer.

I’d like to kick off my relationship with all (or, again, none) of you by telling you a little story about my personal history with online shopping. Let’s entitle this one, “How Insomnia and the Internet Worked Together to Ruin My Credit Before My 21st Birthday” (which is in 5 months and 25 days, in case you were wondering).

I have never been good at sleeping. My father is an insomniac – sneaking out in high school was not an option – so when I stopped sleeping through the night sometime in my early teens, I didn’t find it unusual. Daytime was for wandering drowsily among the living, while the night was for reading, watching TV, and perfecting the preparation of the Velveeta grilled cheese sandwich. When, at age 16, my parents bought me my first MacBook computer, everything changed. I discovered online shopping. I used my hard-earned waitressing money – deposited into checking almost as soon as it was received – to buy things. I bought clothes, makeup, gifts –even a Wondermop (an impulse infomercial purchase at 4am on a Tuesday). My checking account balance frequently dipped into the single digits, but all my new toys provided easy consolation.

At 18, during a particularly late shopping session, I made a new discovery: financing. That’s right, folks. Did you know you can buy things and not pay for them? Two weeks after my 18th birthday, I filled out my first credit card application. Two weeks after that, the plastic arrived in the mail. I was more excited about that envelope than I had been about the one that let me into college just a few months before – this one came with goodies. Days later, I filled out a second application, and days after that, a third. And then I used them. I was vaguely aware of the existence of a thing called interest – that is, the tax you pay for the privilege of making a purchase you can’t actually afford – but what did that matter to me? All my interest was 0%! So I bought things, and it was so, so, so, so good.

Two years and some months later, I am under control. Hard work and the fear of God instilled in me by America’s financial crisis have kept my credit card balances to a minimum (compared to, say, Citibank) and I keep telling myself that one day I’ll make the shift to cash-only. I share this anecdote not as a horror story about credit – there are those whose experience has been far more damaging than mine – but simply as an example of just how easy it can be to get wrapped up in the consequences of financial decisions made on the Internet, where nothing actually exists. Don’t get me wrong – online shopping is good. It’s the future of retail and it allows informed buyers to make decisions with their banking information in front of them – a practice I support (and wish I had adopted). But for those members of my generation who are considering accepting those low-interest offers that have just recently restarted their trickle into our inboxes, my advice: take it slow. Your Capital One will still be there in the morning, and PayPal can wait. Soon, I will begin my move back to cash-only, letting my cards sit in a drawer gathering dust while I happily type my debit card number into the computer (on trusted websites only, to be sure). Yes, one day soon I’ll start to stick with cash. But not just yet. My birthday’s coming up, and I’m going to Vegas.

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Archive for September, 2010

New V. Old: Can You Trust One More Than Another?

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Experience versus Energy.  Wisdom versus Enthusiasm.  Age versus Youth.  Which is better?  Which is more trustworthy?  Very similar to the question, which is a better movie Transformers or Transformers 2, there is no easy answer.  Both have their merits. 

With a older, established company, you have a track record and proven technology.  Whatever problems they may have, the older company has established itself in a competitive market.  Established, older companies also have a lot more to lose (like the owner’s or shareholders’ assets), so they engage in less risky activity.

The newer company is more cutting edge and usually offers more services (or at least offers an easier way to access their services).  In terms of security technology, they are usually more up-to-date on the latest industry trends.  On the other side, they are hungier and, usually, more aggressive (i.e. cutting corners).  Newer and startup companies also, usually, have no money.  So they are “judgment proof”.

So, who do you trust with your business (or shopping) old companies or new ones?  Also, do you like Transformers or Transformers 2?

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Archive for September, 2010

Why I missed my first class in my first week of college

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

So, I just finished my first week at the University of Maryland-College Park.The Entrepreneurial Opportunity Analysis class I’m taking is fun;I learned that altogether Blockbuster is worth about $11 million which, apparently is a two night’s stay at a Daily Inn. I’m finding Philosophy to be difficult and History to be what we already covered in high school(so far).

My schedule’s not too bad, although I could do without the class that ends at 8:45 p.m. However, I missed my first class Wednesday because of the situation in Silver Spring. I have a  yr old brother, whose school started yesterday. Since my first class was at 3 in the afternoon, my mother asked me to watch him. So, we started from the house at two and were on the beltway when we hit traffic at a standstill. We turned on the radio(to WTOP) and heard that there was a gunman in the  Discovery Headquarters in Silver Spring. Immediately, my mother turned towards Bethesda.  Then, we called my father for directions and he told us to take the East-West Highway, which would, eventually,hit Baltimore Avenue. However, the local roads were all congested and since we didn’t know the area really well, we had to rely on my father and the maps that we had in the car for directions. We wound up getting to College Park a few minutes before my next class.

This reminded me of the Crisis Data summit I attended a few weeks back. It’s situations like these where social media becomes very useful. For example, someone  could have tweeted saying “Gunman in discovery bldg. beltway clogged. take alternate route”(Yes, this is what I think the twitter post would have looked like, except for the periods; those are mine.) Then, my father could have read it and then called us and, if we hadn’t gotten on the beltway already, we could have taken an alternate route. I anticipate that with smartphones becoming more common, a social media network will become more able to deal with these crises and everyone on that network will be fully informed of every crises that takes place.

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