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Archive for the ‘Data and Information Analysis’ Category

KikScore Update: Acting on Feedback, Our Product Enhancements for Online Sellers & Ecommerce Stores

Friday, February 5th, 2010

KikScore - Online Trust Score

As a startup with  a new product, we at Kikscore have mentioned here a number of times the importance that we and others have stressed on taking user feedback and comments and then acting on them.   If your business and management stick your head in the ground and think you know the market better than your customers, you have a very low chance of succeeding as a business, especially a startup.  We know our product may not be perfect, but as we mentioned earlier this week instead of waiting for perfection we decided as a company that we wanted to push Kikscore out to market in beta form in late 2009 so we could get feedback from online sellers and e-commerce users that had stores.

So here we are in early 2010.  Where are we with the KikScore product? Well here is an update on some of the recent key changes and enhancements we have made to the KikScore product.  These changes came directly from our users, the community and other generous friends, family members and colleagues that took the time to sign up and use our product or take a look at live users of the KikScore product.

1. Load & Uptime Improvements – We improved response and load times of every KikScore seal and KikReport that resides on an online seller’s site.   Uptime for the seals is now the best it has ever been and we will continue to monitor KikScore seal uptimes as we know the importance that has for our customers.

2. Updated User Interface & Look and Feel – We updated the look and feel of the tabs on the KikReport.  This included making the look and feel of Management and Shopping Security tabs easier to read and to include even more easy to use information about a seller’s business, website, background and track record of trustworthiness.  The user interface for the KikReport and some of these tabs was also updated based on feedback so shoppers could easily recognize and interpret the information and data presented in the KikReport of a seller.

3. Updated Comment Platform – We modified and enhanced the comment management platform on the merchant’s KikReport making it even easier for comments about a shopper’s experience to be displayed to online visitors to a small business website.

4. Updated Seal – The KikScore seal has been updated based on both seller and shopper feedback to make the initial KikScore seal that resides on a seller’s website easier to read and interpret.

5. Easier Sign-Up– We listened to our beta users and have made the KikScore sign-up process for merchants more intuitive and easy for merchants.

6. Scoring Model Updates – Based on the data and feedback we continue to receive, we are also making enhancements along with updates to our scoring model that analyzes the trustworthiness and reliability of small businesses, online sellers and merchants.

These are just some of the enhancements and updates to the KikScore product.  We continue to solicit and receive feedback.  During the coming months, you will not only see more enhancements and updates but also much more.  We cannot go into too much detail in the “much more” but the next few months will be exciting for our customers, new customers, the community and the market (and us too!).

Let us know what you think about our enhancements and updates. Also feel free to send us more feedback on KikScore. We love it.

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Archive for the ‘Data and Information Analysis’ Category

7 Steps to Increase Trust for More Online Sales

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Do shoppers think my store is a safe place to make an online purchase?

Nearly all small businesses face a common challenge.  This challenge is demonstrating to potential customers that your small business is credible, trustworthy and has a track record of success and delivering products and services.  This challenge is typically derived from the fact that when someone gets to a small business website, they often do not have any indication whether they can trust that small business if the shopper wants to buy from that business.

Further complicating matters for small businesses online, is the constant threat of fraud and misuse of personal and financial information that weighs heavily on online users minds.  This fear of shoppers online is real and tangible.  In fact, a  Javelin Strategy & Research study found that the fear of identify theft and online shopping in general cost retailers over $21 billion in lost sales in 2008.

A June 2009 McAfee’s study showed that 92 percent of consumers are concerned about their security when shopping on new or unknown websites. Further, that study found that 63% of shoppers will not purchase from a web site that does not display a  security policy or other indications of trustworthiness.  A 2009 Verisign Security Report also found that nearly 50% of internet users avoid buying online due to concerns that their financial information will be stolen. The report also found that 83% of internet users want assurances that their information will be secure.

These concerns are getting the attention of all types of businesses, including industry giants like Microsoft.  Scott Charney, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Trustworthy Computing, said at the 2009 RSA Security Conference that  “When [shoppers] visit Web sites, they don’t know if that Web site is to be trusted or not. For all of these reasons we need End-to-End Trust.”

Steps for Small Business to Demonstrate Trust

Shoppers concerns with buying online are well documented and the data supports those concerns. The good news is that there are some simple steps that all small businesses can take to demonstrate trust on their website to shoppers:

1. Management/Owner Information:  Be transparent to your shoppers. Prominently display under a Management tab the names of the owners of your business.   Make sure you add some background information on that manager/owner.  You can even include  it in story form.   This information gives shoppers comfort that there is a real person behind your business and makes it more personal.

2. Use Online Video to Virtually Introduce Yourself: A hot new trend is using online videos, through a YouTube clip, that introduces the management of your small business to shoppers and potential customers.  Here are some good tips in this prior post on using videos to build trust and credibility for your small business on your website.

3. Contact Information: Another way to build trust is to clearly and prominently display contact information including phone number and email addresses for customer service and management contacts.  By showing shoppers that they can contact you in case there are any product or service issues, you give them comfort that your business is accessible.

4. Return, Shipping, Customer Service & Data Policies: It is important that you clearly provide a list of your return, shipping, customer service and data protection policies.  It is important enough that small businesses should consider devoting a whole tab or area of their website where shoppers can visit and see what are the policies for your business.  Again the goal here should be the more information about these policies the better.

5. Trust and Validation Marks/Seals:  The 2009 Verisign Security Report found that 86% of online shoppers feel more confident about entering personal and financial information with sites that have some type of security indicators, such as trustmarks.   A few seals provides much of the information that is covered in this post through just one seal that resides on an online store’s website. Look for those seals.

6. Customer Feedback: Show that you can be trusted and also let people know your track record with customers by publishing comments about your product, service and business.

7. Actively Engage Customers: Use social media sites and tools like Twitter, Facebook and a blog to profile your business, create a tangible brand and personality and also engage customers.  These conversations with your customer and the community give shoppers a more complete, in-depth and intimate look into your business.  These conversations and having them like we have covered in previously posts via Twitter and your blog only make your business more credible.

Also one of our favorites, Inc Magazine has a good article on this same topic of online trust and you should check that out too.

If you start using these tips, your business and your website will go a long way to clearly demonstrating trust to shoppers and thereby helping you increase sales.

Please tell us in the comments section below what you look for before you buy online.

*Image from Bill Mullins Blog.

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Archive for the ‘Data and Information Analysis’ Category

Is Cyber Monday the New Black Friday? And Will My Brother Get a New Coat?

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

80s coat

An interesting phen0menon occurred during the kickoff of the holiday shopping season (two phenomenons, actually, if you count the fact that I found a sweater that doesn’t make me look fat).  With most of the focus on the bricks-and-mortar retail sales, which appear to be up very modestly, online sales on both “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” were very strong.  So there is a big question hanging out there (besides the question if 40 is really the new 30 — man, I hope so) — Is Cyber Monday the new Black Friday?

In terms of raw numbers, of course Cyber Monday hasn’t yet replaced the mall.  But in terms of predictiveness, which is more predictive?  Year over Year, offline sales for Black Friday were up 1.6%, with YOY online sales on Black Friday being up approximately 11%.  Then big event, Cyber Monday, showed a 5% increase from 2008 and is the biggest day of sales since tracking of this hallowed day began five years ago. 

So what gives? Are we going to have a flat or booming holiday season?  While the numbers cited above are interesting, there is only one way to handle this type of question in the blog world…anecdotal information!  My brother was in town and, according to my wife, his winter coat was from the 1980s.  While retro is good, you actually have to buy new clothes that look old…it just doesn’t work holding onto your old stuff. 

We hit the malls and it was busy, but according to the Nordstrom and Macy’s sales staff, the Black Friday crowd was similar to a normal Saturday crowd.  There’s not a lot of inventory for winter wear, so we head to REI.  We find the coat, but Dang! it’s pricey.  Being good shoppers, we use the time to find a jacket type my brother likes and my wife barely approves (he’s now moved up to the late 1990s). 

We then go home and hit the online sites for deals.  We find the coat on a great site, BackCountry.com, get 25% off with free shipping (you should check out their blog).  So the offline retail stores acted as a very expensive closet that then benefited the online site.  So, according to my exhaustive research, I think the initial numbers are misleading, and we will have a surprisingly good holiday season.

What are you seeing out there?  Also, is it time for you to update your winter wear?

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Archive for the ‘Data and Information Analysis’ Category

Making the Grade

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Our entire lives we are graded… from that first math test in elementary school through to cramming for the SAT/ACT’s… not to mention our parents own grade scale (in my house, aka the guilt trip) in determining if our behavior is worthy and success is likely as we venture out into the world. Even in Kindergarten I remember getting the U=Unsatisfactory in conduct because I couldn’t stop talking to my friend Beth during story hour. I remember my first B… It was 5th grade and I was convinced that my teacher was an idiot and I boycotted going back. Thankfully my mom (yes guilt trips can work wonders) convinced me otherwise.

The fact is, we are graded for everything and those ranges still apply to business… at KikScore, we’ve created our own range based upon the multitude of information being analyzed within our scoring model. The algorithm that keeps us math geeks going.  Yet, in the end, it’s still a ‘grade’… how does a consumer know that a site hasn’t hired a ‘front’ that is a false impersonator? Remember Making the Grade from 1984? Don’t be fooled!

I’ve shared below some guidelines to help with the comparison on what each KikScore range means. Merchants will strive for what works for them… but will it make the grade that brings customers??

Positive = KikScore Range 1000-600 (A’s-B’s)
• A merchant that openly shares information about the owners/managers of the company. This equates to full transparency and a desire to have their customers know them.
• A strong financial history shows that the merchant has made sound decisions, which promotes they can be trusted.
• The KikScore seal includes a Customer Feedback section. Merchants who consistently receive positive customer feedback display strong commitment to customer satisfaction.
• Pride in their website in establishing policies that protect consumers and provide highest levels of security

Average = KikScore Range 600-300 (Covers all the C‘s)
• Merchant that shares minimal information about the owners/managers of the company.
• Managers/Owners who have mid-range financial history may indicate that the merchant has made risky decisions over time. This promotes a sense of caution from a potential shopper.
• Minimal concern for consumer protection by establishing minimal policies and limited security within their website

Poor = 300 and below (D on down… or ‘U’ – Ouch)
• None or very little information is shared on the owners/managers of the company
• If information is shared, there is negative financial history (or minimal overall) which may indicate the merchant has made bad decisions over time and a potential indication that they could be shady.
• Negative feedback posted from previous customers indicates that the merchant hasn’t worked to make changes to remedy such customer concerns.
• No policies or security within their website indicates no concern for consumer protection and they are only out to make a profit

It is a Buyer Beware world as Raj shared in a recent post Cyber Monday. With KikScore we strive to provide avenues for merchants to succeed in selling online… but it’s their decision in the end on what to focus on and pave the way for their customer’s experience. Oh, and that B I got back in 5th grade… well, I studied harder and finished the year with an A.

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Archive for the ‘Data and Information Analysis’ Category

5 Must Read Tips for Safe Shopping on Cyber Monday and Beyond

Monday, November 30th, 2009

I was sitting around the dinner table this Thanksgiving telling friends and family about KikScore and a recurring story kept being told by different people. Multiple friends and family relayed horror stories of bad online shopping experiences.  These were just a few of the issues that they experienced:

  • incorrect credit card charges that were never fixed by the retailer;
  • others complained about never receiving their products that they bought from an online store;
  • still others talked about bad experiences with returning products that they purchased; and
  • there were complaints about having no contact information for the online stores so these shoppers had no way of contacting the store when there was an issue with the product.

These complaints do not even include the biggest fears of online shopping which often are worries about identify theft or compromised credit cards.  The common theme in these complaints is that shoppers wished they had more information before the bought from an online retailer.  Armed with that additional information, the shopper thought they would have been able to make a better choice of where to buy from at that time. This is especially the case when you are buying from small businesses that often offer better pricing than the larger retail chains that have online stores but often lack any significant information about the small business.

So with today being Cyber Monday (and I learned it is also the start of hunting season in my wife’s home state of PA so especially for folks in PA your safe tip for today is stay off the streets and on your computer to avoid being caught in the crossfire), here are some online shopping tips I gave friends and family. These tips will allow you, just prior to an online purchase, to quickly help gather key pieces of information so you can make a more informed shopping decision on Cyber Monday and in the future.

1. Contact Information: Make sure that the online store has contact information and preferably a phone number and/or email address so if there is an issue/question that arises post transaction you can contact the store.  Generally this information is under the “Contact Us” tab of a store’s websiste.  Remember phone numbers are generally better than email addresses and email addresses are better than no contact information at all.

2. Return Policy: Look for information regarding the store’s return policy.  This is important for you so you can understand what, if any, policy the store has about handling returns.  Be careful of stores that do not list a return policy or at least acknowledge that returns are accepted.

3. Management/Owner Information:  Look for information about who is the owner of the store.  An online store should provide information about who owns the online store, including their names and ideally some background information on that manager/owner.  I call it their story.  Here is a good example of a store at 17thandRiggs.com that provides information about the owners of the online store. This information gives shoppers comfort that there is a real person behind this store and it is not a fraud site. Some sites even have online videos that introduce the management to shoppers.  This is a good prior post on the use of videos to build credibility for your online store.

4. Trust and Validation Marks/Seals: When you go to a site, there should be some type of third party validation and trust mark that a store can provide a shopper.  These trust and validation marks run the gamut, but check them out and click on them before you buy. They provide different types of information about the store such as whether customer information is stored securely, whether the store’s website is scanned for vulnerabilities, where the store is located, and whether there are privacy and customer service policies.  The stores that have trust and validations marks that provide the greatest amount of information often are considered credible and reliable stores.  A few seals even provide much of the information that is covered in this post through just one seal that resides on an online store’s website. Look for those seals.

5. Customer Feedback: The online store that you are about to buy from should have some customer feedback.  Stores today thrive on this feedback.  Now, buyer beware there are ways to game customer feedback.  Its not hard to have friends or even the store’s owners themselves submit fake feedback.  So be wary of all positive feedback for a site.  With that caveat, online stores should have some feedback mechanism that you should be able to review to see what other purchasers experienced when buying from that store.

6. Bonus Tip – Your Own Internet Search: Use tools such as Domain Tools to quickly research the history of a website.  This is helpful because if the store says its been around for 20 years and you see that the store’s website was just registered last year then that should be a red flag. Also Domain Tools will tell you if that site you are just about to buy from is actually based in Nigeria when they claim they are in the beautiful, Buckeye State of Ohio. Again, this is a quick way to do your own diligence.

Next  do a quick Google search of the store’s entire website name (i.e. www.ClevelandSportsChampionshipTshirts.com) and the management’s name and see what comes up in Google. You can find out a lot about a store from an online search including their Twitter postings, Facebook etc.  Why is this important?  Because it will give you comfort that this is a legitimate store and that there are multiple avenues for you to communicate with the store, if something goes wrong. Also you may come across blog postings about the store which will give you even more feedback about the store.

Lastly, if you have concerns on whether the site is legitimate you can always check out a great tool at Compete.com that will allow you to review the traffic history for an online store.  If there is little to no traffic to the site and the store claims that thousands of people buy every day from the store, then that should be a red flag for you as well.

Start using these tips and hopefully you will have a safe and happy holiday shopping experience online.  Feel free to share if you have any additional safe shopping tips.

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Only Through Consistency Can You Avoid Being "Best in Coat"

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Bo: Winner of Best in Coat

All dog owners think they have the greatest dog — but until today, I was convinced that mine was truly “the one”.  At home, Bo (our 5 year old Golden Retriever) is well behaved.  He’s never on the furniture, doesn’t beg from strangers and overall is low-maintenance.  I take Bo to doggy day care (check out www.citybark.com— greatest dog day care ever).  He’s been going there since he was 3 months old.  Recently, City Bark designated certain “dog awards” for the regular attendees.  Needless to say, I thought we had “Best Dog” locked up (due to his general disposition and my lobbying of the title).  Well, the votes came in and Bo was given the title “Best Coat”.  What?!  Is that even a category?  It feels like someone in the Miss America competition winning “Best Smile”.  It’s a made up award and really is saying, “your dog is terrible, but we want you to keep bringing your dog here.”  That’s when it hit me.  My experience with Bo is vastly different than City Bark’s.

Providing a consistent customer experience has to be the number one priority for all businesses, but particularly small businesses that are establishing a brand and customer following.  While a consistent marketing message is important, according a to a recent Business Week article, more importantly is to meet your customers expectations(not necessarily exceeding expectations).  Small businesses that consistently meet customer expectations don’t stay small for long.  Think about Starbucks.  It’s guaranteed that Starbucks doesn’t have the best coffee in every city in which it operates.  But when you’re not a local (or you don’t want to risk it on the local shop), more often than not, you’ll go to Starbucks because they are excellent in meeting a customers expectations on a soy latte.  I’m not suggesting that the goal of every small business is to become a multi-national corporation, but there is a reason why these established brands are successful.  They stress consistency because that is often deemed more important than creativity or a superior product/service.

Please feel to share what your business does to maintain consistency…or if you disagree with the need to emphasize consistency.  Or, if you think “Best in Coat” is a legitimate prize that I can take pride in.

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Sell Online? Signup for KikScore 's Free Beta Service

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Try KikScore Free

We here at KikScore want to help small e-tailers and online merchants succeed by selling more.  So we launched a new product late last month that allows small online businesses the ability to demonstrate to online shoppers that their business is trustworthy, reliable and has a trackrecord of success.

How does demonstrating trust help your store out?  Shoppers often look for signs of trust before they buy from an online store. (We discussed this issue here and here previously)  So why not give those shoppers information that directly relates to how trustworthy your business is.

The KikScore service allows you to take both publicly available information and verified information about your business and directly display it to online shoppers on your website.   The information is displayed through a dynamic KikScore seal that is continually being updated.  And even better, all of that information then gets scored and you can display your trust score to your shoppers.  Its like presenting shoppers a continually updated report card about your business. Now, just like in the 6th grade, you can get cash from more customers, in return for your good report card!

Sign Up Information

Please try us out. The service is free for a limited time.  Don’t worry, we will give you at least 60 days notice before we start to to charge for the product and you can cancel at any time.  You can sign up your business here.

Its a no lose situation for you business.  Try out our FREE service that allows your store to demonstrate trust so you can increase sales.

Examples of Some Merchants Using KikScore Seals

If you are wondering how the KikScore seal looks.  Here are three sites that are using the seal:

Interactive Security Group (KikScore’s parent company)



Click here for a free sign ups for the KikScore service.  And come back and tell us what you think in the comments. Also check out the new KikScore video!

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Lexis Survey Finds that Small Businesses Drink the Ratings Kool-Aid

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

A new survery from LexisNexis and Martindale Hubble provided a very interesting trend amoung small businesses and their use and perceptions of rating sites.  According to the survey, small businesses rely on rating and review sites — for service and product choices — at a rate that is double the average consumer.  This is in despite of the fact that these same small business owners indicate a couple of things: (1) that the normal review sites are easily biased by positive or negative reviews; and (2) the reviews can easily be faked by the businesses being reviewed.

Why do small businesses find review sites to be of such value when they can be manipulated?  Despite these short-comings, reviews allow for much needed guidance in aggregating data and sorting out, in relatively quick fashion, where to get your goods and services.  Another point that the survey reveals is what something we already know (so it’s really a stretch to say it’s “revealing” anything) — that not all ratings are created equally.  More trust is put into the rating if (a) its from a independent third party; and (b) is based, in part, on actual customer feedback (but again, for some of these review sites, it can be hard to know if the data is from real customers or the reviewed business faking the review).

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Algorithms — They're Not Just For Big Businesses Anymore

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Thanks to the internet, online buyers and sellers have access to a lot of data to help guide their buying and selling decisions.  Finding the average price of a 1984 Chevy Citation (my first car) is a couple of clicks away.  But the problem with data is that it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  As I mentioned in a previous post, online reviews often suffer from grade inflation, and determining a reliable trend really requires thousands of transactions — not really possible for individual buyers and sellers.  So though it is easier than ever to gather information, that has just resulted in information overload.  This isn’t really a unique problem.  Big businesses have faced this issue for quite some time.  What’s their answer?  Scoring models with sophisticated algorithms.  Or stated more simply, math.

Though our interest in math prevented us from being very popular in high school, it has allowed us to create complex risk models for many types of decisions that big businesses face.  So why not use our nerdy interests to help small businesses sell online and provide comfort to shoppers that would like to buy from a small business, but isn’t sure of the shopping experience he/she will face?  That’s exactly what we did.  I can’t get into the details of the scoring m0del, or others (much like the popular kids in highschool) will just steal our homework.  But in general terms, KikScore takes public information about the online business (e.g. site security, traffic, links, domain registration, privacy policies, consumer reviews) and joins it with permitted information about the business owner (e.g. financial stability, public records)  — ultimately creating a tailored recommendation of the shopping experience to be expected.  This helps potential customers feel more comfortable doing business with a lesser-known small business.  Math…leveling the playing field for online sellers and bolstering trust for online shoppers.  Take that, Geography!

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WSJ Article — Online Reviews Suffer From Grade Inflation

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

A recent Wall Street Journal Article examined a troubling trend with online shopping reviews — that these reviews benefit from higher grade inflation than a star power forward at Duke.  As Geoffrey Fowler and Joesph De Avila write, the average review given is 4.3/5 stars.  There are a handful of explanations offered for this trend, including  psychological — people are more likely to remember positive experiences.  But the most interesting reason offered is that critical reviews are removed from the calculation and reviewers are repeatedly critical are barred from some sites.  While this practice definitely skews the reliability of these reviews, I’m sure it’s similar to the corrective action taken when a rogue Spanish professor tries to fail that same Duke power forward for skipping language lab.  It’s simply not going to happen — or if it does happen, that Spanish professor will not be teaching at Duke very long.

Back to the point.  While shopper/user reviews can be very helpful, if the grade inflation persists, they will just become an empty marketing tool.  Continuing the academia analogy, using these inflated reviews to make shopping decisions (and who to share your personal information with) will be like getting a medical referral from the hacky-sack playing hippie who is in the 7th year of his Pre-Med undergrad.  I’ll go easy on our product pitch, but the ability for these reviews to be marked up (or less than objective) was a big motivation to create KikScore.  More on that later.  Until then, let’s all start providing realistic shopper reviews.

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