Transitions: The new Borders.com

Borders2 On Memorial Day, 2008, with little fanfare, Borders Group, Inc. embarked on a new chapter novel in the history of the company.  And it was most certainly, memorable.  With a few final technical switches thrown, Borders transitioned the outsourcing of their eCommerce site from Amazon to a robust, unique and compelling Borders.com presence.  It's daunting being an internet retailer in 2008, without having access to customer information or control over the multi-channel experience.  Now Borders has brought their .com presence back inside the walls of the headquarters in Ann Arbor, MI. Welcome back home, Borders.com.

The basic design principle of the site is to create a real bookstore experience online.  In this case, the store holds nearly 3 million titles including DVDs and CDs.  In a market where Borders is trying to differentiate itself against competitors, this experience is different and more engaging.  I find myself browsing the site much like I would a store – wander in to a section and drill deeper using the guided navigation.  The Magic Shelf on the homepage gives the same feel of being in a bookstore, complete with staff picks, and goes beyond with personal recommendations based on your preferences.  The look of search results and the Magic Shelf, rich with images of cover artwork, are right in line with Borders' recent strategy to merchandise books with the covers facing out.

I'm biased, I admit it.  Brulant, my company, has played a major role in the Websphere Commerce design and development of this project, along with many other partners.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am currently the client engagement partner for Brulant's work at Borders.  Borders has been a significant client of Brulant since mid 2006.  From February 2007 until now, I personally have spent nearly full time on working with Borders as a client.  I did ask for and receive permission from Borders to blog about this event.

The best part of the culmination of years of work: I couldn't be more thrilled with the outcome.  There has been a lot of "sweat equity" invested by the entire team – Borders, Brulant and other partners alike – and it's rewarding to see it all come together.  There were some hard times and some good times, as any business partnership between two companies would go through.  In the end, there is absolutely nothing more satisfying, invigorating and motivating than when it all comes together, the team produces high quality work, the site is launched, and orders start rolling in. 

For the last several years, Borders' eCommerce team has been looking forward to doing what most eCommerce teams do – interact with customers, fine tune the user experience, adjust functionality based on web analytics and market the bejeezus out of the site.  (The site just launched officially today, so not a lot of heavy marketing of the site yet…but do a Google News search on "Borders.com" and you'll see the extensive press coverage.)  Now the team can take the reins and start the evolution of web commerce optimization.  As much as it is the end of a multi-year project, it's the beginning of a new journey for the company.  Today the entire team on site in Ann Arbor signed a copy of the first order shipped to be framed, to signify the start of that journey (see picture above).

It's a new journey for yours truly as well, as I focus on trying to do more good work for other clients while continuing to figure out ways to help Borders on their journey.  A special thank you to the entire Brulant team who worked through many project challenges and set a high bar for delivery with future clients.  Another thank you to the Borders crowd, who are a passionate and diverse group, fun to work with and gracious hosts for having our team walk the halls.  I think the thing I am most grateful for is the opportunity to continue learning, while being a part of a core strategic initiative for a retailer.  Thank you and Congratulations, job well done.

Special thanks to Kevin Ertell, VP of eBusiness for Borders, for encouraging me to post about this event here. 

UPDATE: Here is Brulant's official press release related to our role with the new Borders.com. 

Please check out the new Borders.com – it is a different experience than your traditional online bookseller.  Feedback, suggestions, comments are welcome. 

The New Borders.com

Using Friendfeed, Caught in a Social Media Turbine

I decided to check out Friendfeed, perhaps because of some of the outages of Twitter recently but also because I'm not an early adopter – but I'd like to be one day.  I think.  In a few short minutes I was caught in a vicious cycle, and it's probably because I'm not leveraging some of these tools properly.

Either way, here is what happened the last time I logged into FriendFeed, which is best read as if you are the guy from the MicroMachines commercials of the 1980s:

– In Friendfeed, I spot a Twitter post from a friend with a link to a cool blog post
– Read blog post, bookmark on del.icio.us
– Spot same blog post on Google reader 
– Share it on Facebook
– Facebook feeds automatically to my Plaxo account
– Get comment from Plaxo feed on how cool that post is
– I read comment in Gmail
– I respond in Twitter about cool blog post comment and go back to Friendfeed
– In Friendfeed, I spot a an annoucement about Friendfeed mobile
– I try Friendfeed mobile and send a txt message to my Facebook status, which updates in Twitter and posts on Friendfeed and syncs to Plaxo which sends me a notification email that my Friend's Tweetfeed shared a link on Googletwit… suddenly I'm in one of those awful AT&T commercials and I find myself in Googleplaxifacetwhirlfeediliciouseesmic.

Now I think I will go check that in as my location on Brightkite.

A Different Use for LinkedIn: Alumni Relations

Linkedinalumni About a year and a half ago, I left Accenture to join Brulant.  It was a big career change as I had been with Accenture (previously Andersen Consulting) since graduating college.  The opportunity to work at Brulant opened many new doors, but I also have deep respect and admiration for the people I had an opportunity to work with at Accenture.

Yesterday I received an invite through LinkedIn, as a reminder to reconnect to their alumni network site and "check in."  I'm used to the connection requests and "Can you recommend someone who…" requests, but this one was different.  It was a unique landing page within LinkedIn that was a simple redirect to register for the alumni network.  The page includes a drawing for an iPod Touch and some flash content of stories from other alums.

In addition to employee engagement, Accenture is leveraging a great tool like LinkedIn for alumni engagement.  Knowing how many folks are using LinkedIn (including recent data on a 361% year over year increase), and the high probability that those folks who left Accenture have a profile, this is a smart, simple and innovative way to reconnect with alumni.  Nice work. 

Does your company have a relations program with your alumni, and is it a good one?

Alltop: Aggregation That’s Easy on the Eyes

Alltop I saw a post from Facebook friend David Hinson recently that suggested to get your blog listed at Alltop, all you need to do is send an email to Guy Kawasaki, the well known enterpreneur and venture capitalist in silicon valley.  Sure, it's that simple.  And I have an offshore account in Kuala Lumpur where I will wire you $500K if you just send me your checking account routing number and your social security number.

Blogging for me is a hobby, a way to force me to think about the world outside of day to day challenges in consulting.  I know I don't write as often as I should.  I've had this blog up and running for a few months now, I'm enjoying writing, but I can't truly say I'm a blogger.  So when I got a response from Guy merely 5 minutes after a late night email, saying, "We'll add you to socialmedia.alltop.com.  Your stuff is good," I consider that a significant boost of confidence to continue writing and seeing where this leads.

Alltop is a content aggregator site that Guy created more or less on a whim, seeing the success in driving traffic to some of his other sites from other aggregators like popurls.com.  Alltop has many categories and doesn't have an 'algorithm' – there is a staff manually reviewing content and placing it on each page to give it a human element of what they recommend.  (My suggestion would be to add a Digg like feature to perhaps build up credibility in some of the content, but what do I know).  You can read more about Alltop here.  With a "persuasive email" you too can be included in their directory, in exchange for adding banners like this:Alltop, confirmation that I kick ass 
or the one I included on the right.

Thanks again Guy, for:
a) being responsive,
b) including me (it will definitely give me incentive to continue writing and focusing on providing the best content that I can), and
c) creating a cool new way to get at information rather than trying to follow blogrolls, del.icio.us links and other informal ways of finding good blogs and news sources to read.

Have you checked out Alltop yet?  Here's a screenshot of this blog post from http://socialmedia.alltop.com:

Myblogonalltop

Don’t Let the Packaging Fool You: Tropicana and Poland Spring

Paint Water and orange juice are two of my favorite drinks.  My family just bought a Poland Springs water cooler to put in my kitchen.  I love fresh squeezed OJ with a great Sunday morning breakfast while reading the Boston Globe. My kids hate the pulp so we buy Tropicana OJ, which to me is remarkably consistent and tastes great.  Recently I noticed both of these brands try to pull a fast one, or at least it appears so to me.

Each company has been recently hyping up changed packaging while the customer pays more for the product.  I’m all for fancy retail packaging, but when you change the container and reduce the amount of product for the same price then I think customers should be warned. 

Img00084First, Tropicana.  Tropicana is playing a lot in interactive marketing with the launch of their Tropicana Pure product line.  This link, to a site trying to tie sight and sound online to drinking expensive juice in real life, has been going around Twitter with a title of "OJ porn" (no, not that OJ): http://www.tropicanapure.com/.  Perhaps Tropicana is just trying to change their image to a more premium juice, who knows.  Admittedly I don’t have all my facts together here, but I have been buying the juice in large plastic (recyclable) containers for quite some time.  The old package had 96 oz and used to cost around $5 when not on sale.  It was heavy and had a large circular pouring spout.  The new "improved" pouring technology, including a kinder, gentler handle and an oval instead of round spout, costs $4.99 as you can see here in this photo I took today at the market (yes, I drove there to make a point).  How much juice fits in this new-supposed-to-improve-my-drinking-experience container?  89 oz.  That’s seven ounces less.  I noticed the market quickly phased out the old 96 oz container.  So now Tropicana is making a few more margin points on juice, and I’m starting to question whether it’s worth it.

PolandspringsSecond, and perhaps more noticeable, Poland Spring.  Before we bought the 3-gallon-jugs-piling-up-in-my-garage delivery service, we would buy single gallons.  You know, those typical containers that milk comes in, which invariably cause 4-year-olds to spill half the container on the kitchen table when they try to pour on their own.  $1.29 for one, can’t beat that (unless you have figured out that tap water is just fine).  Poland Spring recently launched a clear container that is ergonomic (although I would say arguably harder to pour when full) and stackable.  If you are in the habit of buying large amounts of single gallon containers, are short on storage space and hate foggy plastic – these containers are for you!  Except they will cost you more per gallon.  Sure, they are also $1.29 each, but they contain less water.  They are sold side by side in Stop & Shop.  It costs $1.63 per gallon (unit price) for the same water, new fancy container.

Don’t be duped – fancy packaging doesn’t always mean a better product, and the same price doesn’t always mean the same amount of the product.  In this case, it means we are just going to pay more if we buy it.  Do you buy it?  What other packaging dupes are out there?  Is anyone from either of these companies listening?

(photo credit: dreamsjung via flickr)

When Customer Service Is Not Just a Clever Name

Custsvc_3Lately there have been a lot of stories about customer service and customer relations foul-ups.  A couple of notable blog posts recently are Seth Godin’s frustrations parking his Prius and one regarding jetBlue, including engaging the former jetBlue CEO in the blog comments.  I’m guessing that everyone has had those moments – my dad likes to call his persona for taking on a customer service mishap "The Director of Retribution." (He’s become the subject matter expert on writing letters directly to the CEO of companies and getting a response).

I also spotted Chris Brogan’s brief post on sincerely thanking Contintenal Airlines, and I thought I’d also take a minute to jot down three positive customer service stories that happened to me recently.

  • I also had a great experience with Continental Airlines.  Two days before a recent flight from Boston to Cleveland, I received a call from customer service mentioning the flight was oversold.  The rep asked me if it was OK to move me from my upgraded-due-to-status first class seat to an exit row seat in coach in exchange for 2 free one-way upgrade coupons and a $300 credit for future travel.  This is a 90 minute flight which I take often – getting bumped up to first class is cool but frankly a perk.  The fact that they called with an offer already in hand was both surprising and refreshing.
  • I am addicted to my Blackberry.  I should probably seek counseling, but I digress.  Last week, the earpiece speaker (not the speakerphone) suddenly stopped working.  I went to an AT&T Wireless store prepared for the worst, having to buy a new one, since I didn’t have replacement insurance.  At the store, the sales rep was extremely helpful.  He looked up my account and saw that my 1 year warranty had expired 2 weeks ago.  He called their customer service line directly in the store, and after a few minutes they had agreed to replace my phone and consider it still under the warranty.  Rather than wait for a replacement in the mail, I went to a service center down the street.  When I walked in and gave them my name, they took my phone and 10 minutes later handed me a new one with all my data replicated.  It was a seemless transaction and I was able to head out the next day on a business trip without an issue.  Nice job, AT&T.
  • I picked up bagels Sunday morning at Cafe Fresh bagels around the corner from home.  The owner always greets customers with a smile and recognized me from a visit about a month earlier with my sons.  I ordered a dozen, he threw in 3 extra bagels "for the kids."  It wasn’t neccessary – he’s running the only local bagel shop around.  Going that little extra distance made me feel good about coming back next week.

There are good stories out there too, and while blogs and other social media tools can be used to influence or call out customer service mishaps, they can be used to reinforce the good stories too.  Do you have a good customer service story to share?

Photo credit: RW Photobug via Flickr