Sramana: Where did you turn to obtain subscribers for your print catalogue?
Mercia Tapping: In terms of marketing the catalogue, we used our own customer database, which was substantial.
Sramana: How many customers do you have?
Mercia Tapping: In theory, we had over 50,000 new customers a year. Not all of them want to hear from us. We have over 100,000 customers who want to receive our catalogue. Like every other catalogue retailer, we work with an outside list management consultant to maintain those databases and help increase our subscriber base.
Sramana: You manage four different brands, each with its own website. Can you talk about the strategy behind that?
Mercia Tapping: One of the things I learned early on in my career as an entrepreneur is that you try not to be a one-trick pony. I felt some of the products I wanted to sell would be better sold under another brand rather than having them under Allergy Buyers Club, the original website. I had a long-term interest in green products. Along the way I had become interested in natural approaches to pain relief. That is what brought about the other websites. The newer websites have not been as successful as the original website.
Sramana: What percentage of revenue is from Allergy Buyers Club?
Mercia Tapping: Over 80% of total revenue ties back to Allergy Buyers Club.
Sramana: Can you offer a breakdown of how customer acquisition comes from all of your marketing channels including affiliate programs?
Mercia Tapping: It is hard to break the figures out in a clean way because people who receive a catalogue then go online and access us through paid and natural search methods. The figures are confounded a bit by those user actions. I estimate that 50% of our business comes from natural search, 20% to 25% from the catalogue, 20% from paid search and 5% from everything else.
Sramana: What is your strategy when it comes to paid search?
Mercia Tapping: The paid search strategy always involves a careful process. We look up the conversion rate of the landing pages associated with paid search. We are always trying to tweak those. We pay attention to the headlines and make them very specific. We are going to go into a trial program at Google where we will show pictures of the products in paid search. It will be interesting to see how that turns out. When it comes to paid search, we do focus on optimizing long-tail keywords. We maintain a list with thousands of them. It is a complicated thing to do.
Sramana: What about competition these days? Competition has changed over the past 10 years. If you do a search on steam cleaners today, you are not necessarily in the top three.
Mercia Tapping: It has become a lot more competitive. The amount people are willing to pay for search results is at times outrageous. We look at things based on a return on investment. You may get the sales, but unless they are profitable sales, it is not worth the gain.
We have been around for a long time, so we have very good relationships with manufacturers. They will give us closeouts that they do not give to other companies. They will give us the ability to offer special added value to our customers. They give us products before other people get them. They may have products that they do not allow every Internet dealer in their stable to have. We have had manufacturers give us a model that they do not give other people, including private labels. It requires a lot of effort, but that is how we stay ahead of the game.
We also find that new manufacturers may come along that we will regard as stable. We will let them launch the product through us. It takes a while for other people to get the product from that manufacturer.