Data & Analysis

Thanks to my trusty new employee, I’ve finally been able to get some time off so that I can actually get some work done on a number of areas that have been neglected.  In particular, business analysis and review.

In many ways, as an online business we have access (and easier access!) to more data than  most brick & mortar (B&M) stores do.  Simple things (for us) like visitor count, conversion rates (% of visitors who buy), time in store and what they view are much more difficult for a B&M store to quantify. And while the systems we use to quantify that information have an error rate, it’s generally a consistent error rate.

Data

Data collection is quite simple when you are running an online business. A lot of it gets stored automatically (unless you specifically decide not to store that information, like credit card numbers in our case. Hint, hint Sony) somewhere in our servers.  Other information, for example, visitor logs – we have to consciously decide to  gather.

Perhaps the most important part of data collection is deciding what you want to do with the data so that it can be analysed later.  A B&M store that has a security camera trained on the entrance technically has collected the data on footfall in the store.  However, it’s not particularly easy for figuring out how many.

As such, when putting in place your data analysis procedures, think about what you’re going to do with the data as well.  Quite often, when using an off-the-counter package (whether it’s your accounting software for expenses / income reports or an analytics package); it’ll come with in-built reporting capabilities.  Understanding the capabilities of the software you use in this regard is extremely important.

 Analysis

So you got a ton of information.  Now what? The hard part isn’t getting the data or even extracting some useful information. It’s analysing it to give you actionable analyses.  Think of it this way – it’s not much good knowing how many people come into your store, the question is, what are you going to do about it?

An Example

Recently, I’ve been going over our sales figures and what we sell.  It’s a LOT of information, and the difficulty is pulling the data together in a meaningful way and then drawing meaningful analysis of it.

One of the things we’ve worked out is that we have a huge number of sales in the $30 – 40 range.  That’s mostly from Settlers of Catan obviously, not particularly surprising.  However there are a number of games as well within that range, so it’s not just Settlers.

The question is, what do you do with that information? It’s not as if we can sell more copies of Settlers to our existing customer base.  So what’s the use of that information? Well, here’s a few things we thought of:

  • Promote the Settlers of Catan 5 & 6 expansion more
  • Increase the number of games in the ‘sweet’ spot of $30 – 40
  • Improve the recommendations / upsell process for the above games
  • Make finding Settlers easier on the site

Canada Post Strike Update #2

So, the Canada Post strike continues.  From the sounds of it, the strike will continue for at least another week at the minimum even if the Government does push through their legislation.

The question is, how is it affecting us?  We’ve definitely seen an increase in local sales, while seeing a contrasting decrease by a more significant amount of shipped sales; even with FedEx in-play.  In fact, our overall conversion rate (no. of sales / visitors) is down by 23%.

Of course, conversion rates don’t tell the whole story – it just indicates the number of sales which includes local pickups and shipping orders.  We certainly have seen an increase in local pickups recently; from both our regular customers and new.  Unfortunately, local pickups have always been a smaller average dollar sale  than our shipped orders.

Currently, the saving grace for us on shipping are our customers who are putting orders through on our new $200 free shipping level.  The monetary increase in revenue there has provided us with an on-going stream of funds while we wait for the strike to end.

Certainly, speaking with others, customers have often just put their ordering on-hold till the strike ends.  I think most small businesses are hoping that once the strike does end, we’ll see a rush of orders.  It certainly is what I’m hoping for, even if I’m not planning for it.

Overall, financially we’re still quite stable – while we are running a loss during this period, I generally plan for the worst anyway during a year and we have sufficient available funds to ride out the strike.  I certainly wouldn’t be hiring if I didn’t think we could handle it.

Top 10 Science Fiction Games

Science Fiction explores the worlds that could be, pushing the boundaries of the future and alternate realities to make us question the world that we live in. In the following list, we provide a review of the some of the best science fiction board games currently available in-stores – games dripping with theme and great mechanics.

Dust10. Dust

Starting off our list is Dust, an alternate reality board game where World War I never ended, and alien technology has infiltrated our lives. Now, a never ending battle rages over our planet. Often described as a streamlined, well designed Risk, Dust is geared for those looking for just a little more science fiction in their wargames.

Doom9. Doom : the Board Game

Doom helped launch the first-person shooter video game. Now, in board format, players take on the role of the Space Marines in an attempt to escape the base. Dripping with theme from the computer game, the Marines are short on ammo and armour and will need to find the exit fast.

 

Space Alert 8. Space Alert

Space Alert is a team survival game: a type of cooperative game. Players become crew members of a small spaceship scanning dangerous sectors of galaxy. The missions last just 10 minutes (hyperspace jump, sector scan, hyperspace jump back) and the only task the players have is to protect their ship.  Of course, it’s easier than it sounds as calamity after calamity hit the spacefarers.  Can you work together long enough to survive?

 

Race for the Galaxy7. Race for the Galaxy

Race for the Galaxy is somewhat light on theme, with only cards representing the various galaxies, technologies and economy the players have, but makes up for it by far with exemplary gameplay. Years in the making, Race for the Galaxy plays fast and uses the ‘role choice’ system made popular in Puert Rico. Highly strategic, Race for the Galaxy only gets better with its expansions.

 

Starcraft the board game6. Starcraft the Board Game

Another computer game turned board game, Starcraft is a big box, galaxy spanning game where players take control of one of the races and must balance building and unit production. In addition, using an order marker system, players activate individual galaxies for conquest, production or just to bluff their opponent out!

 

Cosmic Encounter5. Cosmic Encounter

Cosmic Encounter has been reprinted multiple times since its initial release, with various publishers editing and changing the game slightly. Yet the core, highly popular racial abilities and simple, but fun, combat system has stayed the same. A game that plays quite fast and provides players with few, but significant decisions throughout the game, its no wonder that Cosmic Encounter continues to be reprinted.

 

Galactic Emperor4. Galactic Emperor

In Galactic Emperor, you are vying for control over the recently opened Galactic Throne. Using a series of role cards, players will have to balance the economic and technological development of their empire with military conquests and diplomacy. With multiple routes to victory and a highly balanced system, Galactic Emperor provides an immersive; galactic wide struggle in two to three hours.

 

Battlestar Galactica3. Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica brings the struggles of your popular TV characters to life on this board. A (mostly) co-operative board game, players take on the roles of their favourite TV characters in an attempt to guide the Battlestar Galactica and the rest of the human race to Earth. Be warned though, anybody can be a Cylon – even you as ‘sleeper’ Cylons get activated halfway through the game!

 

Galaxy Trucker2. Galaxy Trucker

Galaxy Trucker is a riot to play. Players must first build their space ships and then fly them through a hostile galaxy to cash in on the ship at the other end. However, there’s a time limit on building your ship and you’ll never know what tile you’ll draw, so decisions have to be made fast in how to build it. A bellyful of laughs, Galaxy Trucker is heart pounding fun and amusement for the whole family.

 

Twilight Imperium1. Twilight Imperium

Twilight Imperium continues to be the board game that all other science fiction games measure up against. A Fantasy Flight, big box game, Twilight Imperium can play for a staggering 11 hours, but players will be enthralled all through the game. You’ll take control of an alien race with their own special abilities, technologies and ships and must trade, negotiate, develop and battle your way to galactic dominance.

PEST Analysis

So, I was thinking of the SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) & PEST (Politics, Economics, Sociocultural & Technology) of the store as I am have a new employee and need to give them a briefing about the business. I figured that the PEST analysis might be of interest in particular to readers, since it deals with the external environment.

Politics

Well, 4 years of the Conservatives.  That means probably lower corporate taxes (not that it matters since we fall under the ‘Small Business’ tax regime; though I like their discussion of killing more red tape).  It also means austerity measures  are likely to kick-in and cause a rising interest rate; both of which should effect the economy.

Economy

Canada has had the best recovery of the G8; but a lot of that is fueled by housing & commodities.  A rising interest rate will effect our housing situation, while a too strong dollar might affect our commodity market.  In addition, there’s been a lot of signs of cooling of the global economy which will affect our commodity prices as well.

For ourselves, with no external loans anymore, interest rate changes by the Bank of Canada won’t affect our bottom-line directly, though it might make getting loans if we are looking for them harder.

Overall, I have a bad feeling what the next couple of years will bring to Canada’s economy.  I’m curious to see how it affects us – the initial period I think we’ll see a drop, after that it might balance out and potentially grow.

Sociocultural

One of the major issues that affect the gaming industry is the aging of our major target market.  This is worst in the case of RPGs, but even in board gaming the vast majority of our customers are over their 30’s.  With fewer gamers entering the market for tabletop games, the pie will eventually shrink from pure demographic / cultural factors.

At the same time, board games have seen a resurgence.  There’s a few reasons I think – firstly, economically they are cheaper than most forms of entertainment.  There is also a cultural ‘push-back’ I see where people want to interact face-to-face.   I don’t think it’s in-place of electronic interactions (e.g. Facebook, text messaging, Twitter updates) but in addition to.  A ‘need’ for physical interaction; and one that does not necessarily require a lot of money.

It seems to me that it’s the same target market (over 30’s) who have been pushing this; which has caused the board game market to increase in size.  It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the next decade or so, due to Technology.

Edit: On another note, which probably doesn’t come under Social but I’m not exactly sure where else it falls is the continuing push-back by publishers and traditional brick & mortar (b&m) stores against online game stores like us.  There is the obvious danger of being completely ‘locked’ out of certain large, good publishers as time goes on.

Technology

Yup, that big killer.  The biggest change I can see coming / already here are Tablet PCs.  As they become more ubiquitous and cheaper, I’m expecting that a number of games (particularly Eurogames) to become bigger sellers electronically than physically.  After all, if you have 4 players each with an iPad what is to stop everyone from playing their game on their pads together over a local Wi-Fi / Bluetooth / etc. connection.

The other aspect that seems to be taking part are the crowd-funding sites / projects that appears to be happening.  I have a feeling that this is going to push the already high rate of game introductions to a whole new level as smaller publishers finance their designs through sites like Kickstarter.  That’s both good and bad for us.   A game like Eminent Domain might be sold out in the first run directly to consumers, but in second and subsequent runs retailers could ‘get in the act’.

The New Employee

So, we just hired again.  This time, we’ve hired for a full-time employee with the hopes of a better quality and more stability.

It’s interesting actually,  since I actually think of the new employee as a full-time and potentially permanent addition tot he company, I’ve  seen a difference in how I consider my procedures and practices as well as the responsibilities I expect to give them.

Among other things, I’m looking at the vast amount of unwritten procedures that I have and thinking – crap, this needs fixing. Of course, this really means that I’m going to train the new employee and then make them write the procedures.

Canada Post Strike & Backups

So, Canada Post is on-strike but they’ve decided to go on a rolling strike instead of a general strike.  At least immediately. This is a rather bad situation for them, since they are losing money during the strike and even more importantly might actually lose us as a customer full-time depending on how long the strike goes on.

It’s interesting how the other courier companies reacted to this though.  FedEx talked to us fast, called us, discussed the mater, sent us the necessary information, etc. Nice and fast and professional.

UPS – I had to bounce through 3 different e-mails before someone would contact me, and even then, the individual’s first reaction was ‘Well, due to Canada Post’s situation we aren’t providing any additional discounts’.  Yeah, I cut the call fast.

So, we’re going with FedEx as our alternate.  The others had varying levels  of support, but most didn’t have the kind of discounts necessary to make it worthwhile.  FedEx was willing to basically give us the full discount if we went full-time with them, even knowing we might not stick around.  Not a bad tactic – at the moment, I have some very good goodwill to them and the differences in pricing is actually very, very close as you can see on the site.

Our FedEx pricing estimator is on the site now, so those who aren’t willing to risk a General Strike can choose to pay the few dollars extra and go with FedEx.

Best Practices : Schedule Me Time (9)

Running your own business is a lot of work.  If you own a brick & mortar store, it’s probably worst than online – at least I can work remotely and wake up 30 minutes later if I need to.  It’s easy to end up working  70, 80 hours a week.  Sometimes, it’s necessary – but whatever the case, make sure to schedule time for yourself.  There’s a lot of reasons for this including:

Burn-Out

If you are working all the time, sooner or later you’ll burn out.  You won’t care anymore about the work you are doing, which will mean you make mistakes, annoy customers and generally begin to hate what you do. At that point, why bother owning your own business?

Health

Your health is very, very important.  When you first start out, you’ll likely be a 1 man operation with little to no back-up.  If you are sick, the entire operation shuts down.  So eat properly, sleep well and exercise regularly. It’s also worthwhile noting that unless you have an employed spouse, you’re down to just the basics of MSP.

Creativity & Innovation

Sometimes, the biggest problems seem to solve themselves when you step aside.  Our unconscious mind is much, much more powerful than you’d expect.  Quite often, when you step aside from work, the best ideas of how to handle the business will pop-up.

Maintaining Relationships

Look, none of us are islands.  Whether it’s significant others, family or friends, if you disappear into the blackhole of work, you’ll lose contact and erode those relationship bonds.  These relationships are extremely important, and if you don’t take time to care for them, it will break down.  Practically as well, it’s a lot easier to ask favours from someone you saw recently rather than someone you saw a year ago.

This is particularly important for your spouse.  Making sure you spend time with them makes certain that your most powerful supporter is on your side.  Especially in my case, where I use my wife as my bouncing board for everything in the business; they can get really tired about the umpteenth problem you’ve had that week.

Bestselling Board Games & Pre-Orders : June 2011

Our most recent best-selling board games are on the site. As always, we’re keeping track of the previous months (April) as an indicator of what is happening.

At the Gates of Loyang

1. At the Gates of Loyang

2. Lord of the Rings LCG Core Set

3. Dungeon Lords

4. The Golden City

5. 7 Wonders

6. Dominion

7. Alien Frontiers

8. Innovation

9. Ticket to Ride Europe

10. Carcassonne : Big Box 3

And this is the hot pre-order list for April 2011 as well:

Dominion : Cornucopia

1. Dominion : Cornucopia

2. Pandemic

3. Catacombs

4. Twilight Struggle : Deluxe Edition

5. Dixit : Odyssey

6. Rails of New England

7. 1830s : Railways & Robber Barons

8. None But Heroes

9. Twilight Imperium : Shards of the Throne

10. Gosu : Kamakor