Etail Goes Retail – Amazon’s Opens NYC Bookstore

  • Posted on May 31, 2017
  • by Alan Blume

What’sAmazon Etail Goes Retail up with this, Amazon the king of Etail is opening retail bookstores? This sounds like an April fools story rather than a new strategic initiative. But as it happens, the latter is true as Amazon opened the first of three New York City retail book stores in May.

It was reported that the first Amazon store occupies 4,000 square feet, carries 3,000 book titles, and is located at Columbus Circle. It also carries Amazon tech products like the Echo and Kindle, and faces all books outward for easy viewing of the covers. Signs underneath the books note the Amazon online star rating (only 4 stars and up are selected for the store) and the total number of reviews for each book. Amazon Prime members pay a preferred rate, while non-members pay a higher rate.

To add a further touch of irony to the story, the store is located in a mall that once included a Borders bookstore. Will this be a trend for the giant Etailer, identifying retail opportunities once the retail competition has been decimated by their more efficient Etail model?

Amazon likely envisions a new type of retail opportunity, because the traditional retail book business has hardly been robust. According to The Street, Barnes and Noble continued to see declines in their 2017 comparable store sales, expecting a drop of approximately 7% for the year. Then again, Amazon’s new books store is not the same animal as Barnes and Noble, taking a page from the Apple Store concept with their own Amazonian twist. With malls trying to reinvent themselves, as more and more retailers shut their doors, a national chain of Amazon retail book stores would be a warmly welcomed surprise.

Looking for assistance with your marketing and lead generation – contact the experts at StartUpSelling for a complimentary marketing and lead gen review.

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Which US President Posted The Largest Dow Gains In History?

  • Posted on January 23, 2017
  • by Alan Blume

Market Performance By President - image from BespokeWhich US president posted the largest Dow gains in history? According to MarketWatch and Bespoke, it was Calvin Coolidge. His 252% gain outpaced all other US presidents. There were however, other presidents who enjoyed triple-digit percentage Dow gains during their terms including: Democrats Bill Clinton (227%), Franklin Roosevelt (197%) and Barack Obama (148%), along with Republicans Ronald Reagan (135%) and Dwight Eisenhower (120%). Who were the worst performing presidents? Hoover, a Republican, saw the largest Dow drop (-83%), with the second and third biggest falls occurring under Republicans George H.W. Bush (-22%) and Richard Nixon (-16.5%). What will Trumponomics yield over the next four years? Your guess is as good as mine, though after eight years of market gains, a correction would seem to be more likely than not.

What’s the only sure thing? Try a complimentary insurance agency marketing and lead generation review with the experts at StartUpSelling. Click here to learn more.

Original MarketWatch article and Bespoke image here.

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My 10 Favorite Books Of The Year – 2015

  • Posted on January 14, 2016
  • by Alan Blume

Insurance Marketing Resource LibraryEach year I write a synopsis of my ten favorite books of the year. My goal is to read across several genres, and I try to read about two books a month. This year I read some great fiction and non-fiction, classics, science fiction, business, technology and poetry. I read five business related books, though none seemed to make it on my top ten list for 2015. For what it’s worth, here were my favorites:

1913: The Eve of War by Paul Ham

A succinct but enlightening overview of how and why World War I began. Beyond perception, politics, panic and patriotism, it’s a review of how royalty sought to retain power by marrying within their own small family circles, and how this and other factors resulted in a disastrous confluence of events instigating World War I.

America’s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System by Steven Brill

America’s Bitter Pill is an exhaustive and sometimes exhausting look at how PPACA (Obamacare) came into existence. It is a detailed and dense work, informative, enlightening and frustrating, as the reader learns the nuances of Congressional infighting, special interest groups (pharma, bio, medical devices, hospitals, insurers, etc.) political turf wars and politicians quest for power and reelection. Though it sometimes reads as a tome, it is a worthwhile read, and reinforces in great detail America’s concerns about healthcare, special interest groups, lobbyists and Congress.

Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients by Jeremy N. Smith

Chris Murray, founder of the Global Burden of Disease studies, wanted to gain a truer understanding of how we live and how we die. A fascinating introspective about the importance and nuanced challenges in measuring mortality and improving global health.

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

Pollan helps expose the Western diet for the health nemesis that it truly is, where food has been replaced by nutrients, and fast food has become the norm. He offers insights into a society addicted to sugar and sugar additives, white flour and processed foods, which is resulting in an alarming rise in obesity, diabetes and cancer.  Pollan’s common sense approach to eating is summed up in the beginning of this excellent book, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Mountain Interval by Robert Frost

Mountain Interval is a classic poetry collection written by Robert Frost, which includes some of my favorite Frost poems such as The Road Not Taken, A Patch of Old Snow, and Birches.

  • I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
  • And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
  • Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
  • But dipped its top and set me down again.

Split Second by Douglas E. Richards

This fast and easy read is a techno-thriller which examines what would happen if you could go back in time for just a split second. It includes an interesting discussion about Einstein’s theory of relativity and how the universe would cope with time travel. Richards includes a very entertaining and thought provoking review of how “the Star Trek transporter” would work in theory.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis

When I read this, the third Lewis book I’ve read, it didn’t cross my mind that it could or should be a movie. That said, with Moneyball and The Blind Side already to his credit, a movie version of this interesting book should not arise as a complete surprise. Lewis follows some of the key players in the credit default swap market, including those that bet against collateralized debt obligations. The book moves along nicely considering the somewhat dry and technical characters and subject matter. I found it particularly interesting when those who identified the bad loans and likelihood of collapse were surprised that someone was willing to take the other side of the bet, namely those who believed that the positive real estate market trends would continue.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Not long ago I read The Beautiful and The Damned, and this year decided to revisit The Great Gatsby. It’s a wonderful work by Fitzgerald, though I actually enjoyed the characters in the former more than the latter, there is no doubt that The Great Gatsby deserves the attention it receives. A true classic written by one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

A funny, witty, light and bright comedy which is still amusing over 100 years since its first performance in London in 1895. Wilde covers the gambit in this play, from satire to comedy to intellectual farce. Anyone Wilde showcases his enviable range from this carefree and whimsical play to the dark and disturbing The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Moving from Frost to Longfellow, I revisited the classic epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha. Many may remember the greatly abbreviated children’s version which in reality is just a small section of this epic poem. The poem is a wonderful escape for both children and adults, vivid in imagery and folk lore. It uses trochaic meter, emphasis on the first syllable with four pairs of syllables in each line. This can grow tiresome when reading large expanses of the poem at any given sitting, but does help create a soothing feeling, conveying a feeling of simpler times, which I found appropriate for the poem.

  • By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
  • By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
  • Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
  • Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.

 

And for those who might like to read one of my books, or learn more about marketing, please visit my website: https://startupselling.com/web-marketing-books/

 

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Liberty Mutual Insurance: Twice The Price – That’s Not Nice

  • Posted on November 11, 2015
  • by Alan Blume

Liberty Mutual Premium IncreasesIn 1974 I insured my first car with Liberty Mutual Insurance, the insurance cost more than the car, but then again, I was 17 and my clunker only cost $100. Since then, I’ve had a great track record, never an at fault accident, and only had a few small claims (glass breakage for example). On occasion, I’d compare their rates against competing carriers, and found them to be competitively priced. Their service was good, though rarely required.

I also had an apartment, then a condo, then purchased a home and umbrella policy, all subsequently covered by Liberty Mutual. That added up to 4 decades of premiums, with only one modest claim about 25 years ago (about $1,000 as I recall). Succinctly said, that’s a long term relationship, with a great loss history. So one would expect, that type of loyalty would be returned in kind.

Let’s fast forward to 2013 when I purchased a small boat, and then called Liberty Mutual for insurance. Insurance for non-speed boats, is very modest, and Liberty quoted about $170, which sounded reasonable. Meanwhile Progressive contacted me (likely from the boat registration) promising easy online service and great rates. So I did as they suggested, went on line, and a few minutes later purchased boat insurance for $110, for the same coverages and deductibles. While on-line I called their 800# and spoke with a representative promptly. Though the premium dollar difference was small, the percentage was significant, and I made a mental note to check my auto and home rates on the ensuing renewal.

A year later,  my 2014 Liberty Mutual auto insurance bill arrived with a fairly large increase, raising the premiums for my two cars to $1,593, a 6.3% increase from the prior year. That seemed significant in an era of low inflation. My cars were a year older, but my premiums were increasing at a rate well over the rate of inflation. So, I decided to compare prices and was shocked at the findings.

Every car insurance carrier contacted was significantly lower than Liberty Mutual Insurance. We’re not talking about $100 lower, I was quoted rates that were 25% to 60% lower for the same deductibles and coverages. I also requested home owners’ insurance quotes, and found that everyone was much lower for that too.  I called my Liberty Mutual representative to ask if there was some mistake. But they confirmed the rates quoted by Liberty Mutual were accurate, in spite of my great loss history. They even asked me to make sure my quotes weren’t for six months (that seemed to be an out of touch statement from my carrier of 40 years).

Why such a large premium difference? Is their service much better than other insurers? My experiences with them were quite satisfactory, but I know someone who had a very difficult time getting paid for damages to their home. Online reviews were mixed for all the carriers. So what’s up with Liberty Mutual, is this a buyer beware tale? Perhaps they’ve decided that personal lines accounts aren’t worth their time, or they want to move away from this market, or perhaps it’s their beautiful brick and mortar headquarter expansion that explains the difference (check out that cool rendering of their HQ expansion). If the latter is the issue, I wish they’d stop spending money on their new palaces, employ more people virtually, and return the premium difference to their policy holders. Then again, it probably didn’t help that their CEO was paid “an average of nearly $50 million a year from 2008 to 2010, making him one of the highest-paid corporate executives in the country” according to the Boston Globe. Last year their CEO was paid a more modest sum of only $14 million.

Well, I’m glad Liberty Mutual is doing so well, though I’d rather not be donating so much to their cause. So, after 40 years, I moved my car insurance to GEICO. How did GEICO’s rates compare with the Liberty Mutual auto insurance quote of $1,593? GEICO’s quote was $704, for two cars with the same deductibles and coverages.

Of course, the thought occurred to me that GEICO’s rate could be a loss leader, a thinly veiled attempt to glean market share – then hitting customers with a dramatic price increase in ensuing years. What happened one year after moving my insurance to GEICO? Their rate increase was a modest $30. And what about the boat insurance from Progressive? Well that went down 10% to $100 a year. Bottom line, regardless of your loss history, perceived rates, or longstanding relationship, consumers should compare insurance rates frequently, or work with an insurance agent who will do so on your behalf. And if you happen to have Liberty Mutual for auto, home, boat, etc., check your rates now!

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My Customer Experience – Inversely Proportional To Cost?

  • Posted on March 10, 2015
  • by Alan Blume

ThMarketing and Communicationis week I investigated purchasing four products or renewals. These include a healthcare plan renewal, a QuickBooks upgrade to the 2013 version, a Dell laptop and re-subscribing to Netflix. Each of these required a call to the respective customer service department. There was a massive discrepancy in wait time and customer service experience, and some might be surprised at the results:

Netflix won handily for wait time and customer service experience. Though their service is only about $100 a year, I was greeted by an automated voice stating my wait time would be about a minute, a representative answered the call within 40 seconds and spoke English perfectly. There was no background noise on the call (if it was a call center I couldn’t tell), and I was up and running within a couple of minutes.

Dell finished second, the wait time was a few minutes, and I was connected to a representative who had an accent, but was understandable. He seemed to understand my questions, was patient, and at the end of the conversation I placed an order for a new Dell XPS13 solid state laptop with Microsoft Office. Overall, it was a good experience, at a purchase price of about $1,300.

QuickBooks finished a distant third, with a very poor customer service experience. The wait time was about 15 minutes, and we finally reached what we assumed was an offshore call center with significant background noise. The representative had a very strong accent and was very difficult to understand. The call clarity was poor and the advice offered was questionable. We were uncertain if the representative really understood the question. A QuickBooks upgrade is about $240.

And in last place, far behind the pack from a wait time perspective, was my healthcare renewal. It took 28 minutes to connect with a representative to discuss the health plan options from Tufts Health Plan. Once through, the experience was much better than QuickBooks, in that the representative was easy to understand and proficient with the plans. That said, there were so many plan nuances, it was still challenging to discuss. The wait time was egregious, especially considering the renewal which is valued at around $14,000. There are at least two “big” issues here, with the vast array of plan options, the system is overly complex and too confusing, causing too many questions and service challenges. And with rapidly escalating healthcare costs, consumers are increasingly concerned, resulting in more questions.

The correlation is interesting here, with the worst wait time associated with the highest cost item, ten times the cost of the other purchases. The conclusions are obvious here, though the answer in one case is complex. I would order Netflix and Dell again based on these experiences. QuickBooks remains a concern, but we won’t likely switch (maybe they know that). And our healthcare system remains costly and confusing, still broken and in need of improved transparency and efficiency.

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Your Virtual Success – Selecting Your Target Market

  • Posted on June 9, 2014
  • by Alan Blume

Entrepreneurs, startups and emerging businesses need to define and test their markets. There were multiple criteria recommended in the Business Basics Chapter of Your Virtual Success. Is the recommended criteria written five years ago still valid today?

B2B Web Marketing

B2B Web Marketing

  1. Vetting the value proposition
  2. Is it a want or a true need
  3. Will prospects pay the target selling price
  4. How does it compare to competing products and services
  5. If it’s an innovation, is the market ready to adopt it
  6. Is it affordable for a sufficient number of prospects
  7. Is there current demand for this product or service
  8. How difficult to reach the buyer
  9. How long is the sales cycle
  10. Can you collect up front (deposits)

Little seems to have changed in this list – it is as valid then as it is today. If we were to apply this to an emerging agency, they would need to determine which lines of coverage to offer, the size of the target prospect by revenues or employees, would they need to add experts to their sales efforts (compliance expert for ACA for example), how difficult would it be to reach a given decision maker (risk manager, owner, VP HR, ect.), and the competition in their given target sales area. For more information on Your Virtual Success, or my new book Sell More & Work Less, visit startupselling.com/book.html. For assistance with b2b marketing or insurance web marketing, call (518) 222-6392.

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Web Marketing & Sales for Business

Web Marketing

In 2010, my first book was published by Career Press, entitled Your Virtual Success. Though it was published four years ago, it was written over five years ago, due to the editing, processing and marketing lag common with most traditional publishers. Is a five year old web selling and marketing book still relevant today? In the ensuing series of blogs, I’ll review some of the key concepts and suggestions offered to start ups, small businesses and agents, that are still relevant today. And – I’ll note some of the concepts which are now taken for granted, as a better way to approach business. Let’s begin with a concept in Chapter 3, Business Basics. There are four key elements to consider for most individuals or small businesses to consider, when building or expanding their business:

  1. A short path to the money (limited ramp up or development time)
  2. No upfront capital (or limited capital)
  3. Customer deposits in advance (cash flow)
  4. Contractor based assistance (limit full time employees)

For example, wouldn’t a startup business be better off starting from a home office? Could they leverage a part time virtual assistance instead a full time receptionist/assistant? Can they find a business where capital investment was nominal as opposed to developing a new widget or software solution which required months of development and thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars? Can this company expand with part time or on demand contractors, as opposed to full time employees? Can prospect meetings (or the entire sales process) be accomplished with web meetings instead of on-site meetings? From a general perspective, these four elements seem as germane today as they did five years ago. Though today, one would assume, many new businesses are conversant or at least familiar with the benefits of web meetings. That said, I still see many salespeople who over utilize face to face meetings, and under utilize web meetings. Look for additional blog entries on virtual business and insurance agency web marketing in upcoming posts.

For more information on Your Virtual Success, or my new book Sell More & Work Less, visit https://startupselling.com/book.html. For assistance with b2b or insurance web marketing, call (518) 222-6392.

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My Top Ten Books of The Year

  • Posted on December 2, 2013
  • by Alan Blume

MY Top 10 Books of the YearIn December I typically reflect upon the books I read during the year, determine my favorites, and map out a plan for the types of books I hope to read in the ensuing year. One of my goals last year was to diversify my reading selection, by choosing a more comprehensive amalgamation of genres. I tried to include classics, historical fiction and non-fiction, poetry, science fiction, German language books and business books. What follows is a list and brief synopsis of my top ten books of the year.

I read two more Eric Larson books this year, “Thunderstruck” and “In the Garden of Beasts”. As with all the Larson books I’ve read, this work contains great detail, rich characterizations, and the integration of multiple story lines within an interesting historical context. Though I preferred “Devil in the White City”, both “Thunderstruck” and “In the Garden of Beasts” are worthwhile reads, containing important historical perspectives, and in the case of the latter, the ominous and portentous issues of 1930’s Germany. It’s somewhat challenging to determine a top 10 list, as the genres are so diverse, instead of thinking of my “ten best”, a more appropriate list description might be the 10 books I most enjoyed. That said, here is my list:

  1. Tale of Two Cities: My favorite book of the year, this Dickens classic, is a classic for many reasons, including the famous first paragraph, and the memorable last two sentences. This work truly conveys the evocative imagery of this tumultuous period.  The elite “charging” through the streets in their carriages, makes even my fellow Bostonian drivers seem tame and languid. “With a wild rattle and clatter, and an inhuman abandonment of consideration not easy to be understood in these days, the carriage dashed through streets and swept round corners, with women screaming before it, and men clutching each other and clutching children out of its way.”
  2. The Beautiful and the Damned: I thought the reincarnation of the Great Gatsby movie fell flat, but departed with the motivation to read a Fitzgerald novel. I opted for “The Beautiful and the Damned”. In this work, F. Scott Fitzgerald demonstrates his great literary form, with flowing descriptions and vivid characterizations. He creates characters you love to hate, or perhaps hate to love.
  3. Thunderstruck: An excellent historical work by Larson, this one revolving around the advent of wireless telegraphy, while providing a parallel plot line revolving around the strange life of a London couple. I thought “Devil in the White City” was better, but still enjoyed “Thunderstruck”.
  4. In the Garden of Beasts: Another excellent book by Larson, this one revolving around the tumultuous times in the 1930’s during Hitler’s rise to power. It follows newly appointed US Ambassador William Dodd and his family, and their surreal life in Berlin.
  5. Destiny of the Republic Destiny of the Republic: Back in 1881, when anyone could visit the White House, before the advent of the presidential security details, Garfield demonstrates why this openness had dire consequences. This was a very good Candice Millard book, though I enjoyed “River of Doubt” even more.
  6. Lost in Shangri-La: Excellent WWII read, pertaining to a remote region of the globe, in a time and place with limited technology, and when many regions were still yet unexplored.
  7. The Complete Poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Wadsworth and Frost are two of my favorite poets. This public domain work includes The Arrow and the Song, The Wreck of the Hesperus, The Song of Hiawatha and many other great poems. From my perspective, Longfellow poems range from whimsical to evocative to didactic. If you like traditional poets, you can find a great selection of poems in this extensive collection (note that the table of contents did not hyperlink on my Kindle).
  8. The Songs of Distant Earth: An Arthur Clarke classic which makes the reader ponder when and how the human race will explore and populate other planets.
  9. Pebble in The Sky: An early Asimov work (1950), which includes foundational elements the for the Foundation series. Though some of the references may be dated, like a Jules Verne novel, it’s still an entertaining and thought provoking work.
  10. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: From my perspective, not as engaging as “The Tipping Point”, but still provides Gladwell’s unique perspective.

This year I also read multiple books on German vocabulary, verb drills, short stories and logged numerous hours on Rosetta Stone. Many of these were helpful, though I think personal preference and learning styles vary dramatically, making it difficult to determine what other readers might prefer. I do enjoy Rosetta Stone, though I think they should include an on demand translation dictionary in their program.

Next year I expect the genres to remain similar, and hope to include Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Tolkien, historical non-fiction, perhaps Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, and several new business books. It seems like it’s time to start writing again, my most recent book was written over a year ago, Sell More & Work Less (http://sellmoreandworkless.com/). I’ve been pondering a book on digital marketing and integrated pipeline building and have rough outline in mind. And perhaps someday, a novel, though I’m truly humbled by the many great authors above. Regardless, like many, I find both reading and writing, a worthwhile, enlightening and often cathartic process.

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NY Times Sells Boston Globe

  • Posted on August 4, 2013
  • by Alan Blume

Twenty years ago, my mornings began with a short jaunt to the front door. A quick bend at the waist, and I retrieved my coveted prize, a neatly folded Boston Globe. The Globe was as much an integral part of my mornings, as my “lahge – regulah” Dunkin Donuts coffee. I’d repeat my coffee and newspaper ritual seven days a week, appreciating both the size and substance of the Boston Sunday Globe, replete with news, politics, sports and typically boasting large real estate, help wanted, auto and classified sections. Some Sundays, it seemed as if the Globe weighed five pounds when retrieving it from its’ customary and usual position at the front door. And around that time, The New York Times purchased the prestigious Boston Globe, for over $1 Billion.

Times, technology and habits changed, for me and most Bostonians. As the Internet grew more pervasive, the Globe grew thinner and less substantial. Initially, I moved to delivery three days a week, then just Sundays. Some years later, I stopped the Globe completely, opting for the Sunday Times for a few more years. The cancellation call made me sad, I’d miss reading the Globe, and thought it a fine publication which I enjoyed for decades.

Fast forward to today, as the New York Times announced it “agreed to sell The Boston Globe and its other New England media properties to John W. Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox” for $70 million, a prolific drop in value, as The Times bought the Globe in 1993 for $1.1 billion. The Globe, like most newspapers, has seen a precipitous drop in ad revenue. As ads declined in newspapers, they shifted to the Internet, providing large revenue streams for Google and other search engines, websites and more recently, social media networks.

I hope both the Globe and The Times find a model that works for them. Reporting from reputable news sources is an important check and balance in our democracy, and both organizations have provided some keen, if not eye opening investigative reporting. The likelihood that any traditional newspaper distribution model will work well in the future seems low. After all, cutting down trees, processing them into paper, printing and folding them, loading them onto trucks, and delivering them to houses seems rather absurd today, akin to the challenges of the US Postal Service delivering physical mail from Maine to Hawaii for under 50 cents.Starbucks Cup

The only constant is change, and the Globe and The Times are trying to change with the times. As with many Bostonians, and the rest of the world, pervasive, immediate (and often free) Internet based news is supplanting traditional newspapers. It’s unlikely this trend will ebb any time soon. And though I would have bet against it, I also changed to Starbuck’s coffee, eschewing the weaker Dunkin Donuts coffee offered at my former coffee shop venue, in favor of a more robust Venti. Though in Boston, many, many people still order their Dunkin Donuts coffee every morning, “Give me a lahge regulah“, but then they check their news via Wi-Fi.

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