December 6, 2023

Bucks Blog: Friday Reading: Teaching the Volt to Charge Smarter and Cleaner

January 27

Friday Reading: Teaching the Volt to Charge Smarter and Cleaner

Making the Volt charge smarter and cleaner, an online retailer gets five-star reviews for $2 a star, using symptom checklists to sell drugs and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

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Site Analysis: Can a Marketing Contest Increase Sales for This Online Retailer?

Site Analysis

What’s wrong with this Web site?

More than 10 years ago, Don Chernoff introduced with the idea that a Web site could better explain his unique carry-on luggage and provide another sales channel for his products. Those sales, however, have been disappointing.

The idea for the SkyRoll line of products came out of Mr. Chernoff’s experiences as a frequent flier. One particular flight gave him the inspiration. “I’m watching this guy trying to fit this ungainly garment bag into the overhead bin, not a pretty sight,” Mr. Chernoff explains on his site. There was so much “jammed into it that it looked like an overstuffed kitchen trash bag with a handle. First it made me wonder why anyone would want to use a garment bag. Then it made me think that the shape of garment bags was inefficient and awkward,” he says.

Mr. Chernoff, who was trained as a materials engineer and computer chip maker for Intel, went home and created the prototype for the SkyRoll carry-on. “I bought a section of very large diameter PVC tubing, about the width of my suit jacket,” he continues. “I also bought some fabric and Velcro and enlisted a friend who was handy with a sewing machine to help make an outer cover. I wrapped the suit around the PVC and held it there with the cover. It worked. The suit came out wrinkle free. I had a concept but was a long way from a product you could actually use to travel.”

Soon after, he was in business. Fast forward 19 years and the SkyRoll products are available at certain retail outlets and online. While Mr. Chernoff says he is happy with the look of his site, he is extremely disappointed in his sales. He sells from 20 to 40 units a month through the site; his goal was to sell 10 times that amount. In the brick and mortar world, SkyRoll sells from 2,000 to 3,000 units a month, more during the holiday season.

In an effort to increase online sales, Mr. Chernoff had the site redesigned a year ago at a cost of about $2,000, but it hasn’t helped. He has also tried a variety of paid and unpaid marketing tactics to bolster traffic and sales, but he has gotten very little return on his time and money. He tried using Google AdWords, but spent  only a few hundred dollars and found that it did little to help. The results for unpaid search were disappointing as well.

More recently, Mr. Chernoff created a contest that encourages site visitors to take pictures and videos of the “craziest carry-ons” they encounter. It was Mr. Chernoff’s hope that these photos and videos would become popular and drive traffic to the site. Once the visitors arrived, he hoped, they would stay around long enough to learn about SkyRoll and make a purchase.

To date, the contest has been a disappointment. “We have not had much luck getting the word out,” he said. “Travel writers have not picked it up. We are looking for a way to get bloggers and travel enthusiasts to start spreading the word via new media. This is the kind of idea that would benefit from word of mouth, especially among people who travel a lot and flight attendants — they see all kinds of crazy things.”

Please take a look at the site and consider a few questions:

•    Does the site provide enough information to make you want to buy anything?
•    Does the site make it easy to buy?
•    Does the site create a sense of trust?
•    Do you have specific suggestions about the design, navigation or marketing?
•    What are your impressions of the “Crazy Carry-On Contest?”
•    What are your suggestions for improving the contest?

Next week, in our follow-up, we’ll collect highlights from your comments. I’ll offer some of my own impressions. And we’ll get Mr. Chernoff’s response as well.

Would you like to have your business’s Web site or mobile app critiqued? This is an opportunity for companies looking for an honest (and free) appraisal of their online presence and marketing efforts.

To be considered, please tell me about your experiences — why you started your site, what works, what doesn’t, why you would like to have the site reviewed — in an e-mail to

Gabriel Shaoolian is the founder and chief executive of
Blue Fountain Media, a Web design, development and marketing company based in New York.

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Nordstrom in New York to Use an Alias

Called TreasureBond, the new store will open Friday in SoHo and will be less than a tenth the size of a typical Nordstrom department store. In fact, it is a big experiment that will not even contribute to Nordstrom’s bottom line, as the profits have been committed to charity.

That may seem odd for a public company, but retail analysts said it was sensible for the Seattle-based chain, which for years has been trying to figure out the New York market before formally opening a full-fledged department store.

“They’re probably trying to generate good will before they make themselves present in New York with a full-line store,” said Ken Stumphauzer, an analyst at Sterne Agee. “This will essentially give them some perception or added insight into the New York consumer, and specifically into the more affluent full-priced consumer.”

If the regular Nordstrom’s stores go after the perfectly coiffed, cardigan-wearing shopper, TreasureBond seems to be aimed at her graphic designer younger sister. The merchandise in the boutique is funkier than a Nordstrom would carry — one perfume sold there is called “Fat Electrician,” with the label showing a sliver of a man’s bottom breaking free from his pants.

Though the company has always aimed upscale, the only Nordstrom store in New York City is a discount Nordstrom Rack store.

While other retailers have tried pop-up shops to test the New York market, Nordstrom says that TreasureBond will not fit that mold and will instead be a permanent location.

Adding to potential confusion, the upscale online retailer Gilt Groupe earlier this month introduced a men’s clothing site called Park Bond.

Nordstrom says its charity efforts will go further than competitors who team up with nonprofit groups for campaigns. And all proceeds from the rather expensive merchandise go to children’s charities, Nordstrom says.

In addition, there are no plans to make it a for-profit store, said Peter E. Nordstrom, executive vice president and president of merchandising at Nordstrom. But he added that the company remained committed to opening a department store in the city. The TreasureBond name gave Nordstrom leeway, he said.

“It allows us to be way more nimble and to learn,” he said. “If we opened something like this, and had it be Nordstrom in some way, it would end up disappointing — people would show up and say, ‘What’s this?’ ”

He said the company viewed it as an incubator — if a T-shirt line sold well, Nordstrom might sell it in regular stores.

“While our name isn’t all over it, I think people are going to know that we helped hatch it,” he said. “That would create a glow, not only for this store but for Nordstrom, that’s positive in Manhattan.”

Analysts cautioned that the store would not necessarily bolster Nordstrom’s foray in New York. For instance, having such a different name will not help with brand recognition in a city where it is still relatively unknown, analysts said. “From the standpoint of branding and public good will, it seems counterintuitive,” Mr. Stumphauzer said.

And the store’s merchandise and look is so different from a regular Nordstrom that it is questionable how applicable the lessons might be, some said. TreasureBond has an unfinished look: exposed pipes, wooden shipping crates turned into display cases, and rolling storage serving as tables.

The range of merchandise is wide. “We tried to get stuff we don’t see everywhere,” said Paige Boggs, TreasureBond’s general manager.

There are housewares, like old Afghan kilim rugs that have been re-dyed, and a $300 seated resin monkey with a candelabra growing from his head. There are Princess Beatrice-like fascinators from the New York hat designer Satya Twena.

The clothes are largely gray, black and taupe.

“We tried to take a stab at being more of a downtown girl, at least until we get a sense of who’s shopping here,” Ms. Boggs said.

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