March 22, 2023

Pictures From the Week in Business

Dick Costolo, the chief of Twitter, on the rooftop garden of the company’s new global headquarters in San Francisco. Long before the Twitter revolution and his ascent to the heights of social media, Mr. Costolo was a professional comedian. And he’s still doing improv — only it’s the business kind. He’ll wax on about growth and revenue like the next C.E.O. But then he’ll dig out a joke and do something that might hurt his business — and miff his investors — because, well, he thinks that something is the right thing to do.

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Site Analysis: The Difference Between a Good Web Site and a Great Web Site

Sam Mogannam plans to make some changes.Jed Jacobsohn for The New York TimesSam Mogannam plans to make some changes.

Site Analysis

What’s wrong with this Web site?

In last week’s post, we featured the Web site of Bi-Rite Market, an extremely popular San Francisco grocery. One year ago, Sam Mogannam, the market’s owner, redesigned the site and upgraded its social media efforts as part of an overall branding program. Mr. Mogannam reported that he believed the redesign of the site — which promotes the store but does not sell products online — resulted in a steep increase in visitors to the site and a 20 percent increase in the store’s sales.

We asked readers to take a look at the site and at Bi-Rite’s social media efforts. Here’s what you had to say, along with my take and Mr. Mogannam’s response.

A good home page, I believe, should act as a gateway to all of the information on a site. It should offer a core business message — what makes you different from and better than your competition — and then provide easy navigation to pages that address specific interests or needs. Readers felt the Bi-Rite homepage did not do a great job of accomplishing this. The big problem, they said, is that the Bi-Rite blog is too dominant on the home page.

“A blog on the home page is kind of weird,” wrote artalacarte from Connecticut. “A home page should be a quick introduction to the whole Web site. Who you are, what you do, what you can do for ME …”

PW from Texas agreed: “The home page doesn’t make me want to go much further because it doesn’t make me hungry. Blogs and Twitter posts are great additions to a Web site but I don’t expect them to be their main features.”

What might replace the blog on the home page? Several readers mentioned a video produced by the Bi-Rite team that is  professional, entertaining and informative — but buried in a link on the bottom right side of the home page. In the video, Mr. Mogannam speaks passionately about food and Bi-Rite’s commitment to service.

“I love the video about the market that’s attached to the Bi-Rite Book,” wrote Eric Marcus from New York. “Glad I clicked on it because it’s terrific! Now I can’t wait to visit the store the next time I’m in San Francisco. If it were my site, I’d put that video front and center.”

Readers were also hungry for more photographs of the food. “Too much to read and not enough to look at,” wrote PW. “If you want to catch the attention and interest of your visitors, you should focus more on visual appeal. You can portray your commitment to your community with pictures as much as with words.”

Several readers pointed out how well the site presented critical information. “Hours and contact info are posted prominently on each page,” wrote Julie B. from McHenry, Ill. “So simple, yet so important! Nothing worse than hunting around on a small-business Web site for 10 minutes just to find out if they’re open.” But readers also noted that there are several typos in the copy, something they felt made the site look unprofessional.

For a market that does a good job of engaging visitors to its store, readers felt that it could do a better job engaging visitors online. “The site, and the Facebook page, which I looked at, are very one-way,” wrote Friend from New England. “The Web experience could be much more interactive and create a community atmosphere online to complement what it seems happens at the store. Maybe Facebook is the best place to do this so people don’t have to make a special visit to the store page. I think Bi-Rite could do a lot more to involve customers. ASK about what they buy, what they cook, what they want to buy, where they eat, etc.”

Friend used the example of Georgetown Cupcake as a company that does an excellent job of interacting with customers on its Facebook page. A great way to create user interaction is to have visitors provide user-generated content. “I feel that there is room here for a greater store-home connection,” Jen from New York wrote. “They have some recipes on the blog. Why not list the ingredients, perhaps even by store location/aisle? Make it easy for a consumer to print out the recipe, and to find, buy, bring home, use the items for a special dish.”

My Take

While I agree with many of the reader criticisms, I also want to say “Bravo!” to Mr. Mogannam and his team. This is a business that takes its online presence and marketing seriously, and it has paid off. Bi-Rite made a relatively small investment and increased both its site traffic and the store’s sales. In all likelihood, the store recouped its investment almost immediately.

That said, there are plenty of ways the site can still be improved, and I agree with the readers on its main flaws. I think it’s a mistake to let the blog dominate the home page. It’s great to have a blog, of course, especially one that is informative and well written, but it should be a secondary feature. Let visitors know you have a blog, tease them with a small amount of content, and then get them to click onto the blog page if they’re interested in reading more. I also agree with the comments about the video, which gives a real feel for the market’s culture. It should be prominently displayed on the home page; in fact, it should be the centerpiece.

The points made about recipes and engaging the audience were also on the mark. Get your customers sharing recipes with each other. This not only builds community, it gives visitors reason to come back to your store and to your site. This kind of “stickiness” goes a long way to enhancing your brand.

Finally, while Mr. Mogannam has chosen not to be a full-service e-commerce site, there might be more things he could be doing online to improve sales and customer relations. It might be great for business, for example, if you could place an order online either for pick-up or delivery. This might also work for the catering services.

Sam Mogannam Responds

Mr. Mogannam said he agreed with some comments but not with others. His biggest disagreement was about the placement of the blog on the home page. “Our blog posts are most demonstrative of who we are,” he said. “They tell the deeper story behind our food and the people who produce it. Nothing we’d rather have our audience see than that — assuming the nitty gritty info like store location, hours, etc. are easy to find — which the comments indicate they are.”

Mr. Mogannam said that the most helpful advice was to offer more images and less writing. “We’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a million times,” he said, “that people don’t have the patience to read much these days, and a picture says a thousand words. As interesting as we think a story about cheese making or teaching kids to plant their own food is, it will be lost if not shown through images to accompany the written word.”

Mr. Mogannam said he is taking many of the suggestions to heart and will make a number of changes, including:

  • Working on promoting more social media interaction, engaging the audience in conversation.
  • Putting video front and center.
  • Adding more photos of food to the recipe, catering, and deli pages.
  • Using spell check “religiously”

Would you like to have your business’s Web site or mobile app reviewed? 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, and 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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Diamond Foods Profit Rises 27%

Diamond reported after the market closed Thursday that it earned $8.5 million, or 37 cents a share, up from $6.7 million, or 30 cents a share, a year earlier.

Revenue in the period, which ended July 31 and was the fourth quarter of Diamond’s fiscal year, rose 32 percent to $232.8 million.

Analysts polled by FactSet anticipated the company would earn 44 cents a share on revenue of $216.3 million.

Diamond said that for the full 2012 fiscal year it expected adjusted earnings of $3.05 to $3.15 if a deal to acquire the Pringles brand closed in the first half of December as anticipated. That is up from previous guidance of $3 to $3.10. The company expects revenue of $1.85 billion to $1.95 billion for the year.

Stock in Diamond, which is based in San Francisco, rose $9.07, to $87.30 a share.

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Making Sustainable Surfboards

Danny Hess of San Francisco loves riding the waves, but he hates that many surfboards are made of nonrecyclable materials and must constantly be replaced. He left his job as a building contractor to devote himself to the problem.

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The Haggler: A Few (Middle) Seats Still Available

The problem with airline nightmare stories, at least for this column, is that they are usually so specific. That is, they typically involve mishaps that emerge from highly particular circumstances that many people will never encounter.

Case (briefly) in point: Thane Kreiner of San Francisco wrote recently about a continuing hassle with Air France, which the Haggler calls le hassle continuing avec Air France, because the Haggler knows very little French. Mr. Kreiner bought two round-trip, “premium voyageur”-class tickets to Paris, for $5,310. When Air France e-mailed a confirmation, Mr. Kreiner noticed that the type of plane for this flight, scheduled for late June, had changed and that he and his companion would be sitting in a different, and more downmarket section of the jet. He asked for and was given a refund of $925 per ticket.

In mid-May, Air France switched the type of jet yet again, this time back to the original model. When Mr. Kreiner asked if he could return that $925 and get the seats he had initially booked, an Air France representative said no. Instead, the rep offered to sell Mr. Kreiner those premium seats for double what he had initially paid.

“Our position is that we purchased our original seats at a low price and the seats were made unavailable through no fault of our own,” Mr. Kreiner wrote, “so Air France should honor our original purchase price.”

The Haggler sent Mr. Kreiner’s story to Air France, which, by the way, doesn’t make it easy for reporters to get in touch. (How about a media contact phone number, Air France, hmm? That would be bon.) A few days later Mr. Kreiner wrote the Haggler to say that the airline would honor the original fare and restore his tickets to the premium voyageur class of service.

Good news, but do you see what the Haggler means about specific?  Fortunately, the Haggler has been flying recently, and his own travails have a far more universal bent.

He speaks, of course, about the never-ending quest to avoid the middle seat.

Only half of the problem with flying stems from the airlines, you see. The other half stems from humanity, by which the Haggler means the dudes who sit next to the Haggler. Generally speaking, these are people who spend much of the flight engaged in some kind of repulsive habit, like the gent on a recent trip to Albuquerque who harvested excretions from his eyes, nose and ears for roughly a third of the flight.

No, one can’t escape these people. But by avoiding the middle seat, you aren’t bookended by them, either.

Unfortunately, securing a window or aisle seat is a lot harder than it looks, especially if you book only a day or two before you fly, as the Haggler did recently for a Delta flight bought through Expedia. Early in the buying process, a page popped up showing the seats available for the flight, including a tempting mix of window and aisle seats. But you could not reserve one until after you bought a ticket. At that point, lo and behold, the Haggler was assigned a middle seat, and none of the window or aisle spots were available.

Was he given short shrift by going through Expedia? Delta’s Web site, it turned out, displayed some window and aisle seats for the same flight, but when the Haggler called the airline to see if one could be reserved, a rep said those seats were set aside for the “disabled.”

“Are you expecting 20 disabled people on this flight?” the Haggler asked.

The rep could do little more than repeat the policy and advise the Haggler to call or book online two hours before the scheduled 8 a.m. departure. At 5:45 on the morning of the flight, the Haggler called Delta and, after 50 minutes on hold, a rep explained that the Haggler could book an aisle seat on the second leg of the flight, but that the best seats on the first leg would be available only at check-in at the airport.

SO, here’s the question: If it’s impossible for fliers in such circumstances to land good seats until arriving at the airport, why show those seats as available online? Doesn’t that open Expedia and Delta up to accusations that they induced customers to buy a ticket with goodies that weren’t available?

“All airline seat assignments are requests, rather than guarantees,” wrote an Expedia spokesman, Devon Nagle, who noted that when the Haggler booked his flight, the page with the seat map offered this caution: “We will forward your seating request to the airlines but we cannot guarantee that your request will be honored.”

Actually, Expedia could surely guarantee that in this case the Haggler’s request would not be honored. Seriously, if it is clear after you press the “buy” button that only middle seats can be booked, it must be clear before. So again, why show those unobtainable seats?

Because Delta shows them, was Mr. Nagle’s reply.

Not exactly a satisfying answer. But over to you, Delta. Why show your customers seats they can’t reserve?

Two days later, a spokesman e-mailed this reply: “Delta recognizes that there could be issues for some passengers who want to assign their seats through and we are working to address those concerns.”

Let’s hope that fix happens soon, though it is already too late for the Haggler. On the flight in question, he wound up in a middle seat — beside a man who stuffed his mouth with chewing tobacco and spat into a juice bottle for more than two hours.


E-mail: Keep it brief and family-friendly, and go easy on the caps-lock key. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.

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