- Writing about Japanese candy.
- Making videos about Japanese candy.
Doing this will attract people interested in Japanese candy, and will pull in potential and real subscribers. Over the long term I think this could be good. I also think the topic of "Japanese Candy" is big enough for you to write/video about it once or twice a week.
As for the service itself - I think it lends well to word of mouth, or at least it could. People get their candy and share it with others, and those others ask where you got their candy. I was a subscriber for probably 4-5 months, and at least two of my friends signed up because of my word of mouth.
Thing is, all three of us have unsubscribed - and for all three of us, it actually came down to the quality of the candy (or perhaps, it came down to our tastes in candy). I know originally (and maybe still) your thing was about sending people Japanese candy they can't get outside of Japan too easily. That's good and all, but in the end, after a while we all realized the candy itself in terms of quality / taste was hit or miss... and with subscription, you can't have too many misses before someone unsubscribes. I'd say I personally enjoyed the candy I got half the time, so I just unsubscribed because it wasn't worth it.
I think finding candy that people will like rather than candy people find different or original is much more important. I think that's the difference between gaining more subscribers naturally through word of mouth and losing subscribers.
At least, that's my opinion on it. I do hope you start revving sales up again, though. I loved the candy when I loved the candy, and I think it's a good idea, but between myself and friends we unsubscribed because we didn't always love the candy :(
I'm not sure how to only send the good ones, and that would depend on the recipient's tastes as well. Part of the idea is to try new things, so it seems unavoidable that as I go through all the varieties out there, people will not like some of them.
Some people don't like gummy candy, some really do. Some people are really into "construction kit" type candy, some hate the effort involved and so on.
Perhaps there could be a way to make the subscribers feel like they didn't lose out even if they got something they really hated, but not sure how that would work exactly.
Maybe if you ran some kind of candy A/B Test.
Send two different kinds of envelopes to people, and keep track of who got what. Then, send a survey to these people to have them rate the candy's they received. After a few months, you should start to have a general idea on what types of candies are liked more and what types are liked less. Even though you'll never have a taste-consensus, you can get a general idea, and modify what kinds of candy you send and the amounts of the kinds of candies you do send.
Or, another way would be to send all the same candy to everyone and send out a survey. Then the next two weeks send another set of candy and run another survey.
Whatever you do / don't do, getting stats and info is really nice.
You can't, unfortunately, please everyone :( so might as well please a group of people _a lot_ and get a group of really evangelical fans, I think.
If I totally abandon the community aspect though, then I could start designing the ultimate sequence of candy that maximizes retention. Not sure which is better.
There seems like a ton of subscription businesses around and I almost feel there might be room to create a white/gray-label platform that can handle the website, subscription management, payment and shipping labels to potential operators of these kinds of services.
Wondering how big the addressable market is.
UPDATE: http://member.ly already does this according the child comments - awesome!
I've had a decent amount of signups since then, but it has leveled off. I hope to share what I've learned so far very soon.
This could do 2 things for you:
1) You could earn some money off of an affiliate program.
2) People like myself who are new to tea are unlikely to subscribe to your service without some help. Tell me what I need to enjoy tea (include brewing directions if they don't come with your tea), and I'm much more likely to subscribe.
I would specifically recommend that you recommend a single product with a direct link—not a type of product or brand.
If you're drinking high quality, delicious tea, I don't think you'll want to settle for only one cup at a time. But the more you brew, the more leaves you need to use.
It's somewhat counter-intuitive, but let's say you use one teaspoon of leaves for one cup of tea, you can't just steep the same amount of leaves longer to get one liter of tea. But you can brew whatever amount at a time, several times. I think the "10 - 15" times on teapeat.com is exaggerated. It's probably closer to 5, and even then, the taste kind of changes along the way.
I brew something like 7.5 deciliters ( http://theoatmeal.com/pl/senior_year/science ) of tea at a time, and that gives me roughly three nice-sized cups. But I need to use roughly four teaspoons of leaves for that.
If you want to get serious about enjoying high quality tea (and who wouldn't!), you might want to invest in a water-boiler that lets you set the temperature. Almost no quality tea can be brewed at 100C.
For Japanese sencha (my favourite type of tea), it appears that roughly 70C is good, which just so happens to be the temperature I get from my water boiler when I ask for 80C. A lucky coincidence.
Another choice you need to make is the kind of teapot you'll use. A glass pot looks pretty with your lovely green tea in it, but will break into pieces when it slips from your hands when you're washing it. True story. A stainless steel pot won't break, and will keep your tea warm for a long time. Then there are other kinds, like cast-iron pots, ceramic ones, etc. I've got a steel pot now, and I'm quite happy with it.
...how much does your service cost? There's no pricing info on the site :/
The pricing isn't a secret though, just not advertised. Memberly takes 5% (like Kickstarter) and then Amazon takes their payment processing fee which varies according to volume but is typically 2.9% + $0.30.
It would be nice though if someone else dealt with all the different payment buttons, subscription management and just wired me a lump sum monthly and sent the PDF for address labels that I need to print out for shipping.
One time I was experimenting with sending first package using airmail and subsequent packages simultaneously using the cheaper shipping option that was supposed to be 2 weeks slower. But in reality the slower one arrived first and the faster one a day later, leaving subscribers confused.
It would seem that the next wave of movement to web services will be SAAS services that address larger business side services like shipping and piece-meal manufacturing, but I'm not sure how that is going to be done.
There's a full API:
I sent Amazon one pack of candy and then shipped it through them to see how it would work and what it would cost. Had no trouble with the service itself, but it adds a slight cost for me since I have to ship to Amazon and then pay for shipping again.
I sold a pack of candy there for $9.90. After Amazon's fees I got $5.60. Someone bought it from Amazon.com instead of me dispatching it through the API, which would have cost more. The cost for me to buy that candy was $2.05 and shipping it to Amazon cost $4.20.
Of course in reality I would ship much larger amounts, but then there would be new fees too since I would need to clear customs and pay import taxes.
Also it seems we have to attach some kind of label with a bar code to each individual candy because they don't have a normal UPC code so that the Amazon system can deal with it. Biggest killers for me from using this is having to clear customs and that they won't send you the money for your sales unless you have a US bank account.
(Disclaimer: I work for Amazon doing FBA Ops)
The first item is "ALL items are covered with the correct FBA stickers". So actually that is not necessary, and if I just buy a huge pack of candies and ship it to you with only this single packing slip on the big box containing many candies, then you can still sort things out?
Sorry for the delay in replying. Feel free to pm if you have any other questions.
I would offer a service up to the point of providing the labels and packing slips to the merchant and let them execute the fulfillment themselves.
My guess is that for most 'normal' people the website, payments and subscriber management aspect is the most difficult part of the operation to run so it seems best to focus there.
Although that wouldn't address your decline in subscriptions it would improve your bottom line.
At the scale I am in, I doubt anyone wants to talk with me since I'm only buying $1000 worth of their product (I cycle through different candy so don't buy that much from single manufacturers) as it is. Also not all of my subscribers are in the US, I have many in Canada, Germany and all over the place.
In that case, how about partnering with people in each country who live in large enough cities that they can acquire Japanese candy themselves (at the Japanese mall or whatever), and then ship to the subscribers in that country? As I think a few people have pointed out, the real benefit to a subscriber is if they live in a rural place with no access to Japanese candy.
Again, I have no idea if this would reduce your shipping costs in the end, but I'm curious if it would. I think that there are not a lot of people who both (a) don't have access to Japanese candy themselves, and (b) are willing to pay $24 a month for it (since high earners tend to live in larger cities).
One thing is that they expect me to use their web interface to file "prior notice" for every single package I send. I see writing a scraping script in my future..
You have to pay the tax, yes, but no penalty, so you have nothing to loose by asking.
I did look into importing a bulk of product to US and then shipping from a hub there. I got as far as the FDA page where I was supposed to register my product. The FDA site requires you input the code of the factory the product is produced in. I tried asking the manufacturer for the factory code, but they weren't interested in helping me.
At my scale it probably doesn't make sense yet, anyway. But since you asked, you at least need to get that factory code and fill some forms on the FDA site.
Perhaps you could try targeting a different audience. While through sites like HN is great, try going for a younger audience. I grew up in the 90s, it was always fun to share and showoff something new in school (but then again there was no iPhone, or iPad etc) But I'm not so sure about today's teen generation's mentality, and their willingness to subscribe something monthly.
Very intrigued by this concept though.
We met at a meetup just before Startup School last year. I remember you telling me about your Japanese candy selling business. Glad to see you post an update about it. Best of luck!
You could also make it more enticing for people to give the phamplet to someone by rewarding people who have friends sign up.
For what it's worth, I'd pay $15/mo for one package or $30/mo for two packages - personally, the difference between $24 and $30 is negligible, given how much I'd already be paying. I currently pay ~$50/mo to have Steaz and/or other iced teas delivered (cheaper than going to Dunkin' Donuts once a day), so the issue isn't really price, rather it's the relative value compared to, say, $24/mo of drinks.
1. High-res pics of candy and call to action above the fold.
2. Registration/Membership on-site not just paypal sub link.
3. Video is great, but it would help to have, sorry to be frank, less amateur shaky cam in favor of something a little more pro that gives me confidence in handing over money every month to a person out there.
You should also consider reaching out to daily deals sites with a "discounted membership" deal that could really move the needle for you.
I think this is pretty awesome, I'd love to see how this develops...
"Food that is sent to an individual in the U.S. for personal use (i.e. not for resale) by a business is subject to special requirements of the Food and Drug Administration. Businesses that send goods to the U.S. must file prior notice. Prior notice may be filed on-line if the goods are being sent through the postal service."
kind of candy in the US. Consider importing it if only to raise your brand identity by getting it featured on novelty blogs.
Another reason I haven't done this yet is that I would need inventory control again. I was running an ecommerce store once and it does add a bit of extra work to make sure you have every item you claim to have and to be able to pick and pack them efficiently. Basically need barcodes and labeled shelves.
With only posting to HN, I had a decent amount of sign ups.
Not sure if that will really be applicable to this, though. I should go back and re-read his posts.
I just know that in Finland, in such cases you have to go to the post office to get the package, so I've tried to avoid sending such things as part of the regular shipments. I might still add an option to order those separately.
Edit: Checking out the website, from a sales funnel / marketing perspective, there are many things you could do to increase the sales just from the current traffic you're receiving - and would likely reduce the new customer acquisition cost from $60.
Edit2: Other things can be done to reduce churn rate as well.
If someone starts a subscription from a referral maybe they and the referrer can each get a bonus candy package when they start? That would probably be much cheaper than trying to do advertising with only a marginal increase in packaging complexity.
I have to be careful though, since it does actually cost a bit to send a package. Another thing I considered was starting some page similar to http://duckduckgo.com/spread.html and reward the most helpful people (as judged by me or by voting) with free extra packages.
Or instead of giving away free candies to the package I mentioned above, reduce the price to say $20-$22/mth if they pay upfront for 3 months to give them the $6-9 savings over 3 months.
I mean finding bloggers, contacting them with personally crafted messages and keeping in touch with them. I'm terrible at following up on emails when I happen to be in the coding zone.
Are your readers still looking for that unique Valentines day gift? Candy Japan has the answer. We sell candy subscriptions filled with fun and delicious Japanese candy.
How does it work? Every two weeks, we select some surprise Japanese candy and mail it to you directly from Japan. Prices start at $23.95 per month for two candy deliveries each month, or you can buy a single delivery for $13.00.
For more information, visit www.candyjapan.com
If you would like any more information, you can email me directly at [email]. I can also provide further images optimized for blog posts an emails.
Obviously, its directed at bloggers or websites who talk about gifts, gift giving or valentines day. You would tweak it depending on who you're trying to reach. After Valentines day, you would direct it to people looking to give fun gifts. With your prices, it would be best to concentrate on hip, urban websites or bloggers.
I just wrote that quickly by the way, maybe other people here can improve on it.
Another one would be a one-time purchase that is slightly more pricey but gives more. I don't want to commit to a monthly thing, but I'd pay $40 to get a single, larger package for my Japan-obsessed daughter's birthday and Christmas.
If you want more data on whether you should do this, try asking customers that have canceled their subscription if they'd stay on if it was once a month. Also, think about running an a/b test with once a month vs twice a month...
I want to say yes to this experiment, but immediately come up with more stuff that this would require that holds me back from adding it right now.
With tiers you will eventually have people who want to upgrade / downgrade between the tiers (of course I can just say you can't do that). I need to change my scripts that scan PayPal to support these tiers and still correctly figure out who to send to.
Need a tier selection page and this will also complicate wording on the main page. Not missing out on those customers who only wanted one envelope a month seems it might make this worth doing, agreeing with you there and hoping to find the time to add this.
This way people could get their favorite thing, or a selection which is tailored to them.