As we prepare to close the books on 2016, I wanted to impart a few thoughts on what we learned from the past year of running Bonanza.
It was another promising year of growth for our sellers. The average Bonanza seller nows earns 164% more than three years ago. It was also an encouraging year for our company. We doubled office space yet again; this time we've grown all the way to an office with a view of local Mt. Rainier:
Dramatic re-enactment of our actual office view
With 25 million items listed and our sales per seller setting new highs each month, we feel immense optimism about what we will accomplish in the coming year.
More depth on the high points of 2016 (plus sneak peek at 2017) follows...
Seller Traffic on the Rise
Our 2016 roadmap for sellers started and ended with initiatives to drive more buyer traffic to booths. We made inroads into this goal on several fronts.
Our calling card has always been our top-flight integration with buyer channels in general, and Google Shopping in particular. Back in 2008 we were the first marketplace to be connected to Google Base (precursor to Google Shopping), and maintaining our lead has been a priority for us ever since. One result of our investment: in Q4, we saw 70% growth in TurboTraffic pageviews compared to the same period in 2015, and 123% growth in TurboTraffic sales. This difference was partly attributable to the number of sellers that chose TurboTraffic packs this holiday season.
Bonanza's Affiliate program has been another fast-growing source of buyers this year. We are now active advertisers across more than 1,000 publishers, including Cartera, eBates and RewardStyle. Total sales from the affiliate program grew more than 50% compared to 2015.
The most recent addition to our lineup of traffic-driving tools is probably the most exciting. In June, we launched the first version of our Customer Marketing Tool. Its purpose is to help sellers reconnect to past buyers, driving down costs of buyer acquisition as sellers build their brand. The second version of the Customer Marketing Tool launched last week, adding niceties like detailed performance metrics. This tool is going to be a point of emphasis in the coming year, as it continues to help sellers transform one-hit buyers into repeat buyers.
Bonanza sellers submitted thousands of ideas to us over the course of 2016, through both our support team and our feedback forum. In turn, we shipped more than 2,500 features and bug fixes this year. We also closed around 5-10 issues from the feedback forum each month. It was a banner year for craftsmanship at Bonanza.
Focal Point: Dogfooding
"Dogfooding," aka "the practice of using one's own product," is a mantra I’ve repeated at every company meeting over the past year. My thesis is that lack of dogfooding is what lets bad products happen. I want everyone at Bonanza to have an active booth, and to buy from Bonanza merchants. To ensure dogfooding happens, we added a weekly leaderboard that gets emailed to everyone at Bonanza, summarizing who has been using the product, and how much.
Seeing our team embrace the dogfooding ethos inspired me to take our commitment a step further. As of this year, all Bonanza employees must dogfood the site to qualify for a salary increase. I can not say this was a universally popular mandate; nor did I expect it to be. My conviction is that Bonanza's key sustainable advantage is trying harder than our competitors. Dogfooding is the cornerstone of that commitment. If any employee of Bonanza isn't using the product, they are diluting our primary advantage -- I’d rather have them work for a competitor.
The return on our dogfooding investment has been hard to overstate. We found (and fixed) 42% more issues in 2016 than in 2015. The level of polish on Bonanza is higher than it has ever been. If any employee notices an issue, or if any customer reports an issue to our support team, we now have the systems in place to investigate and react to even the smallest glitches. You can thus rest assured that if there’s something on Bonanza that is annoying you, it’s probably annoying us too. By regularly using the site, everyone at Bonanza HQ gets a first-hand look into what makes our product intuitive (and profitable) to use.
"Most Improved" Award: Customer Support
This was a heck of a year for our Customer Support team. Last December, as sales grew, an increase in our support backlog grew alongside it. By mid-December, we were averaging four days between support ticket responses. Once we did we respond, only 55% of our survey respondents indicated a positive experience. It was, shall we say, a far cry from awesome.
In one year's time, we've reduced the average response time by about 75%. We now respond in an average of 10-20 hours, depending on the complexity of the question. As our response time improved, our satisfaction ratings followed suit, improving nearly every month of 2016. By the end of the year, we had pushed our satisfaction rating from 55% to 85%. I don't know if we've ever turned around a vital business metric so rapidly, and so completely.
The turnaround wasn’t a happy accident. Early in 2016, Mark and I recognized that a top business priority was to chart a course to better customer satisfaction. Our conclusion was that we needed to do a better job of delegating to the stellar team we had assembled. In the following months, we refined support team roles, such that we could have experts in areas like "new agent training" and "quality assurance." We started documenting the areas of the site that generated the highest volume of inquiries, and we refined these areas to be more user-friendly.
Now that we have processes in place to ensure continuous improvement, I’ve challenged the team to try to exceed 90% customer satisfaction in our support responses this year. I like our chances.
On the Horizon
The docket for 2017 is teeming with high impact opportunities.
In November of this year, we came to agreement with Google to be admitted into their Channel Partnership program. This means that we gain access to a host of fun new tools we can use to extend our lead as the best Google Shopping integration. An early fruit of this partnership will be a Broadcaster for Webstores, that we hope to have live by Q2. This product will take the underpinnings of our marketplace advertising tool, and add powerful new options like remarketing and keyword targeting.
Growing web of pieces will maximize buyer exposure, even after leaving Bonanza
Our Shopify importer is rapidly making its way from being a beta product to a fully fledged inventory synch tool. As with our other item importers, our goal is to allow a seller to remain synced to their Shopify store with no extra work needed -- just plug it in and make more sales. The importer has garnered a positive response in its nascent state, and we’re delighted about the opportunity it presents to eliminate busywork (i.e., exporting/importing CSV files).
In the interests of keeping the length of this blog manageable, let’s switch to bullet points to quickly cover a few other initiatives we have underway:
Live chat support across all possible pages. We’ve already rolled out chat to the shopping cart, we’ll now look to add chat to all other important pages (e.g., inventory importers) in 2017.
Background Burner quality. We set up a ton of infrastructure in 2016 to help the Burner scale in quality and volume (currently processing more than 10k images per day). This year’s focus will be on minimizing user time+effort required to bring about crisp ecommerce pictures.
Mobile app re-launch. We made some good progress with our mobile app in 2015, but had to sideline it in 2016 due to competing priorities. We’re looking to have a revamped (and fully supported) mobile app launching in 2017 (hopefully Q1).
Site search. Search is arguably our biggest opportunity to differentiate Bonanza to buyers, and we intend to invest heavily in tapping that opportunity this year.
Offline inventory management tool. More than 10% of our eBay sellers rely on TurboLister, so we were pretty shocked to learn eBay would stop supporting it in June of 2017. We’re currently finalizing a partnership that should let us revive an improved version of this venerable tool before support for TurboLister officially ends.
What else to work on? You tell us
Our call for customer feedback last year generated thousands of responses. We summarized a few of them in January. In the months that followed, we implemented every idea from the list we posted, plus many ideas you sent us that we didn’t have time to blog about.
Our secret sauce is listening to our sellers’ ideas and concerns. Nobody knows what they need from our product better than its users.
This year’s seller survey is now online and awaiting your input! The data we get from this survey will go a long way toward determining what our roadmap looks like in the coming year. Because we know our sellers are very busy humans, we’ve designed the survey to take 5 minutes or less for the average respondent. When you have a moment between shipping orders, please stop by the survey and let us know what you’d like to see next.
Thank you so much for continuing to build your business on Bonanza! We are committed to making this your favorite place to sell online.