Back for Part Two of our interview with Nate York, IT Manager for Mountain Rose Herbs. Nate talks to us about the technical issues, challenges and decisions he makes to keep the site running problem free. He also discusses how Mountain Rose Herbs uses Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to spark community participation in the company’s operations, and ecommerce site search to provide site visitors with information on the right product at the right time.
Let’s talk technology and the nut and bolts of operating your website. You’re on the Miva platform? What do you see as the pros and cons of it?
We were already established on the Miva platform (hosted with Cyberhost) before I arrived. It is secure and works 24/7. Even though we’re on an older version, it works well and I’ve had a good experience. Although some things are not as customizable, we’re not looking to upgrade MIVA. We’re developing a custom shopping cart, though, because we want some additional flexibility and customizable functionality.
What about processing and payments?
We don’t do any card processing online. It is all offline and non-real-time. Part of the reason is security. Part of the reason is that we’re not a widget company that ships boxed inventoried products the same day. Rather than dealing with backorders, we find it better to process the order as it is filled. The benefits of doing offline processing definitely outweigh the benefits of doing it online. We deal with fewer refunds and backorders.
How do you handle international customers? Any special fraud programs in place?
We do address verification, and direct contact and confirmation with international customers. Because each order is hand processed we can spot inaccuracies and potential fraud threats. Any orders over $300 require a special form we send after the order has been placed.
You have a corporate policy against shipping to Mexico, Russia and all of Africa. Why?
There is just too much fraud that takes places as a result of doing business with these countries to make it worthwhile.
Let’s talk customer acquisition. It looks like word of mouth is important? Event marketing, I assume is big, too.
Both are really important. We do word of mouth and event marketing across the country. We don’t host events ourselves. Instead, we get involved with green living events around the country, such as The Green Festival in San Francisco, Green America and numerous other conferences. I love trade shows and I’m trying to find an herbal IT conference that I can attend. Haven’t found one yet, unfortunately.
Let’s talk SEO.
We do all of our SEO in house. We use Google Analytics and Google Base for our shopping feeds. Also, we cover our keywords, meta-data, headers, alt tags etc… everything indexable to keep us in the search light.
We use Nextopia’s technology in a several different ways. We use the EcommISearch module for our site search and the new Out of Stock Alerts module which enables customers to add their email on a per-SKU basis. When we receive new product and update our inventory and shopping cart, the system automatically sends out an email. It is a great way to drive sales.
Selecting Nextopia for our site search has been one of the best decisions we made. I love Nextopia. I really do. I’ve really enjoyed working with the engineers tremendously. When I’ve needed applications developed, they’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty several times. Probably the main reason our relationship works is that they’re the right size of company for us. I know I can talk to Chris Bannister (my Nextopia account rep) and get stuff done. I work with other vendors and don’t get anywhere near the same level of personalized attention. With other vendors, I’m not just not as important. With Nextopia, I am really, really important.
Let’s talk Social Marketing. You’re tied into Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and You Tube. What does social marketing do for you?
Keeping in touch with the herbal community is critical for us. Social marketing gives us a face, so we’re not an anonymous wall. It allows customers to talk to us as well as interact. As we both participate in this discussion and observe it, we find out what our customers want.
Mountain Rose Herbs launched a user generated video contest in October 2009. Customers were asked to showcase their love of herbs, teas, spices, oils, and all things botanical.
The creator of the winning video received $1,000 and featured placement through the company’s social media accounts.
The idea came from internal discussions. The promotional video introducing the contest really captures who we are as a company. We wanted the video to encourage customer participation, we hired a local guy named Norm Scott, who did a terrific job. The entries were great. It is really fun to see how we touch people’s lives and play a part in their practice of an organic herbal lifestyle. (The delightful winning entry came from Catherine Wing and Bill Buckendorf who created a rapping rodent, Chives the Mouse).
Looked at your Twitter feed. Seems to be a combination of news tweets and coupon offers?
The key is having someone on your staff who has the time to keep on top of it. I’m definitely not that guy. Our marketing department handles it. Overall, Twitter helps keep our name present in any discussions relating to the herbal industry. From my perspective as a Mountain Rose employee and as a musician, I think it is a really good tool.
Where do you go to learn more about ecommerce innovations? What are some of the resources?
We work with a database programmer, Will Emmerson. He does a lot of our custom backend development for our ERP system. For example, he wrote the back end between Miva and our system. I work with him collaboratively. I’ll take an idea for a program or problem we need to solve. We’ll talk about options and possible solutions and then develop whatever we think is the best fix. Between Shawn, Will and I, we follow advances in technology and reason about how it could fit into our shop.
For a new retailer just starting out, what are a couple of things you would recommend they do?
First, I’d invest in IT and use it. Don’t go cheap and scrimp unnecessarily. Allocate whatever is necessary (time and/or money) to do a good job. It really can help you grow efficiently.
Finally, what is one thing that people probably don’t know about Mountain Rose Herbs?
Our corporate IT policy dictates that everything we buy is EPEAT Certified Gold. Everything we buy for our staff of 80 plus people, from desktops and monitors, to networking equipment, needs to meet this standard.
(Ed Note: EPEAT is a system that helps purchasers evaluate, compare and select electronic products based on their environmental attributes.)
Thanks Nate for your time. If you want to hear Nate’s other love, visit his band’s website. He manages it, of course.