Archive for category News

Sell more tea by understanding your sales performance

Good shop owners know that sales don’t just happen unless you have a strategy. To improve sales, it is important to understand what your store already does. That means knowing where your sales are coming from, tracking the performance of products, knowing which ones to continue to push and which ones to remove and how well your pricing scheme is working. Knowing all that information is a matter of numbers and statistics. For our sellers, this has meant that you needed to get out the old spreadsheet, start punching in numbers and generating graphs and charts. This can be a pretty time-consuming process.

That’s about to change.

Now available to all Tea Trade sellers are detailed statistics about your sales performance. Using Google Charts, our new Sales Statistics plugin provides you with a wealth of valuable data about your tea store’s performance.

Here is a example of what you will see in using the sales statistics:

sales statistics plugin

Sales statistics example – click to enlarge

The statistics reporting currently provides the following information:

  • Total sales by month, 12 months
  • Average revenue per sale, 12 months
  • Product sales, 12 months
  • Product sales average/order, 12 months
  • Sales by product price
  • Revenue by product price
  • Top products (number of sales)
  • Top products (revenue)
  • Top clients

You can also view each month’s statistics and all-time totals for revenue, sales, products sold, average products per sale, and average revenue per sale.

This plugin has already been activated on the majority of our seller’s sites, just look in your Dashboard under Sales Statistics. There are no configuration settings, you’ll see that it just works and reports the information in a usable and easy-to-understand format. If you own a Tea Trade store and find that the plugin is not active on your site, just go to the Plugins page on your Dashboard, find Tea Trade Market Statistics in the list and click Activate.

Downtime, fixing it, and the future

This week, Tea Trade outgrew its previous home and needed a bigger house with more rooms. The server on which Tea Trade lived up until Monday morning was limited in both power and space. While we knew that we needed to move to a bigger server soon, Tea Trade’s growth in membership, and blogs in the last few weeks pushed us over the limit. So we needed to upgrade to a larger server. Over the last couple of days we have gone through several attempts to migrate Tea Trade to its new server. After various efforts by our hosting technicians, we were able to get control of things using our own backup to get things going.

This is what happened

The techs contacted us on Monday that we needed a bigger, more powerful server. So we purchased one, they set it up and assured us they would handle the migration. I know these guys are skilled and knowledgeable, because I’ve seen them work before, but for some reason every time they tried to move us, there were complications. After almost 3 days of trying to get it right, I took control of it and worked a restoration. Fortunately, it worked wonderfully and the result was a flawless restoration of Tea Trade and all its parts. Except for one thing…

Since the techs were working, our nightly backup system wasn’t running and some new posts (and one new blog) couldn’t be retrieved. Once we got Tea Trade working again, we quickly moved to restore those updates that were posted yesterday, (after our backup). Now, everything looks great and things are working as they should.

The server and the future

Our new server has some real juice to it. In fact, we could triple in size before we need to adjust it again. The better news is that, in tech speak, the server is scale-able. That means, when the time comes that we need more space or power, it’s a simple matter of adding it to make it that way–without any offline time. It is, however, expensive.

What you can do to help

In order to have this server, our hosting costs are now four times more expensive than they were previously. So this is where you come in. You can support Tea Trade by becoming a Tea Trader and selling some tea, we make money when you make money. You can simply sell it from your kitchen, or you can innovate and create an entirely new brand of teas usingTea Trade to get your start (we’re very much in support of tea entrepreneurs.) The tea you sell helps offset some of the operating costs.

Also, if you’re hankering after a blog, or online tea store that is more elaborate, you can hire us to design and build it for you. As a Tea Trade member, I will custom build you a website (blog or tea store) for hundreds of dollars less than you would pay a typical freelancer to custom build your own online store. You win by getting a custom-built site you can be proud of, we win because having you as a client helps support Tea Trade. In the end, everybody wins because Tea Trade continues to be a special place where tea lovers can learn, read, talk about and buy tea from people they care about in a community that matters. 

We thank everyone for their support, be it as bloggers, sellers, contributors, or readers.You all make Tea Trade the great site it is.

The Tea Trade hacking

As many of you already know, over the weekend, Tea Trade was hacked. I am posting this to give you a better idea about what happened, what we did and what we are doing to prevent it happening again. First off, I want to let you know, that this attack did not compromise any passwords, personal information or blog posts. All of that was safe, and as soon as we saw what was going on, we took Tea Trade offline to prevent any further damage. While,  I recommend that you change your passwords,  the passwords in Tea Trade are all stored encrypted which makes them very safe.  That is, unless you are using one of the common passwords, like iloveyou, or (God forbid) password. Additionally, the information of any customers who have purchased products was also safe. All of this type of information is stored in the database, and the database was well protected.

Attacks are common

Generally speaking, hacker attacks are pretty common. We started documenting the number of threats back in September 2011. To date, our records show that our defenses have stopped 206,488 threatening attacks from ever reaching Tea Trade. This number includes the spammers and the hacking bots as well. Generally speaking, our security in the big picture is good. However…

Leaving the back door open

I know now exactly how the attack got in, and it didn’t get in over the weekend. It entered through a “back door” – a security hole in a piece of third party image resizing software.  It’s a popular piece of software that comes inbuilt with many WordPress themes. When the hole was discovered, a patch was pushed out by the developers, and I inspected over 300 themes with thousands of files and directories to apply the patch where necessary. However, six themes were not patched at that time. A hacker with a program to search the internet for such weaknesses, found one and infected it with a back door program. Then over the weekend, that harmless backdoor was exploited.

One of our members was using a popular theme, by a popular developer, which unfortunately was compromised by that initial security hole. Once that member’s blog started getting traction in the search engines, that backdoor was easier to find.

What it did

The malicious code was designed to replicate itself in a file called footer.php. Every theme has one of those files – I temporarily deleted over 250 themes while trying to track this down. The footer files are all written differently, and are used to build the very bottom section of your website each time a page loads. The bad code looked for a specific tag common in every footer file and injected itself. To make matters worse, the code was encrypted making it difficult to know what it does. Fortunately, on the majority of the sites, the code failed to execute resulting in an error that appeared at the bottom of the websites over the weekend. It was this error; visible on one of the blogs that prompted Jackie to tell me to have a look, and how I discovered the hacking.

Improving security

As a result of this, I’ve boosted our security measures to prevent this from happening again. Most of these steps are technical and involve protecting various file directories using a combination of special commands and permissions. As a result of this, for the next couple of days and weeks, if you find something not working properly (uploading images might be affected sightly) let me know as I work to fine tune these–its important to get the right balance of security and accessibility. In addition to this, I will be increasing  our backup schedule.

Furthermore, we’ve retained the internet security firm that helped us track this one down to continue monitoring Tea Trade for the next year. Given at how efficient they were in helping us out, I’m very pleased with their service, and we will renew with them next year to keep the protection in place.

Keeping Tea Trade safe

It’s important to remember that Tea Trade itself was not targeted. Tea Trade is built on WordPress, and WordPress is one of the most popular platforms on the internet for building a website. Due to this, WordPress was targeted, but more specifically; a weakness in a third-party script commonly associated with WordPress was. With popularity, one becomes a target. My job, and the job of the developers who build WordPress and the supporting software,  is to ensure that WordPress websites are hard to hack into. This incident has motivated me to ensure that Tea Trade is setup with the best practices in the industry, over the coming days, I’ll be double-checking the hardening of our WordPress installation and consulting with others about how to keep it safe in the future.

I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused by this. To help compensate for the confusion and frustration over the last 3 days, I’ll be extending all the paid Tea Trader accounts for one month free of charge. I want to encourage confidence that Tea Trade is a safe and secure place to host your tea blog or online tea store and show that Jackie and I are committed to making and keeping Tea Trade as the best tea community online.

How to win an awesome new teapot from Leafbucks.com

Leafbucks - save up to 50% on teaLast year we announced that we were looking into developing a group buying site devoted entirely to tea. We received a good amount of feedback on the topic both on our blog and in other places in the online tea community. Over the winter, we quietly put sign up page online at Leafbucks.com to begin collecting email address for this. The response has been terrific.

Win a new teapot

Due the enthusiastic response, we are moving forward with this and have begun work on building the new website. Right now, as part of the pre-launch promotion for Leafbucks we are giving away a beautiful Solo Eva Teapot (worth about $120 US). In order to be eligible to win, you simply need to share your email address with us at Leafbucks.com. You can earn extra entries into the drawing by sharing your unique link to Leafbucks. When one of your friends or followers also shares their email address, you get an extra contest entry!

Here’s a promo video showing this elegant prize:

Online stores and brick-and-mortar

Initially, we will be offering deals from online stores. As Leafbucks grows, we will be adding the capacity for your local tea shops to also run deals with us so that you’ll be able to buy deals for shops in your town or city. Our plan is to become the default online location to look for big savings on tea.

Merchants wanted

If you own or represent an existing tea company and are looking for a partner to run a group deal buying campaign, please contact us. We would love for you to be part one of our first merchants.

How is Leafbucks going to be different than Groupon?

One of the biggest things we are going to to do differently is that we are going to let you keep more of your money. Groupon takes 50% of each sale and holds on to your money for another 7 days after the deal closes, and holds onto your final payment for 30 days.

With Leafbucks, your money is going to be available immediately, so you can start filling your orders with actual money available to you instead of having to finance those orders yourself, like a Groupon deal makes you do. Once the deal closes, and we collect the money from the customers, we send your share, 60%, directly on to you.

You also will get the added benefit of targeted marketing. Leafbucks is going online right in the middle of an active group of online tea shoppers, influencers and writers who have a broad reach across their social landscape, giving you broader reach as they share your deals to their friends, followers and readers.

Coming Soon

We don’t have a launch date, building this kind of website is a pretty technical process and we want to get all the bugs worked out, but we are actively working on it. In the meantime, sign up to win a great prize and spread the word to your favorite merchants and ask them to get in touch with us at Tea Trade so we can get their deals setup and in place!

Tea Trade is on Alltop!

alltop badgeA few months ago, we submitted the main Tea Trade blog feed to Alltop, just the other day, we finally received notice from them that they are adding our feed to their Tea page. This is great news for Tea Trade, and great news for all the Tea Trade bloggers.

About Alltop

They are best described in their own words:

The purpose of Alltop is to help you answer the question, “What’s happening?” in “all the topics” that interest you. You may wonder how Alltop is different from a search engine. A search engine is good to answer a question like, “How many people live in China?” However, it has a much harder time answering the question, “What’s happening in China?” That’s the kind of question that we answer. We do this by collecting the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs that cover a topic. We group these collections — “aggregations” — into individual web pages…You can think of Alltop as the “online magazine rack” of the web.

 What this means to you:

You’ve all probably heard about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). It’s basically stuff that people do to make their websites rank better in search engines. Google has a nice feature were your site gets extra points when another site that Google considers an Authoritative Website links to yours. That’s what the Alltop tea page is – its an authoritative site. By hosting your blog on Tea Trade, you will now get that automatic benefit in the search engines. We get it and you get it, because every time you write a blog post, your headline is going to show up (almost immediately) on Alltop, where the Googlebot will find it – and then give you a little boost in the ranking, just because the link is coming from Alltop.

Another reason this is special

Every feed is personally reviewed by Alltop staff before it gets added to a page, it’s not easy to meet the criteria for submission. They grade a feed based on frequency, quality and length of time blogging. Tea Trade hasn’t been around very long, but by banding together, the Tea Trade network publishes several blog posts a day (we’ve seen days with ten or more posts popping up!). All this activity clearly makes Tea Trade an exceptional place – and having our feed on Alltop recognizes that – something that wouldn’t have happened without this amazing group of people, writing interesting, relevant, and fascinating articles about tea.

Updates coming for Tea Trade stores

We are currently testing a number of new features to be added to the Tea Trade Stores in the not too distant future. I’m not usually one to start talking about new features before they are entirely ready, but some of these are so good that I want to get the word out about what you all can expect once we are done with the beta-testing and bug-fixing.

Here’s a list of some of the highlights:

  • Bulk product importing. You’ll be able to create complete product lists in a spreadsheet and then import dozens of products, with variations at once. No more inputting products one at a time.
  • Export orders as Comma-Separated-Values (CSV). This can be useful for accounting. This will allow you to export all your orders into a spreadsheet for tracking and accounting purposes.
  • Weight based shipping. For a tea seller, this one almost speaks for itself!
  • United States Postal Service calculated shipping. The majority of our sellers are in the States and use the USPS, I think they’ll get a lot of mileage out of this one.
  • Add $0 sales prices. We’ve been limited to $1 amounts as the smallest amount, but some of our Tea Traders just want to give stuff away from their kitchen. They will soon be able to.
  • Display widgets only on store pages. Tea Traders could do this before by using our Dynamic Widgets plugin, but now we are building it in to make it easier. It allows for a more dynamic site appearance and helps separate stuff in the sidebar like shopping carts and extra product lists from informative areas of your site like the blog or customer service sections.
  • Add setting to disable excerpts on product lists. Product list pages by default have displayed some of the product description. This isn’t always useful when you want a clean look on store pages. In the past, we’ve had to use CSS coding to hide it. This setting will give you the option to remove it so that pages listing multiple products will only display the thumbnail, product title, and buy now or add to cart button.
  • Many bug fixes and coding cleanup…. We haven’t experience much in the way of an impact from bugs in the system, but we are going through the code anyway to ensure things are clean for the future

These are all in a beta-testing environment and we are working with the developers to run all the problems to ground before we release this on Tea Trade. This process has taken up to a few weeks in the past, but hopefully we get through it quickly enough so that we can get these improvements out to you all soon!

How to get statistics for your Tea Trade blog

We’ve added a new way to track how many visitors your Tea Trade blog gets. Previously, we were using a proprietary system, but it had limitations and bugs, we we’ve returned to the gold standard of website statistics - Google Analytics. In your website’s or blog’s dashbaord, go to Settings -> Google Analytics.

To use it, you will need a Google account and you will need to set things up at Google Analytics. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll be able to get a unique code that you will need to enter into your blog or website’s Analytics settings. This is called a UA code and looks like UA-XXXXXX-XX (where the X’s are numbers). You can find more details on how to find the code here.

You don’t have to pay for access to this, like you do with some other blog and website hosting services – we are giving all our members access to this for free.

In the dashboard, you simply enter your code and our software will ensure that it get’s displayed in the source code on every page of your site, tracking your visitors and giving you accurate statistics.

Here’s a screenshot of the settings page you’ll find in your dashboard:

google analytics settings

Dashboard settings page for Google Analytics

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Pouring tea into Tea Trade

thumbs up for tea tradeI’m posting this to report some good news about the future of Tea Trade.

After a bit of wheeling and dealing, we’ve secured a small investment to finance the growth of Tea Trade and to fund future projects. It’s not a huge amount compared to what tech companies get, but the faith shown by the investor is gratifying and shows that what we are doing and planning is worth somebody’s time and money.

As a result of this investment, Tea Trade is now financially secured for our next cycle of development, which should take us well into the later part of the year.

A lot thanks goes to the members and tea community for making this possible. Sure, we have great plans ahead for 2012, but because of the community’s involvement, interest, and activity we were able to present Tea Trade to our backer in a way that really got him interested.

Thanks to all of you for your continued support, creativity and participation in helping make Tea Trade the great place it has become today!

Tea Trade update coming soon

The latest version of WordPress was released to (WordPress 3.3) and there are some great usability features that are built into it that I think will make blogging on Tea Trade even easier. We aren’t quite ready to do our own update yet (updating too soon can cause problems for complex WordPress installations like Tea Trade), we are going to wait until all of our development partners announce that their software products are compatible.

Here’s a nice video about the new features. It mentions a new features for the WordPress toolbar. We aren’t currently using it, but we are thinking about switching to it from the current Tea Trade bar (there is still some testing that needs to be done on it for us and how it will effect Tea Trade).

We’ll make an announcement after made the update, but generally we like to wait a week or two, until all the bugs are worked out.

 

Improved shipping options for Tea Trade sellers

We recently upgraded the shipping options for Tea Trade store owners. Previously, we only offered No Shipping, and Flat Rate shipping. This really didn’t offer a lot flexibility in terms setting shipping rates that reflect your costs. Now we’ve added Table Rate Shipping. It sounds complex but it is actually very easy.

By choosing Table Rate under the Shipping tab in their Store Settings, sellers will be given an option to create a table or shipping rates based on the total purchase price that the customer has in his or her shopping cart. You can create up to 20 layers in the table giving you the ability to have a fine-grained control over your shipping costs or a simpler, more general setup.

The screenshot below illustrates a shipping rate table with 5 layers and free shipping for orders over $50.

table rate shipping

This addition is a huge advancement forward in how shipping costs can be better controlled by the seller and how they pass those costs on to their customers.