Practical Ecommerce

To Maintain Productivity, Keep Some Margin

Online retailers are accustomed to thinking about margin in a purely financial sense — as the difference between what an item costs and the amount at which it is sold. There are, however, other areas of an online retail business that need margin too.

Margin may be thought of as a border or an edge, it’s a bit of extra space that isn’t being regularly used. For example, there are margins around the very elements on this page. There is space between the paragraphs and around the images.

In a small business, each employee must — as the saying goes — wear many hats, meaning that they must do many different jobs or tasks, and often business owners consider those employees that fill up their days with the most tasks to be the best for the business. While it is important to admire those most disciplined workers, it is important to give them some margin too, allowing them to have downtime during the work day when they can read, think, work on projects not related to their primary job, or just chat with co-workers about movies or whatever.

This extra margin has an important function for the business, especially where marketing is concerned. Remember overworked employees cannot innovate.

Marketing Margin Lets You Take Advantage of Opportunities

A multi-channel retailer in the Northwest recently had an opportunity to create a series of product endorsement videos. A well known, industry-specific celebrity was recorded praising several of the products the retailer sells, explaining in some detail how he uses each one.

This retailer has had good success with adding product videos on its website, often increasing sales for items when a video is shown on that item’s product detail page.

But, at the time of writing, this potentially conversion-boosting testimonial video remains unedited, because the company’s marketing team does not have enough margin. There are just too many other tasks — some which are less important — that stand in the way.

A marketing team that has margin in its work calendar can fit in an extra project like video editing, when an opportunity is presented. While one does not want to always use the margin — or else it is not truly margin — but having that extra time, that margin can let marketers take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Marketing Margin Lets You Create New Opportunities

Having margin may also allow a marketing department to create new opportunities or come up with new promotional ideas.

This is actually a fairly common practice at some of the best Internet companies. For example, Google asks its employees to spend 20 percent of their time, which is one day per week, on margin. On this day, employees can work on projects not related to their primary job. Many of Google’s most popular services have been the result of someone’s working margin.

For an online retailer, this margin time might uncover new productivity tools, allow employees to read industry news, or listen to podcasts. The key is that it is time not spent working toward some deadline, but rather exploring.

Summing Up

Margin, in terms of time, can allow a team the ability to take advantage of opportunities as they come up or even create new opportunities that might not have otherwise been conceived. Consider building margin into your team’s work week.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. Carlos Rivera August 10, 2012 Reply

    Wow! I had no idea about the concept of worker-productivity margin. I’ve been running negative margins for years now! I’ll see what my boss has to say about this.