Quick Query: Volusion COO on Platform Upgrades, Tips to Merchants

Volusion is an early-day hosted shopping cart platform which has grown to represent 18,000 online shops. The business has recently upgraded its platform and to describe those updates, among other ecommerce topics, we talked with Volusion’s chief operating officer, Clay Olivier.

PeC: Tell us a little history of Volusion.

Clay Olivier:“We have been in business since 1999. The business was founded by my spouse, Kevin Sproles. Actually, it is a great start-up story itself. He began in his parents’ bedroom with allowance money and he began designing websites. Like a great deal of entrepreneurs, he just put it all back into marketing and gradually built it up. In 2003, I left Dell Computers, where I had an extremely successful career, and was prepared to begin my own business.

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“I started an online shop using Volusion applications and found it on likely page three of Google, and it was this remarkable platform. There was not a whole lot of marketing there since it was really a programmer, Kevin, who’d initially started it, and I just adored the platform. It was better than everyone else and so I started using it.

“I really became an angel investor on the bargain and opened up an office in Austin [Texas], and immediately hired a sales and marketing group and the rest is history. We have worked with over 100,000 entrepreneurs in addition to a whole lot of small companies and Fortune 500 brands, and we have had tremendous success. And lots of it’s because we actually listen to our clients. We are really focused on ensuring they are effective and frankly just have a terrific time. We are entrepreneurs in mind.”

PeC: What is your customer count now?

Olivier:“We have over 18,000 busy shops. The huge majority are small businesses, but because our platform is scalable and we’ve got all of the safety things that all the bigger brands need. And we have had a whole lot of success there since we are so competitively priced and actually offering sort of a one-stop store.”

PeC: What is the selection of prices for your products?

Olivier: “It starts at $24.99. That really includes everything merchants need, such as hosting.

“With regards to small business, plans ranges up to about $159 for a month; then for individuals with bigger needs, [we’ve ] custom pricing because of quantity and items of that nature.”

PeC: Are there any transaction fees?

Olivier:“No, there are no transaction fees in any respect. It truly sets us apart from people like Yahoo! and ProStores.”

PeC: Your company has just announced updates to your platform. Please give us a summary of these.

Olivier:“A lot of these [ideas for the] updates came from our customers, as we have ecommerce specialists in-house that really try to listen to our community.

“We included Soft Add to Cart, a feature that actually helps enhance the shopping experience by allowing customers to add their products in the cart without leaving the product details page; and, gift registry, which was something that people have been asking for, for quite a long time. A new social feature we added is named Insert This. It helps online shoppers to split the products they see on the actual merchant’s site across a hundred social networking networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Kaboodle, StumbleUpon, and much more. Things like this help elevate brand awareness and get more people to purchase.

“We also made two improvements to our government area. There are far more intuitive navigation tabs and menus. We redid our order-processing page. There are a few new performance indicators. We really built out a completely different user interface group and, this year we will see some really big improvements on this front.

“Also, we greatly improved our search capabilities for all our merchants. The refinement we added actually takes it to another level. It allows grouping of additional key words or terms like key words, refinement by manufacturer, prices, and custom fields. For bigger merchants that have a good deal more SKUs, it is critical because it helps people find what they are actually searching for.

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“My Rewards is what we’re calling our loyalty reward program, which is a really major thing. We also made the software so you can actually change any field on the shops. So, essentially, you can translate your applications or your site into any web-safe language. There are a whole lot of little things which were also added, but those were a few of the sort of important features.”

PeC: How do you balance all the characteristics which Volusion provides against a new merchant only coming in trying to get up and running?

Olivier:“I think that, though we do have a great deal of features, it’s quite easy to use a whole lot of it. So as to produce a product, you just have to fill out three fields, which I think is product name, product price, and product weight. The new version definitely has improved lots of that.

“I believe one of the things which you will see from us in the future is truly trying to separate out some of the innovative features from the entrance level attributes to ensure when a new merchant comes in from a consumer‘s perspective, all they see is only those basic capabilities. So, though there are three fields you need to fill out to really create a product, there are probably 50 to 75 more areas which will let you actually do anything about your product you could want. If you truly need to scale and grow, those are things you are going to need to do because it’s very competitive out there. If you’re simply displaying a product online and you are not wanting to do any sort of sophisticated vouchers or you do not need to actually deal with search refinement, it will really hinder achievement; and as time goes on, having the performance helps distinguish our merchants out and for the people that we’ve seen succeed are utilizing a whole lot more of those features.”

PeC: Anything else on your mind for our readers?

Olivier: I feel a really major concern is security. PCI certification is truly a big deal, and there are a whole lot of providers out there that, regardless of the claims they make in their sites, are really not certified.

“If you visit Visa’s site or to Google, you type in’Visa PCI,’ and on this page if you click on the international list of PCI/DSS Validated Service Providers, you will see everybody that is actually certified. No amount of advertising spent can alter that. And, so we’d really like to see folks be certain they’re being certified. [Editor’s Note: The Visa listing to which Mr. Olivier refers is for hosted shopping carts. Another list, for PCI accredited licensed carts, appears on the [PCI Security Council website ] (https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/index.shtml)

“I would also tell people to use some negative keywords [in pay-per-click marketing campaigns]. I know a whole lot of people could go,’Yeah, most of us know about negative keywords,’ but we think that it’s one of those things that entrepreneurs do not do enough of. We have particular campaigns that we run and at one ad group, we’ve got as many as 950 negative key words for the Volusion ad that we run. Negative keywords can literally save your organization thousands of dollars. Not only can it improve your quality scores and the relevancy of your ad, but also it actually can optimize your performance. Using things such as the keyword suggestion tool, looking at what your competitors are doing using SpyFu and things like that really can help you optimize your campaigns.”

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