Monday, January 19, 2015

Website Review: Volusion.com



One of the main things you will notice when visiting Volusion.com is how much they emphasize security and up-time. The company boasts PCI compliance which involves strict adherence to the rules and guidelines of protecting customer’s sensitive credit card information. Volusion also talks about a guarantee of 99.9% up-time or basically a promise that your eCommerce store will always be up and running. After all, if your online store is not functioning, it’s hard to sell anything.

Volusion.com has an interesting background history. Kevin Sproles, founder and CEO started the company in his bedroom while still in high school back in 1999 using only the allowance he received from his parents. He started out building websites for clients and whenever he made a little bit of money, he’d put it back into the company for advertising or for upgrades to the platform. 

Sproles was joined by Clay Olivier (present COO) in 2003 when Olivier left Dell computers to open his own store with Volusion. He loved the platform so much that he became an investor and opened an office for Volusion in Austin, Texas, hiring sales reps and a marketing team to promote the company.

By January of this year, Volusion had climbed to the success of hosting over 40,000 stores and has secured $35 million in financing to spend mostly on Mozu which is an eCommerce platform that works seamlessly across different channels of commerce – online, mobile and storefront. Additionally, part of the $35 million in monies raised will be used to prepare Volusion to enter the world of public trading on the stock market within the next year or so.  

As far as building your eCommerce store with Volusion, you have 357 template theme choices. Eighty of those are free and 70 of those are priced at $895. The rest of that number are priced from $595, $150 and then down to $50. All the themes are beautiful and very professional looking, so choosing a store template should not be hard. 

Store theme templates are filtered in the right hand column of the page in the eCommerce template browsing page. So you can filter your viewing by color, price preference, category and the industry that your business is in. It’s nice that you can browse these choices even before you join the site or commit to any price packaging. Most people like to see what a store has to offer before they commit.

Speaking of price packaging, the four price options aside from the 14-day free trial are the Mini at $15 a month, the Plus at $35 a month, the Pro at $75 a month and the Premium at $135 a month. All of these packages offer unlimited file storage and no additional transaction fees above the 2.15% fee through Volusion payment processing.


The price varies begin with GB bandwidth usage (1, 3, 10 and 35) and the number of products allowed ranging from 100, to 1,000 to 10,000 to unlimited respectively by price. One obvious company blunder that you will immediately notice within the price differences are varying amounts of support offered depending upon the package you purchase. 

The Mini package buyer gets online support via chat, email and referrals to self-help materials. The Plus package comes with online and phone support including hands-on expert personalized assistance. However, the Pro and Premium package buyers get priority support which includes all of the above and with priority call routing and shorter wait times. So, basically the company is telling you that if you are not a high paying customer, you will have to wait longer for help. Incentive to purchase a more expensive package? Maybe…or maybe not.

All plans include social media tools, a Facebook store, automatic tax rates and a converted design of your eCommerce store into mobile. One pretty cool feature included in the Pro and Premium plans is the integration with Amazon, eBay and other third party applications. This feature makes your products immediately available to literally hundreds of millions of active online shoppers giving your eCommerce store the online reach that will be compared to none. 

All plans except the Mini include the abandoned cart feature with customer information so you can possibly recapture these lost sales and the ability for customers to leave ratings and reviews. Everyone knows the value of a good review. Additionally, the Volusion website seems to offer a great deal in the way of help should you get stuck in the process of building your eCommerce store. The website offers video tutorials, how-to guides, webinars and an eCommerce blog for the purpose of helping newbies get proficient with online selling.

Some of the applications available to integrate with your eCommerce store are logo design, slideshows, a custom designed Thank You page, Contact Us page and Error Page displaying some creativity and humor. These apps are not cheap however, ranging from almost $300 up to $500 or more for each application. For example, you can have a custom designed Shopping Cart Check-out experience that carries your brand name and logos on it for an additional $795. Or you can get unique, custom designed check out buttons for only $595. These features are optional and more than likely cater to the larger enterprises.


If you are interested in switching from your present eCommerce store hosting company over to Volusion, they have made the process easy with the ability to import your store products. Start by backing up your present store information. Next, initiate your free 14-day trial and then import your products, customers and any other data you wish to bring aboard. 

You can even bring your present store design over for an extra fee or you can start fresh with one of Volusion’s template designs. You will need to transfer your domain name over and your SSL security certificate or purchase one from Volusion. Volusion.com also has a handy mobile app so that managing your store and selling from your smart phone is super easy. Volusion.com definitely has more pros then cons when it comes to owning an eCommerce business.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Website Review: Shopify.com



The first thing you will notice when visiting Shopify.com is that the website offers two different options for using their services. First, you can build an ecommerce business website through their platform and second, you can use their POS (point of sale) software application on your computer, laptop or iPad in your brick and mortar store. This allows Shopify.com to be able to service literally every business out there whether it’s an online business or a storefront.

Shopify was founded in 2004 by three guys who were trying to build a better online experience for their own snowboarding equipment business. Tobias Lütke, Daniel Weinand, and Scott Lake started their Snowdevil online business using their own programming code that took two months to build. Two years later, the guys decided to offer that online business format to the rest of the world. Their store platform was featured and praised by several popular tech websites like CNET and TechCrunch. Today, Shopify boasts over 100,000 stores.

Shopify offers a 14-day free trial to see if you like what you’re paying for. This gives you time to set up your store and hopefully even get a few sales before you have to start paying your monthly hosting fees. The three monthly packages offered are $29, $79 and $179 and all three offer one GB of file storage, unlimited products and 24/7 support. All three packages also offer a discount code engine and a free Shopify card reader.

If you decide to use Shopify Payments to accept credit card payments, there are no additional transactions fees above the regular credit card fees. However, if you use an external payment gateway like BitPay, then there is a fee rate of 2% on top of the regular credit card fees. Regular credit card fees range from 2.9% to 2.25% depending on the package you choose. Shopify has the ability to accept over 70 different payment types from around the world making your Shopify store truly internationally friendly.

Once you have your Shopify account set up, it’s time to start building pages and entering product. Shopify has a pretty cool app that allows you to integrate your eBay account products easily with one click of the mouse. The nice thing here is that you don’t have to manually enter each product and item description saving loads of time. There are multiple themes to choose from for your ecommerce store, some of them are free and others have a price on them. Shopify even allows individuals to sell their own original theme design to Shopify’s customers, which is a nice way to make a little extra money on the side.

A handy feature for finding just the right theme is the left side column in the theme store that offers store categories so you can be sure that you are picking the right theme to match your products. The pages in front of you showcase your store’s look while you make changes to your theme so you can see if you like the progress you’re making as you’re building your store. The same goes for entering text content. It’s all right in front of you as you build your page’s content. 

The layout of the html editor might remind you a little bit of WordPress if you are familiar with that sitebuilder platform. The dashboard walks you through the steps that you need to take to get your ecommerce website up and running and in the order that you need to do them. That is helpful for newbies in the field of website building. The left column of the dashboard also keeps a list of your customers, orders, discounts and your product inventory. 

In the reports feature of your Shopify dashboard, you can find all the information needed to understand how well your ecommerce store is performing. The page is lined up with chart boxes labeled products, orders, payments, taxes and insights. Under products you will see not only gross sales but the traffic sources for each. The same goes for the orders box. Here you will see traffic sources as well as complete customer information.

Another interesting feature that comes with your Shopify ecommerce store is a built in blog. Here you can update information concerning your products, services or any news events related to your business. This helps you to interact with potential customers in a more personal way affording the opportunity to build priceless client relationships and rapport.

Initially, your Shopify ecommerce store comes with a Front Page or Home, a Blog page and an About Us page, but you have the ability to add as many pages as you like as long as you don’t go over one GB of file storage space. Of course, once you upload your products, the site automatically builds for you a Catalog page which you can personalize somewhat. One downside to personalizing your pages in Shopify is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to upload or choose graphics other than product images. So if you want to add a selfie to your About Us page, that’s not possible.

The App Store is also available for you to add features to your ecommerce website. Some apps are free and some charge a monthly fee to use. There are 159 marketing apps available ranging from discounts and coupon pop-up windows to customer email sign-up pop-ups. There are 171 sales apps available and 68 social media apps for you to enhance your online presence. 

A great feature of Shopify’s ecommerce website help services is the emails that the customer receives when they may feel stuck at a certain place in their website building. It does take a little more time to learn the sitebuilder navigation system than some other sitebuilder programs, but if you get stuck, then Shopify sends you an email where you left off and suggests that you enlist the help of the Shopify manual. It even directs you to the specific page covering the area that it thinks you got stuck on. That’s pretty helpful. 

Shopify caters specifically to ecommerce websites where some other sitebuilders like WordPress and Wix offer websites for virtually any reason, even just maintaining a personal blog. So like KFC, if you do one thing only and you do it right, you will be successful. Shopify offers only ecommerce websites and they seem to do a pretty good job of it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Start An E-commerce Website



Remember back when you were a teenager and you loved to hang out with your friends at that favorite swimming hole? Remember how your friends used to dare you to jump off that ledge into the cool, refreshing water below? 

But you were a little bit scared. You weren’t sure what would happen. Maybe there might be some rocks below the surface that you couldn’t see. You were afraid that you might get hurt. 

But then your friends checked the water below and assured you that it was safe. Knowledge is power. And these were friends that you had grown up with and you trusted them. But it’s still a little scary. You might have wondered if you were as good a swimmer as you wanted to believe you were. Would this jump be a success? But finally you mustered up the courage to jump and …wow! What a wonderful splash you made. That was fun. It was a success.

Starting an eCommerce business website will be somewhat similar to that experience. It might be a little bit scary if you don’t know what to expect. You might wonder if there are hidden “rocks” under the surface that might hurt your business. For example, you might worry that your present customers won’t want to change the way they do business with you. They might feel intimated by your eCommerce website and stop buying from you.

Is this a realistic concern? Why does your present customer base have to make any changes? Wouldn’t you still be willing to offer them the same services as before? Even if a small percentage of your customers did feel uncomfortable with your growth to an eCommerce website and stopped buying from you, would you not make up for them tenfold now that your marketing reach is…everywhere.

Another concern for starting an eCommerce website is whether or not you can “swim” as well as you thought you could. You might fear that not knowing very much or any html would cripple your ability to build a professional looking and financially successful eCommerce website. But with sites like Shopify.com or Volusion.com, you don’t have to know any html to have a beautiful eCommerce website.

These sites offer the ability to easily build pages, load graphics and content so that your business is presented in a professional way to reach customers around the world. They offer website stores with shopping carts and checkouts that accept major credit cards and PayPal so your money comes directly and instantly to your account. Most of these websites like BigCommerce.com let you offer your customers coupons, special discounts and gift certificates.

An added benefit of using an eCommerce business website is that of receiving the customer’s information when they make a purchase. This allows you to maintain a customer database to follow up with and encourage repeat business. But can you compete with the already present, larger online retailers? This is considered a benefit and a risk at the same time because now your business is right up there beside them. But you can offer competitive pricing or niche products that they may not. This will contribute to your success.

So even though the thought of starting an eCommerce website business can be pretty scary, there is plenty of help out there if you use sites like Shopify.com to get your business off the “ledge” and into the “water”. So jump in. The water’s great.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Making Money With E-commerce



What’s your hobby? Maybe you love to bake cupcakes. Or maybe you’re pretty good with arts & crafts. Maybe you can do these things so well, that friends and family have asked you to make some of those items for them. 

And before long the word has spread that you can design these items like no one else. As time passes, the idea pops into your head that you should open your own business doing the very thing that you have always been so passionate about.

But after a bit of research, you discover that renting a storefront and setting up the utilities for it comes with an astronomical price. And does the sound of committing to a 2-year lease scare you? According to one state’s small business administration’s website, you should be prepared to support your new brick and mortar business for 5 years before it starts supporting you. Are you discouraged yet? Well, you don’t have to be. Consider taking your business online.

The cost of renting even a small storefront can range anywhere from $1000-$2000 a month. The cost of hosting a beautiful, fully interactive, eCommerce website usually runs between $29-$199 a month. With a storefront, your customer base usually includes individuals within a 50-60 mile radius. But with an eCommerce website, customers can come from around the world.  Even if you add the expense of shipping your products out to customers, you still wouldn’t come anywhere close to the overhead expenses of a traditional brick and mortar.


With a storefront business, you have to count down the books every night and make a run to the bank. With an ecommerce website, the money’s already there. And many eCommerce website builders have accounting applications and customer database applications built right in. No need to hire an accountant or a secretary. In addition, your eCommerce website works for you 24 hours a day without charging you overtime. Who’s buying cupcakes at 3 am? You’d be surprised.


The really exciting part about this great idea of bringing your business online is website builders like Shopify.com, Volusion.com and BigCommerce.com. Before these eCommerce website builders existed, you would have to know a great deal about html code in order to build a business website. But not anymore. These website builders make it easy even for the most computer naïve person to build a beautiful eCommerce website. All you have to do is follow step by step easy instructions and in no time you’ll have an eCommerce website up and running, looking exactly the way you want it to and making money for you.


These website builders like Shopify.com offer a variety of services ranging from social media tools and shopping cart recovery to unlimited product storage and SEO (search engine optimization) features. You can build your pages to your own design using their galleries of artwork or uploading your own. In addition, your customers will be able to purchase your products with a built-in shopping cart check out feature using their credit cards or their PayPal account. The money goes directly into your PayPal or bank account. What could be better than that?

Once your business eCommerce website is all set up to make you money, all you have to do is get ready to start shipping.