Certain ecommerce businesses succeed, while others do not. To help understand why this is, we spoke with Kevin Sproles, the founder and CEO of Volusion, a hosted shopping cart with more than 10,000 clients, including notable sites such as Disney and Crutchfield.
PeC: Tell us why you think some ecommerce sites excel while others do not?
Sproles: I think probably five things contribute to either success or failure of an online business. One is building your brand. If you’re a small business, you probably don’t have a household name, but you could build the same trust by having things like a professional website with a nice logo. Take it a step further and tell your story, how you got started, your passion for the products that you sell, and encouraging customer service. Show that you’re a real person behind the business; you could still compete with a household name.
Another would be SEO and making sure that you take advantage of that free marketing that’s offered by Google and the other search engines to send customers to your website. If you optimize your website for those search engines, that’s the best ROI that you can get.
Give a lot of detail in your product photo and your product information to build trust that the product that you’re selling.
Another is having a high margin on the inventory that you sell. That will give you more opportunities to leverage advertising that’s out there.
The next one is differentiating yourself if you are a commodity and leveraging the power of niche selling.
PeC: So, that would be brand, SEO, attractive and effective photos, higher margin products, and leveraging niches. Can you give some specific examples of smaller firms that you think do a particularly good job of it?
Sproles: One is Thelittlehatcompany.com. They are a small business, but their website does a great job at brand building. They do a good job of trying to show the person behind the business, their passion for the business, and displaying their products with real-life scenarios. For example, they sell hats for kids, so they show a lot of pictures of happy kids wearing hats. That goes beyond just showing the hat. They build their story, build the emotion and created a unique website.
PeC: Tell us how your firm, Volusion, has evolved over the years.
Sproles: I started it when I was still in high school in the late 1990s, just kind of an after-school project. Eventually I saw a big need for ecommerce. Today we have over 10,000 online stores that use our software to build and run their entire online business.
PeC: How much does Volusion cost?
Sproles: It starts with a free 14-day trial and then our lure of plans is only $29 a month. [Volusion has] all of the features you need to build and run your entire online business, everything from the design tools, to free templates, to managing the content on your website, being search engine optimized to processing those orders. As you have potentially large inventories of products, it ranges up to about $197 per month.
PeC: Do you think ecommerce will look substantially different in five years?
Sproles: I think what you’re going to see is that the ease of use is going to be improved. The challenge of shopping online will be eliminated, and checking out will be easy. The way people find these websites and products will change a bit. For example, social networking. There are communities online, such as MySpace and Facebook, where people are communicating about purchasing products online.
PeC: Any other thoughts related to ecommerce?
Sproles: As you grow, you’re going to start to care about things like scalability, so picking the right platform is going to be important. Another thing is PCI compliance, something that’s important in the ecommerce industry. You want to make sure that your website is as secure as it can be. Be compliant per Visa and MasterCard rules.