Volusion is an early-day hosted shopping cart platform that has grown to represent 18,000 online stores. The company has recently upgraded its platform and to explain those upgrades, among other ecommerce topics, we spoke with Volusion’s chief operating officer, Clay Olivier.
PeC: Tell us a little history of Volusion.
Clay Olivier: “We’ve been in business since 1999. The company was founded by my partner, Kevin Sproles. Actually, it’s a great start-up story itself. He started in his parents’ bedroom with allowance money and he started designing websites. Like a lot of entrepreneurs, he just put it all back into advertising and slowly built it up. In 2003, I left Dell Computers, where I had a very successful career, and was ready to start my own business.
“I started an online store using Volusion software and found it on probably page three of Google, and it was this amazing platform. There wasn’t a ton of marketing there because it was really a developer, Kevin, who had originally started it, and I just loved the platform. It was better than everybody else’s and so I started using it.
“I actually became an angel investor on the deal and opened up an office here in Austin [Texas], and immediately hired a sales and marketing team and the rest is history. We’ve worked with over 100,000 entrepreneurs as well as a lot of small businesses and Fortune 500 brands, and we’ve had tremendous success. And a lot of it is because we really listen to our customers. We’re really focused on making sure that they are successful and honestly just have a great time. We’re entrepreneurs at heart.”
PeC: What is your customer count currently?
Olivier: “We have over 18,000 active stores. The vast majority are small businesses, but since our platform is so scalable and we have all the security things that all the larger brands need. And we’ve had a lot of success there since we’re so competitively priced and really offering kind of a one-stop shop.”
PeC: What is the range of prices for your products?
Olivier: “It starts at $24.99. That really includes everything merchants need, including the hosting.
“In terms of small business, plans ranges up to about $159 for a month; and then for people with larger needs, [we have] custom pricing due to volume and things of that nature.”
PeC: Are there any transaction fees?
Olivier: “No, there are no transaction fees at all. It really sets us apart from people like Yahoo! and ProStores.”
PeC: Your company has recently announced upgrades to your platform. Please give us a summary of those.
Olivier: “A lot of the [ideas for the] upgrades came from our users, as we have ecommerce experts in-house that really try to listen to our community.
“We added Soft Add to Cart, a feature that really helps improve 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 a long time. A new social feature we added is called Add This. It allows online shoppers to share the products that they see on the actual merchant’s website across a hundred social media networks, like Facebook, Twitter, Kaboodle, StumbleUpon, and more. Things like this help elevate brand awareness and also get more people to buy.
“We also made two improvements to our administration area. There are more intuitive navigation menus and tabs. We redid our order-processing page. There are some new performance indicators. We actually built out a whole new user interface team and, this year we’ll see some really big improvements on that front.
“Also, we really greatly improved our search capabilities for all of our merchants. The refinement that we added really takes it to the next level. It allows grouping of additional keywords or terms like keywords, refinement by brand, prices, and custom fields. For larger merchants that have a lot more SKUs, it’s really important because it helps people find what they’re actually looking for.
“My Rewards is what we’re calling our loyalty reward program, and that’s a really big thing. We also made the software so that you can actually change any field on the stores. So, basically, you can translate your software or your website into any web-safe language. There are a lot of little things that were also added, but those were some of the kind of key features.”
PeC: How do you balance all of the features that Volusion offers against a new merchant just coming in trying to get up and running?
Olivier: “I think that, although we do have a lot of features, it is very easy to use a lot of it. In order to create a product, you only need to fill out three fields, which I think is product name, product price, and product weight. The new version definitely has improved a lot of that.
“I think one of the things that you’ll see from us in the future is really trying to separate out some of the advanced features from the entry level features so that when a new merchant comes in from a user’s standpoint, all they see is just those basic features. So, even though there are only three fields that you have to fill out to actually create a product, there are probably 50 to 75 more fields that will allow you to really do anything about your product that you could want. If you really want to grow and scale, those are things you’re going to have to do because it is very competitive out there. If you just are just displaying a product online and you’re not trying to do any kind of sophisticated coupons or you don’t want to really deal with search refinement, it really will hinder success; and as time moves on, having the functionality really helps separate our merchants out and for the people that we have seen be successful are utilizing a lot more of these features.”
PeC: Anything else on your mind for our readers?
Olivier: I think a really big concern is security. PCI certification is really a big deal, and there are a lot of providers out there that, despite the claims they make on their websites, are really not certified.
“If you go to Visa’s website or to Google, you type in ‘Visa PCI,’ and on that page if you click on the global list of PCI/DSS Validated Service Providers, you’ll see everyone that’s actually certified. No amount of marketing spent can change that. And, so we’d really like to see people make sure that they’re being certified. [Editor’s Note: The Visa list to which Mr. Olivier refers is for hosted shopping carts. Another list, for PCI certified licensed carts, appears on the [PCI Security Council site.](https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/index.shtml)
“I would also tell people to use some negative keywords [in pay-per-click advertising campaigns]. I know a lot of people might go, ‘Yeah, we all know about negative keywords,’ but we think it’s one of those things that marketers don’t do enough of. We have certain campaigns that we run and in a single ad group, we might have as many as 950 negative keywords for the Volusion ad that we run. Negative keywords can literally save your company thousands of dollars. Not only can it improve your quality scores and the relevancy of your ad, but also it really can optimize your performance. Using things like the keyword suggestion tool, looking at what your competitors are doing using SpyFu and things like that can really help you optimize your campaigns.”