Over the weekend (I think it was actually Saturday), I received a request for a sponsored review for Volusion. I haven’t got a huge amount of experience with specific shopping carts, so I knew if I was going to do any justice to the review, I would need a little time.
One tip – if you receive a request for a sponsored review with ReviewMe, don’t accept it straight away – let the acceptance clock tick for a little while because once you have accepted the review, the clock gets reset to 96 hours. There is a big difference between 96 hours to research for a review, and what effectively amounts to a week if you drag things out a little.
Volusion Shopping Cart Review
Volusion is sold as a one-stop, comprehensive, SEO optimized, shopping cart solution.
Be wary of providers who charge add-on prices for additional features.
We will see…
Problems In Reviewing
Time – as previously mentioned, this review is based around a number of hours/days research, rather than extensive use of the product. I did however create a test account to have a look under the hub.
Demo restrictions – The demo actually is a lot more restrictive than is suggested on the sales pages. As an example I didn’t find a way to even examine the template structure.
Volusion is a shopping cart, and not a website builder or even an online business solution. Parts of their business model seriously detract from the potential to create an all encompassing service which for me is a shame.
Volusion is a VAR – Value Added Reseller, in fact they are a VAR in many ways more than a shopping cart solution provider, which again slightly, and sometimes greatly discourages me from writing a highly favourable review, even based upon my limited evaluation.
With Volusion you get lots of features, but unless you are willing to purchase a license outright, and pay for subsequent yearly upgrades, you are going to be hosting your shopping cart on their servers.
If you have any sense, unfortunately that is all you are going to host on their servers, because the basic bandwidth allowance is… pitiful.
I think I need to put some perspective on this because I think this is the biggest Achilles Heel of the service.
This blog currently only receives on average 500 unique visitors per day. I use some graphics but they are compressed and most are not full screen. My front page has a fair amount of content, and because it is full content I don’t gain a huge amount more page views on each visit. Most of my readers subscribe to my content, but that is picked up by Feedburner, and their servers are used for bandwidth for the RSS feeds.
I don’t host any video, and I don’t do any Podcasts.
My bandwidth usage in February 2007 was 9GB
A reasonable percentage of that bandwidth usage was from search engines, which is a good thing, because the relationships between my pages change a lot with links to related articles.
Despite the fact that Volusion allows you to build up an HTML based content website on their servers, and maybe even something with ASP.net or with a databased backend, the standard bandwidth available isn’t realistic.
Be wary of providers who charge add-on prices for additional features.
Volusion currently charge just $0.01 per additional MB of bandwidth, or $10 per GB
That doesn’t seem typical for the hosting industry, and Sitesell, who in many ways are competitors to Volusion offer unlimited bandwidth.
So I tried asking Rackspace directly, and I didn’t try to hide anything
you: Hi John, I am currently writing a review of one of your clients, and it would be helpful to get some idea of how much you charge for additional bandwidth
John: I’m sorry I don’t have that info
John: please have your customer contact their bdc
Hmm, seems like a touchy subject that Rackspace don’t want to discuss at the detriment of their customers who are “value added resellers”. Most small business dedicated servers from Rackspace come with 150GB of bandwidth.
Media Temple who also offer very good hosting with their Gridserver Package state:-
Expand the audience for your creative content by serving more visitors faster than ever before with a Terabyte of multi-routed bandwidth.
That is a $20 per month package as long as you are not running very CPU intensive services.
I am currently using Hostgator for this site – I only get 125GB on a reseller account and 100GB on another much smaller package – I have other hosting packages in other places as well, and there is a high chance I will move a few sites over to MT soon as they can probably cope with traffic surges better.
Hosting companies do play a little Russian roulette with bandwidth. They know that most accounts won’t use up the maximum. Even then, with current growth, I doubt additional bandwidth is going to cost you most than $1 per GB.
With Rackspace there are other additional support costs, and their support is supposed to be exceptional, but it is my belief that most of that should be covered by the basic fees.
As I stated at the beginning, Volusion are a VAR – if your bandwidth increases, you have more customers, if you have more customers you are most likely going to have more support queries for Volusion. Support costs money.
Because we provide both dynamic Ecommerce software, coupled with premium Ecommerce hosting by RackSpace at no extra charge, the total cost of ownership (TCO) turns out to be much lower than competitors.
I am not sure they are telling quite the whole truth.
Various forms of email marketing are one of the best ways to boost your sales income, with various new product offerings, special offers, and upsells.
I haven’t looked deeply into the existing shopping cart email system, because on first inspection I discovered it is heavily crippled with very limited capacity. For the basic service you are limited to a mailing list of only 200, and even when paying almost $200 per month, you can only email 5,000 prospects – that might seem like a lot, but can hardly be looked on as good value.
I have also read of problems with email delivery on the Volusion forums, not only of marketing messages, but also sales receipts and normal customer interaction.
Volusion highly recommend customers purchase a subscription to Intellicontact as an example here on their support page.
You would think Volusion would support more than one 3rd party email package as they have made theirs so limited and recommend using a 3rd party. I decided to contact Aweber, one of the most trusted 3rd party email solutions for deliverability, and one of the most economic.
I asked Shaneka Altino of Aweber whether they currently have integration with Volusion available, and here is his reply (with permission)
Shaneka Altino: we do not have one now, if someone wanted to set one up they could, we have shopping intergration for several shopping carts
Shaneka Altino: as long as its hosted shopping cart such as Paypal and Clickbank
You see one of the things specific with Aweber is that for the majority of addresses brought into the system, they have to be brought in using Aweber’s own forms. What scripts normally do to achieve this is to do the processing in parallel.
With an email system you would certainly want to have customers automatically moved from various prospect lists to purchase lists, specific support lists etc, and not have problems with them being sent multiple emails for the same offer.
Correct integration is important… why isn’t it already available?
Intellicontact might be more flexible allowing you to import existing customers without forcing them to opt-in again, at least last time I looked at their service that was possible, but as soon as you out-grow their basic free offering, costs escalate.
If Volusion want their referral income from Intellicontact, they should ensure every link is clickable.
Aweber Update 17/08/2007
Aweber integration with Volusion has now been announced.
Good SEO is one of the primary selling points.
They do have SEO friendly URLs, though for some reason I saw a number of sites using internal part numbers for URLs rather than product names.
Of course the Volusion test site ranks high for every item they display, but they have an insane number of backlinks from Volusion shopping carts – I read in an old review that that is a requirement – I didn’t confirm that on the Volusion site.
Volusion have a blog running on WordPress (logical choice) – the blog is on a subdomain (not necessarily logical)
Volusion is running on Windows servers, thus running what I would regard as standard software like WordPress becomes a little more complicated. Whilst it can be done, and it is done frequently by specialists, I don’t think I would be tempted to do so. Plus I think you have to pay extra for an SQL server.
All the templates I saw that came free with Volusion had the top and sidebar menu appearing first in the source code – that isn’t good SEO practice.
You could build your site on another server, and just link through to products you have on your shopping cart. The current recommendation by most professional SEOs is to have all your content on the same site.
Here is their example store to have a look around.
Volusion currently has 7 free templates available, all of them in the same overall format.
I couldn’t find any site offering free, linkware or other open source templates available.
Volusion do have a shop where you can buy templates, and I saw a few people making enquiries on places like Elance for “Volusion Certified” templates. Certified? That suggests that a template has to be approved with the system.
Volusion really need to do something to encourage people to develop free templates, though that would limit the upsell potential
When I went to demo sites, I was amazed not to see the availability of RSS feeds. They seem to offer all kinds of feeds to shopping search systems, but site owners are currently not offering their customers site updates by RSS.
Ideally you would have your content on the same site as your cart and offer updates by RSS or email. The RSS feeds would also give SE spiders something to spin into their webs.
I saw ways to import various data feeds, but I couldn’t see how this could be integrated live. There was limited functionality in the demo. Honestly every time I saw the words limited functionality, I just “switched off”.
No functionality for delivery of digital products or premium “membership” items jumped out at me. There may be functionality that I didn’t see.
User Generated Content
There is an ability for users to leave comments and reviews on each item, but I have no idea how this data can be used in other ways, for instance latest reviews, hot items, highest rated items etc.
Categories But Not Tagging
Items are placed in categories, but there was no way to tag items for some other more modern method of user navigation. I am a big fan of folksonomy.
Volusion offer an Adwords service, you pay a fixed fee and they send a specific number of visitors to you. It doesn’t seem to mention if the visitors are from search or content network (different quality), whether they are from “buying traffic”, or what type of keywords it is based around. If you buy their largest package the visitors cost $1 each.
I wonder if it would work for Adsense Arbitrage or CPA offers? It might be an interesting experiment.
On the other hand I am not sure if it is good value for niche customers.
Volusion offer great training materials. I didn’t have time to work through them all, but I am sure based on what I did see that they would be sufficient to get up and running, no matter what your level of technical competence.
The support forums seem to be active, and are open, so you can pop along yourself and actually read about the questions customers raise, and how they are answered.
If you run an offline business, and just want a web presence to which you will drive PPC traffic, and you sell items in low volume with a solid profit margin, Volusion might be ideal.
Volusion might even be a viable solution for a shopping cart attached to a secondary website that contains content and user support features such as a forum. It would be interesting how their sales funnel tracking works across multiple domains.
If it wasn’t for the bandwidth problem I highlighted, I am sure this review would have turned out differently. If it was my service I would be sorely tempted in this day and age to have unlimited bandwidth just like Sitesell offer. I will have to check how Sitesell handle video these days, maybe that isn’t unlimited bandwidth and they encourage you to host elsewhere. As sites become more successful they are going to purchase more features – charging extras for storage for me isn’t as much a problem, nor is more items in the database.
More effort should be made on the core product and especially the templates. Demos really should be full featured without limitation.
I don’t think I am the ideal customer for Volusion with their current package, but with a few changes their potential marketplace would broaden.
Links to Other Reviews
SEO Shopping Cart highlights the friendly URLs – to be honest I don’t think they examined the system in depth and should have spent more time on their review.
There is one user submitted review on Marketing Mule that is fairly extensive, but effectively suggests to look elsewhere. The review wasn’t dated, so it is hard to tell whether it is current.
ASP Index has 3 user submitted reviews, 2 are anonymous, and the most current one (which is fairly negative) is from an authenticated users.
Yaro is much in the same boat as I am, in that he has had very little time to prepare a detailed review from a long-term customer perspective, but some of the comments he has so far received seem very positive.
Small Biz Technology did a Q & A with Volusion a couple of years ago. Even then the feature set was quite impressive though some of the prices seem to have reduced.
ECartReviews was one of the most recent reviews I found, and actually one of the most detailed highlighting important features such as the different feeds supported.