Review: Volusion 5 Delivers the Goods So You Can Too

Volusion Version 5 improves on an already awesome product, with new customer management, shipping, reporting and marketing features.
If you like to buy everything you need to operate your online store from a single source, Volusion offers a complete solution that can support all your e-commerce needs. This all-in-one system integrates an online storefront, shopping cart, search engine monitor, e-mail marketing program, affiliate software manager and more. It's a Web-based application that lets you configure options and select a look, and then builds the e-commerce site so you're up and running quickly. You pay by the month and there are no transaction fees.

In our 2004 review, we said that Volusion offered comprehensive features for e-commerce, and now the platform provides even more. With some 40 new features in its latest version, Volusion 5 now comes with stronger product and category management tools, advanced order processing and shipping features and new CRM tools.

High Five
A new category management page lets you easily drag and drop sub-categories from one parent category to another and quickly add new categories and sub categories. And if you prefer to use the previous interface, you can. New shopping cart features let you view carts in real-time and collect contact information, as well as view the contents of carts, even when a customer doesn't complete the transaction. Clients in the UK can now rely on Google Checkout to conduct online payments.

A marketing boost, an improved newsletter system lets you manage and send commercial e-mail to promote goods. You can compile and maintain products to be uploaded to Google and measure sales and conversions. A Google "Map It" link now appears on each page so you can quickly locate and visualize a customer's billing and shipping addresses.

When taking phone orders, you no longer have to obtain a customer's e-mail address because the system recognizes customers by their name or phone number. The phone order page has been condensed so it takes-up less screen space and reduces the annoying scrolling that was necessary in the past.

Better Reports, Web 2.0 Offerings for Customers
Improved reporting features let you build custom reports with graphs and bookmarks and export reports to Excel. You can now import orders directly into QuickBooks via the QuickBooks Web Connector and schedule QuickBooks to retrieve orders at regular intervals without your intervention.


Volusion Version 5
Information In, Information Out: Create custom reports with graphs and export to Excel, import orders to QuickBooks.
(Click for larger image.)

New features quickly retrieve rates and print labels for shipping via USPS, DHL WorldWide Express and FedEx. "Per product" dimensional shipping support allows you to enter a product's dimensions and then calculate charges based on size and weight. Volusion now supports multiple warehouses so you can obtain and compare shipping rates from multiple locations.

New CRM features manage responses to customer inquiries and track reply length, call duration, ticket resolutions and more, as well as set time and point values for evaluation. Phone calls may be tracked as well as e-mails.

When shopping, customers can register with your store to obtain special offers, as well as view their recent history, create wish lists and post and read reviews. The system can generate e-mails that alert customers when a product is in stock. Catalog items may be listed with related accessories.

Selling the Goods
While adding a slew of new features, Volusion still retains its past strengths. The intuitive administrative control center serves clear options for working with orders, reports, inventory, marketing, customers and the look of your site and settings. These options are offered in a tabbed interface that is a vast improvement over the scattershot and rather random interface that we used when we last evaluated the product.

For a quick overview, you can see summarized data in an executive dashboard that provides timely information about orders, top selling categories of products and more. When working with options, the program serves valid entries that are available for you to choose. For example, when working with inventory, you can choose key "categories" instead of having to type them in.

Real-time inventory management capabilities let you view product status. You can display unlimited photos with each product, configure multiple pricing levels and hide products when necessary. Volusion can manage affiliate programs, apply quantity discounts and create coupons and gift certificates. It also offers the means to cross-sell related products and create "free shipping" certificates. As before, there's "crash protection" that allows customers to later return if they fail to complete a purchase and see the items that they left in their carts.


Volusion Version 5
Designer Storefronts: Volusion 5 offers 70 templates for showcasing your products.
(Click for larger image.)

Volusion comes with some 70 design templates that define the look and feel of your site. The templates are attractive, but seem to mostly alter color schemes rather than change the site's structure. In any event, they allow you to quickly change the look of your store at any time and do a great job of showcasing your products and offering shopping options to customers. If you like, Volusion offers design services that can completely customize a site to your exact needs.

Volusion accepts all major credit and debit cards and supports checks, PayPal and Google Checkout. There's no need to deal with separate gateways, merchant accounts or online store providers. For international sales, there's integrated currency conversion. Security wise, Volusion supports 128 bit SSL certificates, which carry a warranty of $100,000.

Bottom Line: Volusion Version 5 is a Victorious Offering
Volusion Version 5, lets you do it all, from the basics of store management, including inventory monitoring, customer service features, ability to import orders to QuickBooks and export data to Excel and configure shipping based on package dimension, to marketing that capitalizes on recent trends, including newsletters, customer reviews, wish-list creation, cross-selling, coupons and free shipping.

Pricing
Volution offers five monthly plans with no transaction fees. Rates are based on the number of products that you sell on your site. At the entry level, The Steel plan is priced at $29.95 per month and lets you sell up to 20 products. At the high end, the Platinum plan is priced at $197 per month and lets you sell unlimited products.

The intermediate Bronze, Silver and Gold plans allow you to feature, respectively, 100, 250 and 1000 products. Volusion offers free 24x7x365 live telephone tech support, as well as chat and e-mail. Volusion says that its support is entirely in-house and located in the United States.

For evaluation, Volusion offers a 14-day trial period and anything entered into the trial store can be carried over to your new store.

Wayne N. Kawamoto is a regular contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com.

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