Yahoo Launches Yuletide Wizards

The online storefront provider looks to make building a Web store a point-and-click process with new tools for designing and adding products to your e-business.

Yahoo is giving small business owners an early present for the holidays: two wizards, one for site design and one for adding products, to help Web shop owners get up and running faster.

The goal of the design wizard is let e-commerce shop owners choose layouts from a selection of templates or design their own by selecting the number of columns and their positions, as well as how product information is displayed. Finally, they can customize the basics-fonts, colors, links and buttons.

“In terms of drawing new customers, it's a strong initiative because it's result-oriented, [Yahoo] wants you up and running in 30 days, and that speaks to small business owners who are usually looking for no-nonsense end gains.”

—Sonal Gandhi

You can add products by entering information about each item in dialog boxes, uploading images and setting a price. A feature of the "add product" wizard lets you create options for items with different variations, such as sizes and colors for shirts. These are viewed through drop-down selection boxes.

Once an item is added, you can place it in a category, such as sporting goods, that appears as a navigation link on your home page. Finally, a review process lets you check your work so you can be sure it's correct before you put it in your inventory. Meta tags are created automatically and the pages are optimized for search engines. You can also add your own meta data (i.e., keywords and descriptions) if prefer.

Relaunch Aimed at Ease-of-Use
The new features are part of Yahoo Merchant Solutions' "Open for Business" initiative, focusing on making its 40,000 members, as well as newcomers, successful online ventures rather than merely subscribers to the e-commerce platform, says Jimmy Duvall, director of Yahoo Small Business e-commerce products.

Yahoo new Merchant Solutions Wizard
One Size Does Not Fit All: New wizards for Yahoo small businesses let you customize layout and product characteristics.
(Click for larger image.)

"At the end of the day the small businesses we're working with care about one thing: being successful," says Duvall, "We don't want Web hosting to be just a checklist of features, we want them up and running in hours and selling well in 30 days."

Duvall said Yahoo wants to simplify the process for those still building their sites. To that end, the company conducted usability studies and interviewed 100 of its online merchants to find out what helped them become profitable.

The result is this new set of wizards that sit on top of the existing e-commerce platform that are designed to guide vendors through the process of set-up, payment, taxing, shipping and marketing, with the latter ones to be rolled out early next year. The wizards do not affect current pricing and will not cause those in mid-stream to have to re-enter any data.

The timing is right for a relaunch, says analyst Sonal Gandhi of JupiterResearch. "First, the Web hosting/storefront market is getting increasingly crowded, so this is a good way for Yahoo to remain competitive," said Gandhi. "And in terms of drawing new customers, it's a strong initiative because it's result-oriented, they want you up and running in 30 days, and that speaks to small business owners who are usually looking for no-nonsense end gains."

Start Small for Success
Meanwhile, the key wisdom learned, says Duvall, is that many shop owners try to do too much too soon, and starting small and slowly growing an online business is a better method for success. "A lot of them said if they started off small, just added 10 products — those that sell well — instead of doing an entire inventory at first, they would have been better off."

Yahoo Web Hosting costs $11.95 to $39.95 per month; Yahoo Merchant Solutions plans all require a $50 set-up fee, and include a Starter plan at $39.95 a months/1.5 percent transaction fee, a Standard offering for $99.95 a month/1 percent and Professional plan for $299.95/.75 percent.

Michelle Megna is managing editor of

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