by Joseph Mutidjo, Reporter, Smallbiztechnology.com
Punch in “e-commerce solution” in the search bar today and an overwhelming number of options come up. But Sabir Semerkant remembers when, back in the early 1990s, if you wanted to create an online store there was only one option: do all the programming yourself.
Semerkant is an Internet veteran, having been involved in programming projects since HTML was in its infancy. In 2009, after becoming co-owner of what’s now The Vitamin Creek, a small vitamin store in Queens, NY, he got started on setting up the business online.
Being a tech guy and businessman hybrid, Semerkant asked himself this initial question: “Do I want to sit all day long programming, or do I want to get something off the shelf that will take me where I want to be in the next few years?”
That decision was won by his business half. He concluded that choosing a turnkey e-commerce platform would reduce his time to market tremendously. The time saved could be spent in marketing the business and improving customer relations.
He started researching and was led to e-commerce platforms like Yahoo! Merchant Solutions, Volusion, osCommerce, Magento, Zen Cart, Shopify and BigCommerce. Semerkant scrupulously reviewed each platform’s features, ticking off what matched on his list of business needs. For any lingering questions, he contacted each provider’s sales and tech support teams.
The must-haves on his list included:
- Customer service features such as live chat, anonymous purchasing option and customer account with order history.
- A CRM with a ticketing system so customer requests, feedback, communication can be tracked and managed easily.
- Marketing promotion capability which allowed a range of promotion types to be executed quickly, without programming.
After two weeks, he narrowed his choices to open source solution Magento and cloud-based platform Volusion.
“Through the process, I finally determined Volusion was the right platform for me at this time,” said Semerkant. “Magento brings a whole bunch of responsibility of taking care of technology, which is something I wanted to pass on to the platform provider. So even though Magento is a great platform, when we checked out all the features we wanted for the next three years of growth, Volusion came out on top.”
With his mind made up, Semerkant got down to business. He signed on to Volusion’s Platinum plan, which allows unlimited products for $179 per month. He hired freelancers through Elance, and orchestrated the store’s custom design, template coding, and data upload for over 15,000 products.
The initial site of VitaminCreek.com went live in less than five weeks.
Semerkant is quick to point out this schedule may not be typical for most small business owners without technology experience. He noted Volusion also offers design and setup services for those unfamiliar with directing a team of freelancers.
For retailers who want an online presence, but are intimidated by the list of technology options available, Semerkant offers the same simple process he used.
“Don’t worry about the technology. Concentrate on your business needs and ask yourself relevant business questions. Use this to create a short document with bullet points of what you are looking for. Then go out there and see what’s available,” he said.
He continued, “Go to each e-commerce platform site, look at your list, look at what they offer. Send your document and your questions to your top three picks, then review their responses. There’s something to be said about their responsiveness too. If they respond quickly, you know they’ll be a good partner to have.”
When the time is right Semerkant is open to upgrading to an open source solution and getting back into the programming side of things. But till then, he seems quite content focusing on vitamin promotion than bug fixes in code.