To Market, to Market, with Help from PrestoStore
By Greg Holden
When you're planning an online store, you've got a lot of things to think about. At some point, you just wish you could wave a wand and with the word "Presto!" have your Web site appear fully formed.
That's the idea behind PrestoStore, an ecommerce host that wants to take the hassle out of creating a store and marketing it. The site's fee system is certainly simple: you can put merchandise online and sell it for a flat $29.95 per month; there are no listing or final value fees.
For Sharon Blanding, owner of Sharon's Vintage Store, PrestoStore has lived up to its billing. "I think Presto would work very well for the "beginners" who are scared to put their toes in the water," she says.
That's just what Ryan Jones, 37, and his business partner Jon Baumler had in mind when they left their management consulting jobs in 1998 to found a Web site development company, now called PrestoBiz. First, they created a content management system that allowed customers to update their own websites easily. "We quickly realized that many of our customers also needed the ability to process simple ecommerce transactions," says Jones.
They started their move into ecommerce with a secure order form system called PrestoSell. This eventually evolved into PrestoStore as customers came looking for a sophisticated shopping cart as part of their Web store. PrestoStore went online in 2002.
With more than a hundred shopping carts available, what sets PrestoStore apart from the competition? Jones says it's the amount of effort the company puts into marketing its sellers' sites.
"We soon realized that the more money our sellers made, the longer they remained subscribers with us," he says. "Many ecommerce services are still trying to convince sellers that "if you build it, they will come," and this simply isn't true. In order to sell online, you need more than just a great web store - you need great Web store promotion."
PrestoStore promotes its sellers' items using a variety of strategies:
- It submits feeds of sellers' items directly to Google Product Search and the new Bing Shopping Network.
- It automatically optimizes each store for better search engine placement.
- It handles the submission process of Google, Yahoo and Bing, working directly with each service as well as the major shopping networks.
- By developing its own shopping network, PrestoMart, it "jump starts" sellers' search rankings.
Sharon Blanding notices the results. "I sell an extremely competitive product line (jewelry, mostly vintage) and the first couple of years were somewhat slow. But then it picked up substantially and I've been quite pleased with my sales since then. And it is still picking up, month to month. I think this is partially because the search engines are really picking up other websites now, whereas in 2006 they were not doing this as well."
PrestoStore provides its services without a contract: sellers can cancel at any time. It places no limits on the number of items a seller can list. Jones says the site has "thousands" of users, he adds that "we are most proud of the number of shoppers we send to our sellers' PrestoStores each year, which is several million." Several sellers list hundreds of thousands of items each, but most are small operations that are looking to expand their current sales.
Blanding has more than 1,300 items for sale, and she loves the ability to list unlimited numbers of products. "I think Presto has done a superb job of making the site easy to set up but allowing enough customization features to make it your own. That is a hard line to define, but they have done a good job of it."
All sellers are handled by just four employees in PrestoStore's Brookfield, Wisconsin headquarters, five employees located elsewhere, and several programming and graphic artist contractors. Business has not slowed down dramatically, even during the economic downturn. "I think many people are using this time as a great opportunity to try something new," says Jones.
Looking to the future, Jones says PrestoStore hopes to implement an automated Google AdWords feature. Sellers would be able to automatically create AdWords campaigns based on their PrestoStore listings. But the best new features come from those who are destined to use them.
"I really enjoy learning new things from customers," he says. "They are usually the ones suggesting our best new features. In addition, when a customer takes the time to tell us how easy it was for them to start using PrestoStore, it's really a great feeling."
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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